Defining digital leadership: a debate

I am currently participating in a debate at Digifest 2018 in Birmingham. This post is details my thoughts on what makes a good digital leader. I don’t know what questions we are going to be asked or what conversation will naturally arise from the panel, so these are my initial thoughts. These are the traits of the best digital leaders I know.

The blurb for the debate is as follows:

The Jisc digital leadership programme helps delegates to look closely at their own practices. This will be a debate around what makes a good “digital” leader, discussing some of those practices. It will draw on the content of the Jisc digital leaders programme and the panel speakers will be alumni from the course.

I’m not sure what the ‘digital’ bit means.

I really don’t. I can’t work out if it’s a buzzword thing or if there is a genuine difference between a leader of any other kind and a digital leader. So I’ll do my best to talk about ‘digital’ leadership but to some extent, I’m just talking about leadership in general.

A good digital leader…

…knows that technology is not a solution

Technology solves some problems but not all. A good digital leader knows that there’s more to fixing problems than plugging stuff in.

…seeks understanding

It’s tempting after a long time in this profession to think one knows it all. I certainly don’t and I don’t think HE and technology are things that can ever be fully understood. Good (digital) leaders know that there is always something to learn are not so self-absorbed as to think they have all the answers.

…knows that barriers are often cultural, not technological

Technology is a thing we use to do a thing. The barriers to technology use are actually very easy to break down. Skills can be trained. Processes can be refined. Technologies can be integrated, developed and improved. Culture, however, is not easy to change and, in my experience, is the biggest barrier to the use of technology. Culture being the ideas, attitudes, feelings and behaviours that a group of people might display. Changing something so deeply entrenched as the culture of an institution is a long, hard game.

…is able to play the game

In HE there is always a game to be played to get something done. An angle to pursue, money to be scrounged or getting the people with the right influence on board. A good (leader) knows how to play those games to their and the institution’s advantage. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game’ and all that, but thangz gotz to get done y’all.

…is quick to get to know the right people

Influence, influence and influence. A good leader is able to gain the confidence of those in positions of influence. It’s so important to know who your decision makers are and to get to know them.

…develops credibility

If people think you’re a tool, they’ll treat you like a tool. Credibility is so key when instigating change at an institutional level. If they have no faith in you, how can they have faith in what you’re trying to do? How can they have confidence in you?

…sees where the organisation is, and should, be going

Keeping an eye on the future, as well as the here and now, is a skill. Knowing how to get there is a talent.

…accepts that change doesn’t happen overnight

A good leader is patient. Real change is hard work. It takes time and commitment. The ‘bull in a china shop’ approach does not go down well with your immediate team or the rest of the institution.

…will say they don’t know

It’s hard to trust anyone who acts as though they have all the answers and never asks for help. These people are usually exposed for the charlatans they are. Asking people who know something, or will be affected, by your work is not only polite, it’s sensible. Arrogance does not instil confidence.

…is able to say they’re wrong

Reflecting on your mistakes and where thing’s didn’t go quite as planned should be a must.

…knows that changing everything is not a sign of success

Changing all the technology you don’t like is a cop out mate. It’s not really change, it’s just a change. It’s the lowest common denominator and if it’s your first port of call, then you’re more worried about looking like you’re doing something than actually doing something meaningful. Doing stuff ≠ success.

…puts people first

This should be at the forefront of their mind. They shoul be thinking about everyone in the institution, their team, the students etc. They do what they do for them. They are their champion.

…is realistic

Digital stuff in HE isn’t all VR and raining money. Often, all you can do is make the most of what you have, therein lies true skill.

Immiscible Learning

Here’s some stuff I said at ALT West Midlands meeting at the University of Birmingham. The theme was “It’s all in the mix: new blended learning opportunities for educators”. So, I thought I’d reflect on a blended learning programme that I was a student on.

You can find the slides below. I explain what I felt didn’t work and how that could be better. Oh, and I made up a term for an unsuccessful blend.

The delegates have collected their experiences, positive and negative, and their advice on Padlet.

Made with Padlet

Academics are for life…

not just for Christmas. That should have been the title of the presentation I gave to the IT Services department at Leeds Beckett University last December. Instead, I called it “It’s all Academic”. Serious title regret.  I was asked to talk to the department about how to work better with Academics.

First of all, I want to say a big thank you to Sally Bogg for the invitation and to the organising committee, Mark Wood, Rob Moore, Tracy Russell, Matt Page, Ian Pette, Kieron Piercy and Tanja Lichtensteiger, for organising by far the most entertaining internal conference I have been to. The programme was informative, with excellent speakers, and incredibly fun. It was clear the team put in a huge amount of work and they completely pulled it off.

Take a look at the #ITSEvolving2017 hashtag to see the conversations delegates were having. My slides are available here and the results from the in-session polling are here. Fill your boots.

The reason I called the presentation ‘It’s all academic’ is that to me, it is. Universities exist because students want a degree. Students get degrees by learning and demonstrating that learning through assessment. To learn they must be taught and someone has to assess whether they are worthy of a degree. That is where academics come in. If there were no academics there would be no students and without students, there would be no University. We would, therefore, all be out of the job.

You will never please everyone

Fact. If you work in any kind of service or support role accept it. Move on. You’ll feel better.

An unrealistic, but effective, list

If I were a consultant who made their money speaking at conferences, peddling my 5 step programme to effective working relationships, I would have arrived at ITS Evolving with a definitive list of dos and don’ts to earn my scratch.

I’m not a consultant. I don’t get paid to speak. I don’t consider myself an expert on anything. I share my thoughts based on my experience only. But for fun, I made one up.

Unrealistic list

If you do all (the very tongue in cheek) things on the above list you will be well-liked by everyone, not just academics. But over here in the real world, we know that list is unrealistic. See my previous posts I am the harbinger of doom and The silent majority vs the deafening minority. There are legitimate things that get in the way:

In the real world

Academics are for life, not just for Christmas

There were some *ahem* interesting responses to my question “what do you find most difficult about working with academics”. We’ll leave “window lickers”, “old” and “lizards” to one side for a moment as the first is a disgraceful way to describe anyone, the second a lazy stereotype and the third makes no sense at all.

Word-cloud ITS Evolving 2017

To boil them down, academics are stubborn, arrogant, resistant to change, haughty, unrealistic and demanding. I will allow you to decide whether this is an accurate description based on your own experience.

I will share something with my IT colleagues, sometimes their behaviour is justified. You’re trying to do your job and guess what? They’re trying to do theirs! Given you often conflict with that, it’s hardly surprising that you are at loggerheads occasionally. That is no excuse for the rudeness of course.

If you don’t like academics, go work somewhere else. As I say at the start of the post, if there were no academics there would be no University. Learn to work with, not against them. Accept their existence or jog on.

Academics are sceptical by profession

It’s their job mate. They spend their days analysing and drawing conclusions. It’s hardly a surprise that these people will expect some evidence behind your decisions. They have a superhuman ability to smell bullshit so you better know what you’re talking about.

Their scepticism around technology is not unfounded. We are constantly reading about data and privacy issues in technology. Educational technologies are not immune to these issues. Technology can be seen as an exploitative tool of management. Check out Audrey Watters and any of Neil Selwyn‘s books for some excellent analyses on the issue.

