The silent majority vs the deafening minority

Angry Man

 There is an ever-present tension in the provision of technology in Education; who should we aim to please? The innovators and early adopters, who are the vocal minority? Or should we be seeking out the late majority and laggards, the silent majority?

Who is the silent majority?

By silent majority, I refer to those staff who you never hear from. There might be lots of reasons for that. They might be fine, they might be happy doing what they’re doing. They could be people who are not at all interested. They could be people who don’t see the point in engaging with you. Whatever their motives for silence, they are the people we desperately want to hear from. They are still the majority.

Who is the deafening minority?

The deafening minority, are those innovators and early adopters who have explored what is on offer and are looking for ways to enhance and extend beyond it. They are usually the same faces who come to user groups or provide feedback. They are the people who shout the loudest (sometimes because they are the only people you ever hear from). They are the groups that want to leap ahead whilst the silent majority are still far behind.

Update: My former learned colleague Marcus Elliott has rightly pointed out that:

The old senior management switcheroo

It is a sad fact of life in professional services that “he who shouts loudest gets what they want”. Also true is, “department that brings in the most money gets to do what it wants”. These situations usually follow a familiar pattern: make request, don’t receive the desired answer, stress importance of request, name drop important company partnerships or senior management, get other people to ask, department head contacts department head, escalate up management chain until senior enough manager is found to force the fulfillment of the request. I have seen this pattern too many times in my career. This is not a collegial or supportive approach. It does not engender a feeling of reciprocal respect or understanding. No’s are not bandied around lightly. There are a myriad of things taken into consideration

NEWSFLASH: University Professional Service Department has already got work to do BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE EXIST.

Despite the rumours, we are not sat in our offices with our thumbs up our butts. You are one department of many and you all want something and it’s never the same thing!

Maintenance is a thing

I’ve seen this best articulated by Anne-Marie Scott from the University of Edinburgh in her blog post Some more thoughts on the NGDLE, for what it’s worth. NGDLE being the next generation learning environment. As she so eloquently puts it:

Managing the information flow, the release schedule, the updates to training and documentation when change happens – this stuff isn’t sexy innovation, but it’s over 50% of what any team will need to do just to keep the lights on, and it’s the work that is constantly being squeezed to free up more resource for “innovation”. July 2017 Anne-Marie Scott

I would love to do more “sexy innovation”. I’d love to turn on, develop and buy all the cool things people want. (I googled sexy innovation (IKR? Blowing raspberries at the user acceptance agreement) and found this Slideshare  How to: A sexy innovation team by Nick Demey). The sad fact is most of my time is concerned with updates, documentation, change management and just generally trying to get our ‘house in order’.

Updates are a necessary evil. Some are more time consuming than others but no update can be done without a lot of initial work. Finding a suitable time (never easy), submitting changes, working out what will change, testing, reviewing advice and guidance, doing it, fixing anything that broke, snagging, testing again and then finally you’re done. Oh and then you better start planning for the next one.

Then there’s just the things you have to do to keep everything ticking over. These are silent tasks people often don’t hear about.

Oh and every new thing means we have another thing to maintain. There’s a finite number of people and a finite number of hours in the day. We have to balance adding new things with being able to actually support them.

Here’s something I just made up for how we assess each request.

widespreadBenefit = PerceivedBenefit/StudentNumbers
impact = WidespreadBenefit
resource = Time + People + Cost + MaintenanceRequired + SupportNeeded
checkWorkloads = People/whatTheyAreAlreadyWorkingOn

if impact ≥ resource

then CheckWorkloads

if checkWorkloads < resource

then doTheThing and maintainTheThing

I could get into the long list of things doTheThing actually involves but let’s not. Essentially we have to look at the impact versus what it will take to actually do and maintain the thing. If the impact isn’t going to be great enough then we can’t always prioritise it over the day to day firefighting.

Trust me, I’d love to have 20 people who can jump on all these things but we don’t. We have to be sustainable. A service is better than no service at all.

Stuff breaks and we have to fix it

Fixing stuff is a thing. If we’re fixing something, we probably not able to do anything else. Oh and if we don’t want it to break again then we have to do some work on that too.

Support is a thing

Answering helpdesk incidents, enquiries and fulfilling service requests are a thing. Creating documentation is a thing. Developing and delivering training is a thing. Talking to you is a thing. Consultation is a thing. Emailing you back is a thing. These are all things we have to do and they take up time that can’t be dedicated to new stuff.

Boring is essential

I’d love to say working in learning technologies is all fighting off killer AI robots but the reality is it’s often just supporting people to do the basics. These basics, the boring stuff, is absolutely necessary. It’s what the silent majority needs. This stuff is valuable.

It might not be what the deafening majority see the value but it has to be done.

How do we appease the deafening majority whilst getting to the silent minority?

This is a question I constantly ask myself. I really want to get to the silent majority. I think that’s an important part of what we exist to achieve. However, I don’t like upsetting the deafening minority. They were willing to take risks, they’re all in and I don’t want them to be disenfranchised.

But I don’t see any way to avoid it. There’s too much to do to please everyone.

Technology: the wrong conversations

Technology is people. If we were saying (and doing) the right things technology would be embedded in teaching by now. You wouldn’t need people like me.  I have spent years encouraging and supporting staff to use technology in their teaching. I have delivered and watched others deliver ‘technology’ training, CPD, presentations etc. with varying success.  Something isn’t working. I would suggest our conversations are wrong.

