Category Archives: stuff

More uncertainty

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

This week we saw new Covid measures put into place across the UK to try and reverse the increase in coronavirus infections over the last few weeks. The impact of these coronavirus restrictions on the student experience is 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.  Public health officials at NHS Lothian were investigating a coronavirus cluster at Edinburgh Napier University’s Bainfield student accommodation. A number of people tested positive and  contacts were being traced and told to isolate for two weeks. But the university remained open though, with students and staff who haven’t been asked to self-isolate have been told to attend as normal.

This must be causing challenges for universities as they respond to new restrictions and need to adapt their curriculum delivery models as a result, as well as ensuring the wellbeing of those students affected.

The Government are 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.

It was back in June I wrote a blog post asking if we needed to worry so much about the immediate future. Then, things were starting to look a little more positive. Maybe, just maybe, universities wouldn’t need to worry as much as thought they might in designing and delivering courses online in the next academic year. However in that blog post I was certainly overtly cautious about might happen.

Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.

Then in August I discussed the uncertainty that the higher education sector were facing was causing real challenges for planning and preparation.

Chatting with a few people, it was apparent that across many universities where was still concerns about social distancing and reducing the risk of infection, so plans were still being made to deliver blended or hybrid programmes, at least until January. The recent local lockdowns now happening regionally, has demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning. Though we may see a national lockdown if there is a critical second wave, the current thinking from government appears to be to control local spikes with local lockdowns.

At the time of writing that post, universities were concerned about falling student numbers, expecting many students to defer for a year. Then we had the exams algorithm fiasco, so suddenly universities which were worrying about not enough students, faced having more students than they planned for, with more students then places achieving the required grades. This has caused additional planning headaches for many universities, combined with putting in safeguards for social distancing.

2m
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So now we’re in a new, but just as, uncertain place where we have new restrictions, local lockdowns and the threat of a second wave which could result in a second national lockdown.

This uncertainty means that universities will still need to be responsive in how they deal with the various restrictions that are in place, but also responding to pockets of infection and isolation of parts of their student population.

I have written about implementing a hybrid curriculum that could help universities deal with these new levels of uncertainty.

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), students self-isolating then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

This needs to be more than the emergency response we saw in March and April and universities have recognised this and undertake huge amounts of effort and work to ensure that courses are better orgaised and planned. Their students will be expecting more than simple translation of physical face to face sessions to remote online formats. The online sessions need to be reflect the fact they are online and not in a physical space.

Alas designing flexible, responsive, hybrid curriculum does take not just time, but also expertise. Term has started, so time is limited. I don’t think you can easily assume staff have the relevant digital skills, capabilities and experience to design, develop and build such curriculum models. There is a lot more to this then merely providing the guidance, training and support. Where do you start for example? What works and what doesn’t? There are subject and cohort differences. A model that fits one university, may for various reasons not fit another.

Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay
Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Another big issues for universities will be dealing with the non-academic side of student life, for those who are self-isolating. Back in March students were told to go home, now they are being told so self-isolate in their accommodation. There are questions there about how they will get food and will they cook, can they still use shared kitchens? It’s one thing to be in the family home, another to be stuck in a single room in halls. How are you going to support student wellbeing in such an environment. Then there is the issue of non-compliance, how will universities deal with that? Will they want to?

As I said back in August, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.

I am going to teach

What was City of Bristol College

Teaching is something you do, not somewhere you go…

Okay so teach and work aren’t as interchangeable as I would like to think, and I recently wrote a couple of pieces on the nature of work and working in this uncertain landscape. The first was a reflective piece on where I have worked and also how I worked, whilst the second was much more about the future of work and workplaces, as in work is still something you do, not somewhere you go.

Whilst writing both posts it got me thinking about how that, just as with the nature of work changing, teaching is also changing. Once this change has happened, people may not necessarily will want to return to how they use to teach.

When I was a teacher, I would often use the phrase I am going to teach which meant for much of my working life as teacher not only was I going to teach, but I was going to go to a specific space to teach as well. I use to remark (or was that joke) that I could teach anywhere, well I thought I could, but in reality I didn’t. I never took the students onto the field to teach, we never met up in a coffee shop. Okay I did field trips to the Bristol Docks, but that for me was more about learning than teaching.

