I realised that I have been walking and exercising less during the last few weeks, now the children are back in school, so this week I made a determined effort to increase the amount of walking I do.
Like last week, I have spent a lot of the week interviewing staff and students as part of a project we’re doing at Jisc. We have been talking to them about their thoughts and perspectives on digital learning. As with a lot of these kinds of interviews there are some interesting individual insights, however the real insight comes from analysing all the interviews and seeing what trends are in there. I also spent time planning a similar, but different project.
I attended a roundtable on a digital vision for Scotland and facilitated a breakout room reflecting on the vision.
If you have watched a 60 minute TV programme, you will realise few if any have a talking head for 60 minutes. Few of us have the time or the skills to create a 60 minute documentary style programme to replace the lecture, and where would you go to film it? So if you change the monologue to a conversation then you can create something which is more engaging for the viewer (the student) and hopefully a better learning experience.
In a meeting this week with staff from a university I was discussing this issue and their response was, what about comedy stand-up? That’s a monologue. That got me thinking and reflecting, so I wrote a blog post about needing a tray.
Shorter week due to a Bank Holiday in England, the weather wasn’t up to much.
I wrote a piece about the reality of robots. The premise of the article was that:
When we mention robots we often think of the rabbit robots and Peppa robot that we have seen at events. As a result when we talk about robots and education, we think of robots standing at the front of a class teaching. However the impact that robotics will have on learning and teaching will come from the work being undertaken with the robots being used in manufacturing and logistics.
The draft of the article was based on conversations and some research I had done over the last few years. This was an attempt to draw those things together, as well as move the discussion about robots in education away from toy robots which are great for teaching robotics, but how robots could and may impact the future of learning and teaching.
I remember in one job when we bought a Peppa robot, in the support of teaching robotics. One of my learning technologists asked if the team could get one. We then had a (too) long discussion on why would be need a robot and how it would enhance learning and teaching in subjects other than robotics? The end consensus was more that it was cool. This was a real example of the tech getting in the way of the pedagogy.
It’s September, so schools and colleges are back this week, operating in a totally different way to what they were doing just six months ago.
At my children’s secondary school, the students will now remain in the same room throughout the day and it will be the teachers who move from room to room. Each child will have a designated desk which they will sit in each day for at least the first term, if not the rest of the academic year. It won’t be like this at colleges and universities, but restrictions will still need to be in place to mitigate the risk of infection.
There has been quite a bit of discussion online and in the press about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work. Hello? Hello? Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home! The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.
Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.
Didn’t go viral or cause a Twitterstorm, but the article got people thinking about the nature of assessment and marking, with the involvement of AI. I wrote a blog post about this article, my tweet and the responses to it.
There was a new publication from Jisc that may be of interest to those looking at digital learning, Digital learning rebooted.
This report highlights a range of responses from UK universities, ranging from trailblazing efforts at University of Northampton with its embedded ‘active blended learning’ approach, to innovation at Coventry University which is transforming each module in partnership with learning experience platform Aula. The University of Leeds, with its use of student buddies, and University of Lincoln’s long-standing co-creation work are notable for their supportive student-staff approaches. University of York, however, focused on simplicity in the short term and redesign longer-term. The University of the West of Scotland is also focusing on developing a community-based hybrid learning approach for the new year.
I am going teach, was a blog post I wrote about the nature of teaching in this new landscape.
The Office for Students are reviewing the challenges the sector faced during the Covid-19 pandemic and are calling for evidence.
This call for evidence is seeking a wide breadth of sector input and experience to understand the challenges faced, and lessons learned from remote teaching and learning delivery since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020.
The OfS are looking to see what worked and what has not worked. What will work in the future and what about the student experience in all of this.
As many teachers and learners have discovered recently, Zoom fatigue, that that needs to be accounted for when designing curriculums. “You need to design an effective online curriculum or blended curriculum that takes advantage of the technology and opportunities it offers, but likewise doesn’t just bombard people with screentime that actually results in a negative impact on their wellbeing,” says Clay.
I also mentioned connectivity.
“As soon as you took away the kind of connectivity and resources you find on campus, it became a real challenge to be able to connect and stay connected,” says James Clay, head of higher education and student experience at Jisc.
The student in the article was undertaking an online test, and it wasn’t multiple choice, but short form answers to questions.
