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.

I am not your enemy

I am not your enemy. I’m the mug who has been thrown into the lion’s den covered in rump steak, to demonstrate the VLE. I don’t know what I’m walking in to. I do not make decisions. I do not create policy. Frankly, there are times I don’t care if you use the VLE. I’m just here to show you. I am not the enemy.

I should be clear that strong anger and hostility is rare.

VLEs are a bit disappointing

To be fair VLEs are a bit of a disappointment. Actually, let me qualify that. Technology is a bit of a disappointment. As David White says “if you go to technology to be the solution…everyone will be disappointed”.

I think we all hope that technology will just work with very little/no interference from human beings. At least sometimes that’s how I think academics hope it works. I may be being unfair here but there are times I see the “oh I have to do something with this to make it worthwhile” look in their eyes. Sadly the VLE does not know what you want to teach. It cannot absorb your teaching materials through osmosis and organize them correctly for you. It cannot create a quiz for you. It can’t facilitate a forum for you.  It can’t decide the best way to present your learning materials and activities to best aid student learning. Unfortunately, like all technology, it requires some human intervention. More importantly, it requires human intervention to make it meaningful. Technology on its own is meaningless.

Technology gives the impression that anything is possible. That’s true to an extent. Technology has opened up endless possibilities. In a way that is a blessing and a curse. Reality does not always live up to expectation. I hear “surely it can do this”, “surely they can do that” but the reality is there is a LOT of work behind even the simplest idea. You don’t see that, perhaps we ought to show you more?

VLEs are designed to do a job. You might be able to plug stuff into it. You might be able to adapt it but on the whole, it does what it does. Can they be better? Oh of course. But they serve a purpose and do that adequately. I hold out for something better but I can guarantee no matter what comes I’ll still be asked: “can it do this”.

Can it do…

Whenever I demo the VLE it get’s compared to other systems. Can it do x? Can it do y? Can students see z in here? I find myself saying no a lot in these situations. Usually because rather than looking at the VLE for what it is and what it can offer, it’s compared to existing systems, some wholly incomparable. I sometimes wish I had that device on Men in Black so I could remove their memories of whatever system they were using previously so they could look at the VLE with fresh unprejudiced eyes. I don’t have that.

I should add that I always want to hear these questions, as they feed into ongoing developments.

We’re doing everything we can…

Sometimes I feel like people assume the reason it can’t do something is that we can’t be bothered to make it do that. We can. We want to. But what they don’t see is the huge amount of thought and work that goes into every decision around the VLE. Even seemingly simple things like turning on plugins. Although sometimes the functionality just isn’t possible or doesn’t exist. We have to consider each request on its merits. It’s not like switching on a light switch. I wish it were quicker. I wish it were simpler but NOTHING about technology is simple (despite what the marketing people would have us believe).

I promise you it’s added to the list. We’re trying to get through the list but it only gets longer. That’s the problem with technology the work never stops. Everyone wants something, because “surely it can be done”.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Unfortunately, we often become the focus of anger for decisions that we have nothing to do with, made by people we have nothing to do with over which we have absolutely no power. Do I think you should use the VLE? Yes because it can do great things when used well and consistency is something students want and deserve. Do I care if you use it? Ultimately no, that’s your choice but you’re missing out on something. Or more accurately your students are.

I didn’t say you had to use the VLE. Someone else did. Sorry. I’m just here to show you. Am I really the person you should be angry with? Do you really think I can do anything about what’s happening to you? Do you think making me feel uncomfortable will help? Do you think talking down to me will help? Do you think it will help to make me feel small?

No. It won’t help.

Why are people still hostile?

The world of ed tech seems to believe that everyone wants to use technology. That it’s obvious that people should and those who don’t are Luddites and dullards. Often anyone who dares questions the use of technology in education is met with much belligerent, disapproving responses. They are an enemy of the state who must be indoctrinated.

The reality is there is still resistance. People do not believe in the use of technology without question. Unlike the majority in the Ed Tech world, they look at it with a critical mind.  There is legitimate criticism of the VLE (not that anyone can agree on the perfect alternative). They are bloated and feature heavy. They never quite work how people want them to. There’s always something missing. Put enough academics in a room and they will find a reason to dislike it. I believe there is legitimate criticism of the use of technology in education. In fact, I think we are obliged to consider every aspect of technology positive or negative.

I suppose we need to change our sales pitch from “you can do a quiz” to “you can scaffold student learning by creating a formative test each week and displaying feedback and content based on their results. The data can also be used as an indicator to show which concepts are proving difficult to understand and may need to be covered again the following week”. There’s a longer blog post in the “can do, should do vain”.

