Where Sheila’s going? the road to nowhere or the road not taken?

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Dear Reader you may have noticed a change in title from my more common “where’s Sheila been” an “What’s Sheila’s seen” this week.  Today I am thinking more about where I, and indeed many of us in the sector, are going. As usual this is a bit of a half formed post about “stuff” running through my mind, sparked by the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen this week.

On Monday I attended the ALT/BIS Learning and Technology in Further and Higher Education symposium. This was a really positive meeting in terms of “our” community getting the chance to share and talk with representatives from BIS, some of the challenges, models and opportunities that both FE and HE across the UK are facing.

Open policy, practice and badges were all covered by the presentations. Martin Weller (OU) aand  Neil Morris ( Leeds University) shared their respective models of policy to practice. Martin also gave a helpful overview of some of the evidence and international business models around open education. Peter Kilcoyne and Peter Robinson (Heart of Worcestershire College) gave a really inspiring presentation about their Blended Learning Consortium.

This now has almost 20% of the UK college sector as partners. It’s the tried and test model of “if we all put a little in then we all get a whole lot more out.” In these times of FE cuts and restructuring doing a little with a lot is critical.  Bryan Mathers (City and Guilds) gave a beautifully illustrated talk on the power and potential of open badges to help fill the twists and turns that people who fall out of formal education have to take. Bobbie McClelland (BIS) provided a useful overview of the current FE landscaping review in England, stressing the need for strong digital leadership.

The discussion afterwords, was, as ever, wide ranging and ALT will be producing a summary of the proceedings of the day over the coming weeks.  A couple of things have been circling the forefront of my mind since the event.  One is about the move from policy to practice and then business models and the other is around leadership.

The Blended Learning Consortium is a fantastic example of a ground up, sector led approach to addressing funding cuts and mandatory requirements around online provision.  It’s essentially a content creation and sharing club. It’s open in the sense that any college  can join, but the outputs are just for those in the club.  How much more effective could that club be if the funding model was flipped a bit of funding from each college was put into a pot, and the resources were created and openly licensed?  Top slicing isn’t in favour just now,  in case you missed if folks, that’s what I ‘m talking about.   Increased regionalisation shouldn’t lead to more silos of content. We could have a cost effective model based on open content, if only we had the leadership to drive it.  Which brings me to my next point – leadership.

During the discussion I made the point that we need leaders who “walk the digital walk”. By that I mean people who actually use digital technologies, and don’t wear their “I’ve never used twitter, I don’t understand all this social media nonsense” badge with blazing pride. We need people who do understand the frustrations and simple pleasures of using any kind of VLE, who understand the difference between open and freely available software, who know that there is more to open education than MOOCs who you know,  have a bit of digital capability . . .

Maybe it’s because it’s a Friday afternoon and it has been a very looong week peppered with restructuring fun for me, but I can’t help thinking we in our institutions and in the sector in general are in danger of heading down the wrong road.

Open seems to be slipping off the agenda and not being recognised as much as it should as a sustainable, alternative business model. Partly because there are too few people in leadership positions who understand and engage with it. There’s the beginnings of a good debate on this kicking of on the Open Education special interest Jisc Mail group which is far more eloquent and informed than this post.

I’ll leave you with the song that’s been playing in the my head too this week, and hope that , as David Byrne says, “it’s all right”.






Reflecting on finding my creative force and other jedi mind tricks

Firstly I want to thank Amy Burvall for her post which has helped me to find a way of sharing something that was dancing around my mind towards the end of last week.

I have the Timehop app on my phone. It basically pulls feeds from Facebook, twitter etc and each day shows slightly random vignette of what you shared 1 year, 2 years, 5 years ago. It has about 8 years worth of posts of mine to play with.

It’s equally reassuring and disconcerting to see how regularly certain events occur over the years; and a reminder that actually the trees and tulips do bloom at around the same time every year.

Towards the end of last week Timehop,  in its not quite so serendipitous manner, reminded me that it has been 2 year since I started playing with sketch noting, or as I have come to call it “doodling” as a way of recording keynotes at conferences I attend.

It was at the Blackboard Conference in Dublin that David Hopkins and I had a chat about the experiments and approaches he had been taking.  David suggested having a look at Mike Rhodes book The Sketch Note Handbook, and mentioned an app called Notability.

David was (and still does) draw on real paper but I wanted to experiment with using my ipad.  Duly inspired I got the book, downloaded the app and had a go.  My first attempt were done post conference but I quite like the idea, approach and the outcome.

