As higher education institutions plan for what will happen as we move slowly towards more students being on campus, there is continuing chatter about the form that teaching and learning will take. This includes how best to deliver it and how to communicate what this might look like. In all of this discussion, there has been a proliferation of words like “remote learning”, “digital learning”, and “hybrid learning” – and these terms have largely been taken for granted in respect to their pedagogical nuance. But if the preferred solution to the problems created by the pandemic in the first semester was “blended learning”, as we tumble through a second semester it would appear that the HE sector is beginning to settle on its next term of preference – “online learning”.
We do seem to spend a lot of time discussing what we should call what we do. The article makes the point that this does matter. I disagree slightly what matters is not what it is called, but whatever it is called, we have an agreed and shared understanding of what is means for you, for me and the students. We change the term, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we change our understanding. I recall having this discussion about the use of the term hybridthat I used in an article to mean responsive and agile, whilst someone else was using the term to describe a mixed approach. Words are important, but shared understanding actually allows us to move forward.
Wednesday I joined a panel at the Westminster Education Forum to deliver a session on the future use of technology in assessment.
“The future for England’s exam system – building on best practice from the 2020 series, the role of technology and ensuring qualifications equip young people with the skills to succeed post-18”
I only had five minutes, so not a huge amount of time to reflect on the challenges and possibilities. To think a year ago I would have had to travel to London by train, find the venue and then join the panel in-person. Today, I just switched on the webcam and there I was, did my presentation and then answered a few questions. I didn’t use slides, as there wasn’t always a need to use slides in these kinds of panel sessions and at an in-person event I wouldn’t have used slides.
Of course at a physical in-person event they would have provided lunch, which would then give delegates an opportunity to come and chat about what I had been talking about. That didn’t happen this time. I would say that though using Twitter as a digital back channel at physical in-person events does sometimes work, but people have to be using the Twitter. At edtech events I find a fair few people are , at other kinds of events, not so much.
Lecturers are doing all they can during the pandemic to support the myriad different ways in which students learn
It’s not as though the physical campuses are closed, they are open for those courses which require a practical element.
Then again schools are not closed, they are open for the children of key workers, as well as vulnerable children, and staff are working with them and delivering remote teaching to the children at home.
Yes the experience is variable across the country, even across a school, but to keep saying they are closed, doesn’t really tell the whole story.
On Thursday I had a really good discussion with a university about digital strategy. How important it is aligned to the main university strategy, but also how it enables that strategy and other strategies as well. If you are in charge of a strategy, how does it enable others, and how do others enable yours?
At the end of the week I was involved in the HEDG meeting and did a presentation on Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Reimagined programme and where Jisc is going next. It was good meeting and the presentation seemed to hit the spot.
I had a planning meeting about a session we’re doing with Advance HE on digital leadership which looks like it will be a really good session.
Looked at the presentation I am doing next week at Digifest on the future of digital leadership, what it is and where we are potentially going.
Strange things sometimes happen in universities and we’ve reported plenty of them here over the years. From hauntings and strange happenings to animal action and of course true crime events on campus. But this event which recently caught my eye is one of the oddest I’ve noticed lately. It all happened just over half a century ago at Keele University. Those were turbulent times as the world transitioned out of the end of the heady 60s era into a very different decade.
I had a week of meetings which was exhausting and quite tiring. Spent a lot of the week working on Jisc’s HE Teaching and Learning Strategy. I had meetings with key stakeholders within Jisc, as well as digging though university needs and ambitions.
I wrote a blog post for Advance HE on digital leadership, which will be published in a couple of weeks. It was based around the concept of the digital lens.
A strategic digital lens allows universities to better understand how digital and technology can enable them to achieve their core strategic priorities. It can help inform staff how they will use digital in their work to meet the institutional priorities.
Lawrie published a blog post, Stop normalising pandemic practices! There are some out there who think that what we are doing is what we want to do when the pandemic ends. However Lawrie reflected “I do want people to remember that pandemic technology practices don’t have to be everyday practices when we are out of this.”
What we are doing now is not normal and I don’t think we will be going back to what we had before.
We are reviewing the concept of the Technical Career Pathway within Jisc, I worked on the Learning Technologist pathway, but we’ve had little take up, but I think one key factor has been we don’t really employ dedicated learning technologists. I had a meeting this week to review on what we might need to do in the future.
