The use of digital technologies for learning and teaching, doesn’t just happen. Staff don’t always instinctively pick up the skills and capabilities to utilise the range of digital tools and services available to them. In a similar manner the application of pedagogy to mobile, remote and online delivery is not as simple as translatingin-person pedagogical practices.
Of course learning technologists and academic developers will know this and design and deliver a range of training programmes and guidance, and provide support to academics in their use of digital.
However on a recent post on a mailing list an educational technologist from an university outlined some of the challenges they were facing.
They found that academics were not attending staff development sessions, they thought that this might be perhaps because staff are very busy with preparation, delivery, marking, research.
Busy is one way to describe this, prioritisation might be another. They may well see the advantages of such staff development activity, but indicate they don’t have time to attend such development sessions. It’s not then an issue of time, but one of priorities. When you have a full week of “stuff” to do, finding that gap to do staff development may not always be possible.
Another challenge mentioned was about academics not seeing the benefit of training.
Picking this apart, some academics may feel they already “know” how to use the tools and services, and don’t see the value of further training. They may not know what they don’t know. Often the technical skills required to use a tool are quite easy to pick up, however the advanced skills to take advantage of the affordances, the potential of tools, and benefits it can being, may not always be apparent.
Another angle on this, was you might invest the time in staff development, only to discover that you either knew it already, or it wasn’t relevant to your role. That “risk” often means that the decision to attend not not to attend a staff development session, you err on the side of caution, and decide not to attend.
A further challenge was one of visibility, just because you send an email about staff development activities, doesn’t mean the people you want to read it, actually read it!
Thinking about the challenges faced by this educational technologist, I was reminded of the “Short and Sweet” sessions I use to run at Gloucestershire College.
Back in the day, when I worked at Gloucestershire College I faced similar challenges with limited or non-existent attendance at staff development sessions.
The solution for me was to take those staff development sessions, shorten them to fifteen minutes and take them to the practitioners.
I created a menu of sessions that I provided to curriculum managers, with how they could incorporate them into their meetings. It was a pick and mix type approach. Combined with the term short and sweet, we did go down a sweets theme in the look and feel.
These sessions were then delivered in their team meetings. I ensured I kept to time and only used the time I was allocated. This was important in getting invited back. I also made a note of requests for further follow up training sessions.
What I found was that the practitioners who were interested got some useful information about the practice or the tools which were demonstrated. Those who didn’t know about it would potentially learn about the potential, and could consider finding out more. Then those staff who were not interested at all, wouldn’t be wasting a whole day or a morning, it would be just fifteen minutes.
The impact was readily apparent with practitioners telling me about their implementation within days (or even hours) of the fifteen minute session.
Short and Sweet” sessions lasting fifteen minutes were not the only model of development we delivered, there were also sessions lasting an hour, half a day and the odd whole day development.
They were a little techno-centric, but they could cover anything, so as well as technology they could be pedagogy as well. It worked really well and many other teams started to use the term, saying things like “should we “short and sweet” this training?”
Iam aware of a couple of universities that “borrowed” the concept for their own training, for example the University of Oxford.
So do you do something similar to the short and sweet concept?
No one would dispute that COVID-19 has severely disrupted the education of millions of people. Our polling with Advance HE, for example, shows an unprecedented proportion of undergraduate students think they have received ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ value for money and twice as many as usual feel their experiences have been worse than their prior expectations.
This is not surprising, given full-time students on three-year courses graduating this summer will have had every one of their years at university disrupted. Those leaving school / college this summer have seen both their GCSEs and their school-leaving qualifications (A-Level / BTECs) affected. But it is also true that most of the really big predictions about how COVID would affect education have (fortunately) turned out to be wrong.
It makes for interesting reading. Predictions about fewer students, or higher drop-outs were wrong as it turned out.
Why does this matter, well the article summarises with this comment.
It is worth flagging how poor the predictions about education in a pandemic have turned out to be because it acts as a reminder about how hard it is to predict the future, because it could serve as a useful guide in future crises and because it shows the importance that hard counter-intuitive evidence should play in policymaking.
This is something that we can reflect upon.
One prediction made at the start of the pandemic by many involved in education technology was that the forced working from home would (post-pandemic) be a catalyst for more blended and online learning in higher education. The prediction was that following people being forced to use tools such as the VLE, Teams, Zoom, lecture capture, that this would embed such technologies into future teaching and learning. Well we know from the press this week that this may not be the case, with Nadhim Zahawi talking in the Daily Mail that “Students made to pay tuition fees for Zoom lectures should revolt”. This kind of rhetoric makes any (current and future) use of online technologies challenging for universities. Benefits of online will be missed, as students will “revolt” regardless.
