Tag Archives: online

What have we learnt?

using a laptop
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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?

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.

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!

man with facemask
Image by pisauikan from Pixabay

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. 

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

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.

Wot no lectures? – Weeknote #64 – 22nd May 2020

I have decided to take next week as leave, not that we’re going anywhere, but apart from the odd long weekend (bank holidays) I’ve not had any time off working since the lockdown started, actually I don’t think I’ve had leave since Christmas! I had planned to take some time off at Easter and go to London for a few days, as we had tickets for the Only Fools and Horses musical at the Royal Haymarket. I had bought tickets for my wife as a Christmas present and it was something we were all looking forward to. Then all this lockdown happened and the theatre cancelled all the performances as required by the Government.

I did consider keeping my leave, but with leading a taskforce, it was apparent that I might not have the time to take some (and where would I go).

So this week I was winding down slightly as I wanted to ensure I had done everything that people needed before I was off.

Radio
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

I published a blog post over the weekend about making the transition to online and to not make the assumption that though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

Making that move from the radio…

Making that move from the radio…

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.

I had an article published on the Media FHE Blog. Continue reading Wot no lectures? – Weeknote #64 – 22nd May 2020

Hybrid

Chimera
Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

I have been listening, writing and talking about how universities are planning for September. There is so much uncertainly about what the landscape will be like then, so working out what and how to design an effective student experience is challenging.

Courses will not be the same as they were and won’t be the same as they are now.

Universities are reflecting on their plans in light of the current lockdown, the easing of the lockdown, social distancing as well as guidance from the regulator.

Students applying for university places in England must be told with “absolute clarity” how courses will be taught – before they make choices for the autumn, says Nicola Dandridge of the Office for Students. 

This has implications for future planning and announcements of what universities will be doing in the Autumn. They will probably need to start publishing in June their plans. Some have done this already.

In what I suspected was to be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester 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 Professor 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.

The following week, the Student University Paper at Cambridge and then many others reported, such as the BBC – All lectures to be online-only until summer of 2021.

“Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year. Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements. 

There was a similar announcement from the University of Bolton.

The University will teach our excellent Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes on campus from the start of the new academic year in September 2020 and also support your learning using a range of dynamic virtual learning tools.

Though very similar pronouncements, reading this Twitter thread:

Most are thinking that Bolton and Cambridge are doing the same thing, but just spun it differently.

So how can universities plan their courses and curriculum in an uncertain future? 

We see and hear plans for online courses, non-online courses, blended courses and other types of courses.

A phrase I had been using in my conversations and discussions is hybrid courses. This is less hybrid as in combining online and physical courses into a single course, that’s more a blended approach. My view was that hybrid was much more about analogous to how hybrid vehicles function.

hybrid engine
Image by Davgood Kirshot from Pixabay

There is a petrol engine in the hybrid car, but the car can run on electric power when needed. On longer journeys the petrol engine takes over, but on shorter (slower) trips the car uses electric power. Which power is used is dependent on the environment and situation the car is in.

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.

These hybrid responsive courses will allow universities to easily clarify with prospective students about their experience and how they potentially could change as restrictions are either lifted or enforced. It helps staff plan their teaching and assessments to take into account the environment and changes to the situation.

There are hybrid variations across cars, some can be topped up by plugging in, whilst others just rely on charging form the petrol engine.

There could be a similar story with variations on hybrid courses. Some could have more online elements, whilst others reflecting the nature of that subject could have more physical face to face aspects.

There are of course still petrol cars and fully electric cars, but there is a whole spectrum of hybrid vehicles and it’s the same with hybrid courses.

You could translate your courses into online versions. You could transform them into courses which take advantage of the affordances of online. However the delivery of teaching is just one aspect of the overall student experience and thinking about that and reflecting on how your course and learning design will take into account the realities of an uncertain future, means you need to build that into the design of modules and courses. A hybrid model that is responsive and can adapt is one way which this could be done.

So it was interesting to see another person, Simon Thomson from University of Liverpool Centre for Innovation in Education (CIE) has been using it as well.

“None of us know what’s going to be happening in the Autumn”, said OfS CEO Nicola Dandridge to the Commons Education Committee, who nevertheless added – in the same breath – that “we are requiring that universities are as clear as they can be to students so that students when they accept an offer from a university know in broad terms what they’ll be getting”. Via WonkHE

It’s an uncertain future and one that means courses will need to reflect that uncertainty. Designing hybrid courses which reflect the possibilities of that future, but are responsive enough to respond to changes are probably one way of ensuring that the student experience is meeting the demands of students in a challenging landscape.

Webinars, FELTAG Confusion

It is no wonder that many in the FE sector are confused over the implications of FELTAG.

In my previous blog post I quoted the SFA response to FELTAG which includes the following comment.

This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

I read this as

These are activities, including webinars, which replaces face to face lecturing.

However it should be read as

This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time and webinars.

If you read the Provider Support Manual from the SFA which has more detail it states:

333. The following are examples of online learning:

  • Learning materials that the learner accesses on a college virtual learning environment such as Moodle
  • Video demonstrations or Powerpoint presentations accessed outside the classroom
  • Structured learning packages that are not facilitated by a lecturer.

