Category Archives: jisc

Open the pod bay doors…

People are not fearful of algorithms, they’re fearful of agendas that the algorithms represent.

2001-a-space-odyssey

Over the last few weeks I have been discussing and listening to people’s views on the intelligent campus.

One topic which has resulted in a fair bit of controversy is the concept of using artificial intelligence to support teaching and learning. This isn’t some kind of HAL 9000 computer running the campus and refusing to open the library doors until Dave the learner has finished their essay. This is more about a campus system being able to learn from the users, take that data, do some analysis and make suggestions to the user on potential ideas for improvement and useful interventions.

Imagine a learner arriving at campus with the intention of writing an essay, needing a quiet place in which to do this. They check their Campus App on their smartphone and it recommends a location based on the ambient noise levels and the type of environment the learner has used before. It could take into account the distance from the coffee shop, depending on if coffee is used as a distraction or supports the learner in writing their essay. The learner can of course ignore all this and just go to where they want to, the app provides informed guidance and learns as the learner does more learning activities and which spaces they use.

Another scenario, is a teacher planning a session, with some relatively interactive and engaging learning activities. They ask the intelligent campus where is the best place for this to happen! The system takes on board the preferences of the teacher, the availability of rooms, information from previously successful similar sessions and any feedback from learners. The teacher can then make an informed choice about the best space for this session. After the learning, the system asks for feedback so that it can learn from and improve the decisions it makes.

I think some of the issues (or should we call them problems and fears) that people have with a concept such as this is they feel any such algorithm is secret and hidden and will have a built in bias.

hal-9000-reflecting-daves-entry-in-stanley-kubricks-2001-a-space-odyssey

As I wrote in my previous blog post on open analytics I said

So if we are to use algorithms to manage the next generation of learning environments, the intelligent campus, support for future apprenticeships and data driven learning gains, how can we ensure that we recognise that there is bias? If we do recognise the bias, how do we mitigate it? Using biased algorithms, can we make people aware that any results have a bias, and what it might mean?

People are not fearful of algorithms, they’re fearful of agendas that the algorithms represent. But if we make these algorithms open and accessible, we could mitigate some of those concerns.

So if we are to use algorithms to support teaching and learning, could we, by making the algorithms open, ensure that, we remove some of those fears and frustrations people have with a data approach? By making the algorithms open could we ensure that staff and learners could see how they work, how they learn and why they produce the results that do?

This does bring up another issue that people have mentioned which is the bias any algorithm has, bias which comes from the people who write it, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. There is an assumption that these algorithms are static and unchanging and written by people who have an agenda. As we know from using Google and other algorithms, these are constantly changing and being tweaked.

Could we go one step further and allow people to edit or even create their own algorithms? Allowing them to make suggestions on how they could be improved, creating new analytics that could benefit the wider community.

We need to embrace the benefits of a smart campus, because the technology is already here, but we need one which learns from the people who use it; we need to ensure that those people are the ones who inform and guide the development of that learning. They are able to and can decide which intelligent campus decisions to benefit from and which they can ignore. By making the whole process open and accessible, we can provide confidence in the decision making, we can feel we can trust those decisions. We mustn’t forget that giving them that literacy in this area, is perhaps the most important thing of all.

Remember that in both scenarios above the learner and teacher both, ultimately, have the decision to ignore the intelligent campus decisions, they can decide themselves to close the pod bay doors.

Opening the algorithms: Could we use open analytics?

globe

Do you remember when the Google algorithm wasn’t that good, well it was good, but today it’s better!

Many years ago if you searched for a hotel on Google, so you could find out if there was car parking, or to find the website for the restaurant menu, the search results most of the time were not the hotel website, but hotel booking sites offering cheap hotel rooms. Pointless if you already had a room, and all you wanted to know if you had to pay for car parking, or what time you could check out. The problem was that the hotel booking sites worked out how the Google search algorithm ranked sites and “gamed” Google search.

Today, the experience is very different, the algorithm usually results in the actual hotel website being the top hit on any search for a specific hotel.