So what do we do?

We grit our teeth and we bear it. If there was universal acceptance they wouldn’t need people like us. Try to always be their champion. Listen, really listen. Respond when they ask you a question. Remind them that you’re here to support them, not get in their way. Smile. Respond kindly. Be patient. You don’t know what might be driving their behaviour, it could be wholly unconnected with you or what you’re there to talk to them about.

Always, always remember:

In defence of technology

The defence of educational technologies can be so vehement that any question of its importance or impact is met with a barrage of indignant responses, as though ed tech is somehow above questioning. It is perhaps the default position of those of us who work with learning technologies after-all, that work pays the bills. I would argue that it is our job to question, to be critical of and more importantly think impartially about educational technologies.

The Background

This post is a response to an email thread on the ALT mailing list where my former colleague Sue Watling asked:

During my research I’ve found a host of reports critical of the claims of TEL and the quality of TEL research.

Calling on Surowiecki’s ‘wisdom of crowds’ I wondered who on the list could point me to evidence of TEL enhancing learning/teaching.

Her question related to the ‘quality’ of TEL research (we can argue what constitutes quality another time) and asked for people’s go to evidence that they use to underpin/evidence TEL practice. The responses she received were…interesting. Some reiterated the issues that surround TEL research. For example that ‘quality’ research can take many years but our work is changing as technology changes. Others pointed to the existing journals that are available. What I noted was Sue having, or feeling she had, to defend herself and defend asking the question. As though educational technologies are beyond reproach. I now feel it necessary to make the same defence and you know that makes me really sad.

Allow me to be clear from the beginning, before the mob starts sharpening their pitchforks, that this post is not saying that educational technologies have no value. I am not saying they haven’t changed education (although the level remains debatable).

giphy-1
(I know that’s a trident)

Reality vs. Idealism

I think we can be guilty, and I know I have been many times in the past, of looking at technology from an idealistic perspective. It’s not surprising given our job is to promote and increase engagement. However, are we actually being realistic about what technology is capable of or are we overselling because we feel that’s what we’re supposed to do?

I would argue that we need to be realistic about technology and what it can actually do. Let’s not oversell and disappoint. However, enthusiasm and inspiration has it’s place. We have to acknowledge the limitations.

Evidence

People like evidence. If I said to you that this blog was the best blog ever, you’d probably ask me to defend my position. You might ask whether other people agree or what criteria I use to make that assessment.

From my experience when an academic asks for the evidence, then the problem is not the lack of evidence, but actually something else. James Clay, 2017

James Clay  has written a blog post Show me the evidence… where he argues that the problem is not a lack of evidence around the benefits of using learning technologies but a “resistance to change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation”. He argues it is that we need to change not provide evidence to academic staff.

You really need to solve those issues, rather than find the “evidence”, as even if you find the evidence, you will then get further responses such as, wouldn’t work with my students, not appropriate for my subject, it wouldn’t work here, it’s not quite the same, not transferable…. etc…James Clay, 2017

Our job is to show how it would work with their students, their subject, on their institution etc. Yes, there is an issue with change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation etc. But there is also a matter of academics simply wanting to see the pay off for their efforts.

Let us not be so arrogant as to forget the pressures our academic colleagues are under. Teaching, marking, research, meetings, paperwork, curriculum development etc. How dare they expect us to show that taking time out of their busy schedules to learn how to do something, adapt their teaching, create materials etc. will be worthwhile. I mean really? How very dare they expect to see some evidence that it actually works. Surely they should blindly follow what we tell them?

I’m being facetious but come on people, take it down a notch. It’s not like they’ve come in to your house on Christmas day and slapped your kids. They’re asking a valid question. Yes, James is right, it may be masking deeper rooted issues but there’s nothing wrong with that question. It’s right to ask, that’s scholarly practice.

Is it personal?

Donna Lanclos made the following comment:

I can see where Donna is coming from here. There is a lot of academic snobbery in HE. “Who are you to tell me what to do” and “what are your credentials”. I suppose that is a result of scholarly practice, peer review, evidence based practice etc. I have not been an academic, I’ve not been doing this job for a long time, I don’t have a long list of qualifications and I am not a Dr (though all these things are relative and in my experience have a varied impact on skills, knowledge and competence). I don’t get offended by their skepticism, on paper I don’t really know much at all. Part of my job is gaining their trust and confidence. That starts with small successes and builds. It can’t be rushed.

