Strategies, policy, consultation, devolution and the d(digital) factor 

Well it’s been quite a couple of weeks for education strategy and consultation, so yesterday’s ALT Scotland Policy board  was very timely in bringing a group of people from across the Scottish Education Sector together.

Like everyone else in HE, I’ve been watching and following the response the UK Government’s Green Paper (many thanks WonkHE for your excellent coverage). Like everyone else in Scottish HE, I’ve been wondering what impact this will have on us.  Education is a devolved issue so Scotland doesn’t have to follow the path of Evel though it will undoubtedly have an impact as this post from David Kernohan has highlighted.

In FE, we in Scotland are now starting to emerge from our great regionalisation just as our colleagues south of the border embark on theirs. In schools we have our Curriculum for Excellence which as well as giving many people headaches as it was developed, gave many of us a sense of relief from all that Michael Gove madness a couple of years ago.

In terms of open education due to the funding of the #ukoer programme Scottish institutions couldn’t be lead partners, so developing open-ness has been a much more grass roots movement here.  We are seeing more open policies being developed and approved, but there is still a way to go. Open-ness isn’t that high on many institutional strategic objectives, but there are many areas particularly around fully online delivery and widening participation where open education practice (not just policy) could have significant benefits that fit extremely well with strategic priorities.

Getting updates on current priorities from colleagues from SFC, QAA Scotland, Jisc, SQA, CDN, Open Scotland was invaluable.  It seems to me we seem to have less opportunity to do that now. I suspect that’s partly due to the emergence of the new Jisc, which doesn’t have the same capacity for community engagement as in years past. Having an active ALT Scotland group is filling some of that gap with meetings like yesterday’s.

ALTs voice, as an independent membership organisation has probably never been so important.  Responding to consultations such as the recent BIS inquiries into assessing quality in Higher Education and the Digital Economy has led to invitations to speak at Westminster Select Committee  meetings.

Something that came through yesterday is that we (and I’m speaking with my ALT Trustee hat on just now) need to try and find more ways to increase our involvement with the Scottish Government around education developments.

One way are doing this, and this was a substantial part of the meeting yesterday is to submit a formal response to the consultation process around the Scottish Governments Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for schools.

Digital also seemed to be a key unifying theme from the updates in the meeting. However the meaning of digital is contentious and, for me, quite troublesome . It is used in widely varying contexts.  From content to infrastructure to literacy, the ‘d’ factor is all pervasive just now.

I’m not going to  get into the debate about is “digital learning and teaching” different from “learning and teaching, instead I’ll focus in this post. However having attended one of the consultation events for the strategy last week and from the discussion yesterday, I am heartened that this consultation process is taking into account culture as well as technology.  It is perhaps more a teaching strategy, as for it to be realised, there will need to be recognition of the importance of CPD for staff. Digital literacy underpins the success of any digital initiative.

One thing that did come through yesterday was that there may be an opportunity to revisit some of the work done by the Scottish Government around the learner journey to try and connect all our education sectors.  The digital learning and teaching strategy will have to ensure that it fits with other key school priorities priorities such as the National Improvement Framework (NIF) but it provides a great opportunity for input from other sectors.

If we are extending digital assessment in the school and college sector from traditional paper based exams to more evidenced based digital artefacts, then we need to be doing even more of the same in HE.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could start introducing the concept of feedback/feedforward in school? That might help not just our NSS scores, but understanding and engagement of the process. Let’s get start developing open educational practice in schools for learners and staff, encourage a maker and sharer culture supported by creative commons and open badges.  The Digital Learning and Teaching strategy could provide an opportunity to start connecting some of the dots and strengthen the case for a digital infrastructure that supports extended and enhanced cross sectoral sharing of practice.

You can contribute to ALTs response to the consultation here.


Hashtags over hearts

Like many people last week I was a bit bemused by the introduction of the heart button on twitter.  Kate Bowles has written a beautiful post about the corporate justification of highjacking emotions.  Lawrie Phipps took a more practical approach and summed up my use of the old like button:

it also made me think. I used the old star/favourite for two things. The first, I realised after reflection, was a lazy way of acknowledging that I had seen a tweet, but couldn’t be bothered to respond, or wasn’t something I wanted to retweet.

