Category Archives: weeknotes

A highly statistically significant correlation exists between stork populations and human birth rates across Europe – Weeknote #85 – 16th October 2020

I have been working on some internal documents this week which has taken up quite some time.

I read David Kernohan’s piece, What is it about small areas with large numbers of Covid-19 cases? On Wonkhe.

A glance at the Wonkhe dashboards would suggest this is a reasonable conclusion to draw – there are no Mid-level Super Output Areas (MSOA) in England with more than 100 Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days that have less than 2,000 students in residence. As you have probably come to expect, things are a bit more complicated than that.

David points out that blaming students for the rise in covid-19 isn’t just not helpful, but also isn’t accurate.

Universities were suffering again from negative press, saying they shouldn’t have opened. However they weren’t given much choice and on top of that in the most recent restrictions, even at the highest tier, universities are expected to remain open. What does open mean anymore? When we had the full lockdown back in March, yes students were sent home, however universities remained open, their campus may have been shut down, but research was still happening, teaching was going ahead and many students were learning.

Universities can remain open, but doesn’t mean the campus has to be open. Maybe the government should have listened to the advice from their own SAGE scientists who said three weeks ago that “all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.” If that advice had been followed maybe, many of those covid-19 infection hotspots could have been avoided.

What we do know is that many universities are moving to online delivery curriculum models and for many students self isolation is part of the student experience.

There was substantial press coverage about feeding the isolated students as well.

Universities are facing anger from students over conditions some have faced while self-isolating in campus accommodation. Students have criticised the cost and quality of food provided to them by universities while in isolation. Undergraduates say food parcels have often been filled with “junk”, meaning they have had to request fresh fruit and vegetables from parents.

By the end of the week we were starting to see concern not just about returning home for Christmas, but also if students would return in January.

Apple announced their new iPhone, didn’t watch the announcement and though it would be nice, I don’t think I will be getting one.

Wired published a somewhat sensational article on, as they said, Universities are using surveillance software to spy on students.

Screwed over by the A-levels algorithm, new university students are being hit by another kind of techno dystopia. Locked in their accommodation – some with no means of escape – students are now being monitored, with tracking software keeping tabs on what lectures they attend, what reading materials they download and what books they take out of the library.

Libraries have always taken note of who takes what books out of the library, that was an essential part of the system, so you know what’s been taken out and by whom, so you can track it down if necessary.

Of course analytics means that if you start analysing that data you can start to discover new insights, on how people are using books from the library. Throw in more data and you can start to discover what the story is with different cohorts and subjects.

As with any data collection and analysis there are issues and I sent this missive to a mailing list in response to a question on this issue.

A highly statistically significant correlation exists between stork populations and human birth rates across Europe.

One of the challenges with interpretation of data is that it is a difficult thing to do. You can look at data and have a view, which may not actually be true. When I was working on the Jisc Digital Capability project, one of the core issues that I discussed with colleagues in universities was data capability, having an understanding of what the data was telling them, what was the narrative behind the data. Data is only part of the story. Though talking about analytics the implications of data from VLE systems is just as relevant, so would recommend looking at the Jisc code of practice on analytics.

On Thursday evening Twitter stopped working for me… well what was I going to do now!

Earlier in the day we had a meeting with the Data and Analytics directorate to hear about their future plans.

My top tweet this week was this one.

I haz fibre soon! – Weeknote #84 – 9th October 2020

I had a fair few meetings this week on a range of topics, including learning and teaching, the Data Matters conference, consultancy, pipelines, and public affairs.

This story from The Register was not really surprising, Unis turn to webcam-watching AI to invigilate students taking exams. Of course, it struggles with people of color.

AI software designed to monitor students via webcam as they take their tests – to detect any attempts at cheating – sometimes fails to identify the students due to their skin color.

I am not surprised, in my work on the Intelligent Campus, when we did some research into facial recognition, there was quite a bit of coverage about how it only really worked with white males. Can we be surprised then when used for exam invigilation that it fails on the same issue?

In a similar story, UK passport photo checker shows bias against dark-skinned women.

Women with darker skin are more than twice as likely to be told their photos fail UK passport rules when they submit them online than lighter-skinned men, according to a BBC investigation. One black student said she was wrongly told her mouth looked open each time she uploaded five different photos to the government website.