Academics are under enormous pressure

They have ever increased (rarely decreasing) responsibilities. They are constantly being measured (module evaluations, NSS, REF, TEF et al) and monitored. They have job insecurity, a lot are hourly paid some are on probation for 5 years. Give them a break people. They have a lot to worry about.

Academics are not IT professionals

What do you want from them? Want them to maintain your SSL Cipher Suites and protocol versions over lunchtime? Yes, a basic level of capability is absolutely necessary but be reasonable people. Your job, the thing you’re paid to do, involves having expert knowledge of IT. Academics are here to teach. That’s why Universities exist.

Guess what? Not everyone likes technology as much as you! Technology is not neutral, it’s incredibly emotive. What IT depts. do has an effect on the daily lives of every person at University. Switching from one email client to another may be an insignificant change to you but to others, it’s a huge change.

 

Academics are people

There is no special formula you can apply. Academics are not a homogenous group. They are all different. They have good and bad days. Some of them are not very nice. But you know what? I’ve met plenty of very unpleasant IT professionals in my time.

All they want is to know what the hell is going on and to talk to a human being. Is that too much to ask?

Academics have different priorities

To me, this is the main reason IT and academics don’t get along. It may not be a priority but often IT depts. spend resource and time on support departments like HR, Registry and Finance, whilst teaching is pushed to the back of the queue.

They want you to support them with the most important part of their work. Working with students. Teaching. Helping students to learn. They want systems that enable, facilitate and improve that process. They don’t care about a new finance system.

The realistic list

The Realistic List

I don’t think there is anything revolutionary or unachievable on this list. I don’t think there’s anything particularly difficult either, yet, we continue to have this same conversation. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I know I don’t get it right all the time but if we all try, that’s a start.

All the IT team at Leeds Beckett can do is try and they have taken the first step by acknowledging a problem and being open to change.

P.S. I’m still looking for an IT Department that will take up my idea for IT <> Academic shadowing. As Tenessee Williams put it

“I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding.”

P.P.S. I used ResponseWare for my in-session polling and it was a painful experience. Opening and closing the poll was hit and miss. The essay question in to word cloud didn’t display and on the whole, it was stressful. But it was appreciated by the audience, so I wouldn’t avoid using polling again. I’d just prefer to use something like PollEverywhere.

Field of Dreams and other EdTech fallacies

This was the presentation I did, alongside fellow learning techs Rosie Hare and Marcus Elliott, at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) conference 2017. The full title was Kevin Costner is a liar: Field of Dreams and other EdTech fallacies. The session culminated in a discussion around the question: Is limited innovation, impact and staff engagement our fault?

The abstractslides, video, Padlet and Storify are all available online. Fill your boots.

What the hell was it about?

Obviously, you can go and read the abstract if you want, but in short, we wanted to ask a difficult question. We wanted to irritate people by making provocative statements and then make them talk about it. We could have been academically rigorous and presented a balanced argument but who’d want to watch that? Also, we’d have done all the work for the audience.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences recently, ALT is a particularly fine example, where people show all the clever shiny things they’ve done and we all pat each other on the backs for a job well done. Then follows the inevitable question, “how did you get academics to engage”, or even worse the inevitable comment, “my academics won’t do that/aren’t interested”. This presentation was an attempt to challenge some of that thinking. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are often inclined to blame/complain about our academic colleagues.

If we were doing it right, would we still be asking these questions? Something to consider.

That title though?

The title is a good hook to get people to come to the session. We could have called it “Exploring the attitudes and assumptions of learning technologists and their effect on engagement, innovation, and impact”. I got bored writing that. So we decided to base it on something fun and the theme really made the session. It also was an excellent basis on which to begin our fallacies.

Check out Marcus’s excellent intro:

Fallacy 1: If you build it, HE will come.

The brilliant but often misquoted line from the movie Field of Dreams is “If you build it, he will come”.  We decided to misappropriate that line and say “if you build it, Higher Education (HE) will come” (snarf). This is the idea that if you plug something in, people will immediately want to use it. But wait, no one really thinks that do they? In an ideal world no, but the reality is, there are some out there who do. IT departments are a good example. They seem to think they can replace the email system without providing any help.

In my experience people have lots of motivations for using or not using technology.  There are very few academics who will use something just because it’s there and fewer still who have the knowledge and confidence to use something new effectively.

We can plug stuff in, but there’s a lot more work to be done to get people to use it.

Fallacy 2: Technology will solve everything.

I think, those of you reading this, will already know that this is not the case. However, there are still those who think it can. I’m referring to the Government, senior management, and even some learning technologists. It is seen as a panacea to fix all ills. “If it’s broke, throw some tech at it”. To quote David White and Donna Lanclos:

“We go to technology to be the solution and everyone is disappointed” Lanclos, D. and White, D. 2016.

Fallacy 3: We don’t need evidence.

This relates to a couple of my earlier blog posts The Criticism of Criticism and In defence of technology . The idea that we don’t need to provide evidence to staff about the benefits of educational technologies. James Clay suggested:

“the problem is not the lack of evidence, but one of resistance to change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation.” James Clay 2017.

This is endemic of the blame culture that I really can’t stand. People’s reasons for not using technology are far too complex to be summed up in a sentence. I have no doubt there is some truth to what James said but I felt it removed any responsibility from us to ‘up our game’ to get them on board. To prove the worth of what we ask them to do.

I thought the line was defensive. It reduced skepticism to mere hysterics. Not the expression of genuine concern.

It implies THEY don’t get it.

Fallacy 4: They don’t get it.

I love this quote from Audrey Watters:

“many, I’d argue, misconstrue what the Luddites in the early nineteenth century were actually so angry about when they took to smashing looms.” Audrey Watters 2014.

We behave as though our academics are missing something. That they just don’t see what we know to be true, technology is awesome and they should use it. How often do we really bother to find out why they feel as they do? How often do we take the time to understand their motivations?

Matt Cornock put it best:

Should I decree a particular approach without discussion or justification, this would unduly elevate my position beyond that of the discipline being taught. Matt Cornock 2017

I don’t know what’s best for their subject. I don’t know what’s best for them. To assume is arrogant and lazy.

Fallacy 5: They’re not interested.

Maybe they’re not? Maybe we haven’t done a great job getting them interested. They only see us when we’ve plugged something in. Or when they have to seek us out. Or when we want to flog the latest thing. Or when we are enforcing the latest institutional mandate.

Are we surprised they’re not rushing to work with us?

Is limited innovation, impact and staff engagement our fault?

Unsurprisingly, the feeling was that it’s a far more complex issue than a yes/no. Obviously, we were deliberately black and white to get some discussion going. The Padlet gives a good idea of the debate and what people thought.

It is a joint responsibility. But we can always do better. Try harder. Talk to them. Listen to them. Be human.