Bristol Harbourside

I generally left the students to learn about urban regeneration in the docks by themselves, having taught them about what they needed to learn in the classroom the week before.

My career moved away from me teaching, to me supporting staff to teach, supported by the use of technology. I still considered myself a teacher and teaching, though most would have called it staff development. Most of that was still about going to a space and teaching. I did do other things that would be still called teaching, but didn’t require me to go to a specific space to teach. Some of this I did at home.

Back in 2008 I did a series of online webinars for the MoLeNET using a tool called instantpresenter.

InstantPresenter

I remember starting the software and staring at my computer screen. This wasn’t like the Teams or Zoom software of today. There was usually only one video feed, mine, partly down to bandwidth limitations, but also down to the fact that you would need a separate webcam for most computers of that era. I was lucky there was an iSight camera built into my iMac.

As I looked into the camera I realised that this was no classroom, this was me and a screen. There was going to be no visual or verbal cues from the people watching I felt I was literally on my own. I knew that as a teacher, someone who delivered training sessions and conference presentations, that I would be very responsive to the audience reaction. Knowing that I wouldn’t be getting that I knew I might get a little bit flat, so I decided to turn up my enthusiasm to eleven. I think I went a little too far and it all became Alan Partridge.

Going back ten years earlier in 1998, I was using a learning platform called First Class, where there was no video, it was all asynchronous text chat. Having participated in UseNet groups on the internet (remember those) I was quite familiar with and liked asynchronous text chat. However what I did find, was that many of my students on the First Class platform were not and didn’t quite get it. This was something that I also experienced in the early days of the Jisc e-learning conferences, which took place on an asynchronous platform. The presentations were not delivered, more they were uploaded. We would then discuss them using asynchronous text chat. The depth of discussion was always deeper than in a live physical conference, however as with my early experiences with First Class, not everyone got it, so didn’t get involved. When those Jisc e-learning conferences moved to a platform that enabled live online presentations, I think though we gained in one way, we lost an awful lot and much of the potential of asynchronous text chat was never achieved.

Just because you provide an asynchronous text chat platform, never assume people know how to use it effectively for teaching and learning, even if they know how to use iMessage and WhatsApp. As with any kind of technology, just because people use it for one thing, that doesn’t mean they know how to make the best use of it for learning and teaching. This is something I still refer to and think about when it comes to technology enabled learning.

Where I am trying to get to initially is to note that as we enter a new academic year which will require many staff to no longer go somewhere to teach, but they are still going to teach. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are able and comfortable to teach in these new online environments even with their recent direct experiences. We know that over the last six months we’ve been responding to the crisis by switching to remote teaching and I also think we are still in a crisis, but remote teaching doesn’t have to be a direct translation of physical teaching.

We also need to recognise that whereas before staff were teaching from home, in a landscape where students will be attending some face to face sessions and some online sessions, staff may need to deliver their online sessions from their desk. This is fine and dandy if they have their own office or dedicated quiet space, but less appropriate if they share an office, work in an open plan environment or even hotdesk! That is going to take some kind of logistical thinking and planning.

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Overall there is more to online learning then learning the technical 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? What about the logistical requirements, how are you managing that?

So the next question is what happens next? Not this year, maybe not even next year? As we are starting to see a shift in work and workplaces, will something similar happen when (or even if) we manage to move through to the ending of the pandemic, in higher education? Will we want to return to the daily commute to the campus, or could we see more flexible working or teaching in the future?

Uncertainty

Uncertain
Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future.

Back at the end of June as we started to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown I wrote a blog post wondering if we needed to worry so much about planning for online delivery for September.

Over the last couple of months in lockdown I have written various blog posts about the challenges that universities and colleges have faced with their emergency response to dealing with the coronavirus lockdown and planning for a new academic year amidst, translation and transformationhybrid curriculumsocial distanced campuses and a huge helping of uncertainty.

That uncertainty is certainly a big challenge and in the last few days we have seen the government make big changes to the lockdown restrictions in place, and have planned further easing of lockdown.

In that blog post I was certainly overtly cautious about might happen.

Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.

As the weeks went by and we saw restaurants and barbers reopen, I did think that by September that universities would be a good position to have relatively open campuses, face to face teaching with some elements of their programmes online. So overall creating a positive student experience.

