Invisibility v recognition and #ALTC LT awards

Last week I was out for dinner with some former colleagues. Over the course of the evening the conversation inevitably turned to educational development.  I was struck by a comment one of my companions made. He said that if  educational developers are doing their job effectively then they should be invisible. He qualified this by saying that ultimately you want to take staff to a point where they are making changes and and developing their own educational practice and away they go, and forget about you.  Maybe a bit like learning to ride a bike, the moment you let go and see your little’un wobble away and move all by themselves means far more to you than the newly confident independent cyclist. They are lost in the moment and achievement of their own success. They’re not really thinking about how they there.

Whilst I agree with the overall sentiment, and indeed reality,  of this, the invisibility bit does trouble me a bit.  I don’t know if you ever think about what superpower you would like. Invisibility pretty high on the list of choices I guess. I often joke to people that I think I have invisibility superpowers, but only at seemingly random times. I never seem to  know when my “powers” are working – particularly when I am walking in a busy street and people seem to think that they can walk through me. Anyway, I digress.

In educational development and development of using technology in education, I think we all feel a bit invisible but in a positive way as described above. I guess we all know that warm, fuzzy feeling when someone tries something you should them with their students and it works, and how in turn your role in introducing that element fades.

This is absolutely fine and in an ideal world we would all be happy with that invisibility switch. However in the current climate where we are all operating under increasing financial and regulatory pressure, we do need to ensure our development activities are recognised, and innovation in using technology in education is supported and not cut back because “everyone/thing is digital now.”

External validation is often easier to find than internal, and at this time of year there is a great opportunity to support both individual and teams from our community in the annual ALT Learning Technology Awards.  Once again the voting has opened up with the community choice awards, where anyone can vote via email or twitter.

This year, yet again there is another is another fabulous short list of individuals and teams, so why not celebrate their achievements by voting for them.  Getting to the short list is an tremendous achievement worth celebrating in itself.

I am looking forward to finding out this year’s winners at the ALT conference in a couple of weeks, but as a Trustee and Vice-Chair Elect (that line is for you, Mr Hawksey) it’s not  appropriate for me to vote.  However, as a previous LToTY winner, I know what it means to have the invisibility switch well and truly off for a bit. So ’til then, getting voting.  You have until (high) noon on the  7th of September.



Revisiting my own past with the blog time machine

(image CC0, Pixabay

I’m pretty much up for most challenges, and I’m always looking for ideas for blog posts,  so when I saw this post from Martin Weller last week, I thought I’d give it a try.  The instructions were as follows:

“Here’s a fun thing to try if you’ve been blogging for a while (Warning: may not actually be fun). Get a random date from when you started blogging until present (eg using this random date generator), find the post nearest that date and revisit it.”

Martin then set out the following 4 questions

  1. What, if anything, is still relevant?
  2. What has changed?
  3. Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
  4. What is my personal reaction to it?

The first date I got was 18 November 2011, I didn’t have anything for that exact date but I did have this post from the 25 November 2011 which is close enough. Here are my answers to the 4 questions.

1 – What, if anything, is still relevant?

Both open educational practice and digital literacy are still highly relevant. The disconnect between practice and research still remains.

“the disconnect between practitioners knowledge and understanding of both OER and Open Practice was “openly” recognised and discussed. Both terms have meaning in the research world, and in funded projects (such as UKOER, OPAL etc) but for the average teacher in FE/HE they’re pretty meaningless. So, how do we move into mainstream practice?” 

I think there have been great inroads made in this area in terms of OER and open educational practice (OEP), but there is still a way to go.  I still work with many who have don’t see the relevance of open educational resources or practice. That said I do work with many who do, and I think that number continues to grow steadily. Digital literacy is still very relevant. Both areas still take up a large part of my working life.

Effective sharing practice and content is still something we all still struggle with – and I think we always will.

