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Reflecting – Weeknote #81 – 18th September 2020

The weather made a definite shift this week, with hot summer days, which though was a nice change from the wet and grey days we had in August was slightly mitigated by the fact that I was working at my desk.

At the end of last week we went to a drive-in cinema, something that I had seen in American films, but not experienced here in the UK.

The week started with a culture session. As with frameworks, defining the culture is a very small part of the story. You can define what you want the culture to be, however unless you can define your current culture, then it can make it challenging to see what has to change. Much more challenging is how you move from the current culture to the new model. There are factors that impact on this, shared understanding is one of these. Something I think I need to reflect more on at another time.

Jisc launched their findings of their 2020 student digital experience insights HE and FE publications.  Continue reading Reflecting – Weeknote #81 – 18th September 2020

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

Making that move from the radio…

old radio
Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

In the current climate of change and uncertainty, as well as the emergency response to the coronavirus, universities are going to need think differently about how they deliver their courses and modules from September.

In what I suspect will be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester has decided to keep lectures online for the autumn.

The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts. In an email to students sent on 11 May, April McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students, confirmed the university’s undergraduate teaching year would begin in late September “with little change to our start dates”, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.

The whole student experience is not going online though as the article continues.

However, students would be asked to return physically to campus in the autumn as Manchester was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can”, added Professor McMahon.

It’s one thing to rapidly respond to a crisis and teach remotely, however it’s another thing to deliver either wholly online or some kind of hybrid (should we say blended) programme due to the necessity of social distancing.

As a result we are going to see a lot of academic staff from September continuing to deliver online. At the current time, you could expect students to be forgiving, but recent announcements from the NUS, petitions to parliament, have suggested that many students are not happy with the “quality” of the emergency remote delivery of their learning. We know that you can say now that this wasn’t planned, it was a knee jerk response to what is an unprecedented situation. For the Autumn, though unprecedented, we do have a bit more time to reflect on practice and how we can a quality student experience. In addition we will need to put contingency plans in case another emergency response is required if there is a second spike in covid-19 infections resulting in a second lockdown. A big part of that future experience will be online delivery.

old projector
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

There is often an assumption that is made that because someone is excellent in face to face learning scenarios, they will be able to easily transfer these skills into an online environment, as the scenarios are very similar.

This is quite a risky assumption to make, as though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

It was and can be challenging for radio personalities to move into television, even though both broadcast mediums, and there are similar programmes on both (think News Quiz and Have I Got News For You) the skills for the different media are quite different.

In a similar vein, many stars of the silent cinema were unable to make the move to the talkies. Those that did, certainly thrived, those that couldn’t, didn’t!

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.

Having the digital confidence, capacity and capability is something that often needs to be built in those staff who may already have excellent skills in delivering learning in face to face scenarios.

Certainly there are many things which are transferable, but the skills in facilitating a classroom discussion are different to those in running a debate in an online forum.

So the question is, how do we build that digital capability? How are you building digital and online skills? What are you doing to ensure the successful transition to online delivery?

How will you do this remotely, at scale and at pace? Importantly how will you do this during an unprecedented crisis?

Radio
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

This blog post was inspired by and adapted from a post on digital capabilities that I published in 2016

It’s still not easy…

Classroom

…but confidence helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are confident in their use of technology. Gaining that confidence is not easy and often isn’t helped if they have previously used technology and it didn’t work. There have been many times I have heard teachers say that they don’t like using technology as the last time they used it and it didn’t work. They lack the confidence in the tools to work.

The way I used to approach that was by asking what they did when it snowed and the building was closed, the campus had failed to work. Someone had used a permanent marker on the whiteboard, it was unusable. There was a room change and we had to move the students, from a seminar room to a lecture theatre. In all these physical scenarios, a good teacher has the confidence to adjust and adapt what they are going to do. With a snow closure, the scheme of work needs to be adapted to allow the learners to catch up. Losing the whiteboard doesn’t mean the lesson has failed, maybe a different medium, such as paper, could be used. Again a confident teacher can adapt what they are going to do. They are also very likely to use the whiteboard again, once it has been cleaned. Similar story with the room change, adapt the activity for the learners.

onlineattendance

I have found that often with technology, that with teachers lacking confidence, this means going into a session with a limited idea of how that technology can be used. If it doen’t work as expected, then it is seen as failure.

Having the confidence to easily adapt and use tools effectively, usually comes with experience, but I also believe that there is more to it than that. Gaining that confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they confidently know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

Confidence usually comes from experimentation, trial and error and practice. It can be difficult to create a culture where experimentation and innovation is expected, encouraged and applauded. A culture where failure is seen as part of the learning process and is also part of the process of innovation.

So what strategies do you use to build digital confidence?

