…and the Russians used a pencil

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

There is an apocryphal story that has no basis in fact, about how the US space agency, NASA spent millions of dollars developing an ‘astronaut pen’ that would work in outer space, while the Russians fixed the problem much more cheaply and quickly by using pencils.

What the story reminds us that sometimes the low tech solution can be a better choice than trying to utilise a high tech solution.

With the current situation impacting on learning and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, many of these talk of the use of tools such as Zoom, video and Teams.

Normally when working from home I have all the bandwidth, but with “forced” home working and now we schools are closed, it won’t be just me wanting to use the internet. Now the rest of the family will be wanting to use my bandwidth….

This scenario also won’t be isolated to you and your home. Your neighbours may also be working from home, or using the internet so the contention ratio may rise as more people try and use the same data capacity.

There will be numerous companies and organisations running online meetings and calls. Schools are expecting their students to access online resources through tools such as Google Classroom, but also other online services such as Doddle and Hegarty.

You can imagine the increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix and iPlayer as well for people who are self-isolating.

learning
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

There will be an impact on these services as multiple people start to use them more than would normally be expected.

There is only so much bandwidth and as demand rises for bandwidth it will cause dropouts and buffering.

It won’t just be restricted to home broadband, but also mobile networks. 

Vodafone has said it is experiencing a 30% rise in internet traffic across its UK fixed-line and mobile networks.

The FT reports on the EU asking streaming services to limit their services (behind a paywall).

The EU has called on streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube to limit their services in order to prevent the continent’s broadband networks from crashing as tens of millions of people start working from home.  

This will have an impact on how you work, if you depend on connectivity. For calls and meetings. You may find asynchronous low bandwidth communication and collaboration tools a better option than the full functionality high bandwidth tools you are use to.

The same can be said for teaching online, we might want to deliver lectures live using a tool such as Zoom, even delivering lectures asynchronously using lecture capture may not be easy. Before it might have been possible to have a Teams video meeting instead of a tutorial, today it might be more challenging.

Some are saying, well my broadband seems to be working okay, but we also need to consider the student as well.

Some universities have already advice in place for this kind of challenge.

LSE now advising staff to think about asynchronous and low bandwidth online learning activities.

The LSE tweeted out their advice where staff may be teaching students with restricted internet access. 

They have a web page offering advice and guidance – Teaching and learning provision for students in areas where internet access is restricted.

Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay
Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

So how can we create low tech and low bandwidth learning activities?

Generally when asked to move to online delivery, people often think that the easiest thing to do is to translate what they do in the physical academic environment and move it online.

This means conversions such as I normally deliver a lecture, so I will use a live video stream to deliver that lecture to my remote learners.

Likewise, I usually run a seminar to discuss a topic, so I will use a Teams video conference to for the discussion.

These are in the main high tech and high bandwidth activities which may work from a delivery perspective on your broadband connection, but not necessarily work at the other end on your students’ devices and connections.

Well there are some simple technical things you can do that could make the life of your learners easier.

Move from video to an audio stream

Video requires a lot of bandwidth, moving to an audio only stream requires a lot less bandwidth. However you should think about how you might need to adjust the way in which the content is delivered if you are only using audio. Radio is different to television and those differences should influence th design of how you deliver the content or teaching.

Go with asynchronous delivery rather than a live stream

Minimise file sizes

Because internet connectivity can be slow and inconsistent in some regions (or for the reasons about contention outlines above), it is advisable to keep file sizes to a minimum.

The University of Reading has an useful site on compressing files.

The key thing to think about is, that proprietary files are usually quite large, so converting to another format such as PDF may help to reduce file sizes.

Similarly, providing an audio only version of a video file can help those who have slow internet connections

Avoid proprietary file formats

So you have Office 365 and a licence for Powerpoint, do your learners have the same software if you share a Powerpoint file? Yes you can use some online services to convert the file, but do your students know how to do that?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Think mobile

Will your students, who no longer have access to the IT labs on campus, have a device that can access the teaching you are delivering? They may only have a mobile device, so does your content work on mobile.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Designing learning 

Having said all that, another option is to think about the design of the learning to work in a low tech low bandwith environment..

It might also be useful to design activities that work asynchronously, so aren’t dependent on a continuous live internet connection to work.

Lectures can be recorded and downloaded, but what about using other forms of content, such as books, journals or other work as a stimulus for learning? Content can be more than just lectures.

