Category Archives: weeknotes

What, still no slides? – Weeknote #123 – 9th July 2021

beach ball
Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash

Slightly disappointed to see that the Microsoft’s Windows 11 blue screen of death is to become a black screen of death. Not that I see it that much these days as I usually have the spinning beachball of death on my Mac.

Actually my iMac fusion drive died at the weekend, luckily no data loss, but frustrating all the same. Attempts to fix it through software failed so I booked it in for a repair with the Apple Store.

After dropping off my iMac for its repair I headed into our Bristol office at Portwall Lane.

We had a review meeting about our Leeds programme and there was some good and interesting feedback.

Rochdale Canal in Manchester
Rochdale Canal in Manchester

The BBC reported how the University of Manchester remote learning plan was being criticised by students.

A university’s plans to continue online lectures with no reduction in tuition fees has been criticised by students. The University of Manchester said remote learning, which it has used during the Covid-19 pandemic, would become permanent as part of a “blended learning” approach.

What is interesting is that most (if not all) universities are going down a similar road.

Later there was an update, the University of Manchester remote learning plan ‘was a misunderstanding’

UoM vice-president April McMahon said the use of the term “blended learning” had caused the confusion. She said most teaching would return to normal once restrictions were eased. Ms McMahon, UoM’s vice president of teaching, learning and students, said it had “never been our intention” to keep teaching online and any such suggestion was “categorically untrue”.

Once more shows the importance of a shared understanding  of key terms such as blended learning.

Lake District
Cumbria by James Clay

On Wednesday I delivered the keynote at the University of Cumbria Annual Learning & Teaching Fest 2021. My presentation, Moving from Translation to Transformation, was delivered without slides and was similar to the one I delivered at LJMU last week.

James will describe how many universities who translated their practice are now reflecting on how they can transform their practice to enable an enhanced approach to digital teaching and learning.

I did another session for Leeds on digital leadership which went down well. We covered digital capability and was a chance to bring back Boaty McBoatFace and discuss what we understand by the term digital capability, once more a shared understanding is critical in ensuring that everyone knows what you are trying to do when you build capability (in that it is more than skills and more than just training).

In the afternoon I had a really useful and interesting meeting about the production of training materials and the cultural differences of teaching through the medium of Welsh.

Jisc's Portwall Lane Office, Bristol
Jisc’s Portwall Lane Office, Bristol

Thursday I was in the office. I didn’t have any in-person meetings, but have started the process of using the office more, in the main for a change of scenery, meeting people and generally changing my routine. With the school holidays imminent I will probably be spending more time in the office. I have also planned my first trip to the London office for an in-person meeting.

Friday I was working from home, another session for Leeds and some discussion on strategy and targets in the afternoon.

My top tweet this week was this one.

What, no slides? – Weeknote #122 – 2nd July 2021

raining
Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

Monday I was planning to head into the office, but with the rain coming down and a risk of thunderstorms, I decided to work from home. I do like going into the office, but without the discipline of formal in-person meetings, the incentive isn’t really there. I am trying to go in about twice a week, but at least one. I do like the change in routine and scenery and that I think is what is important.

Started to plan a presentation that I am delivering on Wednesday, but in the end decided that I would deliver it without slides. Not that I don’t like using slides, I think in the context of online conferences, that sometimes a no slide approach is different to what others are doing so adds variety to the online format.

Wednesday I was again delivering a session of an online Digital Leadership programme to a cohort of university staff. It went well, but was clear somethings work well online and somethings didn’t.

Later that day I delivered a presentation at the Active Blended Learning Conference 2021.

Moving from Translation to Transformation

One of the things we have noticed back in March 2020 as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were merely translating their usual practice to an online version. David White writing about his experiences at UAL, called it practice mirroring. “So in the move to online teaching our initial instinct is to preserve Contact Hours by mirroring what would have been face-to-face sessions with webinar style sessions. What this looks like is exhausting 3-4 hour online sessions which must be almost impossible to stay engaged with.” We have been interviewing students and staff about their experiences across the pandemic and what practices have worked and what hasn’t worked. As part of Jisc’s work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period we have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff and students. In this session James will describe how many universities who translated their practice are now reflecting on how they can transform their practice to enable an enhanced approach to digital teaching and learning.

