How Sheila's been seen this week – network visualisations and am I really a techie? (a touch of #lak14)

Like many of peers, my working life is a bit of a hybrid. Part of my invited speaker session at last year’s ALT-C conference involved me trying to deconstruct what I actually did.   Since then I have moved to a job with a more recognisable and commonly understood title ‘”Senior Lecturer”. However I don’t actually do much lecturing so it’s still all a bit complicated.  I’m part of the Blended Learning Team within our Learning Enhancement and Academic Development unit.  The three of us are technically literate but I don’t think any of us would identify ourselves as been technical or indeed techies. So I still find it a bit odd when the rest of our colleagues refer to us as technical. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and networks and how I am perceived both internally and externally.

Now I know I am more technically digitally literate and crucially technically confident than many of my colleagues. Working with Cetis for so long it would have been kinda hard not to be. But I always have seen myself as a fulfilling a bridge or hybrid type role between the totally IT/technically focused people and those on the user/teaching and learning side of things.  I think this is becoming increasingly common place and it needs to be so. As technology becomes easier to use and more embedded into all aspects of our lives,  we need to encourage people to have a “let’s have a go” mind set, than “let’s ask the techies” – or in my case pseudo techie. Developing that aspect of digital literacy and confidence in our staff and students is, imho, crucial in terms of any institutional ambitions we at GCU (and anywhere else for that matter)  may have of becoming a digital university.

That said I’m not above donning the technical genius hat as I amaze colleagues with my skills and knowledge when they ask “have you heard of animoto?”  The hat has been firmly removed as two minutes after I demo’d it, they had rumbled how easy it was to use and all those links I sent were actually automagically created in the cloud. 

The annual learning analytics conference, LAK14, is taking place this week, and I’ve been dipping in and out of the twitter backchannel over the past couple of days. Thanks to the live blogging genius of Doug Clow, and others I feel like I’ve almost been there in person.  One of the sessions on Thursday was looking at networks and network visualisations.  These fascinate me, but like many I’m still trying to figure out what they actually mean in terms of learning and teaching. I’ve had some thoughts in relation to my experiences as a learner in MOOCs, but there’s lots more head scratching and experimentation to be done.  One of the tools being demo’d was Netlytic, 

“a cloud-based text and social networks analyzer that can automatically summarize large volumes of text and discover social networks from online conversations on social media sites such as Twitter, Youtube, blogs, online forums and chats. “

I had a bit of a play and within minutes had an analysis and visualisation on of text from the #lak14 hashtag – thanks to twitter it was almost like I was there!


and a visualisation of my twitter network 

Now, just need to figure out if this is more useful than the Martin Hawksey’s quite brilliant TAGs Explorer  . . .

Getting ready for learning analytics at GCU (not quite #lak14)

This week I’m going to try and keep up with the twitter back channel from #lak14 in Indianapolis, already it looks like some really interesting and innovative work is being presented. However, back in my world our learning analytics journey is really just beginning. 

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to do some basic investigation, introductions and explorations of learning analytics initially with colleagues from IT and the Library.  We are very much a the who, where, why, when and how stage.  So it’s been really useful to look back at the Cetis Analytics Series and also at the presentations from the UK Solar Flare events.  As ever the generosity of the community in sharing experiences is invaluable.  This presentation from Mark Stubbs at MMU helped to clarify a few things for our IT department in terms of data sources we need along side data from the VLE.  This slide was particularly useful. 


BTW we need another one of those SoLar events  soon . . . 

However we do have access to some data, particularly from our VLE, GCU Learn.  Every year we produce a Blended Learning report which gives a snapshot overview of activity in GCU Learn across the University.  Getting and cleansing the data is always a bit of a chore and we are aware that the we can only provide a superficial view of activity. I won’t go into the ins and outs of our data access and data gate-keeping issues but I suspect that you, dear reader will understand so of our “challenges”.  