2 -What has changed?
  • Well I now work in “the mainstream” and not in some niche, blue skies thinking post;
  • JISC has changed to Jisc;
  • adoption of OER policies is becoming more commonplace ( it may have taken a while but I am very proud that GCU was the first University in Scotland to have an OER policy );
  • research, understanding, celebration of open educational practice is gaining in momentum; funding in the UK for research around OER/OEP is afaik pretty non existent;
  • the OER community is alive and well and growing;
  • I am thinking and talking more about digital capabilities than digital literacy per se ( mostly thanks to Helen Beetham and her great work in developing the Jisc Digital Capabilities framework)
  • Learning objects – not talked about much any more;
  • Sharing “stuff” is so much easier now;
  • Getting people to share “stuff ” is still a challenge.

3 -Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
Tricky, as I said in the post ” I am an unashamed generalist, and not an academic specialist.” I think that is still true though I do have more of specialist role in terms of academic development. I still think that the key them of the post around the gulf between research about learning and teaching and actual practice still exists. Learning analytics is a current example of that. I still find myself fascinated by presentations of research around regression analysis of discussion forums (cue the swirly-twirly network diagrams) whilst at the same time thinking how on earth could I actually use this in my day job?

4 – What is my personal reaction to it?

I think the post actually revealed quite about me and my philosophy on educational practice. Looking back from the future I am relieved that the core of my line  thinking around these two areas hasn’t significantly changed.   I could have easily written this sentence today:

“When I’ve been involved in staff development it has always been centred around sharing and (hopefully) improving practice and enabling teachers to use technology more effectively. And I hope that through my blogging and twittering I am continuing to develop my open practice.”

I’m also glad that I have keep blogging. It would have been easy to let is slip. I’m glad blogging is a professional habit. I’m grateful to have this growing record of my professional development.

I did get quite a few comments to the original post, that’s changed a bit, I don’t get so many comments nowadays . . . but again the original post was on my Cetis blog (I transferred the archive over this blog when it was mothballed) and it had a much larger distribution network.

So thanks Martin, it was actually quite fun and I might do it again next year.

Where Sheila’s not been for the past few weeks – more healthy living than digital detox?

So I’ve just come back to work this week after my summer holidays. By the end of three weeks I had almost forgotten about related work emails and tweets. I wasn’t staring at a screen for most of the day. It was a bit of  to quote the phrase of the week, a “digital detox’.

However I didn’t go completely cold turkey on the old inter-web. I just was interacting in a different, more relaxed way. More photos shared via  instagram.  There was no hidden altruism there –  I wanted people to know I was eating lovely food, in lovely places, not at work.  There was less tweeting, though my automagic daily update provided by Paper.Li keeps going regardless. It seems when left to its own devices to have taken a  particular liking to smart cities. I have nothing against smart cities, and do tweet about them,  but perhaps it has skewed my “presence” a little in the past few weeks.  That might be a topic for another post around digital presence.

I was still keeping in touch with friends, the world, but not as much as non-holiday times. A large part of my professional life and work is centred around networking and sharing so not having to be online is now something I really look forward to during holidays and increasingly weekends.  But I wouldn’t want to be totally disconnected. I am constantly shifting the balance of my connected, digital life. Being able to instantly share, explore, find out about “stuff” is something that has brought an added mostly positive dimension to my professional and personal life.

This weeks annual Ofcom Communications Market report has whipped up a bit of a  media storm around how many people are now more actively taking a break from their “smart” devices.  The internet is taking over our lives, families no longer talk they just sit around the house gazing at their phones/tablets. It would appear that in the UK we are are spending more and more time on line, as the report states

“Our Digital Day research shows that we are spending more time on media andcommunications than on sleeping. The average UK adult uses media and communications services for 8 hours 45 minutes, and sleeps for 8 hours 18 minutes.”

What we are actually doing on line does vary depending on our age.

“16- 24 year olds are more likely to embrace these newer on- demand and online services. Today, instant messaging is more important to this age group than any other means of communication, and playing video games is seen as being as important as watching live, recorded or paid- for on-demand TV. However, for older adults, watching live TV remains the most important media activity.”

But there is hope for the old foggies:

“Despite this older people are increasingly exploiting digital communications technology. .  . Although they tend to use more established services such as linear TV , SMS or email,many are also embracing social media or on- demand services (among 55- 64s, 51% use the former and 42% the latter in an average week).”

The infographics in the report give a clear picture of the break down.  Below is small selection.

If you have time, exploring the Ofcome digital day research site is also quite fascinating.

