I have over the last couple of years been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery.
One of the things I noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery from March 2019, was the different models that people used. However what we did see a lot of was many people were translating their usual practices to an online version.
As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during the covid crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.
The result was a series of blog posts covering a range of pedagogical and technology perspectives.
Over on my productivity and technology blog I have published a blog post on culture, strategy, breakfast and croissant.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from management consultant and writer Peter Drucker.
Reflecting on this quote though, I did start to think about breakfast, and wondered if I could use breakfast as an analogy for effective strategy implementation. As well as strategic objectives, what else do people need to know in order to deliver those objectives successfully.
When we start talking about digital transformation, I often see people focusing on the digital aspect and expecting the transformation to follow on. Where we see true transformation, the focus is on the change and digital is enabling that change.
In a previous blog post I wrote about the changes digital had on the music industry, well a specific focus on the retail aspect. In this similar post I want to think about the impact digital has had on television and probably more importantly the ways in which we watch television.
Television has been around for a while now. The early 1950s saw an explosion of television ownership in the UK. These were analogue devices that enabled broadcast television in the home. Originally all television was live, it was the development of video tape that allowed television to be recorded in advance and broadcast later.
1998 saw the launch of digital terrestrial television in the UK with Ondigital. However digital terrestrial television really took off in the UK when Freeview was launched in October 2002. In order to view the digital signal you either needed a set top box or a television with an integrated digital tuner. This was very much a digitisation of the television.
Over the next few years we saw televisions become smarter (and flatter and larger).
Well what really transformed television wasn’t the digitisation or digitalisation of the hardware.
If we separate the physical television hardware from the experience of watching television then we are now seeing the digital transformation of television watching experience.
When we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting.
If we go through the story of television again, but rather than look at the hardware to watch television, we focus on the experience of watching television, we can start to see how digital enhanced, enabled and transformed the experience of watching television.
When television was broadcast, you had no choice but to watch what was on when it was on. Yes you had a choice of channels, but not a huge choice.
The VCR (video cassette recorder) did transform the way in which we could watch television, we could now time shift when we watched stuff, and video rental shops allowed us to watch things which weren’t on television. I do remember travelling by train on the 4th July 1990 and there was someone in our carriage watching the World Cup semi-final between Germany and England on a small portable television. It was a tiny screen, it was back and white, and every time we went through a tunnel they lost the signal. The poor bloke was also surrounded by people who also wanted to watch the game. I remember the running commentary when the match ended in penalties. The portable telebision and the VCR were both technologies that led to the transformation of the television watching experience, but this was not digital transformation of that watching experience. However this change would influence how we wanted to watch television and as there were technological changes enabled by digital, this would result eventually in a digital transformation of that television watching experience.
The launch of digital terrestrial television of course changed the watching experience now we had access to lots of channels and the EPG (electronic programme guide) would enhance that experience. Though for some it meant more time scrolling through those channels.
What really transformed the watching experience was when digital technologies detached that experience from the physical television.
Back in the early 2000s I had a Compaq iPAQ handheld PDA with a jacket that could be used with a CompactFlash memory card. I do remember, as an experiment, ripping a DVD, compressing the resulting video file, copying it over to a 1GB IBM MicroDrive CF memory card and watching video on the move. It was challenging to do and not something the average consumer would do. However the concept was there of watching television on a small screen, regardless of my location.
There followed the development of small handheld devices, be they phones or tablets, which now have sufficient processing power to deliver high quality video. Also video content is now much more easily available. Connectivity has changed as well, with 4G (and now 5G) allowed high quality video to be streamed over the internet regardless of location.
Suddenly we could watch television when we wanted, where we wanted and how we wanted. Services exploited this transformation of the television watching experience, we saw subscription services such as Netflix, on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, downloaded content from services such as Google Play or iTunes really enabled and allowed people to have a very different television watching experience. In many ways the digital transformation of watching television has resulted in box sets being available (as opposed to releasing an episode weekly, though that still happens) . We’ve also seen a huge explosion in short videos, through services such as YouTube and TikTok.
