Well after a week off work, it was back to work. As with a couple of weeks ago I spent the best part of the week working in our London office. It was also a shorter week as I was on leave on the Friday. London was not very busy, but I was expecting that following my previous time in London. The office was even less busy, I was the only person in the office. It was obvious that many staff were still working from home. I don’t mind working from home. There were a few articles about the shift back to office working. Whitehall was looking to remove the London weighting for staff according to this article in the Guardian.
Whitehall officials have held high-level talks about taking away a salary boost awarded to London-based civil servants amid efforts to encourage workers back to the office.
Whilst on the BBC website an article asked: Should I be working from home or going back to the office?
People in England are no longer being asked to work from home. Instead the Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recommending a “gradual return to work”. However, in the rest of the UK, people are still being advised to keep working at home where possible.
I had quite a bit of flexibility on where I worked before the pandemic, so there is less pressure to return to the office. I have been working in the office though, I like the change in scenery and routine. After eighteen months being forced to work from home, I like the option of choice. Also during the summer holidays it makes more sense for me, when working, to be away from home.
First job was to clear that inbox full of e-mail, which to be honest didn’t take too long.
We had a team wide call on Monday, which was interesting. There will be changes in the team from September (a new manager) and we have a new CEO from mid-September.
We had an interesting meeting about the evaluation of Connect More, which people seemed to enjoy and got a lot out of.
Wednesday I had an interesting review and discussion about assessment, and what Jisc can do to support the sector to transform assessment. Despite the opportunities of digital in regard to assessment, many of the issues relating to the digital transformation of assessment, are much more about the transformation of assessment, with digital just being a catalyst. What is the purpose of assessment for example.
On Thursday I had a catchup with our (newish) HR contact. In my role I have no line management responsibilities (though plenty of matrix management responsibilities). We had a great discussion and chat about how we can make that matrix management more effective and efficient going forwards. So, we can move people from one area of Jisc to another to work on projects more easily. Something that a company like Apple do quite often.
I had a useful and interesting meeting with a university talking about our Powering HE document and the possible opportunities and challenges that universities will face over the next few years.
My top tweet this week was this one.
I bet Twitter will reverse its stance on the filled unfilled follow button and we will get even more confuzzled.
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?
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.
One thing I have noticed in some presentations is that some academics will often report "their" success when an innovation in teaching works, and also "students failed to engage with it" when it doesn't work.
I had a meeting at 6pm, well 6pm in Australia, for me it was a 7am meeting on Monday morning, which though sounds horrendous, I am normally up at that time making packed lunches for my children. I was up a bit earlier so I could get those done before attending the meeting. It was bringing together colleagues from UK universities and Australian universities to compare and share about how they responded to the pandemic, but also wrapping it with what we had learnt from Learning and Teaching Reimagined. I was more of an observer in this meeting, making notes and seeking insights. One of the key insights for me was how some institutions which were set up for online learning still struggled in the lockdown and the early stages of the pandemic. It reinforces the view that the lockdown caused an emergency response to remote teaching and was not about planned online learning. The issues that arose were around staffing, who were now working remotely, as well as similar issues to in-person universities with assessment, as well as planned residentials.
Later that day we discussed the meeting and also other ways of working internationally with Learning and Teaching Reimagined.
Since the pandemic began, the seemingly mundane protocols of Zoom have become a significant part of many people’s daily lives: finding the right link, setting up the peripherals, managing the glitches and slippages in this supposedly “synchronous” form of communication. At first, of course, video conferencing was a godsend — a way that things could continue to go on with some semblance of normal. But it quickly became clear that video conferencing is not simply a substitute for face-to-face encounters. It incurs effects of its own.
This post was also discussed at the end of the week at Lawrie and Paul’s EdTech Coffee session.
I have noticed elsewhere that much of the discussion about Zoom is about how you need to do about your Zoom (or Teams) calls, maintaining eye contact, etc…
It did occur to me that actually the issue is less about how you appear on Zoom, but more about how you view others on Zoom. We need to remember that, with the diversity of setups, and even the simple fact that most people will be looking at the Zoom window and not the camera, that means virtually everyone will look distracted. I have been conscious about this, pretty much since the beginning of the pandemic (and well before) so I don’t worry about what others are doing on their cameras, whether they are on or off. Let’s focus on the important things, the reasons why we are having a Zoom call and less about bookcases and looking into cameras.