So for example instead of running a seminar to discuss a topic, using Teams video conference, move to an asynchronous format using a discussion forum.

100 ways to use a VLE – #3 Having an online discussion

Debates can be asynchronous as well, through a discussion forum. In many ways this can be a different debating experience with the opportunity for all students to make their point.

100 ways to use a VLE – #5 Having an online debate

You can use high tech tools that require decent technology and bandwidth, but sometimes you can make do with a pencil.

Looking back at online conferences for now

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

With the current situation impacting on conferences, events and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, as well as moving conference to online events.

Ten years ago or so, Jisc ran for a few years an online e-learning conference. I participated in these as a delegate, a keynote speaker and for some of these I was the conference blogger and wrote a blog called “Letters from the Edge”.

Letters from the Edge

It can be useful to have an online space (a blog) where someone addresses what is happening in the conference (and elsewhere).

I also published some ramblings about the advantages of an online conference on my blog about advantages of online conferences, many of which still stand up today and are also useful potentially for those who are planning some online delivery.

In this post I discuss some of the challenges, but also many of the advantages of an online conferences.

Why an online conference?

A video about the advantages of an online conference, however it doesn’t take self-isolating into account.

Advantages of an online conference

This post based on the experiences of supporting and delivering webinars over the years and some tips.

Webinaring it

 

This post talks about the discussions that are possible in an online conference. You will find much more discussion and debate takes place than at a traditional conference. Not only that, the conversations happen over time, allowing for reflection and checking sources. It’s also all written down. This makes it very easy to check back and see what someone said before making a different point. Sharing links and ideas is also so much easier too.

Virtually

Wherever you are… is a short humorous video, that looks at how you can participate in conferences from any location, which for most people will be home these days.

Wherever you are…

Online conferences can facilitate more in-depth discussions than at traditional conferences.

Due to the textual and asynchronous nature of an online conference discussion it is possible to engage in the conversation either immediately or after a period of reflection over the two days of discussion for each of the themes. it’s a real opportunity to take the time to debate the issues that arise out of the presentation with fellow practitioners and experts.

Challenging Discussions

I am sure if you ask a lot of people why they attend conferences, in addition to the keynotes and sessions, one aspect that will come out is the networking and social aspects of the conference. So isn’t all this social and networking all lost with an online conference, I hear you cry! Well in a way, yes! And in a way, no!

Social awkwardness

Some may find it useful in these difficult and challenging times.

Digifesting – Weeknote #54 – 13th March 2020

Monday I was making some final preparations for the Jisc Digifest conference this week, where I am charing a panel on Smart Cities.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was off to Birmingham for Jisc’s annual Digifest event.

There were some worries about if it would go ahead because of the coronavirus, but in the end it did go ahead

We had a good session “How can smart city technologies impact education of the future?”

This panel will explore how smart education can be a key ingredient to smart city development, uncovering what roles universities and community colleges, e-learning infrastructure and innovation in education technologies could play in defining a smart city.

It will look at what the university and college role may look like to improve cities for the people who live, work and visit there and as the need for lifelong learning increases, how can smart learning environments be equipped to meet people’s demands?

Alas one of the panellists had dropped out, but even so we had a good discussion and lots of questions from the floor.

Thursday I was in London for a meeting with London Higher about a mental health and wellbeing project. This was going to be the last face to face meeting I think I will be having in a while and even at the meeting a key individual was taken outside to attend a coronavirus meeting.

I wasn’t sure if London was quieter than normal, as my earlier meeting had been cancelled so I had arrived later in the day.

I published a post over on my productivity and technology blog about some thoughts on working from home.

I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this, I have working from home on a regular basis for about the last twenty years. Even so with the possibilities of forced home working to reduce the risk of transmission, this is going to be a different experience to what I am use to. For those who don’t do this often  or rarely, they may find it challenging.

It was some thoughts I had been thinking about in response to lots of tweets and e-mails about working from home.

Friday I was at home, and working from home, and the coronavirus situation was worsening. We started to see a lot more universities start to close for teaching.

We also made the decision to cancel Data Matters.

After careful consideration and because of the ongoing and unpredictable developments around coronavirus (COVID-19), this year’s Data Matters will not go ahead.  It was a difficult decision to cancel but the health and wellbeing of our members, staff, exhibitors and suppliers is our top priority. We also want to ensure we play our part in containing and delaying the spread of the virus. For delegates who have already paid for their ticket, we will fully refund all conference fees.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Making preparations – Weeknote #53 – 6th March 2020

Most students get a big pay-off from going to university – but some would be better off financially if they hadn’t done a degree according to this article.