#BbTLC2014 sketches

Encouraged by people like David, and my doodling heroine Giulia Forsythe ( I remember watching awe as she drew a talk on an iPad about 5 years ago at a conference in Vancouver) when I go to conferences/events I try now  to  make a visual note or doodle of what I have heard.   Following Giulia’s example, I share my doodles, usually via twitter as I go along and also via Flickr with a CC licence so they can be re-used openly.

Like many people I don’t really think that I am particularly creative at work, so reading Amy’s post really help affirm this little creative work related part of me. I also realise that I when it comes to sharing, I am far more comfortable with sharing my “stuff” than many of my colleagues.   So whilst I can relate to the positive feeling Amy mentions when you create something, I am aware of this train of thought:

 “. . .  many have the notion that creativity is synonymous with artistic talent, and they freak out when they are asked to be “creative”…Thinking this way snowballs into an extreme lack of creative confidence. We feel we our work is unworthy before we even begin. Or worse — we feel we have to wait for inspiration before we can start on a creative project.”

If you can hold a pencil, you can create and line ergo you can draw!  But I realise not everyone wants to, but perhaps more importantly the issue around sharing fundamentally comes down to this?

“Being concerned with what people think of you or your work, or the chances you have in succeeding with an idea, or — this is the worst — how much better other people are at what you are attempting is only going to inhibit what can possibly come out of you.”

Like my blogging, my doodles are primarily for me. They aren’t great works of art, they’re not supposed to be. They are just a representation of what I have been listening too. Some work better than others. Looking back at them, there is a similarity (perhaps a style) to them. My style is very different to Mike Rhodes and Kevin Mears (who did a fantastic job of my OER15 keynote) – I will never be that neat. I don’t go back and “fix” them – perhaps I should.

The act of creating them makes me listen in a different way. Looking at them reminds me of the talks in a different way than reading text about the talk. Other people seem to like them too, which is always nice.

I’m not advocating that everyone needs to start drawing/sketchnoting, though I do notice more people doing it. As Amy highlights throughout her post, I would encourage you, dear reader, to try something a bit different, maybe something visual, be it taking  a photo, creating your own bank of images, ones you create and/or ones that inspire you.  Think about using them in your learning and teaching (remembering of course to check the copyright on them – CC ftw) get your students to experiment to. It’s a great way to get them thinking creatively and also to start to think about copyright/ ownership and use of images.

A Tale of Two Conferences: #oer16 and #LAK16

When Professor Paul Kirschner started his keynote on the second day of the #LAK16 conference,  with the opening lines  from the Dickens’s classic a Tale of Two Cities, it chimed with me on a number of levels. Yes, in the way he intended around the utopian and dystopian views of the potential of data and analytics, but also in terms of my recent two conference experiences.

#oer16 and #LAK16 were neatly planned to run the week after each other, in the same venue at the John McIntyre Conference Centre, University of Edinburgh. The infrastructure for each was very similar, however I found them quite different experiences.

Taking liberty with Dickens, the thought  “it was the best of times, it was the best of times” has been running through my head as I try and synthesise and make sense of both conferences.

Although very different experiences and each conference had a different focus there were a number of key themes that kept surfacing. This post is an attend to bring together some of my thoughts from attending both conferences.

Scale, gender and community

Both conferences were respectively “the biggest” (and best) for each community. Both had more submissions, papers and delegates than previous years.  Both drew an impressive international attendance, and their timing I’m sure made lots of sense for delegates coming from the Southern hemisphere. With over 400 delegates #LAK16 was almost double the size of #oer16. So it was a different scale of event.

I know the  #oer16 co-chairs and committee were very conscious of gender balance (hurrah, there are still too many all male keynote/panel conferences, and too much mansplaining around ed tech).  I didn’t see/hear any gender stats at #LAK16. Anecdotally I can say it seemed like a pretty good balance. With 3 keynotes, there is always going to be an imbalance. I also didn’t go to any all male panel sessions, and I think I pretty much had a 50/50 split on paper presentations.

I’m very lucky in that I have been interacting with both the LAK and OER communities for a number of years.  I’ve actually been to one more LAK conferences than OER ( last year in Cardiff was my first time at OER).  I haven’t been to LAK since 2013 in Leuven so I was surprised by just how much the attendance has grown. Both communities are welcoming, and the twitter backchannel for both was very active and engaging.

