Jim Dickinson and Rosie Hunnam interrogate the student opportunities lost to the pandemic, and gather intel on what it would take to build them, and the student community they support, back higher.
This reflects a lot of conversations I have been having over the last few weeks on the importance of building student communities across the current covid-19 restrictions in place. Too often universities assume students can build their own online communities, but discussions with students reflect that this more than not doesn’t happen. Even where it does, it is often based on previous in-person communities. Going forward with potentially restrictions still in place in September, the importance of community building is there and how you do this online is still a real challenge.
After a range of virtual events, meetings, lectures, etc, often the last thing we need is more screen time on a virtual coffee break.
On Tuesday I was along with Doug Parkin and Lawrie Phipps presenting a a session on digital for a Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders. I was mainly talking about how to look at and embed digital into strategy. It was a good session.
On Wednesday I presented to the DigiLearn community about Learning and Teaching Reimagined.
This seemed to go down well with the attendees.
The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has shared outcomes of their work to explore the links between good practice in digital pedagogy and improved student engagement, progression and achievement.
The next online session within learning and teaching reimagined will explore how you can encourage digital innovation across the learning and teaching spectrum, providing the opportunity to share examples of good and emerging practice in facilitating, developing and mainstreaming digital innovation.
Share and discuss thoughts and ideas on practical steps to encourage innovation in learning and teaching through the use of digital technologies and share exemplars of what has been working within the institutional environment.
I published another blog post in my translation series, this time on community and the challenges in translating the process of community building amongst student cohorts that usually occurs when they start a course, which may not happen if part or substantial parts of a course are delivered online. Back in March I wrote a blog post on building communities.
I wrote a short piece for our media team on approaches to blended learning.
I was on leave on Thursday, though I didn’t miss the huge uproar about the A Level results.
There is anger among schools, colleges and students, after nearly 40% of A-level grades awarded on Thursday were lower than teachers’ predictions.
How did France grade its Covid-19 impacted students? They took the average of first and second term marks, always rounding “up” and creating 10 000 extra university places. No negative algorithms were used.
The BBC published a couple of pieces this week about how university could be for new students this year.
With A-levels results day out of the way, students across the UK will have a better idea of their future plans. But what will the university experience be like for “freshers” at what should be one of the most exciting times of their lives? Swansea University said plans to keep students safe include “bubbles” among flatmates, which means a ban on parties or having people over to stay.
There are 137 universities in the UK, and 89 out of 92 of those which replied to a Universities UK survey will provide some in-person teaching next term. This will be part of a “blended approach” to teaching and learning, with many universities announcing that lectures will be given online.
I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In this post I am starting to look at some of the issues that will impact on the wider student experience, starting with the concept of community.
What do we even mean by community? Well if we look at a dictionary definition we get something like this:
a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
The student community is not a static or defined group. Students will come together because they are in the same cohort, studying the same subject, sometimes because they live on the same floor of a halls of residence, they are members of a sports team or a student society. Students will be members a range of intersecting and discrete communities. They will join and leave them over the time of their study. Some will go dormant for a while and then emerge from hibernation as the need for them arises. Communities rarely have a common purpose or aim, which is the domain of groups more than communities.
When a cohort of students study a particular subject or a module they will often become a community, as they have the course as acommon characteristic. Students will interact with each, not just in class, but also before the session and afterwards. They will meet up in organised informal sessions, but they may also meet up happenstance and conversations and discussions will ensure. The community will grow and be sustained by more than what happens in the formal learning activities. Staff will rarely need to intervene or engage in fostering that community. Even if there is no real learning community within that cohort, this isn’t all bad, as likely the students will be members of other communities on campus.
So why are communities important? Well for many students, the social aspect of learning is a real motivatorthat supports their learning. Supporting each other as they study, helping each other, motivating each other, learning from each other. Learning communities often enable students to stay engaged with a programme and succeed in their studies. Take it away and learning can become much more isolating and challenging.
With an online or hybrid programme of study, much of the building and developing of community is lost. There is no informal way to have a coffee and a chat before an online lecture in the same way that happens before a lecture in a physical space. Students will turn on their computers, listen to the lecture, engage in the course discussion and then, more than likely they will turn off Zoom or Teams and that’s that! They may not even want to stay online or in front a computer after an intense online session. Happenstance virtually disappears, whereas you probably will bump into other students from your cohort in the library, the computer lab or even the coffee place. This just doesn’t happen online in the same way. True you might bump into another student on Facebook or Twitter, but this is not the same kind of thing at all.