One example of the impact of this transformation of the watching experience is how television episodes are no longer constrained by the artificial construct of broadcast television. Most US series, until recently, episodes were 45 minutes long, so with adverts they would fit into the one hour slot allocated to them. With services such as Netflix and on demand services, the removal of the constraint has enabled television production to produce episodes of different lengths to suit the story for that episode, some will be longer and some will be shorter. The fourth season of Stranger Things is a case in point, only one episode is an hour, five are between 74 and 78 minutes and the finale is one hour 38 minutes. Okay these are all longer…
So to remind us, when we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting. So when looking at the digital transformation of education, we really want to focus on the transformation of education and how digital can enable and enhance that transformation.
When it comes to digital transformation in education, I wonder if we can look at what happened to the music retail industry and the impact of digital over the last few decades.
Of course you can’t directly compare and map what happened to music with education, but there are parallels and similarities, which can help us to reflect on what might and could happen in education.
Originally retail music was analogue, firstly with vinyl and then the audio cassette.
Bands and musicians would make music and then (usually through a record company) would cut a record, which would then be sold in record shops.
As a teenager I remember my local record shop, Andy’s Records in Cambridge and flipping though the singles and albums on sale.
In the 1980s we saw the digitisation of music with the release of the CD or compact disc in 1982. CDs were designed to hold up to 74 minutes of uncompressed stereo digital audio.
When I was at University in the late 1980s I would buy music on CD. The experience was very much as it was before when buying vinyl and cassettes, though this time I was frequenting Our Price records. The albums that were available on vinyl were then released on CD. Though the 74 minute limit did result in some changes to some albums.
What the CD did do though was start to change the way in which people listened to music. It was now easier to skip tracks, repeat tracks or just go straight to the track you wanted to listen to.
This can be seen as very much as digitisation of an analogue experience.
In the 1990s using our home computers we were able to rip our CD collections and put the files on our local hard drives. The uncompressed digital audio files were so large, a CD would take up 650MB of data, that we would use compression technology to reduce the size of the files to (usually) 10% of their original file size. So that ripped CD would take up just 65MB on your hard drive.
Ripping CDs meant you could rip just the songs you wanted from an album, or even create your own albums through the creation of playlists.
The concept of listening to an entire album, though entirely possible to do using mp3s in the same way as you could with vinyl was starting to be replaced by people choosing how they wanted to listen to music.
The late 1990s saw people using the internet to start sharing their mp3s, which was epitomised with the Napster peer-to-peer file sharing service.. Now you could share your music with others and listen to their music (ignoring the illegalities of this whole process). Napster ceased operations in 2001 after losing a wave of lawsuits and filed for bankruptcy in June 2002.
The music industry responded to Napster with not just lawsuits, but also licensing digital music through services such as Apple’s iTunes. Now you could buy not just albums, but you could also just buy a single track from an album. You could buy playlists of music as well, not just from music publishers, but also the lists of other music enthusiasts.
The release of the iPod (and other mp3 players) also changed not just how people listened to music, but also where they listened to music. Though the same could be said about the Sony Walkman twenty years before.
The move to digital music files can be seen as digitalisation of music.
The concept though was still there of an individual buying music which you then owned. You bought vinyl, you bought a CD and now you bought digital music files.
Where we really saw digital transformation of music was in the emergence and growth of subscription streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora.
We can think of music streaming as something relatively new, well the concept is a little older than that. Beginning in 1881, Théâtrophone enabled subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over telephone lines. This operated until 1932. However this was analogue, these new services are digital streaming services. You could stream music however you wanted, single tracks, albums, playlists, genres of music, or styles of music. Now you no longer bought music tracks or albums, you subscribed a service that allowed you to listen whatever tracks and albums you wanted, whenever you wanted. The only downside, was that when you stopped subscribing, you no longer had access.
