Jim Dickinson and Rosie Hunnam interrogate the student opportunities lost to the pandemic, and gather intel on what it would take to build them, and the student community they support, back higher.
This reflects a lot of conversations I have been having over the last few weeks on the importance of building student communities across the current covid-19 restrictions in place. Too often universities assume students can build their own online communities, but discussions with students reflect that this more than not doesn’t happen. Even where it does, it is often based on previous in-person communities. Going forward with potentially restrictions still in place in September, the importance of community building is there and how you do this online is still a real challenge.
After a range of virtual events, meetings, lectures, etc, often the last thing we need is more screen time on a virtual coffee break.
On Tuesday I was along with Doug Parkin and Lawrie Phipps presenting a a session on digital for a Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders. I was mainly talking about how to look at and embed digital into strategy. It was a good session.
On Wednesday I presented to the DigiLearn community about Learning and Teaching Reimagined.
This seemed to go down well with the attendees.
The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has shared outcomes of their work to explore the links between good practice in digital pedagogy and improved student engagement, progression and achievement.
It was half term, so my children were at home. Well they were at home last week as well, so not a huge change in the house this week, well less concerns about home schooling!
I did think about taking some leave, but with nowhere to go and not much enthusiasm in the household for doing stuff I like doing, I decided to try and have a meeting free week. I booked out my diary and at the start of the week I had just two meetings booked in. By the end of the week after a lot of different things happened, so I had about fifteen meetings in the end. My hope for no meetings went out of the window.
If we are as an organisation excellent at what we care about but have a clunky part of the infrastructure, there are only so many conclusions you can reach about that infrastructure.
Making our infrastructure excellent would lead to an order of magnitude improvement on an already excellent system.
The clunky infrastructure IS PART OF the overall excellence.
The clunkiness or otherwise of the infrastructure makes little difference to the excellence of the organisation.
I would suggest the first of these is just silly to suggest, however much the consultants would suggest otherwise. If the second is true it is imperative we do nothing to “improve” our infrastructure. If the third is true, it doesn’t matter.
I think reflecting on the article is that we don’t know what excellence is.
The first half of the week was dominated by finalising the draft of the Jisc HE Strategy which will be launched the week of Digifest. We have been creating a document for externals senior HE stakeholders on how Jisc can and could support the HE sector over the next three years and beyond to 2030.
I agreed with this tweet by Matt Lingard on the scheduling of webinars.
I know there is never a good time and everyone has different daily schedules but I wish UK edtech webinars would avoid my lunchtime/exercise slot! Makes recordings essential for #WorkLifeBalance
If these webinars are important for the work we do in Higher Education then don’t make them during lunchtimes. People need a break from their screens at some point in the day. With the lockdown this is even more important for people’s wellbeing. So if you are thinking about when to run a webinar, don’t run it at lunchtime!
I had a blog post published on the Advance HE blog, Looking through the digital lens, in which I reflect on how we may want to start to look through a digital lens on our strategic priorities.
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.
No travelling for me this week, well that’s no different to any other week these days… Last year around this time on one week I was in London two days and went to Cheltenham as well. It doesn’t look like I will be travelling anywhere for work for months, even for the rest of the year!
Had a number of meetings about ideas for consultancy offers with various institutions, which were interesting.
Continued to work on the strategy, which is now looking good. It’s not a huge shift from what we had before, but it takes on board the lessons from Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Reimagined programme. It will also lead into some work we are doing on thought leadership. I have to say I am not a fan of the term thought leader, it’s up there with the term social media guru, as something you call yourself, but no one would ever describe you by that term. However the concept of future thinking is something that I think we should do, if people want to call that thought leadership, fine.
Reflecting and thinking about where you see higher education could go in the future, as well as thinking about where they are now can be useful. Sharing those thoughts with others, is more useful. I see these pieces are starting discussions, inspiring people or even making them reflect on their own thinking.
With all the media talk on digital poverty this week, I was reminded that fifteen years ago I wrote an abstract for a conference, the session was called: Mobile Learning on a VLE?
Wouldn’t it be nice if all learners in an educational environment had access to a wireless laptop and free wireless access to their digital resources at a time and place to suit their needs.
Back in 2006 I was looking at how learners could access learning content despite not having a fancy laptop (or desktop) or even internet connectivity.
