Tag Archives: coronavirus

..and then the proverbial hit the fan!

girl with mask
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

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!

Last week we saw stories emanating from Scotland that students were having positive tests for Covid-19 and hundreds of students were being asked to self-isolate for fourteen days. The impact of coronavirus restrictions on the student experience were starting to surface, from the students breaching social distancing at an open air cinema at Exeter to Abertay in Dundee in Scotland where hundreds of students are being told to isolate.

After Dundee came Glasgow with a major Covid outbreak at Glasgow University seeing 600 students self-isolate. This was then reported in more depth and more widely – ‘We came all this way to start a new life’: the misery of Glasgow’s lockdown freshers.

University of Glasgow
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

I did think that with Scottish universities starting term earlier than their English counterparts that we would start to see similar stories in England within the next two weeks.

I think we will start to see a rise in incidents in England, as Scottish universities start earlier so English universities are a few weeks behind.

Well it happened in the next two days, as well as more stories coming out of Scotland, we started to see similar stories in England, with hundreds of Manchester students locked down after 127 Covid cases and students ‘scared and confused’ as halls lock down.

Up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University and hundreds at other institutions, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are self-isolating following Covid-19 outbreaks.

It’s being reported by the BBC that forty universities are reporting coronavirus cases.

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.

Wonkhe goes into more detail about what is happening at universities right now, and why?

What is going on? If you’ve not been following what has been going over the summer, or you are bewildered as to why we are in this situation, David Kernohan takes you through the basics.

lecture theatre
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

The Guardian was reporting on the pressures being put onto staff: UK universities ‘bullying’ junior staff into face-to-face teaching.

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.

This was reinforced by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden who defended students’ university return.

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.

However despite the challenges, it hasn’t stopped stories like this appearing: Police break up parties at Edinburgh student halls. Which places the blame on the students.

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.

Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

After a lovely weekend (well Sunday) in Lynmouth it was back to work on Monday. Well back to the desk in my house. The office, not so much.

The coronavirus figures have started to creep back up, so we’ve been put into a new lockdown of sorts. Schools are remaining open, but people are been asked to work from home.

Met with my sector strategy colleagues on Tuesday and gave us a chance to catch up and chat about what we’ve been up to and what’s coming up.

Spent time working on a structure for the Data Matters 2021 conference. This conference is usually a physical face to face event, however, as might be expected with coronavirus, this time we will be running it as an online conference. This now only throws up some challenges, but also provides a range of opportunities. In addition to the structure I have been working on the types of sessions that could be run. As well as traditional sessions such as online presentations, I have been thinking about different kinds of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. I’ve also been wondering about pre and post conference sessions as well.

TV
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Continue reading Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

More uncertainty

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

This week we saw new Covid measures put into place across the UK to try and reverse the increase in coronavirus infections over the last few weeks. The impact of these coronavirus restrictions on the student experience is starting to surface, from the students breaching social distancing at an open air cinema at Exeter to Abertay in Dundee in Scotland where hundreds of students are being told to isolate.  Public health officials at NHS Lothian were investigating a coronavirus cluster at Edinburgh Napier University’s Bainfield student accommodation. A number of people tested positive and  contacts were being traced and told to isolate for two weeks. But the university remained open though, with students and staff who haven’t been asked to self-isolate have been told to attend as normal.

This must be causing challenges for universities as they respond to new restrictions and need to adapt their curriculum delivery models as a result, as well as ensuring the wellbeing of those students affected.

The Government are 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.

It was back in June I wrote a blog post asking if we needed to worry so much about the immediate future. Then, things were starting to look a little more positive. 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. However 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.

Then in August I discussed the uncertainty that the higher education sector were facing was causing real challenges for planning and preparation.

Chatting with a few people, 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 recent local lockdowns now happening regionally, has demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning. Though we may see a national lockdown if there is a critical second wave, the current thinking from government appears to be to control local spikes with local lockdowns.