We have been reviewing Data Matters 2021, which was a charged for online event. Some individuals have been challenging the concept of charging for online events, but would be happy to pay for an in-person event. Despite being online there are costs in organising and running online events. Having said that do we need to have events, could we achieve the same impact via different channels or medium? There are other online channels that could be used instead of an online event using a dedicated platform. An online event which is mainly about the transmission of content, probably shouldn’t exist, just use a YouTube channel! My experiences of the Jisc e-Learning Conferences back in the late 2000s was that these events could be (and were) highly engaging and interactive. There was conversations and discussions, as well as presentations. These events were value for money and people, though questioned the fee, did feel they were value for money. People don’t always value free events.
Had a fair few meetings with universities this week talking about blended learning, digital strategy and embedding digital practice across an organisation.
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.
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.
On the 2nd October 2009 I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.
Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general.
I felt a little intimidated to be invited to talk at the event, we wouldn’t have called it imposter syndrome back then, but I did wonder if I was the right person to talk at such an interesting conference. It certainly had a TED talk feel to it. I must thank Frank Steiner and Tim Bush from ULCC for their support and help and inviting me to talk at this FOTE and future FOTE events.
2009 was quite a year for me, I had won the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award that year. It was also the year of “The VLE is Dead” debate at the ALT Conference.
The event took place at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, which I remember wasn’t the easiest place to get to via the underground. Knowing London better now I think I would probably have just walked across Hyde Park from Paddington to get there. From about 2001 I started going to London a lot for work, well a few times a year, which was considerably more than when I was a lecturer in Bristol. I use to go to London, arrive at Paddington, take the underground, pop up somewhere, go to a meeting or an event, before popping back down into the underground on my way home. These days I visit London a lot more and have spent a lot more time walking around London, so have a much better grasp of the geography of the place. I remember being quite impressed with the place, and that you could see the nearby Albert Hall.
I spent a fair bit of time putting my presentation together, in the end it comprised 82 slides… and I only had twenty minutes to deliver my talk. A challenge that took some doing.
My presentation was entitled The future of learning… The aim of my presentation was to discuss how learning would and could change with the affordances of technological change.
So what of my predictions?
Well we know predicting the future is hard and generally most people get it wrong.
You will no doubt not be surprised that I got a lot of things wrong…
One thing I feel I did get right was that mobile was going to be big and important. I said how I felt mobile was the future. The audience did have a range of mobile devices themselves, but most phones were nothing more than phones that could do SMS and the Snake game. There were a few smartphones out there, but if my experience was to go by, they were clunky and difficult to use. We had the iPhone, but it hadn’t quite had the impact that it has had by today.
We didn’t have the iPad, that would arrive the following year. So no surprise that in my talk at FOTE I didn’t mention tablets
My talk actually started off talking about the past, how we are still impacted and embedded by the past, which makes change challenging and difficult.
I then talked about the present and some of the issues and problems that technology was causing in classrooms and lecture theatres. PAT testing was a real concern for many back then, don’t hear much about it these days in relation to BYOD or learner devices.
One of the challenges I saw back then was how academics and educationalists wanted to categorise learning, so we had e-learning, m-learning, mobile learning, online learning, digital learning, etc….
I said that I thought categorising learning and putting it into different boxes was restricting and that really we should focus on learning and blur the boxes, blur the boundaries.
It was fine to talk about the “boxes” at conferences and in papers, but experience has shown that categorising learning into boxes caused confusion for teachers and academics, who rightly focussed on the word before the learning as a problem to be solved and then found it challenging.
However back then I said, and I still stand by this today, is that learners and academics need to understand the potential of technology and digital to better understand the affordances and opportunities that it can provide for learning. You don’t need to be ab le to do the technology, but you do need to know what it can do.
I also brought in scepticism about technological advances, something I would draw upon in future talks and presentations.
Video (and film) had been used for learning for years, but people were sceptical and convinced that video (ie lecture capture) would stop traditional learning activities. However we know that television didn’t destroy radio, we know that radio didn’t kill newspaper, books didn’t replace folk stories. When we have a new technological development, often the result is a negative impact on existing technologies, but often the result is affordances about the potential of the new technology, enabling access that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
I also talked about the potential of video on mobile devices. Video cameras were getting smaller and cheaper, the quality was getting better as well. You could buy video cameras which could record HD video, even if it was a challenge to capture and edit it on standard computers of the time. This was before the concept of streaming became mainstream. I showed a Sanyo Xacti camera which was waterproof and dropped it in a jug of water. These cameras could be used in dirty and dusty environments and the washed under the tap!
Mobile phone video has become so much better now. I am still impressed that my iPhone can record 4K video… If only we could get people to record video in landscape!