Looking more closely at the report one thing that struck me was in relation to what people are actually doing online was this:

“While watching is the most popular activity overall, young adults spend more time communicating”

Not unsurprisingly whilst skimming through the report, I was thinking about the similarities between broadcast media and broadcast education. We still rely heavily on the broadcast lecture in HE.  It’s the norm, the expected, the comfortable and at times necessary and effective.  Moving to more interactive, collaborative models we know is better for actual learning, understanding and knowledge creation as opposed to transmission of knowledge.  I blogged about this earlier in the year in response to a post from James Clay. However if our average undergraduate (18-24) is communicating more then surely that just strengthens the case for harnessing more digital communication within education. We don’t need to take over SnapChat or What’sApp, but we do need to be integrating more flexibility of communication within our curriculum design for formal and informal learning.

Having your nose “stuck in a book” has always seems to have had positive connotations, particularly in relation to education and learning. So maybe having your nose stuck in your smart phone (even when in a lecture) should increasingly become seen as a positive thing too? Just as with bookworms, reading all the time isn’t healthy or safe, if you’ve ever seen someone trying to walk down a busy street whilst reading a book you’ll know what I mean.  Neither is being online all the time, or constantly looking at your phone (related to this check out this great post from Simon about the dangers of people and  PokemonGo). We need to help everyone find the right digital balance so we can allow everyone to  integrate digital technologies in the most effective way for them.

An election worth your vote #altc Trustees 

I know we all probably have a bit of election fatigue just now. However outside the crazy world of politics,  in the slightly less crazy world of learning technology,  there is one election that is worth your consideration and vote – the ALT Trustee elections.  

There are three fantastic nominees this year –  Bella Abrams, Lorna Campbell and Chris Rowell. You can read their statements here,  they all bring a tremendous range of experience and expertise.  But they need your votes.  Being a membership organisation, ALT relies on members to support and guide its direction. In these afore mentioned crazy times, the need for a strong, non commercial, voice for supporting the effective use of technology for learning and teaching is more important than ever.  So if you are a member of ALT make sure you vote, this year for the first time we’re using an electronic voting system.  And if you’re not a member, why not think about joining? I know from experience that receiving peer support and validation from being  voted in as a Trustee of ALT makes the role even more special.   The results of the election will be announced at this year’s ALT conference.  

picture of  ALT member badges

Come Sway with me

I’m always looking out for  ways to share and collaborate effective practice and use of technology in learning and teaching. The other week I came across @LearningWheel  “a model of digital pedagogy” created by Deborah Kellsey (@DebMillar24).

Over the past year so I have been using and encouraging colleagues to try Blendspace and the Learning Wheel “Blendspace in 8 steps” was a fantastic resource to be able to share.

Exploring the site I was struck by how the learning wheel closely mirrored the model for blended learning we use here at GCU .

I was also really encouraged to see the strong community building and sharing ethos the site is fostering, as well as the simple but effective approach to sharing practice through a series of resource wheels.

“A Resource LearningWheel focuses on a ‘single’ digital resource e.g. Moodle or QR-Codes or Twitter. They offer numerous practical suggestions for using the resource which are aligned to each of the four modes of engagement.”

If you have an idea, a resource, a system that you use or want to develop and share practice then you are encouraged to “captain a resource spoke”.  Just get in touch and a few days later a collaborative google doc will be created and the collaboration can begin. The step by step guide to writing the guide helps to keep things clear and simple too.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 09.45.05

So I’ve taken the plunge and decided to captain a spoke based on Sway.  I’ve been using Sway for a while now and again encouraging colleagues to “have a go” with it too. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive response it is getting too.  So, if you use Sway at all then why not come on board and add your suggestions/uses and help to generate another open, shareable resource.



me and THEM

William Arthur Ward We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them


“This is the second time in 2 years where I have voted the same as millions of fellow citizens but found myself on the wrong side of a very small majority.  I am left wondering how and why democracy has failed me.” 

I wrote that last Friday, and almost a week on I am still wondering. Unlike my friends and colleagues Lorna, Martin, Frances and more recently Helen,  David   and David – who inspired me with title for this post  – I  haven’t really had the words to describe what I am feeling. I thank them,   and the countless other personal reflections I have read over the past 5 days for their eloquence, compassion and integrity.

