Category Archives: learning technologies

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…

Online learning doesn’t just happen

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

When it comes to the delivery of online learning, the assumption is made that it will just happen. Assumptions are made that academics who are experts already in delivering learning will be able to easily transfer their skills to an online environment. Even if they are provided with some training, what they will require will be minimal. The training will usually be about the mechanics of online learning, as these academics are already experts in learning, so why would you even “insult” them with training about learning!

What can often happen is that the processes and methods that people use in the physical space will be translates verbatim to an online space. It will not taken into account the challenges of an online environment, or recognise the affordances of said environments. This also ignores the potential and affordances that online environments can bring to learning.

  • Lectures will become webinars.
  • Presentations will become PowerPoint slide decks.
  • Handouts will be Word documents to be downloaded.
  • Verbal communication will be done by e-mail.

The online environment will become a repository of materials that will be forgotten and ignored. The end result will be a lack of engagement by students and a deluge of complaints about this whole online learning experiment.

Writing in a notebook
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The overall experience is expected to be the same, but merely re-creating the physical experience online is often disappointing for both students and academics. Many of the nuances of face to face learning can be lost when moving to online. Part of the issue is that physical learning activities don’t necessarily translate readily into an online environment, the nuances of what makes the face to face so valuable can be lost in translation, similarly the possibilities and affordances of the online space can be lost.

A lecture is more than just someone at the front talking to an audience. There is something about bringing together in a single place, the physicality of that “performance” adds to the whole experience. Though the oral nature of the delivery can be captured, the non-verbal aspects will often not be noticed, but are equally important as the verbal ones.Students will share a common experience, and they will have a similar experience to others in the room.

As webinar can be used as an online lecture, but you won’t have the non-verbal cues, even when using a webcam. The academic will miss out on the whole group experience and their non-verbal language in response to the lecture.

Using webinar technology can allow for a complex and fluid conversation to happen at the same time as the lecture. Using the chat functionality can enhance and enrich the experience. In my experience it helps to have someone else in the webinar space to manage the chat area, to respond, to provide links and content and to summarise at appropriate times to the academic delivering the webinar feedback from the group. It’s really hard for one person to do all that and deliver an engaging lecture. Another aspect that is often forgotten that online delivery (be it audio or video) appears flatter than when seeing it for “real” so one thing I do is up my performance a notch or two. Take it too far and you will become Alan Partridge, but it will make for better delivery if you brighten and enhance your delivery.

Of course webinars don’t have to be a lecture, they could be a group discussion. Why replace the lecture with a webinar, when you could replace it with a podcast of various experts discussing the topic of the lecture. Of course online means you can bring in experts from across the country (if not the world) to discuss the topic and record it for future listening by students.One of the affordances of online is that it doesn’t have to be live, it can be recorded and then watched by the student at a time and place to suit them. Suddenly this opens up a wide range of opportunities, why just record yourself in a lecture theatre, why not take to the road and turn your lecture into a radio programme. Why not create a film about what you want to talk about? Of course this takes time and effort, but sharing and collaboration (much easier to do these days online) means you could share the load with others in your field.

It is easy to upload files to an online environment, but in isolation what is the context. If you create great PowerPoint slide decks for your lectures, do they work without the lecture? Personally my slides are usually just images or single words, that look nice, but really without the talk tell you nothing I was talking about! There are tools and processes out there that can turn simple PowerPoint files into online videos through recording an audio track as they are presented. You could do this live (using webinar technology) or pre-record using the built-in tools. Something to recognise that these files can be quite large, will your students have the connectivity and the bandwidth outside campus to access them? Will you need to provide alternatives?

Though for many PowerPoint is a familiar tool, there are other tools in the toolbox that can create engaging online content. Some even allow you to add interactive elements. How you create good online content isn’t just about the technical aspects of using said tools, but also recognising the pedagogical principles that need to be followed when designing online learning content. If you start to add quizzes or questions, there is a whole new raft of skills that may need developing.

reading a Kindle
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Though it might be thought uploading Word documents to the online environment, is one way to get content to students, there are so many other resources out there to create an effective online learning experience. The subject of e-resources could fill a book and often does. Understanding what is possible with resources is one thing, understanding the wealth of resources out there is something else.