I decided not to use any slides, and just talk to the screen.

Though I think I might have spoken a little too fast.

Later I was involved in a marketing strategy meeting.

On Thursday I had planned to go to the office, but due to the need to collect something, and the fact that I had no in-person meetings, decided to work from home instead.

Friday I was again delivering a session of an online Digital Leadership programme to a cohort of university staff. It was a repeat of Wednesday, the exercise that didn’t work well on that day I removed for Friday’s session.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Ensuring excellence – Weeknote #121 – 25th June 2021

A rather busy week.

Had a few meetings about Jisc’s HE bespoke consultancy offer and next steps.

On Tuesday I did originally plan to go into the office today, but according to the desk bookings there were very few people in, so in the end I worked from home.

I delivered a presentation to the IHE Heads of Finance Network on LTR, Powering HE and how Jisc can support and help Higher Education with a particular focus on investment in digital.

Wednesday saw myself deliver the second session of an online Digital Leadership programme to a cohort of university staff. Despite the fact I had to do most of the session by myself, it did seem to go well.

On Thursday I did go to the office in Bristol. There was a lot more people in the office than normal, however as I had a fair few online interviews and meetings, I spent most of the day in one of our meeting rooms. However I did enjoy the change in routine and scenery, and I had a few happenstance conversations, which I don’t generally have online.

We had a debrief about the Advance HE/HEDG shareshop we did on transition. We also thought about future ideas, including dual mode delivery and curriculum planning.

Friday saw myself deliver a repeat of the second session of an online Digital Leadership programme to a cohort of university staff. It was a slightly shorter session as I had a conference to present at later that morning.

The conference was a Westminster Higher Education Forum policy conference: Next steps for reforming the TEF and ensuring teaching excellence in HE. My session was entitled Driving up standards and supporting teaching excellence in remote and blended learning.

I talked about definitions, background, the emergency response and the implications of differentiating between translation and transformation. I also discussed the topic of digital poverty.

meeting
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

In the afternoon I did some analysis of the planning that universities were taking in respect to transition that came out of the shareshop we did on transition.

The main themes that came out of the online padlet discussion were:

  • Building online communities
  • The importance of student (and staff) wellbeing
  • Supporting and developing academic skills
  • Developing inductions and planning welcome weeks
  • Building digital skills
  • Returning to on campus delivery

One of the key themes that came out of the padlet discussion was the value and importance of building online communities. As one delegate pointed out in their planning, they felt it was important in supporting them to socialise and feel part of the community. One university wanted to increase connectedness and a sense of belonging to the university community.

As with academic skills (but slightly less commentary) the disruption to both new students and returning students, many comments were made about supporting and developing the digital skills of students. There was a recognition that many students did not have the (academic) digital skills to successfully engage with online and blended learning. As one participant said there was a need to be supporting the digital skills needed to access the course and related services. Another said we overestimated the students ability to use and engage with online content.

My top tweet this week was this one.

I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go – Weeknote #120 – 18th June 2021

40 years ago on 12 June 1981 ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ was first released in cinemas. Indiana Jones is a hero, as well as discovering ancient artefacts, he fights Nazis and does amazing things. Though I sometimes think that learning technologists are like Indiana Jones. Now before you grab your fedora and whip, I am not saying that this is a good thing.  No the reason I have a theory that learning technologists are like Indiana Jones is really down to the views of Amy Farrah Fowler in the Big Bang Theory. I should really write a longer piece about this…

Some beautiful weather this weather this week as it felt more like summer, however by Thursday the weather had turned and it was grey and damp.

Monday I went to the office, which was quiet, but the change of scenery and routine was very welcome.

Tuesday I was chairing the Connect More event, which was online.

Wednesday saw myself and Lawrie deliver an online Digital Leadership programme to a cohort of university staff. It has been a few years since I delivered on the digital leadership programme however it all came back and I felt the session went well.