…he’d received his grade less than a second after submitting his answers. A teacher couldn’t have read his response in that time, Simmons knew — her son was being graded by an algorithm.
What the parent found was that by using a mix of keywords, or “word salad”, the system would mark the answer as correct. So the student could “cheat” the system!
The article itself was stemmed from a Twitter thread.
Algorithm update. He cracked it: Two full sentences, followed by a word salad of all possibly applicable keywords. 100% on every assignment. Students on @EdgenuityInc, there's your ticket. He went from an F to an A+ without learning a thing.
I posted the link to the article to the Twitter (as I often do with links) and it generated quite a response. Didn’t go viral or cause a Twitterstorm, but the article got people thinking about the nature of assessment and marking, with the involvement of AI.
There was quite a bit of feedback that this wasn’t cheating, but actually providing an answer to the question that the AI would mark as correct.
I'd be tempted to see this as students learning how to successfully complete assignments. Good students learn what you're testing. If what you're testing is not what you really want them to learn, they won't learn what you want them to. This is a problem with human marking too. https://t.co/PZ6j7qB3YJ
I would agree, this was being called AI, but it was more of a system which matched keywords from answers given by students to a list provided by a teacher. The system wasn’t analysing what and how an answer was written, it was a text matching process.
A flawed approach to testing, which resulted in students been able to “game” the system to get 100%.
The lesson here is, for anyone looking at automated online assessment, is if there is a way in which the system can be manipulated, then it probably will be.
The 20-year crusade to get more young people into higher education appears at an end, after the universities minister accused England’s universities of “taking advantage” of students with dumbed-down courses that left them saddled with debt.
In a significant shift in policy, Michelle Donelan declared it was time to “think again” about the government’s use of higher education to boost social mobility.
Though wasn’t her government in charge for half of that time? What it appears this will mean is that courses which result in high paying jobs will take priority over those that don’t.
I have always felt that education was so much more than getting qualifications and as a result getting highly paid jobs. Some courses are useful to society, but not from a financial perspective. The question is though who pays for those courses, is it government or someone else?
I have been working on some vignettes about the future. They provide ideas, concept and inspiration on the future of higher education. They are not detailed plans of what is going to happen, but will stimulate discussion amongst leaders, managers and staff in universities on what might happen and what could happen.
Here is an early example:
The localised university
We have become so accustomed to young people leaving home to go off to university that the concept of not leaving home to participate in higher education, though common to many, was seen as a somewhat alien concept.
However with the cost of travel and housing rising, as well as concerns about climate change and the impact of travel and commuting on the environment. Many universities decided to take the university to the community.
Some of the delivery would be done individually online, it was also apparent that the connectedness and social aspects of learning would require students coming together.
In small towns across the country, groups of students would come together to learn. Even though the teaching was delivered remotely, the learning was done together. Core aspects of the course would be delivered to larger groups, whilst more specialised teaching would be delivered to smaller cohorts or in some cases individually. The university would either build, convert or hire spaces for teaching and would use the internet to deliver live high quality video to groups of students from subject experts from across the country and in some cases globally.
The students would be supported in person and locally, by skilled facilitators who would ensure that the students would get the appropriate help as and when required.
Content would be delivered digitally, using online resources as required, or even 3D printing of physical objects in the home.
Specialist and practical subjects would be delivered at regional hubs that could be used by students from any university. This would mitigate the need to travel regularly or commute to a campus everyday.
It became apparent early on that much of student support could be delivered remotely, however local specialist support providers working for multiple universities could easily work with students in their catchment area.
Some bemoaned the decline of the “student experience” on campus, but what was discovered early on, in the same way has had happened on physical university campuses in the past, students would, using social networking, create their own local groups and societies, and then would arrange their own social and networking events. Some of these would be online, by many would happen at local social spaces.
So after a lovely week off, taking a break from work including a lovely cycle ride to Brean, I was back in the office on Monday, well not quite back in our office, more back at my office at home. So it was back to Zoom calls, Teams meetings and a never ending stream of e-mails.
My week started off with a huge disappointment, I lost the old Twitter…
Back in August 2019 I wrote a blog post about how to use Chrome or Firefox extensions to use the “old” Twitter web interface instead of the new Twitter interface. Alas, as of the 1st June, changes at Twitter has meant these extensions no longer work and you are now forced to use the new Twitter! When you attempt to use them you get an error message.