Another aspect that will be missing in the autumn with hybrid and online programmes is that initial get together at the start of term will not happen, or will be limited in scope due to social distancing. So the chance of a community forming, even online, is diminished even further.
Being part of a community can support the wellbeing of students and help them when they meet challenges in their learning and other aspects of the student experience. Remove that community and students may find themselves isolated and without support.
One of the key aspects of building an online community is that it takes time and effort. Much of the nuances of community building that happens on the physical campus is just missing from the online environments that teaching and learning takes place. It will be simple things like, chatting whilst waiting for the previous class to finish, or waiting for the room to be opened and the session started. It will be going for coffee in the break between sessions. Walking back to halls after a long day studying. Going to the library together to find resources and work on assessments. Meeting up later in the evening or at the weekend socially. These things happen and are part of how communities form, build and cement themselves. You can’t just recreate these kinds of activities online, it just doesn’t work in the same way.
You can imagine learners who have spent an hour in an online seminar staring at a screen, are not going to want to continue to stare at a screen on a virtual coffee break, they will probably want a “proper” coffee break, they may want to get some fresh air… As a result translating those things and activities that happen when communities form in the physical environment into online versions will just not work.
Academic staff rarely need to immerse themselves in the process of community building, they can generally leave the students to do this themselves.
This is something that higher education institutions who have delivered a range of online programmes for years know about. Staff teaching on these programmes realised they needed to create, develop and foster learning communities online to enable students to get that positive impact that they would easily achieve in a physical face to face situation.
You have to transform the process of community building and use different activities to enable that process to happen. This can mean encouraging informal activities to take place online, maybe even replacing some sessions to ensure students are not spending all their time online. Make the most of asynchronous activities, such as informal discussion forums. Create opportunities for non-course related discussion through sharing photographs, favourite films, etc…
Recognise that an online community is not the same as a physical community, it is not constrained by geography or time. This means communities can be more than just the university, it could be much wider.
So what things are you doing to build online communities with your students? What are you planning to do when term starts this autumn?
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.
So after a lovely week off, taking a break from work including a lovely cycle ride to Brean, I was back in the office on Monday, well not quite back in our office, more back at my office at home. So it was back to Zoom calls, Teams meetings and a never ending stream of e-mails.
My week started off with a huge disappointment, I lost the old Twitter…
Back in August 2019 I wrote a blog post about how to use Chrome or Firefox extensions to use the “old” Twitter web interface instead of the new Twitter interface. Alas, as of the 1st June, changes at Twitter has meant these extensions no longer work and you are now forced to use the new Twitter! When you attempt to use them you get an error message.
I really don’t like the “new” web interface, it will take some time getting use to it, might have to stick to using the iOS app instead.
Most of Monday I was in an all day management meeting, which as it was all via Zoom, was quite exhausting. We did a session using Miro though, which I am finding quite a useful tool for collaborating and as a stimulus for discussion. At the moment most of the usage is replicating the use of physical post-it notes. I wonder how else it can be used.
The virtual nature of the meeting meant that those other aspects you would have with a physical meeting were lost. None of those ad hoc conversations as you went for coffee, or catching up over lunch. We only had a forty minute late lunch break, fine if lunch is provided, more challenging if you not only need to make lunch for yourself, but also for others…
Some lessons to be learned there!
Monday was also the day that schools (which had been open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children already) were supposed to re-open for reception, years one and six. However in North Somerset with the covid-19 related closure of the local hospital in Weston-super-Mare, this meant that the “re-opening” was cancelled at the last minute, with some parents only been informed on Sunday night! Since then the plan is to go for re-opening on the 8thJune, now that the covid-19 problem at the hospital has been resolved. Continue reading What should we do, what can we do? – Weeknote #66 – 5th June 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
At the weekend we went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. The first time I went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour was in 2015, just after they had added the Hogwarts Express and Kings Cross set to the tour. We made a return visit, mainly to see how different it was dressed for Christmas and with snow. Last time we were in the foyer waiting to go in, suspended from the ceiling was the magical flying Ford Anglia. This time there was a dragon!
The week started off in London for my Jisc Senior TEL Group meeting. This is an invited meeting in which we discuss various issues and technologies relating to teaching and learning. We had an informative discussion in the morning on curriculum analytics, what it is, what it isn’t, what it could be used for and some of the serious and challenges in analysing the curriculum. In the afternoon we were discussing some of the challenges relating to Education 4.0 and what the potential issues are in relation to preparing for the future that may be Education 4.0. Continue reading Netflixisation, is that even a word? – Weeknote #40 – 6th December 2019→
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.