Weaving our way around the complex tapestry of strategy, practice and policy, in learning technology: ALT Scotland meeting


(image: unsplash)

This week saw the annual ALT Scotland group face to face meeting. This year’s years location was the stunning new City of Glasgow College campus. What a learning space that is!  You can see more here – it really is every bit as good as the video illustrates.

As well as chairing the morning sessions, my colleague Professor Linda Creanor, also presented an overview of institutional strategic developments on digital learning here at GCU.

Linda use the analogy of weaving to describe the way our team (Academic Development) has to move across the institutional loom weaving  between, above, below the various threads of strategies and policies that support enhancing practice and the adoption and the effective use of learning technology.  As the day progressed I think this analogy became more resonant for me. A lot of the threads we are working with are quite delicate, and to create an effective pattern we need to be quite expert weavers. That expertise can’t just be replaced by automated services. There maybe some high level patterns that we can share across the sector, but as they say but devil is always in the detail. And it’s the details, the human interactions, that really matter in providing effective learning.

As ever there were a really good mix of presentations from across the sector, touching on some key issues many of us are facing including: VLE procurement, with updates on the recent Scottish national VLE procurement framework; GSA (Glasgow School of Art)  also shared their decision and plans to change their VLE; copyright (this time from my library colleague Marion Kelt).

The first two presentations of the afternoon focused on lecture recording.  Presentations from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow shared their developing policies and practice.

Edinburgh are in the process of developing an institutional wide policy and share some of the issues they are grappling with including opt-in or opt-out, copyright, is it capture or recording? longevity  and storage to name but a few.  This work is being driven as part of their overall student enhancement and engagement work.

From Glasgow, we actually got to hear the student voice about lecture capture.  Students want it. They can’t understand why, if the tech is in place, lecturers wouldn’t want to do it. Students will record parts of lectures anyway as revision aids.  Conversely though in the discussion it became apparent that students prefer more active, participatory forms of learning and teaching – not just traditional passive lectures.

This illustrated so clearly to me some of the underlying tensions around the use of technology. Lecture capture can be really useful, but it isn’t a magic wand. It costs a lot to provide a comprehensive system, and unless there is equally investment around thinking about the most effective ways of using that technology there is a danger of perpetuating the same old, same old.

Effective use of video is much more than just recording the traditional 1 hour lecture. Lecture capture sh/could be the catalyst for more flipped approaches, for more blending of shorter (at times) video based resources, for more in class active engagement.  But that requires rethinking of time, preparation, f2f, and online time. Many people are doing just that, but again they are weaving in and around of the neat 1 hour time pattern. 1 hour prep, 1 hour delivery (or maybe 15 minutes) , 1 hour follow up.   That needs to change.  Increasingly I am having conversations about rethinking of time in relation to learning and teaching.

The final presentation of the day came from Joe Wilson who gave us a round up of a number of open education conferences and events he has attended recently as part of the Open Scotland group. You can read more here and here .

Joe also highlighted some of the international open initiatives that are growing apace and have significant government support. Oh,  the irony of hearing that the Moroccan government have just published an open education policy based on the (community led)  Open Scotland Declaration, yet here in Scotland we are still finding it so hard to get the Scottish Government to engage in a meaningful way around open education policy.

All in all a really interesting and useful day in a great location. Presentations will be online from the ALT website over the coming days.

I say open, you say ? #EUNIS2017

Last week during my keynote at the #eunis2017 conference I tried to get a bit of audience participation and idea of what open meant to the delegates by asking the question:

“I say open – you say?”

I gave delegates the opportunity to share up to 3 words.  This image below shows the resulting word cloud.  Quite a range of responses, and maybe unsurprisingly for an information services conference, data featured pretty highly, but some of the other words are quite interesting too – education, available, seamless, access, collaboration.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 15.53.23

As a quick way to get some swhooshy interactivity into a presentation mentimeter worked really well, it was quite entertaining to see the cloud develop in real time as delegates responded.   If you would like a go – then you can add your 3 words here  and see the results here.

