What Sheila’s seen this week: the homogenisation of engagement interfaces

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Spoiler alert this post probably won’t be as good as the title.

Yesterday I was involved in running a workshop for our PGCert Learning and Teaching students on digital learning. One of the exercises we got the students to was to map their “learning and teaching” based on the extended Visitor’s and Resident model (more info here).  An innocent tweet of some the maps provoked a bit of a discussion,

which you can see in this storify.

But that’s a bit of an aside to the title of this post, though it was pleasing to see the engagement with the activity.  We try exemplify a number of different engagement modes throughout the workshop, and indeed my colleague Sam Ellis who is the module leader, is using a variety of different approaches both for f2f and online activities throughout the module.

Thanks to 1minuteCPD, last week I came across Zeetings – a new to me anyway service for “free flowing, ground breaking, swash buckling engagement” which will  “transform your meetings, presentations, lessons and events by empowering everyone to participate from their own device.” It’s even got a friendly beardy hipster on the home page so it must be great!

Anyway, I was intrigued so had a look and it did strike me that it could actually be quite a nice tool to use in f2f sessions for getting interaction/feedback/engagement (pick the one that suits your need).

After a chat with Sam we decided to give it a whirl.  It does have a nice UI, it’s pretty easy to use, it generates a url for you to share with those you want to access your presentation (you can make it private if you want).  It’s pretty easy to add simple polls like this:

and it has some (limited) chat functionality, included a like/start option. Of course it has analytics built in – well all know that “understanding your audience is at the heart of being a remarkable presenter”.  The basic version lets up to 30 people access a “zeeting” and you can’t access all the functionality.  But if you are creative (think groups here people) you could get more interacting with the system.

As we used it yesterday, it did seem to be quite good, nothing extraordinary, but it did allow for some enhanced interaction (group and individual) and feedback. As we were watching some of the group work come through my other colleague Jim said, “it’s quite like Facebook”, which led to this post.

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that UIs are becoming more similar.  Does it mean that everything – even any radical, alternative to the VLE – is just going to become one homogenized user experience? Are we “liking” our way into digital oblivion? Do like buttons really count as meaningful engagement? Are we (and by that I mean me) just sucked in a bit too easily by an apparently friendly, geeky, beardy icon?

I hope not.  Part of being digitally capable is being able to assess and evaluate tools/claims around engagement.  As educators we need to question the appropriateness of any kind of functionality, explore and share more why we find it useful.  Zeetings did allow us to easily create some engagement opportunities for a f2f session that we couldn’t easily, or as prettily,  do within our VLE.  Would I use it again? Probably? Would I pay for it? Probably not. But I bet I will be looking at something very similar in the not too distant future.

What Sheila’s seen this week – the next big ed tech thing?

Image: Christian Schnettelker CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/manoftaste-de/9483602817

I haven’t done a “what Sheila’s seen” post for a while, but this week seemed to be one that was worthy of it.

On Wednesday I  was invited to facilitate one of the discussion sessions at the Jisc Student Experience Experts Group.  This was the 39th meeting of the group, and although I don’t get to many of them, I always really enjoy them when I do get to go.

One of the best things about these meetings is the networking and sharing of practice. It’s always so useful to “get out of the office” and through the various presentations and conversations realise that you are not alone. The challenges I face are shared across the sector. So as well as seeing some examples of great practice it’s always quite nice to have the opportunity to have a bit of rant in “safe” company.

The meetings are free to attend, but of course there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Naturally Jisc do ask for some feedback/ideas around key challenges, and how the group think their new offering to the sector should be shaped.  Sarah Davies ( Head of higher education and student experience, Jisc) gave an overview of some the areas they are looking at just now.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot around data and analytics (hello, TEF), with a recognition that learning analytics isn’t a silver bullet. Rather that is can help give some insights into a number of areas from student support to curriculum design.  More focus on fully online delivery is becoming more important across the UK HE sector as uncertainty around particularly around student visas (hello, Brexit) grows.

I think Jisc really are facing a challenging time. They don’t have the capacity now for some of the more blue sky thinking and experimentation around innovation as they did in the past.  They are going to have to make some very pragmatic decisions. Are /can they be really forward thinking or should they just be ahead of the pack enough?

Whatever they decide I do hope that they keep supporting the community contact and practice sharing exemplified through the Experts group. I really feel this is the visible, practitioner collegiate face of Jisc, and one that I would hate to see disappear.

