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.
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.
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 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.
“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:
The Cambridge story is everywhere this morning – but I feel that the University of Bolton announcement will end up being the important one. https://t.co/qaNIjH32yx
It's been assumed that a September start isn't possible – Bolton has made it possible with technical measures.
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.
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.
We’re using term hybrid. In the same that hybrid car has a mechanical engine and electric motor & you use each depending on journey you are taking you’ll potentially have an on campus or online experience which will reflect your learning journey (but maximise benefits of both)
“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.
Monday was another trip to London, I had been expecting to participate in a workshop, but this was cancelled late last week, and I already had train tickets and another meeting in the diary so decided to head up anyhow. The weather was changeable, raining whilst on the train, but this cleared up by the time I arrived in London.
I saw this link in my news feed and it did make me think more about how we could use AI to support learning, but also reflect on some of the real challenges in making this happen. Also do we want this to happen!
In the afternoon in the office we were discussing Education 4.0 and how we are going to move this forward in terms of expert thinking and messages.
Tuesday was a busy day, first a meeting in the Bristol office, before heading up to Cheltenham for a meeting the HESA office.
I haven’t been on a CrossCountry train for a while now, so travelling to Cheltenham Spa from Bristol Temple Meads I was interested to see how the 3G connectivity issues I’ve always had on that route would be like, especially as I now have 4G with Three. Well same old problems, dipping in and out from 4G to 3G as well as periods of No Service. I would like to blame the train, but the reality is that there is poor phone signal connectivity on that route. As there is no incentive for mobile network providers to improve connectivity.
If I do go to Cheltenham again, I think I will take a book!
We were discussed the Data Matters 2020 Conference, which is now in my portfolio. Still a work in progress and the proposal needs to be signed off by key stakeholders.
Whilst I was in Cheltenham I bumped into my old colleague Deborah from Gloucestershire College and we had a chat about stuff. What was nice to hear was the number of my team and colleagues in that team that had started there in learning technology and were now doing new and more exciting jobs at universities across the UK.
Wednesday there was rain. I spent today preparing for a meeting in the afternoon and tidying up my inbox. Though I did find time for a coffee.
Thanks to Lawrie for the link, I read this report on the iPASS system, which uses data and analytics to identify students at risk.
The three institutions increased the emphasis on providing timely support, boosted their use of advising technologies, and used administrative and communication strategies to increase student contact with advisers.
This report shows that the enhancements generally produced only a modestly different experience for students in the program group compared with students in the control group, although at one college, the enhancements did substantially increase the number of students who had contact with an adviser. Consequently, it is not surprising that the enhancements have so far had no discernible positive effects on students’ academic performance.
Looks like that it didn’t have the impact that they thought it might.
In a couple of weeks I am recording a podcast and met with the organiser today to discuss content and format. Without giving too much away, we will be covering the importance of people in any digital transformation programme and ensuring that they are part of the process, consultation and are given appropriate training in the wider context of their overall skills and capabilities. You can’t just give people new digital systems and expect them to be able to use them from day one or with specific training. Familiarity with digital in its wider context is often critical, but is equally often forgotten.
Whilst writing a blog post about online learning I wrote the following
Conversations are really hard to follow in e-mail, mainly as people don’t respond in a linear manner, they add their comment to the top of their reply.
When I first started using e-mail in 1997, well actually I first started using e-mail in 1987, but then got flamed by the e-mail administrator at Brunel University, so stopped using it for ten years….
When I re-started using e-mail in 1997, there was an expectation when replying to e-mail that you would respond by writing your reply underneath the original e-mail, bottom posting, which really was something that I got from using usenet newsgroups. This from RFC 1855.
If you are sending a reply to a message or a posting be sure you summarize the original at the top of the message, or include just enough text of the original to give a context. This will make sure readers understand when they start to read your response. Since NetNews, especially, is proliferated by distributing the postings from one host to another, it is possible to see a response to a message before seeing the original. Giving context helps everyone. But do not include the entire original!
By the early 2000s lots more people were using e-mail and most of the time they were replying at the start of the e-mail, top-posting. There were quite a few people in my circles who continued to bottom post their replies, which made sense when reading a threaded conversation, but confused the hell out of people who didn’t understand why someone replied to a conversation, and from what they could see, hadn’t written anything!
Today top-posting appears to be the norm and I can’t recall when I last saw someone responding to an e-mail by replying at the end of the quoted reply.
Here is the blog post I wrote, about how online learning doesn’t just happen.
Friday was about planning, planning and even some forward planning. One thing that has puzzled me for a long time was the difference between forward planning and planning. Thanks to Google I have a better idea now.
Forward planning is being pro-active, predicting the future and then planning to achieve that prediction.
The opposite is backward planning, which is more reactive, you wait until you get a request or management decision then create a plan to achieve it.
So what is plain and simple planning then?
Wikipedia says that planning is the process of thinking about the activities required to achieve a desired goal.
