Where Sheila’s been this week – student summer of innovation and known-ing things

On Wednesday this week I had a fantastic day in London with the successful Jisc Student Summer of Innovation projects. Building on from last years project, I think this is one of the best things Jisc has ever/is doing. It truly is putting students at the heart of the student experience. If you aren’t familiar with the programme you can find out more here. Basically students pitch their ideas for improving the student experience online, then via a process of voting and review a number of projects are selected to receive funding to develop their ideas along with mentoring and advice during the process.

I managed to spend a day in August with the projects as they refined their original ideas, and this week it was inspiring to see just have far they have all developed in such a short time. What fascinates me too are the clear themes and issues that the students themselves are identifying as areas that need new student facing services.  Feedback, study support, mentoring support both in terms of students at uni/college and those about to start all featured last year as well as this.  Hearing statements from students during their pitches stating “there is no culture of feedback in HE’ is a wake up for all of us. I don’t think there is a Uni in the country just now that doesn’t have some kind of assessment and feedback project/guidelines/support, but clearly some students aren’t seeing the impact of those yet.  Data was a big thing with the projects too – analytics, dashboards formed a large part of the pitches from a number of the projects.  This may be partly due to smart thinking from the project teams.  Data  and analtyics is not only an area that Jisc  is very keen to develop new services in, but it is also a reflection of the “data is the new oil” mentality in software development more generally. There are still huge assumptions that data from every service will actually be useful and that people (staff and students alike) will have time and capability to act on it in meaningful ways.

Alan Greenberg, former Education Executive at Apple also gave talk on “education technologies, insights and contexts”.  His insights into the business side of developing technology for the education sector was I’m sure invaluable to the projects.  I have to say, parts of it made me slightly uneasy as it did seem to be leading to a very content centric, and reductionist data driven view of education.  I know ultimately Jisc does want to develop some of these projects as market ready services, which is great. But imho, the strength of this whole programme is the experience that it is giving the students. Not all the ideas will be able to become services, or be successful.  Not all the project teams have time to fully commit to them as they are still studying. However the impact of the experience they are part of will stay with them, and having this safe space to experiment is really, really important. I’m sure it will stay with them for the rest of their lives and impact on whatever they do next.  Below is a my sketch note of Alan’s talk (note to self, don’t leave home without ipad or coloured pens again!)

Notes from Alan Greenberg talk, 17 September 2014

And finally, something I was going to write about last week but didn’t. Following David Kernohan’s “you’ll never hear surf music again” talk at ALT-C and the general “twitter isn’t what it used to be we need to move somewhere else” debate, in an attempt to keep up with the #edtechhipsters, I’ve been looking at Known, a new social publishing platform. Last week I wasn’t quite sure how I would actually use it and how/where it fitted into my existing online spaces. However last night after voting in the Scottish referendum, I want to share something more than a tweet or Facebook status update on how I was feeling. I remembered  Known and I’m now seeing it as a counterpoint to this blog, which will remain very much work related and focused.



Living with the VLE dictator

You know how it is, you listen and read to some “stuff” (and seriously great stuff that is worth listening to and reading). It sets all sorts of triggers in your head about how you work, what you do, and more importantly what you can do to in response. You get a great title for a blog post, then you see from your network that someone else has pretty much written what you had been thinking, but far more eloquently than you. At this point, dear reader, you really can just read this post The False Binary of LMS vs Open from D’Arcy Norman.

However, as the roots of this post were really seeded by listening to Audrey Watter’s recent Beyond the LMS presentation at the University of Newcastle, and as I’m still thinking about her ALT-C keynote and the importance of non North American narratives, I’m going to continue with my tuppence worth.

“Blackboard sucks” – that’s the consensus right? But as Audrey pointed out, even the new LMS/VLE kids on the block are selling their products by saying things like “it’s like just like Blackboard, except it’s blue like Facebook”. They are all about management, administration and not about the learner. They are built on a very traditional model of education. They are walled gardens. If you haven’t listened to Audrey’s presentation, you must.