You can see the conference cloud unfold in real time in the video recording of the presentation that Martin Hamilton made using a couple of tricks from his Futurists toolkit (well actually a mobile phone and a niffy little tripod).

Kith and nomads: a small thought on digital citizenship #digciz


(image: Unsplash)

I’ve noticed a number of tweets and blogs over the last couple of weeks using  #digciz.

This week the conversation is being led by Maha Bali and Kate Bowles.  Both have, as ever written very moving and thought provoking blog posts. Kate on kith and Maha on citizenship

Kate asks:

Where can we experience anything like kith online? Are there places that we love online, environments where we feel at home, that seem to love us back? Is this about user experience, or ethos? Is it about the trust we’re willing to place in design, in what data is kept and what is done with it? Can we feel at home under conditions of continual digital surveillance? Can we love a place that is manipulating us for business or political gain? Is it ever possible to experience kith when the whole thing is set up, controlled, regulated and organised in service of values we don’t share?

Maha writes:

I am talking about citizenship with a network that is mostly people in North America, or at least in some Western country, and their understanding of citizenship will be so vastly different from mine simply because our experiences of citizenship are so vastly different . . . I’m a digital citizen in spite of all the risks and potential ugliness it brings. The more I stay, the more I can see this, but I stay. We have much more mobility with our digital presence than our physical presence, don’t we? And yet I stay for the people. And maybe, just maybe, my staying some place will make a difference, no matter how small

Both posts and some of the discussions I’ve seen today on twitter, I’ve been quickly reflecting on my own digital citizenship, or perhaps more accurately my own digital interactions.   I haven’t actually ever really consciously thought about my own digital citizenship. Like Kate highligted I think I tend to think of citizenship as a formal, bureaucratic process – only really to be called upon for serious, legal things. Perhaps that’s because I have never (thank all your gods) been in a position where it has been really threatened, or rights taken away from me. I need to think about that a lot more!

I have a presence in a number of spaces, have built connections and friendships via those spaces. I’ve also followed parts of this wider digital community to other spaces, some of which I have liked and explored, others where I have looked around and quickly moved on never to return.   So I’m wondering if my digital citizenship is more nomadic, more like the definition:

“A member of a people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals and has no permanent home.” 

I think I move from place to place to find not fresh pasture, but maybe fresh ideas, my community, my kith and kin. I leave these spaces for the same reasons. However much of my data remains. An echo of me that companies can mine and manipulate. Is that evidence of my digital citizenship?  Is that how I will be measured and monitored? Or does that matter as much as the community I interact with?

Caught between The Nothing and the Something? 

I’m currently travelling home from Germany where earlier in the week I gave ia keynote at the EUNIS conference. My talk was about open education and I called it “The Never Ending Story of Open“. I choose this title as I think the story of open education is still unfolding, but also because I felt that the concept of The Nothing, which in the book, and the film, is a very apt metaphor for what is happening in our (western) society just now. Post truth, alternative facts, incuriosity, are all combing to eat away at the very fabric of our society. Expertise, experts – who needs them?

In terms of openness in general there is an even greater threat.  The balance between regulation and censorship, the manipulation and erosion of human rights, free speech is being threatened as never before. As much as many of us want to continue to open up eduacation, the nothing is working hard to take that away too. Another of the keynotes spoke about the future of technology, about AI, self driving cars and seemed to be holding Uber and Amazon automation as the models education should be aspiring to. I wrote about this last week too. For me that is another arm of The Nothing  giving us the same hemgonised version of the future eating away at any creativity or alternative predictions. Mass personalisation of education is invevitable, the only way to “manage” this is through AI. That’s the only way to train the DNA editors, the asteroid engineers of the future.  

At the end of my talk I give a rallying call to fight against the many tentacles of the nothing that are eroding society from so many sectors. I see open education as a potential beacon of hope. It is our openness, our permability, our notions of open hospitality and sharing that provide the ammunition to beat The Nothing.  
In the light of the UK election results this morning I am wondering if we are at a bit of a turning point. Something has definitely happened, but something has happened in the last 3 elections I’ve voted in and The Nothing has marched rentlessly on. Are enough of us waking up and seeing beyond the nothing of meaningless political narrative and nothingness? Is now final  the time fo some serious and informed debate about key issues such as healthcare, social care, funding for education and of course Brexit? 

