Category Archives: conference

Did I predict the virus? – Weeknote #58 – 10th April 2020

This week I have spent a lot of time looking at assessment, but also reflecting on the Plymouth e-learning conference where ten years ago I chaired a debate about closing the physical campus in times of crisis and disruption.

It could be floods, high winds (remember 1987), flu or similar viral infections, transport strikes, fuel crisis, anything…

Bunker

I was supposed to be on leave this week, we were heading off to London for a few days, as we had tickets for the Only Fools and Horses musical at the Royal Haymarket. I had bought tickets for my wife as a Christmas present and it was something we were all looking forward to. Then all this lockdown happened and the theatre cancelled all the performances as required by the Government.

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

I saw on Monday that the OfS on Friday had published new guidance on academic standards and quality.

There is recognition that in these challenging times that maintaining quality will be difficult. Continue reading Did I predict the virus? – Weeknote #58 – 10th April 2020

Looking back at online conferences for now

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

With the current situation impacting on conferences, events and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, as well as moving conference to online events.

Ten years ago or so, Jisc ran for a few years an online e-learning conference. I participated in these as a delegate, a keynote speaker and for some of these I was the conference blogger and wrote a blog called “Letters from the Edge”.

Letters from the Edge

It can be useful to have an online space (a blog) where someone addresses what is happening in the conference (and elsewhere).

I also published some ramblings about the advantages of an online conference on my blog about advantages of online conferences, many of which still stand up today and are also useful potentially for those who are planning some online delivery.

In this post I discuss some of the challenges, but also many of the advantages of an online conferences.

Why an online conference?

A video about the advantages of an online conference, however it doesn’t take self-isolating into account.

Advantages of an online conference

This post based on the experiences of supporting and delivering webinars over the years and some tips.

Webinaring it

 

This post talks about the discussions that are possible in an online conference. You will find much more discussion and debate takes place than at a traditional conference. Not only that, the conversations happen over time, allowing for reflection and checking sources. It’s also all written down. This makes it very easy to check back and see what someone said before making a different point. Sharing links and ideas is also so much easier too.

Virtually

Wherever you are… is a short humorous video, that looks at how you can participate in conferences from any location, which for most people will be home these days.

Wherever you are…

Online conferences can facilitate more in-depth discussions than at traditional conferences.

Due to the textual and asynchronous nature of an online conference discussion it is possible to engage in the conversation either immediately or after a period of reflection over the two days of discussion for each of the themes. it’s a real opportunity to take the time to debate the issues that arise out of the presentation with fellow practitioners and experts.

Challenging Discussions

I am sure if you ask a lot of people why they attend conferences, in addition to the keynotes and sessions, one aspect that will come out is the networking and social aspects of the conference. So isn’t all this social and networking all lost with an online conference, I hear you cry! Well in a way, yes! And in a way, no!

Social awkwardness

Some may find it useful in these difficult and challenging times.

TNE 4.0 Sketchnote

Today I am attending the TNE 4.0 UUK event. It’s about the challenges of international education in higher education and the potential impact of digital and technology on the process of TNE.

At the TNE 4.0 event at the Jisc offices in Bristol I did a sketchnote of the opening talk by Paul Feldman.

In his talk Paul spoke about the challenges that face the university sector with the changes brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, but also about the positive response that is Education 4.0.

In the afternoon I did a second sketchnote on the session entitled “Five Steps to Launching a Successful Digital Content Program Included in Tuition for Under-Represented Students“

What is the difference between strong, thorough and exceptional? – Weeknote #37 – 15th November 2019

BT Tower in Fitzrovia
BT Tower in Fitzrovia by James Clay

One interesting read this week was this blog post

An ‘Edinburgh Model’ for Online Teaching Programme: Notes from a pilot run.

In this post, Dr Michael Gallagher, a Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Digital Education, describes how he and colleagues drew on current expertise and research within The University of Edinburgh to inform and design a new online course…

It was an interesting read, but I find it equally interesting that we are still having difficulty with delivering and teaching online that we still need to run pilots.

There has been substantial amounts of research and practice in this space, this is reinforced by the forthcoming A Manifesto for Teaching Online which, as indicated in the article on the  ‘Edinburgh Model’ was a source for the course, much of what is distilled in the course comes from the outcomes of the Near Future Teaching project and the Manifesto for Teaching Online.

This isn’t though a course which is delivered online, this is a course for teaching people how to teach online and it wasn’t initially delivered online.

This first pilot of the course was run face to face to allow the team to focus on specific areas and get rapid feedback from participants.

In my reading and experience, people really get to understand the challenges and affordances of delivering online if they have first hand experience of being taught online, both bad and good. A similar thing can be said for non-online teaching (or what we sometimes call traditional or face to face teaching. This is something that all teachers will have experience of, being taught in a face to face or traditional manner before they start teaching themselves. Though I wonder can we teach online if we have never been taught online? Should be said though the team are planning to run the course fully online in early 2020.

I suppose there is for me an element of frustration that the concept of online teaching isn’t new, there has been considerable research in this space, but it’s still something that we as a sector struggle with. Hopefully sharing experiences from these pilots will help, but we have been doing pilots for decades now… Continue reading What is the difference between strong, thorough and exceptional? – Weeknote #37 – 15th November 2019

Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics

London
View of London from the QEII Conference Centre

This was the title of a presentation I gave at the recent Higher Education Conference and Exhibition on the 16th October 2019.

HE Conference
HE Conference

My presentation was entitled Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics and covered the following areas:

  • 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

My talk was only 15 minutes so I had to cover a lot in quite a short time. I decided that I would expand upon my talk and include some links to the reports and research I mentioned. Continue reading Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics

Presenting, presenting, presenting – Weeknote #33 – 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. Continue reading Presenting, presenting, presenting – Weeknote #33 – 18th October 2019

All together now – Weeknote #32 – 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

Continue reading All together now – Weeknote #32 – 11th October 2019

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.