Category Archives: conference

Presenting, presenting, presenting – Weeknote #32 – 18th October 2019

Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash
Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash

Monday I was undertaking the final preparations for some presentation training I am delivering on Thursday. This included printing some postcards as well as designing activities.

I took advantage of Pixabay to find images for my postcards, this is a great site for images, and due to their open licensing, you can use them in a variety of ways. Though I often attribute the site for the images I use, it’s not a requirement, so if you use them later or forget, it’s not really an issue.

Tuesday I was off to London for a meeting to discuss some future collaborative work that Jisc may undertake. What are the big challenges that HE (and FE) are facing for the future. One comment which was made I thought was interesting, was how challenging it was to get people to think about long term future challenges. Most people can identify current issues and potential near-future challenges but identifying the really big challenges that will impact education in the medium or long term, is really hard. Part of the challenge is that there are so many factors that can impact and predicting the future is thus very hard.

Reminded of this challenge of predicting the future, this week with the imminent anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago. Watching the haunting nuclear war TV film, Threads in 1984, I had no idea that the Cold War was every going to end, it looked like it would last forever and we would always be living under the threat of nuclear war. Five years later on the 9thNovember 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. I remember watching it on the news in my student accommodation, thinking, what’s happening, how is this happening? Back then we didn’t have social media, mobile phones or the web, so the only way for news to filter through was by television and newspapers. A year later we had the reunification of Germany. A year after that the USSR was dissolved.

I have often spoken at events about the future of learning and only a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the predictions I was making ten years ago at the FOTE 2009 event.

The future of learning… ten years later!

So what of my predictions?

Well we know predicting the future is hard and generally most people get it wrong.

 You will no doubt not be surprised that I got a lot of things wrong…

 One thing I feel I did get right was that mobile was going to be big

I think predicting those challenges is hard, but deciding not to prepare for them is not a good course of action. One of the things you need to also consider after predicting the future and start to work on stuff,  is when to stop doing that stuff. Has the concept or idea reached somewhere, has it stopped being useful, has it been superseded? Sometimes you stop, sometimes you park and sometimes you keep going.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

One future technology that a lot of pundits have been talking about has been virtual reality. So it was interesting to read this news item in which the BBC reported this week that they were stopping VR development.

The BBC has disbanded the team it created to make virtual reality (VR) content, saying its funding has ended.

They were not the only people to do this, in the same article it was reported that Google was reducing its involvement in VR.

It comes as Google halts sales of its Daydream View headsets, admitting it does not see a future for smartphone-based VR.

What does this mean?

Well we might want to consider the fact that virtual reality as it is, is really not going to be as disruptive and game changing as predicted. Maybe there is no future for VR in entertainment and information, but that doesn’t mean necessarily there isn’t a future for VR in education.

Back in 2013 on my Tech Blog I talked about the death of 3D.

3D is no more, defunct, gone, finished…

So if 3D is defunct, can’t bring myself to say dead, what is the next big thing in video? Well according to the pundits who attended CES it is 4K or ultra HD as some marketing people are calling it.

Here we are six years later and in all the big stores I have been into recently, 4K is everywhere, I don’t see 3D any more.

I was always surprised that 3D video didn’t gain the same traction that VR has in educational development circles. Having said that they are very similar in concept, maybe we should learn from the lessons of 3D.

I seem to have gained a bit of a reputation in the edtech world as, well as I was once described as the “Grim Reaper of Education” and “it’s not dead until James Clay says it’s dead”.

So I did read my colleague, Duncan Peberdy’s article on WonkHE, Is the lecture dead? with a little raised eyebrow.

Once ubiquitous, the lecture-based model of disseminating information and instruction is evolving rapidly. But we may still be too early in these evolutions and the research projects into their outcomes, to fully write off the lecture, although many – including vice chancellors – are already advocating this.

Of course we have been here before back, ten years ago, when Donald Clark at ALT-C 2009 said the lecture was finished….

My reflections back then were written up in this blog post.

The Lecture is… ALT-C Reflections

 

Of course at that same conference we had the infamous VLE is Dead debate…

The VLE is still dead… #altc

London
View of London from the QEII Conference Centre

Wednesday was the HE Conference, a last minute change meant that I was asked to chairthe morning session. This was something I hadn’t done before,

HE Conference
HE Conference

In the afternoon I delivered my session. I had fifteen minutes to cover a range of subject matter.

HE Conference
HE Conference

My presentation was entitled Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics.

There were three areas I covered in my talk were:

  • Tackling the student mental health challenge by utilising data to enhance student support mechanisms
  • Transforming learning experience and helping students learn more through personalisation and analytics
  • Utilising practical mechanisms for engaging with staff and students in order to make smarter procurements in tech

I finished off my presentation with some of the wider consideration universities needed to think about in relation to the use of data and analytics.

I got some nice feedback and here are the slides I used.

Of course the challenge I have, is that people who attended would have heard my presentation, but the slides are just images (thank you Pixabay) and no text!