We know that everyone loves e-mail, and it is often the default online communication method for many. However using a single tool for all types and formats of communication is not effective or efficient. Who really wants their sacred inbox to be filled with numerous conversations and questions that are getting in the way of other “important” work e-mails. If you have more than one cohort, then it becomes even more difficult. Conversations are really hard to follow in e-mail, mainly as people don’t respond in a linear manner, they add their comment to the top of their reply. For conversations and discussion, e-mail is a really bad online tool, especially when there are so many better alternatives out there for doing this kind of thing.

I find e-mail is best for the one-to-one messaging (and occasional) conversation and for the broadcast style one-to-many messages (though even then I think there are better alternatives out there for even that kind of message). Using appropriate platforms for online conversations opens up a range of learning possibilities that could not happen in the offline world as well as re-creating the conversations students and academics have.

Overall there is more to online learning then learning the mechanics of online learning. That equally applies to students as well as academics. Don’t assume people can do online learning, there are skills, techniques and possibilities that need to be thought about and taken onboard. As well as the mechanics of using the system, there is the how of online learning, the process of learning that also needs to be considered. Really it should be considered first and then deliver the technical training.

So how are you approaching the subject of online learning with your academics? What works? What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome them?

Understanding your audience

puppets
Photo by Umut YILMAN on Unsplash

Back in February I saw this tweet on the Twitter

I started writing a blog post about this and then never finished it, so then I found the draft and decided to reflect on this technological development.

Imagine if such a technology existed and was in use. A lecturer using an Augmented Reality headset, which uses facial and emotional recognition gauges student engagement.

Now there is a huge question mark over whether we could even develop such a technology and create the unbiased algorithms  that would be required to both define student engagement and how using facial and emotional recognition would actually be able to measure that engagement.

Just because someone said they were engaged in a session doesn’t mean always they were.

One of the other key questions for me that needs to be answered is, what does a lecturer do if using such a system, found their audience disengaged. Do they continue despite knowing this, stop and send people home, or do they launch into a song and dance routine or even a puppet show?

What do lecturers do now when they believe that their students are disengaged?

I am a unicorn!

It’s not your name that matters, it’s what do that counts.

Lego Unicorn
Lego Unicorn – Image by Joakim Roubert from Pixabay

One of the facets of membership of ALT is the busy, informative and interesting mailing list that you can participate in. As well as collaboration, asking for advice and information, there are also on the odd occasion entertaining discussions on topics related to learning technology.

Recently, Peter Bryant from USYD,  posted the following:

We are building a new team of educational and technology expertise at USYD. USYD are looking to build the kind of expertise that goes above and beyond system administration, learning object making and technology support (noble pursuits all mind). We are looking for a team of learning technologist type people who can work with designers to identify and deliver solutions for wicked and grand pedagogical challenges, work with academics on training and development, see and support innovation and pushing the technological envelope and to work collectively to evaluate the impact and success/failure of these interventions. 

So, my question for the list, what kind of job titles would you call such a unicorn?

There then followed a deluge of responses about what these unicorns should be called. As you might expect the predominate response from a list of members of Association for Learning Technology who in the main are learning technologists was that these unicorns should be called learning technologists.

Reading the discussion, I was reminded of something I wrote in 2017 about the name of my eleaningstuff blog.

It’s not what you say you do, it’s the way that you do it!

I was thinking the other day that I don’t have enough readers of the blog and insufficient engagement So the solution has to be that the name of the blog isn’t right. First idea would be change the name from “elearning stuff” to “blended learning stuff”. Then again maybe I could choose “e-pedagogy stuff” or what a about “threaded learning stuff”. How about “hybrid pedagogy stuff”?

Do you think that changing the name will significantly increase readership and engagement on the blog?

Of course the response to this question is a resounding no!

As I discussed in that blog post, I think that the job titles are a similar challenge to the name we call e-learning or blended learning or TEL, or digital learning or whatever the flavour of the month is.

The job title is (mostly) irrelevant (except maybe to identify to those looking for a role what the role may be about). Often we look at job titles as the people behind those job titles are finding it challenging to engage with academics to help them to make the best and most effective use of technology to enhance learning and teaching. We think that by changing the job title we will be more effective in engaging with academics. Of course how many times do you engage with someone by pushing your job title at them?

The real challenge has been working with academics and their mindset (and culture) and job titles will always be wrong in some people’s view, regardless of what that job title is, was or will be. This was identified and echoed by people on the list.