While about 80% of students are likely to gain financially from attending university, we estimate that one in five students – or about 70,000 every year – would actually have been better off financially had they not gone to university.

Wednesday I was in London for a drop in session on our Technical Career Pathways. The session demonstrated the challenges we face as an organisation due to the wide range of positions and jobs people hold in Jisc. I also had a meeting about international issues and the challenges our universities face in TNE.

I had a discussion call about the panel session I am chairing at Digifest next week. The session is entitled “How can smart city technologies impact education of the future?”

This panel will explore how smart education can be a key ingredient to smart city development, uncovering what roles universities and community colleges, e-learning infrastructure and innovation in education technologies could play in defining a smart city.

It will look at what the university and college role may look like to improve cities for the people who live, work and visit there and as the need for lifelong learning increases, how can smart learning environments be equipped to meet people’s demands?

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I did some thinking about preparations that universities may be considering if the coronavirus situation worsens.

Technical solutions are only one aspect that universities and colleges need to consider when moving to virtual platforms and solutions.

Many people will know running an online meeting is very different to running a face to face meeting. There are tactics and nuances that need to be considered when

It’s a similar story with differences in how one delivers a lecture and how one delivers an online presentation.

There are affordances and advantages (as well as challenges) in moving from a physical model to a virtual model.

Once more on Friday I was off to the big smoke, as I had a couple of meetings in London.

I found this article on the BBC News interesting.

University applications ‘dictated by train fares’

This is peak season for university open days, when tens of thousands of teenagers and their families are criss-crossing the country viewing places where they might study.

A return trip by train from north to south can cost £200 or even £300. And even with railcard discounts, when there might be four or five universities to visit, the open-day season can soon become an unaffordable closed door.

For those driving, there are still fuel costs. And longer journeys by coach can mean having to pay for an overnight stay.

But these costs seem to have slipped below the radar – even though they might be directly limiting the choices of disadvantaged students.

I wrote a blog post on building communities.

Building a community

My top tweet this week was this one.

Building a community

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

It doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t always work the way you expected. Here are some of the strategies I have used in creating, building, developing and maintaining a community.

Recently I have been talking with others about community and building communities, something I have done in the past with some success (and sometimes not so much success). I don’t believe there is any one way to build a community, but in a similar way I don’t think doing one thing such as a mailing list, or an event, or a Twitter hashtag will result in a community. I have found you need to do a range of things, as some stuff works for some people and other stuff works for others.

In this blog post I will discuss some of the ways in which I have had to build communities as part of my professional practice. Though the communities were different, there were some key things that I did to build those communities. Also there are some aspects that were features of all these communities

What is a community? Why do you want to build a community? Who will be part of your community and why would they want to be part of your community?

Its also worthwhile thinking about the life of the community, is this an ad hoc pop-up community, or are you trying to establish a more permanent community.

In this context it is worthwhile to write down the vision for the community, what is it you are trying to achieve through the community. It is also useful to establish some objectives as well. Over time you can re-visit these, but having them written down does help in the process of building a community and determining if you are being successful or not.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Back in 2008 or so, when I was a MoLeNET Mentor working with people such as Lilian Soon, Dave Sugden and Ron Mitchell (and others) I was helping to build a community of FE people interested in mobile learning. We wanted to start a community as part of the MoLeNET programme, but did not expect that we would continue to support the community beyond the life of the MoLeNET programme. This doesn’t mean that the community wouldn’t or couldn’t continue, but as part of the planning, this wasn’t a key objective. The funding was planned for three years, so we expected the community to be around for that length of time.

Whereas when I was building the Jisc Intelligent Campus community, I wanted this to last as long as Jisc was working in this space, so it was important to think about both the short term objectives, but also the longer term objectives as well.

When starting to build the community, it’s useful to lay the foundations for that community. What tools are you going to use, what services will you be using and how do you expect others to use those tools.

The sort of things I did for the MoLeNET community included using tools such as Jaiku (and then the Twitter) to use micro-blogging to connect and communicate. We also did online webinars, which were interesting and fun to do. We did a lot of podcasting as well. Another thing we did was blogging. Those were in the main broadcast mechanisms, we also used e-mail to tell people in the community what was happening and what they could do.