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

On Thursday I was off to our Harwell office where I was delivering an all day session to the apprentices in Jisc on presentation skills.

Part of the session was based on my infamous “duck goes quack presentation I once gave at another staff development session.

A duck goes quack…

These two blog posts were very influential on my presentation style

I also reviewed these links prior to running the session.

I use the following sites for images.

I am always a little surprised by what images of mine are popular, and which that get ignored, that I post to Instagram This week this image proved to be quite popular compared to other photos I post to the service.

 

Having been out a lot of the week, Friday was about catching up and clearing out the inbox. I had a few online meetings as well.

My top tweet this week was this one.

All together now – Weeknote #31 – 11th October 2019

Birmingham
Birmingham

A busy week with travels to Bristol, Reading and Birmingham this week.

Monday I was in Bristol for a meeting with the Office for Students, one of the funders of Jisc. Following that I was back in the main office for further meetings.

There was an interesting long read on the Guardian website.

‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis

A surge in anxiety and stress is sweeping UK campuses. What is troubling students, and is it the universities’ job to fix it?

We know that there is a student mental health crisis and the reasons for this aren’t necessarily clear. We know there has been increase in the demand for mental health services at universities. The article notes that there has been research into the causes of this, but lays the blame for the crisis on the way in which universities are managed and run, leading to students not being in control of what they do and saddled with debt.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Another article I read this week was this one.

Exams could be replaced by artificial intelligence in the future, private school chief predicts 

Rather than being awarded grades for individual GCSEs, 16-year-old students could in the future be given performance reports which contain far more detailed information about their abilities.

“Rather than a grade summarising your ability in science, it might be that it is much more precise,” Mr Buchanan said.

“A report could talk about your knowledge of science but also your capacity to hypothesis, to assimilate and synthesise evidence, and your ability to present orally.

Generally from what I have read, technological change may start in that way, but before long there are new ways of doing things.

The printing press replaced the way in which bibles were published, moving from handwritten copies to printed copies. Though the real benefit of the printing press was not the mass production of bibles, but books, then newspapers. It made information and knowledge more accessible.

I think we will see similar step changes with artificial intelligence, moving away from fixed problems with current assessment methods and thinking differently about what assessment actually is and what it is for.

Problem of course with the article is that it is easy to say what could happen, much more challenging to understand how to make it happen.

University of Reading
University of Reading

Tuesday I was off to the University of Reading. I was accompanying one of our Account Managers and met with their TEL lead and their IT (now called Digital Technologies) team. It was nice to be in a university and talking about what they do and how they use technology. I would like to visit other universities, so let me know if you want to invite me in, to talk and chat about how technology can enhance and improve the student experience, as well as learning, teaching and assessment.

The ICC in Birmingham
The ICC in Birmingham

Wednesday was our all staff conference in Birmingham at the ICC. It was nice to see all (well a lot of) our staff together in one place. Got a chance to chat to a range of different people.

Thursday was a time for catching up with stuff and preparing for some events and meetings next week.

I did attend an online demonstration of PebblePad and it reminded me of how the concept of the e-portfolio is a difficult thing to narrow down and define.

I did have a chance to reflect on one of the questions I was asked earlier in the week on how students can connect their Alexa devices to Eduroam. The simple answer is they can’t.

I had initially forgotten that I had blogged about this earlier this year.

Alexa, what’s on my timetable today?

The current solution is for managed devices, ie the university centrally manages the Alexa devices as in this case study.

Amazon Echos to be installed in dorms

Amazon have WPA2 Enterprise support for shared echo devices. However it does require the devices to be centrally managed.

This is how some universities have put Echo devices on their campuses. There is another (much larger) piece of work on creating the data structures and content to answer the questions students would be asking their devices.

I planned, designed and created a presentation for a conference next week. It got me thinking about how I (currently) design my presentations and started to document the workflow, which I will hoefully post to the blog.

Friday was a day to discuss our technical career pathways. I feel we have made significant progress on this and will be launching by the end of the month.

My top tweet this week was this one.

The future of learning… ten years later!

FOTE09

On the 2nd October 2009 I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.

Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general.

I felt a little intimidated to be invited to talk at the event, we wouldn’t have called it imposter syndrome back then, but I did wonder if I was the right person to talk at such an interesting conference. It certainly had a TED talk feel to it. I must thank Frank Steiner and Tim Bush from ULCC for their support and help and inviting me to talk at this FOTE and future FOTE events.

2009 was quite a year for me, I had won the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award that year. It was also the year of “The VLE is Dead” debate at the ALT Conference.

The event took place at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, which I remember wasn’t the easiest place to get to via the underground. Knowing London better now I think I would probably have just walked across Hyde Park from Paddington to get there. From about 2001 I started going to London a lot for work, well a few times a year, which was considerably more than when I was a lecturer in Bristol. I use to go to London, arrive at Paddington, take the underground, pop up somewhere, go to a meeting or an event, before popping back down into the underground on my way home. These days I visit London a lot more and have spent a lot more time walking around London, so have a much better grasp of the geography of the place. I remember being quite impressed with the place, and that you could see the nearby Albert Hall.