I too feel despair, confusion, despondency.  Mostly though I feel like I am experiencing a type of out of body experience. One where all around me chaos is descending, I try to shout but no one can hear me, so I just float on.  Sometimes laughing at the insanity, sometimes close to tears.

Like many others living in Scotland I’ve been here before. But that was different.  That didn’t matter to THEM, until it looked like the yes campaign might win and then we got the Vow.  We were lied to then, and THEY won.  They told us the only way Scotland could stay in the EU and was if it stayed in the UK. We took our democratic revenge in the general election – but still we don’t matter to them. They still lie.

Our “United Kingdom” has been taken to the brink by ego and internal Tory party politics. The disaffection of so many has been horribly manipulated by over simplification, acceptance of casualised racism, the conflated and convoluted myths of immigration and migration, not to mention barefaced lies.

In a bizarre way I almost admire the way that the leave campaign was able to return the many serves that Project Fear sent their way.  All economic arguments were dismissed as experts have “got it wrong in the past.” BOOM! Take that Project Fear. No-one can beat the “taking back our country” return.  And no-one could. Or at least no-one was actually given the opportunity.

THEY saw to that.  Where was the rigorous debate, the balanced media coverage? I don’t know about any research being done around the coverage of both campaigns, but from my point of view dear old Auntie Beeb seemed to revel in  the easy headlines that Vote Leave campaign gave them.  “I don’t agree” was an acceptable explanation, headline and lead story.  Why were the leave campaign not taken to task about a plan after a leave vote? Why are they still not being taken to task about that?  This has been the greatest political swindle possibly of all time.

And it’s all down to to THEM. The media, the establishment, the “oh it’s ok to take a gamble so I (or my new BFF) can become PM because we won’t actually win”; the just scare them the way we did to  “the Jocks”; the I can’t reconcile my own political views with the vast majority of the membership of the party I led so I’ll just do the absolute minimum because the leave campaign can’t win, can it?;  the disaffected public who wanted to protest about so many things other than EU membership.

Sadly there’s probably a part of me in some (but hopefully not all ) of THEM. So where now? We all we need to take back control of the debate from THEM. I rejoice in the fact that so many people since Friday have taken to social media, have blogged are looking for ways to question the majority, are having their say.  We need to demand that we get proper debate, not pop concert arenas staged for waving and cheering. We need to demand young, ethnically diverse people lead the coverage, not the old guard  – not THEM.

The result last Friday morning proved that UK mainstream politics are not listening, We need to overwhelm THEM with our voices, our petitions. We can’t continue to let THEM get away with it. At the same time we must not disregard the other THEM, the ones who used the referendum as a protest. We need to help them see the facts, the truth so that they can never be victims to another swindle like BREXIT.

Who’s data is it anyway? Post Brexit blues

What a day. I feel I need to write something today, but to be honest I don’t really know what. The results of the the UK EU referendum has stunned me, and many others.  What it all means I don’t know, but there will be consequences. The known unknowns will be making themselves visible very quickly.  In many ways the debate over the UK being in or out of the EU actually starts today. However, this is not a political blog, but Brexit is already affecting my everyday working life.

This morning I gave a presentation to the UHMLG Summer conference on learning analytics. What a day to be talking about data and predictions!  As I was presenting I made references to so many cross European, EU funded collaborations – not least the LACE project. I have been involved and benefited from so many EU funded projects, it really saddens me to think that future collaborations could be curtailed.

Part of my talk centred around the ethics of data use and collection. What happens to us now in the UK? It was only the power of the EU that was stopping Mrs May et all from turning Britain into a total surveillance society.  Who is going to protect my data rights now? I spotted this post on twitter which seems to suggest that there is hope from the web and big and open data, that the UK will have to  comply with wider EU and global regulations, but will it?

Today is sad day for many. I feel stunned. This is the second time in 2 years where I have voted the same as millions of fellow citizens but found myself on the wrong side of a very small majority.  I am left wondering how and why democracy has failed me. In the meantime here are my pretty pictures from this morning.
Learning Analytics – a brave new world or back to the future? – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;