No it’s not easy…

Time for a coffee

…but sometimes you need to think differently!

We know that change isn’t easy, if it was then all we would need to do would be buy a book on the subject and just do it.

When it comes to the embedding of digital technologies into teaching, learning and assessment I have spent over twenty years undertaking this kind of activity at a range of organisations and across different levels.

Going back to when I was a Business Studies and Economics teacher at what was then Brunel College (now City of Bristol College) I kind of fell into the use of technology to support teaching and learning. I was an ILT (or TEL) Champion before even the phrase existed. Going back a little further I was never the kind of techno geek or computer nerd many of my peers appear to be when comparing histories. I didn’t do Computer Science at school. I didn’t own a computer, I didn’t have a BBC Micro, nor the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum or anything like that. I did have a bike though!

At University in the late 1980s we had a VAX system and it was really that kind of got me interested in technology, but it was as a tool to solve problems. I discovered I could use this thing called electronic mail to send letters to a friend at another university instead of using the post! This was quite illuminating, until I got flamed by the administrator at the other university, for not using the correct format for my e-mail… Most of the time however the use of the computers was in many ways pointless as my examinations required me to hand write essays, so why would I use a word processor, having said that I did get introduced to Word Perfect 4.2 and did think that this was better than a typewriter.

After university on a business enterprise course I was introduced to spreadsheets that I used for creating balance sheets and cashflow forecasts. For me that was probably the eye opener that got me into technology, more so than anything I had seen before, well does that make me a boring person?

By the time I was working at City of Bristol College I was using my own PC at home to create presentations, photocopying onto clear acetates as initially we didn’t have a digital projector, and we were still using OHPs. When the college did buy a projector (we had one for the whole college) it was a real effort to use it, it was the size of a small suitcase and we also had to lug the screen around as well. Due to lack of processing power, I would often bring in my own PC box, as the laptop couldn’t cope with the strain of my presentations. My PC also had a Matrox Rainbow Runner video card which I used to show full screen video. There was no internet and certainly no wireless network. My what we take for granted today, looks at his phone which can stream HD and 4K video to a projector using 4G connectivity, things do change. Things did improve and we started to see more technology in classrooms.

One outcome from all this was that as I was seen as something of an innovator in this area I was asked to support and train staff, not just from my faculty, but also other areas of the college. One clear memory of this was the impact, often I would train individuals who would then go off and do their own thing (or not). Sometimes I would train all the staff in a faculty and this is where I would often see not only the most resistance, but also the biggest impact. Where a faculty set expectations about how technology would be used, you would see the greatest impact. One faculty I taught how to use Powerpoint to (probably badly) many of the staff were quit resistant or complained they couldn’t do this technology thing, there weren’t enough PCs, not all classrooms had PCs and projectors, and so on… remember this was 1998 or 1999. The head of faculty though had made it clear that not only were all staff to do the training, and create presentation materials, but that all the presentations would be stored and shared centrally. No presentations stored on floppy disks (we didn’t have USB sticks back then) being used by individuals only.

What was a transformative moment for me was the understanding that showcasing, cascading and piloting really didn’t have the transformative impact that senior managers hoped for. Generally the main impact was that enthusiasts would become more enthusiastic and those more reluctant, would either not do anything, or just pay lip service to any initiative. What really caused institutional change was effective strategy and leadership and clarity about what was going to be done, what was expected from staff and what they needed to do and by when.

This did stick with me over the years I moved into positions where my role was to embed technology into teaching and learning. Though I often used the cascade model for staff development, but knew that this was not the ideal model for systemic holistic change across an organisation. It worked well on some individuals, but it was not transformative.

In a similar vein the use of other people’s research and running pilots was interesting and useful, but did not result in institutional change, it could inform other activities, but the idea that the best way for mainstream transformation was to run a pilot was something that I found never worked and never had the impact that others thought it would.

What I really tried to do was transform the entire institution. I would use tools such as cheeses and models, but one key aspect was culture change. Changing the culture was often about hearts and minds, but also challenging the myths and misconceptions about technology and using learning technology with learners. I would use pilots and research to inform this process.

I also knew that if something didn’t work, then to try again, but this time do it differently. Don’t keep trying to do the same thing again and again.

I know that this isn’t easy, if it was easy then we would all have done it!

One thing that came out of this was the understanding that we often make assumptions about staff capabilities and their ability to know how to embed technology and the potential of what technology can do. Just because a member of staff can has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

I also know that isn’t easy too….

It’s not just about the rules…

Cassoulet

At lunchtime today I was at my desk eating a very nice bold cassoulet soup from EAT reading e-mails from the various mailing lists I subscribe to. There was an interesting discussion on one of the lists about how different colleges deal with food and drink in their libraries.