Google had worked on the algorithm and ensured what they saw as the correct search result was the one that was at the top.

One thing that many people don’t realise was that Google not only worked on the software behind the algorithm, but that they also use human intervention to check that the algorithm was providing the search results they thought it should be. If you wonder why Google search is better than search functions on your intranet and the VLE this is probably why, Google use people to improve search results. Google uses people to both write the algorithms and to tweak the search results. Using people can result in bias.

laptop

So if we are to use algorithms to manage the next generation of learning environments, the intelligent campus, support for future apprenticeships and data driven learning gains, how can we ensure that we recognise that there is bias? If we do recognise the bias, how do we mitigate it? Using biased algorithms, can we make people aware that any results have a bias, and what it might mean? If we are to, like Google, use human intervention, how is that managed?

The one aspect of Google’s search algorithm that some people find frustrating is that the whole process is secret and closed. No one, apart from the engineers at Google really knows how the algorithms were written and how they work, and what level of human intervention there is.

So if we are to use algorithms to support teaching and learning, could we, by making the algorithms open, ensure that, we remove some of those fears and frustrations people have with a data approach? By making the algorithims open could we ensure that staff and learners could see how they work, how they learn and why they produce the results that do?

Could we go one step further and allow people to edit or even create their own algorithms? Allowing them to make suggestions on how they could be improved, creating new analytics that could benefit the wider community.

Is it time for open analytics?

Thank you to Lawrie Phipps for the conversations we had after the Digital Pedagogy Lab: Prince Edward Island conference and this blog post.

Hey Siri, how am I doing on my course?

Of course if you ask Siri today, her reply is, well it depends…

siri002

Another response to the same question…

siri001

As for tomorrow…. well could it be different?

However for other things intelligent assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now can be a really useful mechanism for finding things out, things you need to do and in many instances fun stuff too.

I have been wondering if we could utilise these technologies and apply it to learning.

We know that most (if not all) people can usually tell when using a chat function on a website when they are talking to a chat bot and when they are talking to a real person.

Could we just not even try and think that the intelligent agent is real and actually play up to the fact it is artificial. Give it a name and even create a personality for it?

This way we could avoid some of those ethical issues about a piece of software trying to pretend to be human. The students know it is not real and it is advertised accordingly.

But could such a tool be an useful thing for students to have access to? One that could learn from its experiences and fine tune it’s responses and interventions?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be voice controlled, users could use text entries.

So what kind of questions could learners ask?

What is the best book for this module?

Where is a quiet place to study on campus?

What other questions could we expect learners to be asking?

Making the move from the radio…

Old Radio

At the recent AELP Autumn Conference I was having a discussion about the challenges that online delivery can be for training providers and employers. Often they have excellent instructors and trainers who work well in face to face classroom situations.

There is often an assumption that is made that because someone is excellent in face to face learning scenarios, they will be able to easily transfer these skills into an online environment, as the scenarios are very similar.

This is quite a risky assumption to make, as though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

It was and can be challenging for radio personalities to move into television, even though both broadcast mediums, and there are similar programmes on both (think News Quiz and Have I Got News For You) the skills for the different media are quite different.

In a similar vein, many stars of the silent cinema were unable to make the move to the talkies. Those that did, certainly thrived, those that couldn’t, didn’t!

If we are to make the move to a truly digital apprenticeship experience for all apprentices, then we need to ensure that the instructors and trainers involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.

Having the digital confidence, capacity and capability is something that often needs to be built in those staff who may already have excellent skills in delivering learning in face to face scenarios. Certainly there are many things which are transferable, but the skills in facilitating a classroom discussion are different to those in running a debate in an online forum.

So the question is, how do we build that digital capability? How are you building digital and online skills? What are you doing to ensure the successful transition to online delivery?

Image Credit: Old Radio by idban secandri CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I know where you are…

My phone knows where I’ve parked, why couldn’t my phone know where I am on my course?

