Category Archives: news

“All university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential”

So there are still real challenges for higher education as infections continue to rise and groups of students being forced to self-isolate, regional and local lockdowns make it challenging to deliver teaching.  were the students to blame?

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

I read David Kernohan’s piece, What is it about small areas with large numbers of Covid-19 cases? On Wonkhe.

A glance at the Wonkhe dashboards would suggest this is a reasonable conclusion to draw – there are no Mid-level Super Output Areas (MSOA) in England with more than 100 Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days that have less than 2,000 students in residence. As you have probably come to expect, things are a bit more complicated than that.

David points out that blaming students for the rise in covid-19 isn’t just not helpful, but also isn’t accurate.

Universities are suffering again from negative press, saying they shouldn’t have opened. However they weren’t given much choice and on top of that in the most recent restrictions, even at the highest tier, universities are expected to remain open.

Though what does open mean anymore?

When we had the full lockdown back in March, yes students were sent home, however universities remained open, their campus may have been shut down, but research was still happening, teaching was going ahead and many students were learning.

Universities can remain open, but doesn’t mean the campus has to be open. Maybe the government should have listened to the advice from their own SAGE scientists who said three weeks ago that “all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.”  If that advice had been followed maybe, many of those covid-19 infection hotspots could have been avoided.

What we do know is that many universities are moving to online delivery curriculum models and for many students self isolation is part of the student experience.

..and then the proverbial hit the fan!

girl with mask
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

I did think last week that this was just the beginning, when I posted my blog post about the uncertainty that the higher education sector was facing, when I noted a few stories about social distancing and isolation that was being reported in the press. I didn’t think that the story would blow up so soon!

Last week we saw stories emanating from Scotland that students were having positive tests for Covid-19 and hundreds of students were being asked to self-isolate for fourteen days. The impact of coronavirus restrictions on the student experience were starting to surface, from the students breaching social distancing at an open air cinema at Exeter to Abertay in Dundee in Scotland where hundreds of students are being told to isolate.

After Dundee came Glasgow with a major Covid outbreak at Glasgow University seeing 600 students self-isolate. This was then reported in more depth and more widely – ‘We came all this way to start a new life’: the misery of Glasgow’s lockdown freshers.

University of Glasgow
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

I did think that with Scottish universities starting term earlier than their English counterparts that we would start to see similar stories in England within the next two weeks.

I think we will start to see a rise in incidents in England, as Scottish universities start earlier so English universities are a few weeks behind.

Well it happened in the next two days, as well as more stories coming out of Scotland, we started to see similar stories in England, with hundreds of Manchester students locked down after 127 Covid cases and students ‘scared and confused’ as halls lock down.

Up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University and hundreds at other institutions, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are self-isolating following Covid-19 outbreaks.

It’s being reported by the BBC that forty universities are reporting coronavirus cases.

About 40 universities around the UK have now reported coronavirus cases and thousands of students are self-isolating as the new term begins.

  • The University of Aberystwyth is the latest to suspend face-to-face teaching to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
  • At the University of Essex a cluster of cases has been linked to sports teams.
  • Queen’s University Belfast – some students have been told to self-isolate after a “small number” tested positive.
  • The University of Exeter, which has also reported a “small” number of cases.

In Wales, with much of the population in lockdown, students in many of the Welsh universities were also forced to isolate and stay in their halls. This was proving to be traumatic for many first year students, who are mainly young and for most is their first time away from the family home.

Universities are facing various welfare challenges as you might imagine, but also the challenge that as well as physical face to face delivery, those sessions now also need to be delivered online. This is a different challenge than March where all students were off campus now there is need to deliver multiple versions of the same session. In addition the rise in covid-19 infections is impacting on staff, who may now want to shield, creating additional challenges for delivery across campus and online.

Wonkhe goes into more detail about what is happening at universities right now, and why?

What is going on? If you’ve not been following what has been going over the summer, or you are bewildered as to why we are in this situation, David Kernohan takes you through the basics.

lecture theatre
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

The Guardian was reporting on the pressures being put onto staff: UK universities ‘bullying’ junior staff into face-to-face teaching.

As universities struggle to contain student parties, and with coronavirus outbreaks already confirmed at several campuses, many academics are afraid of face-to-face teaching. But some say managers are bullying them to return and, fearing redundancy, they feel unable to refuse.