Got some nice tweets about my keynotes I have done over the years. There was this one on the Twitter.

Dave Hopkins blogged about his thoughts on inspiring keynotes. Though I didn’t take the top spot I did get an honourable mention about my FOTiE 14 keynote on the dark side.

Thursday I was back in the office, it was a grey and damp day.

Decided that I would do the #JuneEdTechChallenge and caught up very quickly on the Twitter.

I did a five minute presentation to RUGIT on dual model teaching.

Should we be doing dual-mode or hybrid teaching? Well there’s a question I get asked quite a lot these days by colleagues across the higher education sector.

Firstly, what is it? Well Durham has a nice definition.

At its best, dual-mode teaching combines the face-to-face and online experience into one cohesive whole. It keeps the class together, providing a shared learning experience that works for students who are on campus and those joining remotely at the same time. It allows you to include and draw on the full diversity of your students and their experiences to date.

They add though

The challenge is to provide an equitable experience, to engage with the people in the room and those joining remotely, using spaces and technologies that were not designed for this.

Generally from what I have researched in this space (and this is backed up by the research we have done with universities in the ) is that basically it doesn’t really work.

UCL for example say

‘Dual-mode’ teaching is where students are taught face-to-face in a classroom and online simultaneously. We strongly recommend this be avoided unless pedagogically appropriate for both groups and adequate staffing is in place to manage and integrate remote students into sessions fully. 

There are individuals who say that they can do this, but not really seeing the evidence from the students that it is effective. It does require more resource (staff and technology) which makes it more expensive, but still unsatisfying for both the in-person and the online students.

My top tweet this week was this one.

It’s lovely outside – Weeknote #119 – 11th June 2021

Lovely weather this week, I spent the week working inside.

Monday I went into our office in Bristol. It was somewhat quiet, and I actually spent most of the day in one of our meeting rooms by myself attending online meetings. However the reason for going in was a change in routine and it was nice to be back in Bristol.

I did go for coffee, which was nice.

Attended an online workshop about learning spaces. There was some discussion about dual mode or hybrid teaching and some of the technical challenges in creating an equivalent experience. I am still surprised by how important a small number of activities (such as examinations) which happen infrequently and for a short amount of time have so much impact on the design of some spaces. However what I learnt from the workshop will feed into an estate vision piece I am working on.

On Tuesday the internet broke… but it did get fixed in the end.

Spent some of the week planning for the Digital Leadership online programme I will be co-presenting with Lawrie over the next six weeks.

Continued to work on our projects, so much planning, reading and writing.

On Thursday I was presenting at EUNIS 21, which would have been nice if it was on the planned Greek island, reality was, that I was at home presenting over wifi. I was also part of a panel discussing the current landscape. I always find it fascinating presenting to an international audience, ensuring I come across clear and coherent. Also worked out in 2006 in Finland, that humour doesn’t always work for an international audience. Though the conference time was one hour ahead, it was quite a late presentation.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Well what did you get? – Weeknote #118 – 4th June 2021

Well a shorter week for me, as Monday was a Bank Holiday and I took leave on Wednesday. As it was half term, I has planned to go to the office for the other three days. So it would have felt in some ways like a normal working week. However personal circumstances resulted in working from home instead.

I liked this Wonkhe article by Nic Whitton and Lawrie Phipps: Why the teaching legacy from the pandemic must be more than digital.

As we start to emerge from this prolonged period of change, many university leaders are thinking about how to keep the best elements of digital and embed them in future practice; “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is a mantra we’ve heard on many occasions. This reflection is necessary and welcome: something we must do as we develop a “new normal” after the heady pace of change over the past year-and-a-half. However as we reflect, it is important to remember that more has changed about how we teach than the digital tools we use. To torture the metaphor somewhat, we might need to take a whole new approach to baby hygiene.

I took a day’s leave on Wednesday and we went to Legoland, which we haven’t done in a few years now. In theory they were limiting numbers, but it felt very much to me busier and more crowded than visits in previous years.

I read this article from the BBC News: Working from home: Call to ban out-of-hours emails from bosses.