Maybe, just maybe, universities wouldn’t need to worry as much as thought they might in designing and delivering courses online in the next academic year.

Chatting with a few people, it was apparent that across many universities where was still concerns about social distancing and reducing the risk of infection, so plans were still being made to deliver blended or hybrid programmes, at least until January.

The recent local lockdowns now happening regionally, has demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning.

Though we may see a national lockdown if there is a critical second wave, the current thinking from government appears to be to control local spikes with local lockdowns.

This has implications for universities which may find themselves going in and out of lockdown. This is doubling challenging for those universities that historically have a large number of commuter students. Their campus may be in locally lockdown or some of their students could be in a local lockdown. They will need to think carefully about how the curriculum will need to change if face to face teaching is no longer possible or viable. This isn’t just about the students, the teaching staff (who may be more at risk of serious complications with covid-19) may also not want to be on campus during these spikes.

As I have written before about implementing a hybrid curriculum could help universities deal with this uncertainty.

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.

This needs to be more than the emergency response we saw in March and April, students will be expecting more than simple translation of physical face to face sessions to remote online formats. The online sessions need to be reflect the fact they are online and not in a physical space.

Alas designing flexible, responsive, hybrid curriculum does take not just time, but also expertise. I don’t think you can easily assume staff have the relevant digital skills, capabilities and experience to design, develop and build such curriculum models. There is a lot more to this then merely providing the guidance, training and support. Where do you start for example? What works and what doesn’t?

As I said back in June, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.

Do we need to worry so much?

washing hands
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Over the last couple of months in lockdown I have written various blog posts about the challenges that universities and colleges have faced with their emergency response to dealing with the coronavirus lockdown and planning for a new academic year amidst, translation and transformation, hybrid curriculum, social distanced campuses and a huge helping of uncertainty.

That uncertainty is certainly a big challenge and in the last few days we have seen the government make big changes to the lockdown restrictions in place, and have planned further easing of lockdown.

We are expecting to see over the next few weeks changes to the covid-19 guidelines. The government currently think there is not a high risk of a second wave. In the same timeframe, health officials have said that we must prepare for a second wave of covid-19.

Health leaders are calling for an urgent review to determine whether the UK is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.

The government have said that “caution will remain our watchword and every stage is conditional and reversable”. The 2m social distancing guidance will be reduced to 1m from 4th July and people should remain at least one metre apart.

This has implications for university campuses, which have already made major efforts to ensure that the 2m social distancing guidelines could be enforced with one way corridors, removal of furniture from rooms and moving some high density learning activities online. Reducing the social distance to 1m means that in theory you can then fit more people into a single learning space (or office). Though as noted by health officials, reducing the distance to 1m, doesn’t double your risk of catching the coronavirus, it actually makes it ten times more likely. As a result some people will still want to be at least 2m apart. This does ask the question how you can manage this on a university campus.

chairs
Image by NickyPe from Pixabay

The government have also said, the fewer social contacts you have, the safer you will be. This means that universities will still need to ensure freshers’ week activities are conducted safely (probably online) and that cohorts of students would need to remain within a bubble to reduce the risk of infection across the university population.

We have seen with schools that trying to maintain social distancing even with smaller groups of pupils has been challenging, but we also see that schools in England will be reopening in September for primary and secondary school pupils in full. This has implications for Further Education colleges as well.

Outside the guidance remains that people can meet in groups of up to 6. Nice when it is sunny for outside learning, less so when it rains!

library and books
Image by lil_foot_ from Pixabay

From 4th July libraries would be permitted to open if they are Covid secure, this means we could see university libraries allowed to function as library spaces, as well as providing services online as they have been.

There is still quite a list of locations which would remain closed by law and this has implications on that student experience in the autumn.

Nightclubs would be closed, well that makes freshers’ week a little more locked down than in previous years.

Indoor fitness and dance studios, and indoor gyms and sports facilities, as well as swimming pools would remain closed. This has implications for student sports as well as sports courses and performing arts courses which make use of dance and drama studios.

dance studio
Image by Sendoku from Pixabay

It also looks like most conferences will be online for the foreseeable future, as Exhibition or Conference Centres – where they are to be used for exhibitions or conferences also have to remain closed by law. This has implications for those universities who rely on conference income over the summer holidays or have specialised conference facilities.

Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.

What we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.

Nightmare timetabling…

clocks
Photo by Ahmad Ossayli on Unsplash

So we know many universities are planning for blended and hybrid programmes with some aspects of courses delivered physically, but socially distanced. Some parts will be delivered online through tools such as Zoom, Teams and the LMS. Some will be asynchronous, but some won’t.

My question is this, where (physically) are those universities expecting their students to access those online aspects of their programmes, especially those which are synchronous? They will need a device and an internet connection, but they will also need a physical space to participate as well.

Yes they could go back to halls, or to the room in their shared house, their bubble space.

However imagine a commuter student who has arrived on campus for a physical face to face seminar and then needs to attend an online session. Where are they expected to do that? If they are to be on campus, where would they go? Would they know where they could go? Are they expected to go “home”?

Likewise a student attends a physical face to face session in a social distanced seminar room, they then next need to attend a synchronous online lecture (via Zoom) before attending another physical face to face tutorial.

In these scenarios that student will need a social distanced physical space to access the online session. They will need a device suitable for the tool (or even tools) being used as well as a decent connection.

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Now turn that around and look at what staff will be doing, they could be delivering a physical face to face seminar and then need to go to a device to deliver that live online lecture. Does their office computer have a webcam and do they have a decent microphone? Do they share an office? What do they do if they are in open plan offices with half the desks taped off for social distancing? You may want to deliver your online session from home, but if you need to be on campus for the physical sessions then you may not have a choice.

We guess that campuses won’t be as “busy” as they were before lockdown, so some of the challenges will be mitigated, but then we have to reflect that many of the students who would have been “locked away” in lecture theatres will now potentially wandering around campus or trying to find a space to study, so I am not that confident that campuses will be less busy than they were before.

calendar
Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

I remember going to one university last year during term time, and it didn’t appear to be that busy and then the scheduled lessons and lectures finished, the doors opened and the corridors were awash with people.

This in itself, even in less crowded campus brings its own challenges when it comes to end time of timetabled physical face to face sessions. How do you avoid those crowds and congestion on the hour or half hour? Will you need to plan in different end times, more time in between sessions. This may also be needed if one way systems are put into place to ensure social distancing.

These are only some of the issues that universities are facing when it comes to planning and designing their timetables and schedules for the new academic year. This is in addition to ensuring spaces are meeting the (changing) social distancing regulations as well.

The social distancing rules may be relaxed, which may make things easier, but what happens if things are tightened up? If anything that’s make it even more challenging.

So what of the future?

University campus
Image by Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay

We are living through a period of unprecedented disruption, it isn’t over, so what do we need to do in the short term, the medium term and how will this impact the long term?

Last week I delivered two presentations, one was a planned presentation for a QAA workshop, the other, well it wasn’t supposed to be a presentation, but due to a lack of response from the audience in the networking session I was in, I quickly cobbled together a presentation based on the slides I had used for the QAA.

This post is a combination and an expansion of the presentations I delivered about my thoughts of what happened, what then happened, what we need to think about and what we could do.

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I initially reminded ourselves of what we had experienced back in March.

We know people talk about a pivot to online learning, but we know this isn’t what happened. As others have written about, this wasn’t some planned gradual shift to a blended online approach to teaching and learning. It was a abrupt radical emergency response to physical campus closures in the midst of a national crisis.

shattered glass
Image by Republica from Pixabay

As universities closed their campuses to staff and students, they were forced to isolate and start to teach and learn remotely. Staff who previously had offices and desks to work from suddenly found themselves in lockdown, working from home amidst all the other stuff which was happening. They may have been lucky and had a working space they could use, but many would have found themselves in a busy household with partners working from home, children being home schooled with all the pressures that brings to space, time, devices and connectivity.

Likewise students were suddenly faced with stark choices, should they stay on campus or go home, for some home meant a flight home. They too would find themselves in strange environments in which they had to learn. They would be isolated, in potentially busy households, potentially without the devices and connectivity they could have used on campus.

In addition to all this the landscape and environment was changing rapidly. Lockdown forced us to stay at home, only allowed out for essential supplies and exercise once per day. There was the threat of infection and with the death rates rising exponentially, it was a frightening time.

