Category Archives: learning

Hybrid

Chimera
Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

I have been listening, writing and talking about how universities are planning for September. There is so much uncertainly about what the landscape will be like then, so working out what and how to design an effective student experience is challenging.

Courses will not be the same as they were and won’t be the same as they are now.

Universities are reflecting on their plans in light of the current lockdown, the easing of the lockdown, social distancing as well as guidance from the regulator.

Students applying for university places in England must be told with “absolute clarity” how courses will be taught – before they make choices for the autumn, says Nicola Dandridge of the Office for Students. 

This has implications for future planning and announcements of what universities will be doing in the Autumn. They will probably need to start publishing in June their plans. Some have done this already.

In what I suspected was to be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester decided to keep lectures online for the autumn.

The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts. In an email to students Professor McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students, confirmed the university’s undergraduate teaching year would begin in late September “with little change to our start dates”, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.

The whole student experience is not going online though as the article continues.

However, students would be asked to return physically to campus in the autumn as Manchester was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can”, added Professor McMahon.

The following week, the Student University Paper at Cambridge and then many others reported, such as the BBC – All lectures to be online-only until summer of 2021.

“Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year. Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements. 

There was a similar announcement from the University of Bolton.

The University will teach our excellent Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes on campus from the start of the new academic year in September 2020 and also support your learning using a range of dynamic virtual learning tools.

Though very similar pronouncements, reading this Twitter thread:

Most are thinking that Bolton and Cambridge are doing the same thing, but just spun it differently.

So how can universities plan their courses and curriculum in an uncertain future? 

We see and hear plans for online courses, non-online courses, blended courses and other types of courses.

A phrase I had been using in my conversations and discussions is hybrid courses. This is less hybrid as in combining online and physical courses into a single course, that’s more a blended approach. My view was that hybrid was much more about analogous to how hybrid vehicles function.

hybrid engine
Image by Davgood Kirshot from Pixabay

There is a petrol engine in the hybrid car, but the car can run on electric power when needed. On longer journeys the petrol engine takes over, but on shorter (slower) trips the car uses electric power. Which power is used is dependent on the environment and situation the car is in.

With a hybrid course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time!

Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

These hybrid responsive courses will allow universities to easily clarify with prospective students about their experience and how they potentially could change as restrictions are either lifted or enforced. It helps staff plan their teaching and assessments to take into account the environment and changes to the situation.

There are hybrid variations across cars, some can be topped up by plugging in, whilst others just rely on charging form the petrol engine.

There could be a similar story with variations on hybrid courses. Some could have more online elements, whilst others reflecting the nature of that subject could have more physical face to face aspects.

There are of course still petrol cars and fully electric cars, but there is a whole spectrum of hybrid vehicles and it’s the same with hybrid courses.

You could translate your courses into online versions. You could transform them into courses which take advantage of the affordances of online. However the delivery of teaching is just one aspect of the overall student experience and thinking about that and reflecting on how your course and learning design will take into account the realities of an uncertain future, means you need to build that into the design of modules and courses. A hybrid model that is responsive and can adapt is one way which this could be done.

So it was interesting to see another person, Simon Thomson from University of Liverpool Centre for Innovation in Education (CIE) has been using it as well.

“None of us know what’s going to be happening in the Autumn”, said OfS CEO Nicola Dandridge to the Commons Education Committee, who nevertheless added – in the same breath – that “we are requiring that universities are as clear as they can be to students so that students when they accept an offer from a university know in broad terms what they’ll be getting”. Via WonkHE

It’s an uncertain future and one that means courses will need to reflect that uncertainty. Designing hybrid courses which reflect the possibilities of that future, but are responsive enough to respond to changes are probably one way of ensuring that the student experience is meeting the demands of students in a challenging landscape.

Lost in translation: the debate

microphones
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In previous posts I looked at the lecture and the seminar, in this one I want to focus on debates.

One of the things I have noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version, some have called this practice mirroring. As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

Debating  is a really useful way of enhancing learning, whether it be a formalised classroom debate, or an informal discussion arising from a presentation or a video.

Chairing and managing debates in a live classroom environment is challenging, but as a chair you need to ensure that the proponents of both sides of the debate, have their chance to put forward their view, but also that they are both given a fair hearing. You need to ensure that people have a chance to contribute to the discussion and ask questions, as well as ensuring that they can be answered. From an educational perspective, you also want to bring in everyone into the debate, so that they are engaged in the learning process.

Trying to translate a debate into an online version can be challenging and fraught with difficulties and may not necessarily engage all the students into the process.

So how do you, and how could you translate a one hour debate into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that debate and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

So at a simple level, you could translate your 60minute debate into a 60 minute online video conference debate.

Merely translating that one hour debate  into a one hour Teams or Zoom discussion probably works fine for many in isolation. However it’s not just an hour, students may also be involved in other online seminars, Zoom lectures, live video streams and more online content.

Continue reading Lost in translation: the debate

I want to be on television – Weeknote #63 – 15th May 2020

It was a nice long weekend, spoilt by somewhat confusing messages from the government released on Sunday night.