Albert Hall

I spent a fair bit of time putting my presentation together, in the end it comprised 82 slides… and I only had twenty minutes to deliver my talk. A challenge that took some doing.

My presentation was entitled The future of learning…

The aim of my presentation was to discuss how learning would and could change with the affordances of technological change.

So what of my predictions?

Well we know predicting the future is hard and generally most people get it wrong.

You will no doubt not be surprised that I got a lot of things wrong…

One thing I feel I did get right was that mobile was going to be big and important. I said how I felt mobile was the future. The audience did have a range of mobile devices themselves, but most phones were nothing more than phones that could do SMS and the Snake game. There were a few smartphones out there, but if my experience was to go by, they were clunky and difficult to use. We had the iPhone, but it hadn’t quite had the impact that it has had by today.

We didn’t have the iPad, that would arrive the following year. So no surprise that in my talk at FOTE I didn’t mention tablets

My talk actually started off talking about the past, how we are still impacted and embedded by the past, which makes change challenging and difficult.

I then talked about the present and some of the issues and problems that technology was causing in classrooms and lecture theatres. PAT testing was a real concern for many back then, don’t hear much about it these days in relation to BYOD or learner devices.

One of the challenges I saw back then was how academics and educationalists wanted to categorise learning, so we had e-learning, m-learning, mobile learning, online learning, digital learning, etc….

I said that I thought categorising learning and putting it into different boxes was restricting and that really we should focus on learning and blur the boxes, blur the boundaries.

Boxes

It was fine to talk about the “boxes” at conferences and in papers, but experience has shown that categorising learning into boxes caused confusion for teachers and academics, who rightly focussed on the word before the learning as a problem to be solved and then found it challenging.

However back then I said, and I still stand by this today, is that learners and academics need to understand the potential of technology and digital to better understand the affordances and opportunities that it can provide for learning. You don’t need to be ab le to do the technology, but you do need to know what it can do.

I also brought in scepticism about technological advances, something I would draw upon in future talks and presentations.

Nokia N95

Video (and film) had been used for learning for years, but people were sceptical and convinced that video (ie lecture capture) would stop traditional learning activities. However we know that television didn’t destroy radio, we know that radio didn’t kill newspaper, books didn’t replace folk stories. When we have a new technological development, often the result is a negative impact on existing technologies, but often the result is affordances about the potential of the new technology, enabling access that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

I also talked about the potential of video on mobile devices. Video cameras were getting smaller and cheaper, the quality was getting better as well. You could buy video cameras which could record HD video, even if it was a challenge to capture and edit it on standard computers of the time. This was before the concept of streaming became mainstream. I showed a Sanyo Xacti camera which was waterproof and dropped it in a jug of water. These cameras could be used in dirty and dusty environments and the washed under the tap!

James Clay presenting at FOTE09

Mobile phone video has become so much better now. I am still impressed that my iPhone can record 4K video… If only we could get people to record video in landscape!

GPS was usually an option on devices back then, today it is more prevalent in the devices we buy. I saw this as an opportunity, the concept of geo-location based learning was something that felt quite magical at the time. Your device knows where you are, so personalises the learning based on your location. What I missed was how location tracking and would become a very big issue for people.

There was a bit of a backlash against e-Books back in 2009, as people felt that they weren’t as good as “real” books. For me they weren’t a replacement for books, they enabled different ways of reading. For many e-Books and e-book readers enabled a new way to access books and content, that otherwise would mean they wouldn’t have access. I presented on the future of reading at #FOTE10 the following year. I became a bit of an expert on e-books as as result. I presented on e-books at many different events and conferences, as well as writing a chapter in a book, and finally a book on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of Ebooks in Education in 2012.

Today e-books are part and parcel off education with easier access to books by students from academic libraries. As I did predict, we didn’t see the end of physical books, we still have bookstores and people still buy physical books.

reading a Kindle
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Back then in 2009 connectivity was either slightly haphazard, or expensive, or both. We had 3G, but it wasn’t widespread, it would be another three years before we saw 4G.

WiFi was there, but it didn’t always work and network congestion would often cause the WiFi to fail. This happened with frequent regularity at events and conferences I attended back then, as delegates killed the WiFi with too many connections.

In the future I felt connectivity wouldn’t just be important, it would be critical for the future of learning.

Today we have really good (and cheap) mobile data, 4G is more available and 5G is starting to appear. Ubiquitous WiFi is certainly there compared to ten years ago, Eduroam has made it easier for people in education to connect when travelling, but WiFi is easily found in most places. This has allowed users to do so much more when travelling and moving about, or just when drinking coffee. I certainly notice how many people are streaming video, having video chat, doing so much more, because they had the connection and the bandwidth to do so.