Many of our universities and colleges have been working hard to ensure Covid-secure face-to-face teaching is offered and I know that, for many of you, this face-to-face teaching is a vital part of getting a high-quality student experience. As you know, whilst the country was implementing wide-spread restrictions, the majority of teaching had to be moved online. There are some great examples of effective and innovative online teaching, and universities and colleges have been delivering a high-quality blended approach since before the pandemic. Maintaining the option of online teaching for those who are vulnerable or isolating is to be encouraged. However, face-to-face teaching should remain the norm and the pandemic and must not be used as an opportunity for cost saving or for convenience. I know that students expect and deserve face-to-face teaching and support, and you have my full backing.
But if universities were in any doubt about what they could do and what they should be doing, we had this from the Universities Minister.
Students deserve to have the full face to face teaching experience they would have received before the pandemic – online learning should only be used to supplement this. This week I am personally calling VCs who aren’t delivering this. https://t.co/TuKTexiXaF
The reality is that universities are now under pressure from Government and students to focus on and prioritise in-person face to face teaching.
So, the prediction that the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns would have a positive impact on the use of online and digital learning technologies across the board, may have been slightly off the mark.
I might predict that the job of embedding digital into higher education is now more difficult than it was before the pandemic.
There is an apocryphal story that has no basis in fact, about how the US space agency, NASA spent millions of dollars developing an ‘astronaut pen’ that would work in outer space, while the Russians fixed the problem much more cheaply and quickly by using pencils.
What the story reminds us that sometimes the low tech solution can be a better choice than trying to utilise a high tech solution.
With the current situation impacting on learning and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, many of these talk of the use of tools such as Zoom, video and Teams.
Normally when working from home I have all the bandwidth, but with “forced” home working and now we schools are closed, it won’t be just me wanting to use the internet. Now the rest of the family will be wanting to use my bandwidth….
This scenario also won’t be isolated to you and your home. Your neighbours may also be working from home, or using the internet so the contention ratio may rise as more people try and use the same data capacity.
There will be numerous companies and organisations running online meetings and calls. Schools are expecting their students to access online resources through tools such as Google Classroom, but also other online services such as Doddle and Hegarty.
You can imagine the increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix and iPlayer as well for people who are self-isolating.
There will be an impact on these services as multiple people start to use them more than would normally be expected.
There is only so much bandwidth and as demand rises for bandwidth it will cause dropouts and buffering.
It won’t just be restricted to home broadband, but also mobile networks.
The EU has called on streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube to limit their services in order to prevent the continent’s broadband networks from crashing as tens of millions of people start working from home.
This will have an impact on how you work, if you depend on connectivity. For calls and meetings. You may find asynchronous low bandwidth communication and collaboration tools a better option than the full functionality high bandwidth tools you are use to.
The same can be said for teaching online, we might want to deliver lectures live using a tool such as Zoom, even delivering lectures asynchronously using lecture capture may not be easy. Before it might have been possible to have a Teams video meeting instead of a tutorial, today it might be more challenging.
Some are saying, well my broadband seems to be working okay, but we also need to consider the student as well.
Some universities have already advice in place for this kind of challenge.
LSE now advising staff to think about asynchronous and low bandwidth online learning activities.
The LSE tweeted out their advice where staff may be teaching students with restricted internet access.
So how can we create low tech and low bandwidth learning activities?
Generally when asked to move to online delivery, people often think that the easiest thing to do is to translate what they do in the physical academic environment and move it online.
This means conversions such as I normally deliver a lecture, so I will use a live video stream to deliver that lecture to my remote learners.
Likewise, I usually run a seminar to discuss a topic, so I will use a Teams video conference to for the discussion.
These are in the main high tech and high bandwidth activities which may work from a delivery perspective on your broadband connection, but not necessarily work at the other end on your students’ devices and connections.
Well there are some simple technical things you can do that could make the life of your learners easier.
Move from video to an audio stream
Video requires a lot of bandwidth, moving to an audio only stream requires a lot less bandwidth. However you should think about how you might need to adjust the way in which the content is delivered if you are only using audio. Radio is different to television and those differences should influence th design of how you deliver the content or teaching.