At the time of writing that post, universities were concerned about falling student numbers, expecting many students to defer for a year. Then we had the exams algorithm fiasco, so suddenly universities which were worrying about not enough students, faced having more students than they planned for, with more students then places achieving the required grades. This has caused additional planning headaches for many universities, combined with putting in safeguards for social distancing.

2m
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So now we’re in a new, but just as, uncertain place where we have new restrictions, local lockdowns and the threat of a second wave which could result in a second national lockdown.

This uncertainty means that universities will still need to be responsive in how they deal with the various restrictions that are in place, but also responding to pockets of infection and isolation of parts of their student population.

I have written about implementing a hybrid curriculum that could help universities deal with these new levels of 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), students self-isolating then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

This needs to be more than the emergency response we saw in March and April and universities have recognised this and undertake huge amounts of effort and work to ensure that courses are better orgaised and planned. Their students will be expecting more than simple translation of physical face to face sessions to remote online formats. The online sessions need to be reflect the fact they are online and not in a physical space.

Alas designing flexible, responsive, hybrid curriculum does take not just time, but also expertise. Term has started, so time is limited. 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? There are subject and cohort differences. A model that fits one university, may for various reasons not fit another.

Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay
Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Another big issues for universities will be dealing with the non-academic side of student life, for those who are self-isolating. Back in March students were told to go home, now they are being told so self-isolate in their accommodation. There are questions there about how they will get food and will they cook, can they still use shared kitchens? It’s one thing to be in the family home, another to be stuck in a single room in halls. How are you going to support student wellbeing in such an environment. Then there is the issue of non-compliance, how will universities deal with that? Will they want to?

As I said back in August, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.

Culturally sound – Weeknote #80 – 11th September 2020

I started the week working through what I needed to do, and adding them as tasks to my JIRA boards. I had moved away from JIRA for task setting, as I was mainly working within Teams, but started to feel as my work widened that I needed some way of keeping up to date with what needed to be done. I use a combination of JIRA, Confluence and now Teams to ensure stuff that needs to be done gets done.

At the start of this week I was reading Sally Brown’s Wonkhe article on the start of term, The first weeks may be critical for the 2020 cohort.

First year students at UK universities will be imminently beginning some kind of an on-campus experience this year. It will be unlike anything they, or staff working in HEI,s have ever experienced.

I was reminded of my post on community I wrote last month on how community will be difficult to build in bubbles and on hybrid courses.

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.

Did some internal work on our culture programme ready for an internal workshop I am participating in next week. I’ve always thought describing the culture is part of the challenge, and a shared understanding of those descriptions. Also then following up with more detailed expectations of the ways in which staff work and how the organisation will support this.

I remember in a previous culture and behaviours session I asked about the following statement which describes demonstrating a behaviour based on trust.

I keep people informed

I think one of the challenges with culture change, first what does this mean and importantly what does it look like? One person’s keeping people informed is very likely not going to be the same as someone else’s perspective. So should we describe what this looks like so that staff are aware of expectations about keeping people informed. Also what support will the organisation need to provide to enable this, to make it happen and importantly keeping it happening?

Culture change is challenging, but it needn’t be slow.

So there I was digging through some archives across various websites looking mainly old photographs when I came across this photograph of me on the Cambridge News website. Continue reading Culturally sound – Weeknote #80 – 11th September 2020

I am working, I may be at home, but I really am working – Weeknote #79 – 4th September 2020

Shorter week due to a Bank Holiday in England, the weather wasn’t up to much.

I wrote a piece about the reality of robots. The premise of the article was that:

When we mention robots we often think of the rabbit robots and Peppa robot that we have seen at events. As a result when we talk about robots and education, we think of robots standing at the front of a class teaching. However the impact that robotics will have on learning and teaching will come from the work being undertaken with the robots being used in manufacturing and logistics.

The draft of the article was based on conversations and some research I had done over the last few years. This was an attempt to draw those things together, as well as move the discussion about robots in education away from toy robots which are great for teaching robotics, but how robots could and may impact the future of learning and teaching.