Mobile often means battery power, and access to charging. Everyone remembers how their Nokia phone would last days on a single charge, today, most people seem to complain how their smartphone battery doesn’t last the day. Batteries may not seem to have got better, they have, just that we demand more power for our complex devices. We have seen significant improvements in battery technology, but we have seen a huge increase in our demand for power on our devices. Streaming video requires more power than reading an e-mail. One thing that has taken time to filter through was the importance of the ability to charge devices. Since 2009 we have seen trains and buses adding power sockets, and USB ports for charging as well. Hotels have added similar sockets. Some lecture theatres now have plug sockets as well.

In my 2009 presentation I talked about the technological penknife.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

This is one thing I got very wrong, I thought that the idea that a device that did everything meant it did everything badly. A penknife has multiple tools, but most of them aren’t very good doing the stuff they are designed to do. People would prefer to have specialist devices for specific activities. Why would you have rubbish video from a phone, when you could have a decent HD video camera? Why would you use the rubbish microphone on a device, when a specialist recording device would do it so much better? Well that didn’t happen, in reality we have seen devices become so much better that we don’t need to have multiple devices. We have the penknife, but it’s a really good penknife, really good at everything.

I then went on to talk about change and the importance of managing change. I talked about how change can be a series of small steps, but noted the importance of missing steps, endless steps and steps that trip you up.

These slides were really where I started to understand strategy and writing strategies much more. This certainly helped me in future roles and influenced heavily the design of certain aspects of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme in which I was part of the research and development team led by Lawrie Phipps.

I talked about activity, technology should never be about the technology, it needed to be about how it could enhance or improve activities. Or where the affordances created new opportunities for different activities. We still have a perception that we shouldn’t talk about technology first, though sometimes I think we should.

Technology allow for flexibility, flexible curriculum, flexible approaches to delivery, flexible learning. I think we have made a little progress here, but so much more is possible these days. The technology enables flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it will just happen, there is so much more that needs to happen to enable flexibility.

Back then I felt sharing was important, not just sharing content (as in open) but also sharing ideas, concepts and approaches. Not that this didn’t happen, but it was difficult to do so. Today it is much easier to share than it was back then, so much so, I think we have forgotten about the time when this didn’t happen.

I talked about the importance of working collaboratively. Since the talk online tools have made it so much easier to collaborate. Collaboration across institutions (and countries) is so much easier these days. Tools such as Slack enable groups to talk and work together.

I talked about innovation, celebrating ideas. Innovation doesn’t always mean better, it means different or new. Following on from that I talked about experimentation and encouraging it within our institutions.

If you want innovation, then it needs to be embedded into the strategy, rewarded and not penalised when things go wrong. It needs to be done in collaboration with learners not done to them. I think we are seeing much more innovation and collaboration these days, and the student voice is helping to inform developments and ideas.

I said we need to re-think assessment, technology was going to have an impact. I think it has, but not in the way we thought it would. We try and use technology to “fix’ assessment today, rather than re-imagine how we assess.

I talked about culture and how culture can enable change, but also frustrate it. Culture is about what and who we are, it’s the sum of the people within an organisation. This was something we covered years later in the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme.

I have written about the importance of culture and strategy in this blog post on writing strategies.

I have always seen technology as a solution to a problem. Technology in itself is not the problem needing to be solved. This was something that I wrote about in 2018.

I finished the presentation about talking about the future and how the future was about the learner, the student. It was about how they wanted to learn, where they wanted to learn, what they wanted to learn and with whom they wanted to learn. Why did we need to think about the future, it was because we needed to think about the learners, then, now and in the future.

So did I predict the future?

No.

It certainly though had a huge impact on my future, some of which I have outlined above. As a result of this talk I was invited to speak at a range of events and conferences on the future of learning and a range of mobile learning events. I spoke the following year at FOTE 10 about the future of reading, which resulted in me doing much more in the e-book space.

So there is also a video of me (looking much younger) presenting, if you want to watch what happened…

Looking back – Weeknote #18 – 5th July 2019

The beach at Sand Bay
The beach at Sand Bay

A busy and confusing week for me with various non-work activities taking place, resulting in a more agile and flexible way of working.

On Monday, that Amazon Photos reminded me that on the 1st July in 2007 I was taking photographs of our brand new library at the new Gloucestershire College campus on the quays.

Gloucestershire College Library

What really impressed me back then was that my library team came in over the weekend to unpack everything and ensure that the library was ready to open. They didn’t tell me they were going to do that, as they wanted to surprise me (and everyone else as it happens). The library was welcomed by staff and students. It would take a little time to embed the use of the library across the student body, but within a year or two we were there.

At Gloucestershire College I was responsible for TEL, the libraries and learning resources from 2006 until 2013. Ofsted at our March 2013 inspection. Ofsted said “Teachers and learners use learning technologies extensively and creatively inside and outside the classroom. Most courses provide a good range of materials for learners through the college’s VLE. Outside lessons, many learners make constructive use of the college’s libraries and resources.” This was achieved by working with curriculum teams and students on show how the library and technology could be used to support learners and enhance the learning experience. I was very proud that all the work myself and my team had put into the use of learning technologies, the VLE and the library was recognised.