So some of what I am doing in my planning is responding to both requested goals and planning for some predicted goals.
We had our weekly meeting about the Technical Career Pathways we are developing at Jisc. I am responsible for the Learning and Research Technical Career Pathway.
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 aware of and are able to utilise the digital tools available to them and understand which tools work best for different situations and scenarios.
Gaining that understanding and 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 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.
When I was teaching at City of Bristol College, one of the main reasons I started using and embraced technology was to aid planning my curriculum and lesson planning. The way it actually started was using technology to save time. By using, initially, a word processing package and then a DTP package, I would write and design assignment briefs, handouts and workbooks. The reason for using technology in this way was so I could reuse them the following year. Making them digital meant I could edit and update them if needed.
I also started using a presentation package (Freelance Graphics) to create presentations. There were no digital projectors back then, so these were printed onto acetates in black and white and shown via an OHP. This for me was much better than hand writing onto acetates, again for updating and changing.
Though I did write basic schemes of work for the curriculum at that time, it started to make sense to me to start creating a more detailed scheme of work.
When I noticed the web in the late 1990s I realised that hyperlinks could mean I could create a digital (though back then we called it electronic) scheme of work with live links to the digital resources I had created. It didn’t take much to then add lesson plans to the scheme of work with live links to the presentations, handouts and other resources.
A final step was to start adding extra resources and links, in order to allow for a learner to go to the web site and differentiate their learning journey.
I didn’t initially use digital technologies to plan, but what those digital technologies allowed me to do more effectively was to both plan better, but also link everything together. The process also allowed me to easily and quickly adjust resources and plans as and when required.
It got to the stage where I would plan a whole year in advance and have everything ready for all my lessons and courses.
When I spoke about this to people (outside my college) the response I usually got was I plan the night before and there is no way I could plan more than a week ahead. Their explanation was that they couldn’t know how a lesson would go in advance and therefore couldn’t plan more than one lesson in ahead. At the time I did struggle with a response, but now reflecting on this, I realised that I had in fact planned flexibility into my plans. Combined with links to all the resources and additional stuff, it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t cover everything in a lesson, or if the lesson was cancelled (snow closure for example). It was also later that I recognised as a teacher that though I had a responsibility for my curriculum, it wasn’t my job to teach the whole of the curriculum, it was responsibility to ensure my students learnt the curriculum. Some of this would be through teaching, but some could be through reading, or other learning activities. Some would be formal and some would be informal. Resources could be digital, but they could also be analogue.
Of course back then we didn’t have a VLE, so I “created” a VLE, well it was a website with some additional tools (such as a discussion forum). As I had used digital tools for planning and content creation, it wasn’t a huge job to transfer everything to the website. I do remember buying Adobe Acrobat so I could create PDFs more easily, especially I was using a bizarre range of software to create stuff.
A VLE today makes the whole process of planning much easier and I have written before about this in my series, 100 ways to use a VLE.
I have to admit my first reaction was to ignore it and dismiss the challenge. It’s not as though I’ve not done these before, back in 2008 I was challenged by someone called Steve Wheeler on a meme called Passion Quilt.
Right. It’s an interesting challenge and looks a little like a chain letter, but here goes. Mike Hasley, of TechWarrior Blog, has laid down a challenge for me and 4 others to add to a collection of photos that represent our passion in teaching/learning. I have to tag it ‘Meme: Passion Quilt’ and post it on a blog, Flickr, FaceBook or some other social networking tool with a brief commentary of why it is a passion for me.
That Doug Belshaw challenged me in 2011 to write 500 words on the purpose of education. There was also an image challenge with that too
So for this challenge I need to look at the video clip, and what it makes me think of, professionally or personally. As I said I was going to dismiss it, but hang on a minute…
It’s a classic British 1960s crime caper. It’s got Michael Caine in it, as well as Noel Coward. Yes it’s full of cliché, yes it’s rather sexist and does have a fair few unfair stereotypes in there too, the Italian Mafia and Camp Freddy are examples of this. Having said that, if you can forgive a film of it’s time, this is an enjoyable romp through 1960s London and Italy, with a great script, photography and cast.
The story tells how Charlie Croker gets out of jail and plans a heist of Chinese gold that is been delivered to the Fiat factory in Milan. The film has a classic chase sequence as the three Mini cars are filled with gold and driven across Milan, with the Italian police in pursuit.
The film ends with the cliffhanger clip shown above, showing that despite a successful heist, crime doesn’t pay…
From a professional perspective, what does this clip mean for me?
Well what the film shows is a robbery, but an expertly planned and executed h, one that takes into account a range of issues and the plan mitigates these. The success is dependent on the planning and planning down to the smallest detail.
“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”
From checking how the Mini cars would perform with all the gold in the boot, the amount of explosive to evading the traffic jams.
“If they planned this traffic jam, then they must have planned a way out of it.”
