Category Archives: stuff

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 challengesthat 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 campusesand 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

Coronavirus: What if this had happened in 2005?

Over on the BBC News Site, Rory Cellan-Jones, their technology correspondent has written an interesting “what if” piece.

But as I spend my day holding video-conferencing sessions with colleagues, FaceTiming my son and granddaughter stuck in a flat across London, and updating my various social networks, one thing strikes me: what if this had happened in 2005, just before the smartphone era began?

It got me thinking along similar lines about what would have happened in education if this had happened in 2005.

Rory does mention education:

With millions of children home from school, online education platforms are feeling the strain. But while there was plenty of talk about “edtech” back in 2005, most of the focus was on improving IT systems within schools rather than introducing remote learning at a time when many children would not have had a computer or a broadband connection at home.

This got me thinking about the services and platforms that we were using back in 2005 and would they have been able to cope with the increased demands that something like coronavirus would have put on them.

We did have VLEs across universities and colleges back in 2005. Many of these systems though were self-hosted in university server rooms, the concept of cloud or hosted services wasn’t really a thing back then.

As most of these learning platforms were under-utilised by staff and students they were often placed on under-powered servers and infrastructure, and very likely would have struggled if they needed to be scaled up to be used by a whole organisation.

We are all probably use to the single sign on and IDP these days, that we may forget back then that this wasn’t the norm. It wasn’t a simple matter of students and staff signing into a learning platform, they needed accounts created to use the learning platform.

Moodle for example was only at version 1.3 way behind where it is now, not just in version number but also functionality.

So who would be creating these accounts and importantly how would you get the information to the students?

The main form of electronic communication across universities and colleges in 2005 was e-mail, however though everyone these days have an e-mail account for their institution, this wasn’t necessarily the case back then. Certainly students weren’t often given institutional e-mail addresses relying on free e-mail services such as hotmail and yahoo. There were still quite a few people using AOL.

Without collaborative tools such as Slack, Teams, you can imagine people’s inboxes suffering from overload (though that may also be happening today as well).

As Rory points out in his article, home broadband connections were not the norm and there is no way you could expect all students to have a connection.

More than half of UK homes had broadband in 2007, with an average connection speed of 4.6 Mbit/s. That means half didn’t and those that did may have had slow connections.

Some people were still on dial-up connections, which tied up the phone line and was much slower than DSL connections.

If this crisis was to happen in 2005, then more use was probably going to be made of postal learning.

Today lots of people are using video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Teams to deliver teaching or for discussion.

Back in 2005 there were tools that could be used to deliver webinars, the precursor to Adobe Connect, Macromedia Breeze 4 was released in July 2003 with version 5 released in May 2005.

ADSL connections were okay for most things, but they were asymmetric, which meant upload speeds were significantly slower than download speeds. This would mean that it would be challenging to stream video from home connections, as well as challenging for people to view multiple video streams.

Today most laptops (if not all) have a built in camera, smartphones have two cameras (one in the front and one at the back). In 2005 a camera was a peripheral that you needed to buy to add to your computer or laptop. So thinking that at least we could stream low quality video would be scuppered by the lack of cameras.

Similar story with microphones as well, just in case you thought you could go audio only…

It’s not surprising that in 2005 most online learning was asynchronous text based, as that worked across most devices and connections of the time.

As for content, today we are awash with content, back in 2005 not so much…

In 2005, Wikipedia became the most popular reference website on the Internet, according to Hitwise, with the English Wikipedia alone exceeding 750,000 articles. Well in 2020 there are in excess of six million articles on the English Wikipedia site.

Much educational content was on CD-ROMs (remember them) and delivering materials online were fraught with challenges.

However at least journals were available online, but again problems with authentication would cause challenges for staff and students trying to access these collections from home.

Today many learners will be accessing their learning via their smartphone. Though there were (expensive) phones that could do the internet stuff back in 2005, those who did have mobile phones used them for calls, SMS text messages and the Snake game!