I quite enjoyed the tweets this week from Microsoft celebrating the 1985 initial release of Windows.

My first experience of Windows was some time later with Windows 3.0 and remembering the big advance that Windows 3.1 brought to computing. It was probably Windows 3.1 that really made me appreciate the affordances that technology could bring to teaching.

I remember the huge fanfare that was Windows 95 and what a step change it was from 3.1. We even had video now on Windows, though it was quite small.

I never really moved to Windows 98 and moved straight to Windows 2000 when I started a new job in 2001. Well the laptop I was provided with did use Windows Me, but I soon moved over to 2000. I liked Windows XP and thought it was a huge improvement over previous versions of Windows.

After that I was more of a Mac person and rarely used Windows. I did have to use Windows 7 for a while, but found it confusing as I hadn’t used Windows for a long time. Today I have been known to use Windows 10, but my main computing platform these days is still OS X.

David Kernohan of Wonkhe wrote an interesting blog post Visualising the national student survey 2019.

I’ve long argued that NSS by institution only isn’t helpful for prospective students or others – you include so many different student experiences l that an average doesn’t offer much help for understanding how your experience may compare.

He then goes through a range of visualisations including results that allows you to get as close to results for an individual course as the data allows.

I liked the use of Tableau to enable you to interact with the visualisations.

Another news item this week caught my eye. Police face calls to end use of facial recognition software.

…independent analysis found matches were only correct in a fifth of cases and the system was likely to break human rights laws.

Relying on new technology for some stuff can be excused, but using unproven technology that could result in negative impacts on people’s lives is inexcusable.

Actually relying on technology without a human element is also inexcusable. The number of times we hear the phrase “well the computer says…”.

We need to remember that computers and software are designed by people and people can be wrong, biased and will make mistakes.

On Thursday, that Amazon Photos once more gave me a blast from the past and reminded me that thirteen years ago in 2006 I had presented at the EU e-Learning Conference in Espoo in Finland. I was presenting on behalf of Norton Radstock College (now part of Bath College) about a joint European project they had been working on. At the time I was Director of the Western Colleges Consortium of which Norton Radstock was the lead college. I was on holiday when I got the call to see if I could attend, so it was a somewhat mad rush to sort out the travel. I started off in Bristol Airport and then there was a bit of a mad rush at Schiphol where I had to change to a flight to Helsinki. Schiphol is one huge airport…

Schiphol Airport

Having arrived at Helsinki, I needed to get to Espoo and travelled by shared taxi to the hotel. I spent part of the evening walking around the area, before ending up in the hotel restaurant.

Espoo

It was lovely and sunny, and as being so far north, the sun never really set. I also remember trying to access the BBC News website connected to the hotel wifi and being surprised by the advertising all across the BBC site. I then connected to the VPN in my office in Keynsham and all those adverts disappeared…

The conference was opened by a string quartet which I remember been something I hadn’t seen before at an e-learning conference. My presentation went down well, but the humour didn’t!

EU e-Learning Conference 2006

The conference meal was a little disappointing, I had been expecting a meal that would be full of Finnish delicacies and national dishes. What actually happened was we went to an Italian restaurant and had a buffet of Italian food.

It’s quite happenstance that I was reminded of that conference and trip, as in my new role I am now working with NREN colleagues across Europe on different projects,

Helsinki Tram

I had some time the following day before my flight to have a quick look around Helsinki. I caught a bus to the centre and back.

Helsinki

As I didn’t know any Finnish I thought I did quite well to not get lost.

Helsinki

Spent some time reviewing and planning the Data Matters 2020 conference. I presented on the Intelligent Campus at Data Matters 2019 and in my new role the responsibility for planning the next conference falls of my shoulders.

I also spent a fair amount of time working on the Learning and Research Technical Career Pathway I am working on at Jisc.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Le campus intelligent et l’expérience étudiante

48em ADBU Congrès

It was with a little trepidation that I stood on the stage at the 48em ADBU Congrès to deliver a keynote on the intelligent campus and the student experience. The audience were all French library professionals attending the Congress.

I delivered my presentation in English, and for those who needed it a translation service was available. The presentation covered the background to the Intelligent Campus project and it builds on the existing Jisc analytics service. I briefly covered the service and what it enabled for universities and colleges using the service. I also spoke about how the service can provide data and visualisations to students to improve their own performance.

I described the plan for the technical infrastructure behind the intelligent campus and how the data hub can be used to deliver data to different presentation layers. These presentation layers covered a range of possibilities.

48em ADBU Congrès

Talking about tracking students and gathering other data about student brings the legal and ethical issues to the fore. It is important to think about these issues before moving ahead with analytics. We also considered the technical challenges, can we actually measure some of the things that would provide an useful insight. Are these insights even valid? It was this last point that was picked up in following discussions and presentations at the Congress. Do certain kinds of activities actually help students to achieve and succeed? More research in this space is needed.