The emergency shift to remote delivery also was challenging, without the time and resources, or even the support, to design, develop and delivery effective and engaging online courses. We saw many academic staff quickly translate their curriculum design from physical face to face sessions to virtual replacements using Zoom and Teams. What we would see is that this simple translation would lose the nuances that you have with live physical sessions in learning spaces without taking account of the positive affordances that online delivery can potentially have. Without the necessary digital skills and capabilities staff would have found it challenging in the time available to transform their teaching.

I still think as I was quoted in a recent article that this rapid emergency response and shift to remote delivery by academic staff across the UK was an amazing achievement.

In the presentations I gave an overview of some of the support Jisc had been providing the sector, from providing a community site, various webinars, blogs, advice and guidance as well as direct help to individual members of Jisc.

online meeting
Image by Lynette Coulston from Pixabay

Over the last few months I have been publishing various blog posts about aspects of delivery translation and transformation. I have also reflected on the many conversations I have had with people from the sector about what was happening, what they are doing and what they were thinking about going forward. I’ve also had a fair few articles published in the press on various subjects.

So as we approach the end of term, the planning for September has been in play for some time as universities start to think about how they will design, develop and deliver academic programmes for the next year.

Journey
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

We know that virtually all universities are planning to undertake some teaching on campus in the next academic year, but will combine that with elements of the course delivered online.

Though in the past we may have talked about these being blended courses, though they may consist of a blend on face to face physical sessions and online sessions, they were planned to be blended and not changed over the course. They didn’t need to take into account social distancing, so could combine physical lectures with online seminars. In the current climate, we are expecting to see large gatherings forced online and smaller group activities happening physically face to face.

Blended programme are generally designed not be changed over the time of the programme, so I think we might see more hybrid programmes that combine physical and online elements, but will flex and change as the landscape changes.

writing and planning
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I published a blog post about hybrid courses back in May, my definition was very much about a programme of study which would react  and respond to the changing environment.

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.

Listening to a conversation someone was talking about hybrid courses as a mix between online and face to face, but didn’t mention the responsiveness or the potential flexibility. Without a shared understanding we know that this can result in confusion, mixed messaging, with the differences in course design and delivery, as well as problems with student expectations. I wrote about this last week on a blog post on a common language.

Some courses do lend themselves to an online format, whereas others may not. As a result I don’t think we will see similar formats for different subjects. Lab and practical courses may have more physical face to face sessions, compared to those that are easier to deliver online. As a result different cohorts in different subjects will have different experiences. Some universities may find that due to nature of social distancing that classes may have to be spread across a longer day and these has been talk of spreading over seven days as well, to fit in all the required classes and students.

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Designing, developing and delivering online courses, or even just components of online courses doesn’t just happen, it takes time and time is something we don’t have. In a conversation about the issues of planning, one senior manager said to me that what she needed was six months and more money.

We have seen that some universities in response to this kind of challenge are recruiting learning technologists and online instructional designers to “fill” the gap and support academic staff in creating engaging and effective online components of their courses.

Maintaining the quality of such components will be critical, and merely translatingexisting models to a simple online format using tools such as Zoom will lose the nuances of physical face to face teaching without gaining any of the affordances that well designed online learning can bring to the student experience.

Building and developing staff skills and capabilities in these areas is been seen as a priority for many universities, but how you do this remotely, quickly and effectively is proving to be a challenge and a headache for many.

clock
Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

Normally when I mention time, I would have talked about how I don’t have a dog, but in this case this is not the case, the development of new designs for the next academic year is not just the main priority, but as we don’t have the time and the skills in place to make it happen.

We are not merely adding online elements to existing courses. We are not going to be able to deliver the physical face to face sessions in the same way as we have done. Everything has to change, everything is going to change.

So what of the future? Well we know for sure it’s going to be different.

tree trunk
Image by Picography from Pixabay

A common language

Typewriter
Image by Patrik Houštecký from Pixabay

So what do you understand by the term blended learning? What about an online course? A hybrid programme? Could you provide a clear explanation of what student wellbeing is?

In recent conversations, it has become more and more apparent that we are using a range of terminology across the sector and we don’t necessarily have a shared understanding of what we mean when we say phrases or words.