In his latest post, It’s an extra, but does it need to be?James Clay questions the perception some staff have of technology being an extra rather than embedded part of their practice. He suggests that

Part of this has to be down to the way in which staff are introduced to or trained in the use of learning technologies. James Clay 2017

I think its important to acknowledge that there are a lot of complex issues that have limited the extent to which technology has been embedded in teaching practice. I agree with James that the way I, and people like me, present technology can be a barrier. Our conversations are wrong. So how should we speak to staff? What I have I learnt?

Technology is all about people!

Smarter people than me have been banging this drum for some time.

Digital is about people, it is about a set of behaviours; it is about a perception of others and self; it is another way of being present with those around us. Lawrie Phipps (2016) Presence, Digital, Well-Being, People

Donna Lanclos and Dave White discussed the humanity of technology in their keynote Being Human is Your Problem #altc at the Association of Learning Technology Conference in 2016.  To paraphrase technology is not the answer. Technology will not fix human practices. It will not fix problems. It will not solve everything. Watch their keynote here.

Technology is just a thing. It’s a piece of apparatus. We use it to meet our ends. If it has no use to us we do not use it. If people don’t use technology then it becomes another cool thing someone made. It is only useful when people are using it. If you do not consider the people in technology then you are doomed to failure.

Start with what they want to achieve

There was a time I would go and speak to academics and just list all the technologies they could use. That didn’t result in a great deal of success. So instead I began by asking questions.

  • Why were they speaking to me?
  • What was driving them to explore technology?
  • What was it they hoped technology would achieve for them?
  • What are the problems they are trying to resolve?
  • What are they hoping to improve?

The list goes on. I have found I am better able to make suggestions based on their answers. I am made aware of any prejudices, preconceived ideas, misinformation, attitudes and feelings that they have about technology. I understand their motives. I know if they are being realistic. I know what level of experience and skills they have. I know if its a mandate from above. I know if they’re receptive or resentful. At its most basic it shows staff that I am interested in their work and I respect them. I am interested in their opinion. I am interested in their ambitions and am here to help them achieve them. I am not here to shove technology down their throat and make them feel inferior. I am here to enable them to do want they want to do because that is my job.

Make it relevant (context)

There is a lot you need to understand before you can truly make good suggestions. Even the most basic application of technology to teaching should be considered carefully. There are a lot of variables to success, and if there is one thing you want to avoid, it’s failure.

I always like to understand how the module fits within a programme, how the students are taught, how the assessments measure learning, the skills and experience of the teaching team, what the students are like and how they teach their subject. There’s a lot more I could list but that gives you an idea. I try to know as much as I can. It’s impossible to know everything about the programmes you support, I am rubbish at maths but I don’t need to know anything about maths to help them. I need to know about learning and how to enhance that in ways that are relevant to their discipline. I am not there to comment on their content. We need to adapt everything to the particular context of the person we are speaking to. “Different strokes” and all that.

The more I know the better suggestions I can make and the more relevant they will be. If I can make relevant suggestions that will bring tangible benefits to the learning of their students they will listen. If I suggest something that worked somewhere else without taking in to account their unique needs I may as well prepare for failure.

Get to know them

Not everyone can use technology. If I had a pound for every time someone says “students/staff know how to do that” I would be a billionaire. That attitude is wrong. It’s a lazy and dangerous assumption. What do we say when designing a teaching session? We say we should leave time to get to know the students previous experience, their likes, dislikes, abilities and skills. Why are we not doing the same with our staff? If we know nothing about someone how can we adapt our conversations to most effectively reach them? We need to speak directly to them, to empathise with them and share in their aspirations and fears. Only once we know ‘who’ we are dealing with can we hope to truly enable and support them. Otherwise, we are speaking for the sake of it and it falls on deaf ears.

They have a lot to do

Academics have a lot to do. Their time is precious. Generally, they are looking for things that will bring maximum benefit with limited input. they do not want to spend 6 months learning how to use a piece of technology to only use it once. They also don’t want to be shown something that’s hard to access. I watched a presentation the other day where the speaker was evangelising a piece of technology that only had 2 licences for the whole school. Don’t waste their time by showing them something they can’t easily access. Show them things that will save them time, will bring tangible benefits, that they can easily access, that is easy to learn and that is easily reused. It’s better not to show people things that will take hours for them to edit every time they need to make a change.

Be sensible. Be considerate. Be realistic.

Tech vs pedagogy first

I am an advocate of the pedagogy first approach however, there is still a place for technology first. I believe pedagogy first is best because teachers don’t necessarily want their time wasted hearing about an awesome piece of technology that simply does nothing for them. I saw a presentation the other day where at no point did the person presenting say WHY you would use the software, they failed to show any examples or, even when asked directly, present any evidence of the benefits. This is technology first at its worst, “here’s a shiny thing I like, I hope you think it’s shiny too”.

I know the feeling of disappointment having spent time showing people something, because you know it will help, but then they don’t use it. If they don’t see why they should use it and how they apply it to their practice they won’t use it. A big weapon in our arsenal is our memory for examples, “I have seen X used like this”. Examples are real, they can visualise it, they can understand it and apply it to themselves. If you don’t keep it real technology is just an abstract, albeit very shiny, concept.