Many of the questions at the end of the presentation were similar to questions we’ve had at events in the UK.

Overall my keynote provided an insight into the work Jisc is undertaking in the Intelligent Campus space and how far we have come in the realm of learning analytics.

Reposted from the Intelligent Campus blog.

Getting ready for #altc or where do I buy the decent coffee?

coffee

Having probably spent time and effort securing the funding to go to a conference such as the ALT Conference in Manchester this September, 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.

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 my ALT-C journey in an earlier big 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.

James Clay presenting at ALT-C 2012

Now when attending a conference I make some preparations that will ensure I have a productive, informative and interesting time.

Attend it all…

Going for just a day may be all that is possible in your current role and organisation, but I would recommend attending all the days of the conference if you can. This is so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience. It will also provide the time to do everything you would like to do at the conference. It gives you time to meet and get to know people. You can reflect on the earlier sessions as you attend later ones.

Try to arrive before the conference starts and don’t leave until the end, as in the very end. There is nothing more frustrating and stressful than arriving late for a conference and sneaking into the back of the opening keynote. Wondering what you missed and probably a little flustered having rushed from the station and needing a decent cup of coffee.

Likewise, plan your travel so you don’t need to leave early and miss the final sessions and keynotes. Nothing is more soul destroying when presenting a session at the end of the conference and to find three people attending.

ALT-C 2016

I do recognise that the realities of life or travel options can mean you need to leave early, but planning in advance to attend all of the conference means that usually these can be avoided. You may miss something really useful and relevant. Staying to the end helps complete the experience. This year I am planning to be there to the end, but unfortunately the realities of life means I will probably miss the start.

Don’t bring your work to the conference. You may be away from the office and you may have stuff to do, but a conference is not the most conducive environment for working. You have paid a fee to attend, it makes sense to use that time for the conference and not catching up with stuff. A conference is quite a tiring affair, so even if you decide not to partake in the social side of things and get work done in the evening you may find that this isn’t that productive. I once struggled to finish an urgent report at a conference, it was a horrible experience as I struggled with poor wifi connectivity, phone calls and focused writing. The report seemed to take twice as long and was half the quality of my usual writing.

My approach is to block the time out in the diary, ensure and deadlines are either before (or well after) the conference. Ensure everything is done before I go and I have achieved Inbox Zero. I also avoid taking things on just before the conference. I also ensure everyone knows I will be away and will say “no” to things that I know I won’t be able to complete successfully because I am at the conference. I also put an “out of the office” notification on my e-mail account, so people will realise they won’t get a response from me.

There is a flip side to this as well, when you’re in the office and a colleague is at a conference, let them get the most out of the conference, don’t send them e-mails, requests, etc…. Wait until they are back! Actually wait until they’ve been back for a few days. You will get a much more coherent response from then as well.

Josie Fraser at ALT-C 2017

Plan your days

Do try and review the programme in advance and find stuff you want to attend, make a note of it and write it down (or use the conference app, add to your calendar). There is almost a separate blog post discussing what sessions to choose, so will focus on the planning side of things. Having reviewed the programme I make a note of not just the title of the session, but also which room it is in. If you want to move between parallel sessions, it is useful to check the distance between them, nothing worse when wanting to see two interesting sessions, but missing one of them as you hiked across to the other room.

Some sessions will be very popular, so make sure you arrive on time (or before). I have delivered some sessions where there was standing room only.

Prepare for the sessions

At the very least read the abstract, but take the time to find out more than just the title. I sometimes find titles can be misleading. I also note down the things I want to find out, and what I hope to take away from the session.

If you are going to take notes using a laptop or live tweeting during the session, then ensure you are fully charged, and if you need a power socket then get to the session early.

In the sessions

I like to be engaged with sessions, this can be simply by using a notebook and pen and make notes.

I sometimes use the Twitter and sometimes I don’t. If I use the Twitter then I use it to post questions and thoughts, I try not to tweet what is happening, unless I think it’s something that others (who are not in the session) will find interesting and useful.

You could live-tweet the session, but I feel if you are doing this, you need to do it properly and live-tweet the whole thing, ensuring you link to the biographical details, the session link on the ALT-C website and if available the abstract and the paper.

Whatever you do with the Twitter, use the hashtag #altc so that others can find your tweets even if you have only a few followers. I never apologies if I am at a conference and fill my stream with #altc tweets, if you don’t like it, then unfollow me, or mute me.

If you have questions about the session, write them down, otherwise you may forget them. You probably won’t get picked to ask your question in a popular session, so why not post them on the Twitter or on the relevant session page on the conference website.

workshop

After the session

So that was a good session. What do you remember? What do you want to take away from it?

I sometimes forget to do this, what did I learn from that session? What actions am I going to do next? Who am I going to tell about this session? What do I want to read as a result of attending the session?