I can’t speak for Donna, I would love for her to elaborate on this further, as I don’t walk in her many pairs of fabulous shoes. All I can say is it might feel personal, and it is a little, but life is full of people trying to one up you. I know what it’s like to be belittled, to have your confidence taken from you but you don’t have to let them win. Here’s the evidence, take a look mate and in the words of the Dowager Countess:

giphy

Critical Reflection

I would argue that reflection and particularly critical reflection is an important part of any job. We should reflect and look carefully at the effectiveness of all our offerings to ensure we are providing staff and students with what they need. If we do not reflect on what we do how will we enhance it? How will we know what to improve? How will we know what works and what doesn’t? We have to look critically at what we do, it would be pointless not to.

Take a moment to look at the activities in teaching and learning. Consider the degree to which they have changed those activities. Are learning technologies living up to the transformation we have been promising for years? Are we guilty of bigging them up?

Impartiality

It is our job to make recommendations, to show what exists and what is possible. I don’t think it is our job to peddle our personal preferences. We make technological recommendations based on evidence and prior experience. Not because that’s the thing I like or is easiest for me to support. We have to look at learning technologies not as our babies but as tools used to reach an end. It should never feel personal. If someone says the VLE is rubbish I have to nod and ignore it. People are entitled to their opinions. We are entitled to our opinions but again our opinions are based on experience.

Better Research

I agree with Sue. We need to get better at gathering the evidence behind what we do. Yes, I get frustrated with the prove it culture too but we’re in an academic environment. Perhaps we need to think academically as much as we think technically.

To conclude

We should stop defending technology use in HE and put as much effort in to creating a body of proof. If we’re having to defend it clearly there is something to prove. I don’t think learning technologies have proven themselves yet. I do think there is a long way to go. Are there other issues surrounding use of technologies? Yes and James points them out. I would argue that proof will remove barriers. Show me something works and I’ll use it. Tell me it works and I’ll ask you to prove it.

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!

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

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.

Andrew Westerside: Using digital technologies as a tool for performance #LifeasaFilmSet

Graham Cooper: #inspirado Using Twitter to Encourage Interaction During Lectures

Martyn Thayne: #lsmquestions Using Twitter to Encourage Discussion in Lectures

Lecture Capture: A divisive tool

Lecture capture has become a topic of great debate in Higher Education. Despite the controversy use is increasing. Students have been asking for it and it has appeared in the campaign promises of Student Union sabbatical officers. In this post I describe some of my thoughts on the subject.

Of course students want it

iwantmeme
Because Arnie…

I find the concept of student demand as the driver for lecture capture interesting. If I were to ask you whether you wanted something better than what you had before would you say no? I very much doubt it. I would be more interested in knowing what it is they think lecture capture provides. I am not convinced they really want to sit through 1+ long videos. If they just want a succinct resource on topics surely there are many ways to accomplish that?

It helps everyone

One of the arguments most regularly used to justify the introduction of lecture capture is the fact that it will help international students and those with learning difficulties. That’s true. Being able to rewind, pause and skip to particular areas of content will no doubt make a difference to students learning. Most importantly, like all aspects of inclusive practice, having this facility will help everyone not just those with identified needs.

Engagement with the VLE

The VLE should contain content that students want and need. It should be a space students want to go to, not one they have to go to. Having lecture capture materials automatically added to the VLE drives traffic to the VLE. If there is something students want they will visit the VLE and apparently they want lecture capture.

Intellectual Property and Copyright

A huge concern for academic staff is the ownership of the recordings. Most University’s have a clause that anything produced as part of their normal working is owned by the University. So staff feel they have no power over their content. They fear misuse amongst other things. I can understand this fear, protecting their intellectual property and ideas is a necessary part of a publishing academics life. A clear, well written policy must be available to explain their rights and how the recordings will be used.

Recordings will replace staff

Captured recordings can be used again year on year. As the academic has no power over the use of the resource they naturally fear they will be replaced by a blended model using the recordings they made the previous year. That is highly unlikely.

I often hear this comment and have found it arises whenever a new method of delivering content is introduced. My argument would be if your teaching can be replaced by a recording you should be worried. A recording should never be better than a live experience. If you fear being replaced make your teaching an event not to be missed.

The name is terrible

I really dislike the phrase lecture capture. Firstly, it limits the type of content you might create. It’s not only lectures that are useful to record. Secondly, the word capture has negative connotations.

Capture: Take into one’s possession or control by force.