Technology first works if you want to show people what’s out there. People don’t know what they don’t know. Tech first is a great way to inspire people. It’s a way in. What must be avoided is the sales pitch. We’ve all been to sessions where promotion equates to “it can do this, and this, oh and it can do this which is cool”. No, no, no. Show examples. The finished articles. If people want to know how to use it then come to a session on that. If we take the tech first approach it should be to inspire, to show the wealth of possibilities technology affords and to help staff keep abreast of the ever-changing technological landscape.

Technology is not the destination

Good teaching is the destination. A quality, effective learning experience is the destination. To steal the words of the brilliant Peter Bryant

Technology is just ONE way to enhance, support and perhaps bring efficiency.  I know staff who do not use technology at all in their teaching. Their students don’t mind and module evaluations reflect that. Should we sack them?

It is interesting that in some institutions money is readily invested in the support for digital technologies whilst less is investment is made in the support and enhancement of fundamental skills that underpin teaching. In some instances this support has been totally removed. With TEF on the way should we not be ensuring we have a strong foundation of teaching before we push staff to include technology?Poor teaching practice will not be improved by the use of technology, usually it draws more attention to it.

We are here to teach. If that teaching can involve technology in a way that supports it, enhances it, brings efficiency and is done appropriately, then brilliant. Too often I see technology shoe-horned in for the sake of it. No. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s stop making people feel like they have to use technology and start making people want to!

Why won’t the VLE die?

Ever since the inception of the VLE it feels like we have been asking ourselves this question. We await the next generation, the technology that will save us all from the tyranny of the VLE. VLE (or LMS for my American friends) systems are a divisive technology in education. Some people hate them, others love them, most tolerate them. The benefits of their use are still questioned and explored. So if we’re not convinced that they are beneficial, why won’t they die?

If you haven’t read this post, titled Christ, I hate Blackboard written by user Davenoon please do.  Not only is it hilarious, it demonstrates the level of loathing the VLE can produce.

“These are the words, if I could shit them into being, that I would use to catalogue the depth of my loathing for Blackboard.” Davenoon 2014

The comments that follow the article demonstrate the dichotomy of feeling that surrounds the VLE. This post will not debate the virtues of Blackboard, Canvas or Moodle. What I am interested in is why we are still using them. How, given the speed of technical innovation in all other areas, the VLE remains very much unchanged from where it began.

We are asking the wrong question

We constantly ask what the next generation of each technology we use should do. Therein lies my issue, what it should do. What features it should have, what functionality we expect. But this narrows our thinking. Boils learning to a series of tasks and processes. Learning is much more complex than that.

So the question ought not to be why won’t the VLE die, what the next generation should do; rather what do we want to explore. What pedagogies? What teaching methods and strategies? How will technology support or enhance those things?

We allow ourselves to be technology lead

This point really relates to the one above. We spend so much time worrying about the technology, why it doesn’t work, why we hate it, what we want to see, what’s next, that we miss the most fundamental thing.

Technology use is about people. Technology would be nothing if we didn’t use it. It is that interaction between teacher, technology and student that we should be concentrating on. How can technology help to facilitate this interaction, how can it support or enhance it? We should ensure that the technology enhances, not detracts, from the humanity of the learning process.

Technology is created the wrong way

We are feature focused. Probably because that is the way our minds work. We think about activities, “I want students to do x”, because really most technologies just replicate what we do. They rarely fundamentally change our activities, they might make something easier, sometimes technology even enhances an activity but it’s rare that it replaces it entirely.

It’s hard to escape this way of thinking and I’m not smart enough to suggest how we can do it. It is easier to think about features, “I want to be able to do x”, as that is how we are conditioned. Imagine if we could. If our ideas were unbound from reality, to what currently exists and what is currently possible.

When VLEs were first created I’m sure they were answering a teaching need, chiefly the ease of access to materials for students, sadly since then ‘the problem’ appears to have been forgotten and what has been created seems to be a feature heavy unusable beast. Lots of features are being added without rationalisation or thought about how people actually use them or how they interact with ‘real world’ teaching.

We like things that reproduce what we already do.

VLEs were supposed to be a revolution. According to many the VLE would replace the lecture and, in the opinion of many doom mongers, the lecturer too. Students would all learn online without once meeting face to face and the University would crumble in to oblivion. That hasn’t happened (yet) and I can’t see any evidence of an appetite for that amongst the majority of the student body.

Neil Selwyn, in his 2013 book Digital Technology and the Contemporary University: Degrees of Digitization, describes technology as replicating what we do in the real world. The thought had never occurred to me but as I reflected I realised how true that is. We do in class tests, now we do them online. We used to hand in paper assignments, now we do that online. We ask students to discuss topics in class, now we use online discussion boards. We carry out our lectures and seminars online using video conferencing but we’re still largely following the same format as a face to face session, it’s just online. Yes in all of these examples the technology may have brought some efficiency or flexibility but it has made little fundamental change to our processes.

Change is easiest accepted when it’s incremental and I have always found explaining the use of technology easiest when I relate it to something people are already doing. I’m not entirely sure we are ready for a revolution.

Adoption is a matter of culture change

Even if we had something different. We would need to change the existing culture and processes. If you’ve ever introduced something new in to HE, you’ll feel the pain of this process. It is not quick, it’s not painless and it certainly isn’t easy.