There is a question here about removing the systemic bias we find in AI and algorthims being used in education (as well as the wider society). A deeper question is how does that bias get there in the first place?

Across the week we saw more universities report large covid-19 infections in their student populations.

Sheffield Hallam has seen over 370 cases of Covid since the beginning of term and the University of Sheffield has seen 589 cases. The local area has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of people testing positive.

 Another 1,600 students have tested positive for coronavirus at Newcastle’s two universities. Newcastle University says 1,003 students and 12 members of staff have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week. That’s up from the 94 students reported last Friday. There have also been 619 new cases among students at Northumbria University, compared with 770 last week. That means nearly 2,500 students and staff have tested positive since returning to studies.

More than 400 students and eight staff members at the University of Nottingham have tested positive for Covid-19. The university said the figures would be “higher than other universities” because it was running its own asymptomatic testing programme.

Almost 400 students and staff at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are self-isolating after more than 160 people tested positive for Covid-19. A university spokesperson said the safety and wellbeing of staff and students was the university’s first priority.

One result of this is a lot of universities are moving back to online teaching.

This week, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University both said they will move more learning online. The University of Sheffield said all teaching will move online from Friday until 18 October. Sheffield Hallam said it will increase the proportion of online teaching, but keep some on-campus.

Both universities (Newcastle and Northumbria) said they had extensive plans in place to support students. Earlier today they said they would move most of their teaching online in response to the outbreaks.

The two main universities in Manchester are teaching online until “at least” the end of the month after a coronavirus outbreak among students. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the University of Manchester (UM) said it was a “collaborative decision” with public health bosses and “won’t impact” on teaching quality. It comes after 1,700 students were told to self-isolate at MMU on 26 September.

fibre
Image by Chaitawat Pawapoowadon from Pixabay

I took the plunge and ordered full fibre from BT and if it goes to plan I will be getting 900Mb/s down and 110Mb/s up from the new all fibre connection. This will be much faster than my current 32Mb/s FTTC connection and so much faster than the ADSL connection I had between 2012 and 2017 which rarely went above 1Mb/s.

My top tweet this week was this one.

The future is… – Weeknote #83 – 2nd October 2020

Over the weekend there was a huge amount of anti-university press in relation to Covid-19. I did think last week that this was just the beginning, when I posted my blog post about the uncertainty that the higher education sector was facing, when I noted a few stories about social distancing and isolation that was being reported in the press. I didn’t think that the story would blow up so soon! So much so that I wrote another blog post about all the stories that were coming in.

Radio 4’s Today programme made the mistake of thinking online was somehow cheaper and inferior.

Wonkhe went into more detail about what is happening at universities right now, and why?

What is going on? If you’ve not been following what has been going over the summer, or you are bewildered as to why we are in this situation, David Kernohan takes you through the basics.

Over the week even more stories came in, such as this one Coventry University student flats partygoers flout rules.

This perspective of what was happening to students was an insightful read, to be failed and abandoned time and time again, at first by an algorithm, then by institutions is draining and hurtful, writes student Kimi Chaddah.

Imagine having overcome a reformed and rigid GCSE system. Next, your A-levels are cancelled and you have to forcibly fight your way to a university place. Then, you’re forced into social isolation in a new place with people you don’t know, all the while being told to “not kill granny” by a man who discharged hospital patients into care homes. Meet the students of 2020.

The anti-student sentiment continued, so much so, that Johnson in his Wednesday press conference actually was quite sympathetic towards the student situation.

What we do know is that virtually all students are attempting to stick to the rules, but it doesn’t require very many students to be infected to infect many more in halls and residences. They are using the same kitchens, the same hallways, the same doors. They are in the same shops, the same bars and coffee places and visiting the same places across campus. Continue reading The future is… – Weeknote #83 – 2nd October 2020

Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

After a lovely weekend (well Sunday) in Lynmouth it was back to work on Monday. Well back to the desk in my house. The office, not so much.

The coronavirus figures have started to creep back up, so we’ve been put into a new lockdown of sorts. Schools are remaining open, but people are been asked to work from home.

Met with my sector strategy colleagues on Tuesday and gave us a chance to catch up and chat about what we’ve been up to and what’s coming up.