In broad visual terms we have broken our blended learning activity into four main areas (click on the image to see in more detail, btw the tools/activities are just samples not a definite list for each area.)

Blended Learning areas of activity  at GCU

We can get data at school level (we have three large academic schools) but not at department or module level. Given the dates of our semesters, annual stats are not much use either as they include weeks when there is no teaching so again that can skew the data.  This year we decided to take one month, November 2013, and base the report on that.  So although what we have is a very high level overview there are some clear trends coming through. To quote the Cetis definition of analytics, these trends are indeed giving us some ‘actionable insights’ not only in terms of blended learning activity but also in terms of our wider IT  and support provision. 

So get ready here are our headline figures:

•        18% decrease in average student accesses to GCULearn via the web
•        420% increase in average student accesses to GCULearn via mobile app
•        25% increase in number of GCULearn Communities
•        82% increase in use of CampusPack blogs
•        134% increase in use of wikis
•        232% increase in use of journals
•        222% increase in online feedback via Grademark in Nov 13 compared to Nov 12
•        167% increase in online Graded papers in Nov 13 compared to Nov 12

We don’t have a mobile or byod strategy and looks like we might not need one.  It’s happening, our users are talking with their mobile devices, and 80% of those devices are iOS.  What we need to ensure is that our content is web enabled and ensure that students can interact fully with activities via mobile devices.  A “switch on” policy and, probably more importantly, culture for learning and teaching is something we need to work with staff and students to develop. Ubiquitous and stable wifi across the institution is key to this. Improvements to Bb’s mobile app would help too and we can’t wait for the roll out of their new web enabled design to be in place.  

Staff and students are using the more interactive and student centred functionality of the VLE such as wikis and journals. And the use of assessment and feedback functionality is increasing dramatically.  We estimate that 41% of our modules are making active use of GCU Learn as opposed to just having a course shell and some powerpoint slides. Now we need to drill down into that school level data to get more module level detail on the types of assignments/activities being used, and in tandem develop staff confidence in using, developing and sharing assessment rubrics and their overarching learning designs. 

We are only starting to scratch the surface of learning analytics in our context, but the data we are getting is leading us to ask more detailed questions and demand more nuanced data collection and sense making. We are starting to bring people together to have data driven conversations, and share just exactly where our data is, who has access to it, when they have access to it, what format it is in, and how they access it. We have had initial discussion with Bb about their analytics package, however we need to have more internal discussions about what we can and want to do internally before making any decisions about that.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to share the next part of our journey very soon.

A peak underneath the Swan like MOOC #moocscoted

Picture of a swan


About a year ago I wrote a post called Preparing for the Second Wave after attending and presenting at an internal staff development event at Newcastle University.  At that time Newcastle hadn’t committed to MOOCs and was grappling with issues of being part of the second wave of MOOC activity. After the event I commented:

“I suspect that for a number of the UK institutions in the first wave of MOOC activity, the reputational benefits are the key driver. Many of them can afford to underwrite the costs of developing and running the courses in the short term without having to think too much about the longer term benefits/costs . . .Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing for those institutions not involved with MOOCS just now, to take a step back to consider the most beneficial aspect of MOOCs for their aims and objectives before trying to become part of the second wave.”

A year later and Newcastle is firmly part of that second wave along with a number of other UK institutions as part of FutureLearn. Now I now all the ed tech hipsters are “so-o over MOOCs” but the questions around the long term costs and benefits MOOCs have still to be answered. For an institution like mine who hasn’t been part of the first, second or third wave of MOOC activity, we are still very interested to see what we can learn from others to help us develop our own strategies which may or may not involve an element of MOOC-yness.

Yesterday the Jisc RSC Scotland and the University of Strathclyde hosted an event on MOOCs in Scottish Education. Teams from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde shared their experiences to-date with FutureLearn. And the team who just keep giving from the University of Edinburgh shared their experiences from their ever increasing experience and research of MOOCs on a variety of platforms including FutureLearn.