Because we will never win

Even IF we could think of something different, some incredible revolutionary environment, I can absolutely guarantee someone would say it doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t suit their needs or their teaching style. So what we end up with is a bloated, mangled, customised behemoth to make sure that everyone is catered for. Then we receive complaints that it’s bloated, mangled and customised and no-one wants to use it.

In my experience, when it comes to technology, we are never going to win.

ICT dictate what we do

Related to the points below, ICT in my experience largely dictate what we can and can’t have. Rightly so, they need to make sure it works with their infrastructure, is sustainable and reliable. But why should we be shackled by their infrastructure? Should we be held back because they do not have the staff with the necessary skills?

Controversial I am sure but it has to be asked. Why do ICT think that they are experts on the learning process? On teaching? On students? They are the experts on technology, on infrastructure, networks etc. but they have limited experience in any other area. If this is what we need to move forward why should they be allowed to hold us back?

Other technologies hold us to ransom

Related to the point above the existing infrastructure will often not allow us to explore what we need to. We are limited by student management systems, timetable systems etc. that we want to plug-in to our environments but won’t work with one another. This is the ICT departments headache and one of the reasons they can be dictatorial about what we adopt.

Our processes hold us to ransom

Neil Selwyn describes the VLE as a tool of management and surveillance. Another way for management to keep an eye on teaching staff. Again, I had never thought of it that way. It helps to explain the scepticism and mistrust that surrounds it. As the VLE has become part of management it has resulted in a high number of processes being integrated with the VLE. In many instances the VLE has become an absolute necessity for these processes to be completed. Once a technology is part of a process it’s very difficult to remove it and even more difficult to persuade people that they can change it. We are creatures of habit.

We don’t like change

And mostly because…

change

 

Our Digital Capabilities Journey

I am passionate about staff and students being supported to develop their digital capabilities. So I thought I’d write a follow-up to the presentation Marcus Elliott and I gave at ALT Conference 2016 ‘Creativity takes courage and digital capability‘. I’ll provide some extra detail that we couldn’t include and answer some of the questions that arose.

Why did we start the digital capabilities project?

So what made us start this journey? I’ve always been interested in supporting staff to use technology properly.  Having spent my entire career trying to encourage staff to use it, training them to use it and seeing first hand the mixture of ability levels, I realised we really need to do more. What we could do and how was not so clear.

Marcus and I attended a lot of conferences over the past two years where digital capabilities were discussed. Jisc Digifest, UCISA’s Spotlight on Digital Capabilities and we were lucky enough to get a place on the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme. What attending these conferences gave us were many ideas and approaches we could take back. They convinced me more and more that we weren’t doing enough

So is it the responsibility of the institution? Or, should staff be making sure they are fit to work? These are questions that have been raised a couple of times. I wrote a blog along these lines a while ago Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? To me there is an equal responsibility, staff should take responsibility but the institution should ensure the opportunity to develop is available. We strive to ensure our students leave here with more skills and aptitudes than they arrived with, shouldn’t the same apply to our staff? An institution dedicated to developing their staff is one that will attract and keep the best staff. As the featured image for this post says

Passion led us here

What did we do?

  1. The project began very informally. Marcus and I had many conversations about digital capabilities and I had always been shocked at how little support there was at the University. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and spoke to my manager. I told her we needed to do something, I told her about the experiences Marcus and I have had dealing with staff and the huge leap using technology is for some staff. Luckily she was very open to the idea and agreed to use her influence to gather a group.
  2. We brought together representatives from Educational Development, ICT, HR, Library, Student Services, a representative from all colleges and other interested parties. I presented the Jisc project and emphasised the impact of digital identity and well-being. I have always felt that senior management know that support surrounding technologies are important but often other considerations drop this issue to the bottom of the pile. When we leverage digital capability to the impact on well-being and identity we create a better more persuasive argument. If you can link it to real world examples, for example we had a student who did something naughty on social media, it becomes even more pertinent. Everyone agreed that we needed to do ‘something’ and a group was formed.
  3. We formed the Digital Capabilities Group and began to consider what we could do to make a quick impact.
  4. We decided to pilot Lynda.com. A number of schools were paying for a licence and it seemed wasteful to spend almost as much per school as it would be to have a site licence given the difference was nominal. The added value for staff and students seemed huge so we asked 100 staff and students from across the University to consider how Lynda.com could be used to support their personal development, their students and in their teaching. We had very positive responses and we hope to secure the funds to roll it out for September 2017.
  5. We had been considering how we might gather a baseline of capabilities across the University and were toying with the idea of creating a needs analysis survey. We looked at a few drafts but found they tended to be full of questions about specific software and features. Lots of questions like “are you confident using x”. It was too constraining. Technology changes all the time, list one application in a survey and the next day there’s a replacement. We didn’t want to know whether they could use Microsoft Word, what we were looking for was whether they were capable of handling the changes. Did they have the broad capabilities to handle a variety of technologies. So when we heard at the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme that Jisc had developed a beta discovery tool we were very excited! James Clay, project manager for the building digital capability R&D project, visited us and talked us through the plans for the tool. It was in beta when we joined the pilot and there were a number of improvements that would be made to it in the future. We were sold!
  6. James created an instance of the tool for us. We crafted a carefully worded email and sent it out to all staff. We asked a senior member of staff to send it out in the hope it would have more gravitas and we titled it “How digital are you?”. The title was really hard to decide on. I’m still not sure it worked but we didn’t want some tedious title that people would scroll past. We left the tool open for 2 weeks and sent out a follow-up email to encourage the last few people to complete the tool (although that email was sent about an hour before it closed on the last day, thanks Marketing). We had 422 respondents which equated to a 25% response rate at the time. All participants completed the tool which shows it wasn’t too onerous to complete. We were really happy with the response given we did no promotion whatsoever! We received some helpful feedback which we passed on to Jisc and they have improved the tool based on the feedback from all the pilots.
  7. We interpreted our results, with the help of James, and have a list of areas we know we need to work on. For example there is work to do around the benefits of social media, copyright and open content etc. Overall we were really pleased with how capable our staff are the results showed we had staff who were willing to try to resolve technical issues themselves, who saw the benefit of collaborative working tools and are interested in new technologies. Obviously I understand that 25% is hardly representative of the entire university but it has given us some areas for development and an insight in to our staff.