I do save all my tweets to a google doc, but I can’t remember the last time I actually looked at it. So, following Lawrie’s lead I have now decide to (well try to) use a small number of hashtags instead of the heart button and hopefully save and share tweets in a more meaningful way using an  IFTT recipe.

My # are:

  • #read (for articles I have/will/should read)
  • #share (for “stuff” I think is interesting to other like minded souls)
  • #fun (just because there should always be some fun at some point every day)
  • #like (because I like a lot of stuff and I still want to show/share that)

screenshot of IFTTT recipe

Where Sheila’s been this week: opening up at the Open University

Earlier this week (and boy did I have to get up early for this one!) I presented at the Computers in Learning Research Group (CARLG) seminar at the Open University in Milton Keynes.  My talk “open education: research and reality” was primarily aimed a a group of new PhD students who are all researching various aspects of open education.

I used the invitation to take a reflective look at my own experiences of open education, my the evolution of my open practice and my relationship with research around open education. “Open Me” could well have been a more apt title for my talk, as I really used this phrase as a statement and as an invitation to explore the layers of my open practice. I used the Russian Doll metaphor to explain some the different layers and combinations of open-ness I experience.

picture of Russian doll

Much of my open-ness stems from my blogging activity, and I actively encouraged this group of new researchers to be as open in their research as early as possible.  I think I may have succeeded.


I always enjoy visiting the OU, but this visit was made even more special as I finally got to meet Helen Crump in person as she is one of the a-fore mentioned new PhD students. Helen and I met through open education (via the OLDS MOOC) and have had quite an open adventure together, not only studying together but being part of a collaborative writing team.  I count Helen not only as a colleague but as a friend. A friendship that was created and is sustained via open education.

You can view my presentation here, and there’s a recording on YouTube.

What Sheila’s seen this week: badging the world and flipping the classroom

Earlier this week I attend a digital badges as bridges event hosted by Digital Me in Glasgow. As well as catching up with some familiar faces it was good to have a bit of time to think about badges again and find out about the badge the world initiative.

I really like the idea of badges.  Although I’ve won/earned/issued badges over the past few years, they are still a bit of a novelty for me.  Every time I go to an event where they feature, or have a discussion where they come up, I always come away thinking  “ I need to do something with my badges”.   Trouble is, I’m still not quite sure what or where . . .  I do share them sometimes on blog posts, but again the session has made me reflected on the  value I place on my badges.

Every badge I have earned, has meant something to me, particularly as a learner. The badges I earned on the OLDS MOOC were a bit of lifeline in terms of sustaining motivation and continued participation.  But I don’t have a burning desire or perhaps more importantly need to curate and share them. Some are in my backpack and other’s aren’t.  That said I do believe that there is “something” about badges. I think that they do have a role to play in rewarding and recognition of learning.  I’m just still trying to figure out how, where and why I could use them.  But maybe that’s not that surprising. I don’t exactly “do” much with my formal accreditation. The last time I even looked at my degree/PG certificates was when I had to bring them with me to my first day at work here at GCU two years ago.

With colleagues at my institution I am  exploring use of badges for non accredited “stuff” and looking at piloting them within formal programmes but we have a way to go. It was re-assuring that many people at the event were at the same stage. The badge bit is easy, it’s the pathways all the “rest of it” that are still causing a lot of head scratching. Slides from the event are available here.

I was also asked to present at the University of Stirling’s e-learning forum on flipping the classroom this week.  A bit like badges, flipping is something some people are still getting their heads around. Unlike badges, many people are actually ‘flipping’ their teaching – sometimes without actually realising that is what they are doing. I shared the work of our Mental Health nursing team, which I’ve written about previously and developed a case study on.

There was quite a bit of discussion around creating resources (particularly video), and the need for (quiet) spaces where staff can create videos as well as the challenges of building online teacher presence. These are both  issues we are very aware of  at GCU, particularly as we are in the middle of major campus development project.