Spent much of the week on the reimagining of the HE strategy. We are ensuring that the lessons from Learning and Teaching Reimagined inform the strategy and they are aligned.
I have been having a few meetings with our content colleagues in Jisc about their work on content for teaching and learning. We know that content isn’t teaching, however it can be an important aspect of learning and teaching.
Had an operational meeting about Data Matters, the content programme is complete, now we need to get people to sign up to the event.
The US election continues to dominate Twitter though seeing less of it on the mainstream news. Saw a number of people on Twitter claiming to have won the election!
Five years ago this week myself and Lawrie were delivering the second residential of the pilot for the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme at the Holland House Hotel in the heart of Bristol. We had spent four days delivering that week. We also had some great cakes and pastries.
Even the coffee was nice. We learnt a lot from the process and spent the next few months iterating the programme, dropping and adding stuff based on the feedback we had from the pilot delegates.
Less than a year later we delivered the programme to paying delegates in Loughborough, again we reviewed what we did and adapted the programme again, before delivering to groups in Manchester, Belfast and Leicester.
In an entirely expected move, the country faced a second wave of covid-19 and as a result there is now a second lockdown in place (in England to the 3rd December. Unlike the first lockdown where universities across the UK initially unilaterally closed their campuses and sent students home, this time the Government has said universities should remain open. Despite that guidance a fair few universities have moved their provision back online as they did back in March.
It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future across the higher education sector. Back at the end of June as we started to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown I wrote a blog post wondering if we needed to worry so much about planning for online delivery for September.
In that blog post I was certainly overtly cautious about might happen.
Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.
As the weeks went by and we saw gyms, cinemas, restaurants and barbers reopen, as well as none-essential shops. I did think that by September that universities would be a good position to have relatively open campuses, face to face teaching with some elements of their programmes online. So overall creating a positive student experience. Maybe, just maybe, universities wouldn’t need to worry as much as thought they might in designing and delivering courses online in the next academic year. Then again maybe they needed to.
I also knew that covid-19 hadn’t vanished, it was still there and as the cases grew in August I did start to think that we probably would, as predicted by many scientists, that there would be a second wave. Chatting with a few people in August, it was apparent that across many universities where was still concerns about social distancing and reducing the risk of infection, so plans were still being made to deliver blended or hybrid programmes, at least until January. The local lockdowns then happening regionally, demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning.
With the return of students to university in September, sadly we saw a huge spike in cases at many universities across the UK.
Initially there were a few cases as I shared in this blog post about the situation in the middle of September. We saw major news stories on a halls of residence in Dundee, but as the week progressed more infections were being reported.
Within a week it all went crazy and I wrote about that situation in this blog post. Thousands of students across the UK were being forced to self-isolate as infections rose across the student population.
Initial press coverage was quite negative and I did write the following
So the higher education sector is facing real challenges as covid-19 infections result in self-isolation, local lockdowns and the resulting impact on learning and teaching, what they need now is support and help in working through this.
The anti-student sentiment continued, so much so, that Johnson in a press conference actually was quite sympathetic towards the student situation.
One result of the increased number of infections and self-isolation was a lot of universities were moving back to online teaching.
… the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University both said they will move more learning online. The University of Sheffield said all teaching will move online … Sheffield Hallam said it will increase the proportion of online teaching, but keep some on-campus.
Both universities (Newcastle and Northumbria) said they had extensive plans in place to support students. Earlier today they said they would move most of their teaching online in response to the outbreaks.
The two main universities in Manchester are teaching online until “at least” the end of the month after a coronavirus outbreak among students. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the University of Manchester (UM) said it was a “collaborative decision” with public health bosses and “won’t impact” on teaching quality.
The situation over the next few weeks didn’t get any better, and alas across the country as a whole, there were more cases, more hospital admissions and sadly more deaths.
At the end of October the crisis resulted in a new second national lockdown to reduce the rising cases and deaths. However unlike the first lockdown schools, colleges and universities were to remain open.
Students in cities across England could begin a mass exodus back to their families ahead of new lockdown measures coming into force on Thursday. Hilary Gyebi-Ababio, National Union of Students vice president for higher education, said students were “really wanting to go home”.