3G was in its infancy, was not available across the whole of the UK and was very expensive. 4G wouldn’t arrive in the UK until 2012.

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

Though we did have social media in 2005, it wasn’t on the same level as we have now. Today we are connected with others much more easily, our peers, colleagues and our students. We can share things online and feel very connected even though we are physically distant..

In 2005, YouTube was just a month old. Facebook was only opened to the public in September 2006, maybe they would have opened earlier in a crisis, but back in 2005, who had even heard of Facebook? There was no Twitter, no TikTok, no WhatsApp or Instagram.

Even with services such as Friendster and MySpace, though available, they didn’t have the same reach that today’s services have.

If this crisis had happened in 2005, I think that education for most would have been a very lonely affair, with staff and students feeling very disconnected from the whole process of learning. What do you think? What have I missed?

Building a community

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t always work the way you expected. Here are some of the strategies I have used in creating, building, developing and maintaining a community.

Recently I have been talking with others about community and building communities, something I have done in the past with some success (and sometimes not so much success). I don’t believe there is any one way to build a community, but in a similar way I don’t think doing one thing such as a mailing list, or an event, or a Twitter hashtag will result in a community. I have found you need to do a range of things, as some stuff works for some people and other stuff works for others.

In this blog post I will discuss some of the ways in which I have had to build communities as part of my professional practice. Though the communities were different, there were some key things that I did to build those communities. Also there are some aspects that were features of all these communities

What is a community? Why do you want to build a community? Who will be part of your community and why would they want to be part of your community?

Its also worthwhile thinking about the life of the community, is this an ad hoc pop-up community, or are you trying to establish a more permanent community.

In this context it is worthwhile to write down the vision for the community, what is it you are trying to achieve through the community. It is also useful to establish some objectives as well. Over time you can re-visit these, but having them written down does help in the process of building a community and determining if you are being successful or not.

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

Back in 2008 or so, when I was a MoLeNET Mentor working with people such as Lilian Soon, Dave Sugden and Ron Mitchell (and others) I was helping to build a community of FE people interested in mobile learning. We wanted to start a community as part of the MoLeNET programme, but did not expect that we would continue to support the community beyond the life of the MoLeNET programme. This doesn’t mean that the community wouldn’t or couldn’t continue, but as part of the planning, this wasn’t a key objective. The funding was planned for three years, so we expected the community to be around for that length of time.

Whereas when I was building the Jisc Intelligent Campus community, I wanted this to last as long as Jisc was working in this space, so it was important to think about both the short term objectives, but also the longer term objectives as well.

When starting to build the community, it’s useful to lay the foundations for that community. What tools are you going to use, what services will you be using and how do you expect others to use those tools.

The sort of things I did for the MoLeNET community included using tools such as Jaiku (and then the Twitter) to use micro-blogging to connect and communicate. We also did online webinars, which were interesting and fun to do. We did a lot of podcasting as well. Another thing we did was blogging. Those were in the main broadcast mechanisms, we also used e-mail to tell people in the community what was happening and what they could do.

For engagement we ran workshops and events. It wasn’t just one kind of event either, there were workshops, as well as conferences and meetings. The key I think was about connecting, communicating and sharing. What was challenging at the time (well it was 2008) was building online engagement and discussion. Today that might be easier.

I did a similar thing when I started to build the Intelligent Campus community. I started off using Twitter in the main, using a hashtag #IntelligentCampus to connect what I was saying. I posted relevant and interesting links (well I thought they were interesting) to Twitter as well. I also blogged a lot, sometimes it was about what the project was doing, but I also blogged about stuff other people were doing. These posts were shared on Twitter, but also through an embryonic mailing list, well people still like e-mail. I made a point too of posting a monthly digest to the mailing list. I also ran community events where as well as me presenting, I also got members of the community to present as well.

Another thing is to attend other events and present, something I did for both MoLeNET and the Intelligent Campus. This enables you to introduce the community to others and hopefully get them to join and engage with the community.