Senior management are of course important stake holders for Jisc in terms of getting buy-in and ultimately money. However the people who attend events like the Student Experience Experts groups are the people who actually make the changes, who experiment, share and mainstream, not just the next ‘big thing’ (be that the internet of things / the semantic web , wearables, more data ), but all the little things that together create effective learning and teaching experiences.

Later in the week in my Vice Chair of ALT capacity, I was part of a webinar with our Chair, Martin Weller and CEO Maren Deepwell.  This year the organisation is developing it’s new 3 year strategy, and of course we are looking for member feedback to help shape our strategic priorities for the next three years.  We’re going to be running 2 online sessions to get more feedback, more details here.

We certainly are living in interesting times and having an authoritative membership voice to engage, influence and challenge some of the national developments in the sector is becoming increasingly important. Over the past three years, ALT has been increasingly recognised as a point of expertise around learning technology. So if you have any ideas of where ALT should be focusing its strategic vision then please join the conversation or put your ideas into our online suggestion box.

My wish for the next big thing would be for a focus on people and time. Time for consolidation, to plan, to experiment, to fail, to succeed. Maybe that just seems like the past now . . . but if we could just get some big tech company/ new trendy start up/someone with no experience of education to “app-ify” that idea maybe, just maybe, it could indeed be the next big thing.

How do you inhabit your learning and teaching space(s)?

I haven’t blogged for the last couple of weeks, not because I haven’t wanted to, there have been a number of posts that have made want to write.  Mainly it’s because I have at last finished and more importantly submitted my CMALT portfolio, and there have been one or two other work things that have taken up my time.

As an incentive/celebration of submitting the portfolio, on Saturday night I went to the see Scottish’s Ballet’s Autumn Programme.   Before the performance started, Christopher Hampson, Chief Executive and and Artistic Director of the Company, gave an introduction to the three pieces, the first of which was short piece, Drawn to Drone,  by a young Scottish choreographer, Jack Webb. Christopher asked us, the audience, to as we were watching the piece, think about how a dancer “inhabits a space”.

As this mesmerising piece featuring one dancer and two chairs unfolded, I really did think about that. The dancer totally inhabited and filled not only the stage but the whole theatre.

During the rest of the performance and for the rest of the weekend I have been thinking about about how relevant that question of how we inhabit space is to learning and teaching.

Last week I bumped into a colleague who was literally eating lunch on the run. He had  a really full teaching day, but wanted to share how well one particular technique had worked in class. As an introduction to DNA transference with first year law students, he put some pink glitter (borrowed from his daughter) on his hands  then shook hands with a student and got that student to shake hands with another student and so on until there was no trace of the glitter (they got to about 17 handshakes). What a great way to inhabit a learning and teaching space. That glitter lesson is, I am sure, one that none of the students will forget.

Last week there was a quite a bit of debate around educational technology being  a discipline or not. Martin Weller wrote a post about how in many ways (particularly in the UK with ALT) it is, but that maybe there needed to be more of a focus on criticality. Audrey Waters wrote a riposte calling not for more discipline but for the need for “a greater willingness for undisciplining.”   Great posts, both and I encourage you to read them.

I can help feeling though, that ultimately  it’s how we use educational technology that matters, not the discipline of ed tech. We can be as rigorous critical and as we like but if that research is not easily accessible and meaningful to practice then when is the point really?

It’s how we technology  it to inhabit learning spaces that matters, ensuring we can spread the glitter and not be driven by how and when (if ever) we get to use that glitter by ed tech companies. On that note, thank you Michael Feldstein for this brilliant post).

I’m going to follow all of this up in my SEDA keynote next month, which now includes, balancing on window ledges, pigeons, ballet a bit of ed tech and now glitter. How can it fail?

DRAWN TO DRONE from jack webb on Vimeo.

Circles, triangles, trolls, games, neuro-myth busting, empathy and respect #altc16

It’s always hard to condense 3 days’ worth of conference ideas and discussions. The title of this post is my attempt to reduce last week’s #altc conference to under 10 words.  However almost a week after the start of the conference my mind is still trying to synthesise the myriad of ideas I gained from all the sessions I attended.

For me there were a few key themes which resonated throughout the conference. Pretty high on the list was developing (digital) capabilities around online learning at both personal and institutional levels. This is something the sector is really grappling with just now.  Fully online delivery is far from mainstream activity (say hello and wave goodbye MOOCs).

Sharing findings from research as part of  the Jisc scaling up online learning project, Helen Beetham described the challenges their desk research had uncovered as: lack of organisational structure and staff confidence, lack of linkages to mainstream activity, and lack of understanding of the online experience for both staff and students.  Something I can completely relate to. Helen also touched on the emotional side of online learning,  and how that is still under estimated, again for students and staff alike.

