Academics are for life…

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

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

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

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

You will never please everyone

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

An unrealistic, but effective, list

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

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

Unrealistic list

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

In the real world

Academics are for life, not just for Christmas

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

Word-cloud ITS Evolving 2017

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

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

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

Academics are sceptical by profession

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

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

Academics are under enormous pressure

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

Academics are not IT professionals

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

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

 

Academics are people

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

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

Academics have different priorities

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

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

The realistic list

The Realistic List

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

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

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

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

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

Field of Dreams and other EdTech fallacies

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

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

What the hell was it about?

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

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

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

That title though?

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

Check out Marcus’s excellent intro:

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

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

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

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

Fallacy 2: Technology will solve everything.

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

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

Fallacy 3: We don’t need evidence.

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

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

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

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

It implies THEY don’t get it.

Fallacy 4: They don’t get it.

I love this quote from Audrey Watters:

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

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

Matt Cornock put it best:

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

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

Fallacy 5: They’re not interested.

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

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

Is limited innovation, impact and staff engagement our fault?

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

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

Links

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

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

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

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

Losing my ALTc virginity

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

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

In the Valley of the Trolls

Josie Fraser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disruptive Technology Enhanced Learning

Michael Flavin

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

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

Can WordPress function as a VLE?

David Read

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

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

Education and Neuroscience: Issues and Opportunities

Lia Commissar

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

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

nope

Code Create Collaborate

Ian Livingstone

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

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

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

Building digital capability through mapping and collaboration 

James Clay, and Lawrie Phipps

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

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

vandr

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

Flipping heck! Be careful what you wish for

Andrew Raistrick, and Steven Bentley

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

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

ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards

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

Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms

Jane Secker

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

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

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

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

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

Emmanuel Isibor

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

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

Daniel Metcalfe

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

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

Designing for Flow

Leonard Houx

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

Strategies for supporting effective student engagement with lecture recordings

Matt Cornock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venue

warwick

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

Food

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

Jisc Connect More 2016 – Nottingham

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

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

Welcome Plenary

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

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

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

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

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

Leveraging change through digital capability

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

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

Plenary – connect more with peers and practice

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

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

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

Watch Delon’s presentation on Periscope here.

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

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

Watch Jeremy’s presentation on Periscope here.

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

Kirstie shares how they disseminated their “participatory” ethos.

Watch Kirstie’s presentation on Periscope here.

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

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

Watch the two Andy’s presentation on Periscope here.

Sarah Deery, apprentice e-learning design, Sparsholt College

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

Watch Sarah’s presentation on Periscope here.

Session five: Making a difference with technology-enhanced learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenary – connect more with the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty

This is my first UCISA Support Services Group conference. It has always been, in my mind, “not for me”. It has always struck me as being for ICT professionals. That the presenters and attendees will not speak my language. I imagined it being full of tedious sessions with people droning on about their latest implementation of something or other. So far SSG16 has been quite wonderfully the opposite.

Tech-savvy

This phrase is a bug bare of mine. “Our staff/students are all tech-savvy and want to use xyz”. NO they are not. If you go and sit with enough of them you’ll soon see. It’s dangerous to assume that your users know how to do what you think they should. It’s not just dangerous, it’s arrogant. Stop it. If you’ve not seen the work Jisc has been doing around digital capabilities then go and take a look at their blog Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog and James Clay’s elearning stuff blog.

Delivering excellence in public services; customers, challenges and collaboration

Aline Hayes, Director of Business Change and Information Solutions, Sheffield City Council

Aline delivered an interesting presentation on the approach to service delivery at Sheffield City Council. She emphasised the importance of engagement and collaboration with the end-user. There was some practical detail about their approach to ‘suppliers’ working as services or partners. She emphasised the important role the council plays in the loves of vulnerable people and how even the seemingly insignificant loss of services can have big consequences.

There was a lot of talk of customers. HE staff shudder at the word (though it’s not surprising for the council to use the term). Let’s not use the word but lets assume the principles that the word invokes. Trust, empathy, service and care. Our students and staff are using our services. Those services should be quality.

Despite being interrupted by a fire alarm evacuation Aline continued her delivery with aplomb.

Problem management on a shoestring!