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

There are various tools and services in any community toolbox that can be used to build, develop and maintain a community. Thinking about the different stages of building a community is also critical to successfully building a community.

When you start, you have no community, you need to bring together people who have an interest in this space. Building a community is hard, so now I use a range of tools, such as social media (well in the main Twitter), also mailing lists and for me blogging. Interesting and useful blog posts can engage people and get them to participate in the community. It also acts as a way of helping people to understand what the community is about and what they will get from the community.

Communities don’t just grow, they need to be cared for and nurtured. This means you need to plan to bring people onboard to the community. This doesn’t need to be done alone, as you start to build a community you will meet others, and using their expertise and knowledge can help. Get others to write blog posts for you, as well as using the Twitter hashtag for example.

Maintaining a community is an important task. As I mentioned sending regular digests of news and links was one thing I did for the Intelligent Campus community, but also posting questions to the mailing lists to stimulate discussion (when things were quiet on the list). When I was running the Digital Capability project at Jisc, I would write regular blog posts about digital capability, but would also present on the subject at external events.

For me the success of the communities was when I became less important and was less of a focus for the community and others started to put themselves forward. They were posting stuff on the Twitter, publishing their own blog posts and even running their own events.

Determining the success of your community enables you to decide if you should continue or let the community die. Do you want to put metrics on your activities for example? For some of my communities measuring activity was important, so I did look at data and analytics of visits to the website and the blog, but also recording who was using the community hashtag.

Starting and building a community is not an easy task, but one thing to recognise, rarely does it just happen…

So what do you do to build a community?

e-Learning Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts 2019

This year I have written 52 blog posts. I decided when I got my new role in March that I would publish a weekly blog post about my week.

Back in 2018 I only wrote 17 blog posts, in 2017 it was 21 blog posts, in 2016 it was 43 blog posts, in 2015 I wrote 24 blog posts. In 2014 I wrote 11 and in 2013 I wrote 64 blog posts and over a hundred in 2012. In 2011 I thought 150 was a quiet year!

Dropping two places to tenth was 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip. This was a post from July 2011, that looked at the different comic tools out there on the web, which can be used to create comic strips that can then be embedded into the VLE. It included information on the many free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet out there. It is quite a long post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE.

100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

The ninth most popular post was a post from 2010 and was about one of my favourite quotes from Terry Pratchett which is, that “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”. When something awful happens, or freakish, we hear news reporters say “it was a million-to-one chance that this would happen”. The article was on snow and snow closures.

“million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”

The post at number eight, dropping one place, was Comic Life – iPad App of the Week Though I have been using Comic Life on the Mac for a few years now I realised I hadn’t written much about the iPad app that I had bought back when the iPad was released. It’s a great app for creating comics and works really well with the touch interface and iPad camera.

Comic Life – iPad App of the Week

Seventh most popular post was from 2019, and was a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the VLE is Dead debate that took place at ALT-C 2009.

The VLE is still dead… #altc

Entering at number six was a post from 2008 on how you could have Full Resolution Video on the PSP. Does anyone still use their PSP?

Full Resolution Video on the PSP

Dropping two place back to fifth, was Frame Magic – iPhone App of the Week, still don’t know why this one is so popular!

Frame Magic – iPhone App of the Week

Back in 2015 I asked I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean? in relation to the Area Review process and this post was the fourth most popular post in 2019.

I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean?

Entering the top ten at number three was Learning from massive open social learning. This was a post from 2015 looking at the growth of MOOCs and how massive open social learning brings the benefits of social networks to those people taking massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Learning from massive open social learning

After six years running, last year number one post drops a place to second , and that was the The iPad Pedagogy Wheel. I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”.

It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

The iPad Pedagogy Wheel

So after six years, I have a new number one for the most popular blog post this year and that was is Can I legally download a movie trailer? Up from fourth last year. One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008, I am still a little behind in much of what is happening within copyright and education, one of things I do need to update myself on, as things have changed.

Can I legally download a movie trailer?

So there we have it, the top ten posts 2019.