Category Archives: learning

U-turning – Weeknote #77 – 21st August 2020

Cineworld

Made my first visit to a cinema at the weekend, which was nice, I went to see The Empire Strikes Back which was amazing to see on the big screen, I never saw this at the cinema in 1980, so it was nice to see it where it was meant to be seen.

Also over the weekend we saw more articles on what the future of university will be when the new term starts this autumn. A couple caught my eye, including this one from the BBC News: What will university be like for freshers this year?

But what will the university experience be like for “freshers” at what should be one of the most exciting times of their lives? Swansea University said plans to keep students safe include “bubbles” among flatmates, which means a ban on parties or having people over to stay.

The student experience this year will not be like it was last year. I still think one of the challenges will be the potential chance of a second wave of infection and another full lockdown, but the more likely challenge will be a local lockdown. Universities will need to plan for that kind of eventuality, these local lockdowns are likely to be weeks rather than months. Will courses have the flexibility to be able to respond and change as the local situation changes? That kind of planning is challenging enough with the added challenge of planning a curriculum that needs to take the requirements of preventing the spread of the coronavirus through bubbles and social distancing. As discussed before the real challenge is the uncertainty out there.

And if that wasn’t enough to think about, on Monday the debacle about the A Level results continued to rumble on.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to let teacher-assessed grades stand in England to avoid a second wave of exams chaos hitting GCSE results this week.

Continue reading U-turning – Weeknote #77 – 21st August 2020

The Intelligent Learning Space

So what do we mean by a learning space and how is an intelligent learning space different? What is a smart learning space?

lecture theatre
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

As we design learning spaces, we can add sensors and mechanisms to collect data on the use of those learning spaces. It then how we analyse and use that data that allows those spaces to be initially smart and then intelligent.

Generally most learning spaces are static spaces designed to allow for particular kinds of learning. Some have an element of flexibility allowing for different kinds of learning activity within the same space.

We have seen lecture theatres where the seats can swivel to allow for discussion and group work. There are other lecture spaces where the students are seated in groups around a table, allowing them to see the front of the room and work together. New active learning spaces allow students to work independently or in groups, but the use of large screens on the table allows for whole group teaching or lecturing.

Often the pedagogy is shoe-horned into the space that is available and even if more appropriate spaces are available on campus, often they are unavailable for that particular slot or cohort.

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

In the past room utilisation was often a combination of what was in the timetable and what could be seen during a survey (often with a clipboard).

There is some technology already in place which can start us on the road to making better-informed decisions about how best to use space – sensors, for example. We all know when lighting is linked to a movement sensor because everything goes dark when we sit still for too long, promoting much frantic arm-waving to turn the lights back on.

But a smart learning space goes further than such simple actions and allows us to gather data about the spaces and, importantly, act on that data. We can turn down heating in rooms which aren’t being used, and some systems will take into account the external temperature, humidity and pollution levels, and not just the time of year.

We can use electronic entry systems, such as swipe cards, to ensure the security of the rooms, but also to measure room occupancy. We can also ensure that the lighting, heating and CO2 levels are within defined parameters.

If you then throw in data from the timetabling system, the curriculum, lesson planning, teacher commentary and feedback, student feedback. You then start to get a wealth of data that could be analysed and used to design and enhance the learning activities which will take place in that learning space.

A smart learning space would taken into account historical usage of the room and how people felt that the space either contributed or hindered the learning taking place there. You can imagine how users of the room could add to a dataset about the activities taking place in the room and how they felt it went.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Of course there is a challenge with historical data in terms of bias, errors and legacy processes. You can imagine that if a space, regardless of what it had been designed to be, was only used for lectures, then the historical data would imply that the space was only ideal for lectures. Bringing in more datasets would help alleviate that issue and ensure any assumptions about the space had some element of validity.

You would think that data from the timetable could allow for this automatically, but timetabling data tells us about the cohort, the course they are on and the academic leading the session, most timetabling software doesn’t have the granular activity data in it. What will be happening in that session, not only what was planned, but also what actually did happen.