I remember in one job when we bought a Peppa robot, in the support of teaching robotics. One of my learning technologists asked if the team could get one. We then had a (too) long discussion on why would be need a robot and how it would enhance learning and teaching in subjects other than robotics? The end consensus was more that it was cool. This was a real example of the tech getting in the way of the pedagogy.

Peppa

It’s September, so schools and colleges are back this week, operating in a totally different way to what they were doing just six months ago.

At my children’s secondary school, the students will now remain in the same room throughout the day and it will be the teachers who move from room to room. Each child will have a designated desk which they will sit in each day for at least the first term, if not the rest of the academic year. It won’t be like this at colleges and universities, but restrictions will still need to be in place to mitigate the risk of infection.

There has been quite a bit of discussion online and in the press about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work. Hello? Hello? Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home! The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.

Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.

I wrote more thoughts on this on my tech and productivity blog.

video chat
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

I read an article on The Verge this week which sparked my interest.

These students figured out their tests were graded by AI — and the easy way to cheat

I posted the link to the article to the Twitter (as I often do with links) and it generated quite a response.

Didn’t go viral or cause a Twitterstorm, but the article got people thinking about the nature of assessment and marking, with the involvement of AI. I wrote a blog post about this article, my tweet and the responses to it.

There was a new publication from Jisc that may be of interest to those looking at digital learning, Digital learning rebooted.

This report highlights a range of responses from UK universities, ranging from trailblazing efforts at University of Northampton with its embedded ‘active blended learning’ approach, to innovation at Coventry University which is transforming each module in partnership with learning experience platform Aula. The University of Leeds, with its use of student buddies, and University of Lincoln’s long-standing co-creation work are notable for their supportive student-staff approaches. University of York, however, focused on simplicity in the short term and redesign longer-term. The University of the West of Scotland is also focusing on developing a community-based hybrid learning approach for the new year.

I am going teach, was a blog post I wrote about the nature of teaching in this new landscape.

The Office for Students are reviewing the challenges the sector faced during the Covid-19 pandemic and are calling for evidence.

This call for evidence is seeking a wide breadth of sector input and experience to understand the challenges faced, and lessons learned from remote teaching and learning delivery since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020.

The OfS are looking to see what worked and what has not worked. What will work in the future and what about the student experience in all of this.

I was quoted a few times in this article, How digital transformation in education will help all children.

As many teachers and learners have discovered recently, Zoom fatigue, that that needs to be accounted for when designing curriculums. “You need to design an effective online curriculum or blended curriculum that takes advantage of the technology and opportunities it offers, but likewise doesn’t just bombard people with screentime that actually results in a negative impact on their wellbeing,” says Clay.

I also mentioned connectivity.

“As soon as you took away the kind of connectivity and resources you find on campus, it became a real challenge to be able to connect and stay connected,” says James Clay, head of higher education and student experience at Jisc.

This was something that was echoed in a recent survey on digital poverty from the OfS.

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, 52 per cent of students said their learning was impacted by slow or unreliable internet connection, with 8 per cent ‘severely’ affected.

The survey also found the lack of a quiet study space was also impacting on the student experience.

71 per cent reported lack of access to a quiet study space, with 22 per cent ‘severely’ impacted

Friday was full of meetings, which made for a busy day.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Remembering – Weeknote #78 – 28th August 2020

Writing
Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

Spent the best part of the week writing and reviewing documents.

Over the weekend I thought this Wired article, The UK’s universities are bracing for a coronavirus train wreck, was an interesting read.

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.

The most important thing in all this unfortunate story is to focus on the thousands of students whose life chances were put at risk through the algorithm.  Continue reading Remembering – Weeknote #78 – 28th August 2020

U-turning – Weeknote #77 – 21st August 2020

Cineworld

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.

Also over the weekend we saw more articles on what the future of university will be when the new term starts this autumn. A couple caught my eye, including this one from the BBC News: What will university be like for freshers this year?

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.

And if that wasn’t enough to think about, on Monday the debacle about the A Level results continued to rumble on.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to let teacher-assessed grades stand in England to avoid a second wave of exams chaos hitting GCSE results this week.