In addition there is a lot of preparation to ensure the success of the plan, from people to resources, to computer programming.
However as the clip shows, despite all the planning resulting in success, one slight mistake and success is on the cliff edge (literally) with the prospect of it going either way. Despite all the careful planning, innovative thinking is required if disaster is to be avoided.
I am a great fan of careful planning and good preparation, when it comes to teaching and learning. When I was a teacher I would plan out the entire year in advance, including lesson plans for each lesson. Alongside these I would prepare the majority of the resources required and these would be printed in advance and stored ready for use. When I “discovered” the internet, for some courses I created my own “VLE” and the scheme of work and resources were available for learners to access and download. On the site were additional resources, links, news items and a discussion forum – this was in a time when not many people had internet at home.
However what was also important was having the space to be innovative and responsive to accommodate unexpected events and issues. In addition there was space to allow for topicality and for ideas from the learners. When opportunities arose, they were grasped (as there was the flexibility in the planning to allow for this) and not ignored because we had to stick to the plan.
I know speaking to teachers over the years, that many don’t like this approach, they see planning as inflexible and doesn’t take account of what happens in the classroom on a weekly basis. So as a result they don’t plan. They take a more ad hoc approach, though this can work for some people, often it can result in core elements been missed or rushed.
Good planning does not mean rigidity or lack of flexibility. Having a plan doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for innovation. No effective planning, will build in room for innovation, will be flexible and will allow for topicality and spontaneity. In reality an ad hoc approach usually results in a bland approach falling back on using the same methodology,
We often do things because we have always done it that way. We take the same route to work, we go the sandwich place for lunch, we choose the same thing from the menu when we go out to lunch.
I recall an apocryphal story about the Royal Horse Artillery who have not used horses for a hundred years, but still have five people for each artillery piece, four to fire the gun and one to hold the horses. The essence was that we do things because we have always done them that way and sometimes the reasons for doing it this way have actually changed or disappeared, but we still keep doing it.
Doing everything last minute, usually means doing everything the same way every time. Planning allows for innovation, creativity and the last minute cliffhangers.
Just going back to the Italian Job, if you didn’t know, a few years ago the solution to the problem was “discovered” in a 2009 competition.
In addition to that competition, according to a making of documentary, the producer Deeley was unsatisfied with the four written endings and conceived the current ending as a literal cliffhanger appropriate to an action film which left an opportunity for a sequel. The documentary describes how helicopters would save the bus seen on the cliff at the end of the first film. The grateful gang would soon discover that it is the Mafia that has saved them, and the sequel would have been about stealing the gold bullion back from them.
So as this is #blideo in theory I have to challenge someone with a clip, well here’s the clip, as for the challenge, well that’s open to everyone.
You recall the general knowledge quiz game, where you had to fill in your six pieces of cheese (or cake) covering six different subject areas.
One of the traits of playing the game was that you favoured certain subject areas and avoided others. You liked History and Geography, but avoided Arts & Literature. As a result you answered many questions on the subjects you liked and virtually ignored the subject you didn’t.
When it comes to embedding of learning technologies (ILT) into a curriculum area, managers of those areas do something similar.
They may be excellent at pushing the use of interactive whiteboards with their staff and teams; but as they don’t like the VLE that much, it gets ignored or only paid lip service.
Likewise when using learning technologies to solve issues in the area; you may use it to solve some areas, whilst ignoring other areas.
The same happens when it comes to writing ILT action plans for curriculum areas. These plans will favour particular technologies and some problem areas. Other technologies and other problem areas will get ignored.
In order to avoid this happening, we have decided to make use of the cheese concept for Trivial Pursuit in order to ensure that curriculum teams make best use of the range of technologies available, ensuring none are left out; likewise ensuring that learning technologies are used to solve issues in a range of areas, rather than one specific area or a few areas.
The areas we have chosen for our cheeses are based on the needs of our corporate college ILT Strategy.
We have two sets of cheese, one with a technology focus and one with a learner focus.
In later blog posts I will go into more detail about the different cheeses and exemplar action plans for those cheeses.
The key though for managers is that they MUST plan and COMPLETE action plans for each of the twelve cheeses. They can’t just ignore a cheese because they “feel like it”.
This should have the result that across the college there is a more holisitic approach to embedding of ILT into the curriculum. That weaker areas are not ignored in favour of stronger areas. Eventually the whole college will be moving forward in the use of ILT to enhance and enrich the learner experience; something that is essential as the world of technology is moving too.
So what do you understand by inclusion? Can we use learning technologies to improve inclusivity?
We discuss the ILT Champions Conference at Gloucestershire College, including the unconference format used and the learning spaces seen at the college. Do we need big names at conferences? Do we need keynotes? How do we make conferences financially viable?
We move onto planning. Do you plan your lessons a week, a month or a year in advance? Is planning a good thing or does it hinder creativity?
This is the twenty-first e-Learning Stuff Podcast, Goldilocks, what’s that all about then?