The course module information may have the plans of the activity data within it, but may not have the room data from the timetable, nor may it have cohort details. You could easily imagine that some cohorts may be quite happy with undertaking group activities in a lecture theatre space, but there may be other cohorts of students who would work more effectively if the space was better at facilitating the proposed learning activity.

Likewise when it comes to adding feedback about the session, where does that live? What dataset contains that data?

Then there are environmental conditions such as heat, temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, which can also impact on the learning process.

So an actual smart learning space would be able to access data about the session from multiple sources and build a picture of what kinds of learning spaces work best for different kinds of learning activities, taking into account factors such as cohort, environmental conditions, the academic leading the session and so on…

Working together
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

These datasets could also be used to inform future space planning and new builds, but smart learning spaces are only the beginning. Taking a smart space and making it intelligent is an obvious next step.

An intelligent learning space would take this data, and then start to make suggestions based on the data. It would identify possible issues with the learning plan and make recommendations to either change the learning activities planned, or recommend a more appropriate space. An intelligent learning space would adjust the environmental conditions to suit the activities planned for that spaces, rather than users of the space having to manually adjust the conditions when it becomes too cold, too hot, too bright, stuffy, etc….

An intelligent learning space could take data from a range of sources, not just the physical aspects of the space and how it is being used, but also the data from digital systems such as attendance records, the virtual learning environment, the library, student records, electronic point-of-sale and online services.

This joined-up approach can provide insights into the student experience that we would otherwise miss. These insights can inform and support decision-making by individuals across the campus, including students, academic and professional service staff. By using live and dynamic data, decisions can be made that are based on the current state of the different learning spaces across the campus.

Making the timetabling software intelligent, well at least dynamic, could mean that learning spaces are not allocated to cohorts of students for a set amount of time, but learning spaces are allocated based on pedagogical need and student need and done as and when needed.

One of the key issues with all this is to collect and store the data somewhere, a centralised hub or data lake would be critical.

Going local – Weeknote #70 – 3rd July 2020

A shorter week for me, as I took some time off for family business, well a birthday.

The Guardian reported on the Universities Minister, lambasting English universities for letting down students.

The 20-year crusade to get more young people into higher education appears at an end, after the universities minister accused England’s universities of “taking advantage” of students with dumbed-down courses that left them saddled with debt.

In a significant shift in policy, Michelle Donelan declared it was time to “think again” about the government’s use of higher education to boost social mobility.

Though wasn’t her government in charge for half of that time? What it appears this will mean is that courses which result in high paying jobs will take priority over those that don’t.

I have always felt that education was so much more than getting qualifications and as a result getting highly paid jobs. Some courses are useful to society, but not from a financial perspective. The question is though who pays for those courses, is it government or someone else?

I have been working on some vignettes about the future. They provide ideas, concept and inspiration on the future of higher education. They are not detailed plans of what is going to happen, but will stimulate discussion amongst leaders, managers and staff in universities on what might happen and what could happen.

Here is an early example:

The localised university

We have become so accustomed to young people leaving home to go off to university that the concept of not leaving home to participate in higher education, though common to many, was seen as a somewhat alien concept.

However with the cost of travel and housing rising, as well as concerns about climate change and the impact of travel and commuting on the environment. Many universities decided to take the university to the community.

Some of the delivery would be done individually online, it was also apparent that the connectedness and social aspects of learning would require students coming together.

In small towns across the country, groups of students would come together to learn. Even though the teaching was delivered remotely, the learning was done together. Core aspects of the course would be delivered to larger groups, whilst more specialised teaching would be delivered to smaller cohorts or in some cases individually. The university would either build, convert or hire spaces for teaching and would use the internet to deliver live high quality video to groups of students from subject experts from across the country and in some cases globally.

The students would be supported in person and locally, by skilled facilitators who would ensure that the students would get the appropriate help as and when required.

Content would be delivered digitally, using online resources as required, or even 3D printing of physical objects in the home.