I do see this very much as digital transformation. Music was no longer seen as a physical media, or something you owned. Streaming changed not just the way you listened music, but also the kinds of music you could listen to. Sometimes it constrained, and for others it liberated their listening.
So what does this mean for education?
Well don’t make the mistake of equating music tracks with something like a lecture. Digital transformation of education is not about the Napsterfication of lectures or creating an education version of Spotify.
What we can learn from digital music is reflecting on the differences between the digitisation of education, the digitalisation of education and then the digital transformation of education. Recognising where you are, but also thinking about where you wantto be and how you will get there.
The use of digital technologies for learning and teaching, doesn’t just happen. Staff don’t always instinctively pick up the skills and capabilities to utilise the range of digital tools and services available to them. In a similar manner the application of pedagogy to mobile, remote and online delivery is not as simple as translatingin-person pedagogical practices.
Of course learning technologists and academic developers will know this and design and deliver a range of training programmes and guidance, and provide support to academics in their use of digital.
However on a recent post on a mailing list an educational technologist from an university outlined some of the challenges they were facing.
They found that academics were not attending staff development sessions, they thought that this might be perhaps because staff are very busy with preparation, delivery, marking, research.
Busy is one way to describe this, prioritisation might be another. They may well see the advantages of such staff development activity, but indicate they don’t have time to attend such development sessions. It’s not then an issue of time, but one of priorities. When you have a full week of “stuff” to do, finding that gap to do staff development may not always be possible.
Another challenge mentioned was about academics not seeing the benefit of training.
Picking this apart, some academics may feel they already “know” how to use the tools and services, and don’t see the value of further training. They may not know what they don’t know. Often the technical skills required to use a tool are quite easy to pick up, however the advanced skills to take advantage of the affordances, the potential of tools, and benefits it can being, may not always be apparent.
Another angle on this, was you might invest the time in staff development, only to discover that you either knew it already, or it wasn’t relevant to your role. That “risk” often means that the decision to attend not not to attend a staff development session, you err on the side of caution, and decide not to attend.
A further challenge was one of visibility, just because you send an email about staff development activities, doesn’t mean the people you want to read it, actually read it!
Thinking about the challenges faced by this educational technologist, I was reminded of the “Short and Sweet” sessions I use to run at Gloucestershire College.
Back in the day, when I worked at Gloucestershire College I faced similar challenges with limited or non-existent attendance at staff development sessions.
The solution for me was to take those staff development sessions, shorten them to fifteen minutes and take them to the practitioners.
I created a menu of sessions that I provided to curriculum managers, with how they could incorporate them into their meetings. It was a pick and mix type approach. Combined with the term short and sweet, we did go down a sweets theme in the look and feel.
These sessions were then delivered in their team meetings. I ensured I kept to time and only used the time I was allocated. This was important in getting invited back. I also made a note of requests for further follow up training sessions.
What I found was that the practitioners who were interested got some useful information about the practice or the tools which were demonstrated. Those who didn’t know about it would potentially learn about the potential, and could consider finding out more. Then those staff who were not interested at all, wouldn’t be wasting a whole day or a morning, it would be just fifteen minutes.
The impact was readily apparent with practitioners telling me about their implementation within days (or even hours) of the fifteen minute session.
Short and Sweet” sessions lasting fifteen minutes were not the only model of development we delivered, there were also sessions lasting an hour, half a day and the odd whole day development.
They were a little techno-centric, but they could cover anything, so as well as technology they could be pedagogy as well. It worked really well and many other teams started to use the term, saying things like “should we “short and sweet” this training?”
Iam aware of a couple of universities that “borrowed” the concept for their own training, for example the University of Oxford.
So do you do something similar to the short and sweet concept?