My phone knows where I’ve parked

I recently upgraded my phone to the most recent iOS and have been interested to note that my phone, which can connect to my car over Bluetooth has now been giving me updates on where I parked. I usually know where I have parked and am able to find my car quite easily.

There are times where I think this could be useful, such as parking at the airport (but then I usually use my cameraphone to record the bay details).

parking bay

Or when I am attending a meeting, an event or conference in a city I don’t know and then afterwards don’t recall the way back to the car park. I can recall at least twice in the last twelve months when that may have been useful, once was in Wolverhampton. Though most of the time I really need to know which level I am on in the car park.

So the notification of where I have parked my car isn’t as useful as my phone thinks it is. Maybe the day when I really need it I will think more highly of it.

The technology behind this though is somewhat clever. My phone has GPS so knows where it is and where it has been. It has Bluetooth which connects to my car (mainly for audio streaming, but also occasional hands free phone calls). There is importantly a software layer that enables the recording of the information and the notification.

This is only a simple aspect of what is a quite complex software layer. The software often tells me how long it will take to get home, and what roads to take (hasn’t quite worked out that I usually use the train). My phone knows where I am and will suggest apps on my location.

So from an educational perspective, if my phone knows where I’ve parked, why couldn’t my phone know where I am on my course and provide contextual information about where I need to go and what I could be doing.

It would need a software layer that uses the same processes as it does or parking and travelling. The software layer would need to know as a learner who I was, where I was studying, what subject I was doing and where I was on my course. It would need access to a detailed learning plan (scheme of work) and would also need to have algorithms and access to data, so that it can direct advice and content appropriately. It would also need to be able to overcome that annoyance factor that we get with the “I know where you parked your car!”

Jisc are currently running their Co-Design 2016 challenge and this concept fits into the Intelligent Campus topic. You can find out more about that on this page on the intelligent campus blog.

So do you think this is something that would be useful, or would it be too complex and expensive to build?

Introducing James Clay and Lawrie Phipps #altc

train

This year I am attending ALT-C 2016 in Warwick and along with my colleague Lawrie Phipps will be running a workshop on the Wednesday looking at digital capabilities and organisational mapping.

Digital technologies are driving some significant changes in the world of work, and are deeply implicated in others.

Effective use of digital technology by college staff is vital in providing a compelling student experience and in realising a good return on investment in digital technology. To help managers and individuals understand what is needed, Jisc have published a digital capability framework which describes the skills needed by staff in a wide range of teaching, administrative and professional roles to thrive in a digital environment.

What does it mean to be digitally capable? Not just for an individual, but from an organisational perspective. How will you lead using the plethora of digital tools and channels available to you?

The Jisc building digital capability project has been addressing these issues for institutional leaders, for those on the front line of teaching and research, and those who support them. Universities and colleges across the UK have been participating in the pilots for the Jisc Building digital capability project This workshop will bring those experiences to the participants.

A person’s capabilities (what they can do) are no longer attested to simply by their certificates and grades. Digital devices and systems have the capacity to: record learning, achievement, and evidence of practice e.g. using digital video; capture data related to learning and achievement e.g. from learning records, learning environments; organise the evidence e.g. using tags, file structures, structured e-portfolios; showcase learning, achievement and evidence of practice e.g. using a blog/vlog, eportfolio, personal web page. We can use mapping to explore a person’s or an institution’s digital capabilities.

Collaboration between academics, TEL teams, professional services, business support and learner support is critical in ensuring an organisation can build digital capability across the institution and help provide a compelling student experience.

This workshop will ask and provide responses to the following questions, through an individual and group mapping exercise.

  • How do you build digital capability?
  • How do you ensure collaboration across the institution to build a breadth of capability to make more effective use of technology?
  • Why is collaboration essential?
  • What is the role of leadership in building capability?
  • Who within an institution needs to be involved?

The Visitors and Residents mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. We then started to think about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. This lead onto thinking about mapping the “learning” of our learners. Where are they learning, is that learning scheduled and formalised? Is that learning ad-hoc? Is it individual, group, collaborative? So the next stage was to map this in a similar manner to the Visitor and Residents. This is the approach that will be used in the workshop.