If you want anyone to convince you of the positive benefits of MOOCs, then look no further than Professor Niamh NicDaeid, University of Strathclyde. Hearing her speak about the the murder mystery themed introduction to forensic science course almost made even my MOOC weary self consider signing up if they run it again.  What a joy to hear someone continually emphasise the importance of fun in learning.

Niamh also talked about the experience of actually running the MOOC and the amount of work behind the scenes to keep its swan like appearance for the learners.  As anyone who has done any kind of online delivery will know once something is live and running there is a huge amount of world that needs to be done behind the scenes. With discussion boards getting around over 6000 posts a week the effect is multiplied beyond most peoples experience.

Staff time for both development of courses and running MOOCs is crucial.  We heard yesterday that Glasgow is committing £2.5 million to developing online learning, we know Edinburgh has a pot double that size, and although Strathclyde didn’t quote any figures it has obviously made a substantial commitment. Again for institutions like mine who maybe haven’t got such deep pockets, there are some fundamental investment questions that need to be addressed about where, what and how to invest and future developments. We aren’t in the MOOC club, unlike Glasgow we weren’t invited to the FutureLearn party, unlike Strathclyde we weren’t gallus enough to “chap on the door” and ask to be let in. And now do we even want to be in the club?  Maybe we are better off doing something in a different way.

FutureLearn (like many MOOCs, and courses) is pretty content driven, and there was lots in the presentations from both the Glasgow and Strathclyde teams about the development process. My colleague Linda Creanor and I did notice get a bit of a “them and us” division creeping in between academic staff and the learning technologists who seemed to be just doing the ‘techie’ stuff. I hope that this is just an impression and not the truth. Certainly the strengths of the skills of all members of teams was emphasised but there was just a bit of a niggle of LTs being put to the bottom of the pile.   I raise this issue in the hope that I will be shot down with evidence to the contrary.

In terms of institutional drivers and evaluation it still seems to be reputation,  staff development and wider engagement with online learning for campus based activities that are key.

Presentations from the day will be made available via the RSC website, and I just want to thank everyone involved for providing a very informative session.

Not now, not ever!

It’s not been the best week for women in IT. Early In the week we learned that Julie Ann Horvath quit Github due to allegations of harassment. Any story like this saddens me. I have generally had positive  experiences of working in IT, but I have been in many situations where I am one of a few women in a sea of men. I also have had that feeling that I have been judged and my capabilities underestimated due to the colour of my hair. Equally I have, and continue, to work with some fantastically supportive male colleagues. And I am I now working somewhere with a very high proportion of female senior staff which shouldn’t be something I feel need to comment on, it should be normal. But sadly it isn’t.

Over the past two years former Australian PM Julia Gillard was subjected to what I can only describe as horrific misogyny. However as many of you know she did make a quite wonderful speech in Parliament in 2012. Today I spotted via BoingBoing that this has now been set to music.  I’m not sure if it is as powerful as the original speech, which still gets me standing up and cheering “go Julia” whenever I see/hear it, but I found the overview from the composer of the piece Rob Davidson very thoughtful.

“The resulting choral piece, in which the singers echo and support the Prime Minister’s speech melodies, is initially quite humorous, as we are confronted with the melody that perhaps was not evident to us before. As the music goes on, it passes into something more serious, and (it is hoped) we hear the Prime Minister as a woman experiencing very real emotions.”

Enjoy – and I am humming, “not now, not ever” as I type

Where Sheila will be seen this open education week

Open Education Week 2014
Open Education Week 2014

As you are probably aware, this week is open education week, and there is lots happening, so I just wanted to highlight a couple of things to look out for.

Firstly something very close to my heart.  A draft version of The Open Scotland Declaration is now online and available for comment (on a paragraph by paragraph basis). Everyone in the Open Scotland Working Group would appreciate as many comments as possible on this document.