I was intrigued about how consumer devices used for entertainment, information and gaming could be used to access learning. Could you format learning activities for the PSP, an iPod, even the humble DVD player?
I even found a video of the presentation, which I have uploaded to the YouTube.
Nothing new really, as the Open University had been sending out VHS cassettes for many years before this.
Wikipedia was twenty years old this week. The first time I wrote about Wikipedia on this blog was back in 2007, when they published their two millionth article. They now have fifty-six million articles. I met Jimmy Wales at Learning without Frontiers ten years ago this week.
I managed to have a few words with Jimmy and wished I could have had a few more, seemed like a really nice and genuine guy.
My colleague Lawrie had a post published on the Advance HE blog Leadership through a digital lens where he reflects on what we have learnt over the past year from having technology front and centre of HE, asking how we ensure that we do not adopt a techno-solutionist approach but look at our goals through a digital lens.
This was the first week of the third national lockdown and the week that the President of the United States attempted to subvert democracy through violence.
Well after two weeks on leave it was back to work. Due to covid restrictions and a growing number of cases I wasn’t about to head off to the office as I would have done in previous years. It was back to working from home. Two of my children were also at home, undertaking remote learning.
I didn’t anticipate too many e-mails in my inbox as virtually everyone else had been on leave for most of the two week as well, however was slightly surprised to find 95 in there.
Of course, going through them I found most of them were from mailing lists and spam, so it wasn’t long before I was down to just three.
Monday evening saw an announcement from the Prime Minister that England was going to again go into a national lockdown, there were similar announcements from the devolved administrations.
Schools and colleges were to close to all students except for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Unlike the first lockdown where universities across the UK initially unilaterally closed their campuses and sent students home, this time, as they did in November, the Government has provided guidance to universities on what they should be doing.
Unlike in March, universities were able to continue to deliver in-person teaching for specific groups, however other students were expected to remain at home.
Those students who are undertaking training and study for the following courses should return to face to face learning as planned and be tested twice, upon arrival or self-isolate for ten days:
Medicine & dentistry
Subjects allied to medicine/health
Education (initial teacher training)
Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled (your university will notify you if this applies to you).
Students who do not study these courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least Mid-February. This includes students on other practical courses not on the list above.
We have previously published guidance to universities and students on how students can return safely to higher education in the spring term. This guidance sets out how we will support higher education providers to enable students that need to return to do so as safely as possible following the winter break.
If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time.
For those students who are eligible for face to face teaching, you can meet in groups of more than your household as part of your formal education or training, where necessary. Students should expect to follow the guidance and restrictions. You should socially distance from anyone you do not live with wherever possible.
The news was full of stories about lack of laptops and connectivity this week, but I do think the issue is wider than that. My household has digital privilege, we have a 1Gb/s fibre connection and both my school age children have devices to access online learning.
However we did have an issue this week with a 300MB presentation uploaded to Google Classroom. We were unable to download the file (as that was restricted), we couldn’t preview the file (as it was too big) and Google Slides couldn’t open it.
We struggled, I did think that a student on a 3G connection with a bandwidth limit would also struggle with accessing the file.
Is the solution providing devices and bandwidth? Well in this case no the design here was a problem. Maybe we need to start thinking about low bandwidth and asynchronous curriculum design, which puts the learner first.
Did a lot of thinking about digital poverty this week, but I think that my colleague Lawrie sums it up best with this tweet.
Lots of stories on my local news about “digital poverty”. Let’s be clear, it’s not digital poverty, it’s poverty, and the differences between those with digital access, and those without are growing because of poverty.
In the same week that universities were defending the fees being charged for delivering their courses online, I had an e-mail from one university stating that they did not think they should pay for an online conference, though they would pay to attend a physical conference. There is something here about recognising the value of something despite the platform (physical or virtual) that it is being delivered on.
One thing that has become more apparent this year is the importance of data in supporting both student and staff experiences. However, sometimes making wish lists for the future is the easy part; what is often harder is figuring out that vision and the steps required to get there.
Prior to the pandemic, one of the key challenges that higher education was thinking about was the climate emergency and how they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and move to a carbon net zero position. Despite the pandemic this is still an issue and I was involved in a meeting where we discussed some of the challenges and issues and potential solutions. What is different now is that the pandemic and the lockdown has changed the thinking of many higher education institutions about the design of their campuses and their curriculum.
