What Sheila’s seen this week : templates, principles and analytics

This is a probably going to be a bit of a rambling post as I haven’t really blogged for a couple of weeks as it’s been a busy couple of weeks here at Blended Learning Towers.

This year there has been quite a push on developing more fully online programmes. I’ve blogged about how we have been supporting staff through the curriculum design process, and developing our suggested workflows and tools.  We’re now developing this into a series of support materials which we can use and share with more staff, and develop into some form of online staff development.  Just now we’re internally reviewing our “stuff” but I will share it as soon as it is ready for open consumption.

As part of that process we are developing a set of principles for the GCU Online student experience. Following up from their presentation at the recent Eden Conference 2015 proceedings, I was able to catch up with Nelson Jorge from TUDelpht to discuss their approaches to staff CPD and online course production. They also have a set of principles which they are now starting to use as part of their evaluation process. They are a bit ahead of us, and have a dedicated unit supporting online developments, as well as a process for staff to get time off “normal” teaching duties, we don’t have that – yet. As always it was great to share with like minded colleagues and have the comfort that we are all facing the same issues of lack of time and resources.

A recurring theme for us around online developments has been templates. <sigh> Templates are tricky, some of people are very keen on them; more often than not  as they seem them as a quick solution. However as you well know dear reader, it’s not that simple. We do have a default template in a sense in our VLE with our standard menu, and  Blackboard does provide an extensive set of pedagogically based teaching styles templates too. However staff have the freedom and flexibility to structure their modules as they see fit.  What we are trying to do is encourage a team design approach so that there is consistency of naming conventions and approaches across programmes. In that way templates naturally evolve.  As ever consistency really comes down to planning, and that needs time . . .

As the new semester draws nearer, we’re having more discussions with colleagues about trying new approaches in their modules which is great. We have a number of programmes that have very large modules (over 600 students) so I was really interested in these two posts from Fiona Saunders at Manchester on her reflections on large class teaching and designing assessments that are equitable, meaningful and manageable. Fiona makes some excellent points particularly about equity in large class scenarios.

Yesterday we met with Paul Bailey and Niall Sclater about the Jisc Effective Analytics programme.  Our work in learning analytics had stalled due to changes in our senior management and lack of CIO. However with our new CIO and IT Director now in place it looks like we will be moving ahead in this area and be part of the Jisc pilot. So look out for more posts around that.

And finally, I am now officially a jolly, good (HEA) Fellow.  I originally submitted for Senior Fellow, which I always knew was going to be a bit of a challenge, mainly because of my lack of actual teaching practice and slightly non traditional career path. And the feedback I got did confirm that. I also think my case studies weren’t focused enough on institutional impact. They were more based on work and experiences before I started here.  So after feedback from my initial submission I resubmitted for Fellow status and now have a nice shiny certificate.

Picture of HEA certificate

What Sheila’s seen this week: i-rights and the right to forget

What rights do you have online? If I’m honest I don’t actually know. I think I’m probably digitally savvy enough to be conscious of what I share online, with who and why. I know that I share too much data with Tesco and Amazon but I comfort myself with the fact that I get some trade off somewhere. I’m also lucky (aka getting old), in that when I was doing stupid things when I was growing up, they could only be shared within a relatively small circle – not potentially the world via Instagram. The mistakes I made, are now long forgotten and would take quite a bit of effort to find. As we all know it’s not quite like that anymore.

Like many this week, the i-rights campaign and this article by Suzanne Moore about the importance of the right to forget have caught my eye.

“iRights is a civil society initiative that seeks to make the digital world a more transparent and empowering place for children and young people (under 18) by delivering a universal framework of digital rights, in order that young people are able to access digital technologies creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly.”

The 5 i-rights highlighted by the campain: the rights to: know, remove, support and safety, make informed and conscious choices, and digital literacy are actually universal – not just for the under 18s.  Being connected online should allow us to share, connect, explore, make mistakes as and when we choose. But in the Big Data world it’s not that straightforward.

“The exchange of information is an essential component of the digital world. However, it is inappropriate for a third party, commercial or otherwise, to own, retain or process the data of minors without giving them the opportunity to retract it or to correct misinformation.”

We believe children and young people should have the unqualified right, on every internet platform or service, to fully remove data and content they have created. This must be easy and straightforward to do.”

Our data should be ours, not the plaything of big businesses and advertising. As I said at the beginning of this article I am aware of some of the data I am willing to “give away”. I’m equally aware that I am probably giving away far more than I realise, and that I have little control or indeed options about getting it back or deleting it.

Education is central to the well being all parts of society,from pre-school to university and beyond. So let’s all start asserting our i-rghts and provide our children, young people and not so young people with the capacity to live, work and create useful, safe and when necessary, disposable digital environments where individuals not businesses control their data.