Though universities have more choice, FE Colleges are expected to re-open from 1st June for Year 12 learners, whilst maintaining social distancing.

I tried out the new BBC backgrounds…

I also (as everyone else is) posted some Zoom backgrounds of Weston-super-Mare to my other blog.

So if you are looking for some backgrounds for your Zoom and Teams calls, then here are some lovely pictures of the beach and pier at Weston-super-Mare that I have taken over the years.

Continue reading I want to be on television – Weeknote #63 – 15th May 2020

Lost in translation: mapping your teaching

old map
Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

With the rapid change to emergency remote delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic seeing universities being forced to undertake an emergency response to teaching. We saw that many had to quickly and at scale move to remote and online delivery. Many staff were thrown into using online tools such as Zoom and Teams with little time to reflect on how best to use them effectively to support learning.

As we move away from reactionary responses and start the future planning of courses and modules that may be a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning are able to design and plan for high quality and effective online or hybrid courses. In addition we will need to put contingency plans in case another emergency response is required if there is a second spike in covid-19 infections resulting in a second lockdown.

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I did start to think if mapping could be useful in helping staff plan their future course and curriculum design.

When I was delivering the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we used the concept of Visitors and Residents to map behaviours and the tools people used. The Visitors and Residents mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. In 2015 following delivering with Lawrie Phipps, the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme I thought about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. The result of this was a blog post published about how to map the teaching and learning.

This post resonated with quite a few people, such as Sheila MacNeill (than at GCU) and Henry Keil from Harper Adams.

Continue reading Lost in translation: mapping your teaching

Lost in translation: the radio programme

Microphone
Image by rafabendo from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In previous posts I looked at the lecture and the seminar, in this one I want to focus on the conversation, using audio recordings akin to a radio programme.

One of the things I have noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version, some have called this practice mirroring.

As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

In my post on translating the lecture I discussed the challenges of translating your 60minute lecture into an online version.

Though we might like video and Zoom, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential of audio recordings. We still have radio despite the advent to television and the internet. The internet even has it’s own subscription style audio content in the form of the podcast.

So at a simple level, you could create a 60 minute audio recording to replace the physical lecture or live zoom session.

However simply recording yourself misses a real opportunity to create an effective learning experience for your students.

If you have listened a 60 minute radio programme, you will realise few if any have a talking head for 60 minutes. So if you change the monologue to a conversation then you can create something which is more engaging for the viewer (the student) and hopefully a better learning experience.

Radio
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

Radio is different to television and those differences should influence the design of how you deliver the content or teaching if you are suing audio rather than video. Most 60 minute radio broadcasts are rarely a monologue, there are discussions and debates, as well as conversations. Some of the most successful podcasts follow a radio format with a variety of voices. The same can be said of audio based learning content. Don’t do a monologue, think about having a discussion or a conversation.

Continue reading Lost in translation: the radio programme

Lost in translation: the seminar

seminar room
Image by dmvl from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In a previous post I looked at translating the lecture, in this one I am looking at the seminar, or group tutorial.

As well as lectures many university courses have group discussions or seminar to talk about topics or subjects. These often consist of a one hour session led or steered by an academic member of staff.

One of the things I have noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version. 

Dave White in a recent blog post about his experiences at UAL called it practice mirroring.

As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students. Continue reading Lost in translation: the seminar

Things are going to be different – Weeknote #60 – 24th April 2020

Having moved down into assessment over the last few weeks, I am now looking at teaching online and student wellbeing (and engagement).

We know that the move to teaching online was very much done quickly and rapidly, with little time for planning. Platforms needed to be scaled up to widespread use and most academics moved to translate their existing practice into remote delivery. This wasn’t online teaching, this was teaching delivered remotely during a time of crisis.

The Easter break gave a bit of breathing room, but even then there wasn’t much time for planning and preparation, so even now much of the teaching will be a response to the lockdown rather than  a well thought out planned online course.

Thinking further ahead though, with the potential restrictions continuing, institutions will need to plan a responsive curriculum model that takes into account possible lockdown, restrictions, as well as some kind of normality.

I was involved in a meeting discussing the content needs of Further Education, though my role is Higher Education, I am working on some responses to Covid-19 and content for teachers is one of those areas. What content do teachers need? Do they in fact need good online content? Who will provide that content? How will do the quality assurance? Do we even need quality assurance? And where does this content live? Continue reading Things are going to be different – Weeknote #60 – 24th April 2020

Lost in translation: the lecture

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery.

One of the things I have noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version. An example of this, is from Dave White in a recent blog post about his experiences at UAL, he called it practice mirroring.

So in the move to online teaching our initial instinct is to preserve Contact Hours by mirroring what would have been face-to-face sessions with webinar style sessions. What this looks like is exhausting 3-4 hour online sessions which must be almost impossible to stay engaged with.

As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

Before having 4-5 hours in a lecture theatre or a classroom was certainly possible and done by many institutions. However merely translating that into 4 hours of Zoom video presentations and discussions is exhausting for those taking part, but also we need to remember that in this time there are huge number of other negative factors impacting on people’s wellbeing, energy and motivation.