This was something we covered in early incarnations of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme, when we discussed how something like “The Digital University” could mean very different things to different people within a university. For some people it could mean to them a university which maximises the use of digital technologies, or digital by default. Other people could see digital as equating to online, so a virtual (digital) university where students learn online.

It’s a similar challenge with terms like hybrid or online or blended.

I published a blog post about hybrid courses back in May, my definition was very much about a programme of study which would react  and respond to the changing environment.

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.

Listening to a conversation someone was talking about hybrid courses as a mix between online and face to face, but didn’t mention the responsiveness or the potential flexibility.

Without a shared understanding we know that this can result in confusion, mixed messaging, with the differences in course design and delivery, as well as problems with student expectations.

So what can we do about this?

There are glossaries out there that can help, especially for a sector wide shared understanding.

The key with language is never assume that people will have the same understanding of the terms used that you have. Explanations of what terms means in documents and planning processes will ensure that everyone has a shared understanding of those terms.

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.

Intelligent Campus and coronavirus planning

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

For a few years at Jisc I was working on the Intelligent Campus project and then got a new role as Head of HE and Student Experience. I still have an interest in the space and when I read this recent post from WonkHE, Can we plan for a socially distanced campus? interesting and useful for the planning for September.

We know how to operate a traditional on-campus model, and we are very quickly developing a better understanding of how to facilitate off-campus working and learning, but how can we best support social distancing on a functioning campus?

Is this what social distancing looks like in a lecture theatre? via WonkHE Seminar.

https://wonkhe.com/blogs/can-we-plan-for-a-socially-distanced-campus/

I was reflecting how if the concept of the intelligent campus was further advanced than it is, how potentially helpful it could be to support universities planning for a socially distanced campus.

I published a use case a year ago, on people flows and congestion,  and it gave me an idea of updating it to reflect the current challenges that universities and colleges will face in September.

With the impact of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing and tracing contacts, if there was ever a use case for the concept of the intelligent campus then this is it.

What’s the issue?

The flow of people through campus and beyond is complex and not well understood outside of known peak times such as class changes or lunchtime. The density of people at any one place and time, and the speed of their movement, can have a big impact on how easily people can get in and around campus buildings and facilities. This can have an impact on the need for effective social distancing. Universities need to avoid situations arising which result in large numbers of people congregating in areas which could result in failure to maintain social distancing.

What could be done?

Pedestrian flow could affect the time for journeys between classes, waiting times at cafes or sudden changes in how busy the library is. Location trackers such as used by mobile phones can provide data on flow, and also people counters, such as using video systems, can be placed around campus to collect data on the numbers of people in that location at any time. Such data can have a number of applications, including combining with other contexts to improve services, as well as ensure social distancing.

Monitoring the increasing numbers of people towards a known destination could anticipate potential problems with congestion and queueing. For example, students heading towards the cafeteria could indicate an unusually high demand for food and trigger staffing or stocking changes to cope with higher numbers. You could also use the information to alert students that the space will be busier than normal and due to social distancing there would be longer queues and waiting times.

Timetabling data indicates when classes are scheduled to end, but real time data on movement could indicate that some classes finish earlier or later, leading to changing patterns in availability of services. This could be critical if you are using timetables to stagger the movement of people to ensure social distancing and avoid congesting and crowding.

Library
Image by RHMemoria from Pixabay

Usage data could show that the library is already busy when one class ends, and students could be directed towards other study areas or computer rooms that have more availability and more space.

Where campuses interact with local towns and cities, for example crossing roads or using transport services, or where students are using their cars. The changing flow of people could be used to increase the capacity or timing of pedestrian crossings, to avoid congestion. Likewise the  frequency of transport services could ensure that sufficient public transport is in place for both local people and students. Real time traffic information could allow students to make decisions about when to arrive for university on time or when would be the best time to leave.

Tram

Over time the data may suggest interesting patterns of behaviour that could be used to further predict, anticipate and respond to congestion. One example might be the impact of weather – on sunny days students may spend more time outside, whereas when it’s rainy they may congregate in specific spaces. This behaviour will impact on those trying to ensure social distancing in spaces such as corridors and learning spaces such as the library.

Using room utilisation data, spare rooms could be opened up to accommodate social interaction and refreshment breaks, or pop up library or IT services could be opened. Ensuring that social distancing guidelines are kept to.

What examples are there?