It feels as though something is being taken from you by force. Your years of hard work, research and teaching preparation taken from you and put online. It’s hardly surprising considering academics dislike of lecture capture arises from feeling forced in to it by management.

Lecture capture is not really a thing

notathing

We like to give things names so that we can go to conferences, write papers and say “yup we have lecture capture”. How about we stop calling it lecture capture and just tell our staff we have a new service for making learning resources. Record your teaching and then edit it in to a learning resource or several smaller resources which can be reused and released to students at a time of their choosing. That’s much more palatable surely?

It takes advantage of academics

I recently described lecture capture as feeling like:

a tool that takes advantage of the academic, rather than a tool an academic can take advantage of.

Lecture capture is purely for the benefit of the students and as such should be reason enough for staff to use it. If students have access to the recordings and results are improved surely that’s a positive for the academic too. But, lets face it, sometimes the effort staff have to put in to use a tool does not equal the benefit in their minds. The recordings take advantage of academics years of hard work, research and preparation and packages it up for easy consumption. It feels like it cheapens education.

So, what do I think?

I think lecture capture (although I would like to change the name or stop using it completely) is a valuable resource. I think it is worthwhile and beneficial to students. I would like to see evidence on the effect it has on student attainment and retention. Perhaps it’s already out there and I have just been too lazy to find it.

I completely understand the resistance to lecture capture. There are a lot of things about it that make me uncomfortable but used in the right way it can bring massive benefits. I do not think recording should be automatic or compulsory. It should be opt in. There should be a pause button, so staff can pause the recording if there is a part of their lecture they don’t want to be recorded. They should be able to make the recordings available only when they feel it appropriate. It should not become an expectation or promise to students. It shouldn’t become a mandate, “you will record all your lectures and have them available on the VLE in 48 hours”. I think behaviours are far better, and tend to stick, when grown organically.

I believe academics are against lecture capture because we have not approached the projects well. Firstly, we call it lecture capture, automatically raising hackles and secondly, we have not preempted their reactions. It is often seen as a tool of management which doesn’t help. Another way the establishment is trying to get rid of them. Communication is key. We need to get in there before the rumour mill starts and tell them why we’re introducing it and why it will benefit their students and, most importantly, how it will benefit them.

UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance

UCISA SSG continues to surprise me on day two. There was a bit about shiny stuff, a word from our students, a bit about processes, a bit about bees and some fervent dancing.

Thinking outside the Box. How a little bit of box made a big difference

Chris Dixon, Head of Operations, Lancaster University and Valerie Focke, Head of Education, EMEA, Box.com

Today’s business showcase was a big improvement on yesterdays. Chris shared his experience of implementing Box for the storage, management and sharing of files at Lancaster University. He highlighted the reasons for their decision. Chiefly, staff found the existing file management and sharing services ineffective. Particularly, sharing files outside of the organisation.

Student Panel

I love a student panel. They are always fascinating and it’s nice to hear from them directly.

IT services need to keep up

They talked about the need to make emerging technologies available so that students are prepared for the tech world. By the time they finish their studies the technology has changed so we need to prepare them.

They were asked how they like to be contacted. One said social media as that’s where they get their news. A mature student (that’s how she described herself) preferred email. Most importantly they felt that their lecturers need to be informed about ICT issues/services/tools etc. As often their lecturers are the ones introducing them to the tools.

They were asked about our marketing materials or “communications guff” as it was described. They all said it was overwhelming in induction week. They were bombarded with too much information. It would end up on a shelf never to be looked at again. Their preference would be to search for the information WHEN they need it. Not have it forced on them at every turn.

There was a misinterpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the one with Wi-Fi at the bottom, which meant students were asked whether Wi-Fi was at the bottom of their priorities. Wi-Fi is actually the most important in the hierarchy as it becomes more important than basic physiological needs like eating, drinking and sleeping. They all agreed it was very important but not the be all and end all.

The dreaded lecture capture reared its ugly head. Questions of value for money and other nonsense. The students all said they like the personal interaction of a lecture.

Attendance monitoring arose, described by one student as ‘Big Brother’. One argued they are adults, they pay for lectures and whether they turn up is their decision. This was met with staunch opposition in the audience. My argument would be if they’re not turning up then the lecture needs work. They shouldn’t have to choose whether a lecture is worth their time. It should be to begin with.

The students didn’t feel ICT was approachable. It was described as hidden away, intimidating and they were reticent to interrupt people at work.

Some said 24 hour contact with ICT is important to them. Another said they didn’t need 24/7 they just want to know when their issue will be resolved and dealt with. They liked the use of live chat and video support.

