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.
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.
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.
At the weekend, in Bristol, the statue of Edward Colston was pulled down by protesters and dumped into the water of the Bristol Docks. There was real anger about the “celebration” of a man who made his fortune by buying and selling people. It’s vitally important that as a society we learn from the lessons of history, but my opinion, aligns with David Olusoga, statues do not teach history, they celebrate the lives of those they represent. If we want to retain such statues, then we should put them in a museum and put them in context.
Fish Colston out of the harbour. Put him in a museum. Dented and spray painted – memorialise him alongside what happened today. The existing plinth can be used for artists. Featuring those making art about unity & solidarity. Especially artists of colour who have been overlooked.
Though the R factor for the coronavirus is decreasing elsewhere in the UK, here in the South West it’s 1.0 which means that though the rate of infection is not rising exponentially, it also isn’t declining. In theory I can go to the office in Bristol next week, if I really need to work there and can get there easily by foot or cycle. Well I think I will be working from home again next week.
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.
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.
Really enjoyed reading @jamesclay's ideas for creating new learning spaces. Thinking beyond the classroom is crucial these days but unfortunately not a priority in most universities. We really need to reflect more on how students learn. https://t.co/CjeqXBea59
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.
It was a much busier week this time, with a lot more travelling, including trams, planes, trains, buses, cars and walking. At least the weather wasn’t too bad, but there was certainly some rain and wind about.
Monday I was in Wales for one of Jisc’s Stakeholder Forums. It was interesting to talk to colleagues form universities and colleges about how they felt about Jisc and the services we provide them. I really enjoyed the session delivered by my colleague on big challenges and co-design and on my table we had a really insightful and interesting discussion about a Netflix style model for education.
We spent Saturday visiting Longleat Safari Park and the weather was great. However on Monday I was, as a result of a last minute change, off to London, I had intended to catch the train, but due to problems with our online travel system (affecting just me it appears) meant that in the end I drove to London.
My diary that day included a relatively early morning conference call. So I stopped at the services, and with only a minute to spare, missed getting coffee and I took the call sitting in my car over 4G. The connection was pretty good and the video I was getting was quite high quality so all was well. I was quite pleased not to have to do the call on the train, as previous experience has shown that generally it works, but too many tunnels and blackspots means that participating in a conference call (especially with video) can be problematic and a bit of a nightmare. I rarely drive to London, usually I take the train, so I parked in West London and took the tube to the office, just in time for my second conference call.
I was in London to meet with the Consultant who had undertaken the University of Hertfordshire Value Study back in May prior to a presentation later in the week.
Tuesday I was off to our office in Bristol. I had no meetings, but my colleague Lawrie was down in Bristol so it was a good chance to catch up and see what was happening in his area.
He is organising an event at Keele, I was intending to attend the event, alas I now have to be in London on that date.
This one day event will explore the use of Microsoft Teams to support learning and teaching practices in universities, and the ways in which students want to communicate, collaborate and learn in a modern university.
In the podcast, John Cartwright, director of computing services at the University of Liverpool, talks about how his team are improving the student experience and saving staff time with technology. In the episode we explore the world of data, looking at how better use of it can transform teaching and power technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence.
However the key message I wanted people to take from the discussion is that, transformation is about people first.
Wednesday I was presenting in front of the Jisc Board on Education 4.0 and what universities and colleges need to do to start down the road to the vision which is Education 4.0. Is say presenting the majority of the session was an activity discussing the issues and themes of Education 4.0.
As with the podcast the key feedback from the Board was the importance of the human element when it comes transformation.
I think the challenge we face in preparing for a roadmap, is the expectation that the roadmap delivered will be complete. If we knew what was needed and what was going to happen, then I suspect we would either a) already have a roadmap or b) not need one! So the first phase for the roadmap is researching and developing the roadmap. I did think should we even be using the term “roadmap”?
Thursday I spent some time reading the Advance HE report, On the Horizon.