…Prospect is calling for the government to give employees a legally binding “right to disconnect”. This would ban bosses from “routinely emailing or calling” outside set working hours.

The long hours and out of hours culture we see in many organisations is rife and the pandemic has made this worse.

When I managed a large team I was always keen to point out to my staff that though I was e-mailing early in the morning or late into the evening, I never expected them to do this and I never expected them to respond either. My reason for the odd hours was that I was commuting to Oxford back and forth and spent about 4-5 hours on the train. I worked quite a bit and did a lot of e-mail during that commute, as I was catching an early train and arriving home late, the timing of those e-mail was out of hours. What I did do was manage expectations of my staff about responding or not to those e-mails.

Now in a very different role, we have quite a flexible approach to working, and though less so recently (down to the pandemic) when I was travelling I would often work in the evenings in hotels if I was away from home. Again I had not expectations about responses, e-mail is for me an asynchronous form of communication and that is its main feature. Even in pandemic lockdown, working flexibly allows me to do stuff in the middle of the day and catch up either first thing or later. I don’t expect other people to work in this way.

I have a few things I do to keep my e-mail in check. I absolutely keep home and social e-mail separate from work e-mail. I turn off that notification feature on e-mail so I don’t have badges with ever increasing numbers. I don’t check e-mail when I am not working, so when I am on leave or at weekends, but I have the choice if I want to.

The issue I have with legislating e-mail sending is that it doesn’t actually solve the real problem. You need to solve that problem first.

Spent a lot of the week working on a couple of bespoke Digital Leadership Development programmes. One will be a series of online sessions, alas no in-person sessions for this, the other will be a self-directed study programme.

Since last working in this space, a lot has changed, the elephant in the room is obviously the impact of covid, lockdowns and the emergency response to all this. However much of what digital leaders need to do is still there as it was before. It is about becoming an effective digital leader, modelling the behaviour you expect in others and leading and influencing digitally-driven change.

Interviewed a member of academic staff about their digital practices this week and it was interesting to see the parallels and reflections of their practice which I have also seen across other interviews at other HEIs. The importance of effective (digital) support was brought up again, and this is a wide ranging issue for academic staff, for whom the support might be technical support, application support or practical support. This tool isn’t working, how do I do this with this tool and how can I use this tool for teaching and learning? In most universities this support is provided by different teams, the question you need to ask, does the academic know who to ask when they need support?

At our regular Higher Education monthly team call I talked about our experiences with consultancy, some of our wins and some of our challenges.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Unknown Unknowns and Unknown Knowns – Weeknote #117 – 28th May 2021

Monday I was focusing on one of the projects we are working on with an university looking at various scope areas and how technology and digital can make a difference. I was reminded of the NSA quote of cylinders of excellence when it comes to silo working. The concept of excellent departments, but not an excellent university came to mind, but also about the inefficiencies of silos working in isolation and not thinking about the impact of their development and change on the rest of the university.

At the end of the day we were discussing assessment. What is happening with assessment in higher education now and what changes made as a result of Covid-19 are now in place, but also the wider issues of assessment as well.

old television
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Cancelled my subscription to Britbox, in the main despite there being stuff I would like to watch, I wasn’t finding the time to watch it.

Tuesday saw me back to our office in Portwall Lane for an in-person meeting with my line manager, our first meeting in-person since August last year. It was actually nice to be both in the office and in an in-person meeting.

Something that keeps coming to my attention is the future of teaching, especially the concept of dual mode or hybrid teaching. What are peoples’ experiences of “dual-mode”, “muti-mode”, hybrid teaching? What has the student feedback being like? Something I have been reflecting on this week.

Students prioritise a return to face to face teaching from September 2021, so says the findings from a report published by the UPP Foundation.

Students want universities to prioritise a return to in person teaching and are missing face-to-face interaction around their wider student experience.

This is something which isn’t too surprising and is also something that has come out of our recent research into the student experience. Though digging deeper for us, it was more the in-person interaction students were missing and less the teaching.