I really don’t like the “new” web interface, it will take some time getting use to it, might have to stick to using the iOS app instead.
Most of Monday I was in an all day management meeting, which as it was all via Zoom, was quite exhausting. We did a session using Miro though, which I am finding quite a useful tool for collaborating and as a stimulus for discussion. At the moment most of the usage is replicating the use of physical post-it notes. I wonder how else it can be used.
The virtual nature of the meeting meant that those other aspects you would have with a physical meeting were lost. None of those ad hoc conversations as you went for coffee, or catching up over lunch. We only had a forty minute late lunch break, fine if lunch is provided, more challenging if you not only need to make lunch for yourself, but also for others…
Some lessons to be learned there!
Monday was also the day that schools (which had been open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children already) were supposed to re-open for reception, years one and six. However in North Somerset with the covid-19 related closure of the local hospital in Weston-super-Mare, this meant that the “re-opening” was cancelled at the last minute, with some parents only been informed on Sunday night! Since then the plan is to go for re-opening on the 8thJune, now that the covid-19 problem at the hospital has been resolved. Continue reading What should we do, what can we do? – Weeknote #66 – 5th June 2020→
I have decided to take next week as leave, not that we’re going anywhere, but apart from the odd long weekend (bank holidays) I’ve not had any time off working since the lockdown started, actually I don’t think I’ve had leave since Christmas! I had planned to take some time off at Easter and go to London for a few days, as we had tickets for the Only Fools and Horses musical at the Royal Haymarket. I had bought tickets for my wife as a Christmas present and it was something we were all looking forward to. Then all this lockdown happened and the theatre cancelled all the performances as required by the Government.
I did consider keeping my leave, but with leading a taskforce, it was apparent that I might not have the time to take some (and where would I go).
So this week I was winding down slightly as I wanted to ensure I had done everything that people needed before I was off.
I published a blog post over the weekend about making the transition to online and to not make the assumption that though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.
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.
With the rapid change to emergency remote delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic seeing universities being forced to undertake an emergency response to teaching. We saw that many had to quickly and at scale move to remote and online delivery. Many staff were thrown into using online tools such as Zoom and Teams with little time to reflect on how best to use them effectively to support learning.
As we move away from reactionary responses and start the future planning of courses and modules that may be a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning are able to design and plan for high quality and effective online or hybrid courses. 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.
I did start to think if mapping could be useful in helping staff plan their future course and curriculum design.
When I was delivering the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we used the concept of Visitors and Residents to map behaviours and the tools people used. The Visitors and Residents mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. In 2015 following delivering with Lawrie Phipps, the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme I thought about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. The result of this was a blog post published about how to map the teaching and learning.
For me Monday was very much thinking about how HE will need to plan for the unknown for the Autumn.
The BBC reported on how students would still need to pay full tuition fees.
University students in England will still have to pay full tuition fees even if their courses are taught online in the autumn, the government has said.
We know many universities are planning for either full online degree programmes or hybrid programmes, but also that many are planning for potential coronavirus second (or even third) wave of infections and subsequent lockdowns.
It got me thinking about how this looks from a prospective student perspective, and the impact on those universities which are reliant on local (and commuting) students and those for whom it’s a place where students travel to study there.
We already have an understanding of the impact of the massive fall in the international student market on some universities, but the domestic situation is still highly volatile and unknown. Some surveys say 5% of prospective students have already decided not to go to university this autumn, and another 20% who are changing their plans. If we see a loosening of lockdown measures between now and September, then maybe fewer will change their plans, but we could see lockdown come back and enforced more stringently; this will of course impact on those prospective student plans.
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.
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?
The office was still closed and Jisc had asked all staff to not to travel for work. It certainly felt like all the days were merging into a muddle of days. Even though I work from home a lot compared to others, I still had quite a bit of structure to my week, being out and about at least once a week if not more.
Last week I was supposed to be in London three times for example…. The week before I was in London for one day and Birmingham for two. This week, all at home….
This was also the day that all the schools were closed and as might be expected, school online learning services such as Doddle and Hegarty are not really coping with the demand for their services. Creating extra stress during these stressful times. We also need alternatives.