The third lockdown has got many institutions thinking about their curriculum design, also what they need to do to embed practice for the future. How do we move from models of translation to ones that are transformative.
My top tweet this week was this one.
Just had my first Teams call of the year, wonder how many of those I will have over 2021?
In an entirely expected move, the country faced a second wave of covid-19 and as a result there is now a second lockdown.
From my perspective not too much has changed. I am still working from home virtually all the time meeting via Teams and occasionally Zoom. I had started going to our office in Bristol once or twice a month, and was about to up this to once a week, I was in last week. However during November I will not be visiting the office or Bristol and will be following government guidelines.
UCU said that universities must move all non-essential in-person teaching online as part of any plans for a national lockdown.
Now we have more details, we now know that the Government has said universities will remain open during this second lockdown. This will create headaches for universities as they plan to deliver more of their programmes online, but maintain some physical teaching to satisfy the Government. Of course some students will not want to attend physical lessons and lectures.
This week saw the continual increase in covid-19 cases, sadly increasing deaths and many areas of the UK entering Tier 3 lockdowns. The threat of a national lockdown was getting discussed, whilst in Wales they were already in lockdown.
Monday I went into the Bristol office to work, it was quiet and I managed to get some work done.
Tuesday I spent the day writing, but I did find it hard that day to be creative. The weather was frightful.
Wednesday I was back into Bristol and in our office to work, I did meet up with a couple of colleagues as well for working meetings.
Concerns have been raised over a lack of mandatory face masks for students and staff at the University of the West of England (UWE). One lecturer said staff “don’t feel safe” and he felt “insulted” at the suggestion staff were “happy to go to Sainsbury’s and the pub but not work”.
University students are struggling with loneliness and anxiety due to campus lockdowns, with the risk that their mental health will deteriorate further unless urgent action is taken, counsellors and charities are warning.
Students could be told not to return home at Christmas if the spread of the coronavirus has not been controlled, the deputy first minister has said.
Amongst all this I have been planning the programme for the Jisc, QAA and HESA Data Matters 2021 conference which is taking place in January and will be an online conference. I have a history of doing online conferences and I am planning to take advantage of the affordances that an online conference can bring to such an event. I am hoping to do podcasts, pre-recorded presentations, blogs and more, as well as streaming live keynotes and presentations. Find out more here about the conference.
Thursday I was on leave. It was nice though to see this tweet from Lawrie. Excellent news.
Really pleased! Chatted to @rafehallett from @KeeleInnovation today. and I am being conferred as an Hon. Professor in Digital Education, leadership, and practice. Excited to be associated with a great team and the benefits it will bring to my Jisc research work.
Friday I was working from home. Having left an empty inbox on Wednesday I was quite surprised to see 51 unread e-mails in my inbox. It actually didn’t take too long to process the e-mails. Some I read and then deleted, others I marked as spam, from some I created Jira tasks, and some I just did what was being asked.
My top tweet this week was this one.
So just me then when I saw Tucker trending thinking that it was about Tucker Jenkins.
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.
So after a lovely week off, taking a break from work including a lovely cycle ride to Brean, I was back in the office on Monday, well not quite back in our office, more back at my office at home. So it was back to Zoom calls, Teams meetings and a never ending stream of e-mails.
My week started off with a huge disappointment, I lost the old Twitter…
Back in August 2019 I wrote a blog post about how to use Chrome or Firefox extensions to use the “old” Twitter web interface instead of the new Twitter interface. Alas, as of the 1st June, changes at Twitter has meant these extensions no longer work and you are now forced to use the new Twitter! When you attempt to use them you get an error message.
I really don’t like the “new” web interface, it will take some time getting use to it, might have to stick to using the iOS app instead.
Most of Monday I was in an all day management meeting, which as it was all via Zoom, was quite exhausting. We did a session using Miro though, which I am finding quite a useful tool for collaborating and as a stimulus for discussion. At the moment most of the usage is replicating the use of physical post-it notes. I wonder how else it can be used.
The virtual nature of the meeting meant that those other aspects you would have with a physical meeting were lost. None of those ad hoc conversations as you went for coffee, or catching up over lunch. We only had a forty minute late lunch break, fine if lunch is provided, more challenging if you not only need to make lunch for yourself, but also for others…
Some lessons to be learned there!