What Sheila’s seen this week #blimage,

I’ve been on leave for the past 3 weeks so this week has been a bit of a blur ( in more sense than one as I’ve just got new varifocal glasses #slightydizzystandingup) of catching up and getting back into work mode.

One thing that seems to have taken off this week is #blimage. I was thinking of getting involved but after mentioning it on twitter, the @GCUBlend account was thrown a challenge which I responded to yesterday. This post is a response to that – maybe a slight egocentric circle going on here, but it is a good way to get back into blogging after the holidays.

This is the image yesterday’s post invited comment about.


The picture is of a part of the major campus refurbishment that is taking place at GCU just now. It triggers a raft of emotions and thoughts for me including excitement, confusion, blind panic, will it all be ready for the students in September?

For most of us working in education, summer more than New Year, is the time of new beginnings, new students, new starts.  Summer is often that mythical space where everything that you haven’t had the chance to “get round to” over the past year will be done as well as all the new things that you want/have to do for the new semester.  It can be an exciting and scary time, and more often than not “other stuff” is thrown into the mix which takes priority over all your (half baked) plans.

I think my brain is a bit like that picture just now with bits and pieces of things sort of blocked out, but lots of stuff needing to be done to make sense of it .

So maybe it is the perfect welcome back to work #blimage. What do you think?

Where Sheila’s been this week – being a bit creative

I’m on annual leave just now and this week I’ve been attending a week long summer painting school at Art4YouScotland. I have had an amazing time experimenting with different mediums and have gained a lot of confidence in my own abilities. I’ve also met some lovely people.

This is primarily a face to face learning experience – painting and drawing are very hands on pursuits. I have been learning loads from our lovely tutor Ewen and from my fellow students in the incredibly supportive and creative studio environment.

All of the individual and group discussions have been enhanced by technology. Particularly in terms of research and accessing the works of different painters, techniques, materials etc via “t’interweb” both in the studio and at home. Seems I can’t escape blended learning 😀

I love the mission statement for all the classes too. 2 and 3 I think should be part of every learning experience.

“1. become a better artist
2. feed your soul
3. enjoy the process”

Below is a little collage of some of the things I’ve been thoroughly enjoying creating this week. 

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone – RIP Jorum 

Typcial! The day I on holiday is the day that the announcement about the retirement and refresh of our national open learning repository, Jorum, is announced. I think the news came as a surprise to many, partly because it’s not quite clear just what the refreshed version will actually be, and just what kind of open it will be.

Unlike some of my former Cetis colleagues like Lorna, I haven’t had any direct involvement with the development of Jorum. However, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for it. Mainly because I felt it got an lot of unfair press in its early days, and that was due it being an idea just a little bit ahead of its time in terms of easy implementation and adoption. I remember the struggles trying to get instituitions to sign up to use it – legal-ese heaven for some; the struggles with content packages, the metadata, the federated searche engines – happy days😉

Back in the day, there was always a bit of eye rolling and sighing from certain quarters whenever JORUM ( and at that time it was upper case) was mentioned. I think many of those people forgot that any system at that time would have had to contend with the early licence issues, the technical issues of uploading content etc. Despite all of this, Jorum kept going, growing and developing. Its transition form into an open repository was a testament to all who worked on it, and also to Jisc in terms of supporting open education. Like many others, the news this week has surprised me and made me feel a little bit sad.

This is where I have to “fess up”. I have never put anything into Jorum, and can’t actually remember the last time I looked at it. But, and of course there has to be a but, I have always encouraged others to use it whenever and wherever I could. It was like Elvis said, always on my mind, when taking about OERs and indeed educational resources in general. 

So, maybe a new app/refresh approach might actually help me and others like me to share my stuff in/on whatever the new Jorum might be. It could be another step forward in the cultural and practice issues around sharing “stuff” which is at the heart of opened education.

In the meantime tho’, it does feel a bit like that Joni Mitchell song  . . . You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone . . . And maybe in this case it’s a bit orange taxi . . . 

Students, customers, service user?  What’s in a name?

image (image https://pixabay.com/en/marketing-advertisment-ads-791202/ : CC0 Public Domain)

The thorny issue of students as customers has been raised a notch over the past month. Firstly at the Jisc Student Experience Creativity Workshop  and in matters closer to home that I will expand on later in this post.  Due to undergraduate fees, my colleagues in Universities south of the border are probably slightly more comfortable with the term, it does still irk me a bit. However we do have fee paying students at my institution, we need more to survive, and whatever way fees are paid, we certainly all need to be meeting and exceeding our students expectations of their university experience.

Last week I was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with Jim Groom along with some of my favourite ed tech commentators including Audrey Watters and Martin Weller at the Eden conference. Not surprisingly, lots of our conversations centred around, APIs, the domain of one’s own project and Jim’s new venture reclaim hosting.