334. The following are examples of activities that do not constitute online learning and should not be included in calculation of the Percentage of online delivery:

  • A video of a practical demonstration that is shown in the classroom with the lecturer present
  • Work undertaken on a computer with a lecturer present
  • An online webinar delivered by a lecturer
  • Homework assessments that are undertaken on-line
  • Email/telephone or online tutorials or feedback discussions.

Webinars would include using tools such as Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate, Big Blue Button and Google Hangouts.

The SFA responds to FELTAG

Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Following the publication of the FELTAG report and the somewhat confusing response from BIS, across the FE sector there has been a lot of discussion about the implications of FELTAG, the 10% online delivery particularly getting a lot of attention.

I have attended a lot of events and meetings where we have discussed FELTAG, and though there was a lot of positive comments about ensuring our learners gained the necessary digital skills for future employment, the challenges of ensuring our staff have the necessary skills and training to deliver on this often came to the fore. In addition the 10% dominated many of the discussions, partly as it wasn’t clear what was online and what wasn’t? Most people were sure that “searching the web for information” was not online delivery, whereas computer-mediated content and assessment probably was. What was less clear was if discussion forums or webinars counted towards the online 10%.

This week the SFA released their response to FELTAG, and as one of the major funding bodies for Further Education this has been eagerly awaited in the anticipation that they would clarify and clear up the implications from FELTAG.

We now need to record on the ILR for the proportion of the Scheme of Work which is delivered “online”.

The 2014 to 2015 individualised learner record (ILR) includes a field which asks for the proportion of the curriculum design (scheme of work) delivered by computer-mediated activity rather than by a lecturer. This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

It is good to see the clarification that webinars are considered to be online and as expected that researching on the web isn’t.

However it will be interesting to understand in more detail what is included and what isn’t. I consider all the following could be used to replace face to face lecturing time.

  • Having a discussion online using a forum on a VLE, or within a Google+ community.
  • Researching using online and digital collections, ie not using Google and the web, but using specific digital resources, such as an e-book library; the British Library Newspapers Archive; a collection of online journals.
  • Creating a blog and commenting on the blogs of others.
  • Having a discussion on Twitter, using a single hashtag.

The SFA also clarifies what they understand by the 10%.

We are not expecting providers to convert 10% of learning delivery in each programme of study ‘en bloc’ to online to meet a ‘directive’. Rather, we are encouraging providers to establish a strategy to determine where the adoption of a greater ‘blend’ of delivery and assessment types adds most value to a learning programme…

There was some discussion that the 10% could be an aggregated 10%, however the statement from the SFA implies they are expecting every programme to adopt blended learning in some format.

The challenge will be designing, developing and delivering the computer-mediated activity to meet this 10%. Unless the staff have the necessary skills, it will be a difficult process. It is one thing to use learning technologies for the odd activity here and then, it’s another thing to plan and schedule in 54 hours of online delivery into a 540 hours programme. The response from the SFA does indicate that colleges shouldn’t just convert the 10%, but it is clear they are expecting providers to strategically establish processes for implementing 10% (or more) where it “adds value” to a programme.

In many cases I would suspect that some courses already are meeting the 10%, it’s just that it isn’t part of the formal scheme of work. In this instance, the challenge will be for the teaching staff, how they will reduce their face to face time by 10%.

The other response from the SFA is that they will be looking at current use of online delivery this year, combine with the IRL information from 2014-15, to then get the data that “will be used to gauge the current volume of online delivery and establish a baseline to inform funding policy development and implementation for future years.”

The response to this has to be either, start now, don’t wait… make sure you train the staff. Though I am sure some providers may think that if they don’t start the process of change, the policy might disappear in the future…

It is good that we are getting clarification and the real value of FELTAG is getting the message out that the use of learning technologies should be used where it adds value to learning and improves the learning experience.

Image Credit: Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Online Video Conversion Tools

I have mentioned video media conversion tools before, but most of them have been applications. These are fine for example if you have the right computer (you need a Mac for VisualHub) or you have administrative rights to install the software on your Windows computer (which in institutions is generally not the case).

So if you can’t install a conversion tool on your computer, how do you convert video files, well I have been looking at online video conversion tools for a while now.

The one I have used and found the results work well on mobile devices is Media-Convert.

Media Convert

It’s quite simple, you upload a media file from your computer, and an online conversion converts into the file format of your choice. It can handle a large number of file types including text and audio as well as video, and has a range of possible output file types.

It can be used to create PDF files which is handy.

The user interface could be better, it is covered in Google ads, but it is free and they need to make money somehow.

I was impressed with the quality, I took a large Quicktime movie and converted it into an MP4 file that could be used on my Nokia N73, and the conversion was done very well.

I was recently told about another online media conversion tool, Zamzar, however the site is populated with pop-ups and you also need to enter an e-mail address which smacks to me that my e-mail might be harvested and passed onto third parties.

Free past papers now available online

Not only can you download the OCR past papers, you can also now upload them to your institutional intranet or VLE.

OCR has begun the first stage of a planned release of free past papers onto the website.

In response to your feedback, we have published 1,000 free-to-download 2006 past papers, mark schemes and examiner reports. There are a few exceptions where we cannot secure copyright, but the majority of qualifications are now covered.

We have also published more than 100 of our papers from 2007, with more due online soon.

OCR’s revised policy means that, in future, many more question papers will be published on the website after each exam series.

Once published online, the papers will remain available for at least two years. Again, you can download all these papers free of charge.

Please view the past papers page for details of the documents available to download.