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

Lost in translation: the pause button

remote control
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery.

What we have been seeing was many people translating their usual practice to an online version. I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff and students.

Doing a 60 minute (physical) face to face lecture is one thing, generally most people will pause through their lecture to ask questions, respond to questions, show a video clip, take a poll, etc…

Doing a 60 minute live online lecture, using a tool like Zoom or Teams, is another thing. Along with pauses and polls as with a physical face to face lecture you can also have live chat alongside the lecture, though it can help to have someone else to review the chat and help with responses.

Doing a 60 minute recording of a lecture is not quite the same thing as a physical face to face lecture, nor is it a live online lecture.

camera
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

There is a school of thought which says that listening to a live lecture is not the same thing as watching a recording of a lecture and as a result that rather than record a 60 minute lecture, you should break it down into three 20 minute or four 15 minute recordings. This will make it better for the students.

For me this assumes that students are all similar in their attention span and motivation,  and as a result would not sit through a 60 minute lecture recording. Some will relish sitting down for an hour and watching the lecture, making notes, etc… For those that don’t, well there is something called the pause button.

With a recording you don’t need to break it down into shorter recordings, as students can press the pause button.

Though I think a 60 minute monologue is actually something you can do, why do it all the time? You could, for other sessions do different things, such as a record a lecture in the style of a television broadcast or a radio programme.

If you were starting afresh, there is something about breaking an online lecture down into more sections and intersperse them with questions, chat and polls, just as you would with a 60 minute physical face to face lecture. If you have the lecture recordings already, or have the lecture materials prepared, then I would record the 60 minutes and let the students choose when to use the pause button.

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.

I am going to teach

What was City of Bristol College

Teaching is something you do, not somewhere you go…

Okay so teach and work aren’t as interchangeable as I would like to think, and I recently wrote a couple of pieces on the nature of work and working in this uncertain landscape. The first was a reflective piece on where I have worked and also how I worked, whilst the second was much more about the future of work and workplaces, as in work is still something you do, not somewhere you go.

Whilst writing both posts it got me thinking about how that, just as with the nature of work changing, teaching is also changing. Once this change has happened, people may not necessarily will want to return to how they use to teach.

When I was a teacher, I would often use the phrase I am going to teach which meant for much of my working life as teacher not only was I going to teach, but I was going to go to a specific space to teach as well. I use to remark (or was that joke) that I could teach anywhere, well I thought I could, but in reality I didn’t. I never took the students onto the field to teach, we never met up in a coffee shop. Okay I did field trips to the Bristol Docks, but that for me was more about learning than teaching.

Bristol Harbourside

I generally left the students to learn about urban regeneration in the docks by themselves, having taught them about what they needed to learn in the classroom the week before.

My career moved away from me teaching, to me supporting staff to teach, supported by the use of technology. I still considered myself a teacher and teaching, though most would have called it staff development. Most of that was still about going to a space and teaching. I did do other things that would be still called teaching, but didn’t require me to go to a specific space to teach. Some of this I did at home.

Back in 2008 I did a series of online webinars for the MoLeNET using a tool called instantpresenter.

InstantPresenter

I remember starting the software and staring at my computer screen. This wasn’t like the Teams or Zoom software of today. There was usually only one video feed, mine, partly down to bandwidth limitations, but also down to the fact that you would need a separate webcam for most computers of that era. I was lucky there was an iSight camera built into my iMac.

As I looked into the camera I realised that this was no classroom, this was me and a screen. There was going to be no visual or verbal cues from the people watching I felt I was literally on my own. I knew that as a teacher, someone who delivered training sessions and conference presentations, that I would be very responsive to the audience reaction. Knowing that I wouldn’t be getting that I knew I might get a little bit flat, so I decided to turn up my enthusiasm to eleven. I think I went a little too far and it all became Alan Partridge.

Going back ten years earlier in 1998, I was using a learning platform called First Class, where there was no video, it was all asynchronous text chat. Having participated in UseNet groups on the internet (remember those) I was quite familiar with and liked asynchronous text chat. However what I did find, was that many of my students on the First Class platform were not and didn’t quite get it. This was something that I also experienced in the early days of the Jisc e-learning conferences, which took place on an asynchronous platform. The presentations were not delivered, more they were uploaded. We would then discuss them using asynchronous text chat. The depth of discussion was always deeper than in a live physical conference, however as with my early experiences with First Class, not everyone got it, so didn’t get involved. When those Jisc e-learning conferences moved to a platform that enabled live online presentations, I think though we gained in one way, we lost an awful lot and much of the potential of asynchronous text chat was never achieved.

Just because you provide an asynchronous text chat platform, never assume people know how to use it effectively for teaching and learning, even if they know how to use iMessage and WhatsApp. As with any kind of technology, just because people use it for one thing, that doesn’t mean they know how to make the best use of it for learning and teaching. This is something I still refer to and think about when it comes to technology enabled learning.

Where I am trying to get to initially is to note that as we enter a new academic year which will require many staff to no longer go somewhere to teach, but they are still going to teach. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are able and comfortable to teach in these new online environments even with their recent direct experiences. We know that over the last six months we’ve been responding to the crisis by switching to remote teaching and I also think we are still in a crisis, but remote teaching doesn’t have to be a direct translation of physical teaching.

We also need to recognise that whereas before staff were teaching from home, in a landscape where students will be attending some face to face sessions and some online sessions, staff may need to deliver their online sessions from their desk. This is fine and dandy if they have their own office or dedicated quiet space, but less appropriate if they share an office, work in an open plan environment or even hotdesk! That is going to take some kind of logistical thinking and planning.