It doesn’t help that the press coverage is rather negative and biased against the sector. The universities were told by government that they should reopen their campuses. The Government were clear about what they expect from the sector:

We will introduce new restrictions in England, but not a return to the lockdown in March; we’ll ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.

This was reinforced by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden who defended students’ university return.

The culture secretary has defended students going back to university in England after a union labelled the situation “shambolic”. Oliver Dowden told the Andrew Marr Show it was important students did not “give up a year of their life” by not going.

Though many (if not all) universities have planned for this, it’s still a difficult situation.

However despite the challenges, it hasn’t stopped stories like this appearing: Police break up parties at Edinburgh student halls. Which places the blame on the students.

This morning we saw pieces on Radio 4’s Today programme and on the television on BBC Breakfast about the crisis, didn’t help that there were a fair few inaccuracies in the reporting.

So the higher education sector is facing real challenges as covid-19 infections result in self-isolation, local lockdowns and the resulting impact on learning and teaching, what they need now is support and help in working through this.

Consider the ethical issues first!

exam
Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

I found this opinion article on the Guardian on facial recognition interesting and relevant to some of the work and research I have been doing on assessment, specifically remote assessment during the lockdown and plans for the future.

As students sit their exams during the pandemic, universities have turned to digital proctoring services. They range from human monitoring via webcams to remote access software enabling the takeover of a student’s browser. Others use artificial intelligence (AI) to flag body language and background noise that might point to cheating.

In my work on assessment I did research and look at digital proctoring. Most universities realised that the technology, despite the protestations of the companies involved, was unfair and could negatively impact on wellbeing. There were also concerns about the validity of such proctoring. Universities have also recognised that not every student was in a space, have the connection or the right kind of device to enable them to participate in said remote exams.

However, professional bodies, such as the Bar Standards Board in the article, have decided to use digital proctoring for their professional exams, and their chosen technology uses face-matching technology.

The Guardian article author, Meg Foulkes, rightly expresses her concerns about the biased nature of said technologies and is concerned that they are been used without sufficient safeguards in place, such as stricter regulation and ethical standards, for instance.

The article specifically mentions the concern of many over the bias that these technologies have.

Of most concern is the racialised bias that face-matching and facial recognition technologies exhibit.

This article reminds me of the discussion I had a few weeks back in my presentation to the University of Hertfordshire, where I talked about the possibilities of technology, but I said, first consider the ethical, privacy and legal aspects of said technology before blindly implementing it with students. This applies not just to universities, but also the professional bodies that they work and collaborate with.

The library will remain closed…

books
Image by IvanPais from Pixabay

The government recently published some guidance for universities reopening buildings and campuses

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible 2 metres apart from those they do not live with.

There has been a fair amount of commentary on the Twitter about this, mainly negative, describing it as of little help, or “bleeding” obvious…

Genuinely at a loss to understand why this was written.

It mentions ‘pinch points’ such as ‘the start and end of the day’: what does that actually mean on a university campus?

Honestly, it’s one of the vaguest documents I’ve ever read.

…what an astonishingly vague and unhelpful document this is

In which Higher Education Professional Services staff are rendered almost entirely invisible. Although to be fair, the whole thing is quite the waste of words.

There’s very little to say about this other than it’s highly amusing that it notes guidance from CMA on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds in relation to student accommodation but not in relation to higher education itself!

 Start and end of the day is interesting concept on a residential ‘sticky campus’

Though this section from the report has huge implications for the sector.

Libraries are currently required by law to cease their business during the emergency period (regulation 5(1) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020). However, they are allowed to provide services for orders made via website or on-line communications, telephones and text messaging, and post. You might therefore consider how to make library services available in line with those methods.

The implication is that the physical library on campus should remain closed and library services are delivered online.

The legislation doesn’t mention libraries, but refers to the provision of library services.