For engagement we ran workshops and events. It wasn’t just one kind of event either, there were workshops, as well as conferences and meetings. The key I think was about connecting, communicating and sharing. What was challenging at the time (well it was 2008) was building online engagement and discussion. Today that might be easier.

I did a similar thing when I started to build the Intelligent Campus community. I started off using Twitter in the main, using a hashtag #IntelligentCampus to connect what I was saying. I posted relevant and interesting links (well I thought they were interesting) to Twitter as well. I also blogged a lot, sometimes it was about what the project was doing, but I also blogged about stuff other people were doing. These posts were shared on Twitter, but also through an embryonic mailing list, well people still like e-mail. I made a point too of posting a monthly digest to the mailing list. I also ran community events where as well as me presenting, I also got members of the community to present as well.

Another thing is to attend other events and present, something I did for both MoLeNET and the Intelligent Campus. This enables you to introduce the community to others and hopefully get them to join and engage with the community.

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

There are various tools and services in any community toolbox that can be used to build, develop and maintain a community. Thinking about the different stages of building a community is also critical to successfully building a community.

When you start, you have no community, you need to bring together people who have an interest in this space. Building a community is hard, so now I use a range of tools, such as social media (well in the main Twitter), also mailing lists and for me blogging. Interesting and useful blog posts can engage people and get them to participate in the community. It also acts as a way of helping people to understand what the community is about and what they will get from the community.

Communities don’t just grow, they need to be cared for and nurtured. This means you need to plan to bring people onboard to the community. This doesn’t need to be done alone, as you start to build a community you will meet others, and using their expertise and knowledge can help. Get others to write blog posts for you, as well as using the Twitter hashtag for example.

Maintaining a community is an important task. As I mentioned sending regular digests of news and links was one thing I did for the Intelligent Campus community, but also posting questions to the mailing lists to stimulate discussion (when things were quiet on the list). When I was running the Digital Capability project at Jisc, I would write regular blog posts about digital capability, but would also present on the subject at external events.

For me the success of the communities was when I became less important and was less of a focus for the community and others started to put themselves forward. They were posting stuff on the Twitter, publishing their own blog posts and even running their own events.

Determining the success of your community enables you to decide if you should continue or let the community die. Do you want to put metrics on your activities for example? For some of my communities measuring activity was important, so I did look at data and analytics of visits to the website and the blog, but also recording who was using the community hashtag.

Starting and building a community is not an easy task, but one thing to recognise, rarely does it just happen…

So what do you do to build a community?

Watch out – Weeknote #52 – 28th February 2020

Monday was a wet and windy day, as it has been over the last few weeks. I was on leave on Friday, so as it happens I spent Monday clearing out my inbox.

Tuesday I was in our Bristol office attending our own Metamorphosis event. This is our version of TEDx without the TED branding.

There was some lovely talks and I did my own on a piece of family history. Continue reading Watch out – Weeknote #52 – 28th February 2020

TNE 4.0 Sketchnote

Today I am attending the TNE 4.0 UUK event. It’s about the challenges of international education in higher education and the potential impact of digital and technology on the process of TNE.

At the TNE 4.0 event at the Jisc offices in Bristol I did a sketchnote of the opening talk by Paul Feldman.

In his talk Paul spoke about the challenges that face the university sector with the changes brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, but also about the positive response that is Education 4.0.

In the afternoon I did a second sketchnote on the session entitled “Five Steps to Launching a Successful Digital Content Program Included in Tuition for Under-Represented Students“

I have a cold – Weeknote #51 – 21st February 2020

It’s half-term, which means I try and get out of the house as much as possible, as it can be a bit unfair to everyone else if I am working from home. However the weather and the fact I had a cold most of the week meant that in the end I worked form home. AS well as having a cold, I also took some leave as it was half-term.

AT the end of last week, Michelle Donelan named universities minister and the science part of the post was split off.

There have been quite a few universities ministers now over the last couple of years. Something the sector could probably do with is some consistency in this post. The news was not met with much enthusiasm from the university sector. Universities fear loss of policy focus as ministerial roles split.

Diana Beech, head of government affairs at the University of Warwick, and a former adviser to Mr Skidmore, warned that a stand-alone science minister might not be so “aware of the interdependency of science and HE” and might be less alert to the “importance of cross-subsidies in teaching and research”. This could have “profound implications on the way policy is made”, she said.

I quite enjoyed watching BBC’s Panorama on the rise of Amazon.