Links

Clay, J. 2017. Show me the evidence… 13 February. e-Learning Stuff.
http://elearningstuff.net/2017/02/13/show-me-the-evidence/

Cornock, M. 2017. Don’t be an authority on meta-meta learning. https://mattcornock.co.uk/technology-enhanced-learning/dont-be-an-authority-on-meta-meta-learning/ 

Lanclos, D. and White, D. 2016. Keynote: Donna Lanclos and David White – Being Human is Your Problem #altc. https://youtu.be/OUw0RKDiWHE 

Watters, A. 2014. The Monsters of Education Technology. https://s3.amazonaws.com/audreywatters/the-monsters-of-education-technology.pdf

ICT vs The World #ussc17

I was invited to present at the UCISA Support Service Group #ussc17 conference in Bristol. I went to the conference last year with some IT colleagues and we presented a 20×20 called ICT vs Academics and I wrote a blog post whilst there called ICT vs Educational Technologists. This year I was invited to expand on the presentation and blog. This post summarises my main points from my presentation.

Slides here. Video here.

A deliberate d*ck

I warned delegates at the beginning of the presentation that I was going to be deliberately provocative, or as I put it, a deliberate d*ck. Why?  Because being deliberately provocative makes people think. They may not like it, they may not like me, but you can guarantee they’re going to sit there arguing with me in their heads. In doing so, they’re considering what I’m saying rather than passively accepting it.

Also, if we were doing it right we wouldn’t be having a conference dedicated to it, would we?

We are prone to finding reasons why we can’t do something. Money, buy in, time etc. the list is endless. I asked the delegates to put those things aside. The people who use your services don’t know about your internal politics and why should they? Think about what you would do in an ideal world. If there were no barriers? That’s what we should be aiming for.

Who was my intended audience?

I didn’t have any one audience type in mind. The quality of service is as much the responsibility of those at the top as it is those at the bottom. It’s all interlinked. I was speaking to anyone who works in an IT role. The people who use your services don’t care about your hierarchy and nor do I.

Let me begin with a question.

I didn’t have time to pose this question during the presentation so, to those of you who work in IT, in an education institution, what do you say when people ask you what you do?

A. I work in IT.
B. I do IT in education.

Have a think dear reader, we’ll return to it later.

Who they, what do and why?

If you get that reference I should give a prize or something.

I always start off by explaining who I am. Suffice to say I am not the usual attendee; beautifully put:

I do work in the IT department but I am in a little separate department which is not only geographically separated but also feels philosophically separate too at times. So I am a member of IT services, a colleague within IT services, a user of IT services and more often than not I become the target of academic’s IT frustrations. ‘Cos I obvs work in IT innit.

I’m not an expert (in anything really). I don’t fully understand what IT services do but I would say I know enough. I’m just someone who has made a few observations over the years. I’m also a great believer that everyone deserves a champion, someone who fights for them, and I see myself as a champion of academic needs. It frustrates me to see the relationship break down because it shouldn’t and there are easy remedies to improve it.

Things

I sit in the middle of both worlds. Academic and IT. It is a blessing and a curse. I am neither one or the other. But I am able to see things from both sides.

Acknowledging the ‘challenges’

It’s unfair to start a presentation of this kind without acknowledging the challenges IT peops deal with every day. I work on a helpdesk so these are just a few of the things I regularly get:

  • The people who send in a ticket at the last minute for something absolutely essential. Often happening in the next 30 minutes that they’ve known about for weeks.
  • The people who have emailed 3 minutes ago then email again to chase it.
  • The people who say they have emailed you repeatedly for something but when checked there is no record of contact from them (often when asked who they contacted, they completely ignore the question)
  • The people who worked as an x in the 90s. Who explain how to fix the issue, what you should do and why what the department has done is completely wrong.
  • The people who use all the latest tech at home, then think they should automatically be able to use that at work.
  • The people who email with an issue that is vital and must be fixed immediately but doesn’t reply to further information when asked.
  • The people who have their own money, buy something without consulting you, then expect you to make it work.
  • The people who provide no information e.g. I have an issue with Word.
  • The people who will not accept that their issue is a result of their lack of knowledge.
  • The people who could just Google the answer (since that’s exactly what you will end up doing anyway).
  • The people who are just downright rude…

In my slides, I used the word customer. *Hand slap* for not following my own advice.

IT is the broad side of the barn

You are an easy target, no a HUGE target. Chiefly because what you do affects people’s everyday lives. IT underpins every single process at a University. I can’t think of a single example that doesn’t involve IT. People get into work and spend the day using the services you offer them. Expect them to be laid back about it? Think they’re gonna be chilled when it breaks? Think again.

The buck stops with you. Fair or not.

Plus you’re never going to win. Noone knows what they want. Nobody wants the same thing and you’re always going to upset/disappoint someone. Accept it. Let it go.

Technology won’t save us

Two brilliant quotes about technology from smarter people than I. Technology won’t save education. There is no single solution. But there is a perception that technology is the panacea to solve all ills. This is what IT departments are faced with and why the pressure on them continues to rise.

“When you decide [there is] a problem, then you naturally start looking for a solution…and then you go to the technology to be a solution and everyone is disappointed.” David White and Donna Lanclos – Being Human is Your Problem ALTc2016

Kill the witch

If you don’t understand it, it’s magic.
If you practice magic you’re a witch.
Kill the witch.
James Holden – July 2015

IT is a dark art. Few people really know what you do and even fewer understand it. I don’t suppose we need to. If we all understood and knew how to do what you do, then we wouldn’t need you. I sometimes get the feeling that IT people like to nurture that mystique. IT is hidden away in offices as far away from people as possible and ITSM tools are introduced to avoid dealing with anyone directly (sorry, to effectively manage…zzz). All people want to know is who to contact and what’s happening. They hate ticket ping pong.  IT processes are complex and convoluted usually obscured by mountains of paperwork and meetings. We get it, they don’t. The people who use your services are not ITIL experts.

Mine, mine, mine

IT departments often feel they own the ‘thing’ they support. It feels like products and services are selected based solely on IT preference and what’s easiest for you.

“systems are setup to meet ICT needs rather than academic needs.” – anonymous academic 2016

If someone says they need something, who are you to decide whether they do or not? Who are you to decide whether it’s worthwhile or not? You have become the gate keepers.

A noteworthy response on Twitter:

It’s ours when it breaks. Yes, it is, because YOU ARE THE PEOPLE PAID TO MAKE IT WORK AND KEEP IT WORKING. If we could all maintain our own IT infrastructure (a terrible idea) then we wouldn’t bother with an IT department. You are the experts in all the technical aspects of technology, how it integrates, how to install it, how it needs to be maintained, however, in my experience, IT departments know very little about how some technology is used or why and worse, they spend very little time finding out.

Computer says no

Not a lot to say here that you don’t already know. The people who use your services don’t understand the complexity behind what you do. They don’t know about service level agreements, security, integration, data management, change management etc. and you don’t do a very good job of explaining it.

When you say no you never explain why it’s a no.

Where innovation goes to die

Universities are under enormous pressure to offer students an ‘excellent’ experience and outcomes. Thanks to module evaluations, TEF and NSS staff are under increasing pressure to ‘perform’. Sadly, technology is seen as the magic bullet to solve every aspect of Higher Education and innovation is the way to do it. Innovation appears in every strategy. Innovative pedagogies, innovative research, innovative use of technology in education etc. Technology is your department. Expectations are rising and you’re the first in the firing line. “I wanted to innovate but IT said no”.

I’m not listening

A key part of communication is listening. You show people you care by listening and acknowledging them. You can’t do your job properly unless you get to know people. How can you say you understand people if you don’t talk to them? Do you know what people do? Do you understand the pressures on them? How can you prioritise something without understanding it first?