Prepare to chat

If you are shy and retiring like me, (seriously I am) it can be challenging to engage people in conversations. I think it’s worth coming up with strategies to do deal with this. In sessions I always try and make the effort to introduce myself to the other people on the table, ask them where they are from and what they have enjoyed about the conference so far. Also come along to the ALT stand in the exhibition area where there will be ALT Trustees and valued members, who are more than willing to talk and chat (and make introductions if necessary).

ALT-C 2009

Also engaging on Twitter before and during the conference can also make connections for good conversations and chats. Don’t forget the hashtag #altc to, so people who don’t follow you, but do follow the hashtag can pick up your tweets, especially useful if you don’t have a huge following on the Twitter.

CB_ALT_WED_38 https://flic.kr/p/XRVcwY CC BY-NC 2.0
CB_ALT_WED_38 https://flic.kr/p/XRVcwY CC BY-NC 2.0

Decent coffee

If you like decent coffee then for most conferences be prepared to be disappointed. Most conference coffee has been made in advance of time and left to stew for a while. It may have been made from instant coffee, or possibly filtered. Whatever way it was made it will taste like mud!

Rather than try and guess where I can get a decent coffee from, I now do a quick search around to find somewhere I can go either before the start of the conference day, during a break or afterwards. These coffee places can also be great locations for ad hoc conversations and chats. You also don’t need to stand in that everlasting queue for coffee.

coffee

At the venue in Manchester there are quite a few good choices close by, there is the wonderful Christie’s Bistro, but the Museum is pretty nice too.

So how are you preparing for the ALT Conference.

Getting ready to pack for #altc

six way gang

Back in the midst of time, well 2009, I wrote this blog post about packing stuff for the ALT Conference. Nearly ten years later, it’s probably time for an update, things and stuff change.

Six-Way Gang – I still think a six way gang is an useful thing, instead of fighting people for the power sockets, you can immediately make five friends! Having such an adapter is also useful in the hotel room when you want to charge everything up for the following day and you have limited plug sockets. When I mentioned the previous article on the Twitter someone told me about the USB charging stations you can now buy. With so many devices reliant on USB charging then these could be useful, but then I have a laptop that needs a proper plug socket. The other thing that someone recommended was an external high powered battery pack for charging devices. If you are coming from outside the UK, then a trick I do (going the other way) is to bring a extension gang and then you only need one UK plug adapter.

Coffee and Snacks – I don’t drink instant coffee and usually that it is what is only available in hotel rooms. I use to take coffee bags or Rombout Coffee filters. Today I take a small cafetière and some ground coffee. I also bring my own mug, I want a mug of coffee and not a cup of coffee. I also have one of those cafetière mugs when space is a premium. Of course if you drink a specific brand of tea, then take some of those, you can’t always rely on Twinings being in the hotel room. Having arrived at the hotel, I usually pop out and get some fresh milk. It’s also useful to take the time to see what independent and local coffee places are near to the venue, which can be used instead of queuing for that awful conference coffee. I also bring a few snacks with me as well, as that solitary small pack of biscuits you usually get.

coffee

Chargers – Don’t forget your chargers, expensive to replace, difficult to borrow, make sure you pack yours. The other thing about power is investing in a higher powered adapter (or borrowing one from a friend). As Apple says here

Using an Apple 12W or 10W USB power adapter charges some Apple devices and accessories faster than a 5W power adapter.

I find that when charging my iPhone using the adapter that came with my iPad Pro and it charges the phone so much faster, which is an useful thing to know for a conference. This means you can do a quick “supercharge” of your iPhone ready for the next keynote. Also useful to know that the 5W power adapter potentially can charge your iPad Pro, but only if you aren’t using it for eight hours or more….

Photography and Video – I use to take a camera to conferences, today I use my phone. If you take a lot of photographs then check you have a lot of storage space on your phone, or at least one way to take the pictures off. I try and remember to empty my camera roll before I go to the conference. However if you like to take a lot of video then I personally would take a separate additional video camera.

Connectivity – I am sure that the WiFi at the conference venue will be fine, however what about at the hotel, the dinner, the train… Technological changes means that connectivity is more important that in the last few years. Yes there is a plethora of places to get free wifi, but there are some security considerations to take into account. I normally use tethering on my iPhone and make sure I have enough bandwidth to do that. Other options could include some kind of MiFi device. I use to have one of those which acted as a wireless access point for up to five clients, which worked great in the time. I think one of the challenges with some venues is that 3G/4G connectivity can be very patchy.

Display cables – If you are presenting, then ensure your laptop can be connected somehow to the projector, you can’t always rely that the VGA adapter you have will be good enough. I now take an HDMI cable with my too. I also take my Lightning to HDMI adapter so in theory I can present from your iPhone or iPad. It also means I can connect to the hotel TV and watch what I want on the big screen.