In a quarter of a century, Amazon has propelled Jeff Bezos from online bookseller to tech titan. He’s the richest man on the planet, and the company he founded is one of the most powerful. Panorama investigates Amazon’s rise to corporate superpower and asks whether there is a dark side to our love affair with the company. Former high-level insiders describe Amazon’s huge, obsessive data-gathering operation, which enables the company to use what it knows about us to shape not only the future of retail but the workplace and technology too. On both sides of the Atlantic, politicians and regulators are beginning to question Amazon’s power and to explore ways to rein it in. But some of Amazon’s most senior executives say the company is a force for good, inventing new ways to serve customers and maintain their trust.

Yes in places it was quite sensational, well it was a piece for television. I thought that trying to talk about the data and metrics side of Amazon was a different story (though related) to the use of voice assistants in the Amazon Alexa device. Certainly voice will be the future of interaction with technology, but I thought they should have kept the focus on the data they collect about us and others. My own thoughts were on how far behind the education sector is in their use of data to support teaching, learning and assessment in comparison to Amazon. Then I look at the recommendations I get on Amazon and maybe I am not so sure.

Continue reading I have a cold – Weeknote #51 – 21st February 2020

Will Curriculum Analytics merge with Learning Analytics? 

At the recent Jisc Learning Analytics Community Event at Newman University in Birmingham I was a last minute addition to a panel discussing some topics in analytics. One question that was offered, was, will Curriculum Analytics merge with Learning Analytics?

A simple answer is yes.

Learning Analytics can be defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.”

In the same context then Curriculum Analytics could be defined as “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about the curriculum and the context, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.”

We might need to think how we define curriculum, but if you think of learning analytics as one side of learning, then curriculum analytics is the other.

Understanding that data may tell us a narrative about a learner, then without the data on the curriculum side, means that the whole picture isn’t clear. Not that data will ever likely to provide the whole picture.

If we think of curriculum as the design of the course, the activities undertaken, the subjects covered and how the learning is delivered.

Trying to figure out what this looks like from a data perspective is challenging.

Take something as simple as the lecture, that should be easy to define? Well…

What is a lecture? How long is a lecture? How many people are in that lecture? Where is the lecture? What time is the lecture? Where does that lecture fit into the day, the week, the semester? Is it in the first year of the degree course or later in the course?

We call many things a lecture, but for some people it will be a monologue, for some it will involve going through equations and proofs on a series of blackboard and for others it will not be just talking, but will include interactivity and engagement with the students. We know lectures vary across disciplines as well.

Group working
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

So if we find it challenging to define what at first appearances is a “simple” lecture then you can start to understand the challenges of defining the curriculum overall, such as tutorials, seminars, group work, labs, field work and so on…

Throw in digital as well, that adds another layer of complexity, is a webinar a lecture, what about lecture capture in all that as well.

Then could we incorporate self-study into the mix? Could we ever define informal learning in a curriculum analytics system?

So, will Curriculum Analytics merge with Learning Analytics?

The simple answer is yes, but it isn’t as easy as it may first appear.

Asssessing – Weeknote #50 – 14th February 2020

Monday I was off to Bristol, for a late afternoon meeting. It was nice to be back in the office and see the changes and improvements since I was last there a week or so back. It is a nice place to work.

Monday saw the publication of Jisc’s report on assessment.

This report is the result of an experts meeting exploring assessment in universities and colleges and how technology could be used to help address some of the problems and opportunities.

This report was widely reported in the press across the UK.

Assessment is a challenge for many institutions, often resulting in attempts to fix it, but sometimes I think we need to dig deeper and re-imagine assessment as a whole.

Having discussed the coronavirus in last week’s weeknote, the situation has been escalated and the Department of Health has described the coronavirus as a “serious and imminent threat” to public health.

It comes as the government announced new powers to keep people in quarantine to stop the spread of the virus.

In order to do this the Department of Health has described the coronavirus as a “serious and imminent threat” to public health.

The overall risk level to the UK remains “moderate”.

Wednesday I was at the 18th Jisc Learning Analytics Community Event at Newman University in Birmingham. There were various talks and discussions and overall it was an interesting day.

I published a blog post about the ALT Learning Spaces SIG that happened last month.

Could we build a treehouse?

The post was liked by people.

Thursday I was in our Bristol office working on a document with colleagues. I had quite a few conversations about the Education 4.0 roadmap I am working on and how the sector needs to start thinking and preparing for both the challenges, but also the opportunities that there is with this potential view of the future.

Friday I was on leave for my son’s graduation.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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