Specialist and practical subjects would be delivered at regional hubs that could be used by students from any university. This would mitigate the need to travel regularly or commute to a campus everyday.

It became apparent early on that much of student support could be delivered remotely, however local specialist support providers working for multiple universities could easily work with students in their catchment area.

Some bemoaned the decline of the “student experience” on campus, but what was discovered early on, in the same way has had happened on physical university campuses in the past, students would, using social networking, create their own local groups and societies, and then would arrange their own social and networking events. Some of these would be online, by many would happen at local social spaces.

I have been on different vignettes in order to make people think, inspire and stimulate discussion. Continue reading Going local – Weeknote #70 – 3rd July 2020

What have we learnt?

using a laptop
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This was the question that was posted to the Twitter this week.

What have we learnt from the first 3 months of COVID lockdown – both positive and negative – that will influence the long-term legacy of delivering online learning?

I found this an interesting question, I did respond initially on the Twitter, actually not to this tweet, but another one which had tagged me. I did think that I might expand on my thoughts in a deeper blog post on the question.

We know that many people out there thought this so called “pivot” would probably be the best thing that has happened with digital transformation and online learning, and would result in a paradigm shift in how universities (and colleges) would teach in the future.

This was something that I didn’t agree with and is best summed up by a tweet in March that Lawrie posted.

Since then, I don’t think we’ve seen so far could be described as online learning as in the sense of what we would have described as online learning pre-covid-19.

What we have seen is an emergency response to a crisis and a swift move to remote delivery. Universities were given very little time to respond a week or so. They had to quickly close campuses and ensure staff were able to deliver remotely, and students were able to access this delivery remotely as well. Whilst at the same time, all professional services staff were being forced to work from home.

Also during all this we had students wondering if they should stay in halls (some had no choice), go home or some third choice. Most international students flew home. 

We also had what was happening in the wider community. People were forced to work from home, many employees were furloughed, hospitality and retail establishments were closed. Lock down restrictions were put in place to stop all nonessential travel. We were asked to stay home, only go out for essential shopping and one form of exercise per day.

We need to remember that students were and are not learning online, they are in lock down, isolated and often without the support or technology they need.

They are socially isolated (though I am sure many are taking advantage of connecting virtually), but also they may be suffering financially, especially if they were working part-time in the those businesses which were forced to close.

Those who went home, would find themselves in a crowded environment, competing for quiet spaces to study from other siblings, parents or other relatives. Sharing bandwidth and devices.

This is not an ideal environment for learning!

man with facemask
Image by pisauikan from Pixabay

Despite the restrictions and limitations, I have seen staff step up and work hard to engage students, support them often using a range of tools and platforms. They have had to rapidly and at scale, “convert” or “translate” their courses to be delivered remotely without much time, resources or support. They have needed to be able to use these tools efficiently and effectively. They may, like the students, have found themselves in the same kind of crowded environments, competing for quiet spaces to teach from partners, children, maybe even parents or other relatives. Sharing bandwidth and devices.

There are lessons to be learned. about planning, contingencies, responsiveness, support and what to do in a crisis. Though hopefully there won’t be another coronavirus crisis, there are other things that happen locally and regionally and for shorter periods of time that require shifts in how we teach, learn and assess. Think about snow, volcanic eruptions, travel disruption and so on. To quote Terry Pratchett, million to one chances happen nine times out of ten. 

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

The thing is this crisis, it not over, by a long way, even future planning for September is in response to the current crisis. We will learn new lessons then as we try and deliver a full student experience, which is dominated by the threat of the coronavirus, social distancing and the possibility of a second or third wave of mounting infections and sadly, subsequent deaths.

I don’t think that we can easily transfer lessons learnt from these experiences (and future experiences) to “traditional” online learning. Will that kind of online learning even exist in this future?

What we can though do is apply what we’ve learnt to course design and delivery for the future, whether that be online, hybrid, blended or physical face to face. We are facing an uncertain future, we can build on the experiences we have had to make it better for students and staff.

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