How does the Jisc Tool work?

The tool is completely anonymous the only identifying information is in the designation of the type of role and area of work the user selects before they begin. They can select whether they are in an academic or profession role in FE or HE etc. There are currently 48 questions in the tool grouped in to the areas of capability from the 6 elements framework. There are four options per question each assigned a weighting from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Once submitted the results create a graph which shows the level of capability in each of the areas. The results also provide some recommendations which help to give staff ideas on how they might improve that area of capability. In the future we will be able to link to our own resources, 3rd party resources and even lynda.com tutorials. Participants can then send the results to themselves. We received the results from the whole survey in an Excel spreadsheet but Jisc are developing a results dashboard which should help to make the interpretation and access to the data.

Jisc Discovery Tool or build your own?

So should you use Jisc’s Discovery Tool or make your own?

That entirely depends on what you want to know. If you want a list of they can or can’t do this then make your own. The Jisc tool does not give you the answers it’s very much about interpretation of the data and understanding what the questions mean. We were lucky that James was able to help us interpret our results, otherwise I am not sure we would have got as much from it as we did. The tool has improved vastly since we used it and I’m excited to try it next year. For example we would like to be able to better narrow down the areas in the university the respondents are from and that feature has been added without losing the anonymity. It’s also nice to compare yourself against other institutions.

Personally I think the Jisc tool offers something that would be hard to replicate in-house. Firstly it’s hosted and maintained by Jisc so you don’t have to worry about development costs and maintenance etc. Also they have avoided the pitfall of getting caught up in the ‘can you’ type questions. It’s also based on research within in the sector so you know you are getting something that has been rigorously tested and  researched.

What is the future?

We need to get the hidden 75% how are we going to do that? I don’t really know. We’ve had a lot of changes her so the future is uncertain at the moment. The University is committed to improving digital capabilities and that is wonderful to see. I think our work will be formalised and a more coherent plan of what we will be doing will emerge. The group will be changed and membership widened to ensure that as many staff and students are represented as possible.

I think the Discovery Tool will continue to be improved and we will use it again next year.

Things to consider

Digital capabilities are not a quick fix. They are complex. They are time-consuming. There is no one size fits all solution. If you’re going to start something you have to be committed and doggedly determined. You’re going to have to push and keep pushing to make sure it doesn’t lose momentum. You’re gonna have to be prepared, and prepare others, for a long piece of work. This isn’t something you can fix in a year-long project. It’s a lot more complex than increasing your CPD offerings. The institution needs to be committed both in time and financially to making a difference. Focus on small initiatives that you can achieve quickly (senior management like to measure progress right?) whilst keeping the huge goal in mind. Get the right people involved who will support you, you can’t do it alone.

If I could leave you with one piece of advice it would be that you only need one person to join you in your fight. That one person needs to be the right person, someone with influence, but once you have them you’re set. Get one and the others will follow.  Check out this lesson in leadership

Further reading

There is sooo much I could link to so I’ve tried to gather a few of the thought-provoking ones I have read:

Building digital capability project

Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog

Sarah Davies: So what’s the challenge?

James Clay: Engaging the invisibles

James Clay: It’s still not easy

Sue Watling : The invisible tribes and territories of the TEL-People

Marcus Elliott: How PAW Patrol saved my life

Lawrie Phipps: Mapping for Change

Lawrie Phipps: Perspectives on Digital: Change isn’t coming, it’s here and it’s permanent

Donna Lanclos: Ta Dah! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Doing a Visitors and Residents Workshop

Dave White: Visitors & Residents – navigate the mapping

Peter Bryant: It doesn’t matter what is in your hands

Helen Beetham: Framing digital capabilities for staff – deliverables

Helen Beetham: What is ‘Digital Wellbeing’?

Helen Beetham: Revisiting digital capability for 2015

Kerry Pinny: What is institutional digital capability?

Kerry Pinny: But what about staff that wont or don’t want to engage in cpd?

Kerry Pinny: Stop moaning, start doing

Social Media: You don’t have to be serious

I started this post before reading I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer in the Guardian. I have since adapted this post to reflect some of the points raised by the now infamous ‘Serious Academic’.