Though I have written about time lots of times over time (well at least the last twenty years); across the sector we are still discussing that we need to provide academics and practitioners with more time. There are still many voices out there, saying that the challenge with engaging practitioners with learning technologies is about providing them with time.
The trouble with talking about time, is that it is a somewhat simplistic perspective over what is a complex and challenging issue.
When we say practitioners need time, we may not actually be articulating what the actual issues are.
The problem, that we are discussing, is that academics and practitioners despite all their experiences during the pandemic lockdowns still need to adopt new practices and learn to do things in different ways, whether that be through the use of technology, or different teaching practices. They often picked up the technical skills required, but their pedagogical, design and delivery skills may need development and updating. When taking with practitioners they often talk about not having the time.
The problem appears to many others as well, to be a lack of time, especially when they ask for feedback from staff and get these kinds of responses.
“I don’t have the time.” “When am I suppose to find time to do all this?” “I am going to need more time.”
Therefore for many the obvious solution is more time.
So is time the solution to the problems we face in education?
It can be nice to have the time to do new and interesting things, but the reality in which we live, work and learn, is that time is a limited resource and we don’t have the time to do everything we want to do. We have to make choices.
Well providing time is obviously a solution to the problem of not having enough time.
I don’t have the time to do this… so giving people the time is the right solution?
Well we know how that works out.
Messages go back to “management” that lack of time is the problem and if only they would provide more time the the problem would be solved. The management response, as expected would usually be there is no extra time.
That isn’t too surprising, as the detail is missing, the benefits. We also need to recognise that using learning technologies is not the only demand on time. The “management” will receive multiple requests for “more time”.
There is a need to balance the unlimited demand for time (and resources) with a limited amount of time and often diminishing resources.
I would question though is the problem one of lack of time?
Once we focus on time as a solution, we lose sight of the actual problems we are trying to solve. Sometimes we need to go quite far back to really understand the problem we’re trying to solve.
We know also that when people say they don’t have the time, or they need time; what they are can be saying and often the meaning is…
It’s not a priority for me, I have other priorities that take up my time.
Priorities in theory are set by the line manager, who is operationalising the strategic direction and vision of the institution.
So time isn’t a problem. Lack of time is also not the problem. Trying to embed the use of learning technologies is also not the problem. Learning technologies are a solution to a different problem. The problem can be improving student outomes, widening participation, quality assurance.
Identify that problem. If development is required then that is a solution to solving that problem. Then resources (and time) will be prioritised.
This happens with other changes in the organisation, the introduction of new teaching methods, or new learning spaces. If the change rhetoric is isolated from the strategy, then the change becomes a problem to be solved, we don’t see the change as solving a different problem. So can we blame people for wanting time to do stuff, when they see this stuff as an extra, an addition to the work they are currently doing.
So the next time someone says they don’t have the time, stop, reflect on what you are saying and maybe seeing solutions as problems, and focusing on the actual challenges that the institution is trying to solve.
When I think about innovation in the use of technology in education, I always first look at the formal dictionary definition of the word innovation, my dictionary, says it is “a new method, idea, product”, however it doesn’t say better or improved, often the assumption is made that innovation does mean better/
If we look at the Thesaurus, it says: change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, reorganization, restructuring, rearrangement, recasting, remodelling, renovation, restyling, variation; new measures, new methods, new devices, novelty, newness, unconventionality, modernization, modernism; a break with tradition, a shift of emphasis, a departure, a change of direction.
Again this is all about change, not about improvement.
We often talk about innovation in education and sometimes the context in which it used implies that innovation is required to make things better. However innovation is really about change.
The pandemic demonstrated that organisations can change, we saw a massive change from in-person learning and teaching to remote online learning and teaching.However change caused by a crisis, is just that change caused by a crisis. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t organised and the change we saw wasn’t necessarily the change we wanted. It also not sustainable, you’re not going to keep your staff in lockdown so that they can continue to deliver their programmes remotely.