Wednesday afternoon myself and Isabel Lucas of HEDG and the University of Cumbria hosted a share shop, facilitated by Advance HE, on how universities can support students transitioning in HE. We looked at both new students and returning students.

In the session, How can we best support learners coming in to HE from a Covid context? We discussed the transition arrangements others have put into place for the next academic year.

In September, third year students returning to HE will not have had a normal year in higher education and it is likely that their third year will not be like it was before.

We discussed a range of issues, focusing on the known knowns and the known unknowns. More difficult to discuss the unknown knowns and the unknown unknowns!

We are aiming to share the findings from the shareshop in June.

Thursday was a light day in terms of meetings, but got even lighter, as one meeting was cancelled five minutes before it was due to start, with the other meeting, two people who had accepted were in fact on leave, so in the end the meeting lasted only five minutes.

The future of the office keeps getting discussed, with those who own offices explaining why going back to the office is so important and those who don’t explaining why it isn’t. For me a lot is about the kind of work you do, I don’t do the same thing everyday, so there isn’t a single kind of space I need all the time. Before Covid, sometimes I would be working alone, sometimes I would be in meetings, sometimes we would be collaborating and sometimes I didn’t know, so it was useful to have other people around to bounce ideas off and chat over coffee.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Back at Portwall Lane – Weeknote #116 – 21st May 2021

Monday was a mix of meetings, some about our current consultancy work, some about future consultancy work and one was a formal presentation for one of our current projects. Had to keep my head straight so I could ensure that I was talking about the right stuff in the right meeting.

Cardiff University have confirmed online lectures will continue in September 2021.

Cardiff University has announced that online learning will continue in September. Despite government rules relaxing, the university has said it will be prioritising the safety of staff and students. However, in-person seminars, workshops, tutorials, and lab work are expected to go ahead.

This is a similar model to what many other universities are going to do for September 2021.

At the end of Monday I was in a meeting with the Office for Students in preparation for a meeting later in the week.

Bristol by James Clay

On Tuesday I went to the office. This was the first time I had been to the office since October. I had been a few times during August last year, but following the second lockdown in November our offices have been closed and only reopened on the 17th May.

As might be expected it was somewhat quiet, I think there were only ten staff in all together. It was nice to see people (for real). The main problem I had was the desk I booked meant I had a window behind me, so on my calls I was a dark shadow. Which was confusing for people who usually find me sitting at my desk with a virtual background.

I did enjoy going into the office and also enjoyed my walk at lunchtime, it was interesting though to see how much had changed.  Even though I have been to Bristol a few times, I generally was going shopping, my lunchtime walk took in the parts of Bristol that I wouldn’t normally visit during a general shopping trip.

The view from Castle Bridge by James Clay

What I hadn’t missed was the commute. Combined with the rain as well, it was a hassle and annoying to drive to and from work.

Enjoyed watch Lawrie move through 21 locks on his boat as he had a well deserved holiday.

Had a scoping call about the Intelligent Campus and potential consultancy we could do in this space. We have been thinking about how we could work with universities on vision pieces and use cases.

I also had a useful discussion with another university later on Tuesday about blended and digital learning.

rusty car
Image by Taken from Pixabay

Wednesday I didn’t go to the office, as my car had its MOT (which it passed). Hardly using my car compared to pre-covid times, mainly as I am not travelling to events, universities or other Jisc offices.

In an interesting move, University of Cambridge has expanded into online learning and begins to launch its portfolio of short online courses, with 50 to come priced at around £2000 each.

The University of Cambridge has launched a series of online short courses for professionals in a major expansion of its distance learning activities.

Thursday I had to wait in for a collection, so no trip to Bristol either.

I had a meeting to plan a shareshop I am helping to run next week called Supporting Students to Transition to HE in September.

Over the last twelve months universities across the country have switched to emergency remote delivery as lockdowns caused students to stay at home (or in halls). Though we know university staff have made huge efforts to provide high quality remote teaching and learning, when we talk to students we have found that many feel isolated, separated from their cohort, missing the in-person social interaction which is so important to the student experience and for peer support and learning.

