What Sheila's seen this week: badging the world and flipping the classroom

Earlier this week I attend a digital badges as bridges event hosted by Digital Me in Glasgow. As well as catching up with some familiar faces it was good to have a bit of time to think about badges again and find out about the badge the world initiative.

I really like the idea of badges.  Although I’ve won/earned/issued badges over the past few years, they are still a bit of a novelty for me.  Every time I go to an event where they feature, or have a discussion where they come up, I always come away thinking  “ I need to do something with my badges”.   Trouble is, I’m still not quite sure what or where . . .  I do share them sometimes on blog posts, but again the session has made me reflected on the  value I place on my badges.

Every badge I have earned, has meant something to me, particularly as a learner. The badges I earned on the OLDS MOOC were a bit of lifeline in terms of sustaining motivation and continued participation.  But I don’t have a burning desire or perhaps more importantly need to curate and share them. Some are in my backpack and other’s aren’t.  That said I do believe that there is “something” about badges. I think that they do have a role to play in rewarding and recognition of learning.  I’m just still trying to figure out how, where and why I could use them.  But maybe that’s not that surprising. I don’t exactly “do” much with my formal accreditation. The last time I even looked at my degree/PG certificates was when I had to bring them with me to my first day at work here at GCU two years ago.

With colleagues at my institution I am  exploring use of badges for non accredited “stuff” and looking at piloting them within formal programmes but we have a way to go. It was re-assuring that many people at the event were at the same stage. The badge bit is easy, it’s the pathways all the “rest of it” that are still causing a lot of head scratching. Slides from the event are available here.

I was also asked to present at the University of Stirling’s e-learning forum on flipping the classroom this week.  A bit like badges, flipping is something some people are still getting their heads around. Unlike badges, many people are actually ‘flipping’ their teaching – sometimes without actually realising that is what they are doing. I shared the work of our Mental Health nursing team, which I’ve written about previously and developed a case study on.

There was quite a bit of discussion around creating resources (particularly video), and the need for (quiet) spaces where staff can create videos as well as the challenges of building online teacher presence. These are both  issues we are very aware of  at GCU, particularly as we are in the middle of major campus development project.

As we develop new learning spaces, and increase our fully online provision, we need to ensure we have adequate teaching space for our staff to run online sessions, and create resources. It was reassuring to hear that evening a leafy, pastoral setting such as Stirling, noise is an issue.

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Looking in the mirror to discover our institutional capability for learning analytics

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(image CC Share Alike https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mirror_fretwork_english_looking-glass.png)

It’s been a busy week here at GCU Blended Learning Towers.  We’ve just finished the onsite part of of the Jisc Effective Analytics Programme. So this week has been a flurry of workshops and interviews led by the consulting team of Andy Ramsden and Steve Bailey. Although Andy and Steve work for Blackboard, the discovery phase is “platform agnostic” and is as much about culture and people as technology.  The evaluation rubric used had more about culture and people than technology.  Having a team who really understand the UK HE sector was very reassuring. Sadly, it’s not often that you can say that about and HE.

I think GCU is the second institution to go through the discovery process, I know there are quite a few others who will be  doing the same over the next six months. The process is pretty straightforward and outlined in the diagram below.

discovery process diagram

A core team from the institution have a two online meetings with the consulting team, relevant institutional policy/strategy documentation is reviewed before the onsite visit. At the end of the onsite visit an overall recommendation is shared with early findings, before a final report is given to the institution.

I was pleased (probably slightly relieved too) that we got a “ready with recommendations”.  That’s what we were hoping for.

Although we are still awaiting the final report, the process has already been incredibly useful. It has allowed us to bring together some of our key stakeholders; (re)start conversations about the potential and importance of learning analytics; the need to develop our infrastructure, people and process to allow us to use our data more effectively. The final report will also be really helpful in terms of helping us focus our next steps.

Andy described the process as a bit like “holding a mirror to ourselves” which is pretty accurate.  The process hasn’t brought up issues we weren’t aware of. We know our underlying IT infrastructure needs “sorting”, we starting to do that. What is has done is to illustrate some potential areas to help us focus our next steps. In a sense it has helped us not to see forest from the trees, but rather show some twinkling lights and pathways through the forest.

Developing Institutional Digital Capability and Digital Fairy Dust guest post

James Clay, Programme Manager at Jisc asked me to write a post for the their Developing Digital Capability blog on developing institutional digital capability.  It goes something like this:

. .. from your perspective what are the institutional enablers and blockers when it comes to growing the digital capability of an organisation?” asked James Clay in a recent post on this blog. I rather flippantly posted a comment to James’s post saying “Culture is a big issue, but I think over reliance (or expectations) that technology alone will somehow wave some magical digital fairy dust and everyone and ergo the institution will be “digital” and digitally literate.” This post is my attempt to elaborate that comment.