As I was doing just that on Friday, a number of things were swirling through my head. At this point I probably should mention that here at GCU Blackboard is our VLE and for quite a while I have been mulling about writing a post titled “why I quite like Blackboard”.

Had it taken less than a year for me to be indoctrinated by the evil dictatorship that is Blackboard and by default all other VLEs? Am now I a willing conspirator in maintaining their status quo? Shouldn’t I be leading the insurgency or at least doing more to fight for open? At the sametime, scarily I was thinking terribly un-pc thoughts about benign dictators holding things together, and wondering if I could write a witty, yet well informed post comparing educational technology to the current situation in the Middle East or closer to home the Scottish independence referendum. I quickly realised that I probably couldn’t.

This morning via my networks came across D’Arcy’s post. And as I said, he had kind of written my post. Like D’Arcy, I work with and support the need for the boring, but oh so important administrative functions that our iteration of Blackboard support and that are needed for teaching and learning just now. If we got rid of Bb, I think it is fair to say there would be a fair amount of chaos for our students and staff alike. I have been in several meetings over the last year where a new shiny (and sometimes not so shiny) thing has been talked about with almost awe and wonder. This despite the fact that it just duplicates what are already doing within Bb but without the crucial integration “thangs” that automagically assign modules to students and staff. In these cases I have very much been advocating sticking to the ‘devil we know”, and trying to have a more holistic conversation about learning, where and how it (could) takes place in our context. I don’t want us to just move to something else that does the same thing only with a slightly nicer interface – if we are going to jump I want that jump to matter.

Too often our some of my colleagues really have no idea about what our students and staff are actually doing in terms of collaboration, networking. Because they don’t see it everyday, they think it doesn’t take place. Bb is one of our most stable systems too which again often goes unnoticed and unreported or there is an assumption that no-one uses it.

We are encouraging and seeing more sophisticated use of learning technology across our institution, we are committed to blended learning not only in the sense of blending f2f and online teaching, but also in terms of blending the systems we use. We can (and do) blend third party systems with Bb. Increased use of specs like LTI is opening up new possibilities. Bb themselves are going through some big changes and have been very supportive in listening and reacting to our need. Oh yes, I hear you sigh, that’s because they want to continue to get your business. Which of course is true, but from what I can gather that hasn’t always been the case.

Of course, changing culture is the key to making any technology have an impact in education (or anywhere else), and Audrey did highlight that in her talk. Much as I would love to experiment with more open, connected, student owned technologies such as the example she gave of the “domain of their own” the University of Maryland Washington, the culture in my institution isn’t quite ready for that yet. But it is a great example and one I will be sharing with colleagues and looking to see if we could do anything similar. I am seeing an increasing positive trend in terms of portfolio development which encourages and facilitates networking and open sharing by students.

Networks are also crucial for staff to share ideas, narratives, experiences, and often for me a sanity check. Realistically I don’t have enough influence in my institution to make sweeping changes, but I hope that I can bring ideas back from my network which can help move forward, or at least open up some different debates around our thinking and development of learning and teaching. I need to hear people like Audrey to make me reflect on my practice and share ideas with my internal nework.

So, although in one sense I may be living within a dictatorship, I do believe it is a changing one, one that is trying to catch up with evolving expectations. I may not be leading an insurgency but I hope that I am able to influence changes from within so that we have a truly flexible infrastructure and support mechanisms to allow the space and security for some radical thinking and changes to take place.

Summary of #GCUGamesOn Evalution Findings

As promised this post shares the summary findings from our recent online event, GCU Games On. As I’ve written about before we developed this very quickly (in a month from idea to online) so we were very aware of some of the pedagogic shortcomings of our overall design. However given the rapid development time during the start of summer holidays when most of our subject experts were on holiday we had to make some very pragmatic design decisions.

Overall the feedback was pretty positive and the whole experience is helping to shape our developing strategy to open, online courses. (Nb the text below has been adapted from an internal report).


GCU Games On was an open online event designed to celebrate, explore and share experiences during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. It ran between 16 July and 8 August 2014.