My original post began with the following:

Are you an avid user or ardent refuser? Do you see the value in building networks and sharing? Do you worry about balancing your personal and professional life? I was, but I realised you can take advantage of social media without having to give all of yourself away.

From conversations I have had with academics, some are reticent to use social media because they fear misuse, don’t see how they can use it, or they don’t wish to share their personal lives online. However, whilst I disagree with everything said about social media in the article, Serious Academic (SA) raises an issue I had not considered. Perhaps the resistance arises from the behaviour of other users and the negative press social media regularly gets. SA describes academics who use social media as “using social media to impress people that you know – as well as those that you have never met – has now become a professional concern for many academics”.

(I have filled this post with memes because I can imagine it’s the kind of new age, bohemian, hipster-ish nonsense that really annoys Serious Academic.)

“We are in the midst of a selfie epidemic.”

tmi

Here is the one point where I slightly agree with SA. Unfortunately, there are people on the internet who like to ruin it for the rest of us. Through TMI (too much information), over-sharing and endless selfies. Oh right, that’s what you’re having for dinner. Oh, you’ve had a bad day and are fishing for attention. You want to lord your latest achievement (however minor) over everyone. You’ve put some lipstick on and thought everyone would like to see.  Please allow me to assure you that these people are the minority of social media users, not the majority.

Do not let these people mislead you. This is not the behaviour you have to aspire to replicate. Social media is not about telling people what you had for dinner or every minute detail of your lives. There are sooo many benefits to learning and teaching.

(I realise the irony of this statement given this tweet)

Mute is your friend

mute

In my opinion, SAs problem is following the wrong people. If you don’t like what people are sharing mute them or unfollow them. You are in control of what you see. Don’t whine when someone posts something you aren’t interested in. Just switch ’em off. Choose your followers carefully and you won’t have that problem.

Serious academics don’t use social media

serious

The implication of SA’s article is that those academics who use social media are not ‘serious academics’.  Now I think it’s worth noting that this ‘academic’ seems to be a researcher and there is no reference to teaching at all in the article. So it raises the debate what exactly is a serious academic? That’s a debate for many blog posts, I don’t think we have room to analyse teaching vs research and the hierarchy of education. According to SA

the dedication I show in the lab, and the subsequent data I collect, should speak for itself. I do not – and should not – have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher. Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?

Yes you can. Carry on mate. But using social media to promote your work, share your work and connect with peers is nothing to be ashamed of. It does not make you less serious as an academic. What it makes you is someone who is open to trying new things and exploring new ways to disseminate your work. I liked SA’s caveat early in the article “I am speaking from the perspective of a young PhD student, not some cranky old professor harking back to the Good Old Days”. Regardless of your age SA your close mindedness and the bile and vitriol with which you describe your peers is the real concern.

I am not a serious anything. The day I become a serious anything will be the day hell freezes over.

“I see more and more of them live tweeting and hashtagging their way through events”

hashtag

And? If you weren’t aware a lot of event organisers and speakers actively encourage this behaviour from participants. I always provide my Twitter handle or a hashtag when I speak at events. I really enjoy reading the debate and comments after the event and I don’t have a problem with people using their devices while I speak. Shock horror I have even live blogged from events. I know, I can’t be a serious academic.

But it appears that the majority perform this ritual as proof of their dedication to the profession, as if posting a picture marks them out as more enthusiastic than their peers.

This comment smacks of bitterness if nothing else. I would suggest that their presence at a conference, clear engagement with their peers and community is a sign of their enthusiasm for their profession not that they posted a photo whilst there.

I have had countless opportunities and conversations happen as a direct result of tweeting from events and I’m going to carry on doing it. Sorry SA but the fact that it annoys you only serves to make me want to do it more.

Personal vs. Professional

professional

There is a balance to this and only you can decide how much you are willing to share. It is entirely your decision. There is no magic formula. My colleague shares pictures of his family whilst another colleague says they will never post that detail online. That is their decision and depends on what you feel comfortable with. My only suggestion to you is to share as much or as little as you like but always make sure people can see your personality in your posts. Try not to be too formal. The accounts I most enjoy are those who you feel are using their own voice.

Risk

Is Social media use with students risky? Perhaps. I will talk about some strategies to mitigate that in a moment. Is the risk a good reason to not try? Of course not. There is a lot of scaremongering about social media bullying or trolling as it’s commonly called. It happens for sure but much like bad behaviour in the classroom we simply have to deal with it.

Ground Rules

The social media environment is no different to the physical. In a classroom, we manage behaviour by setting ground rules. These rules give students clear instruction as to the behaviours that will be expected of them. Setting them before the task begins will mean there is no ambiguity and making clear the repercussions of breaking these rules will also help. If a student behaves inappropriately just tell them they need to modify their behaviour.

Do I have to?

DoNotWant

It has got to the point where those of us who wish to keep our social media accounts private, or for personal use only, face being frowned upon for somehow being less enthusiastic about what we do.

No, you don’t. But this is the world we live in. If you don’t want to do it then that is your choice but do not try to make other people feel inferior for doing so.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I need to believe that employability is not directly correlated to how many likes you get on your Instagram posts. I appear to be in the minority, however.