Garry Hunter, Problem Manager, Northumbrian Water Group

I really enjoyed this presentation. Not only did Garry deliver it with zeal and engagement but he was making sense. Get to the root of the problem, fix it so it doesn’t happen again. Yes please. He’ll know he’s done a good job when they make him redundant.

What annoys staff most is when something is broken, ICT know it is, but they do nothing. They don’t care how long it takes to fix, or how hard it is, they just want it fixed!

Business showcase

The conference is split up by business showcases. The less said about today’s presentation the better. Mainly because I couldn’t hear it and doubt I would have listened even if I could.

Creating user centric services whilst maintaining corporate compliance – is it possible in higher education?

Andrew Howe, Head of End User Services, University of St Andrews

I LOVED this presentation. Andrew was speaking my language. No more technology for technology’s sake. Andrew presented a list of ‘things’ our students use and want. I think this is dangerous. There are a lot of students who don’t use those things and have no interest in them. Try asking them? But remember if you ask them if they want it they’ll say yes. Instead ask what they want to do. Then find the technology to make that happen!

Andrew reminded us that staff are not always capable of doing what ICT expect from them. Thank you. Digital capabilities…they aren’t all Bill Gates…support them…bla bla bla. (Read my other posts)

20×20 More than just a degree

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

This was an incredibly personal, heartfelt and sincere presentation. Sally shared her life experiences and the transformative experience HE has been for her. It was wonderfully refreshing. It reminded me of why I started working in HE. Why I love it. Why I get up every day.

We can touch lives. We can change lives for the better.

20×20 ICT vs academics

Timothy Ingham, Operations Manager, and Kerry Pinny, Digital Education Developer, University of Lincoln

Tim and I presented on the results and subsequent actions of a survey we sent to ICT and academic staff. If you work in HE you will appreciate there is a volatile relationship between the two. To summarise ICT don’t understand academics and academics don’t understand ICT. As a result everyone’s a bit dissatisfied and unsupported. We’re developing a ‘day in the life of’ session so they can share their experiences and develop understanding.

Dinner and Treasure Hunting

Dinner/food is the make or break of a conference. The dinner was informal BBQ style food. Long queue but the English revelled in it. Dinner was followed by a treasure hunt. The image for this post is our team cramming themselves in to a phone box. We were dedicated. The hunt was a walking tour of Leeds with some theft activities thrown in. Great fun and a brilliant ice-breaker.

Links

UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance

UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance

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

 

Live blogging: Genius or Madness?

Laptop

I have owned these domains for years and yet I have never got around to setting it up. Chiefly because there is always something else I should be doing.

So why have I finally got round to enabling this website? Well tomorrow I will be attending UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2 conference and thought what better time to finally set up my website.

I am thinking of taking my first foray in to live blogging. Genius idea? Or total madness that I will abandon shortly after starting.

Why not tweet?

Tweeting is something I love doing at events and I plan to do so at the conference. It’s particularly powerful for sharing pertinent points and interesting revelations. Tweeting an event is sometimes called microblogging. So why don’t I just use Twitter?

Well I can only tweet 140 characters, at the moment, which has it’s pros and cons.

Pro – Succinctness, powerful, brevity

Con – Not a lot of flexibility

If you add a link or tag others you’ve lost a lot of characters. Once they drop links, @’s and media from the limit as the propose to, details here,  it will be far more fit for the blogging purpose.

Plus, you can have too much of a good thing. Tweets lose some of their power when they are lost amongst hundreds of other tweets made at the same time. Less is more.

Laptop, tablet or phone?

WordPress have a fabulous app which means I can blog from my phone or a tablet as well as my laptop. I don’t know whether this venue will be lecture style or tables, or whether sockets will be frelly available.

If there aren’t tables then the laptop and tablet are uncomfortable to try and balance on the lap.

My phone at least allows me to blog from anywhere but again can be very uncomfortable and the accuracy of my ‘typing’ can go rather awry.

Annoying my neighbours

There is something very annoying about the quiet clacking of a keyboard when you are trying to concentrate. I don’t want to annoy the people sat around me. Or worse distract them with the ungraceful balancing of my laptop.

Phone it is.