GPS was usually an option on devices back then, today it is more prevalent in the devices we buy. I saw this as an opportunity, the concept of geo-location based learning was something that felt quite magical at the time. Your device knows where you are, so personalises the learning based on your location. What I missed was how location tracking and would become a very big issue for people.
There was a bit of a backlash against e-Books back in 2009, as people felt that they weren’t as good as “real” books. For me they weren’t a replacement for books, they enabled different ways of reading. For many e-Books and e-book readers enabled a new way to access books and content, that otherwise would mean they wouldn’t have access. I presented on the future of reading at #FOTE10 the following year. I became a bit of an expert on e-books as as result. I presented on e-books at many different events and conferences, as well as writing a chapter in a book, and finally a book on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of Ebooks in Education in 2012.
Today e-books are part and parcel off education with easier access to books by students from academic libraries. As I did predict, we didn’t see the end of physical books, we still have bookstores and people still buy physical books.
Back then in 2009 connectivity was either slightly haphazard, or expensive, or both. We had 3G, but it wasn’t widespread, it would be another three years before we saw 4G.
WiFi was there, but it didn’t always work and network congestion would often cause the WiFi to fail. This happened with frequent regularity at events and conferences I attended back then, as delegates killed the WiFi with too many connections.
In the future I felt connectivity wouldn’t just be important, it would be critical for the future of learning.
Today we have really good (and cheap) mobile data, 4G is more available and 5G is starting to appear. Ubiquitous WiFi is certainly there compared to ten years ago, Eduroam has made it easier for people in education to connect when travelling, but WiFi is easily found in most places. This has allowed users to do so much more when travelling and moving about, or just when drinking coffee. I certainly notice how many people are streaming video, having video chat, doing so much more, because they had the connection and the bandwidth to do so.
Mobile often means battery power, and access to charging. Everyone remembers how their Nokia phone would last days on a single charge, today, most people seem to complain how their smartphone battery doesn’t last the day. Batteries may not seem to have got better, they have, just that we demand more power for our complex devices. We have seen significant improvements in battery technology, but we have seen a huge increase in our demand for power on our devices. Streaming video requires more power than reading an e-mail. One thing that has taken time to filter through was the importance of the ability to charge devices. Since 2009 we have seen trains and buses adding power sockets, and USB ports for charging as well. Hotels have added similar sockets. Some lecture theatres now have plug sockets as well.
In my 2009 presentation I talked about the technological penknife.
This is one thing I got very wrong, I thought that the idea that a device that did everything meant it did everything badly. A penknife has multiple tools, but most of them aren’t very good doing the stuff they are designed to do. People would prefer to have specialist devices for specific activities. Why would you have rubbish video from a phone, when you could have a decent HD video camera? Why would you use the rubbish microphone on a device, when a specialist recording device would do it so much better? Well that didn’t happen, in reality we have seen devices become so much better that we don’t need to have multiple devices. We have the penknife, but it’s a really good penknife, really good at everything.
I then went on to talk about change and the importance of managing change. I talked about how change can be a series of small steps, but noted the importance of missing steps, endless steps and steps that trip you up.
These slides were really where I started to understand strategy and writing strategies much more. This certainly helped me in future roles and influenced heavily the design of certain aspects of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme in which I was part of the research and development team led by Lawrie Phipps.
I talked about activity, technology should never be about the technology, it needed to be about how it could enhance or improve activities. Or where the affordances created new opportunities for different activities. We still have a perception that we shouldn’t talk about technology first, though sometimes I think we should.
Technology allow for flexibility, flexible curriculum, flexible approaches to delivery, flexible learning. I think we have made a little progress here, but so much more is possible these days. The technology enables flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it will just happen, there is so much more that needs to happen to enable flexibility.
Back then I felt sharing was important, not just sharing content (as in open) but also sharing ideas, concepts and approaches. Not that this didn’t happen, but it was difficult to do so. Today it is much easier to share than it was back then, so much so, I think we have forgotten about the time when this didn’t happen.
I talked about the importance of working collaboratively. Since the talk online tools have made it so much easier to collaborate. Collaboration across institutions (and countries) is so much easier these days. Tools such as Slack enable groups to talk and work together.
I talked about innovation, celebrating ideas. Innovation doesn’t always mean better, it means different or new. Following on from that I talked about experimentation and encouraging it within our institutions.