We know that systems alone will not alone won’t make a difference. But there still seems to be hope (or perhaps more accurately there is still a lot of commercial potential) in pitching and selling systems using the magical “d” word. Over the past couple of years in the context of unpacking the notion of the digital university, I have written a number of papers with Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth called “moving from e to / We used this title to reflect the change we have observed around the move from things have an “e” in front of them to now having “digital” as a prefix. Is there really a difference between “e-learning’ and ‘digital learning’ or indeed just “learning”? Digital is an incredibly powerful and at the same time ill defined, meaningless word. That said, there does seem to be something of the zeitgeist around digital that is pervading all of society, not just education. So how can we harness the power of the “d” word to actually make a difference and impact institutional/organisational capability? . . .”

You can read the full article here.

"When you hear the term learning analytics what comes to mind?

This was the question used to prompt the first piece of feedback in the opening workshop of a three day consultation to assess our readiness for analytics as part of the discovery phase of the Jisc Effective Analytics Programme.

It certainly did get the conversations going. As is my want, I also tweeted the question and even got a few responses. Ranging from:






I have to say not all of these came up in the conversations I was part of 🙂 But I am looking forward to seeing the results of this assessment exercise after a series of workshops and 1-2-1 interviews with staff.

Watch this space for more details.

The importance of blogging as digital storytelling.

Last Wednesday night, like many others I participated in the #LTHE tweet chat on the intrinsic and extrinsic value of blogging facilitated and led by David Hopkins.  As ever it was a fast and furious hour of tweeting. You can relive it via this storify.

The first question asked was “why do you write your blog? Conversely, if you don’t blog, why not?”

The reason I started blogging was very simple. I was told to. We had a change of direction in our web site at Cetis and it was decided that we would dynamically populate our web page from staff blogs. More than by accident than by design this approach actually worked with no editorial guidelines and a very minimal publishing process.  It did take me a while to find my blogging voice, but I am so glad that I did because my blog has become a central part of my working practice. More importantly for me it is actually my professional memory/portfolio.  If something significant happens I will blog about it.  Blogging is a bit of a habit for me, and as any writer knows, getting into and staying in the habit of writing is crucial.

As the tweet chat unfolded I was reflecting on how lucky I was to have been “made to” blog within a very open (in the sense of non-one told me what/how/when to write) and supportive environment in Cetis. Finding a reason to blog is one of the biggest hurdles for people to overcome.

During the conversation, there were many comments saying “I’ve got lots of half written posts” – I know that feeling well. Blogging can be great for professional development but conversely that can bring about its own pressures particularly around academic integrity.  If you are blogging with a professional qualification in mind, then you are probably inclined to write in a more formal, professional way. That takes time and the kind of time that not many have the luxury of, particularly if you blogging isn’t given as much recognition as for example a published paper, or an assessed piece of work.

One of the reasons I blog is that it allows me to write in a very informal, non academic way.  I am the first to admit that my blog lacks academic rigor. That’s one of the main reasons I keep it going.  It is a really comfortable place for me to start to play around with ideas, and to tell my stories. It has also help me to evolve my “proper” academic writing. For example, when David Walker and I wrote a chapter for The Really Useful Ed Tech Book, we used my blog to get feedback and comments for the chapter.

That said, I am aware that I’m in the somewhat luxurious position of having an established blogging presence. I don’t get nearly the same traffic on this blog as on my Cetis blog, but the numbers are fine for me. To be honest I’m not in it for the stats anyway.

As the chat went on, I did begin to think that if I was looking at blogging now, I probably would be like many others and still be a bit unsure, or start one and only post a couple of times.  I think I would be more inclined to look for a team/group blog so that the pressure of publishing wasn’t just on me. The TEL team blog at the Uni of Sussex is a great example of this approach. They have a schedule of posts and everyone takes a turn of posting.  We have a team blog here at GCU, however we haven’t got that organised. Importantly though we have a presence now and a place to share openly our activities. That is proving its worth in so many ways from just being able to remind ourselves of “stuff” and also sharing practice within the University and beyond.  We have somewhere to tell our story. And that is crucial.

The importance of constructing and sharing our own narrative of what is happening in education just now has never been so important.  Last week I also went to a seminar on digital storytelling, titled “powerful stories that empower others”.  There are so many powerful stories around what actually happens across our education sectors, we need to keep sharing them. We need to be our own digital storytellers. We all need to help fight the neo-liberal onslaught (oh my, didn’t think I’d actually ever write that sentence) that people like Martin Welller, Audrey Watters, George Siemens and many others are leading.