Continue reading U-turning – Weeknote #77 – 21st August 2020

Lost in translation: discussion

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In previous posts I looked at the lecture and the seminar, in this one I want to focus on the nature of  discussion.

Group discussion
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

One of the things I have noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version, some have called this practice mirroring. As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

In the physical face to face student experience, discussion is a core aspect of the learning process.

Discussion happens in formal and informal learning situations. It is part of the teaching and learning process within learning spaces, it happens as part of feedback and reflection. Students discuss their learning with their peers as well as with the staff who teach them Before the crisis, though a lot of this discussion took place physically face to face, some also took place online, as well as via technologies such as phone and text. In the current landscape, most discussion will now take place online with some limited social distanced discussion happening in physical spaces. In this post I am going to focus more on group discussion.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

When we move discussions online, you need to ensure that people have a chance to contribute to the discussion and ask questions, as well as ensuring that they can be answered. Simply moving a discussion that would have happened in a physical space to an online video conference tool such as Zoom or Teams may not translate easily or even be effective.

From an educational perspective, you will want to bring in everyone into the discussion, so that they are engaged in the learning process. This can be simpler in a physical face to face sessions as you can see who might be disengaged. With an online live discussion using a tool such as Teams you won’t necessarily be able to “see” everyone and some students may not want to have their video on for various reasons. We know some students don’t have the necessary kit for video conferencing, or they may not want to share the environment in which they are broadcasting from. As a result not been able to see everyone can make it challenging to see who is engaging and who isn’t.

Sometimes the “obvious” answer isn’t the right answer. Making sure everyone has their video turned on, isn’t going to be practical and some tools such as Teams don’t actually show all the video feeds anyhow. Even with a tool such as Zoom, the video feeds might be too small to be able to ascertain who is engaged and who isn’t. As we know if they are looking at their computer screen, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually engaged with the conversation!

So trying to translate a discussion into an online version can be challenging and fraught with difficulties and may not necessarily engage all the students into the process. So how do you, and how could you translate a one hour discussion into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that discussion and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

Merely translating that one hour discussion  into a one hour Teams or Zoom session probably works fine for many if udertaken in isolation. However it’s not just an hour, students may also be involved in other online seminars, Zoom lectures, live video streams and more online content. This can be exhausting for those taking part, but also we need to remember that in this time there are huge number of other negative factors impacting on people’s wellbeing, energy and motivation. People may not be able to participate in synchronous sessions, they may have childcare or other dependents they need to look after, they may be other household challenges.

Running an online video discussion, is a different experience to doing a face to face discussion. It can be harder to read the visual cues that we take for granted when listening and speaking. It’s challenging to avoid a stilted conversation, as participants try and engage when there are latency issues. There can be multiple people all trying to speak at once, this can be both frustrating, but can also put people off from talking and contributing. So though you may be experienced in a face to face discussion, it can be useful to structure and plan a video discussion, so the students have a clear idea about what is expected of them and what they will need to contribute in that discussion. Structuring who will be talking and having clear guidance on how to work out who wants to talk and how they identify themselves. In a physical situation this can be easily done via people raising their hands. Though tools such as Teams and Zoom allow a virtual hand raising it can be easily missed, unless you are paying attention to it. 

video chat
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

One of the affordances on using an online video conferencing tool such as Zoom or Teams for discussions is that you can have people contributing through the chat function. Some students may prefer to post their thoughts and questions to a text chat than turn on their video and use the microphone. They may also be in an environment or space where that isn’t possible. You may need additional support in reviewing the chat as well as managing the verbal discussion.

You could even lose the video aspect.

So another possible translation, you could take your 60 minute live physical discussion into a 60 minute synchronous live text discussion. Again it will be useful to structure and plan a textual discussion, so the students have a clear idea about what is expected of them and what they will need to contribute, as with a video conference discussion.

Then another option is to lose the live element. It doesn’t take much planning to transform that  60 minute discussion into a week long asynchronous textual discussion. This format is useful for students who have challenges in attending at a fixed time due to home or personal commitments, but it’s also an ideal format for students who may be resident in different time zones. The teacher can interject and encourage students to participate in the discussion across the week and this is much easier to manage than trying to do this in a one hour session.  You can easily see who is contributing and who isn’t and encourage them accordingly.