I did feel that there was a lack of extended community driven engagement in LAK compared with OER. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. There was more live streaming of sessions at LAK ( a bigger conference +  bigger budget allows for that, there is only so much (and he does an awful lot) that Martin Hawksey can do by himself! ) However LAK did miss  the equivalent of edutalk sessions from John Johnston.  This type of community broadcast is becoming increasing popular, and imho, useful in conference I attend. Of course it  does rely on people like John doing it.

On the other hand I did really like the sessions after each keynote at LAK for an extended conversation with the speakers.  I know there are many community events in the LAK community such as SoLAR flares, and the LASI summer schools. But these do get a bit of funding and support. For example the LACE project has had a specific community building remit for Europe. Now that funding is coming to an end for LACE,  I wonder if more grassroots “stuff’ will emerge?

Data and Culture 

No surprises that data featured highly on the the #LAK16 agenda. Ethics, ownership, use, impact permeated the conference  From the opening keynote from Professor Mireille Hildebrandt, which really got us all (and particularly all of us in Europe) thinking about new data regulations,  ownership and use of data; to the myriad of questions and conversations throughout the conference that looked at the how, why and how of using data.

Data ownership was also a big part of OER16, particularly with Jim Groom’s keynote which centred on reclaiming both data and hosting of said data.  Again this is just my perception, I found LAK discussions working more at the institutional (meso) level and not really engaging with the personal (micro) data as much. Understandable since most of the presentations were dealing with institutional data.

As legislation increasingly gives users more rights over how their data is being used, I think there is potential for some greater cross over between the communities in terms of openly exploring the boundaries and fuzzy areas of educationally relevant data, data ownership and data use.

If more and more learning happens “outside the LMS” as was said more than once last week, then how do we develop the workflows, agreements, sharing practice that allows me, as a learner/individual, to host my data and make informed choices about what systems to share/give access to my data that will help my longer term educational goals? Similarly, where are the crossovers with learning analytics and the third sector ?

The theme of #oer16 was Open Culture, and it was great to have input from third sector organisations around the potential of open-ness (content, data and practice) out with the education sector.  Catherine Cronin’s opening keynote of #oer16 addressed cultural issues around inequality, culture, participation and open-ness head on.   Changing societal, organisational and personal attitudes to open-ness is an ongoing debate in the open education world.

Cultural change was also very high on the agenda at #LAK16.  Just how do you change institutional  and personal cultures to support, adopt, explore the potential of using data and learning analytics is something that many of us, not least myself, are struggling with.

Again another great opportunity for some crossover, and  the development of more informal, open networks around developing practice.  The DELICATE checklist and winning conference paper, Privacy and Analytics – it’s a DELICATE Issues. A Checklist for Trusted Analytics, from Hendrick Drechsler and Wolfgang Greller and the panel session organised by Simon Buckingham Schum on “Institutional Learning Analytics Centres: Contexts, Strategies and Insights”  were really helpful for me.

There was a lot of emphasis on creating more engagement with the learning sciences community, and perhaps that is an obvious and natural fit for the learning analytics community. However I think more links with the open education community would be beneficial, particularly around changing and sharing practice and culture.

Learners and teachers 

Last but of course, not least, what about learners and teachers? Ultimately that’s what anyone in education is really concerned about – creating better experiences for learners. To do that we need to have well supported teachers and effective learning designs.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not a “numbers” person, and I am a bit scared tables of data, and in-jokes about the vagaries of Bayesian modelling techniques, I did notice that a lot of questions for presenters at LAK were around the statistical methodology taken and not about the change in practice/outcomes created by the sharing of the findings. Mea culpa,  I should have asked more questions around that too.

Unsurprisingly then I found the learning analytics and learning design session really useful,  particularly the “A Conceptual Framework linking Learning Design with Learning Analytics” paper describing work being undertaking in Australia. I’m looking forward to following this up and exploring at their open source tool.

Another highlight for me was the paper “Fostering 21st century literacies through a collaborative critical reading and learning analytics environment: User-perceived benefits and problematics”  by Jennifer Pei-Ling Tan, Simon Yang, Elizabeth Koh and Christin Jonathan. The conference reviewers may have thought this a modest contribution to the field, but it made a big impact on me.  It was one of the few presentations I attendedd that actually quoted learners, and some of their reflections on the impact of dashboards.  I  maybe a total sucker for a network graph – but not all students are.

Like I said both conferences were “the best of times” for me. I enjoyed both equally for their differences and similarities.  #oer16 felt smaller and more like family. #lak16 was more like a clan gathering (not least because of the bagpipes welcoming us on day 1), a bit noisy and vague in places but very close to home in others.  My appreciation goes to both conference committees and all involved for organising two excellent conferences.