Many of the existing examples are from “Smart cities”, involving vehicular and pedestrian traffic, to aid safety, improve health and environmental concerns, and also inform retail and business. However, such applications can be easily applied to campus routes and facilities.

Google maps is one of the best known examples of tracking the location of mobile devices (typically in cars) to show congestion on traffic routes. The mapping service then can suggest the best/quickest route for the traffic conditions at the time and provide alternatives if congestion is estimated to lead to a slower journey time. Waze (owned by Google) does something similar, but allows individuals to add information about congestion. This type of system could be really useful in a campus context.

Other methods of “people counting” include video cameras, which can also combine with CCTV, recognising an image of a person and transmitting the numbers (usually not the images). Such systems could be used to flag spaces which are getting congested or filling up.

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

In Las Vegas, not only do they track vehicles through a junction but also count the number of pedestrians crossing the streets and also “jaywalking”, and then re-routing vehicular traffic when the numbers of pedestrians is high. Could a similar system ensure that students are re-routed when their chosen route is getting crowded.

People counters are often used in business and retail areas for example in Manchester to better understand queuing time and which areas of a store are popular. The data also contributes to strategies to improve walkability and transport, understand the impact of events and marketing campaigns, and assist businesses and community services in adopting appropriate staffing and security arrangements. These systems could be adapted to ensure safe spaces for students on university campuses.

Sphere
Image by Picography from Pixabay

What about ethical and other issues?

In principle, data on people movement tends to be aggregated to use the total numbers and changes to those numbers rather than knowledge about a specific individual. This is similar to the way google uses your location to provide mapping data, and is widely accepted. However, images of individuals may be being captured along with their movements and this information could be used inappropriately without strict controls and clear consent rules. Similarly, as data becomes combined, it begins to create a picture of a person’s behaviour that could be considered more of an invasion of privacy – for example which cafe are they going to, who else is there and what do they drink?

It’s important that the ethical aspects of this are taken seriously, and the excuse “it’s a crisis” shouldn’t be used to increase surveillance of individuals and impact negatively on privacy. Transparency of what the university is doing and why is key.

University of Leeds - Leeds Business School
Leeds Business School

Conclusions

With the impact of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing and tracing contacts, if there was ever a use case for the concept of the intelligent campus then this is it.

Making that move from the radio…

old radio
Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

In the current climate of change and uncertainty, as well as the emergency response to the coronavirus, universities are going to need think differently about how they deliver their courses and modules from September.

In what I suspect will be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester has 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 sent on 11 May, April 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.

It’s one thing to rapidly respond to a crisis and teach remotely, however it’s another thing to deliver either wholly online or some kind of hybrid (should we say blended) programme due to the necessity of social distancing.

As a result we are going to see a lot of academic staff from September continuing to deliver online. At the current time, you could expect students to be forgiving, but recent announcements from the NUS, petitions to parliament, have suggested that many students are not happy with the “quality” of the emergency remote delivery of their learning. We know that you can say now that this wasn’t planned, it was a knee jerk response to what is an unprecedented situation. For the Autumn, though unprecedented, we do have a bit more time to reflect on practice and how we can a quality student experience. 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. A big part of that future experience will be online delivery.

old projector
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

There is often an assumption that is made that because someone is excellent in face to face learning scenarios, they will be able to easily transfer these skills into an online environment, as the scenarios are very similar.

This is quite a risky assumption to make, as though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

It was and can be challenging for radio personalities to move into television, even though both broadcast mediums, and there are similar programmes on both (think News Quiz and Have I Got News For You) the skills for the different media are quite different.

In a similar vein, many stars of the silent cinema were unable to make the move to the talkies. Those that did, certainly thrived, those that couldn’t, didn’t!

If we are to make the move a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.

Having the digital confidence, capacity and capability is something that often needs to be built in those staff who may already have excellent skills in delivering learning in face to face scenarios.

Certainly there are many things which are transferable, but the skills in facilitating a classroom discussion are different to those in running a debate in an online forum.

So the question is, how do we build that digital capability? How are you building digital and online skills? What are you doing to ensure the successful transition to online delivery?

How will you do this remotely, at scale and at pace? Importantly how will you do this during an unprecedented crisis?

Radio
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

This blog post was inspired by and adapted from a post on digital capabilities that I published in 2016