Academics in the main don’t see the value in these roles, so there’s a culture issue here too.

…one day we were told our TEL team was moving to be part of Teaching & Learning Enhancement (TLE). This move changed the mindset of how most academics viewed the TEL team…

It should be helpful for the staff you interact with, so the language should reflect the language of the institution.

If you are having challenges in engaging staff in the use of digital and learning technologies and thinking that changing the “name” for the people who do this, we use is the solution, i would suggest you may actually want to spend the time and effort thinking about your approaches and the methodology you are using.

Of course the real reason people choose to change the language, is that it is much easier to do that, then actually deal with people!

Addendum

Having written a draft of this blog post, I shared it with Peter and he divulged that the reason for asking the question was about attracting the right kind of recruit. Which is a reason, as I mentioned above, The job title is (mostly) irrelevant (except maybe to identify to those looking for a role what the role may be about).

Top Ten Blog Posts 2018

This year I have written only 17 blog posts, in 2017 it was 21 blog posts, in 2016 it was 43 blog posts, in 2015 I wrote 24 blog posts. In 2014 I wrote 11 and in 2013 I wrote 64 blog posts and over a hundred in 2012. In 2011 I thought 150 was a quiet year!

Do signs work?

The tenth most popular blog post in 2018 was asking So do signs work? This article from 2013 described some of the challenges and issues with using signage to change behaviours. So do signs work? Well yes they do, but often they don’t.

The post at number nine was my podcast workflow, published in 2011, this article outlines how and what equipment I use to record the e-Learning Stuff Podcast. This is only one way in which to record a remote panel based podcast, and I am sure there are numerous other ways in which to do this. I have also changed how I have recorded over the two years I have been publishing the podcast due to changes in equipment and software. It’s probably time to update it, though I am not doing as much podcasting as I use to.

Dropping three places to eighth was 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip. This was a post from July 2011, that looked at the different comic tools out there on the web, which can be used to create comic strips that can then be embedded into the VLE. It included information on the many free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet out there. It is quite a long post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE.

The post at number seven, climbing one place, was Comic Life – iPad App of the Week. Though I have been using Comic Life on the Mac for a few years now I realised I hadn’t written much about the iPad app that I had bought back when the iPad was released. It’s a great app for creating comics and works really well with the touch interface and iPad camera.

Sixth most popular was a post from 2018, called “I don’t know how to use the VLE!” This blog post described a model of VLE embedding and development. This post was an update to the model I had published in 2010.

In at number five, is also a post from 2018, Why does no one care about my digital strategy? This post described some of the background to the leadership briefing I wrote with Lawrie Phipps on the digital lens.

digital lens

Holding at fourth, is Can I legally download a movie trailer? One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008, I am still a little behind in much of what is happening within copyright and education, one of things I do need to update myself on, as things have changed.

Dropping one place back to third, was Frame Magic – iPhone App of the Week, still don’t know why this one is so popular!

FrameMagic - iPhone App of the Week

Back in 2015 I asked I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean? in relation to the Area Review process and this post was the second most popular post in 2018, last year it was in sixth place, so it’s getting more popular.

Once again, for the sixth year running, the number one post for 2018 was the The iPad Pedagogy Wheel.

The Padagogy Wheel

I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”. It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

So there we have it, the top ten posts 2018.

Time is a solution…

time

Is time the solution to the problems we face in education?

It can be nice to have the time to do new and interesting things, but the reality in which we live, work and learn, is that time is limited and we don’t have the time to do everything we want to do.

I was brought into an interesting Twitter conversation last night in which Sue Watling referenced my blog post about why I don’t have a dog.

The preceding discussion was about staff and that lack of time was a major barrier to engagement and how institutions failed to recognise the time required to adopt new practices and learn to do things in different ways, whether that be through the use of technology, or different teaching practices.

The problem appears to many to be a lack of time.

“I don’t have the time.”
“When am I suppose to find time to do all this?”
“I am going to need more time.”

Therefore the solution is more time.

However is time the solution to the problem?

Well it is a solution to the problem of not having enough time.

I don’t have the time to do this… so giving people the time is the right solution?

Messages go back to “management” that lack of time is the problem and if only they would provide more time the the problem would be solved. The management response, as expected would usually be there is no extra time.

I would question though is the problem one of lack of time?

Once we focus on time as a solution, we lose sight of the actual problems we are trying to solve. Sometimes we need to go quite far back to really understand the problem we’re trying to solve.

One example is the use of the VLE, staff say they don’t use the VLE because they lack the time to use it, and don’t have the time to learn how to use the VLE.  It could be anything, not just the VLE it could be lecture capture, the Twitter, or even active learning, project-based learning, the use of active learning spaces. However for this post I am going to use the VLE as an example.

So the solution to people not using the VLE is giving them time… Time is once more the solution to a problem. However is not using the VLE the real problem, why are we thinking of the VLE as a problem to be solved? The VLE isn’t a problem, it’s a solution to different problems or challenges.

It can be useful to back track and focus on what and importantly why you are doing something and then frame the conversation within that, rather than the couch the solution as a problem.

Time isn’t a problem.

The VLE isn’t the problem.

So what’s the problem then?

You would hope that the VLE is seen as a potential solution to institutional challenges such as improving achievement, widening participation, accessibility, inclusion; these are often quite explicit in institutional strategies.

How can we provide access to resources, additional materials, links to students? We know discussing course topics and collaborating on problems improves student outcomes? How can we do this in a way which is accessible at a time and place to suit the students at a place of their choice?

Often that’s the problem we’re trying to solve.

The VLE is an ideal vehicle to make that happen. The problem is that use of the VLE becomes detached from the actual problem and becomes a problem in itself. We ask staff to use the VLE, often without adequately explaining why it is being used as part of the strategic direction of the organisation. The result is that the use of the VLE is now seen as an extra, something additional, so compared to the other priorities set by the institution, it is a low priority.

This also happens with other changes in the organisation, the introduction of new teaching methods, or new learning spaces. If the change rhetoric is isolated from the strategy, then the change becomes a problem to be solved, we don’t see the change as solving a different problem.  So can we blame people for wanting time to do stuff, when they see this stuff as an extra, an addition to the work they are currently doing.

clockwork

We also know that when people say they don’t have the time, or they need time; what they are actually saying and meaning is…

It’s not a priority for me, I have other priorities that take up my time.

Priorities in theory are set by the line manager, who is operationalising the strategic direction and vision of the institution.

There are also personal priorities, which can be in conflict with institutional priorities. Your institution may want to present a single external voice, but then there are staff from across the institution who want to use Twitter.

Using a digital lens as outlined in this blog post and paper provides a simple method of couching potential digital solutions such as the VLE to solve the strategic challenges set by the institution.

So the next time someone says they don’t have the time, stop, reflect on what you are saying and maybe seeing solutions as problems, and focusing on the actual challenges that the institution is trying to solve.

It’s an extra, but does it need to be?

keyboardbw

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One challenge that is often faced when embedding learning technologies is that a lot of teaching staff see digital technology as something extra to do in their teaching. It’s a bolt-on, something extra to be done on top of the teaching and assessment workload.

Part of this has to be down to the way in which staff are introduced to or trained in the use of learning technologies. Staff attend a training session, or read an e-mail about some kind of new service or tool, or a new functionality and then are asked (usually politely and nicely) to start using as part of their work. The obvious reaction is that staff will see this as an extra.

Another part is down to the technocentric approach that is often used when talking about learning technologies, the training is focused on the technical approach to tools and services, this is how you use it and this is how it works.

At a simple level, even just uploading presentations to the VLE is an extra piece of work. Using a lecture capture system requires more effort than just the lecture. Using padlet to capture feedback requires more time than not capturing feedback.

This negative reaction to learning technologies, then extends to the use of other kinds of technolog, that can even save time, or isn’t recognised when the potential benefits are longer term.

So what can be done?

I don’t think there is an extra with the “this is an extra” model of staff development, it will certainly inspire and help those who want to engage with technology and those who can see the potential long term benefits. However in order to engage those staff for whom it is an “extra” this different approaches need to be considered and used.

There isn’t anything wrong about the technocentric approach, despite what the “pedagogy first” brigade may tell you, however the focus needs to be on the potential of the technology, what it can do, what is can provide and what the benefits are. The technical processes can be covered as well, but put the focus on what the benefits are for the member if the staff and importantly the learners.

Another method is to focus on the processes and workflows that staff have and see how technology can improve, enhance and smooth out those processes.

Finally what about the affordances that new technologies can bring, the potential not to just change what we do, but allow us to do things we had never considered.

So what strategies do you use to engage staff who see embedding technology as an extra?

It’s still not easy…

Classroom

…but confidence helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are confident in their use of technology. Gaining that confidence is not easy and often isn’t helped if they have previously used technology and it didn’t work. There have been many times I have heard teachers say that they don’t like using technology as the last time they used it and it didn’t work. They lack the confidence in the tools to work.

The way I used to approach that was by asking what they did when it snowed and the building was closed, the campus had failed to work. Someone had used a permanent marker on the whiteboard, it was unusable. There was a room change and we had to move the students, from a seminar room to a lecture theatre. In all these physical scenarios, a good teacher has the confidence to adjust and adapt what they are going to do. With a snow closure, the scheme of work needs to be adapted to allow the learners to catch up. Losing the whiteboard doesn’t mean the lesson has failed, maybe a different medium, such as paper, could be used. Again a confident teacher can adapt what they are going to do. They are also very likely to use the whiteboard again, once it has been cleaned. Similar story with the room change, adapt the activity for the learners.

onlineattendance

I have found that often with technology, that with teachers lacking confidence, this means going into a session with a limited idea of how that technology can be used. If it doen’t work as expected, then it is seen as failure.

Having the confidence to easily adapt and use tools effectively, usually comes with experience, but I also believe that there is more to it than that. Gaining that confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they confidently know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

Confidence usually comes from experimentation, trial and error and practice. It can be difficult to create a culture where experimentation and innovation is expected, encouraged and applauded. A culture where failure is seen as part of the learning process and is also part of the process of innovation.

So what strategies do you use to build digital confidence?

I don’t have a dog #altc

CC BY 2.0 JD Hancock https://flic.kr/p/732b7n
CC BY 2.0 JD Hancock https://flic.kr/p/732b7n

Dogs can be wonderful pets, or so I have been told.

So ask me do I have a dog?

The answer is no.

Now ask me why I don’t have a dog?

I don’t have the time!

wandelen langs de vloedlijn
CC BY-NC 2.0 Gerard Stolk

Over the last twenty years or so when learning technologists and others interested in embedding the use of digital technology to enhance and enrich teaching, learning and assessment, the one “problem” that arises again and again is that people don’t have the time.

I have been supporting staff for many years in the use of learning technologies, all the time when I run training sessions though I hear the following comments:

“I don’t have the time.”
“When am I suppose to find time to do all this?”
“I am going to need more time.”

Time appears to be a critical issue.

Even more recently running a workshop I asked people to identify the main barriers to embedding learning technologies and the answer everyone came back was, time!

I have written and spoken about this issue time and time again.

A long time ago, back in 2004 I presented at the Becta Post-16 e-Learning Practitioners Conference on the Myths of Time.

In 2007 I managed to find the time to spend some time talking about time on the blog and wrote a post about time.

Now ask me again why I don’t have a dog?

I don’t have the time!

On The Streets of Vilnius
CC BY 2.0 FaceMePLS https://flic.kr/p/a7RLz7

I am aware that there are quite a few people out there who have a dog, and they seem to find the time to have a dog.

It certainly takes time to have a dog, time to walk it, time to stroke it, time to bath it, time to walk it again. When I am out and about see people walking their dogs and I believe that you have to walk a dog everyday. Where do people find the time for that?

Correct me if I am wrong, but dog owners have the the same amount of time as everyone else. They don’t live in some kind of timey-wimey temporal reality that gives them more time than anyone else.

So if they don’t have more time than anyone else, how do they find the time to have a dog? I don’t have the time to have a dog, why do they have the time?

And don’t get me started on the resources and costs of having a dog….

We know people who have dogs don’t have more time, but they like to spend time to have a dog. Therefore they must prioritise having a dog over other things they could spend time on. For them having a dog is a priority.

Now ask me again why I don’t have a dog?

It’s not a priority for me, I have other priorities that take up my time.

Gent beweegt!
CC BY 2.0 FaceMePLS https://flic.kr/p/9G1Ttf

So when you talk to teaching staff about learning technologies, and they say they don’t have the time, or they need time; what they are actually saying and meaning is…

It’s not a priority for me, I have other priorities that take up my time.

This also explains why some other staff find the time to engage with learning technologies, they find the time, as they see it as a priority.

So how do you make the teaching staff prioritise or raise the importance of something that they see as a low priority or unimportant so that they feel they can’t spend time on it.

One thing that does get forgotten, is that everyday we use technology to make our lives easier and to save time. Often learning technologies can be used to make our lives easier and importantly save time.

Often we are so busy being busy that we don’t take the time to think about those tools and processes which could save us time.

So another question ask me why having a dog is not a priority for me?

Well that depends on who sets the priorities in my home, looks at his wife and children…. Even if I was the person setting the priorities, what I would be doing would be looking at everything else I was doing, prioritise them and spend time on those things. I may do that in a planned manner, the reality is that this is probably a more sub-conscious activity.

However if the household decided that we should get a dog and my objections about the lack of time were ignored, then we would get a dog and I would need to find the time, prioritising the dog over other things I considered to be a priority. Now I am sure a few dog owners out there would tell me how wonderful having a dog is, and maybe this would be something I would discover by having a dog. This can be an issue, I may hate having a dog!

You can take analogies only so far…

If people are concerned about the issue of time when it comes to using and embedding learning technologies then they are probably more likely concerned about how this will fit into their other priorities. So ask the question, who is responsible for setting the priorities of the teaching staff in your institution? Is it the teaching staff? Is it the executive team? Is it the teaching managers? Unlikely I would have thought to be the learning technologists

So if you are facing the real issue when talking to teaching staff of them responding that they don’t have the time, maybe you are talking to the wrong people! Or the wrong people are talking to the teaching staff.

Priorities in theory are set by the line manager, who is operationalising the strategic direction and vision of the institution. If digital is not a strategic priority can we be surprised that staff within that institution don’t consider it a personal priority.

How do you make digital a strategic priority? Well that;s another blog post, which I don’t have the time for at the moment, I have to walk the dog.

I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean?




Area Based Review

The FE sector is going through some difficult and challenging times at the moment. One of the key aspects they need to work on are the Area Based Reviews.

One aspect of the area based reviews is that they must “embrace technology”.

Great, let’s embrace technology…

I can do that…

I can embrace technology…

Well, I think I know how to embrace technology…

Well, what does that actually mean, I am sure it means more than just hugging your laptop.

Okay let’s delve a little deeper into this.

keyboard

The actual line from the government document says:

A willingness to embrace the possibilities provided by technology via blended, independent and online delivery and assessment, which can increase the quality and scope of provision and improve efficiency.

Hopefully embrace means more than just a passing hug…

What would an FE College (or whatever comes out of the Area Based Reviews) look like once it had embraced technology?

How could you describe an FE College that has embraced technology?

What would the learner experience be like from the learner’s perspective? From a member of the teaching staff and their perspective? From the perspective of someone from learner support or business support?

Most use of learning technologies that I have seen, read about in conference papers, news items, listened to at events, and personally experiences when working in FE, is less about embracing technology, much more about holding hands or giving a peck on the cheek to technology. Not much holistic embracing of technology by the whole organisation.

Part of this is because we really don’t know what is meant by “embrace technology” and we have no real idea of what it could look like.

A vision of how the learner experience should be, with references to how this experience would embrace technology is a good place to start.

The entire learner journey from where they are interested in undertaking a programme of study, from enquiry, enrolment to induction. The programme of study, schemes of work, lesson planning, resources, content, activities. How technology would be used to enhance and enrich the formal and informal learning. How will the learner use technology to find information, media and manipulate data? How will the learner use digital creation tools to support their learning? How will technology impact on research and scholarship? What role does innovation play in embracing technology? As part of their learning journey, what digital tools will a learner use for group and peer communication, how will they work together using online collaborative tools? What will be the role of digital social networking tools?

What will be the role of technology in supporting that learner experience? The use of data, analytics, online resources, digital content all need to be considered and integrated into the learner experience. The learner experience does not exist in isolation, the business support processes that lie behind that experience also need to be sure they don’t frustrate or block the use of technology that is being used to enhance and enrich.

How will the use of technology support the learner once the course has been finished?

The next stage will be look a potentially different experiences, ones that would not be possible without technology, or ones that take advantage of the affordances of digital technology. This is where online learning comes into play, flipped learning and providing a more personalised and flexible approach.

Embracing technology is easy to say, easy to write down. Ensuring that you actually holistically embrace technology across the whole organisation, as part of a wider review is challenging and difficult. We haven’t really done this before, so I don’t think we can assume it will just happen now.