Slides and doodles from #oer16

I will get round to writing a proper reflection on this week’s #oer16 conference when I get a chance to make sense of all the great ideas/connections and practice.  In the mean time here are the slides from the presentation I did with Keith Smyth and some of my doodles from the keynotes.

If you do want to get a flavour of the conference then look no further than the fabulous live blogs from Frances Bell.

All these images are available under CC licence from Flickr.

Reframing Open in the context of the digital university – part 1 #oer16

Picture of a bridge

In preparation for our #OER16 presentation, this is the first of two blog posts where Keith Smyth and will build on our abstract and give a bit more detail and context around our current thinking. There’s quite a bit to pack into a 15 minute conference presentation so we hope that these posts will allow us to elaborate a bit more, ask some questions and hopefully get some feedback which we can take into the session itself. We’ll also follow up after the session itself.

For the past 3 years now, Keith, Bill Johnston and myself have been investigating and trying to unpack the notion of a digital university, and develop a way to move from what can be a very tech-centric, view of “the digital” to one which is more balanced and includes people, pedagogy, and wider societal factors. If, as we are starting to do, we take open as the lens to examine our conceptual matrix, then a number of questions arise. As our abstract states

”despite the early promise of open online education, including developments such as MOOCs, the Higher Education sector as a whole has fallen short in using digital spaces to provide equitable distribution of access to education.”

From the early openly shared evaluation from the University of Edinburgh, to more recent statistics from FutureLearn, the evidence shows that the majority of “learners” in MOOCs have a first degree and a significant proportion of those have a post graduate qualification. Instead of widening access to education, are we now in a situation where MOOCs, with their “massive” investment, unclear ROI, only served to preserve the status quo and create another elite measure of engagement? MOOCs may not have lived up to their disruptive hype (Siemens et al 2015), however the reverberations of the hype, the urban myths that have grown up around it continue to have an impact in the HE sector, and in the development of open education practice.As MOOCs become more established the already contentious “open” element of the acronym becomes even less significant, the platforms and licences become more closed.

For institutions like my own who didn’t ride the first, or second wave of MOOCs, is development of open educational practice going to suffer from the still widely held assumption that open education = MOOCs? Is our development of digital learning going to be predicated on the more “popular” templates of many MOOCs for example “high quality” video talking heads and MCQ quizzes?

Open falls of the agenda as we can’t justify the case for that level of investment without a clear ROI, and we look for more “legitimate” income streams from postgraduate/Masters level online programmes.“Digital learning” in turn becomes equated only with fully online experiences, the “digital” is something new, disruptive, that doesn’t need to be cognisant of past and current research and practice (Siemens et al 2015).

The obsession with global market share blinds us to the potential of the local. Discussions around digital environment forget the place of the physical and where institutional psychically sit within a community. The power of open, connected, student driven learning exemplified by the numerous examples of spontaneous face to face meet-ups is not being seen as something that Universities could capitalise on. Could this be the place, as we state in our abstract, where open education could “act as a bridge between formal institutional cultures and learning within physical and digital third spaces.”

Should we not be looking for ways for our physical campuses to become digitally enabled community hubs. Places that don’t empty after 6pm until 8am this next day, but are being used to create more informal, open learning opportunities which utilise the capabilities of our digital and physical infrastructures?

We need only look to our conference hosts, the University of Edinburgh, and their definition and use of “the common good” as a rational for their commitment to the support, development and sharing of OERs as a first stage in this type of engagement. My own institution’s 2020 strategy is predicated on our position as “the university for the common good”, yet we are still not able to articulate and use open education as cornerstone of this. Open is a “nice to have”, but still seen with suspicion (if at all) by many.

Instead of open being a means to meaningfully deconstruct the ivory tower and reintegrate it with wider society, the conflation with digital and online merely helps to reinforce the status quo. Those who can afford to be open do so in ways of their choosing, the rest of us still scrabble around for ways to be innovative which actually equates to making money. Open seems like common sense however, as one of my colleagues wisely said in a meeting this week common sense is not common practice.

This frustrating for many of us Yet again open educational practice can offer us a bridge at individual, organisational and sectoral level. Developing open, distributed curriculum is key part of this and something that Keith is going to explore more in part two.