Empathy is key. If you employ people on your service desk who can’t empathise then you’re asking for trouble.

The best thing we can do is listen and not make assumptions about what is right or best. Neil Milliken

Francesca Spencer, a project manager at Leeds Beckett University, did a fantastic parallel session called ‘Technophobe testing – an experience of providing a service to those who fear, dislike, or avoid technology’. It was a fantastic demonstration of project management going wrong. The team created a brand new learning space with all the bells and whistles but the users of the room hated it. Why, because they didn’t speak to users to understand how people actually use a teaching space! They learnt their lesson. The presentation is available here.

What’s teaching got to do, got to do with it?

EVERYTHING. Otherwise, what the hell are we all doing here? I don’t think a University will survive when the students stop turning up and why do they come to University? To be taught, to learn and, if they put in the effort required, receive a degree. I have heard an IT employees say “we have nothing to do with teaching”. Do people use your services as part of teaching, as part of the administration of teaching and management of students? YES. Then you have everything to do with teaching. Any thoughts otherwise are ill-informed and ignorant.

You remember I asked you what you say when you’re asked what you do? THIS IS WHY. I have often had the feeling that IT people see themselves as IT professionals. On the whole, this is fair, you do IT one place it’s relatively similar everywhere but I see a distinction. The problem with IT people is they don;t see themselves as IT people in education. There is a subtle difference. If you see yourself as the latter you will understand your context and context makes a difference. IT in a business is different to IT in a University. The technology may be the same but the people, the drivers, the pressures are not.

People what a bunch of b*stards

People are messy, complicated, rude, impatient, and tiresome but people are the reason we’re here. They are not homogenous. They are real people with feelings and needs. They are not users or customers. They are people. Get to know them, you’ll be surprised what you’ll find out:

“corporately there is little feel for the academics’ problems…so no ICT member builds an empathy with the academic regarding the particular issue.” – anonymous academic 2016

“I don’t generally feel well supported, but the personal contact is good. It’s not that I want to bad mouth individuals but am happy to blame a faceless organisation, but systematically, it fails to support me.” – anonymous academic 2016

Our weapons against evil

Come out of the basement. Stop hiding from people. Be seen. Own the good, the bad and the ugly. People will respect you more.
Prioritise people skills. Employ people with people skills. ICT skills can be learnt. Learning how to deal with people is much harder. Ensure a people skills ‘test’ is part of your recruitment process.
Support your Service Desk. Service Desk is often the first to get the blame. Support them. Provide them with the information they need, if they don’t know, they don’t know. Thank them. Be grateful they bear the brunt of your disgruntled customers.
Reward and recognise people. Find a way to recognise and reward those who go out of their way to provide good service. This will help develop the people first culture. It will become the norm.
Don’t sell tech as a solution. I am guilty of this. So are tech companies. Don’t join in. Technology is not a solution, it can only be part of the solution. Don’t oversell what it can do. Everyone will be disappointed.
Support innovation. Find a way. Have a team who deal solely with ‘new’ requests and ideas. Get the resources. Your University is full of evidence to back up what you need. Start using it. Create a process for pilots, for trying stuff out and then how those pilots are assessed and become production. A clear process will be beneficial to everyone.
Advocate not oppose. Linked to above. Help people achieve, be their champion. You’ll find they will become your champion too. Facilitate and help. Don’t just say no.
Create a feedback loop. Could be as simple as ‘you said, we did’. Show you are listening and acting on it. People will wait patiently as long as they know something is being done.
Drop the jargon. Stop using phrases like customers. They’re people. Use their names. Don’t use your ITIL jargon either. Speak to people in a language they will understand.
Assume nothing. There are lots of false assumptions out there. People don’t need training – they do. Students can all use technology – they can’t. Don’t fall for them. Don’t be guilty of promoting them. When you assume you fail.
Learn about people. You can’t do a good job if you don’t understand the people you are here to help.
Be transparent. Be honest. Show your workings. Explain things to people in a language they understand, expose your processes and limit the documentation barrier.

Good ‘customer’ service is not the same as saying yes.

This thought occurred to me as I wrote this post. Often, we conflate good service with saying yes to everything. No’s are a necessary evil of our job. You can’t avoid saying no although, if you can find a way to say yes, you should. Good customer service, no let’s not use that phrase, let’s say treating people well is free. You can still treat people well when saying no or when a resolution is taking time. Be transparent about your decision-making process when saying no. Be clear from the outset what your process will be, what hoops you need to jump through, what you need from them, try to give a timescale and most importantly keep them updated especially when timescales move. When dealing with someone having an issue the same principal applies. They just want to know. They want to be considered. They want to be important to you.

So how’d it go down?

Well other than my having forgotten that I had used a custom font and having hideous slides it went OK. I forgot to say everything I wanted to but it was not a complete dumpster fire and I can live with that.

For the audience, I imagine it went down like a cup of hot sick or it was taken in the spirit it was intended. I’m not a highly paid consultant, I’m just a person sharing some thoughts. Take them or leave them. If a handful went away thinking about the way they treat people then we’re all winners.

Losing my ALTc virginity

I have just returned from my first Association of Learning Technologists conference, so I thought I’d write a little blog about the experience. There was a lot of choice and I saw a lot of presentations so forgive some of the vague descriptions.

As an aside, I loved ALTc. I genuinely enjoyed it. Although the amount of choice was baffling and I can’t say I learnt anything ‘revolutionary’. I met lots of lovely people, saw some interesting practice and listened to thought-provoking keynotes.

In the Valley of the Trolls

Josie Fraser

Josie started us off with a timely keynote about trolling. There is an increasing amount in the news about incidents of trolling and having spoken to a few attendees the talk reflected a number of personal experiences.

Josie showed us some recent examples. Take for example Microsoft Tay, the artificial intelligence Twitter robot, who was targeted by internet users and descended swiftly in to posting vile racist, homophobic and outrageous views. Josie cited the book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Whitney Phillips. Look at Tay and Boaty McBoatface, when we put stuff on the internet people love to ruin it. WE are the reason we can’t have nice things. The internet is not the problem. We are.

The media, Josie says, is part of the problem. They ‘feed the trolls’ by publishing articles about them, by paying them attention. They make light of something serious. They use it to fill their pages with sensationalism that makes, those of a certain generation, tut loudly at the ‘yoots’ (youths) of today. The media likes to make out that the internet or video games or music is the problem. It’s not. We are.

Josie talked about the motivations of the troll. Seemingly simple – power, notoriety and just plain old bigotry, but also somehow complex. A world of anonymity where lines are blurred and there are more shades of grey than black and white. James Clay asked whether there is a scale or spectrum of trolling. It’s definitely not simply you’re a troll or you’re not a troll. Like bullying and harassment it can be subtle, almost imperceptible. Who knows what is or isn’t trolling. I suppose it’s in the eye of the ‘trollee’.

When we use the word troll we legitimise bullying, harassment, threats, bigotry and racism and reduce it serious behaviours in to something seen as acceptable. It’s not as bad because it’s on the internet. It’s what you deserve if you put stuff on the internet. No. No-one deserves to be trolled. But let’s start calling it what it really is. Trolling is bullying and harassment and it should not be trivialised.

Open and flexible learning opportunities for all? Findings from the 2016 UCISA TEL Survey on learning technology developments across the UK higher education sector

Richard Walker, Julie Voce, Martin Jenkins, Jebar Ahmed, Elaine Swift, and Phil Vincent

UCISA released the findings from their 2016 Technology Enhanced Learning Survey to which 110 UK HEIs responded. The full report can be found here:

UCISA 2016 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK

From the discussion we had in the room uptake of open and flexible practices seem low, with limited increase in MOOCs and open badges, but I haven’t read the full report yet to fully understand the results.

Disruptive Technology Enhanced Learning

Michael Flavin

This was a fascinating talk. I wish it was recorded because I’d like to go over it again. Michael talked about disruptive innovation amongst other theories. To poorly paraphrase, sustaining technologies are those that improve the performance of existing technologies. Disruptive technologies bring something not seen before. Michaels talk showed how few disruptive technologies have, in reality, existed in educational technology. The VLE wasn’t despite what everyone said at the time. To be honest I think we’re using much the same technolgy as we always have done just lsightly differently or more than before.

Disruption is a feature of practice not product. So essentially, the reason educational technologies have not been disruptive is because, the underlying practuce of teaching, has not changed. Or at least that was my interpretation.

Can WordPress function as a VLE?

David Read

Short answer is yes it can. There are lots of things that can be used as a VLE. However, each comes with a list of challenges and limitations, just like our current VLEs. They are none of them perfect.

Some time ago we haled the death of the VLE. But oh look, they’re still alive and kicking. I’m going to do some work around ‘Why won’t the VLE die’.

Education and Neuroscience: Issues and Opportunities

Lia Commissar

Another brilliant end to the day. Lia talked about the fascinating field of neuroscience and, to everyones delight, blew apart some of the myths that surround how we learn. So you know how people will tell you your brain shrinks without enough water, well, nope that’s wrong. Only using 90% of our brains? Nope. Learning styles? Nope.

If incorrect beliefs were ice cream then this picture sums up Lias presentation nicely:

nope

Code Create Collaborate

Ian Livingstone

Another brilliant keynote. If you don’t know Ian he founded Games Workshop, had European distribution rights for Dungeon and Dragons, wrote the Fighting Fantasy role play book series and even founded the company that created Lara Croft. That is to name but a few of his accomplishments. There was lots of nostalgia watching old video games and remembering the fun we had as children.

Children should be enjoying themselves while they are learning – Ian Livingston

Ian’s keynote showed the power of games. Games are his passion and he champions them whenever he can. Video games get a lot of bad press but he espoused so many of their virtues in education. The problem solving, continuous assessment and contextualises the real world. He also talked about his horror at the marginalisation of the arts and creative industries. We should not underestimate their power he says, I couldn’t agree more.

Building digital capability through mapping and collaboration 

James Clay, and Lawrie Phipps

I could be described as a James and Lawrie groupie, for which I am not ashamed. James and Lawrie are incredibly generous with their time, expertise and advice in support of our work at Lincoln and I always feel I should return the favour. If I can contribute to their sessions then I will.

We began with their usual double act, explaining the work Jisc has been doing around digital capability. The framework,  discovery tool and their online offer. They talked about the importance of digital capability and how it underpins everything that we do. We all completed visitor and residents exercises that helps us to map, and better understand, our digital practice. There wasn’t really time in an hour to do that properly, which was a real shame. Here’s our V and R.

vandr

I will write a post about my digital capabilities journey soon.

Flipping heck! Be careful what you wish for

Andrew Raistrick, and Steven Bentley

Andrew and Steven talked about their approach to CPD. They flipped the classroom by asking participants to watch a video before attending the CPD session. By doing this they were able to shorten their sessions to an hour and run them over lunch time. The videos detailed the pedagogy of the TEL tool whilst the face to face session did all the ‘where to click stuff’.

I would suggest this is the wrong way round. Andrew said doing the clicking training was both boring and tiring because the most interesting part was the pedagogical conversations. I would argue you should do the pedagogical exploration face to face and the click training via video. The pedagogy is, after all, the most important bit.

ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards

We were highly commended in the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Team Awards. We were very touched and honoured to have been recognised. There were very worthy winners and I was honoured to stand on the same stage us as.

Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms

Jane Secker

Jane talked to us about copyright. Yawn I hear you say? Well Jane made it very interesting. Copyright is important. It’s the law. It’s our responsibility to stick to it. Jane talked about its origins and the various types of copyright laws and exceptions. A very complex subject.

Technology causes us a problem as breaking copyright has become very easy. She described the sense of injustice that surrounds copyright, the feeling that we are somehow being limited by it. But at its essence copyright is about respect. Respecting other people’s ideas and hard work. Copyright is seen as someone elses problem.

Jane tells us to look at copyright from an emotional perspective. Consider the owners feelings. Imagine yourself in that position. Put yourself in their shoes. No-one likes to have their ideas stolen. So why is it OK just because you go it from the internet?

We insist students reference work in their assignments. Why should staff be the exception?

How best should a VLE be designed to enhance learners’ experience? 

Emmanuel Isibor

In short the research shows that students want to be able to adapt the VLE to their needs. Do VLEs allow that? Not really. They are controlled by the tutor and content is consumed as they see fit rather than how it will work best for the student.

Evaluating Webinars as a Tool for Delivering Lectures and Seminars at Distance in a Healthcare Setting 

Daniel Metcalfe

Some very useful tips here from Daniels research on students feelings on webinars as replacements for lectures and seminars. Students on the whole reacted positively and surprisingly, felt the level of interaction with staff was much the same as in face to face sessions. His advice on running online sessions:

  • Don’t run lectures as traditional lectures
  • Be interactive
  • Add activities
  • Familiarise the students with the technology as early as possible
  • Have a colleague to help

Designing for Flow

Leonard Houx

Clutter is a barrier to learning. Clutter makes your learning less attractive, less credible, and more difficult to engage. Clutter is a disruption to flow. Poor flow leads to students feeling distraction, discontinuation, disengagement, dissatisfaction, dislike, distrust & disputation. It leads to staff site hacking, jazzing up (poorly), tragic resignation and antagonism with IT. Leonard has rebuilt parts of his VLE and it looks fab. A shame we didn’t get to see more really.

Strategies for supporting effective student engagement with lecture recordings

Matt Cornock

Matt talked about his research in to the ways students connect live lectures with lecture capture content. Matt suggested one of the biggest barriers to the effective use of captures is the timetable. That students do not have the time between lectures to use the captures. He said students in lectures thought they were supposed to take notes, whilst staff felt they should listen and get a holistic overview of the content then use the capture to explore the detail. He questioned whether we should continue to see the lecture as central to everything. Another barrier to students embedding captures in their practice is that not all lecturers use captures, let alone use them in the same way.

An experiment in open-access, micro-learning for educational technology training

Kate Soper, Catherine Wasiuk, Colin Mcallister-Gibson, and Christopher Meadows

If you don’t follow @1minutcpd on Twitter or haven’t visited their website, then you should. Their approach to CPD is so refreshing. 1 minute  CPD videos tweeted out and hosted on their blog. It’s beauty is its simplicity. The number of participants, views etc.

Using Microlearning to Drive the Adoption and Mainstreaming of Technology Enhanced Learning Tools in Higher Education

Shane Cronin, Darragh Coakley, Roisin Garvey, and Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin

Here is another brilliant CPD resource you should check out: telu.me

TELU is a high quality collection of free online micro-courses designed to help staff use technology to support their teaching and learning.

Keynote: Donna Lanclos and David White – Being Human is Your Problem

I always love to see Donna and Dave present. (Although Dave wears awful shoes) I find their partnership very refreshing as they don’t always agree, so often we see presenters who, to borrow a phrase from Donna, spend the entire presentation blowing smoke up each others arses. Donna and Dave do not do that. In fact they quite openly bicker, disagree and argue with each other on stage. They are yet to draw blood but we all wait with bated breath.

What I love most about their talks is that they always challenge me,they always say something that blows my mind and yesterday was no exception.

Digital technologies will no more solve the ‘crisis in education’ than airbags will stop drivers from having accidents. David Price – OPEN

In a sense I feel ALTc can sometimes support the kind of thinking described above. Let’s be frank here, ALTc is full of people whose jobs rely on such nonsensical thinking. I am going to write a blog post on what will happen to us when the technology bubble bursts. Donna and Dave do not believe in this rhetoric and I am so glad they don’t. Technology will not fix anything. It can support, it can create efficiency and it can sometimes enhance but it is not a panacea for all ills. It is not a sticky plaster to cover the cracks. As Peter Bryant says:

There simply isn’t a single out of the box solution for the challenges we face. We can’t rely on growth through systems support and development. There are significant and intractable tensions between the dynamic epistemological shifts that are fundamentally changing the way media is consumed, knowledge is constructed and learning engaged with. Peter Bryant ‘I don’t want to change the world’ – a call for a personal revolution’

They talked about responsibility. It is EVERYONE’S responsibility to talk and think about teaching and learning. I still find it ridiculous that teaching and learning is at the bottom of priority lists in HEIs. It is fundamental to what we do.

Digital is people. Digital is not a salvation from our problems as humans. Donna Lanclos

There was a strong link to the earlier trolling keynote. In that our behaviours online are simply an amplification of offline behaviours. We need to fix people. Technology won’t fix anything.

They won’t let us is not legitimate. Donna Lanclos

That sentence came like a metaphorical kick in the balls. We find it easier, to channel all of our challenges in to an ‘other’, a shadowy figure who stops us from doing all the things we want to do. ALTc was full of lamentations along these lines. As Dave and Donna said, there’s nothing stopping us really. We can do what we need to do, and as a community, should stop making excuses. It was a wonderful call to arms to end the day on.

Venue

warwick

University of Warwick is beautiful, miles away from anywhere but full of lush green spaces. I was quite enamoured. Everything basic need you have is catered for there are banks, a cinema, hairdressers and eateries and cafés off all kinds. The accommodation, eatery’s and main venue were all in easy distance of one another. It all flowed really well and didn’t feel stilted or hard work moving around.

Food

The make or break of some conferences, the food, was not great. Fine if you like brown food, bad, if you like vegetation or green food. The Pimms at the drinks reception was fab though!

Jisc Digital Leaders Programme

​I have seen a worrying amount of criticism recently for this programme. Not criticism of the speakers, topics or validity of the programme, criticism solely of the price. So, as someone lucky enough to have been a part of this programme I thought I would share my honest feedback on it. 

(Please forgive any typos and grammatical errors. This post was written on the A1)

The price

Is it expensive? Yes, on the face of it. But, as my esteemed colleague put it, let’s not confuse price with value. Remember what you are being offered. You are being offered the opportunity to listen to industry experts who will give you practical strategies to instigate change at your institution. Tell me how much are you willing to pay for that?

Jisc used to be free

Education has long taken advantage of Jisc. Before successive governments stripped these kind of organisations of their funding we took full advantage of whatever Jisc had to offer. Greedily guzzling up funding and attending their workshops. Sadly in the current climate that’s not sustainable.

We don’t need to listen to experts

Recently there has been a lot of anti-expert feeling floating around. Thanks Brexit. What you are paying for here is the advice, experience and knowledge of experts. These programmes are not formed on a whim. They are created based on years of research and hard work. The people who speak are credible and knowledgeable. Again, how much would you pay for that?

You will learn something valuable

I took away a number of things from the programme. Donna Lanclos and Dave White facilitated an exercise around the concept of digital residents and visitors. Remember, much like digital natives these theories are not fact. They are simply helpful ways of visualising a concept. Visitors and residents is a way of helping you think about your digital practice and behaviours. It is a useful tool that I will use when talking to students and staff about their digital lives.

The whole programme is facilitated by James Clay and Lawrie Phipps. What they don’t know about institutional change is not worth knowing. The featured image for this post is a drawing I did at the event, showing a change anchor. This is what Lawrie and James focussed on. How do you make change happen?

This was invaluable. Without it we would not have a digital capabilities project and I wouldn’t have had the strategies in place to get people to listen to me.

It was fun

My abiding memory is of having great fun. I met so many people at other institutions that I am still in touch with. It broadened my horizons and gave me the confidence to try and effect change. I can’t put a price on that.

Full details of the programme are available on the Jisc website.

ICT vs. Educational Technologists

Relationships between departments, in any sector, can be difficult and HE is no exception. But this came as a bit of a surprise to me whilst enjoying a tipple in the evening at the UCISA Support Services Group conference. Apparently some ICT staff are not keen on the educational technologists at their institution.

I’ve used the name educational technologists though I know full well there are hundreds of different job titles. You may call yours digital education developers, learning technologists, elearning technologists, technology enhanced learning advisers, online content developers and so on.

I’ve never felt any animosity (or any extraordinary animosity) from my colleagues in ICT. There is the usual “that’s not our job” tension but that’s nothing unusual. Perhaps I am oblivious to it or we never work with people who feel this way. I imagine it is an equal mix of the former and latter. So it came as a shock to hear how negatively the Ed Techs are thought of by ICT staff in some institutions. So I thought I’d write down a few thoughts about why this might happen and how we can avoid it.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT are busy

ICT departments are incredibly busy places to work. They have a very broad customer base who pull them in a number of directions. Students, academics, professional services etc. are all vying for their attention. Not only that but they actually have to maintain all of the systems as well as put new ones in. None of these things are easy. We should remember and be mindful of that.

Dear ICT: We are busy too

There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Educational technologists float around messing about with new fun technologies. That we spend our days thinking up ways to make ICT’s life more difficult. I assure you we don’t mean to. Whilst we occasionally get to do fun stuff we are most often bogged down in supporting staff in how to use the VLE. Most often training staff on the basic functions.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT are under pressure

I have already mentioned the pressures that a diverse customer base causes ICT. Often it is whoever shouts loudest that gets heard. How many times have staff emailed your ICT Director to complain they weren’t being dealt with quickly enough?

Dear ICT: We are under pressure too

Technology in education has become more and more important. The TEF puts innovation at the heart of teaching. For some reason institutions think by sticking some technology in to teaching it will somehow become innovative. We all know there is no quick answer. Therefore, ed techs are seen as the people to transform teaching. That we can make everyone innovative with a click of our fingers. Unfortunately, we have to start making a significant change. To do that we need to have the infrastructure in place and ICT, that’s where you come in.