Sustaining the change and the innovative change we saw during the pandemic, does mean looking at things differently and in the context of a post-pandemic future. I do recognise that we’re not in that post-pandemic phase at the moment, the risks of Covid infections are still there.
For me in the context of education technology, innovation means taking an existing non-digital educational processes and using technology to improve it. It may mean making the decision to not use technology.
It can also mean looking at how another innovation (such as a new device or an online service) and using it to improve teaching, learning and assessment. Though sometimes this results in a technological solution looking for a problem that may not actually exist.
There are also the untended consequences of innovation. You make a technological led change and it causes changes you weren’t aware of
I don’t actually think much of what is defined as innovative within educational technology is in fact innovative. Too much of it is small scale, poorly defined and low impact. Much of what we see is often ignored by the rest of the department, the rest of the institution, even ignored by the sector. It may feed into further research in this area, but generally it doesn’t result in wholesale sustainable change.
For me true innovation in educational technology is change which has significant impact across the whole organisation. However this isn’t always exciting and shiny! Too often we focus on the new and the shiny and less on those innovations, that are holistic, organisation-wide and would have a greater impact on the learner experience.
If you think about the impact of e-mail on the university, this innovation has resulted in change across the institution in the ways that people communicate and collaborate, and as we know this change is not necessarily always positive.
Is innovation a meaningful concept in education, or just a buzzword? Too often innovation focuses on tools and technologies, but innovation in processes and practice is often going to have a great impact.
The main barriers to innovation (change) in large organisations vary, but often a lack of understanding of what large scale implementation actually means. The words pilot and project are used interchangeably. Pilots often don’t scale as they haven’t been planned with a future large scale implementation in mind. There is often a lack of desire to use existing research or results from other pilots and projects.
We may think we are innovative, but we’re probably not. Innovation for me means new or different. It doesn’t necessarily mean better or improved. Innovation is all about change, and change is all about culture and leadership. If you want people to go and be more innovative, then you will need to think about the leadership required to deliver that, and the impact you want to achieve.
When we talk about online and in-person many of us think of this as a dichotomy, either we are online, or we are in-person.
The reality is though as we know, that this can be more of a spectrum, a range of possibilities, with varying depths to which online or digital can be embedded into an in-person experience.
If we take an in-person lecture. We can start to add digital and online aspects. At a simplistic level printing off a handout created in Word involves some level of digital. One aspect that has been around for a couple of decades at least is using the internet and the web for online research, which informs the content of the lecture. Referring to online articles and journals.
This is so embedded now into practice that we probably don’t even think of this as “online” or digital.
The use of Powerpoint is so embedded into practice nowdays, that we forgot that at one time extolling the possibilities of Powerpoint was the mainstay of many a staff development day, with some staff wanting to retain the OHP, acetates and their OHP pens.
However over the years many academics have started to add more digital technologies into their sessions. They have brought in online video which is another step along that spectrum. Services such as YouTube have made is so much easier to bring video into the lecture. I remember back in the 1990s having to bring in my home desktop computer with its Matrox Rainbow Runner graphics card to enable me to play full screen video as part of a Powerpoint presentation. The institutional provided laptop didn’t have sufficient graphics power to run video bigger than a postage stamp.
Ubiquitous wifi and student devices has enabled more embedding and integration of digital technologies, specifically online tools and services.
The addition of an online back channel (official or off the grid) enabled social and community learning away from the individual experience that we use to have. Likewise shared document editing allowed for collaborative note taking amongst students. Easy access to resources and online site, allowed deeper understanding of topics as students had ready and easy access to information as they participated in the lecture.
The pandemic showed us that we can flip the in-person lecture to the online lecture using tools such as Zoom or Teams. However going forward we can start to embed in-person experiences to the online lecture. Students could get together into groups to participate in an online lecture. This can be a relatively simple way to make an online experience more social considering that appropriate spaces are provided.
Likewise hybrid (or hyflex) teaching is by definition a combination of in-person and online teaching.