As we develop new learning spaces, and increase our fully online provision, we need to ensure we have adequate teaching space for our staff to run online sessions, and create resources. It was reassuring to hear that evening a leafy, pastoral setting such as Stirling, noise is an issue.

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Looking in the mirror to discover our institutional capability for learning analytics

picture of a mirror

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It’s been a busy week here at GCU Blended Learning Towers.  We’ve just finished the onsite part of of the Jisc Effective Analytics Programme. So this week has been a flurry of workshops and interviews led by the consulting team of Andy Ramsden and Steve Bailey. Although Andy and Steve work for Blackboard, the discovery phase is “platform agnostic” and is as much about culture and people as technology.  The evaluation rubric used had more about culture and people than technology.  Having a team who really understand the UK HE sector was very reassuring. Sadly, it’s not often that you can say that about and HE.

I think GCU is the second institution to go through the discovery process, I know there are quite a few others who will be  doing the same over the next six months. The process is pretty straightforward and outlined in the diagram below.

discovery process diagram

A core team from the institution have a two online meetings with the consulting team, relevant institutional policy/strategy documentation is reviewed before the onsite visit. At the end of the onsite visit an overall recommendation is shared with early findings, before a final report is given to the institution.

I was pleased (probably slightly relieved too) that we got a “ready with recommendations”.  That’s what we were hoping for.

Although we are still awaiting the final report, the process has already been incredibly useful. It has allowed us to bring together some of our key stakeholders; (re)start conversations about the potential and importance of learning analytics; the need to develop our infrastructure, people and process to allow us to use our data more effectively. The final report will also be really helpful in terms of helping us focus our next steps.

Andy described the process as a bit like “holding a mirror to ourselves” which is pretty accurate.  The process hasn’t brought up issues we weren’t aware of. We know our underlying IT infrastructure needs “sorting”, we starting to do that. What is has done is to illustrate some potential areas to help us focus our next steps. In a sense it has helped us not to see forest from the trees, but rather show some twinkling lights and pathways through the forest.

Developing Institutional Digital Capability and Digital Fairy Dust guest post

James Clay, Programme Manager at Jisc asked me to write a post for the their Developing Digital Capability blog on developing institutional digital capability.  It goes something like this:

. .. from your perspective what are the institutional enablers and blockers when it comes to growing the digital capability of an organisation?” asked James Clay in a recent post on this blog. I rather flippantly posted a comment to James’s post saying “Culture is a big issue, but I think over reliance (or expectations) that technology alone will somehow wave some magical digital fairy dust and everyone and ergo the institution will be “digital” and digitally literate.” This post is my attempt to elaborate that comment.

We know that systems alone will not alone won’t make a difference. But there still seems to be hope (or perhaps more accurately there is still a lot of commercial potential) in pitching and selling systems using the magical “d” word. Over the past couple of years in the context of unpacking the notion of the digital university, I have written a number of papers with Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth called “moving from e to / We used this title to reflect the change we have observed around the move from things have an “e” in front of them to now having “digital” as a prefix. Is there really a difference between “e-learning’ and ‘digital learning’ or indeed just “learning”? Digital is an incredibly powerful and at the same time ill defined, meaningless word. That said, there does seem to be something of the zeitgeist around digital that is pervading all of society, not just education. So how can we harness the power of the “d” word to actually make a difference and impact institutional/organisational capability? . . .”

You can read the full article here.

“When you hear the term learning analytics what comes to mind?

This was the question used to prompt the first piece of feedback in the opening workshop of a three day consultation to assess our readiness for analytics as part of the discovery phase of the Jisc Effective Analytics Programme.

It certainly did get the conversations going. As is my want, I also tweeted the question and even got a few responses. Ranging from:






I have to say not all of these came up in the conversations I was part of :-) But I am looking forward to seeing the results of this assessment exercise after a series of workshops and 1-2-1 interviews with staff.

Watch this space for more details.