 A person responsible  for  carrying on  a  business, not  listed  in Part  3  of Schedule  2,  of offering goods  for  sale or  for  hire in  a  shop, or  providing  library services  must,  during the emergency period – (a)cease  to  carry on  that  business…

I found this rather worrying as libraries in universities are more than just library services. Usually this is discussed the other way around that the library is more than just the physical space and services can be accessed online. In reality most university libraries are a combination of space and services. Some of these can be delivered online, but often students will want to use the physical space in the library even if they are not (directly) using library services.

library
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I am not sure if a university decides to open their library they would face action, but it certainly could be a possibility. Of course things may change between now and when universities return in September. If universities can ensure social distancing in their libraries then maybe they can open the physical space. Study desks could be set two metres apart, one way systems imposed on stairwells and markers on the floor to aid staff and students to maintain social distancing.

face mask
Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay

What is less obvious is how they will need to reduce possible infection by transmission via their physical resources. Would physical books and journals need to be held for 72 hours after a student has used them before another student could use them?

The published guidance has one paragraph about libraries, and that is too superficial to provide any decent guidance or support for universities on how they should operate their libraries when term starts in the autumn.

Lockdown – Weeknote #56 – 27th March 2020

Dunes
Over the weekend we went to Brean Sands, won’t be going back for a while….

The office was still closed and Jisc had asked all staff to not to travel for work. It certainly felt like all the days were merging into a muddle of days. Even though I work from home a lot compared to others, I still had quite a bit of structure to my week, being out and about at least once a week if not more.

Last week I was supposed to be in London three times for example…. The week before I was in London for one day and Birmingham for two. This week, all at home….

This was also the day that all the schools were closed and as might be expected, school online learning services such as Doddle and Hegarty are not really coping with the demand for their services. Creating extra stress during these stressful times. We also need alternatives.

There was considerable strain on these services, which meant that I suspect a lot of children gave up and may not even try again.

I had a meeting discussing the Education 4.0 roadmap that I have been working on, this meeting was booked weeks ago, I was going to to Manchester to do this face to face, but of course now it was done online via Teams. Continue reading Lockdown – Weeknote #56 – 27th March 2020

The week when everything changed – Weeknote #55 – 20th March 2020

This was a week when everything changed…

Over the weekend I scared myself silly by watching Contagion again.

This was a film about a much more lethal virus with a shorter incubation period than coronavirus.

So in the interests of accuracy I checked the trivia and goofs sections of IMDB only to read this section in the goofs.

The disease in the film is highly lethal, affects a very large number of people and has a short incubation period. In reality an infectious disease must have a long incubation period and less lethality than in the film to facilitate a sustained transmission. The real case makes tracking much more difficult, which is a central part of the film, therefore the filmmakers had to bend the facts a bit.

Oh…

Monday I was supposed to be off to London, but due the cancellation of the meeting I was attending, I decided not to go and in hindsight this was probably the right decision.

I spent some time following up the cancellation of Data Matters and what we would do and what needed to be done.

Continue reading The week when everything changed – Weeknote #55 – 20th March 2020

Digital should be a choice…

Bananas - Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

We often forget that sometimes people don’t like innovation and innovation doesn’t automatically always mean better. Actually most of the time innovation for a lot of people is rarely better. Sometimes its worse than what was before, most of the time it’s just different.

Innovation is defined as new or different, but it isn’t defined as been better that was there was before.

I recently read an article on the BBC News website An experiment in shopping via app reveals consumers are not quite ready for till-free grocery buying about an experiment that the Sainsbury supermarket had been undertaking at one of their stores in London. It didn’t end well…

The branch of Sainsbury had removed all their tills and allowed shoppers to scan their goods with their phones and pay for them through the app. Removing the tills allowed them to have a wider range of goods on display.

The challenge was that a lot of people were going to to the help desk to pay for their goods as they didn’t want to, or couldn’t use the app. The result was long queues.

I suspect some people when they popped into to get some food and stuff didn’t realise that the only way to pay was though an app and assumed despite the posters that they could pay through a traditional checkout (or even one of the self-scan checkouts). When they couldn’t find one they went to the helpdesk. Not everyone wants to install an app either.

I think it also reflects that people like to have a choice. When we go “digital by default” we forget that this doesn’t mean “digital only” it means that the primary choice for people will be digital, but that other choices (analogue) should also be available.

This has implications for universities and colleges who are in the process of moving services to digital, whether that be self-service kiosks, chatbots, or using digital assistants like Alexa.

If 20% of the population don’t use the internet (as reported in this article) how is this reflected in the students who go to university? How many of them don’t use the internet, or have made the choice not to engage with internet services or apps. Some may not even have the devices required for access.