 I hope so, but we still have to be wary, The Nothing is always only a step behind or two behind us and there are still many people who are willing to take its offered version of the future. 

AI,Self driving cars, and the joy of getting lost: thoughts from #connectmore17


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Martin Hamilton, Jisc’s “Futurist” gave the keynote talk at yesterday’s connectmore17 event held, very handily for me at my institution, GCU.  Martin gave an entertaining overview of some technological developments weaving his way from computer games, to drawing (cats) programmes, to space rockets to self driving cars.  All of these developments said would, and are have an impact on education.  As he was talking I couldn’t help but think about the talk Audrey Watters gave at the University of Edinburgh earlier this year called Driverless Ed-Tech: The History of the Future of Automation in Education.  I could end this post here by saying -just read that post, but I’ll add a bit more context.

Throughout the day there was a lot of really useful collective sharing of practice, issues, challenges and you know, all the face to face, networked,  discursive “good stuff ” this kind of event engenders.  There was a real feeling of “the collective”.  To use Audrey’s analogy, it felt like the majority of us were all on the same bus.

During the closing panel session (which was sadly only save from being a manel by including me) it probably won’t surprise you that the issue of the future of education  and the role of learning analytics  came up.  And again we came back to self driving cars, that narrative that with a little automation we could really make impacts on the personal journeys of our students. Now, I may have had a rant or two about this over the day and during the session, but as it is typical with me, it’s only later that I actually figure out what I should have said – hence this post.

Drivers-less cars, using data from us “real drivers” have the potential (are-ish) to get us from A to B in the most efficient manner – personalised of course to our individual preferences, without us realising that our personal experience is a default setting that a couple of million others will be experiencing.

I’m quite good at getting lost – even with sat nav – but I generally manage to get where I need to go. Sometimes my detours are very frustrating and waste lots of time, other times they take me to really unexpected places and people.  So although I do admit to enjoying the safety net of GPS I’m not reliant on it. I find road signs, street names and at times even people are pretty helpful in finding places.

That’s my fear for education, and again Audrey writes about this far more eloquently than I ever could.  The illusion of personalisation, the ever growing demand for successful ‘learner journeys’  from enrollment to graduation in the most efficient way should worry us all. Education should take you to new, sometimes unexpected and challenging places.  I’m not saying there shouldn’t be support and guidance available,  We’re pretty good at providing the educational equivalents of road/street signs, and people to ask help from. It’s just that sometimes it’s really good to go for a wander, to get lost.

The more we try and lock journeys down, monitor and measure things, we may lose some really interesting people because they will just not be able engage because their profile doesn’t fit, or we may loose more people from “the system” as they may go completely off grid. That in itself may be really exciting, but for me just now, I find that a bit sad.



Being with the BOLD-ers #ETBOLD17

I was delighted to join colleagues at Glasgow University yesterday for their Transitions into blended and online learning enhancement themes/BOLD showcase.

The BOLD (blended and online developments) project is an £2.3 million strategic investment by the University to develop its capacity to develop and deliver more blended and fully online programmes.  It is also a quite splendid acronym, as Professor Frank Cotton highlighted in his opening address. What University committee can say no to a bold project 🙂

In my keynote I gave an overview of the approaches we have been taking here at GCU to develop our capacity for blended, online and increasingly what we are calling digital learning.  We don’t have a dedicated strategic investment programme (just now), so we are taking a much more “ground up” approach.

I could only stay for half of the day but it was great to hear from some of the projects about how they have been developing their programmes.  You can also view some of the work in a series of case studies.

It was great to be able to share and learn from colleagues – we are all facing the same issues around time, technologies, digital capabilities, sustainability etc, and I know there are a number of follow up conversations I am going to have as a result of the day. So many thanks to Vicki Dale for asking me to present.