Now we are 10 – happy birthday Twitter


So twitter is 10 years old this week. The twittersphere  has been full of reflections on what has happened in the last decade, a raft of top tweets including 12 of the best ever. I particularly liked this article on Mashable  – I think this really captured the essence and usefulness of twitter for me. I also liked this post from Donald Clark about some of the often forgotten potential benefits for learning from using twitter.

I was a little late to the twitter party, I started tweeting in April 2007 so I do like to think of myself as an early-ish adopter of the service. 32.2k tweets and 2,803 followers later it’s pretty much embedded into my working practices.  From my first pretty banal first tweet to today, I  still enjoy connecting and sharing via twitter.

I am frustrated that it is trying to be “clever” and show me the tweets that it thinks should be relevant to me. I still love the serendipity of twitter and just scrolling through my stream on my iPad. Organising twitter has always seemed a bit of an anathema to me.  As Lance said so well in the article above

“My relationship with Twitter is best summarized as the kind you have with a sibling. I love it, deeply, but also question its choices.  . . . at the end of the day, we’re tied together.”
 Happy birthday Twitter, stay as you are and we’ll all stay with you.

Battling digital windmills in the cloud?


Image: Jim Woodward- Nutt CC-BY-SA 2.0 

I hadn’t really thought of a connection between Don Quixote and our ever increasing digitally connected world until earlier this week when I attended a guest #teplsig research seminar from Dr Caroline Roth Ebner, entitled ‘Office Work in the Digital Age’. You can find out more and access the slides here.

The title was actually a bit misleading.  What Caroline has been researching are the new competencies required for effective work with what she has termed “dig-com” workers, people working in the digital communications industry.  As Caroline’s talk unfolded there were many parallels with education, and I’m sure many other industries.

The increasing virtualisation of work, flexible and mobile work, the blurring of boundaries between professional and private life is all to common. So not surprisingly the new competencies coming through from Caroline’s work include digital literacy. What has also emerged from her research is that CPD and training opportunities are still predominately focused on technical capabilities and not the actually more important digital literacy skills the how to as opposed to why/where to – as I tweeted during the seminar

One of the methods Caroline has been using is to get her research subjects to visualise their ways technology impacts on their working lives.  Many of her subjects talked about strategies for managing communications; for example using email rules and folders.  Get ready for the Don Quixote bit. The photo in the tweet below shows how one of her subjects (a senior manager) visualised their methods (futile battle?)  for managing effective communications.  Email rules could be seen as part of their lance!

As the seminar unfolded I was obviously drawn to the similarities and linkages of Caroline’s work to the other visualisations of digital work/life interactions such as Dave White’s Visitors and Residents mapping – could there be ways of combining both?  I’ll hopefully get a chance to speak more with her about that during her short sabbatical in Glasgow.

The other image that kept flashing through my head was that of the Jisc Digital Capability framework – I suspect many of Caroline’s competencies would map to that – and in particular digital well being element of the framework.

We all need to raise awareness of digital wellbeing and the need to for organisations (commercial/public sector) and the educational sector to support staff/students/ everyone in terms of managing digital engagement. Just because you have 24/7 access doesn’t mean that you have to be online all the time.

But it is difficult to switch off. I know.  I am getting better at not checking emails over the weekends and a night – but ooh the temptation when you hear that beep on your phone as you post something to instagram.  If someone sends an email at 11pm and you see it why not just answer it there and then?

Well if you’re anything like me if you answer work emails late at night, or on Saturday afternoon when you are trying to to half a dozen things that relate to “real’ not “work” life, or on the train home when you have had to get up at silly o-clock to get to a work meeting at the other end of the country,  you will probably answer too quickly, not read the email properly and on Monday morning realise that you’ll have to send another 3 emails trying to sort everything out.

Having access to another half a dozen digital communication channels isn’t going to help with that. It all stems back to to why and when you want to use something – purpose not platform.

I often go to meetings about restructuring things or creating new working partnerships with the organisation. More often than not better communication methods is raised as a key issue. More often than not there is an assumption that some new “digital” communication channel will automagically solve the problem. More often than not, we never actually spend time really investigation the route of the issues and where the communication blockages are. If we did, we’d probably find we didn’t actually need a new communication channel, just more effective and appropriate use of the ones we already have. It’s easier to try something new (“digital” of course) and put in a training plan for hardware, get everyone to download the app . . .

Unless we all start to manage our digital well being and start to focus more on “the why”, learn to switch on and off at appropriate times, we may all lose our  battles with digital windmills. Cervantes words still hold true today.

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote