Category Archives: stuff

Time is still an issue

pocket watch
Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

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.

Go and be more innovative

innovation
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

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.

The duality of digital teaching

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

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.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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.

Durham Pod
Group Pods, Techno-Café, Durham University by Jisc infoNet CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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?

Expanding our understanding of personalisation

typing
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

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.

group
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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.

The Butterfly Effect

butterfly
Image by Desha from Pixabay

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.

butterfly
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

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.

Thinking about digital transformation

Venice Carnival
Image by Serge WOLFGANG from Pixabay

This blog post is not about providing a clear definition or understanding what digital transformation is and how it applies to the higher education sector.

So, what is this blog post about then?

Well, I have been thinking about what we understand mean by digital transformation and in some discussions, I have been using different kinds of explanations to explore what I see and understand digital transformation is.

So, this is going to be the start of a few blog posts on my thinking and reflections on digital transformation.

In recent conversations and presentations, I have been talking about Human Resources (HR) systems, specifically that aspect of requesting leave.

The 3 D’s model of digital transformation from Educause is quite useful in explaining my thinking.

So if you are of a certain age, your original leave form may have been, as it was for me, a piece of paper. On that paper was my leave entitlement for the year and I would write down the date or dates I wanted to take leave. I would then go to my line manager who would then check I still had leave left to take and then could authorise the leave or not. It did depend heavily on us both having the time slots available to do this. My line manager would also need to check sometimes if I could take leave, what would happen if other people had leave booked at the same time. So they sometimes would have a larger piece of paper, more of a year planner, that they could use to check those dates, find out who else was on leave and then they could authorise it. You can tell straight away that there were challenges in this, who owned the single point of truth?

Digitisation often meant replacing those pieces of paper with spreadsheet files. So, you would fill in the details in the cells in a spreadsheet and send them to the line manager for approval usually by email. They would have a bigger spreadsheet, which they would need to check, before sending back approval by email. Of course there was no notification process, so your leave request could get lost in a bulging inbox. You never knew if you should send the email request again, in case the duplicate leave request got processed as well. You did though often have multiple versions of spreadsheet files across different computers. Institutional constraints on email mailboxes often meant you needed to delete email requests, which sometimes didn’t help with checking. Shared network drives did start to make the process a little easier, and did mean less bulging email inbox folders.

Nothing though had been really transformed, as the process was the same, it was just that pieces of paper had been replaced with spreadsheet files (sometimes masquerading as forms, but were still spreadsheet files).

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Your organisation then probably had a sales pitch from a company, to your HR or Personnel department, about the transformative opportunities that could be gained by purchasing a digital HR system.

You could take that leave authorisation process and digitalise it.

Staff would now log into a system, they could see how much leave they were entitled to, how much leave they had taken, how much they had left. They could then make a leave request on the system.

This would usually result in the sending of an email notification to their line manager. The line manager would then need to log into the system and go through the notifications and authorise the leave.

The system would be set up so no one could take more leave than they were entitled to. This did mean that one check on leave entitlement could be ignored. However, managers would still often need to review the leave request in the context of other leave requests by other staff.

What did help was when these systems went web based so you could log into them from outside the institution.

When you start to think about this digitalised process, using a bespoke system, over spreadsheets or pieces of paper, you may think of this as transformative. However, when you did deeper, there is still that same old authorisation process there.

Make a leave request, the system notifies the line manager, you then wait for authorisation, and so on…

typing
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

So, here’s a question for you, why does the leave need to be authorised?

A better question why does the leave need to be authorised by the line manager?

The paper based system required authorisation to ensure that staff weren’t taking more leave than they were entitled to. The digital HR system ensures that happens automatically. Make a leave request for ten days when you only have five days entitlement left, then the system will automatically reject your request.

Could the system be configured to automatically authorise leave then.

You request leave and if you have enough leave then it is authorised automatically.

When I first started asking this question a few years back, I was quite surprised by the resistance to the idea of a system or an individual self-authorising leave, and it got to the point where often the discussion would just fall down. Culturally people (okay managers) were struggling with the concept that they no longer had the power to authorise leave or not.

So why the need to authorise then?

There may be specific dates that people are not allowed to take leave on, development days for example, or when others are on leave. Well, these are the exception rather than the rule. Could the HR system in the same way it rejects requests where the days requested exceeds the days available, ensure that where requests fall on specific dates, or where other members of the team already have leave, that these then do go for authorisation. Couldn’t authorisation be by exception?

I wouldn’t have a system where such requests are automatically rejected, as the reason why some people are for last minute leave, are probably the requests that should be considered and dealt with by a person.

As you look into the potential of what a HR system could do, you start to realise that a well rounded and smart HE system could be used to reduce the administrative burden of booking leave.

However, what is transformative, is that though the introduction of an HR system may reduce the administrative burden of HR staff, the real benefits are on reducing the administrative tasks of staff and managers. Allowing them to take advantage to focus on the more challenging aspects of their roles and job.

This is just one aspect of one system. As you start to reflect on the possibilities and challenges you find that you can’t just change or transform one thing, you need to think about the wider aspects of transformation.

Building on this you start to realise that digital HR systems don’t live in isolation. HR systems also need to be fully integrated into other systems across the organisation, in the systems I use, you would have to manually copy your leave over to the Exchange server (Outlook), it was easy to have transcription errors, and if you ever cancelled leave, or added leave last minute, you might not remember to update your Outlook calendar. Likewise, it would be useful to have other kinds of calendars in both, such as bank holidays, annual closure or even school holidays (noting the regional differences that sometimes happen). I do recall lots of people booking meetings on bank holidays (when the organisation was closed) or booking annual leave when they didn’t need to.

Now looking further forward, could you use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from leave request, rejections and authorisations to have a better idea of when there are potential pinch points, so maybe bringing in additional resources during those times, or ensuring that staff are aware of the high risk times. You would probably want to avoid having a leave system based on the first past the post wins the leave arrangement. AI could also be used to recommend leave to staff based on their historical leave requests (and why).

Venice
Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay

In the 1990s I would often take a week off to visit the Venice Carnival which was on a different date each year. Would have been nice for the HR system to book this leave for me automatically or at the very least make a suggestion I should book that week.

The digitalisation of the HR system only becomes transformative when you actually look at and transform the processes and the thinking behind those processes. You need to transform the process; the digital HR system enables that transformation. Simply digitalising your HR system results in less benefits than if you transform the organisation and use digital technologies to support that process of transformation.

Personalisation

group
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The process of making something suitable for the needs of a particular person.

What do we mean by personalisation, what can we personalise, what should be personalise and what are the challenges in personalisation?

Across higher education over the years many have spoken about personalisation.

The QAA in their digital taxonomy define personalisation as follows:

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 as compared to the face-to-face lecture approach.

The document explores different levels of personalisation through the use of digital and arrives at this view of personalisation

The entire learning experience is designed to be personalised by the student. Students will determine how they engage with every aspect of teaching and learning to meet their expectations. While all digital resources will be available to students, not all students will engage with those resources in the same way. Teaching is designed to be experienced by a cohort asynchronously with students learning at their own pace.

Advance HE back in 2017 said this about personalised learning

Refers to a range of learning experiences and teaching strategies which aim to address the differing learning needs interests and the diverse backgrounds of learners. Often described as student centred learning this approach uses differentiated learning and instruction to tailor the curriculum according to need. Learners within the same classroom or on the same course work together with shared purpose but each have their own personalised journey through the curriculum.

Emerge and Jisc published a report in 2021 that promised:

Universities can deliver students a truly personalised learning experience by 2030

Another view of personalised learning is this perspective from the University of Oxford.

Oxford’s core teaching is based around conversations, normally between two or three students and their tutor, who is an expert on that topic. We call these tutorials, and it’s your chance to talk in-depth about your subject and to receive individual feedback on your work. Tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. They offer a very rare level of personalised attention from academic experts.