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Overall there is more to online learning then learning the technical mechanics of online learning. That equally applies to students as well as academics. Don’t assume people can do online learning, there are skills, techniques and possibilities that need to be thought about and taken onboard. As well as the mechanics of using the system, there is the how of online learning, the process of learning that also needs to be considered. Really it should be considered first and then deliver the technical training.

So how are you approaching the subject of online learning with your academics? What works? What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome them? What about the logistical requirements, how are you managing that?

So the next question is what happens next? Not this year, maybe not even next year? As we are starting to see a shift in work and workplaces, will something similar happen when (or even if) we manage to move through to the ending of the pandemic, in higher education? Will we want to return to the daily commute to the campus, or could we see more flexible working or teaching in the future?

It wasn’t cheating!

using a laptop
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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

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

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.

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.

Others felt that this wasn’t AI.

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.

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

Lost in translation: discussion

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In previous posts I looked at the lecture and the seminar, in this one I want to focus on the nature of  discussion.

Group discussion
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

One of the things I have noticed 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 translating their usual practice to an online version, some have called this practice mirroring. As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

In the physical face to face student experience, discussion is a core aspect of the learning process.

Discussion happens in formal and informal learning situations. It is part of the teaching and learning process within learning spaces, it happens as part of feedback and reflection. Students discuss their learning with their peers as well as with the staff who teach them Before the crisis, though a lot of this discussion took place physically face to face, some also took place online, as well as via technologies such as phone and text. In the current landscape, most discussion will now take place online with some limited social distanced discussion happening in physical spaces. In this post I am going to focus more on group discussion.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

When we move discussions online, you need to ensure that people have a chance to contribute to the discussion and ask questions, as well as ensuring that they can be answered. Simply moving a discussion that would have happened in a physical space to an online video conference tool such as Zoom or Teams may not translate easily or even be effective.

From an educational perspective, you will want to bring in everyone into the discussion, so that they are engaged in the learning process. This can be simpler in a physical face to face sessions as you can see who might be disengaged. With an online live discussion using a tool such as Teams you won’t necessarily be able to “see” everyone and some students may not want to have their video on for various reasons. We know some students don’t have the necessary kit for video conferencing, or they may not want to share the environment in which they are broadcasting from. As a result not been able to see everyone can make it challenging to see who is engaging and who isn’t.

Sometimes the “obvious” answer isn’t the right answer. Making sure everyone has their video turned on, isn’t going to be practical and some tools such as Teams don’t actually show all the video feeds anyhow. Even with a tool such as Zoom, the video feeds might be too small to be able to ascertain who is engaged and who isn’t. As we know if they are looking at their computer screen, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually engaged with the conversation!

So trying to translate a discussion into an online version can be challenging and fraught with difficulties and may not necessarily engage all the students into the process. So how do you, and how could you translate a one hour discussion into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that discussion and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

Merely translating that one hour discussion  into a one hour Teams or Zoom session probably works fine for many if udertaken in isolation. However it’s not just an hour, students may also be involved in other online seminars, Zoom lectures, live video streams and more online content. This can be 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. People may not be able to participate in synchronous sessions, they may have childcare or other dependents they need to look after, they may be other household challenges.

Running an online video discussion, is a different experience to doing a face to face discussion. It can be harder to read the visual cues that we take for granted when listening and speaking. It’s challenging to avoid a stilted conversation, as participants try and engage when there are latency issues. There can be multiple people all trying to speak at once, this can be both frustrating, but can also put people off from talking and contributing. So though you may be experienced in a face to face discussion, it can be useful to structure and plan a video discussion, so the students have a clear idea about what is expected of them and what they will need to contribute in that discussion. Structuring who will be talking and having clear guidance on how to work out who wants to talk and how they identify themselves. In a physical situation this can be easily done via people raising their hands. Though tools such as Teams and Zoom allow a virtual hand raising it can be easily missed, unless you are paying attention to it. 

video chat
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

One of the affordances on using an online video conferencing tool such as Zoom or Teams for discussions is that you can have people contributing through the chat function. Some students may prefer to post their thoughts and questions to a text chat than turn on their video and use the microphone. They may also be in an environment or space where that isn’t possible. You may need additional support in reviewing the chat as well as managing the verbal discussion.

You could even lose the video aspect.

So another possible translation, you could take your 60 minute live physical discussion into a 60 minute synchronous live text discussion. Again it will be useful to structure and plan a textual discussion, so the students have a clear idea about what is expected of them and what they will need to contribute, as with a video conference discussion.

Then another option is to lose the live element. It doesn’t take much planning to transform that  60 minute discussion into a week long asynchronous textual discussion. This format is useful for students who have challenges in attending at a fixed time due to home or personal commitments, but it’s also an ideal format for students who may be resident in different time zones. The teacher can interject and encourage students to participate in the discussion across the week and this is much easier to manage than trying to do this in a one hour session.  You can easily see who is contributing and who isn’t and encourage them accordingly.

Asynchronous and online discussions can often be participated in by much larger groups than in a face to face environment so discussions could happen across cohorts, subjects, departments or even with other universities. The teacher interaction becomes more flexible and they can decide when to participate and adapt it to their own personal circumstances. Though in terms of contact hours, or timetabling you can see how the final model would be challenging.

Simply translating what we do in our physical buildings into a online remote version, is relatively simple, however it may not be effective. Thinking about what you want that learning experience to achieve and what you want the students to learn, means you can do different things. Of course knowing how to do those different things, is another challenge.

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.

news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…