You’re right it’s not. What is based on is your engagement with your peers, your activity in the community and your ability to disseminate your work? Let’s face it, research is as much about prestige for the University as it is for you. Perhaps SA has failed to get a job because someone else is an active social media user, perhaps that is the source of the bitterness? If not they will simply have to get used to the fact that our engagement outside of the ‘lab’ is as important now as the work we do in it. Activities such as social media use can help to set you apart. If you don’t want to that’s your choice, but seriously, don’t insult those who do.

Brilliant Examples

I spoke to a lecturer in Film who told me about his use of Snapchat to share his work with his students. He goes to a lot of film sets and felt they would be interested to see what a real film set looks like and what is involved in working on such a production.

To address the matter of relevance I have included links to some examples of social media use in teaching. My personal favourite is Andrew Westerside’s use of Twitter as a space for performance.

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.

What is Institutional Digital Capability?

If you are reading this in search of a definitive answer, I am sorry, you will not find one here. This post is not based on months of arduous, thorough, rigorous research, it is based solely on my own experience and conversations I have had at a Jisc Digital Capability Service Modelling workshop.

This post, and its content, does not speak for Jisc. They have not sanctioned this post nor asked me to write it. They are working on their definition and supporting materials. If you want to know more speak to James Clay. I am just writing down my own poorly formed thoughts.

Infrastructure

An institution should have the basic infrastructure necessary to be ‘digitally capable’. Hope that helps. Oh, sorry, were you wanting more information? I don’t know much about the infrastructure necessary to support an educational establishment but I’ll give it a whirl.

So basically people need computers right? Internet connection, WiFi, an efficient network, storage, communication tools, software etc. I don’t think listing  names of technologies will help here given they constantly change and by next week this blog would be outdated.

Access and Availability

Access to and availability of, for staff and students,  technology is vital. It’s all well and good encouraging staff and students to use technology but if they can’t access it you’ve failed already. Not only should institutions make sure they have the ‘basics’ but they should be keeping their eyes firmly on the horizon watching out for emerging technologies.

Strategy, policies and expectations

Strategy is very important, it  sets the ‘direction’ and ‘tone’ of a University. It tells the outside world what a University is about. Although I admit that often strategies are more words than action. It also tells prospective staff and students what will be expected of them and what they can expect. An explicit reference in strategy shows that the institution sees value and benefits of engaging in the digital.

Whilst I’m not keen on policies, as dictating what people do is not always the best approach, a solid set of basic policies help to set expectations. Policies around the use of the VLE, electronic management of assessment etc. are useful in that they show what the institution expects of staff. They are also useful to start conversations. Talking about the ‘minimum’ will often lead in to conversations about the more advanced.

I think setting expectations is key. Especially in staff. I think that job descriptions should specifically refer to the digital. It should be clear from the outset that the institution expects staff to engage in the digital and develop. This should be followed up in the interview with questions raised about how they can demonstrate their engagement. Appraisals should similarly focus on their digital practice and engagement.

I will caveat all this with the following, all of these things should be developmental not used as a stick to beat staff with.

Responsibility and Duty

The responsibility is everyone’s. The institution has a responsibility to make sure everything is in place that is needed. Infrastructure, CPD and support etc. It is my opinion that the institution has a duty to ensure their staff are developed whilst they are employed. If an institution can say “when you work here, you are developed and supported, and will leave a better xyz” I think that is very powerful. I also think that’s their duty as it is with students.

Staff have a responsibility to engage and develop their skills. Staff cannot rely entirely on the institution to do everything for them. There must be give and take. They have to engage. That is what they need to do to deliver to todays students.

Values, narratives and culture

What does the University want to say about itself? What attitudes does it want to engender in its staff and student body? Decide these things early and make sure your strategies, expectations and actions are all aligned to it. The culture will change as a result.

Investment

This is absolutely key. The institution needs to recognise that a significant investment, not only monetarily is necessary but also in time. Transforming people is not quick or cheap.  Building a capable infrastructure is not cheap either.

In my opinion, time is more important than money. The institution needs to be mindful that developing people takes time. Not only does it take time, they need time. The space is most important. Space in the curriculum to explore and also space in their schedules. Developing resources and learning new skills is time-consuming. Even more so if you want it done well.

I have always liked the idea of a ‘digital day’. Where staff are given a day to explore and develop their resources for the next year. I know getting a whole day timetabled would not always be easy but it’s a start surely?

It’s Personal and Professional

A digitally capable institution recognises that it’s not all about professional skills. That it’s not just about preparing staff and students for work. It’s also about their personal development and, in my opinion, that is more important than the professional skills. This is about caring for your staff. Again, what does the institution want to say about itself? Surely it should show that is cares about its staff and student body.

It’s not about technology

A lot of the things I have mentioned here have nothing to do with technology. They are about transforming people. You can put in as much technology as you like but if you don’t change people, it’s all for nought.

Change in institutions is hard because people are hard to change. At its core, digital capabilities are about people, their skills and confidence. People will make the difference. Support them.

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.

Stop moaning, start doing.

We spend a lot of time moaning about what our staff can’t do. We spend just as much time asking why they aren’t doing something about it. So what can we do? Well how about we stop moaning and start doing something? How about we start supporting our staff instead of bringing them down.

I have written a post on the issue of employing staff without, what has been described as, the “skills to work in a digital age” titled Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? If you want to read the whole thing please do. If not, to cut a long story short, I believe we should. I believe we have a duty, as we do to students, to make sure that staff leave us having benefited from their time with us. I feel very strongly about this.