Seeming ignorant

I have been brought up to look at people when they are talking to me. I am one of those weird people nodding away emphatically at the presenters at conferences. There’s nothing worse than getting no feedback from an audience whatsoever. I’ve been there. It’s very uncomfortable and leads to embarrassing moments of overcompensation.

If I am glued to my device blogging will the presenters think I am not listening or worse that what they are saying is boring?

Concentration

I think my biggest challenge will be concentrating on what’s being said whilst trying to write something quickly which needs to make sense. Grammar is not one of my strongest skills. Yes I can come back later and tidy it up but I don’t like to chuck out any old rubbish online.

I’m going to write one anyway at some point

The main reason I am going to try it is because I am going to write one anyway at some point. So I may as well do it when the memories are freshest.

Preparation is the key

I’m going to get all of my posts set up so all I have to do is complete the body text.

Wish me luck.

Xerte Conference 2016

Yesterday, I attended the 2016 Xerte conference at Nottingham University. I had been invited to present with the Making Digital History project team and two students. It was a really interesting day and I’ve reflected on a few of the presentations.

Students as Producers of Digital History: Using Xerte at the University of Lincoln.

I was asked to join Dr Jamie WoodDr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo, Diane Ranyard (PHD student and student ambassador) and Alastair Codling (level two student) to present on the Making Digital History (MDH) project. I’m really pleased we were one of the few presentations to involve actual, real live students! We are keen on the student voice.

The MDH project has now become a formal part of the programme from level one to MA students and a summative assessment. Examples are included in our presentation and on the MDH website. Students are asked to present information on a topic via Xerte. They are given some brief training sessions and a help guide. Working in groups they collaborate to create their objects.

What I think is most valuable about this kind of project is that they encourage the students to think about how they present information to a multitude of audiences. They get to experience other types of assessment otherwise they would just do essays all year every year. We also strive to create digitally capable students, by learning something new it increases their confidence to utilise new technologies. Students often get hung up on how something looks and Xerte, with its limited themes, helps to stop students getting distracted. Some student feedback on the assessment can be found in our presentation.

What is the Apereo Foundation?

The conference was opened by the Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation, Ian Dolphin. He talked about the foundation and it’s role in the development of open source, community supported software for educational institutions worldwide.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsHe clarified what open-source means and talked about the way in which the software is maintained by the community. There is a reticence to adopt open source software. A fear of removal of support, security and maintenance. These fears are often unfounded and the movement towards a more open model is ever more prevalent.

Developing Custom Themes for the AgriFood ATP

My former colleagues, James Roscoe and Joel Reed, presented in their work as part of the AgriFood ATP project. A partnership of Universities who deliver blended learning courses to professionals. They detailed their approach to design, the use of colour, textures, palettes and custom logos and buttons.

They demonstrated a new app xhibitapp.com which creates custom Xerte theme designs through a simple wysiwyg interface. It creates a CSS file for you, without the need for any web design knowledge. What is most impressive about this app is that James and Joel identified a problem and created a solution. Staff were unable to easily adapt their Xerte object themes as they did not have the CSS skills. Now anyone can adapt their Xerte theme quickly and easily. Creating a Community Learning Hub with Xerte Online Toolkits I really enjoyed this presentation. About creativity and the use of Xerte to aggregate content from multiple sources. He demonstrated DS106 an open course where students were free to use whatever software or tools they wanted. There is no tutor, no start and end date and no moderators. Check out DS106.

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The question of abuse arose. Surely, being open leaves you open to abuse. Particularly in relation to female participants and authorities. The Guardian wrote an article recently about the issue Online abuse: how women are fighting back. Does abuse happen online? Of course. Though members in the room who run open courses said the amount of incidents are nominal.

So is the risk of abuse a reason not to be open? No it isn’t. We have to create communities online who police themselves. Ground rules help. Being able to report inappropriate or abusive behaviour will help. But surely we should create communities, online and in real life, where such behaviour is not accepted by the community. There is power in unity.

We looked at Xerte but we prefer Storyline, Captivate, iSpring et al!

This talk centred around Xerte and it’s competitors. In particular Articulate Storyline. It exemplified the power of Xerte. One criticism is that it’s a bit ugly. Well, with the right tools and skills it’s anything but ugly! It did stray a little in to a Xerte promo.