Use of social media was preferred to remain personal and some felt, or were told, it was not appropriate for their studies. I don’t agree but I can see why they wouldn’t want us in their social media.

What did I learn? Students aren’t homogeneous. Don’t treat them that way. Stop saying “our students want” instead go and ask them. Remember, you’re going to struggle to please everyone.

How big business, and a bee, started our customer service journey at Leeds Beckett

Eleanor Draycott, Help Services Manager, Leeds Beckett University

What an animated and passionate team they have at Leeds Beckett. Eleanor told us about their redevelopment of their Service Desk Environment. Old fashioned counters were removed to create an open, inviting, friendly zone for staff and students to drop in to. Eleanor talked about the old counters being barriers between the service desk staff and the users. The work they have done, despite some difficult times in the project, has removed those barriers.

They have open spaces where staff and students can stroll in to. They even have a genius bar. They have principles that all staff have to adhere to and they recognise that the attitudes of the people they employ are just as important as the environment.

Embracing Open Badges: Showcasing staff and student achievement at York St John University

Roisin Cassidy, Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor, York St John University

I have always been a sceptic about badges. It feels faddy. Like the stars McDonalds used to give their staff. A bit…insincere. Rosin has changed my mind. Eroded some of my scepticism.

Open badges are based on a shared standard and contain metadata. The metadata says what the badge was earned for, who issued it and where from. The metadata follows the badges. York St John have been giving badges for participation in their CPD and Roisin shared some examples of uses in the curriculum. Getting the – “what and the why” is important to get right from the start. What is it for, why would people want it, what are the criteria and how will it be evidenced. I can see badges working well if we get that part right from the start. I’m thinking of starting with our CPD offering and go on from there.

Agile tools and techniques

Colin Jones, Web and Applications Team Leader, Robert Gordon University

I must confess to not having concentrated fully during this presentation. Forgive me Colin, it wasn’t you. I had an academic in crisis who needed help. Agile is nothing new. The scrum meeting concept isn’t either. There’s lots online about it. Sorry I can’t say much on the subject.

Marmite: academics and a toast to the IT crowd?

Mark Schofield, Dean, Teaching and Learning Development, Edge Hill University

This was an amazing presentation. Clearly Mark is a veteran. Mark is an academic who has worked in a number of institutions at home and abroad. He had a very insightful (and brilliantly funny) presentation. Which illustrated, as so many have during this conference, that we need to work together to do anything well. He represented the problem as a humpback bridge with ICT professionals on one side and academics on the other unable to see one another. Mark used memes brilliantly. The featured image for this post is one he used to describe ICT Professionals. (Based on this conference, and the passion they demonstrate, they don’t all take that attitude) He acknowledged we are all difficult beasts. But with mutual respect and empathy we can do some brilliant things.

This has to be my favourite presentation. Everyone was transfixed. What a showman.

Process improvement partnerships: continuous improvement at Leeds Beckett University

Clare Wiggins, Continuous Improvement Manager, Leeds Beckett University

I ended the day with some play. Clare talked us through continuous improvement at Leeds Beckett and then let us run riot with the Mr Potato Heads (MPH). The idea was to form a plan then as a team try to construct MPH as quickly and accurately as possible. We recorded our time each go and our accuracy. We then talked about how we’d do it better and tried again. Long story short we had been continuously improving by reflecting on our work.

It was great fun, a nice interjection to the day, but what did I learn? Don’t try. Be rubbish and people will be amazed by the improvement. We had the fastest time but won nothing. I’m not bitter. (I am bitter)

How do you measure up

Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services, Leeds Beckett University

Sally finished the day by sharing the results of this years benchmarking survey. It was really useful to hear about the work other University’s are doing. It’s also useful to know where you stand in the wider community.

If you’d like to look at the report it’s available on the UCISA SSG website here.

Dinner

Dinner was a formal affair. Beautifully decorated with Alice in Wonderland themed tables. Dinner was followed by much dancing. The brilliant Ten Hail Marys played some serious funk, ska and indie classics. I lost my mind when Mr Brightside came on. The night was finished perfectly by the final song:

So throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right – One day like this, Elbow

We’ve got a lot of change to come. Education is being systematically ripped apart by people so far removed from it they may as well be on the International Space Station. Remember HE is a wonderful profession to work in. Remember why we do it and who we do it for. It will be OK. Keep calm. Carry on.

What did I learn? ICT Professionals + free wine = serious shapes thrown.

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Links

UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty

UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance

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