Instigated by the PVC Learning and Student Experience, it was developed in little over a month. Due to the time constraints (one month from idea to being available openly online) a simple design was developed which included: background and contextual information with relevant links, making a wish on our digital wishing trees, at least one twitter based activity and a medal quiz challenge each week. Sharing experiences of Glasgow 2014 via twitter was encouraged each week. Daily email updates were sent to all registered participants.

The event was delivered via the new Blackboard Open Education platform.


  • Registrations: 211
  • Countries: 12 excluding the UK
  • Digital Badges issued: 174
  • Tweets: 424
  • Digital wishes: 107


Of the 211 registrations, 22 completed the survey giving a 10.4% response rate. In addition, due to the use of social media (and in particular, twitter) a number of informal responses to the event were shared.

Summary Findings

The majority of respondents to the survey were female, aged between 25 to 65, based in the UK with no connection to GCU. The majority of participants were based in the UK, with 36% based in both Glasgow and Scotland respectively. 18% of respondents were from the rest of the UK, and there were equal numbers (4.5%) of respondents from other Commonwealth countries and non Commonwealth countries. From registration information we know we had registrations from Australia, India, Trinidad & Tobago, Ireland, Israel, Denmark, Canada Italy, Israel, New Zealand, Spain and South Korea.

59% of respondents had no connection with GCU and 45% of respondents cited wanting to experience online learning at GCU as their main reason for participating. The vast majority of respondents had some form of formal educational qualification, 45% up to Masters level.  This correlates to general trends in open online courses, but may also reflect a network effect from the Blended Learning Team’s network and promotion of the event. 95% of respondents found the site easy or partially easy to use.  54% of respondents completed all of the activities.

Open feedback was generally positive about the experience.

“I really enjoyed this as a bit of fun.  What I got out of it most was seeing new blackboard system in operation and it looks and feels very impressive.”

“I think looking at the Twitter feed this was spot on for what it was trying to achieve. Much fun was had by all it seems and the course gave a great scaffold to talk about their experiences at the games.”

“I do know it is hard to pull together a learning experience around an event like this and I guess that was weakness of this approach.  At times I think really perhaps due to lack of substance or clear learning outcomes – the learning design was a bit hit or miss – but I think you did achieve outcome of getting folks to engage with learning platform which was I think what it was about rather than the content”


GCU Games On Gold Medal

GCU Games On Gold Medal

Slides and stuff from #altc

Can’t believe it was only a week ago, but . . .  last Monday was quite busy for me at ALT-C all three of my presentations were scheduled for then.  They kind cover a lot of the “stuff” I’ve been involved in over the past year. Below are the slides.

Also “click here” to see all my tweets and pics from the conference.

Where Sheila’s been this week – navigating the marvellous and the monsters #altc 2014

This week I’ve managed to avoid that back to work and “omg look at that inbox” feeling for a few days by attending the annual #altc conference.  Last year’s conference was a bit of a personal highlight for me, but this year the team at ALT and all the co-chairs pulled off another great event,including two of the best keynotes I have been to in a long time from Catherine Cronin and Audrey Watters.

Both Audrey and Catherine highlighted the need for engagement to ensure the authentic voices, stories and experiences (from all of the education sector, not just ed tech) voices are heard and ensure that new noisy narratives (particularly from certain commercial sectors) don’t become the defacto history and more worryingly, future of education.

Audrey wove together an inspiring narrative (including references to Ada Lovelace, Roald Dahl, Luddites, Mary Shelly, Byron, F B Skinner to name but a few) about the creation of monsters, lost histories and control.  She reminded us that we can control the development of technological monsters through our combined efforts to inspire love technology and education. Catherine reminded us of the inherent ethical and political nature of education and how openness, online spaces and new forms of identity can empower us to make our voices heard. However, within this marvellous new open world there are power struggles too.

We may laugh at the idea of teaching machines, but in our drive for ever increasing personalised, mobile access to education, content vendors and governments are often (knowingly and/or unwittingly) all too willing to ignore the narrative from educators and buy into a behaviourist, watch video -> click through -> mcq-> (pay for) certificate = learning solution.