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 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 what does personalisation mean for you?

Eventedness

I was recently reminded of the importance of eventedness when it comes to events and has similar implications in the delivery of teaching both in-person and online.

One of my favourite presentations from the EdTech space is this one by that Dave White at ALT-C 2010.

Dave with his extensive experience with TALL at the University of Oxford certainly well qualified to understand the benefits and limitations of online delivery. However he discussed during his talk the importance of the social benefit that physical lectures provide for a community of learners. This is though not impossible to recreate online, is very challenging. Dave demonstrated through his delivery and content that the lecture in itself can be a useful way to stimulate discussion and debate.

Here we are twelve years later and much of what he spoke about resonates today with experiences across the pandemic. We know that with the emergency switch to online, that we lost the lecture and replaced it with online zoom calls. Many felt that this was a poor substitute for the in-person experience, and they were right.

David’s talk followed a keynote by Donald Clark who had opened the conference with his keynote, and riled people and annoyed them with a blanket attack on the lecture. What Donald Clark did was to challenge our perception of the lecture, and it appeared to me that the over-whelming consensus of the audience was that the lecture still had some place in the delivery of education. This was reinforced for me by Dave White who gave a wonderful (unplanned) response to Donald’s lecture, with an invited talk on the eventedness and social impact of coming together to learn.

The phrase “eventedness” has stayed with me since that talk back in 2010.

This was something that came back to me when I attended WonkHE’s The Secret Life of Students. In London. This was a real in-person event in central London. I have not done one of those for a while.

I think my last in-person (external) event was back in early 2020.

There was some great content in the event, I liked the use of different formats across the sessions. Mark Leach’s interview with Nicola Dandrige of the OfS was a highlight for me. I also liked the mix of panel sessions and keynote presentations.

There was something else though, in sharing these experiences with others. With the laughter at Mark’s humour, the weirdness of the B3 Bear, the in-person interactions with strangers. This was something I hadn’t really engaged with online events during the pandemic.

I really enjoyed the WonkHE event, it was nice to experience the eventedness of an in-person event. Something I have found missing from online events. I think part of the reason is that most online events I have attended during the pandemic have been poor translations of physical in-person events Losing all the nuances of what makes those events so engaging and not taking advantage of the affordances that digital platforms can provide.

I liked the interview format, something I don’t think we see enough of in both in-person and online conferences. The only thing missing for me was more audience interaction and discussion.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Next slide please!

Too often in online events I have seen people talking to Powerpoint slides, often this turns into a monologue. Having done presentations myself online, I have recently tried to avoid using slides and spend the time talking to camera. I also make an effort to up my game, or Partridge’ise my presentation, recognising that presenting online can flatten the performance somewhat.

I have also found online that few people take advantage of the chat function, actually I have also noticed that few people take advantage of the Twitter when attending online events. You almost get the feeling that the event is on in the background and delegates are working on their e-mails. Having that focus of the physical in-person event was useful for me and though tempted I did avoid doing “work” whilst engaged with the sessions.

Back in the 2000s I attended and participated in many online conferences and the technical limitations meant we couldn’t do live streaming. As a result we made use of recorded video, audio, and textual discussions. Once the bandwidth allowed live streaming, it was interesting to see that the engagement with the conference declined.

I do think you can have eventedness with online events, but it takes work and effort and thinking differently about how you will create that for the event. Similarly you can see similar thinking needs to happen with online teaching and learning. There is more to teaching than presenting.

Should note though that the coffee was awful at the in-person event, so much so I had to pop out for a real coffee.

e-Learning Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts 2021

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

This year I have written 113 blog posts. In 2020 I had written 94 blog posts. In 2019 I had written 52 blog posts which was up from 2018 when I only wrote 17 blog posts.