Structure of the session

15 mins Introduction to what we understand by digital capability and how we can use mapping to explore organisational capability

15 minutes Individuals will map their own institutional contexts in relation to teaching and learning and assessment

10 mins reflection on their maps and the maps created by others in the room. What maps are interesting and what patterns and similarities are their across the maps.

10 mins in groups exploring how collaboration across an organisation could help them to move and inflate/deflate areas on their maps to create an institution where technology supports teaching, learning and assessment more effectively.

10 minutes summary discussion and what next steps individuals and organisations could take and how could they encourage collaboration.

Mapping is an useful exercise to think about practice and though any such map may not be accurate or complete, it does allow you to consider and think about actions and training required to change behaviours or how spaces and tools are used.

Biographies

Lawrie Phipps and I are often invited to give these sorts of sessions on a more regular basis than other speakers that may or may not be at ALT-C.  We thought these biographies might give people a sense of who we might be.

Lawrie Phipps

Lawrie, the son of a politician[1] was destined for business but instead got into the business of souls, preaching to congregations across the southern US[2], also known as “Milk” is a keen follower of the arts and regular helps to organise and attend art and music festivals[3].

Lawrie resurrected the Arapahoe Hunt Club, a prestigious group of horsebacked hunters who, aided by a band of eager foxhounds, pursued coyote as opposed to the English tradition of foxes[4].

A keen naturalist, Lawrie has appeared in several natural history documentaries and BBC Countryfile.

Lawrie managed to beat a north sea cod into second place.[5]

Lawrie is from Dudley.

James Clay

Unknown to most people, James Clay frequently goes by the nickname “Scoot” in his personal life.[6]

James is an expert on the game of whist,  according to the Westminster papers: a monthly journal of chess, whist, games of skill and the drama Clay had been “the acknowledged head of the Whist world” for the last thirty years, spending much of his time and attention on whist and piquet.He became chairman of a committee for settling the laws of whist.[7]

Having been elected MP for Hull[8], he held the seat for six years, when he was unseated after a bribery inquiry. He regained the seat four years later at the by-election and held the seat for another sixteen years.[9]

In the 1980s, Lindeboom became the very first beer James Clay imported after an unlikely introduction to the beer by a local Dutch builder. “It became a cult beer in the local area and we used to keep at least 10 cases in a walk in fridge at the pub for take outs on a Saturday night!”[10]

In 1988 James Clay gained a world record for the world’s largest greetings card. It was nineteen feet high and was sent to BBC’s Children in Need and was shown live on TV.[11]

Using the stage name, Jim Clay, he was a production designer on many famous films including Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Love Actually and Children of Men.[12]

In 2004, James released an album of music.[13] Though as one of the reviews reads, “Sadly James gave up the music life to pursue playing rock music in local bars.”

James Clay is the 79th ranked of 480 active US West Amateur Middleweights.[14]

In 2011, James Clay has a small part in the film My Week with Marilyn and was later to appear in Financial Crisis in 2016.[15]

James Clay once managed to get funding to go to a conference in Dudley.


Down the #altc road

altconfpodcast

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 Down the #altc road

Keynote at UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

The Stage at #udigcap

I am currently at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event here in Birmingham. I will be live blogging here on elearningstuff and will probably post a more in-depth reflective piece on the digital capability blog later.

Last year, just before I started as Project Manager for the Jisc Digital Capabilities project, UCISA ran their first Spotlight on Digital Capabilities and Sarah Davies talked about where the project was and where it was going. Now just under twelve months later I am here in Birmingham at the second conference to talk about the project, where we are at and where we may go in the future.

As the opening keynote in front of well informed audience on the subject I have been immersed with over the last twelve months was quite a challenge. I didn’t want to repeat the story that Sarah delivered last year, I knew I want to let people know where we are, but also to get them to start thinking about once the service is available, what else needs to happen at an institutional level.

The presentation covered where we are in terms of the Jisc Digital capability service and what it will offer universities and colleges, but also some of the challenges and thinking behind the work we have done.

Building digital capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency

What does it mean to be digitally capable? Not just for an individual, but from an organisational perspective. How will you lead using the plethora of digital tools and channels available to you? The Jisc building digital capability project has been addressing these issues for institutional leaders, for those on the front line of teaching and research, and those who support them.

I also covered aspects of institutional digital capability and what this may cover and what may need to happen. This area is really interesting, but key to helping universities and colleges to build digital capability. I intend to explore these areas in more detail as the work evolves.

Summer of Student Innovation 2016 #studentideas

As Jisc asks

Our challenge: could your students make an impact?

Jisc’s Summer of Student Innovation competitions are an opportunity for students to have an impact on life and study in work based learning providers, colleges and universities across the UK.

Do your students have a bright idea that uses technology to improve study or student life? If so we’d like to hear it, and the best will be given funding, support and an invitation to a multi-day mentoring event to turn their concept into reality.

Our goal is to unearth and develop the best ideas, creating apps and tools to be piloted in colleges and universities and harness the power of technology for better learning and teaching across the UK.

What’s more, our competitions fit in with core curricula and encourage employability skills like team working, business planning and viability testing. Many colleges and universities now recognise students’ work towards our competitions as part of their coursework.

Student Ideas Competition 2016 is open to all learners in universities, colleges or learning providers. We will select 15 successful teams who will receive £2000 per team to attend a four day design sprint on the 8-11 August. Each team will pitch to a panel on the 23 August and we will select five ideas to be developed into products who will receive a further £3000.

Support Technology Start-ups 2016 is open to established teams with existing products seeking to further pilot their product within colleges, universities or skills providers. Up to five selected teams with receive £20,000 and participate in a six month pre-accelerator programme.

The closing date for submissions is 23 May 2016.

For further information see: https://jisc.ac.uk/student-innovation and the blog post: Want to develop your own technology solution to support your learning? Enter our Summer of Student Innovation competition.

Learning Analytics – Case Studies and Report

Blackboard

Probably the highest profile technology amongst senior managers and leaders at this time is the use of analytics to support teaching, learning and assessment.

Using the data that institutions gather on a regular basis for the purposes of analysis, looking for patterns is one that has gained traction over the last few years. There are also others who wonder if this analysis of data and patterns is useful and allowing us to make informed decisions about learners.

Jisc have released a new report: Learning Analytics in Higher Education: A review of UK and international practice  (PDF). Drawing on eleven case studies, they examine why institutions are deploying learning analytics, and what the benefits are for learners. They also discuss the main data sources being drawn upon by institutions and the technical architecture required.

The emphasis of the report is on investigating the evidence for learning analytics: what impact it’s having, and to what extent the algorithms can actually predict academic success.

I have always seen analytics as a tool to support and enhance existing decision making and support, that was already in place. The analytics reinforcing an existing view, or bringing to light patterns that were previously hidden.

Analytics in my opinion doesn’t replace good teaching decisions, support and intervention strategies, it helps inform them, so that we can ensure all learners receive the support and advice they need. Which is why I am also pleased to see in the report, that they also look at how institutions are carrying out interventions to attempt to retain students at risk, and provide better support for all students as they progress through their studies.

The interventions arising from analytics are probably the most important aspect of analytics, otherwise why bother?

The main report summarises the case studies.  The full individual case studies are:

  1. Traffic Lights and Interventions: Signals at Purdue University
  2. Analysing use of the VLE at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  3. Identifying at-risk students at New York Institute of Technology
  4. Fine-grained analysis of student data at California State University
  5. Transferring predictive models to other institutions from Marist College
  6. Enhancing retention at Edith Cowan University
  7. Early alert at the University of New England
  8. Developing an ‘analytics mind-set’ at the Open University
  9. Predictive analytics at Nottingham Trent University
  10. Analysing social networks at the University of Wollongong
  11. Personalised pathway planning at Open Universities Australia