So if you have a couple of half written posts, why not take half an hour and post them?  If you do read other people stories and find the useful, share them – and every now and again leave a comment, that makes it all worth while. So come on, let our stories be heard, and make Simon Rae’s framework a reality.

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Now I am 2

October 7th marks my two year work anniversary here at GCU. How time flies. I some ways I feel like I’ve been here longer and in others I still feel a bit like the new kid on the block.  Over the past two years along with my fabulous team colleagues  ( Linda Creanor and Jim Emery) I have been involved in a number of really exciting projects including our open event GCU Games On, the starting informal practice sharing through our Coffee Club, developing our blog and open Blended Learning resource site Will IT Blend?.  It’s taken almost two years, but we are now moving forward with learning analytics with our involvement in the Jisc Effective Analytics Programme which will be taking up most of my time this month.

One of the reasons I enjoy my current role so much is the fact that is allowing me to draw on all my experiences from my time at Cetis. I was reminded this morning that one of the things that actually got me interested and involved with Cetis was Learning Design.  I took part remotely in a new learning design practice network hosted by the OU this morning, and as we were doing the introductions, it hit me how long I had been involved in this area.

As we move more towards developing more fully online courses here at GCU, I have really enjoyed developing our learning design processes and methodology.  Most of the rest of the day will be spent planning our activities around this for this academic year.  I was heartened by the discussions this morning. I think there is so much effective practice still to be shared, but there is definitely a commonality of approach and challenges that we are all facing.

We are all creating our own “patchwork” approaches of bits and pieces of toolkits and processes such as Viewpoints and Carpe Diem.The investment from Jisc in learning and curriculum has really paid off in terms of helping mainstream practice and it is so heartening to see work from almost 7 years ago still having relevance today.

I’m trying to be a good “open practitioner” and share as much as I can of my work through blogging, tweets etc.  But it is harder the more embedded I become. Time is one issue, but also there is relevance. I want my blog posts to be useful to me ( I often think of my blog as my professional memory). Some weeks I do so many little things it’s hard to find a focus for a post – as well as the time.  For example last night I went to a really interesting presentation on digital story telling from a colleague from Brown University who is visiting GCU.  I doubt I’ll have time to blog about it, but it has made me think about trying to be a better digital storyteller.  In the meantime, and because every post should have a picture here’s my now obligatory doodle; and here’s to the next (hopefully more than) 2 years.

Powerful stories that empower others//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

1000 blips on the wall 

For the last 3 years I have been sharing a photo a day on the Blipfoto site. Last year I missed one day, the year before 3 or 4, so I am determined to post everyday this year. Yesterday I reached a bit of a milestone publishing my 1,000th blip.

I really like the site, despite some uncertainty over the direction of the site when it was bought over by Polaroid, it doesn’t seem to have changed much. I like that i connect with a different set of people than on other social media sites. It feels more meaningful that Instagram, which I like and use too but it seems a bit more instant. A blip feels like it has a bit more longevity. Anyway hopefully I’ll make 365 this year and maybe even get to the next 1,ooo one day. 


Where Sheila's been for the last few weeks: restarting learning analytics at GCU

It’s been a busy couple of weeks what with the start of the new academic session, and I’ve been using up bits of annual leave so haven’t really had the chance to blog for a while. I didn’t want to let another week go by, it’s too easy to let the blogging habit slip, so this is just a quick update post.

One project that is going to be taking up quite a bit of my time this month, is our involvement in the Jisc Effective Analytics programme.  GCU is taking part in the discovery phase of this programme. This means that we are working with consultants, in our case from Blackboard, to assess our institutional readiness, from cultural to infrastructure, for analytics.

My team have been trying to get a pilot project around learning analytics going for about 18 months, however due to various changes internally progress had stalled. However, now we have a new CIO and Director of IT, we are ready to start again. The support from Jisc gives us a great incentive to reappraise our current capabilities, and will give us a trusted, objective view of our capabilities. The analytics infrastructure Jisc are developing also gives us a possible route to develop our provision further as well as share our experiences within the programme and beyond.

We’ve already had meetings with the consulting team and so far we are impressed with the approach they are taking. Just now they are reviewing lots of documentation, including our new very recently launched 2020 Strategy. Having effective data and analytics capabilities will be crucial for us as we work towards the aims and objectives of the strategy.

I’ll be sharing more as the project progresses, particularly nearer the end of this month after the onsite workshops and interviews have taken place.

Coincidentally earlier this week a video of the invited talk I gave at the Talis Aspire conference in April was released (yeah, I take a while to edit me!) Anyway in it I had a bit of a rant about data, analytics etc.  I’m hoping that through this project we will indeed start to get some actionable insights into our learning and teaching and student journeys.