Monday was also the day that schools (which had been open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children already) were supposed to re-open for reception, years one and six. However in North Somerset with the covid-19 related closure of the local hospital in Weston-super-Mare, this meant that the “re-opening” was cancelled at the last minute, with some parents only been informed on Sunday night! Since then the plan is to go for re-opening on the 8thJune, now that the covid-19 problem at the hospital has been resolved. Continue reading What should we do, what can we do? – Weeknote #66 – 5th June 2020→
This was the question that was posted to the Twitter this week.
What have we learnt from the first 3 months of COVID lockdown – both positive and negative – that will influence the long-term legacy of delivering online learning?
A quick question: creating a legacy from the COVID tsunami – what have we learnt from the first 3 months of COVID lockdown – both positive and negative – that will influence the long-term legacy of delivering online learning? @AcademicChatter@aldinhe_LH@RacePhil@it_se@A_L_T
I found this an interesting question, I did respond initially on the Twitter, actually not to this tweet, but another one which had tagged me. I did think that I might expand on my thoughts in a deeper blog post on the question.
We know that many people out there thought this so called “pivot” would probably be the best thing that has happened with digital transformation and online learning, and would result in a paradigm shift in how universities (and colleges) would teach in the future.
This was something that I didn’t agree with and is best summed up by a tweet in March that Lawrie posted.
"Pivot to online" makes it sound like a strategic choice, and that it's as easy as changing a direction. It isn't – there is work to be done, people aren't ready, there are going to be mistakes, and people will be stressed.
"Pivot to online" – does not describe this situation.
Since then, I don’t think we’ve seen so far could be described as online learning as in the sense of what we would have described as online learning pre-covid-19.
What we have seen is an emergency response to a crisis and a swift move to remote delivery. Universities were given very little time to respond a week or so. They had to quickly close campuses and ensure staff were able to deliver remotely, and students were able to access this delivery remotely as well. Whilst at the same time, all professional services staff were being forced to work from home.
Also during all this we had students wondering if they should stay in halls (some had no choice), go home or some third choice. Most international students flew home.
We also had what was happening in the wider community. People were forced to work from home, many employees were furloughed, hospitality and retail establishments were closed. Lock down restrictions were put in place to stop all nonessential travel. We were asked to stay home, only go out for essential shopping and one form of exercise per day.
We need to remember that students were and are not learning online, they are in lock down, isolated and often without the support or technology they need.
They are socially isolated (though I am sure many are taking advantage of connecting virtually), but also they may be suffering financially, especially if they were working part-time in the those businesses which were forced to close.
Those who went home, would find themselves in a crowded environment, competing for quiet spaces to study from other siblings, parents or other relatives. Sharing bandwidth and devices.
This is not an ideal environment for learning!
Despite the restrictions and limitations, I have seen staff step up and work hard to engage students, support them often using a range of tools and platforms. They have had to rapidly and at scale, “convert” or “translate” their courses to be delivered remotely without much time, resources or support. They have needed to be able to use these tools efficiently and effectively. They may, like the students, have found themselves in the same kind of crowded environments, competing for quiet spaces to teach from partners, children, maybe even parents or other relatives. Sharing bandwidth and devices.
There are lessons to be learned. about planning, contingencies, responsiveness, support and what to do in a crisis. Though hopefully there won’t be another coronavirus crisis, there are other things that happen locally and regionally and for shorter periods of time that require shifts in how we teach, learn and assess. Think about snow, volcanic eruptions, travel disruption and so on. To quote Terry Pratchett, million to one chances happen nine times out of ten.
The thing is this crisis, it not over, by a long way, even future planning for September is in response to the current crisis. We will learn new lessons then as we try and deliver a full student experience, which is dominated by the threat of the coronavirus, social distancing and the possibility of a second or third wave of mounting infections and sadly, subsequent deaths.
I don’t think that we can easily transfer lessons learnt from these experiences (and future experiences) to “traditional” online learning. Will that kind of online learning even exist in this future?
What we can though do is apply what we’ve learnt to course design and delivery for the future, whether that be online, hybrid, blended or physical face to face. We are facing an uncertain future, we can build on the experiences we have had to make it better for students and staff.
news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…