A couple of years ago whilst doing some work for the OER Research Hub , I used the API analogy for researchers within the project.  Just like APIs, researchers provide hooks into research and its applicability in the real world. Or in the case of any educational research, the classroom.

Of course we can think of the university in a similar way. It could be seen as a massive API providing links between numerous services including learning and teaching, research, support, administration and many more.

Just now at GCU our new CIO is starting work on developing our Digital Strategy. Unsurprisingly there are many references to the “customer journey” usually preceded by words like  “improving” and  “transformation”.  Ensuring our student facing customer journeys are aligned with our establishing and constantly evolving learning journeys and curriculum development journeys is going to be crucial. This is where I think the term service user may be more appropriate.

Much of the work that needs to be done in our context is around our technical infrastructure and improving the integration and interoperability of our existing systems – our basic service provision if you like.

At this stage, the focus is very much on the “digital ” too. As we still have to come to consensus about what being a “digital university” means in our context ( I have one or two thoughts on that as you, dear reader will know and that was the reason I was at the Eden conference), why not be a bit more up front and talk about “service users” just now instead of customers?

I think that would be more meaningful and help us frame some of the conversations around just what being a digital university means in our context.

As part of the research that Evelyn McElhinney and I did last year around students use of technology, highlighted that we need to be thinking more about how we interact with what we called boundary spaces – the spaces we all find useful (e.g. youtube) – but don’t own and our bounded spaces (e.g. VLEs) in terms of learning activity. You can read more in our final case study.

If the first step on this journey is to improve our technical service offerings, get the quick wins to our essential service then why not make the shift to thinking of our IT infrastructure as an API?

Once that first layer is in place, then we can start to think about the more complex learning and teaching, research, administration journeys in the wider context of digital transformation through  digital participation and our mission for the common good.  Just like with software, the Universiy API provides the basic connections that allow the really exciting stuff to happen.

At the ALT Scotland SIG meeting this week, it was interesting to hear that GLOW (the Scottish Schools digital environment) is taken the API approach too.

I realise this isn’t ground breaking stuff, and it’s one of the reasons I like Mark Stubb’s tube map. I think that pretty much sums up the journeys most universities need to be thinking about.

“Customer” or “service user” may appeal or oppose in equal measure. But just now, I think the latter might be more appealing and engaging for where we are at in GCU.  It might also help separate the technical infrastructure from the people driven transformation that we aspire to.

Dave White has also written another take on this, the student as product. Even more food for thought.

Digital Participation and the Digital Common Good (#scotinfolit)

Last week I attended the Scottish Government’s Digital Participation Advisory Group at Holyrood.  The Group advises the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop who chairs the group.  I was there  as part of a mini delegation (well there were 3 of us, Bill Johnston, John Crawford and me)  from the Information Skills for a 21st Century Scotland Community of Practice.

We were fortunate to have been allocated quite a bit of the meeting to discuss information and digital literacy and the potential for closer links between this Advisory Group and the CoP. You can read our briefing paper Scotland’s Information Culture briefing paper (feel free to add any comments too).

There were a number of updates from other projects including the Let’s Get On campaign which has been traveling the length and breadth of the country and encouraging people to get online.  Whilst listening to the update  from the Wheatley Group on their pilot project offering low cost broad band access to their tenants in a Kirkton project in Glasgow.

The findings of the evaluation are showing that if you provide low cost access and in some cases devices, people will go online and start reaping benefits. These include saving money in taxi bills by doing online grocery shopping and using comparison websites. The requirement for online searching as part of job seekers allowance is also more easily fulfilled.

I was humbled whilst listening to  the difference having access to a reliable and low cost wireless connection can make to peoples lives.  I was reminded just how privileged a life I lead.  Wifi is ubiquitous in my life, both at home and work. I don’t have to make a choice about eating or getting online. Comparison websites are more a game than a necessity for me.

It seems though, that there is still a disconnect between interactions with other key public services. The next steps are to explore that more fully. It might be due to the fact that many government services aren’t fully useable with mobile devices.

So whilst it is great to see these initiatives and the confidence and opportunities they are bringing people (particularly children who in the project come out as very much being digital champions) there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of sustaining greater digital participation and the developing of peoples confidence and ergo their digital capabilities.

Digital participation is where Universities can play a pivotal role in the digital agenda.  Particularly a university like my own, GCU, whose mission is “for the common good” or  as it was originally stated ‘the common weal”. We should be a key part or digital hub if you like, looking for more ways to link initiatives like the ones mentioned above with our own work in widening participation for example the Caledonian Club and GCU College Connect far deeper into our formal and informal curriculum.

Last year I proposed this model of engagement for us, pitching us as a digital agora, or hub

 screen shot of diagram

In the week when UNESCO released its Rethinking Education: Towards a Global Common Good? report, embracing digital participation could be a crucial way forward for all of us.

I’ll be exploring the understandings of the digital university later this week at the EDEN conference where I look forward to extending this discussion more.