I did consider going to the office on Friday, but with all the wind and rain decided not to.

I finished my presentation for EUNIS 21 where I am giving a short presentation on learning and teaching reimagined.Registration is free and open to all.

Though I am not really one for being a slave to statistics, likes, etc…. I am wondering what I have said and done to lose so many Twitter followers over the last few weeks.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Affordances of digital – Weeknote #115 – 14th May 2021

earth
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

On Monday I was reflecting with an international lens on our HE strategy. Jisc is not funded to support non-UK universities, but we do work closely with other NRENs overseas, sharing practice, advice and where we can collaborating on projects.

Tuesday I delivered a formal presentation to a university executive about a project we have done for them, they were very pleased with the final report, the presentation and the work we had done.

Later I was doing another presentation to another university with some thoughts about digital governance. My main point was that digital isn’t just a thing, nor does it just within its own silo within an university. Often the benefits that digital brings to a department or professional service won’t be within that service but will benefit the university as a whole. For example, when you bring in a digital HR system, the real benefits of such a system are not for HR, but for the efficiencies it brings managers across the university. However often those benefits are not always realised, and the affordances of such systems are also not realised.

Wednesday I was catching up with stuff and preparing for other meetings.

Universities could face fines over free speech breaches as reported by BBC News.

Universities in England could face fines under new legislation if they fail to protect free speech on campus. Visiting speakers, academics or students could seek compensation if they suffer loss from a breach of a university’s free speech obligations.

To be honest I am not sure how much of a problem and issue this is in higher education that it requires legislation.  There was then a kerfuffle as the Universities Minister and Downing Street debated about what was allowed (as in free speech) and what wasn’t (as in hate speech). To be honest if the Government can’t work this out, what does this mean for universities?

Wonkhe asked the question Should student recruitment stay digital-first post Covid?

On Thursday I was presenting at the QAA Conference, my presentation was entitled: How will the growth in online learning shape the future design of learning spaces and our campuses?

 The physicality of online learning is an issue that will impact on university campuses as more institutions move to a blended programmes containing elements of online and digital learning and physical in-person learning. In this session James Clay from Jisc will explore the challenges that growth in online learning will bring to learning spaces and the university campus. He will explore what is required for, in terms of space for online learning, but will also consider the space and design implications of delivering online teaching as well. He will discuss what some universities are doing today to meet these challenges and requirements. He will reflect on a possible future where we are able to maximise the use of our space as students have the flexibility to learn online, in-person and across a spectrum of blended possibilities.

So true Lawrie, so true.

So next week our offices re-open, not quite a normal reopening, but we can now go into the office. I will be visiting our offices for various meetings, but also for a change of scenery.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Exhausting – Weeknote #114 – 7th May 2021

No Monday for me in the office this week, well it was Bank Holiday, so my working week started on the Tuesday.

Spent much of the week undertaking interviews for a project we’re doing for a university. I was talking to students about their experiences and what they wanted if and when they get back to campus.

There has been a clear lack of interaction between students, both academically and socially, leading to a lack of familiarity and difficulty engaging.  Another familiar issue, identified by both students and staff, has been the very limited interaction between students. With the main face-to-face avenues for contact, socially or more formally through seminars, are not readily available via the digital environment. This was particularly noticeable amongst first year students, many of whom had very little interaction with their peers. This is clearly a very important part of university life and makes for a less rich student experience.

I have also been writing a report for another university which covers similar issues, as well as the challenges in embracing blended and digital learning.

My new iPad keyboard stroke cover arrived, which was great as the old one had stopped working. I had had a similar issue with my previous iPad as well. The iPad basically doesn’t recognise the external keyboard so spends a lot of time providing me with notifications that it doesn’t recognise the keyboard, which is equally as frustrating as the keyboard not working itself. Now at least I can use my iPad for writing.

We had an away day on Friday, which actually meant spending most of the day in a Zoom call. Now that’s exhausting.

Having said that it was quite a good and interesting day with some useful sessions. I facilitated a session with a DVC which went down well with the HE team at Jisc.

My top tweet this week was this one.