I know from experience and walking around that most staff eat their lunches in their workrooms. I also know when writing or working that I quite like having a cup of coffee or a cake (or two). What this tells us is that most people may want to at some point eat or drink while they work and write. It is not too difficult to understand why learners may want to eat and drink as they study. Of course you may not always be able to accommodate eating and drinking; not everyone likes the smell of food, there is the issue of rubbish and there may be an overarching policy that says no food or drink in learning areas. So it may not be that easy to allow food and drink and that rule has to be in place.

Even if there are rules, these are often ignored so as a result the library staff are spending too much time “policing” the library rather than helping learners. Another strategy is to attempt to change behaviour by putting up signs, but experience says that doesn’t work.

One way that I have been looking at this problem, is by asking why is it a problem in the first place. Rather than ask how to stop students eating and drinking in the library, ask why are they eating and drinking in the first place?

Most colleges are providing some kind of area for eating (where do they buy the food from), why aren’t they staying in those areas to eat or drink, what’s making them move from those areas to the library.

On one campus of my current college, the eating establishments only provide food in takeaway containers, partly I guess to save on washing up and partly I guess to encourage students not to stay (as the spaces are quite small). So guess where the learners go when it is cold (as it is today) a nice warm place, the library. On another campus they use proper “china” and the library doesn’t have the same issue with food and drink. Sometimes the issue is outside the control of the Library and a more holistic approach needs to be thought through.

Conversely why aren’t they using the eating spaces for learning, why do they feel they need to move from the canteen to the library? Why not turn the canteens into libraries? Make them environments for learning.

When I was at my last College our (final) policy was to allow bottled drinks only. We had NO signs about food or drink and to be honest it wasn’t really a problem. I remember when we merged with another college, their library was full of “no food” signs and the library was full of half-eaten food. By changing the culture and the respect that the learners had for the environment, the food issue became a non-issue. The main way it became a non-issue was the respect the students had for the space and the staff. Build relationships with the learners and most issues such as rubbish disappear. I also ensured that the team went around and picked up any rubbish, regardless of the fact that there were bins about. The key was ensuring the environment was tidy and nice, not about getting the students to throw away their rubbish. If the learners see a nice environment they generally like to keep it that way.

Of course there will always be exceptions, but I see food and drink in libraries is more about external factors and respect than just what happens in the library and signs.

The real question – ocTEL

Red Flags

Many years ago, in 1999, I facilitated and delivered an online course, using First Class on how to facilitate and deliver online.

The participants were college staff, many of whom had limited experience of using the internet. My own experience was quite limited, but I had since 1998 really immersed myself in the internet and the web.

What was interesting and relevant to the ocTEL MOOC I am currently undertaking was the type of things participants were saying back in 1998 were very similar to the things the ocTEL participants are saying now.

In the main having the time and technical skills to deal with the quantity of conversations and handling the “platform”. A lot of people have posted to the ocTEL JISCMail list saying that they can’t handle the amount of e-mail and to remove them from the mailing list, I recall similar conversations with staff back in 1998 about notifications coming from the First Class system. Likewise the “too much to read, too many e-mails” reminds me of the “too many red flags, too much to read” from First Class.

It’s true that a lot has changed, technically and culturally, in the last fifteen years, but I do find it interesting that in other areas we’ve not changed at all!

One question that does appear to resonate a lot with ocTEL participants is how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL? That’s one question we were also asking back in 1998. Back then a lot of the TEL we wanted practitioners to use was e-mail, word processing and Powerpoint.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that back in 1998 we were trying really hard to get people to use Powerpoint, and now that they are all using it really badly we are trying to stop them using it and stop them doing “death by Powerpoint”!

I wrote a few years ago a post called Well I think differently in which I explained how I had moved away from the “let’s convince people how good TEL is” to one of changing the culture of an organisation. That for me is the only way to move forward.

The question “how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL” is for me the wrong question. It’s hard to get individuals to change as they are individuals and have different personal needs. There is an assumption that “reluctancy” is a common trait that can be overcome. What I recognise when I meet a reluctant practitioner is that there is no commonality for the reasons behind the reluctancy. Sometimes it as simple as a training issue, for others it requires a complete overhaul of the way that they work. As a result you need different strategies that work with all the different individuals that work within an organisation.

Another aspect of this is that by “getting practitioners to engage with TEL” implies that TEL is a problem that needs to be solved, rather than do what most technologies actually do, which is solve problems.

We may talk about reluctancy in using TEL as though this is stopping things from changing, the reality is that though there is a undercurrent of reluctancy, and that there is consistent change and people are engaging and embracing technology all the time. The reasons they choose to use technology vary, but the main one is because it solves a problem and makes life easier.

As far as I am concerned question should be “how do we create a culture in which practitioners engage with TEL as a matter of course”. Practitioners will want to engage with TEL as they see it as part of the solution to their individual problems and not a problem in itself.