If you want innovation, then it needs to be embedded into the strategy, rewarded and not penalised when things go wrong. It needs to be done in collaboration with learners not done to them. I think we are seeing much more innovation and collaboration these days, and the student voice is helping to inform developments and ideas.
I said we need to re-think assessment, technology was going to have an impact. I think it has, but not in the way we thought it would. We try and use technology to “fix’ assessment today, rather than re-imagine how we assess.
I talked about culture and how culture can enable change, but also frustrate it. Culture is about what and who we are, it’s the sum of the people within an organisation. This was something we covered years later in the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme.
I have always seen technology as a solution to a problem. Technology in itself is not the problem needing to be solved. This was something that I wrote about in 2018.
I finished the presentation about talking about the future and how the future was about the learner, the student. It was about how they wanted to learn, where they wanted to learn, what they wanted to learn and with whom they wanted to learn. Why did we need to think about the future, it was because we needed to think about the learners, then, now and in the future.
So did I predict the future?
It certainly though had a huge impact on my future, some of which I have outlined above. As a result of this talk I was invited to speak at a range of events and conferences on the future of learning and a range of mobile learning events. I spoke the following year at FOTE 10 about the future of reading, which resulted in me doing much more in the e-book space.
So there is also a video of me (looking much younger) presenting, if you want to watch what happened…
This year I have written only 17 blog posts, in 2017 it was 21 blog posts, in 2016 it was 43 blog posts, in 2015 I wrote 24 blog posts. In 2014 I wrote 11 and in 2013 I wrote 64 blog posts and over a hundred in 2012. In 2011 I thought 150 was a quiet year!
The tenth most popular blog post in 2018 was asking So do signs work? This article from 2013 described some of the challenges and issues with using signage to change behaviours. So do signs work? Well yes they do, but often they don’t.
The post at number nine was my podcast workflow, published in 2011, this article outlines how and what equipment I use to record the e-Learning Stuff Podcast. This is only one way in which to record a remote panel based podcast, and I am sure there are numerous other ways in which to do this. I have also changed how I have recorded over the two years I have been publishing the podcast due to changes in equipment and software. It’s probably time to update it, though I am not doing as much podcasting as I use to.
Dropping three places to eighth was 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip. This was a post from July 2011, that looked at the different comic tools out there on the web, which can be used to create comic strips that can then be embedded into the VLE. It included information on the many free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet out there. It is quite a long post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE.
The post at number seven, climbing one place, was Comic Life – iPad App of the Week. Though I have been using Comic Life on the Mac for a few years now I realised I hadn’t written much about the iPad app that I had bought back when the iPad was released. It’s a great app for creating comics and works really well with the touch interface and iPad camera.
Sixth most popular was a post from 2018, called “I don’t know how to use the VLE!” This blog post described a model of VLE embedding and development. This post was an update to the model I had published in 2010.
Holding at fourth, is Can I legally download a movie trailer? One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008, I am still a little behind in much of what is happening within copyright and education, one of things I do need to update myself on, as things have changed.
Once again, for the sixth year running, the number one post for 2018 was the The iPad Pedagogy Wheel.
I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”. It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.
Over the last few years I have been, rather than taking notes in the keynotes (and other sessions) at the ALT Conference #altc drawing pictures. This is sometimes called sketchnoting.
My sketch notes are really for me, rather than other people. The process of sketching allows my to digest for myself what is been talked about and demonstrated. The sketch note provides me with a mechanism that provides a process for my interpretation of what is being said and what I understand from the talk. The process of sketching engages me in the talk in ways in which note taking does for others, or conversing on the Twitter. They are not done for other people, if other people find them useful then that’s just a bonus. Having said that I do share them online, through Twitter (and Flickr).
So have you ever been tasked with writing a digital strategy? Do you know where to start? Do you know what is going to ensure it will work and be successful.
So if you are tasked with writing a digital strategy, you could write it in isolation, but prepare for it to be a low priority for people higher up. Also expect people in other directorates or departments to ignore it as they focus on their own strategies.
Jisc have recently published a leadership briefing written by myself and Lawrie Phipps. A key aspect is aimed at those tasked with writing strategies, where we argue that in order to get stronger “buy-in” there is a need to apply digital lens to all strategies.
The paper proposes the concept of using a digital lens when approaching strategy, practice and process. The lens is made up of different aspects that need to be considered when applying digital to existing and intended structures.
It is necessary to identify which element will be looked at in digital contexts – for example, a particular teaching practice. Different digital options should then be explored to gain a thorough understanding of the range of possibilities. The benefits and risks of each possibility should be carefully weighed before deciding to deploy. As with all change, it is important to reflect and evaluate the nature and impact of the changes caused by the incorporation of digital.