Helen Beetham made a very good point after Audrey’s talk that in the UK we do have a different narrative – particularly around the student engagement agenda within HE which is different from our North American cousins. But we are not immune, as the FELTAG discussions (particularly around % of online content) and stories illustrated.

There were many, many great stories shared over the three days of the conference. John Traxler reminded us of the danger of assuming our  developed, western global ideologies, learning theories and learning designs don’t automagically meet the needs of many emerging cultures (in particular Africa).  David Kernohan provided an entertaining yet mindful tale of how the heady days of open and social collaboration may well be at an end, as big business, governments and employers (included HEIs) start to close down, commercialie and control access and impose censorship.

Conferences like ALT are a great way for our community to strengthen and share our own “folklore” and build our collective narrative around the positive impact of technology within learning and teaching. We need to keep sharing our stories openly, and ensure our narrative, folklore, collective knowledge and wisdom is developed and shared as widely as possible.  Roll on ALT-C 2015.

Here are my visual notes from all three keynotes (NB if you click on the images you’ll go to full size, CC licences copies on flickr)

Visual notes from Jeff Haywood keynote, altc 2014

Visual notes from Jeff Haywood keynote, altc 2014

Visual notes from Catherine Cronin keynote ALTC 2014

Visual notes from Catherine Cronin keynote ALTC 2014

Visual notes from Audrey Watters keynote ALTC 2014

Visual notes from Audrey Watters keynote ALTC 2014

#GCUGamesOn – timeline of development

Our online event, GCU Games On, drew to a close last Friday, 8th August. We’re giving a couple more days for participants to fill in our evaluation. In the meantime I’ve been playing around
experimenting with timelines. As I posted previously, we moved from initial idea to going live on Open Education by Blackboard in a month, so a lot happened in a short space of time and I wanted to try and capture that.

I came across a 3-D timeline software package called BeeDocs, which is quite swishy. There is a free version available but it’s only of iOS.  If you upgrade to paid version you get more sharing features including keynote/powepoint export and web hosting. Unfortunately the web version it saves is 2-D which you can see here.

So, I’ve just made a screen recording of the 3-D version ( music, sound effects, narration maybe later). I think the timeline will be really useful for presentations about the event. The screenrecording isn’t as sharp as the “real thing” but hopefully you get the idea.

I’ve excluded lots of “stuff” but hopefully it gives an overview of the key stages of development.

What Sheila’s seen, and where’s she’s been for the past year

I’ve now been blogging on this site for just over a year, and thought I should mark the occasion with a blog post. There have been some other rather more significant anniversaries this week so I thought today would be a more appropriate day for this post.  I just wanted to stay thank you, dear reader, for taking time out to read my various ramblings over the past year, sharing them and most importantly leaving comments.

It’s been quite an eventful year for me and others. When the University of Strathclyde decided not to renew our Cetis contract, I had decided that my future would probably be as a freelance/ed tech gun for hire.  Blogging had been a significant part of my practice at Cetis and it was something I wanted to continue with,  so I set up this blog.

Not sure what I would be doing I dallied with weekly updates “what Sheila’s seen this week”.  These  have tailed off quite a bit now I have full time employment at GCU, but I do try and keep the theme of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen alive at least once a month.   I’m also trying to blog at least once a week. Since starting at GCU I feel that now more than ever my blog is my professional memory and portfolio. As they say I’m not in it for the numbers – which is probably just as well given my stats :-)

Anyway just out of interest these are my top ten posts from the last year. I see some themes emerging . . . but there are all around practice and “doing stuff” which I’m pleased about and I hope continues for the next year.

  1. What is a Learning Technologist?
  2. Open education practice, luxury item or everyday essential? #openscot
  3. After the MOOC has gone – the real collaboration and connectivism begins
  4. Some thoughts on the “Students expectations and perceptions of higher education” report
  5. Learning Technologist of the Year 2013
  6. Where Sheila’s been this week – digital residency mapping #HEAVandR
  7. Research as a service – the researcher as an API #oerrhub
  8. Collaborative auto-ethnography – an antidote to big data in MOOCs?
  9. GCU Games On – open and online and not an “M” word in sight
  10. Developing new forms of online practice