This report focuses on the perceptions of change and challenge for the learning and teaching agenda in higher education (HE) providers around the world over the next five to ten years. A selection of people with executive or senior leadership roles in both the UK and overseas were interviewed about the challenges their institutions faced.
There was one section on evidence of effective practice, which reminded me of a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago.
In the report it states there is a lukewarm enthusiasm for change in teaching practices.
This is something we covered on the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme about change.
Part of the challenge, according to the report, is a lack of interest.
Some colleagues express worry about a general lack of interest in pedagogy from academics more comfortable with the established practices of their particular discipline.
But others show a definitive lack of faith in the evidence, because it is often based on small-sample studies.
Others wonder whether the quality of such research really matches up to the high standards expected elsewhere, not least because the research findings often derive from small-sample studies.
However all is not lost…
Many think there are real opportunities now for a step-change in pedagogy and improved student learning: ‘it’s time to start thinking much more seriously about the collective will for real pedagogical innovation and how it can be sustained.’
Friday I had a couple of online meetings and spent a fair amount of time developing the assessment criteria for one of our Technical Career Pathway paths.
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.
Monday I was off to our Bristol office. There was quite a bit of disruption across the city with Extinction Rebellion demonstrating across the centre.
I was into the office to deliver some training on Jira for personal use. Though Jira and Confluence make great tools for projects I have been using it myself over the last few years to manage my work and individual projects.
As the main focus was on productivity, we did discuss manging e-mail and tasks. I use an Inbox Zero approach that I discovered back in 2007 when listening to a podcast.
I recently wrote two blog posts on Inbox Zero on my tech stuff blog, the first I discuss how I deal with e-mail.
Confluence is a wiki platform for creating documentation and some companies even use it for their actual website. Jira is an issue tracking system. You can embed macros in Confluence that can show details about your Jira issues.
I did manage to get out of the office and get a coffee at a new coffee place that has opened this year.
This week on my technology stuff blog I published a post about a QR Code which failed to work ten years ago with a specialised QR Code reader on my iPhone 3GS, but worked fine with the in-built QR Code reader in the iPhone 8 camera.
In the next few weeks I have a fair few meetings in London, so I have been booking travel and hopefully it will be slightly cooler than recently, as travelling in this heat is a real nightmare.
Last week I followed my colleague, Lawrie, on Twitter as he attended an event on Microsoft Teams.
“ #MicrosoftTeams is not a VLE/LMS replacement – why would we replace like for like” my reading? “We want to be something different, but we think we are a learning environment.” Just my feeling about what I am hearing and seeing.
I could argue various points, but these are my early thoughts. I’m remaining engaged with Microsoft Teams, I’m looking to see if this can be a “Digital Ecosystem” as we envisaged during the Co-design work.
I have always seen the VLE as a concept more than an individual product and I do like the term “Digital Ecosystem” as it kind of describes that viewpoint. If you say VLE or LMS then people think of products such as Blackboard, Canvas or Moodle. For me the VLE was something more than an individual product, it was a series of ways of working online using a range of online tools and services that were inter-connected. Teams is one such tool that can be connected into such a VLE concept.
Facial recognition was again in the news, this time the The House of Commons Science and Technology committee expressed their concerns on the technology.
The police and other authorities should suspend use of automatic facial recognition technologies, according to an influential group of MPs. The House of Commons Science and Technology committee added there should be no further trials of the tech until relevant regulations were in place. It raised accuracy and bias concerns.
Also this week everyone was talking about FaceApp with lots of different news outlets reporting on the app and concerns people had about it. There was concerns about the biased algorithim that the app used to make people “hot” was in fact racist. There was worry over privacy and security over the use of images and even if there was Russian collusion! Of course some people thought it was all a bit of fun!
My top tweet this week was this one.
With the introduction of the new @GWRHelp IET trains we now have these wonderful HST 125 trains as our local commuter services around Bristol and North Somerset. Ace. pic.twitter.com/R2fjBrVavo
I was reminded today by Amazon Photos that twelve years ago in 2007 I had attended a Jisc (or should that be JISC) Pedagogy Experts Group meeting in Bristol.
I did blog about the meeting. This was one of the first blog posts I wrote for this blog, but I had been blogging for a few years on my old Western Colleges Consortium blog.
The meeting brought together people from across the UK.
The aim of the meeting is to inform the group of the current issues and investigations into many of the JISC e-learning Learners’ Experience projects, also to consult the experts own expertise in relation to learners’ experiences.
It was not a meeting, much more a discussion and not a series of presentations with a few questions.I was on a panel in the afternoon looking at how can we help to meet learners’ changing needs and expectations.
I remember one session, where we were split into groups, and we were discussing learner experiences. We were challenged to provide feedback using a single PowerPoint slide. I decided that this didn’t give us much choice, so myself and Alistair McNaught decided to give our feedback as a rap. I used Garageband on the Mac and provided the background drums and music, and Alistair did the rapping. Luckily for everyone it wasn’t recorded, so the rap is now merely a memory….
Another Monday and another day back in London. The weather was awful, it’s June, it’s supposed to be dry and sunny, but all I had on Monday was rain and then more rain.
Tuesday was going to see me flying off early to Edinburgh for a meeting on Wednesday, however a last minute cancellation, meant that I changed my travel plans. I was also supposed to be going to our Harwell office on Friday, but that meeting was cancelled as well.
We had a short meeting about place, I mentioned in a previous weeknote about the Bristol One City project.
Having more time this week, enabled me to crack on with some reading and writing, as well as reflection about future events and meetings I am attending. I was reading and reviewing a range of internal documents.
One document I reviewed again was the government’s EdTech Strategy.
For me some key areas need further discussion and development, how does technology support learning and teaching and the importance of digital leadership (which is not quite the same thing as leadership).
Friday saw us discussing the usage of Teams in higher education as a… Well I was going to say replacement for the VLE, but that implies that the VLE is one thing and Teams is another thing, but they are not the same thing.
I have always thought of the VLE as more of a concept rather than a specific product. A virtual learning environment (VLE) can have a range of functions and services. Certain products and fulfil some of these functions, others may plug into the product or live alongside it. So you could have Moodle as your core within your VLE, but have WordPress connected in to provide a blogging platform and Mahara to be the portfolio tool.
Microsoft Teams has many functions that enable it to be used as a core of the VLE, into which other functions could be connected or plugged in. It has all the functions you expect from a VLE or LMS, such as content, communication (individual and group) and assessment.
The Apps ecosystem certainly enables a much wider range of functions, though certainly apps and functions appear to be “missing”.
Microsoft Teams is the digital hub that brings conversations, content, and apps together in one place. Create collaborative classrooms, connect in professional learning communities, and communicate with all staff – all from a single experience in Office 365 Education.
There are already universities and colleges out in the sector using Teams as their VLE, I am interested in not just who is using Teams as their VLE, but also how they are using it, and how embedded it is into practice.
One of the feature of Amazon Photos which I use to back up my digital image archive is it shows what photographs you took on the same date in previous years.
Twelve years ago in 2007 I was drinking coffee at my desk in the old Gloucestershire College Brunswick building in the heart of Gloucester Anyone else remember BBC Jam?
Fifteen years ago this week I was taking photographs of a building site to demonstrate the differences between a range of digital cameras.
This photograph was taken with a Sony Cybershot camera.
This one was taken with the digital photo feature of a digital video camera.\
This was taken with a Canon EOS 300D DSLR.
I also used a proper DSLR lens with optical zoom to show the difference between optical and digital zoom.
This was taken from the same location as the photos above.
My top tweet this week was this one.
Ooh the outside of the WHSmith in Weston-super-Mare looking very nice. Re-opens on Monday, looking inside though, not much has changed they still have the same @WHS_Carpetpic.twitter.com/Gy1UMc2WMx