Fear is one emotion that I think anyone who has undertaken online learning has experienced at some point. Fear of the unknown, fear of “being online”, fear of where and how to communicate fear of sharing. I know I’ve experienced all of the above.  Fear and the dangerous side of being online were addressed squarely by Josie Fraser in her opening keynote “In the valley of the trolls”.

The keynotes were, as ever, inspiring and this year I think really captured the concerns and aspirations of the UK edtech/ed dev community. Josie opened the conference with a challenging and timely look at trolling. If online spaces such as twitter provide a “filter free amplifier”, in which AI so far can only emulate every kind of abusive behaviour we have invented, it is more important than ever to ensure that we are all developing the digital capabilities to know where, when and how to interact online.

But fear can also lead to closing down online spaces and online interaction. Josie questioned our use of shared spaces, the role of open education, about our ethical commitments and most importantly she raised the challenge and control paradox. We need to challenge the trolls, but can we/should we control them? What about our ethical assumptions around privacy? Sometimes anonymity is valid. We need to develop respect and our ethical commitment to developing respectful shared spaces where we don’t all necessarily agree, but we don’t have to degrade others with casual racism and sexism in process.

Respect, responsibility, and the power of education to change society was a central part of Jane Secker’s keynote “copyright and e-learning: our privileges and freedoms”.  Again Jane highlighted the tension between the fear of copyright (hello, copyright police,yes I have no illegal music downloads)  and the freedom appropriately copyrighted material (hello, Creative Commons) gives us all.

Jane reminded us of the power and necessity of information literacy and IPR as a human right. We need to respect and acknowledge other’s work. However in our increasingly digital age, sharing has changed. We need to ensure that we aren’t just fostering copying skills but that we also encourage reuse and creation, with proper attribution.  There are many myths around copyright and licensing that once again digital literacy development and sharing through communities of practice can help to alleviate.  All this with cake, cats, star wars and a great history lesson.

More myths were explored in Lia Commissar’s keynote “education and neuroscience”. There are many myths and legends around how our brains work.  A little knowledge can be dangerous and it is amazing how much acceptance of there is in our society of “stuff” that has no scientific research basis. A case in point is learning styles.  I can see why people have empathy for that idea, we all have preferences but  . . . and before I go into fully rant mode, I would urge you to watch Lia’s keynote and join the neuromyth-busters and find out more about some fascinating neuroscience research projects in formal education settings.

One area Lia pointed to where there is a research focus on is games and gaming was the focus of Ian Livingstone’s keynote “code:connect:collaborate”.  Ian’s career has spanned the development of the current gaming age and culture, and for a non gamer and non adventure book reader he gave a very entertaining overview of his career and that sector.

He also emphasised the “real world” skills and learning environment that gaming can naturally foster including collaboration, safe social spaces, problem solving, continuous assessment, a safe place to fail. However games and coding aren’t a panacea for education.

Ian did mention the gender imbalance in the gaming industry but not the  very unpleasant side of – in particular Gamergate,   which Josie highlighted in her opening keynote. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to redress that kind of behaviour and to ensure online spaces are safe, collaborative and respectful to all.

Supporting coding in schools and in the curriculum is great, but it is only part of “the digital”, ensuring digital capabilities are recognised and supported in the curriculum is just as important.

“The digital”,whatever that actually means,  is something that our final keynote double act of Donna Lanclos and David White have been talking and writing about for a number of years.

Their more discursive keynote “being human is your problem” looked at some of the realities of trying to exist in our education systems and the messiness of not only being human but being a human interacting increasingly in digital spaces.

Technology is not the answer, it’s part of the answer and part of the problem. Culture change, or perhaps evolution, is what we really need to address.  But that is hard, so often it’s easier to buy something shiny rather than support (neuro) mythbusting culture change (hello and goodbye digital natives).

Donna and Dave were both adamant that we should move away from thinking about “them” and “us” in institutions, arguing that we are “them”, they are “us”.  I’m not sure sure about that, there are always tribes of them and us – staff/students/managers/senior managers/  the list goes on. Again maybe that takes us back to where Josie started the week around respect and empathy between all our academic related tribes.

One thing that Dave said towards the end of the session was that we need “less triangles and more circles”.  He was referring to an early model of digital literacy from Beethham and Sharpe, but I think it summed up my impression from all of the conference, not just the keynotes. We aren’t all working towards a pinnacle or peak, our work is far more iterative and circular, perhaps more spiral like to give some sense of movement (not a spiral of despair I hasten to add).