The University of Sussex has a great line up of events throughout this week. On Friday I’m taking part in a webinar with Catherine Cronin  called Open and online: connections, community and reality.  The webinar will be recorded and made available if you can’t make the time slot on Friday. There are a number of  other UK webinars on this week including Exploring the Battle for Open from the OER Research Hub and  A Pedagogical Look at MOOCs from the University of Leicester.

Also later this week I’ll be one of the guest bloggers on the UK Web Focus site . Everyday this week Brian Kelly has invited a guest blogger to share a range of views on open education. If you only do one thing this week, then reading these guest posts is a great option.



What Sheila's seen this week – learning analytics, data and open education

It’s been a really busy couple of weeks here at blended learning HQ at GCU.  My colleagues are in the middle of preparing our annual blended learning report. There’s not a huge amount I can add this year, but it is a great opportunity to find out more about what is happening, so data and analytics have been high on the agenda. For the past couple of years there’s been an encouraging increase in the use and access to our VLE, which we call GCU Learn.  This year the web accesses are down but the mobile accesses have increased exponentially with Apple devices far and away the most popular. Tuesdays also seem to be a popular day . . .  We’re also seeing a significant uptake in use of turnitin and trademark.  E-assessment and feedback is definitely something staff and students want and are using.

Last Friday we met with Blackboard about and they took us through their analytics platform.  I was in that strange position of being quoted back to myself, as they were referencing the Cetis Analytics Series quite heavily. Still a great piece of work, and if you haven’t had a look, and are interested in analytics I would throughly recommend it.  We are probably not at the stage to start working with their system yet. There are some key questions that need some really serious discussion, not least around benchmarking. But I am now taking a leaf out of my own book and really considering the who, what, where, why and how of data here.

Although I’m not exactly a newbie anymore, I am still finding my way around and getting to know what  people are doing in terms of blended learning.  Our Engineering and Built Environment School had a lunchtime “technology taster” session yesterday which gave me the opportunity to see some of the practice in that school. There was a really good mix of activities including the use of WebPA, screen capture and various student response systems packed into an hour. We’re developing case studies of practice just now so a few more names were added to my list of people to speak to.  Library colleagues also gave a demo of BoB  our national broadcasting recording service. You can easily create playlists of clips and or whole tv/radio programmes which can be embedded into webpages and most VLEs. The slight downside for us is that we don’t have complete single sign on and BoB uses Athens authentication so if we embed in our VLE students will have to login with their Athens details to view   . . . but hopefully that will change relatively soon.

There is a lot of activity around new IT infrastructure as well as overarching discussions and consultations around a new institutional strategy to take us to 2020. I’m really pleased that I have the opportunity to take forward the work I’ve been doing with Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth on exploring the concept of the digital university as a possible way to link up a number of “things” that  seem to have some kind of digital dependency.

Sharing and exploring practice is pretty much at the forefront of everything I’m doing just now.  Although I consider myself an open practitioner, and an advocate for open educational practices, I am aware that my own practices, my networks and connections are changing in response to my new position.  As you’ll be aware, dear reader, it’s Open Education week next week. David Walker has organised a brilliant week of events at Sussex.  I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to run a webinar with Catherine Cronin about the challenges of being open. The title of our session is “Open and online: connections, community and reality”  and I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and experiences along with Catherine’s  research on openness, identities and online spaces.

I’ll also be blogging more about this next week and using the responses to my twitter question

Tweeps do you think I am an open practitioner? Your response will help me with a couple of things for open education week

— Sheila MacNeill (@sheilmcn) March 5, 2014

In the meantime tho, my good friend and former Cetis colleague David Sherlock has written a really thought provoking post  in response to my tweet, which takes a different angle on sharing, data and who really benefits.

Random picture of a bit of welcome sunshine earlier this week.

Morning sunshine
Morning Sunshine