USB Stick – In a world of cloud storage, you might think why would you need an USB stick. I have been caught out and needed to quickly move my presentation to a presenter machine. Despite the proliferation of the cloud or potential sharing solutions, I find sharing via an USB stick is quick and easy.

SD Card – If using a device with an SD Card I usually carry a couple of spare SD Cards, just in case I lose one, or fill one of the others up.

USB Cables – Due to the differing sizes of USB, normal, micro and mini, I now carry three of them! I also carry a couple of Apple lightning cables too.

Paracetamol – some of those presentations do give you headaches…

What are you going to pack?

Going down the #altc road again

This is an updated version of this blog post from 2016. It now includes details of the 2016 and 2017 conferences.

#altc in Liverpool

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!

Continue reading Going down the #altc road again

Making another game #disrupticon

 Making another game #disrupticon

At the Rethinking Research: Disrupting and Challenging Research Practices conference where I was presenting a mapping session, one of the sessions I attended as a delegate was “Hacking the University Game” led by Luca Morin from Coventry University.

I hadn’t intended to attend this session, however as the presenter of the session I was in hadn’t turned up, I had to make another choice so came in late to this one.

In a previous blog post I talked about the design process for a vice-chancellors game we created as a group.

In another part of the session we were asked to reflect on a different kind of game, choosing a different subject to focus on. This time though we were asked not to think about the mechanics of the game, but focus on what the game was trying to enabler the players to learn. After chatting with the other person on my table we decided to do a game for students that demonstrated to them the difference between employability and education.

Many students sometimes focus on the skills they need for a job and think “education” isn’t as important as gaining employability skills.

The student's game

What we wanted the game to demonstrate to students was that undertaking a degree wasn’t (just) about gaining the skills for a future job, but that by undertaking the degree you would learn stuff in the subject, but by doing so would also gain the skills that would be transferable and useful in a future job. In addition that focusing on employability would be a false economy and learning those skills discretely independently from the degree subject takes longer than gaining those skills by learning in the subject area.

We used a simple example to explain this, learning how to use Excel is an useful employability skills. It takes time to learn how to use Excel effectively and gain skills that are transferable to the workplace. Without context though, the transfer and application of these skills can be challenging, especially if you’ve not done it before.

However using Excel to understand a series of data from the subject area and learning how to manipulate it within Excel not only means using Excel, but also learning how to use Excel in context. This makes it easier to understand how to use Excel, but you can apply it to different situations. As a result, using Excel within a subject context can make it quicker and easier to gain Excel skills, than learning to use Excel outside the context.

The game was about engaging learners in the process that though employability skills are important for a future job or career, these skills will be more transferable and enhanced by gaining them through learning in the subject context, then trying to do the bare minimum.

There were less steps using the employability route, but each step would take longer. The education route had more steps, but they could be completed more quickly. There were also connections between both routes.

Of course spending ten minutes thinking and designing a game that covers this doesn’t mean that this is a finished game and there are major flaws with the concept and design. However the exercise of creating a game does make you think about the problem and the core issues, that in itself is an useful exercise.

Making a game #disrupticon

dice

At the Rethinking Research: Disrupting and Challenging Research Practices conference where I was presenting a mapping session, one of the sessions I attended as a delegate was “Hacking the University Game” led by Luca Morin from Coventry University.

I hadn’t intended to attend this session, however as the presenter of the session I was in hadn’t turned up, I had to make another choice so came in late to this one.

When I arrived Luca was taking about the Landlord Game and Monopoly and on the table was a selection of dice, playing cards, blocks, pen, blank cards, pieces and other stuff.

creating games

A bit unsure of the aim of the session I listened carefully and tried to get up to speed.

The first activity (for me) in the workshop was for our table to design a “Vice-Chancellor’s Game”.

When it comes to game design you need to reflect on the aim of the game, what do the players need to do to “win”, is this a competitive or a collaborative game.

My thinking was that there were two approaches to this game, one was to focus on a single university or to go for a UK wide game where universities compete against each other.

In the UK wide game, players would be vice-chancellors competing against each other to make their university the best and win the game.

In a single university game you could have a competitive game where the players play characters who are senior managers competing with each others to become Vice-Chancellor. Another game could have the players collaborating together to make their university the most successful.

On our table we took the choice of a single university competitive game with the vice-chancellor “competing” with the academic staff, students and professional services.

The Vice Chancellor's Game

Each player has a unique table with attributes that reflect their role’s objectives. We used blocks to RAG (red, amber green) rate each attribute. Then using some kind of process, players play cards against each other or themselves. These would then improve or deprecate their RAG ratings. These cards can be offset by dice rolls (and or money).The aim of the game is for the players to ensure all their attributes green.

It was an interesting exercise in thinking about the game idea and start to reflect on the mechanics about how this game would work. As with any game the mechanics and algorithms would reflect the bias of the game designer, so that would need to be taken into account.

For me the process of designing a game is probably more useful than playing the game itself for participants. I enjoyed this aspect of the session.