Spent time working on a structure for the Data Matters 2021 conference. This conference is usually a physical face to face event, however, as might be expected with coronavirus, this time we will be running it as an online conference. This now only throws up some challenges, but also provides a range of opportunities. In addition to the structure I have been working on the types of sessions that could be run. As well as traditional sessions such as online presentations, I have been thinking about different kinds of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. I’ve also been wondering about pre and post conference sessions as well.

TV
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Continue reading Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

Reflecting – Weeknote #81 – 18th September 2020

The weather made a definite shift this week, with hot summer days, which though was a nice change from the wet and grey days we had in August was slightly mitigated by the fact that I was working at my desk.

At the end of last week we went to a drive-in cinema, something that I had seen in American films, but not experienced here in the UK.

The week started with a culture session. As with frameworks, defining the culture is a very small part of the story. You can define what you want the culture to be, however unless you can define your current culture, then it can make it challenging to see what has to change. Much more challenging is how you move from the current culture to the new model. There are factors that impact on this, shared understanding is one of these. Something I think I need to reflect more on at another time.

Jisc launched their findings of their 2020 student digital experience insights HE and FE publications.  Continue reading Reflecting – Weeknote #81 – 18th September 2020

Culturally sound – Weeknote #80 – 11th September 2020

I started the week working through what I needed to do, and adding them as tasks to my JIRA boards. I had moved away from JIRA for task setting, as I was mainly working within Teams, but started to feel as my work widened that I needed some way of keeping up to date with what needed to be done. I use a combination of JIRA, Confluence and now Teams to ensure stuff that needs to be done gets done.

At the start of this week I was reading Sally Brown’s Wonkhe article on the start of term, The first weeks may be critical for the 2020 cohort.

First year students at UK universities will be imminently beginning some kind of an on-campus experience this year. It will be unlike anything they, or staff working in HEI,s have ever experienced.

I was reminded of my post on community I wrote last month on how community will be difficult to build in bubbles and on hybrid courses.

With an online or hybrid programme of study, much of the building and developing of community is lost. There is no informal way to have a coffee and a chat before an online lecture in the same way that happens before a lecture in a physical space.

Did some internal work on our culture programme ready for an internal workshop I am participating in next week. I’ve always thought describing the culture is part of the challenge, and a shared understanding of those descriptions. Also then following up with more detailed expectations of the ways in which staff work and how the organisation will support this.

I remember in a previous culture and behaviours session I asked about the following statement which describes demonstrating a behaviour based on trust.

I keep people informed

I think one of the challenges with culture change, first what does this mean and importantly what does it look like? One person’s keeping people informed is very likely not going to be the same as someone else’s perspective. So should we describe what this looks like so that staff are aware of expectations about keeping people informed. Also what support will the organisation need to provide to enable this, to make it happen and importantly keeping it happening?

Culture change is challenging, but it needn’t be slow.

So there I was digging through some archives across various websites looking mainly old photographs when I came across this photograph of me on the Cambridge News website. Continue reading Culturally sound – Weeknote #80 – 11th September 2020

I am working, I may be at home, but I really am working – Weeknote #79 – 4th September 2020

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.

Peppa

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.

I wrote more thoughts on this on my tech and productivity blog.

video chat
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

I read an article on The Verge this week which sparked my interest.

These students figured out their tests were graded by AI — and the easy way to cheat

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. 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.

I was quoted a few times in this article, How digital transformation in education will help all children.

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.

This was something that was echoed in a recent survey on digital poverty from the OfS.

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, 52 per cent of students said their learning was impacted by slow or unreliable internet connection, with 8 per cent ‘severely’ affected.

The survey also found the lack of a quiet study space was also impacting on the student experience.

71 per cent reported lack of access to a quiet study space, with 22 per cent ‘severely’ impacted

Friday was full of meetings, which made for a busy day.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Remembering – Weeknote #78 – 28th August 2020

Writing
Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

Spent the best part of the week writing and reviewing documents.

Over the weekend I thought this Wired article, The UK’s universities are bracing for a coronavirus train wreck, was an interesting read.