When snow closed campuses, you probably could have got away with this kind of translation from the physical to the virtual, but now we have lockdown, anxiety about the virus, and let’s be brutal, people are actually dying everyday due to the virus.

People may not be able to participate in synchronous sessions, they may have childcare or other dependents they need to look after, they may be other household challenges.

So how do you, and how could you translate the one hour lecture into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that session and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

Continue reading Lost in translation: the lecture

…and the Russians used a pencil

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

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.

learning
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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. 

Vodafone has said it is experiencing a 30% rise in internet traffic across its UK fixed-line and mobile networks.

The FT reports on the EU asking streaming services to limit their services (behind a paywall).

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. 

They have a web page offering advice and guidance – Teaching and learning provision for students in areas where internet access is restricted.

Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay
Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

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 University of Reading has an useful site on compressing files.

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?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Think mobile

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.

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

Designing learning 

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.

100 ways to use a VLE – #3 Having an online discussion

Debates can be asynchronous as well, through a discussion forum. In many ways this can be a different debating experience with the opportunity for all students to make their point.

100 ways to use a VLE – #5 Having an online debate

You can use high tech tools that require decent technology and bandwidth, but sometimes you can make do with a pencil.

Could we build a treehouse?

Image by Th G from Pixabay
Image by Th G from Pixabay

I have written before about informal learning, and how that once you start designing informal learning it becomes formalised. What you can do is create spaces, as well as provide technology, that can encourage informal learning.

A simple example of this is providing ubiquitous Wi-Fi across the campus, especially in social and communal areas.

What would you design in your informal learning spaces if money no object?

This was the brief we had in a workshop at the Leeds Business School at the recent ALT Learning Spaces SIG in January.

So the brief was to think about how an existing space could be refurbished into an informal learning space. There were three scenarios, a very limited budgetary option, a classic budgetary scenario and ours, which was “budget, what budget!”

We were split into groups, two groups had a (realistic) limited budget to work with, another group a bigger budget and our group… well our group had an unlimited budget. We could go to town.

There is still something useful about this kind of scenario, even though it isn’t realistic, as with any blue skies thinking, you can start with unrealistic and unattainable outcome, but bringing that back down to reality, means that some things will remain.

The space we were working with was a real space, and is in the West Park Teaching Hub at Loughborough University. This is a round space, currently divided into two semi-circle teaching spaces. The space wasn’t working as planned, in the main due to noise leaking between the spaces.

The space was circular and I immediately thought lets go right out there and think about doing something very different, so I threw into the initial discussion the idea of either building a fairground carousel, my thinking was of the double decker ones you see in Germany and France.

My other idea, which the group liked more, was let’s build a treehouse in the space.

The seminar room we were in had interactive whiteboards for each group, so I got to work to “sketch” a treehouse concept for the space.

The key concept was to bring in nature into the space, both in terms of the tree, but also real foliage and natural light.

The other aspect was to design the space to create various different ways in which the space could be used for informal learning, both for individuals and for groups.

One thing I have done in spaces I was managed (some years ago) was designing the space to allow for quick (or light) informal learning and spaces for longer deeper informal learning. I took my cue from coffee shops, where though they basically sell coffee, there are different coffee drinking scenarios. There are those people who want to pop in, sit down, have a quick coffee and then go. Similarly there are two people, who want a break from shopping, so want to chat and have a coffee. Then there are the people who want a longer coffee drinking experience (maybe they are going to have cake or a sandwich). They will spend much longer in the coffee shop, they may even have a second coffee. Sometimes a group will come in to discuss and chat over coffee. Then there are those looking for a place to use their laptop.

In a lot of coffee shops, you will see they design the space to meet these differing needs. Near the entrance are usually tables and chairs and occasional soft seating. As you venture deeper into the coffee shop, you will find sofas and more comfortable seating, but also larger tables and chairs (for groups).

So back to the learning space design, we wanted to do something similar. We wanted a range of furniture that would allow for multiple and varied informal learning scenarios. Places where a learner could sit down and check something on their laptop. Tables that would allow a couple of learners to grab a coffee and chat about their most recent lecture. Furniture for longer and deeper informal learning scenarios, working on an essay or a group project.

We felt that lighting was important and would both encourage and discourage informal learning. Everyone felt coffee (and snacks) was important, but were aware of the noise issues that this could cause. Acoustical planning would be undertaken to create quiet spaces and ensure noisy spaces could be contained and the sound absorbed by the furniture and plants.

Technology would be embedded and integrated into the treehouse. There would be ubiquitous Wi-FI, well would you expect anything less. There would be places to charge devices. Screens would be available for small group work, as well as traditional whiteboards and other areas to write on.

Image by Duddesack from Pixabay

We also thought a big screen surrounding the tree could be used to change the mood of the space, as well as for information.

It was a fun task and we enjoyed working together. It certainly wasn’t a realistic option, but some of the concepts and ideas could certainly be utilised in a real budgetary envelope when designing a space for informal learning.