This has implications for universities which were already struggling with delivering a blended curriculum in and around strict social distancing and mask requirements. They will need to think carefully about how the curriculum will need to change if face to face teaching is no longer possible or viable. This isn’t just about the students, the teaching staff (who may be more at risk of serious complications with covid-19) may also not want to be on campus during the lockdown.
Though the Government has said that the lockdown will stop on 3rd December, if it doesn’t then that adds more uncertainty, even if it does, certain areas will remain in Tier 3.
As I have written before about implementing a hybrid curriculum will help universities deal with this uncertainty. With a hybrid course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time! Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location. Alas designing flexible, responsive, hybrid curriculum does take not just time, but also expertise. I don’t think you can easily assume staff have the relevant digital skills, capabilities and experience to design, develop and build such curriculum models. There is a lot more to this then merely providing the guidance, training and support. Where do you start for example? What works and what doesn’t? Trying to do this all during a national lockdown just creates even more headaches. I am going to review the hybrid blog post soon and publish an updated version.
We’re in an uncertain world in which the situation appears to be constantly changing creating planning headaches for universities, not just in terms of learning, teaching and assessment, but the entire student experience.
As I said back in June and again in September, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and this uncertainty looks like it is going to last sometimes.
I did think last week that this was just the beginning, when I posted my blog post about the uncertainty that the higher education sector was facing, when I noted a few stories about social distancing and isolation that was being reported in the press. I didn’t think that the story would blow up so soon!
About 40 universities around the UK have now reported coronavirus cases and thousands of students are self-isolating as the new term begins.
The University of Aberystwyth is the latest to suspend face-to-face teaching to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
At the University of Essex a cluster of cases has been linked to sports teams.
Queen’s University Belfast – some students have been told to self-isolate after a “small number” tested positive.
The University of Exeter, which has also reported a “small” number of cases.
In Wales, with much of the population in lockdown, students in many of the Welsh universities were also forced to isolate and stay in their halls. This was proving to be traumatic for many first year students, who are mainly young and for most is their first time away from the family home.
Universities are facing various welfare challenges as you might imagine, but also the challenge that as well as physical face to face delivery, those sessions now also need to be delivered online. This is a different challenge than March where all students were off campus now there is need to deliver multiple versions of the same session. In addition the rise in covid-19 infections is impacting on staff, who may now want to shield, creating additional challenges for delivery across campus and online.
As universities struggle to contain student parties, and with coronavirus outbreaks already confirmed at several campuses, many academics are afraid of face-to-face teaching. But some say managers are bullying them to return and, fearing redundancy, they feel unable to refuse.
It doesn’t help that the press coverage is rather negative and biased against the sector. The universities were told by government that they should reopen their campuses. The Government were clear about what they expect from the sector:
We will introduce new restrictions in England, but not a return to the lockdown in March; we’ll ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.
The culture secretary has defended students going back to university in England after a union labelled the situation “shambolic”. Oliver Dowden told the Andrew Marr Show it was important students did not “give up a year of their life” by not going.
Though many (if not all) universities have planned for this, it’s still a difficult situation.
This morning we saw pieces on Radio 4’s Today programme and on the television on BBC Breakfast about the crisis, didn’t help that there were a fair few inaccuracies in the reporting.
So the higher education sector is facing real challenges as covid-19 infections result in self-isolation, local lockdowns and the resulting impact on learning and teaching, what they need now is support and help in working through this.
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.
I have decided to take next week as leave, not that we’re going anywhere, but apart from the odd long weekend (bank holidays) I’ve not had any time off working since the lockdown started, actually I don’t think I’ve had leave since Christmas! I had planned to take some time off at Easter and go to London for a few days, as we had tickets for the Only Fools and Horses musical at the Royal Haymarket. I had bought tickets for my wife as a Christmas present and it was something we were all looking forward to. Then all this lockdown happened and the theatre cancelled all the performances as required by the Government.
I did consider keeping my leave, but with leading a taskforce, it was apparent that I might not have the time to take some (and where would I go).
So this week I was winding down slightly as I wanted to ensure I had done everything that people needed before I was off.
I published a blog post over the weekend about making the transition to online and to not make the assumption that though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.
If we are to make the move a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.
Monday I was undertaking the final preparations for some presentation training I am delivering on Thursday. This included printing some postcards as well as designing activities.
I took advantage of Pixabay to find images for my postcards, this is a great site for images, and due to their open licensing, you can use them in a variety of ways. Though I often attribute the site for the images I use, it’s not a requirement, so if you use them later or forget, it’s not really an issue.
Tuesday I was off to London for a meeting to discuss some future collaborative work that Jisc may undertake. What are the big challenges that HE (and FE) are facing for the future. One comment which was made I thought was interesting, was how challenging it was to get people to think about long term future challenges. Most people can identify current issues and potential near-future challenges but identifying the really big challenges that will impact education in the medium or long term, is really hard. Part of the challenge is that there are so many factors that can impact and predicting the future is thus very hard.
Reminded of this challenge of predicting the future, this week with the imminent anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago. Watching the haunting nuclear war TV film, Threads in 1984, I had no idea that the Cold War was every going to end, it looked like it would last forever and we would always be living under the threat of nuclear war. Five years later on the 9thNovember 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. I remember watching it on the news in my student accommodation, thinking, what’s happening, how is this happening? Back then we didn’t have social media, mobile phones or the web, so the only way for news to filter through was by television and newspapers. A year later we had the reunification of Germany. A year after that the USSR was dissolved. Continue reading Presenting, presenting, presenting – Weeknote #33 – 18th October 2019→
After a busy week travelling up and down last week, this week was, you’ve guessed it, more travelling and back to London for a meeting preparing for another larger meeting which is taking place next week. I am running a one hour session on Education 4.0 and what universities and colleges need to think about and start doing to aspire to the potential benefits that the fourth industrial revolution will have on learners, students and institutions.
I really like this video clip from the BBC Archive on a 1963 view of what 1988 would look like.
#OnThisDay 1963: Time on Our Hands looked back on the events that had shaped idyllic 1988, like the Russian moon landing, the rise of the mega cities of Milford Haven and Holyhead, the great tea shortage and the coming of the machines. pic.twitter.com/fRWyxVWLWC
It really demonstrates how difficult it is to predict the future. Some stuff you get right, most things you get wrong, and timeframes are really hard to judge. Part of my role is planning for a future that we can’t accurately predict. I have in the past spoken about these challenges. About the only thing we get right is that things change.
Tuesday I was flying up to Edinburgh, I was intending to go to our Bristol office, but the meeting I was going to attend was cancelled, so in the end I spent the morning working from home.
I was intrigued to see the changes to Bristol Airport as I think the last time I flew from Bristol was well over a year ago. Some of the restaurants have changed hands and there are some new ones as well. I did quite like how there was a big seating area for the Starbucks so I could get some work done whilst I was waiting for my flight. I was slightly annoyed that I was charged an extra 5p for having a paper cup. I don’t actually disagree with the concept of charging extra, it was that I didn’t have a choice. I would have actually preferred a proper china cup. I didn’t realise so I hadn’t brought with me my reusable cup either. Should note there are also water fountains to fill reusable water bottles.
From the airport I caught the tram to the centre of Edinburgh where my hotel was.
It’s a pity that the tram network in Edinburgh never got further than it did. It had huge potential. It certainly makes life much easier now travelling from the Airport to the city centre.
I really like the architecture and buildings in Edinburgh, the buildings have a certain darkness and charm about them.
It was an early morning meeting in Edinburgh, so I was glad I had spent the night before in a hotel. We were meeting with the Scottish Funding Council who part fund Jisc’s work, and it was time to provide an update and progress against our plans.
It was then back to Edinburgh airport for the flight home. I spent way too long at the airport, waiting for my plane. I think next time I do this, I should plan better and do something, or meet people.
On the subject of change, on September 18th 2007, twelve years ago I was working in Gloucester and I took some photographs around the docks area including this one of the boarded up offices.
It may have been a pub or hotel at one point. I was curious what it looked like today, especially as the whole area was part of a major development since 2007. So using Google Street View I found it had changed quite dramatically.
It’s now a Bills restaurant, but I was amazed by the restoration and development of the building, the only constant is change
Thursday I decided to work from home and caught up with correspondence and reading the numerous memos that were in my in-tray… otherwise known as trawling through my email inbox.
Friday I was back in the Bristol office for various meetings and discussions.
The city centre saw a huge demonstration in support of stopping climate change and the passion an enthusiasm was plain to see.
I spent some time working on the Education 4.0 roadmap notes in preparation for a meeting next week.