So thanks again to the conference chairs, committee and ALT for providing the space for all our triangles and circles it was a great conference this year. I haven’t even mentioned all the great sessions I went to and chaired, the annual awards, #altplay.  I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Liverpool next year.


Domains and devices of one’s own

(image https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:For-rent-sign.jpg)

I access probably about 90% of my working life via a network and some kind of provided institutionally internal or external service provider. I create and share a fair but of “stuff” at work, as well as accessing a range of entertainment media at home.

After spending a good few hours last weekend clearly out dusty old VHS tapes and DVD’s part of me is actually glad of the lack of that kind of clutter. I am fortunate to be (just now)  in a position where I can pay to easily access music, films, tv programmes. It helps me declutter my physical (owned, well it will be when I pay of the mortgage!) world.

But what do I actually own online? I don’t really think about that as often as I should. However, this morning a post from Audrey Watters in response to one from Maha Bali, has really got me thinking.  I can’t do justice to Audrey’s post, so just go and read it.  Audrey calls for us, and particularly those of us in education to resist the casual acceptance of the “post ownership” society.  She writes:

“How do we resist this? (And resist this, I contend, we must.) We resist through education. Yes. But we also must resist at the level of structure, at the level of systems, at the level of infrastructure. We can challenge how the Web and the Internet work – at the level of politics, power, money, and technology. But we can do so only if we understand what’s at stake, if we understand that the Web and the Internet are not naturally-occurring entities but are corporate and national forces bending towards certain ideological ends – privatization and profit.

The Domain of One’s Own initiative is one way that space is being given to provide educational experiences that can help our students and fellow teachers to develop the literacies they need to contest and contribute meaningful to society. Having access to a “safe” space is key to that. “

This week I’ve also been having discussions with IT colleagues about university provided digital space, data handling, personal and institutional responsibilities. They are planning future service provision and having the usual debate about service provision. I have been asked: how much university “space” do I use, what devices do I use to access that space, I am using encrypted/unencrypted devices to access said spaces, do I use “other” no university provided cloud spaces, how much data do I use in each of these spaces and how much do I think I need. Answers on a postcard please.

I use a lot of non university spaces at work.  Some of which I pay for e.g.  Evernote where I do a lot of writing; other’s that I don’t e.g. google drive/drop box. As each service provision “evolves” I weigh up the pros and cons of each and decide if I am willing to move from the “basic” (free at point of access) or  pay for “pro” features.   I don’t do a lot of “proper” research, but when I do, I do store “stuff” university space due to the legal and ethical requirements of any research project the university sanctions.

However, my data needs for that are, I think, relatively small.  I have no idea how much space I use – do you?  I don’t keep a running tally. Should I?  The only service that I get any “space” grief is my university email account which does have a limit and I have got quite close to that. I may get a tad annoyed about that as my personal email account never seems to run out of space. . .  My commitment to open education also means that I share my “stuff” as openly as possible. For example using our institutional open repository for sharing “stuff’ I have (reasonable) confidence that it will be available to me even if/when, I no longer work here.

During the conversations with my IT colleagues, the old command and control versus (appropriate) access and enablement did feature.  Universities should have enabling services, they should have transparent procedures in place to ensure that institutional and individual data responsibilities are being met. Whilst I know that the “I just put it into dropbox because it’s so darn complicated to access the secure shared drive” is not a valid excuse, it is a widespread reality.

This of course leads us to personal and institutional digital capability and knowing where to access and store different types of information/data.  I suppose in a way I do rent my desktop machine and my iPad from my institution. They are institutionally provided machines, gateways to institutional services.  They also allow my access to my own personal spaces. Increasingly the line between institutional and personal services are blurred.  For example I  have quite a different level of personal attachment to my ipad than my laptop.

Like many other institutions our students get access to office 365 and potentially a huge amount of digital space. Unlike A Domain of One’s Own we don’t have an explicit institutional view of how to use this space for as our mission states “the common good”.  We are in many ways just perpetuating the digital status quo, allowing microsoft to “get ‘em and keep ‘em”. We’re not really thinking about data, access and control beyond our legal obligations.  We’re not really thinking creatively about safe digital spaces.

As ever this post is a bit of a ramble and more me trying to sort my thoughts out.  I am now rethinking my comfort levels in terms of my post ownership relationship with my digital “stuff, and how I can in some small way enable some more creative thinking about our institutional provision.

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.


image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vote_with_check_for_v.svg

Revisiting my own past with the blog time machine

(image CC0, Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/time-machine-forward-digits-859335/)

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.