Asynchronous and online discussions can often be participated in by much larger groups than in a face to face environment so discussions could happen across cohorts, subjects, departments or even with other universities. The teacher interaction becomes more flexible and they can decide when to participate and adapt it to their own personal circumstances. Though in terms of contact hours, or timetabling you can see how the final model would be challenging.

Simply translating what we do in our physical buildings into a online remote version, is relatively simple, however it may not be effective. Thinking about what you want that learning experience to achieve and what you want the students to learn, means you can do different things. Of course knowing how to do those different things, is another challenge.

Uncertainty

Uncertain
Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future.

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.

Over the last couple of months in lockdown I have written various blog posts about the challenges that universities and colleges have faced with their emergency response to dealing with the coronavirus lockdown and planning for a new academic year amidst, translation and transformationhybrid curriculumsocial distanced campuses and a huge helping of uncertainty.

That uncertainty is certainly a big challenge and in the last few days we have seen the government make big changes to the lockdown restrictions in place, and have planned further easing of lockdown.

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 restaurants and barbers reopen, 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.

Chatting with a few people, 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 recent local lockdowns now happening regionally, has demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning.

Though we may see a national lockdown if there is a critical second wave, the current thinking from government appears to be to control local spikes with local lockdowns.

This has implications for universities which may find themselves going in and out of lockdown. This is doubling challenging for those universities that historically have a large number of commuter students. Their campus may be in locally lockdown or some of their students could be in a local lockdown. 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 these spikes.

As I have written before about implementing a hybrid curriculum could 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.

This needs to be more than the emergency response we saw in March and April, students will be expecting more than simple translation of physical face to face sessions to remote online formats. The online sessions need to be reflect the fact they are online and not in a physical space.

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?

As I said back in June, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.

Shorter – Weeknote #73 – 24th July 2020

A shorter week as I was on leave for a couple of days.

Over the weekend I published the thinking and an expanded textual version of my  presentation to the University of Hertfordshire, where I talked about the possibilities of technology, and the ethical, privacy and legal aspects of said technology.

Monday saw my end of year review meeting. These weeknotes have been useful in remembering what I have been doing and where. Blogging not just weeknotes, but also about events I have attended or presented at also helps in preparing for these kinds of things. Even if you don’t publish them as I do, maintaining some kind of record over the year helps with preparation for reviews.

tree trunk
Image by Picography from Pixabay

I am working with colleagues on the Learning and Teaching Reimagined project. We are looking at undertaking various activities, as well as publishing some definitive guides for leaders in relevant areas.

One of the key aspects, which we are ensuring is recognising that though the technological challenges and issues do need to be addressed and resolved, one of the core issues is looking at the pedagogy in using technology to deliver learning and teaching, remotely and online. As demonstrated with my series on translation, it is often easier to translate existing physical face to face practice into online version, but this loses the nuances of that physical delivery, whilst ignoring the affordances that online and digital can provide.

exam
Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

I found this opinion article on the Guardian on facial recognition interesting and relevant.

As students sit their exams during the pandemic, universities have turned to digital proctoring services. They range from human monitoring via webcams to remote access software enabling the takeover of a student’s browser. Others use artificial intelligence (AI) to flag body language and background noise that might point to cheating.

In my work on assessment I did research and look at digital proctoring. Most universities realised that the technology, despite the protestations of the companies involved, was unfair and could negatively impact on wellbeing. There were also concerns about the validity of such proctoring. Universities have also recognised that not every student was in a space, have the connection or the right kind of device to enable them to participate in said remote exams.

I wrote up my thoughts in this blog post.

Someone shared this excellent XKCD comic on the Twitter.

XKCD have a wonderful perspective of some of the key issues of the day and this diagram looking at the risks of Covid-19 along with risks of non-Covid-19 activities did raise a smile in me.

My top tweet this week was this one.