I decided when I got my new role in March 2019 that I would publish a weekly blog post about my week. I did this all across 2021 as well which added to the number of posts. I did once get asked if these week notes were popular, not really, but they are much more for me than for others.

Well 2021 like 2020 was an unexpected and interesting year, this did have an impact on what blog posts were popular and those that people read. Due to the impact of the pandemic on higher education this influenced what I was writing about in 2021.  However many of the posts in the top ten are from the archive.

So the blog post at number ten in the top ten is an old post on Steering a supertanker… It’s pretty easy to be honest.

The ninth place was Ten ways to use QR Codes which was not a post about ten ways to use QR codes.

At number eight was a discussion piece on the The tyranny of the timetable.

Another old post was at number seven, 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

Asking Can I legally download a movie trailer? was the sixth most viewed post on the blog. One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008. Things have changed since then, one of which is better connectivity which would allow you to stream content direct into a classroom, as for the legal issues well that’s something I am a little behind on the times though in that space.

The post at number five was from a series about translation of in-person to online delivery, Lost in translation: the lecture. Before having 4-5 hours in a lecture theatre or a classroom was certainly possible and done by many institutions. However merely translating that into 4 hours of Zoom video presentations and discussions is exhausting for those taking part, but also we need to remember that in this time there are huge number of other negative factors impacting on people’s wellbeing, energy and motivation. This post explored the options and possibilities that could be undertaken instead of merely translating a one hour lecture into a one hour Zoom presentation.

Fourth most popular post was a now obselete guide to Full Resolution Video on the PSP. Still surprised by how popular Full Resolution Video on the PSP was even though I am pretty sure that no one is still using PSPs.

The post at number three was from 2015, I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean? was from the FE Area Reviews.

Second most viewed post was “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”

The most popular post in 2021 is one of the all time popular posts, The iPad Pedagogy Wheel. Published in 2013, this was number one for many years, number two in 2019  and number three in 2020. 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.

So there we have it, the top ten posts of 2021.

It wasn’t online learning!

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

One of things I have noticed is how often much of what was done during the numerous lockdowns was described as online learning.

Let’s be clear you can describe what was happening as an emergency response to a crisis, even simplistically a pivot, but what was happening across schools, colleges and universities could in no way be described as online learning.

That’s not so say that universities took advantage of the web tools and other online services to deliver teaching online, and the students were learning, whilst online. However, to describe what was happening using an existing term such as online learning, has resulted in the term online learning now tarnished with the less than satisfactory experiences of staff and students during the pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, the term online learning was used in a positive way to describe how learning could happen online.

During the pandemic, there was an emergency response to the crisis. Students and importantly the staff were in lockdown, with all the requisite baggage that came with that, in terms of isolating, looking after family and all the other stuff that was happening as a result of the pandemic.

I do think, having spoken to students and staff who have been through this process, how hard everyone worked during the pandemic to do their best to deliver teaching and support learning.

The reality is though that despite the hard work, there wasn’t the training, the staff development, the research, the preparation undertaken that would have been needed to deliver an outstanding online learning experience. Combined with that, the fact that the academic staff were also in lockdown as well, the actual experiences of students and staff are in fact quite amazing. However it wasn’t online learning. What we saw was translation of existing in-person practices to online versions; they lost the nuances of what made the in-person experience so good, and didn’t take advantage of the affordances of that online and digital can bring to the experience.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

What is online learning then?

Well, for one thing highly effective online learning is designed from scratch, it isn’t about converting, translating or digitising an original in-person programme. Experiences from universities across the UK have shown that, though this can be done, it isn’t necessarily the best and most effective way of designing an online course. Starting from a blank canvas and thinking holistically about the whole experience, and from a student perspective should result in a better student experience. It should not be constrained by the physical requirements of an in-person programme, such as rooms and timetables, likewise it can use the opportunities of asynchronous activities that digital can being to the table.

Designing and delivering online learning does require skills and knowledge, but over the last couple of decades there has been lots of papers and research on this topic, as well as people sharing their experiences of doing it.