I was working from home for a lot of the week. I had originally planned to attend Wonkfest, but some administrative technicalities meant I didn’t manage to book a place at the event and I had to glance in remotely.
Following my meeting last week in London at the Office for Students I was interested to see the following press release from them on mental health issues in higher education.
Today the Office for Students has published an Insight brief, Mental health: are all students being properly supported? Our Insight briefs give an overview of current issues and developments in higher education, drawing on the data, knowledge and understanding available to us as the regulator for universities and colleges in England. Mental health is consistently among the top concerns raised by students and the OfS has an important role in identifying systemic gaps in student support or advice. Alongside the Insight brief, we have published an analysis of access and participation data for students with declared mental health conditions.
With the rise in students reporting mental health problems, there is a real challenge in supporting these students. We know that many support service staff are seeing many more mental health emergencies compared to a few years ago. More funding for support services is of course one solution, but there is also the need to consider the well being of students overall and ensuring that those students who are at risk, are supported much earlier. Does the current structure of higher education courses contribute to well being or negatively impact on it?
A surge in anxiety and stress is sweeping UK campuses. What is troubling students, and is it the universities’ job to fix it?
We know that there is a student mental health crisis and the reasons for this aren’t necessarily clear. We know there has been increase in the demand for mental health services at universities. The article notes that there has been research into the causes of this, but lays the blame for the crisis on the way in which universities are managed and run, leading to students not being in control of what they do and saddled with debt.
A team has found that giving a human touch to chatbots like Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa may actually disappoint users.
Just giving a chatbot human name or adding human-like features to its avatar might not be enough to win over a user if the device fails to maintain a conversational back-and-forth with that person…
This reminded me of a conversation I had at an Intelligent Campus workshop where the idea of trying to make chatbots appear human was probably not a good idea, and maybe they should intentionally make their chatbot non-human.
There are potential challenges as Microsoft found out with their paper clip assistant, but was that because it was a paper clip or because it was annoying?
In many ways Clippy was the ancestor of Siri, Cortana and other modern day assistants.
A non-human chatbot could also avoid some of the gender issues that occur when deciding if your chatbot is female or male.
This Guardian article from March discusses this contentious issue, of gender for voice assistants.
Providing assistance has long been considered a woman’s role, whether virtual or physical, fictional or real. The robots that men voice, meanwhile, tend to be in positions of power – often dangerously so. Think Hal 9000, or the Terminator: when a robot needs to be scary, it sounds like a man.
Patriarchy tells us that women serve, while men order, and technology firms seem content to play into stereotypes, rather than risk the potentially jarring results of challenging them.
The article talks about EqualAI
EqualAI, an initiative dedicated to correcting gender bias in AI, has backed the creation of Q, what it says is the first genderless voice.
So if you do have a non-human chatbot, if you want to extend it to be a voice assistant, at least soon you will be able to have a genderless voice behind it.
So what (rather than who) should be your chatbot? Well it could be an anthropomorphic animal or maybe something else that is special to your university or college.
The week started off in London with a day looking at and thinking about next generation learning environments. Before I got there, as I sat on the train I thought and reflected about what we even mean when we say next generation learning environment. Are their generational changes in learning environments, as in big changes from one generation to the next? Or do they merely evolve gradually over time? Could we enable these big shifts? Do we even want big shifts?
In London we discussed a range of challenges and issues in relation to next generation learning environments. What is the future of education? Will teaching be transformed? How can create personalised adaptive learning? How do we re-imagine assessment? How do you enable a merged digital and physical learning environment? What are the foundations that need to be put into place before you can start building the infrastructure, the design, the staff development required to enable those future challenges?
In order to understand what needs to happen, we framed some questions independently, so see what commonality there was and what differences there were. This is an useful exercise when deciding that question needs to be answered.
Some of my questions included:
What does adaptive learning look like from the view of students and staff?
Is personalised learning possible? Is it desirable?
How do you enable a merged digital and physical learning environment?
What are the differences between the student experience of 2020 and that of 2030?
Wednesday morning, after some coffee, I was in the office and had an initial discussion was had about possible themes for Digifest 2020, though this event won’t be happening until March 2020, like most big events the planning started almost after the last one finished (if not just a bit before).
The afternoon was off to the University of Bristol for a meeting about the One City Bristol project, elements of which are very much in the realm of the smart city. In my previous role I did do some initial research into the various smart city initiatives across the UK and we published a smart city use case on the Intelligent Campus blog.
The interdependent challenges of growing an inclusive, sustainable city that both breaks down our social fractures and inequalities and reaches carbon neutrality sit at the heart of the future we must deliver. They are stitched throughout the plan.
In the plan there are six themes, one of which is connectivity.
The lifeblood of Bristol is connectivity. Our connectivity is considered the template for contemporary city living. Whether our people connect in person or in virtual spaces, whether they connect in their physical communities or their global communities, our city infrastructure helps bring them together. Bristol connectivity means multimodal connectivity – we designed our infrastructure around the human condition. Anchored yet free, our people are able to draw on the experience of others in their communities and peer groups, and live independently and spontaneously.
Connectivity is synonymous with productivity and Bristol is the regional epicentre of productivity. The South West Economic Region grew on the back of investment in transport and digital connectivity.
The Bristol-Cardiff high speed, high frequency rail link benefits both cities equally – time and travel no longer impinge productivity as they once did. Talent, ideas, energy and enthusiasm flow between the cities and across the region. High-speed rail links connect Bristol with other cities and when the mass transit system was completed in the 2030s, connections between Bristol, Bath, Bristol airport and North Fringe and East Fringe were complete. Our traffic management has cut congestion times and many of our deliveries are made by driverless freight vehicles.