 

The one thing I have always thought is most important about technology is that the technology is not important. We get hung up on what we use, and what it can do or looks like, rather than what we are using it for. The tool simply facilitates the learning. What is most important is ensuring students learn what you want them to learn. It doesn’t really matter what tool they use, what it can do, or what it looks like.

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Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

 

On 5th and 6th June I attended the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event in Media City, Manchester. We were honoured with two days of sunshine (a rare occurrence in Manchester I am told), a delicious meal with quiz in the incredible Imperial War Museum North and a fascinating programme of talks.

I could write several blogs on all the talks I saw. Each one provided food for thought or ideas to take away. The full event programme and presentation slides are available on the programme page. I have picked out a few and summarised my thoughts.

Meeting and challenging students’ expectations of digital engagement

Much conjecture surrounds the student and their expectation of the digital at University.  I have always assumed that students would expect a lot from University in terms of technology and its use. Rebecca Nice, a mature student from the University of Winchester, went to University with high expectations. Purchasing a laptop and tablet believing she would be technologically left behind. In reality she found few opportunities to use technology in or out of class.

Dave White (@daveowhite), from the University of the Arts, detailed some of the findings of Jisc’s Digital Student project which reiterated the low expectations of students. There are a few things seen as “entitlements” such as wifi, BYOD, digital resources etc. but the use of technology in learning and teaching, for example, is seen as an “enhancement”. The expectations students have of their lecturers capabilities are also very low. The project also emphasised the need for students to understand the role of technology in their learning and teaching:

“students don’t know what is going to be transformative for them until they are fully engaged in their course”

Student digital champions

There were some really interesting presentations on supporting staff’s digital skills through students.

Tamsyn Smith (@TamsynMSmith) and Anna Ruff (@annarruff), from University of Southampton, presented on their iChamps scheme. A team of students support and develop digital literacy skills through support sessions, development sessions and consultations. As a reward they are given a Digital Badge. There was also mention of the students being paid for 144 hours of work, I asked if they thought it would be as successful without the cash incentive they were positive it would. I’m not fully convinced, money is a big incentive for engagement!

Amy Barlow (@bamyarlow), from University of Winchester, presented on their student fellows scheme where students work alongside staff on educational development projects. Again there is a £600 bursary. The scheme does mention projects more as collaborative research so a monetary reward seems fair.

Lynda.com

Lynda.com were sponsoring the event so it was only fair that they had an opportunity to present their product to us all. Lynda is an online learning tool consisting of video tutorials on a wide range of softwares, business and education skills. It is currently being used by the Lincoln School of Film and Media to supplement the learning of their students on key pieces of software vital to the curriculum.

Nic Monks (@theRealNicMonks),from University of Southampton, was unable to present so Fiona Strawbridge, (@fstrawbridge) from University College London, ably took over. Fiona described the success of the implementation at UCL, which was driven by academic requests for further support, and that the ability to create and publish custom playlists was hugely popular. Julie Adams (@jfadams), from the University of Staffordshire, emphasised the need for single sign on access and a thorough marketing strategy.

Would Lynda be useful to you? Browse the lynda.com library.

Curiosity and curriculum: adventures in learning and technology

Helen Keegan (@heloukee), from University of Salford, presented on the value of curiosity through gamification in the curriculum. She detailed a fascinating module in which she created an alternate virtual reality game with a fake persona, Rufi, interwoven with a mystery to be solved. Many students were frightened but by the end students were still talking and writing about the module after it had finished!

“This was a fantastic learning experience; The intrigue, the teamwork, the puzzle solving; Everyone who has taken part in the process has brought their own theories and ideas, everyone has helped solve a little bit of the puzzle.”

Helen showed what going the extra mile, this was 10 weeks of social media management, can mean for students learning. The effort she put in to this module is staggering and I would love to do this as a distance learner!

The mysterious student

There was much talk of the ‘student’ (the way we refer to students as a collective that represents all students who have, or will ever exist) but few actual students represented. We need to hear from them directly, let’s stop talking about them as though they exist only in surveys!

Further resources

If you would like to learn more about the event, and the attendees, take a look at the #udigcap tweets, the programme and the event’s resources page.