Universities across the UK thought they had everything sorted. In March, near the end of the second semester, they had rushed to deliver online teaching, as the coronavirus pandemic forced them to shut their doors to maintain the safety of staff and students. With the spread of the virus easing over the summer, institutions began planning for the safe arrival of students in September. Stop-gap measures hurriedly introduced in March had become permanent by August; policies and guidance on social distancing, sanitising, and digital teaching alongside limited face-to-face tuition on campus had been drawn up having in mind the capped numbers of students universities then expected to receive.

Then came the A-level results.

It was one of many articles and blog posts on the fall out from the u-turn on the A Level results and the resulting impact on admissions and places.

I thought the honesty of Sheffield Hallams’ Vice Chancellor blog post was a breath of fresh air amongst all this.

The most important thing in all this unfortunate story is to focus on the thousands of students whose life chances were put at risk through the algorithm.  Continue reading Remembering – Weeknote #78 – 28th August 2020

U-turning – Weeknote #77 – 21st August 2020

Cineworld

Made my first visit to a cinema at the weekend, which was nice, I went to see The Empire Strikes Back which was amazing to see on the big screen, I never saw this at the cinema in 1980, so it was nice to see it where it was meant to be seen.

Also over the weekend we saw more articles on what the future of university will be when the new term starts this autumn. A couple caught my eye, including this one from the BBC News: What will university be like for freshers this year?

But what will the university experience be like for “freshers” at what should be one of the most exciting times of their lives? Swansea University said plans to keep students safe include “bubbles” among flatmates, which means a ban on parties or having people over to stay.

The student experience this year will not be like it was last year. I still think one of the challenges will be the potential chance of a second wave of infection and another full lockdown, but the more likely challenge will be a local lockdown. Universities will need to plan for that kind of eventuality, these local lockdowns are likely to be weeks rather than months. Will courses have the flexibility to be able to respond and change as the local situation changes? That kind of planning is challenging enough with the added challenge of planning a curriculum that needs to take the requirements of preventing the spread of the coronavirus through bubbles and social distancing. As discussed before the real challenge is the uncertainty out there.

And if that wasn’t enough to think about, on Monday the debacle about the A Level results continued to rumble on.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to let teacher-assessed grades stand in England to avoid a second wave of exams chaos hitting GCSE results this week.

Continue reading U-turning – Weeknote #77 – 21st August 2020

People were angry – Weeknote #76 – 14th August 2020

Took a few days leave this week.

Did some preparation this week for an online session I am facilitating next week on digital innovation in teaching and learning, part of the Jisc’s learning and teaching reimagined programme.

The next online session within learning and teaching reimagined will explore how you can encourage digital innovation across the learning and teaching spectrum, providing the opportunity to share examples of good and emerging practice in facilitating, developing and mainstreaming digital innovation.

Share and discuss thoughts and ideas on practical steps to encourage innovation in learning and teaching through the use of digital technologies and share exemplars of what has been working within the institutional environment.

I published another blog post in my translation series, this time on community and the challenges in translating the process of community building amongst student cohorts that usually occurs when they start a course, which may not happen if part or substantial parts of a course are delivered online. Back in March I wrote a blog post on building communities.

I wrote a short piece for our media team on approaches to blended learning.

I was on leave on Thursday, though I didn’t miss the huge uproar about the A Level results.

There is anger among schools, colleges and students, after nearly 40% of A-level grades awarded on Thursday were lower than teachers’ predictions.

After Scotland’s reversal of the SQA decision last week, I wonder if a similar thing will now happen in the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile in France….

France to create 10,000 new university places after record numbers passed school exams

How did France grade its Covid-19  impacted students? They took the average of first and second term marks, always rounding “up” and creating 10 000 extra university places. No negative algorithms were used.

The BBC published a couple of pieces this week about how university could be for new students this year.

What will university be like for freshers this year?

With A-levels results day out of the way, students across the UK will have a better idea of their future plans. But what will the university experience be like for “freshers” at what should be one of the most exciting times of their lives? Swansea University said plans to keep students safe include “bubbles” among flatmates, which means a ban on parties or having people over to stay.

Should I go to university this year?

There are 137 universities in the UK, and 89 out of 92 of those which replied to a Universities UK survey will provide some in-person teaching next term. This will be part of a “blended approach” to teaching and learning, with many universities announcing that lectures will be given online.

My top tweet this week was this one.