Then we need to be aware that not all of our potential users will want to use the internet, let alone use an app. They may not want to use a kiosk or ask Alexa.

Amazon Echo
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Digital by default means making the first option digital, but there needs to be a second option, one that may require the use of people to deliver the service.

I am also reminded of this blog post by Lawrie Phipps The Darker side of Digital. Lawrie describes some of the darker aspects of digital by default. In the BBC article I link to, it means people were annoyed when doing their shopping. Lawrie points out how moving a service to digital only can be harmful to people’s welfare and their physical or mental health.

He quotes from an UN report on poverty in the UK.

“One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.”

When creating digital services, we need to remember that we are trying to enhance and increase access. This also means that we shouldn’t be constraining or reducing access.

Building digital capability three years ago…

Three years ago today I was in Birmingham for the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference, where I was delivering the opening keynote.

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

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

It also mentioned some stories about the importance and value of digital capabilities including the infamous story of BoatyMcBoatFace.

As well as taking photographs and putting them on Instagram, I blogged about other sessions at the conference as well.

The importance of language – UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

and

Building ICT Proficiency – UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

and

Digital diversity – UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

Following on from the conference I reflected on many of the sessions and wrote the following blog posts.

Do we still need IT training teams?

and

Engaging the invisibles

It wasn’t long after that, that I swapped teams at Jisc and moved into the Further Education and Skills team. Though I would continue to work on the technical side of the Digital Capability project, I was soon immersed into the world of the Intelligent Campus.

Alexa, what’s on my timetable today?

Amazon Echo
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Though I have left the Intelligent Campus project I still have some interest in that space. One aspect is voice assistants, tools such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa. I noticed some recent news articles in this space, such as this one: Amazon Echos to be installed in dorms.

The program will oversee the installation of third-generation Echo Dot units in all of the suites, classrooms and study rooms.

There have been many exploratory programs in this space, and it reminds me of the early days of the iPad.

There are challenges connecting devices to university networks, mainly as the consumer devices aren’t always able to be connected to a WPA2 Enterprise wireless network (such as Eduroam) but as with early days with any device, this functionality is something that is on the roadmap and can often be found as beta software.

Alexa for Business now allows organizations to connect select Echo devices managed by Alexa for Business to their corporate WPA2 Enterprise Wi-Fi network.

What we don’t know is, are these devices a fad, or are voice assistants here to stay?

So long and thanks for all the fish…

Well time for a new job. Having spent just over three years at Jisc as a Senior Co-Design Manager, I have a new role at Jisc as the Head of higher education and student experience.

I have enjoyed my three years in the Futures Directorate at Jisc starting working for Sarah Davies on the digital capabilities project, before moving onto developing the Digital Leaders Programme with Lawrie Phipps, and working in the apprenticeships space and the Intelligent Campus.

I have had the opportunity to work with some great people in Futures and from the sector. I did start to list them and realised that there had been so many I was bound to miss someone out. Thanks to everyone.

As Jisc’s Head of higher education and student experience I coordinate Jisc’s overall strategy for HE learning, teaching and student experience and have lead responsbility for promoting the total programme and value and impact of all HE learning, teaching and student experience products and services delivered by Jisc.

I lead the ongoing review of Jisc’s HE learning and teaching strategy, positioning this work within the organisation’s overall strategy I ensure that Jisc’s portfolio of activity in this area remains in line with Jisc’s HE learning and teaching priorities and work closely with colleagues to develop Jisc’s understanding of the value and impact of all of our HE learning, teaching and student experience activities.

As Head of higher education and student experience I am also responsible for framing how current and future challenges in this area can be resolved by technological innovation and translating the key insights into actionable innovation pipelines that deliver real impact.

I manage the monitoring of national and regional HE learning, teaching and student experience customer and funder priorities, and work with Jisc account managers to examine the value ascribed by customers to Jisc products and services in this area, the join up of intelligence from funders and customers and the internal sharing of this, as appropriate.

I also manage the process of directorates identifying and mapping operational activities to our HE learning, teaching and student experience priorities, and the tracking and measuring of impact, highlighting gaps, challenging work if it is not aligned to priorities and identify emerging opportunities as these materialise.

If you are going to Jisc’s Digifest next week, come and say hello.