What is the most important question about TEL for you?

Library Seats

Having avoided taking part in a MOOC since they became the latest fad, I have now taken the plunge and enrolled on the ALT ocTEL MOOC.

It only started yesterday, so it is way too early to tell if I will complete the course. One of my reasons for undertaking the ocTEL is to see if this is a format that could be used for staff development in my own college.

One of the first questions that we need to look at on the oCTEL is:

What is the most important question about TEL for you?

Having been involved in TEL (and all the previous variations for a while now) the most important question I seem to have asked throughout that time and continue to ask is:

How do we create a culture in which TEL can be effectively used by all staff and learners to improve learning?

From my perspective and experience, TEL encomapasses both technology and learning, however the real deciding factor in using TEL to enhance and enrich learning is through cultural change.

Culture change is possible, but not necessarily straightforward or easy.

What I want to know and learn from others on the ocTEL is how do we influence and achieve cultural change?

What do you mean, someone made them up…

Anyone who has attended one of my keynote or conference presentations recently will know I have made use of a series of quotes that I first encountered at an ALT-C Keynote by Martin Bean in 2009.

I have used the quotes to remind the audience that scepticism and concerns about the introduction of new technologies or new ways of thinking are not new and that it is “normal” to be concerned about change.

Now I’ve always had my doubts on the validity or authenticity of the quotes as my brief internet research showed that lots of people used the quotes, but there was very little real “evidence” on their authenticity. However in terms of the message I was getting across the essence of the message was much more important than the content of the message. Audiences related to the essence of the message and the scepticism that they had encountered. In more recent messages I have used actual quotes and newspaper headlines about the “dangers” of technology to reinforce the essence of the message.

Recently I used the quotes in a presentation at an ebooks event at UWE. I posted the slides online and I’ve had a couple of comments plus a really useful link that once and for all casts doubts on the quotes and pretty much says that someone in the 1970s made them up!

This set of statements was printed in the Fall 1978 issue of “The MATYC Journal”, a publication that focused on mathematics education. The quotes were assigned the dates: 1703, 1815, 1907, 1929, 1941, and 1950. But they may actually have been created in 1978. Copies of these quotes have been widely distributed and posted on many websites. They also have been published in multiple books and periodicals.

Ah well…. I knew it was too good to be true.

Though of course if you have listened to my presentations you will realise that the quotes were a theatrical device to make the audience to stop and think about change and people’s reactions to change. This is still valid, the quotes merely add a bit of dramatic licence!

So willI use the quotes again?

Probably not, but then I could do and point out that they were “made up” and use that point to make people think.

Maybe it isn’t the harvest….

Those of you who have heard me present in recent years may have heard me talk about how we have a culture based on “we do what do, because we have always done it that way” and talk about the start of term in September and the long summer break and how this is because in the past we needed to let the children get the harvest in…

So I did enjoy reading Mick Water’s column in the TES in which he talks about the long summer break and that getting in the harvest is a bit of a myth…

There are many myths about the school year’s provenance. The pattern of the harvest is a favourite but not very solid: the people who drove the beginnings of our public-school system did not really need their children home to help with harvest as they had workers for that. The universities, though, needed time to assess the results of their entrance examinations so that they could organise their new autumn intake. The school holidays mirrored the pattern of Parliament, with the long summer break for the wealthy of the time.

Indeed, the long summer holiday was essential for public schools so that children could do proper things with their parents like go on the grand tour of Europe, join a safari, learn to shoot things, and visit museums and theatres. After that, schools would “top up” the pupils’ education by teaching them things beyond their families’ scope.

Well going to have to now go and edit my presentations and remove all those harvest pictures.

Even so the point I was making still stands, we do things, because we have always done them that way. The origin of the long summer break isn’t the important point, the point is that we continue to have long summer breaks, because we have always had long summer breaks. We don’t even really know why we have long summer breaks, but we continue to have them, because we have always had them.

Culture of organisations and the people within those organisations is often based on doing what they have always done. They continue to do what they do, as they have always done. There is no reason or incentive to change. Generally change only comes about when there is a shock to the system and we are forced to change.

As a learning technologist I see myself as an agent of change. However I see my role as changing the organisation, not just individuals. It is more challenging to change the culture of an organisation, but the impact will be greater.

On a final note (and I am sometimes guilty of this as much as the next person).

The summer break remains a chance to learn about the real world. The broader a child’s outside school experience, the easier it is to learn in the artificial world of the classroom.

Just to point out, though we sometimes think this, school, college or university is the real world and we should stop thinking it is something different, it sends the wrong message to learners, the wrong message to parents and the wrong message to politicians. If we think school isn’t in the real world then where is it? Mordor?