There is a history of people talking about applying a lens to stuff, to look at things differently. To give a different perspective on what has been written or talked about. These are sometimes called strategic lenses and can cover different area such as design, customer focus, resources, cultural amongst others.
In this blog post I want to reflect on my own experiences in designing, developing and writing my own digital strategies. My initial frustrating experiences with a strategy that took a lot of my time which was then ignored, well certainly felt like it was ignored. It was almost a tick box exercise and the end result was the strategy was put into a lever arch file, put on a shelf until the following year when it would be reviewed, revised and published again.
As a TEL Manager in a college I was asked and I delivered a digital learning strategy, well back then it was called the Information and Learning Technology or ILT strategy. Historically it had come about because of funding from Becta to colleges was given on the basis of colleges writing an ILT strategy. This was often distinct from the IT strategy. The IT strategy was usually focused on the technical infrastructure to support the college business, whereas the ILT strategy was focused on the embedding of technology into teaching and learning. What often happened though was that both strategies weren’t linked together and weren’t always linked to the corporate strategy, of if they were those linkages weren’t always clear.
The end result was that sometimes these strategies were at odds with each other.You had an ILT strategy was advocating a student BYOD policy and the IT strategy was clear that non-organisation devices could not be connected to the wireless network.
It wasn’t just the IT strategy, I am aware of heated discussions between managers, where the ILT strategy was advocating a student BYOD policy and the Estates strategy was clear that non-organisation devices could not be plugged into the power sockets.
On top of all this was the core corporate strategy that was focused on something completely different.
I remember my ILT strategy talking about the use of the VLE by students and that all courses would have a presence on the VLE. Sounds fine, but academic staff didn’t see that as a priority, because the corporate strategy was talking about, widening participation, improving teaching and learning, and better student outcomes. Staff saw the improvement of teaching and learning as a priority, they saw using the VLE as something extra, more work so a) didn’t use it b) would often say they didn’t have the time (which we know now means they didn’t consider it a priority). So a lot of my time was taken up “selling” the use of edtech. What I didn’t realise at the time was that what I often was doing was applying a digital lens to the existing strategy in order to “sell” the VLE or other edtech to academics. I would talk about how the VLE would enable them to “improve” teaching and learning, could be used to “widen participation”. I started to realise that having a strategy focused on tools was never going to be successful, one which focused on outcomes would be easily understood by managers and staff, and more easily achieved.
In a later role I had to write a combined IT, Libraries and Learning Technology strategy. We were being supported by an external consultant and I do remember one of the key things she said was that anything in our departmental strategies had to stem from the core corporate strategy.
A typical IT strategy will often say something like this:
Enable a secure, robust and stable network.
What this does is focus the minds of the IT and network teams to ensure that the network has high resilience, low downtime and is secure. As a result when academics and learning technologists want to try something new, they are “refused” because it could impact on the security and reliability of the network. Over the years I remember many times being told we couldn’t use this tool, access this service, because of the “importance” of enabling a secure, robust and stable network.
The problem was that the corporate strategy said
We will develop and deliver high quality teaching and learning, across a wide range of subjects and qualifications.
This meant developing new ways of teaching and improving learning. Academics wanted to try new and innovative practices, but the IT strategy was acting as a barrier.
If the IT strategy was linked to the corporate strategy and said:
Enable a secure, robust and stable network to allow high quality teaching and learning through the use of technology.
What this does is focus the minds of the IT and network teams to ensure that the primary focus and use of the network is on allowing innovative use of technology for teaching and learning. Yes they still need to ensure that the network is secure, resilient and stable, but their primary focus will be on ensuring that teaching and learning can make effective use of technology.
Any departmental or methodology strategy should always link back to the organisational strategy and how the objectives and actions will support the organisational strategic aims.
So how do you do that then?
Well that’s where the lens comes in.
So if you are tasked with writing a digital strategy, you could write it in isolation, but prepare for it to be a low priority for people.
If you apply a digital lens to the corporate strategy, you can demonstrate how digital technologies can enable that strategy. So rather than talk about how you are going to increase the use of digital technologies, the strategy talks about how the use of digital technologies will enable the strategic aims.
The leadership briefing we published provides a mechanism on how to do just that. The next stage will be to distill the strategy into an operational plan, again applying a digital lens will demonstrate and show how digital technologies can be an enabler and not a barrier.
news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…