Listening to lecturers and students taking about their experiences, it is clear that teaching is not a binary of online or in-person, but can be considered a spectrum of experiences. Over a programme sessions can move along that spectrum.
So how are you supporting staff to embed online and digital technologies into their teaching?
In my role at Jisc I have been looking at how data and technology can deliver a personalised learning journey and we have in our HE strategy, Powering UK Higher Education, the following ambition statement.
We will explore and develop solutions to help universities deliver personalised and adaptive learning using data, analytics, underpinning technologies and digital resources.
We know that there are very different opinions and views of what personalised learning is. In exploring and developing solutions for universities, the key is not necessarily to come up with a definitive definition, but what definition you use is understood and shared with others.
So one of the things I do need to do is to take that ambition statement and expand it into a clear explanatory statement, so that key stakeholders are clear about what we mean and why this space is important to higher education.
So why is this space important to the sector? When we developed the HE strategy, we listened to what the sector was saying, what it was telling us, what we saw, and we also looked at the wider sector context, the regulatory space, the political space and importantly the student voice in all this.
We know that universities are wanting to put the needs of the student are at the heart of the student experience. They want students to benefit from a personalised learning experience, one that effortlessly melds the context, preferences and needs of the individual learner. It recognises who and where a student is on their journey and is a combination of human and digital interactions and interventions.
Though we have yet to come to a shared understanding of personalisation of learning, I do find an adaptation of the QAA definition somewhat compelling.
Personalised learning is an educational approach that aims to customise learning for each student’s strengths, needs, skills and interests. Students can have a degree of choice in how they learn.
Over the next few years Jisc will explore how universities can deliver personalised and adaptive learning. Jisc will start to develop solutions that help universities deliver personalised and adaptive learning. These solutions will take advantage of data, analytics, underpinning technologies and digital resources. As well as exploring the potential of current and future technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). We will consider some of the advantages, as well as the challenges, the ethical and legal issues and how we will need to be aware of the bias that can be found in algorithms.
Of course personalisation is only part of the challenge, can we make the experience adaptive? Well that’s another blog post on understanding what we mean by adaptive.
In the world around us the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies is a marvel of nature. Though technically referred to as metamorphosis rather than transformation, the process for butterflies (and all insects) involves a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change.
This got me thinking about digital transformation in organisations, so I asked on the Twitter:
Do you think transformation is something that has a result (we’ve been transformed) or do you see it as an evolving continuing process (we are transforming and continue to transform)?
There were mixed responses, some thought it was incremental, some thought it was a continual process, few though thought of it as some kind of “big bang” transformation.
Though I think transformation can be incremental, and for most organisations change is often seen as a series of steps that happen over time, rather than planning for a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change. But with incremental transformation, you still need some kind of vision or end game. Otherwise, you may find you have changed but not necessarily transformed. Another perspective is that you make incremental steps, but the full effect or possibilities isn’t immediately apparent. But at some point, in the future it suddenly all makes sense.
Of course there is the question what happens after transformation? With butterflies they flutter around, do all the stuff that butterflies do and then that’s it.
With digital transformation, is there an end game, or because of the ever changing nature of digital, transformation is continual and evolving process. This is where the butterfly analogy starts to fall apart.
We can then start to see digital transformation under another lens, one of changing the organisation to one which can thrive in a constantly changing digital environment. This is where the organisation transforms to take advantage of the affordances and opportunities that, not just current digital and online technologies can bring, but also ensure the organisation is in a position, has the structure, the systems and processes, so can it take advantage of future and unknown digital and online technologies as they are developed and come on stream.
As we discuss and talk about digital transformation, it becomes apparent very quickly that digital transformation is not about digital causing transformation. It’s not as though if you invest in digital and online technologies that therefore you will be (magically) transformed. Digital transformation is probably best explored and explained as transformation which is enabled by digital technologies and can take advantage of the affordances of digital.
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