Throughout the 2020s ultrafast broadband was rolled out without exception to social housing, businesses, in public spaces and through city Wi-Fi services. Tactile and immersive virtual and augmented realities reduce the need to travel and are commonplace at work and at home. They also bring together like-minded communities for shared social activities and entertainment.
Our city has managed bus lanes, cycle lanes, congestion controls and programmes to educate school children about safe travel. More than half the city cycles and active travel is the preferred mode of transport for many commuters. Domestic deliveries often arrive by drone. Nobody has been killed or seriously injured as a result of an avoidable road traffic accident in Bristol for years.
We strategically removed the obstacles and barriers to people connecting. The city moves on renewable energy, our people are free to create their own pathways, connected in person or virtually. Our lifeblood flows locally, regionally and globally.
This certainly is an aspiration that hopefully will come to fruition.
Following a request, based on my experience of working on the Jisc Digital Apprenticeships project, Thursday saw me working on some desk research on the current provision of Digital & Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeships across the UK.
One thing that was apparent was how “popular” this degree apprenticeship is.
Chartered manager and digital and technology solutions are the two most implemented standards across each English region, with at least 43 and 33 institutions, respectively, providing them.
You can find more information about this specific degree apprenticeship on the government’s apprenticeships website.
One of the key requirements of my role is engaging with the Office for Students and the funding they provide Jisc to support higher education. As a result I attend and participate in various meetings that enables us to demonstrate value for money for the OfS, as well as how Jisc is supporting their strategic aims.
I spent some time this week reviewing the Office for Students Strategy 2018 to 2021 and their business plan for 2019-20 in preparation for a meeting on Friday morning.
One thing that I noticed was the target to Launch and oversee a ‘what works’ centre, Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education.
The Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) will use evidence and evaluation to understand and show how higher education contributes to social justice and mobility. TASO will exist as an independent hub for higher education professionals to access leading research, toolkits, evaluation techniques and more, to help widen participation and improve equality across the student lifecycle.
It made me think about how this could be done, how it will probably be done and what the actual impact will be.
I tweeted out about the Jisc Futures R&D quarterly learnings webinar for summer 2019
R&D quarterly learnings webinar – This is the third in a series of update webinars for Jisc members to discuss the progress of our R&D work and share what we are learning during our projects.https://t.co/lG7XoFZ7g5
We had a debrief about the Agile Implementation Workshop I helped run last week. One outcome from this workshop was to run a knowledge call or workshop on using Jira for projects and business processes.
I spent part of Friday, clearing the inbox, reviewing my scrum boards and planning work for next week.
A shorter week this week, due to the Easter holiday weekend, so the week started on a Tuesday.
I spent some time reflecting and reviewing some initial discovery work that Lawrie was doing on the emergence of new communication tools and platforms. He is looking at the impact on teaching practices and the student experience, as well as what Jisc could do in this space.
I attended an update on how the project was going that is looking at how Jisc can influence the influencers.
Though I have left the Intelligent Campus project I still have some interest in that space. One aspect is voice assistants, tools such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa. I noticed some recent news articles in this space and wrote a blog post about one of the articles.
Back in January I presented at the Data Matters conference about the Intelligent Campus, I found out on Tuesday that I had been allocated an action: James Clay (Head of higher education and student experience) should work with the relevant members of the M5 group to prepare a proposal for the next Data Matters Conference. So I spent some time reviewing what this entails. The next Data Matters will take place in January 2020.
Wednesday saw me attending a debrief on and reviewing the workshop I lead last week looking at Jisc’s work in the Education 4.0 space and what others are doing in this space. We reviewed what worked well and what we would improve. We aim to run further workshops in a similar vein.
On Thursday I was in London for an Agile Implementation Workshop I am helping run.
On the train to London I skimmed Educauses’ Horizon Report, the end result was I realised how much I needed to read it in more detail. So when I got to London I printed it out , so I could annotate it.
At the workshop, I talked about reporting and also did an introductory demo of JIRA. Sometimes the value of a tool such as JIRA is not the value it adds to the individual using the tool, but the combined and added value you get when everyone in a team uses that tool. Reporting is something else that often is seen as a process between two people, but aggregated reports are valuable to a range of stakeholders in an organisation. It was a great workshop and it was nice to work with a wide range of people from across Jisc.
Friday I spent time discussing and reading about the “student journey”, the “student experience” and the “student lifecycle”. These are all terms used by different people and organisations and mean different things to different groups. I do wonder if they are similar or different things.
Lancaster use the term student journey and have mapped it out in a diagram.
This map outlines the student journey from deciding to attend Lancaster University right through to graduation.
So is the journey where the student is going to go, and the student experience is what happens when they get there?
So what of the student digital experience?
At Jisc we are developing a world-leading and holistic understanding of the student digital experience. What is the role of digital in students’ journeys into, through and out of study and into employment, as well as their interaction with a range of systems through the day. This understanding should include student wellbeing issues and the experiences of learners across different: backgrounds, modes and levels of study, subjects, types of learning provider, locations, family and work commitments, and disabilities.
What is clear is having a shared understanding across the organisation of the student digital experience.
The program will oversee the installation of third-generation Echo Dot units in all of the suites, classrooms and study rooms.
There have been many exploratory programs in this space, and it reminds me of the early days of the iPad.
There are challenges connecting devices to university networks, mainly as the consumer devices aren’t always able to be connected to a WPA2 Enterprise wireless network (such as Eduroam) but as with early days with any device, this functionality is something that is on the roadmap and can often be found as beta software.
Alexa for Business now allows organizations to connect select Echo devices managed by Alexa for Business to their corporate WPA2 Enterprise Wi-Fi network.
What we don’t know is, are these devices a fad, or are voice assistants here to stay?
news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…