Go with asynchronous delivery rather than a live stream
Minimise file sizes
Because internet connectivity can be slow and inconsistent in some regions (or for the reasons about contention outlines above), it is advisable to keep file sizes to a minimum.
The key thing to think about is, that proprietary files are usually quite large, so converting to another format such as PDF may help to reduce file sizes.
Similarly, providing an audio only version of a video file can help those who have slow internet connections
Avoid proprietary file formats
So you have Office 365 and a licence for Powerpoint, do your learners have the same software if you share a Powerpoint file? Yes you can use some online services to convert the file, but do your students know how to do that?
Will your students, who no longer have access to the IT labs on campus, have a device that can access the teaching you are delivering? They may only have a mobile device, so does your content work on mobile.
Having said all that, another option is to think about the design of the learning to work in a low tech low bandwith environment..
It might also be useful to design activities that work asynchronously, so aren’t dependent on a continuous live internet connection to work.
Lectures can be recorded and downloaded, but what about using other forms of content, such as books, journals or other work as a stimulus for learning? Content can be more than just lectures.
So for example instead of running a seminar to discuss a topic, using Teams video conference, move to an asynchronous format using a discussion forum.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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?
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…
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.
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.
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?
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 algorithmsthat 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?
It’s not your name that matters, it’s what do that counts.
One of the facets of membership of ALT is the busy, informative and interesting mailing list that you can participate in. As well as collaboration, asking for advice and information, there are also on the odd occasion entertaining discussions on topics related to learning technology.
Recently, Peter Bryant from USYD, posted the following:
We are building a new team of educational and technology expertise at USYD. USYD are looking to build the kind of expertise that goes above and beyond system administration, learning object making and technology support (noble pursuits all mind). We are looking for a team of learning technologist type people who can work with designers to identify and deliver solutions for wicked and grand pedagogical challenges, work with academics on training and development, see and support innovation and pushing the technological envelope and to work collectively to evaluate the impact and success/failure of these interventions.
So, my question for the list, what kind of job titles would you call such a unicorn?
There then followed a deluge of responses about what these unicorns should be called. As you might expect the predominate response from a list of members of Association for Learning Technology who in the main are learning technologists was that these unicorns should be called learning technologists.
Reading the discussion, I was reminded of something I wrote in 2017 about the name of my eleaningstuff blog.
I was thinking the other day that I don’t have enough readers of the blog and insufficient engagement So the solution has to be that the name of the blog isn’t right. First idea would be change the name from “elearning stuff” to “blended learning stuff”. Then again maybe I could choose “e-pedagogy stuff” or what a about “threaded learning stuff”. How about “hybrid pedagogy stuff”?
Do you think that changing the name will significantly increase readership and engagement on the blog?
Of course the response to this question is a resounding no!
As I discussed in that blog post, I think that the job titles are a similar challenge to the name we call e-learning or blended learning or TEL, or digital learning or whatever the flavour of the month is.
The job title is (mostly) irrelevant (except maybe to identify to those looking for a role what the role may be about). Often we look at job titles as the people behind those job titles are finding it challenging to engage with academics to help them to make the best and most effective use of technology to enhance learning and teaching. We think that by changing the job title we will be more effective in engaging with academics. Of course how many times do you engage with someone by pushing your job title at them?
The real challenge has been working with academics and their mindset (and culture) and job titles will always be wrong in some people’s view, regardless of what that job title is, was or will be. This was identified and echoed by people on the list.
Academics in the main don’t see the value in these roles, so there’s a culture issue here too.
…one day we were told our TEL team was moving to be part of Teaching & Learning Enhancement (TLE). This move changed the mindset of how most academics viewed the TEL team…
It should be helpful for the staff you interact with, so the language should reflect the language of the institution.
If you are having challenges in engaging staff in the use of digital and learning technologies and thinking that changing the “name” for the people who do this, we use is the solution, i would suggest you may actually want to spend the time and effort thinking about your approaches and the methodology you are using.
Of course the real reason people choose to change the language, is that it is much easier to do that, then actually deal with people!
Having written a draft of this blog post, I shared it with Peter and he divulged that the reason for asking the question was about attracting the right kind of recruit. Which is a reason, as I mentioned above, The job title is (mostly) irrelevant (except maybe to identify to those looking for a role what the role may be about).
This 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!
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.
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.
Once again, for the sixth year running, the number one post for 2018 was the The iPad Pedagogy 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.
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.
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.
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?
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