Dear Ed Techs: Stop asking for seemingly random stuff

To ICT it probably seems like our requests come out of nowhere. Sometimes they do. We know our rationale. We remember the conversations we have had with staff and students on the subject. We have looked at the alternatives. But ICT have a process they go through and trying to avoid it, because it’s usually long-winded and laborious, is not going to get it done any quicker.

Dear ICT: Let’s not argue

Sometimes it would be nice for us not to have to argue. Filling out your long-winded paperwork and endless meetings. Unless you plan on sitting down and testing all the options I’m sure you’re going to go with whatever we suggest anyway. Also we know our users so we may not go for the shiniest thing with all the features we might just go for what we know they’ll use. That may seem odd to you but we have thought it through I promise.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT have a limited budget

Although ICT budgets appear huge to an outsider they are not and they are usually allocated for specific projects. Enterprise infrastructure is expensive. So when you roll up with “its only 2k” that may seem insignificant but it’s not. It’s a lot of money when every penny has been carefully allocated at the start of the year. Find out when the budget run is and try to get your requests in as early as possible.

Dear ICT: We don’t have a budget

Our team doesn’t have a budget for technology and licensing. That doesn’t seem to be something the University thinks would be helpful. So we rely heavily on ICT. When we say we have no money, we really mean it. Let’s work together to secure an ‘innovation’ fund. So when we ask you for stuff there is some money set aside already.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT don’t want to install stuff just because it’s cool

We all want to play with the latest thing. If anything that’s kind of our job but ICT have enough to do. They can’t just install stuff because we think it’s cool.

Dear ICT: We need a way to play with the cool stuff

Technology changes quickly. Educational technology changes quickly and we need to be able to move with that change. If it takes a year to get something installed it’s often out of date by then. What would be great is if we could have some way of installing things, testing them and, retiring them if they are not well used or rolling them into production if they are.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT have a process

ICT sometimes appears to be being difficult for the sake of it. I know that is not the case. Many ICT departments use a framework called ITIL which help to process the vast number of tasks they have to complete. It also helps to prioritise what they are doing, when they do it and who does it. ICT go through a demand management process. They get so many requests they have to prioritise and schedule them.

Dear ICT: We can’t do it without you

We are not able, nor should we, nor would you like it, if we started building up servers and installing anything we like willy-nilly. Nor do you appreciate it when people buy stuff without your knowledge. So we need you to do stuff for us. Trust me there are times where we’d much rather just do it ourselves but we can’t. We have to go through you.

You know we need you.

Dear Ed Techs: What you think is important may not be top priority

Sometimes there are pressures on their time and activities that have to take priority. We may not agree with them but we have to be mindful that our priorities may not always be aligned. Take a deep breath and don’t chuck your toys out of the pram. Try and work within the existing systems rather than outside them. You’ll probably get somewhere much faster.

Dear ICT: Please acknowledge that teaching is important

I have acknowledged the diverse needs that constantly pull on ICTs time. But I will finish with my biggest frustration. That you don’t acknowledge that teaching is important and ultimately why we are here.

If teaching is terrible students won’t turn up. If students don’t turn up we won’t have jobs. Yes I know that the finance system, HR system and WiFi are all important. They underpin everything. But if a lecture theatre computer is broken that’s not a big issue in the grand scheme. But it’s a massive issue for that member of staff and those students. Acknowledge that when they call you. Fix it quickly. Don’t leave it for days.

Dear ICT: Let’s work together

You play a crucial role in the University. What you do, day-to-day, affects everyone. There are few departments who have such an impact on people’s lives. We rely on you. So let’s just start working together. Let’s talk about how we can work together. What we need from you and what you need from us. What we can do together to make a difference. Let’s stop focusing on problems and start finding solutions.

 

Jisc Connect More 2016 – Nottingham

There is so much brilliant practice going on around the UK. It was great to hear from the FE and skills sectors as they are often neglected. This was my first Jisc Connect More event and I hope it won’t be the last.

Connect More was opened by John Potter, head of Jisc south and east. John was followed by a rousing presentation from Rachel Challen, e-learning manager, Loughborough College. A part of Rachel’s presentation is the featured image for this post. It will all become clear I promise.

Welcome Plenary

In essence Rachel talked about our approach to learning technology. That we shouldn’t focus on the “shiny shiny”. That our strategies, infrastructure and systems need to be aligned for technology to be fully adopted in education. In particular, systems that are unable to talk to one another were highlighted as a barrier.

Rachel talked about the importance of ‘digital’ in our students lives. Consider how much technology permeates their lives. How integral ‘the digital’ will be for them in finding their voice, building relationships and employability.

She reiterated the importance of support and reward in encouraging staff to take risks and innovate. I wrote a post on this very topic Stop moaning, start doing.

Rachel used the Wizard of Oz as an analogy for teamwork. Each character was used to represent a point. The monkey in the featured image was something Rachel launched at the audience. It certainly woke me up. “Fly my pretties…”.

What I found most pertinent was how Rachel suggests we encourage staff to involve themeselves with technology. It’s so fundamental yet so neglected. Get to know them. Talk to them. Find out what they are trying to do. Then show them a technology that will work for them. That’ll do what they need. Sometimes we neglect that human element of our work. Cake, she mentioned, can also help.

Leveraging change through digital capability

My colleague, Marcus Elliott, and I presented on the work we have been doing at Lincoln to improve staff digital capabilities. I’ve written a couple of posts on digital capability on this blog Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? and But what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?. We talked about our journey, how we gained ‘buy-in’, our pilot of the Jisc Digital Capability Discovery Tool and our future plans. You can hear a little from me on the Jisc Podcast here. We had a lot of questions in particular, and not surprisingly, about getting to the disengaged. I don’ have a short answer for you. All I can suggest is going and talking to them. I did that today and I think I’ll be seeing a lot more from that group of ‘disengaged’ staff. Give them a reason, show them a solution but most importantly make it relevant to their context.

As a result of presenting we couldn’t see the other presentations which is always a shame. There looked like there were some really interesting topics covered.

Plenary – connect more with peers and practice

We were treated to some Pecha Kucha style presentations which were a nice interjection to the day.

Delon Commosioung, innovation in learning adviser, Easton and Otley College

Delon has revamped the IT strategy and develop a vision for the college in line with their strategy. He describes his task: connect, work and share to prepare learners for the 21st century.

Watch Delon’s presentation on Periscope here.

Jeremy Scorer, managing partner, Charnwood Training (North Nottinghamshire College)

Jeremy shared the issues Charnwood Training faced with disconnected learners. He showed the development of an app that they feel will help to bring students closer together.

Watch Jeremy’s presentation on Periscope here.

Kirstie Coolin, e-learning and media manager, Nottingham University

Kirstie shares how they disseminated their “participatory” ethos.

Watch Kirstie’s presentation on Periscope here.

Andy Wright, instructional designer and Andy Madin, team manager – University of Birmingham

The two Andy’s shared their virtual reality application called ALiS. Take a look at ALiS on their website here. They showed examples of how VR is being used in education.

Watch the two Andy’s presentation on Periscope here.

Sarah Deery, apprentice e-learning design, Sparsholt College

Sarah shares her experience of the Jisc Summer of Student Innovation competition and what she has done since.

Watch Sarah’s presentation on Periscope here.