Dangerous assumptions

If you genuinely operate on the belief that all your staff are digitally capable then you are naive. They’re not. Shock horror not even all of our students are. We make a lot of assumptions about technology and people’s exposure to it. We assume everyone can, and most worryingly for me, we assume that they SHOULD come to us with existing skills.

Take email for example. We think this a basic skill everyone has. Sorry but it’s not. I spoke to a postgraduate student who found email baffling. I have heard from staff who used a different email service at another institution and found Outlook incredibly difficult to pick up. Staff do not need to be shown how to send an email. Most people can feel their way to that task. They need to be taught how to manage mail. They need tips on efficiencies, short-cuts and features they otherwise wouldn’t discover.

Imagine how much time and money we would save if we taught something as basic as email. Our assumptions are costing us and we can’t see it.

Moving goal posts

“For the vast majority of human existence, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look pretty much the same as the one in which you were born.” Big Idea: Technology Grows Exponentially

Technology is constantly changing. I wrote a post, a while ago, about Exponential growth, technology and higher education. In short our challenge is only going to increase. Technological developments are not slowing, they are increasing exponentially. Imagine our learning curve as a roller-coaster. At the moment we are leaving the station and slowly inclining. We are staring upward, pressed to the back of the seat, all we can see is the track and the sky. We can’t see the peak. That is our learning curve. We are constantly moving towards the peak but it just keeps getting higher and steeper.

What does that mean for us? It means technology is going to be changing quickly and we need to keep staff skills in line with that change. It means we can’t make a tick list of things they need to know, force them on some training , dust off our hands and reward a job well done with a cuppa. We need to be anticipating the changes and making sure the opportunities are there for staff when they need them.

The dreaded TEF

The TEF is going to put increasing pressure on staff to be experimental and innovative. It’s all well and good for those with confidence. For the majority it’s a daunting prospect. We need staff to have a strong foundation of digital skills. We need them to be able to walk before they are forced to run. That is why addressing the gaps in digital capabilities is so important.

Taking ownership

What we really need is to foster a culture of ownership around development. You can lead a horse to water…

Institutions need to show staff that taking part in development activities is an expectation, not an option. That those who do are recognised and rewarded. That trying to better yourself will be noticed.

Staff need to realise that the only person who can improve their digital capabilities is them. It’s their responsibility. They have to make it a priority. They have to seek out opportunities. Be curious. Nothing in life is handed to us.

Get on with it

Stop moaning about what they can’t do. If we’d spent the same amount of time doing something about what they can’t do we might have made some progress by now.

Show staff they are cared about. Support them. Invest time and money in them. Don’t just talk about it. Do it.

Make staff feel that their development is important. That you want them to develop and succeed.

 

The Employability Misconception

There is a misconception amongst our students that a degree will guarantee a job. I realised this belief is probably a huge factor that contributes to the worrying behaviours I wrote about in my last post Students: I’m worried about you.

There is a belief, or misguided hope at least, that a degree will guarantee a job. Most worryingly there seems to be a feeling that if a student leaves without having got a job then it’s the university’s fault.

What is employability anyway?

a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy

One would hope that we are teaching students the skills, understandings and personal attributes they need to be gainfully employed anyway. Surely this should be par for the course. Apparently it’s not so we go through endless initiatives that aim to increase employability. Lets develop the skills and values to make them better people. Not to massage our DLHE survey results but because we have a duty to.

What I feel we miss is the part that talks about their benefit to the workforce, community and economy. That it’s not all about getting a job. That it’s actually about so much more than that.

Employability is a misnomer

I  know we like to put names on things. Chiefly because they are words by which we are measured but I wonder is employability really the right word? Have we created a rod for our own backs?

Emplyability is not something that can be taught. It’s not a clear list of skills that we can tick off. It’s about wide ranging skills, personal values and attributes that vary for each individual.

Employability as a term implies a degree will teach you everything you need to know to be employed. The higher the level of employability the better chance you’ll have of getting a job. Nope. Remember you have a degree like the majority of other applicants. Yes yours might be from a slightly ‘better’ university but you need more than that to stand out.

I agree we should be making sure our students are ready to leave university and be effective members of the community. What I disagree with is the wealth that learning offers being boiled down to their getting a job. It’s about so much more than that. If I could do one thing it would be to convince students of that.

Fees, monetisation and expectations

Let’s face it. Students have this view because they are paying a lot of money to study. I wrote about it in detail in my previous post. They want (and deserve) it to be worth something eventually. Students, please trust me. It is worth it. It may take you a few years to realise it but it’s worth so much more than you think.

Degree=Job

I thought I’d go to University and be Stephen Spielberg. I’m not. I’m sat in an office, above a launderette, on my own, in the dark because it’s raining and I don’t want to turn the lights on. I am not Stephen Spielberg. Has my degree contributed to my being where I am now? Of course. Could I have got here without it? Yes I could. It might have taken longer but I could have.

Students need to understand that a degree is not an automatic job guarantee. They need to think about the transferable skills they gain from a degree and their involvement in wider university activities. I’m sure I’ve heard someone say that most jobs won’t exist in 20 years time. Don’t pigeon hole yourselves.

Be brave, work hard and walk your own path.