Session five: Making a difference with technology-enhanced learning

Led by Sarah Knight, senior co-design manager Jisc, and Sarabjit Borrill, lead tutor (English), Leicestershire Adult Learning.

I always enjoy hearing Sarah speak. She speaks my language. She started by talking about what students want. Do we know what they want? How can we know? She shared the findings of the research she undertook with over 10k  students. The full report is available here. In short, to support our students we need  first to understand them.

Sarah highlighted a worrying trend. Students are not being supported or provided with guidance in the use of devices, their online presence and the development of their digital skills.

Around 7 in every 10 students say that when technology is used by teaching staff it enhances their learning experience – Sarah Knight

Clearly students are open to the use of technology but I would urge caution. Not all students are digitally capable. As Sarabjit goes on to demonstrate.

Srabjit teaches English for adult learners. She gets 2 hours of classroom time with her students and has developed online activities for students to do in between sessions. To demonstrate her challenge she told us about a 70+ year old man who attended her classes who couldn’t read or write. So how can she develop online participatory activities when her students are so ‘digitally incapable’?

She began by encouraging her learners to create a short bio of themselves. She gave basic instructions and let them do whatever they want. She found that they exceeded her expectations. Adding images to their bios without being prompted. She provides screen-cast video feedback which has gone down very well. Students are asked to do group work by contributing to Wikis. She hasn’t always succeeded and not all the students have liked her activities. Isn’t that just education?

I remember her saying that hits on her Moodle page were less than 100 last year but over 6000 this year. Clearly she has been successful in getting her students on board.

Plenary – connect more with the future

Andy McGregor, Jisc deputy chief innovation officer. Sarah Speight, academic director of the transforming teaching programme, Nottingham University.

Andy detailed Jisc’s visions for its work across the education and research sectors. Explaining their future approach to projects and priorities.

He shared what he foresees as the next big things. Artificial intelligence and automation. Though he sees no need to fear the machines taking over. He also disagrees with the digital native analogy that permeates any conversation about technology. There’s no such thing. Stop taking an analogy and purporting it as fact.

Andy was followed by Sarah. Sarah encouraged us to rethink education. She talked about the governments green and white paper. The current focus on monetising education.

Sarah suggests that social, informal, peer and collaborative learning are the key to building a culture of learning in an institution.

What did I learn? If we want to change education we have to start by changing people. We need to engender a culture of learning, innovation and experimentation. Social interactions are our most powerful tool.

UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance

Day three ends on a high. Today has been about thinking differently. I think I’ll leave thinking differently. Considering I was not sure I’d enjoy SSG I sit here sad it’s over.

 

TOPdesk It’s not just for IT!

Sandra Gillham, IT Service Desk Manager, Keele University and Hannah Price, Senior Consultant, TOPdesk

Sandra found services at Keele were too disjointed. For example she described the student going back and forth between student records and ICT because one says they have a record and the other says they don’t. She wanted to do something about it. So she started by getting a 360 view of her students. She mapped all the services that feed in to the student journey. Students see one university, the don’t see that a University is made up of several disjointed departments. So she started to get other departments to start using the same service desk management software

Getting staff buy in wasn’t easy. Prying email away was difficult. Sandra asked the management to get their junior members doing the work. What will make their lives easier? What will make us more efficient? Slowly changing attitudes.

Continuing to improve with thinking skills

Chris Warlow, Teacher and Mathematics/Cognitive Education Leader, Birchgrove Primary School.

Chris works primarily with children in schools. His presentation is pitched at an appropriate level for us after last night. Chris works at a “thinking school” where students develop their thinking skills to ready them for life-long learning. He began with some brain teasers. A risky strategy, given last night’s frivolity. I am rubbish at brain teasers. Lots of ooohs and aaahs ensue as the answers are revealed.

He described the tools he uses with his students, I won’t detail them all. You can find details for all on that Google thing. Thinking maps are used to help students organise and visualise their thinking. Circle tools, bubble maps etc. Flow maps are used to help students sequence and order processes. Tree maps are used for classifications and grouping. Multi-flow maps for cause and effect. To see analogies Chris uses a bridge map.

Edward DeBono’s Thinking Hat – nope it’s not the name of an indie band. Each hat represents the following – objective, intuitive, negative, positive, creative and process. The hats are detailed online here.

Habits of Mind – thinking intelligently. Summed up by “think before you punch someone in the face”. Good advice at all stages of life.

What did I learn? I still hate comic sans. He looked like Professor Brian Cox. Getting people to think differently is so important. Harder in adults but doable.

Think and act like a hacker to protect your company’s assets

Paula Januszkiewicz, Security Consultant, CQURE

I started this hoping that Paula would tell us how the Matrix works. She didn’t. What she did was cleverly demonstrate the importance of information security.

Paula uses social engineering experiments to make her point. “You’d never say a blonde woman could be dangerous”.  Oh so wrong. She then tells the story of how she hacked in to a secure building utilising the “ladies first culture”. He opens the secure door and waves her in. Brilliant.

Awareness > behaviour (competence) > culture. I know > I do > We know and do.

Behaviour comes with awareness. Culture comes with understanding.

Passwords are really important. 15% of passwords were found written on and around the workstations at physical security tests. She then did a live demonstration of hacking passwords. I didn’t get it. But it was damned impressive. She used existing Windows tools ARGH? I know nothing but I know that ain’t good.

I got a bit lost here. She did clever techy things and I went to sleep.

Don’t pick up random USB sticks. PLEASE DON’T PLUG THEM IN. Don’t click on suspicious links in emails. This is called Phish Biting. Emails with what looks to be legitimate context. Be careful when connecting to public WiFi. Someone might be listening.

People are the problem. People take short cuts. They make mistakes. We avoid hard stuff. We need to make people aware of the issues. Unless they are aware they won’t change their behaviours and develop a culture of security.

Paula shows a frightening (yet curiously thrilling) world full of dark shadowy characters after my data. I’ve never thought of myself as that interesting.

What did I learn? Paula is a ninja. People are a problem.The world is scary.

The art of being brilliant

Andy Cope, Teacher and Author, Art of Brilliance

This is the second time I have seen Andy speak. Andy describes his work as “seeking out happy people and following them around”. Happiness is good for you and your well-being. It’s also good for the people around you.

Andy is brilliant himself and lives what he espouses. He’s a happy man. He’s funny. He’s engaging. Banish the four horsemen of negativity monotony, tiredness, complexity and news (and change). If you have any of those things in your life you will feel “minor glumness” in the pit of your stomach.

The same thinking will reap the same results

Stop the Monday vs Friday rhetoric. Pretend Monday is Friday. Be happy now. It’s not a destination. ‘Busy-ness’ is not OK, not an excuse. The fact is we buy fewer oranges because we don’t have time to peel them. Wow. What nonsense. Be like Bob the Builder. Yes we can. Chuck out the emergency pants. You know those grey ones at the back with a hole in. Wear your special pants.

What a way to end the conference. On a high. Choose to be happy. It’s going to be OK people, it’s going to be O.K. Think happy, be happy.

Three brilliant days

I loved UCISA SSG. Three days with wonderfully open, funny, clever and welcoming people. Thank you for letting this outsider in.

Links

UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty

UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance

Matthew Saunders: Ucisa Support Services Conference 2016 – Learning and Listening