Digitally enabled tertiary and adult education for challenging times – thoughts on the UHI Learning and Teaching 2020 conference

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the UHI Learning and Teaching Conference 2020, held at Inverness College. The theme of the conference was “dimensions of tertiary practice” and all the sessions over the 2 days of the conference really did highlight the breadth, depth and differences in approaches to tertiary education across the UHI partnership. It’s easy to not quite appreciate just how unique a partnership UHI is. It spans 13 Academic partners, with 40,000 students in 70 local learning centres, over a geographical area the size of Belgium. Not quite your average university or college.

The range of dimensions of tertiary engagement are quite different in UHI due to it’s partnership model that spans FE and HE. Developing a shared understanding of tertiary education that encompasses all the activities of UHI was a topic of conversation across the conference. The practice of being a distributed tertiary institution was wonderfully illustrated through all the parallel sessions.

I was delighted to deliver a keynote on day 2 of the conference with my co-research Bill Johnston. Our talk, titled “digitally enabled tertiary and adult education for challenging times” took a broader overview of our current socio-economic landscape, in particular the challenges education at all levels faces from mass populism, as characterised by the the recent resurgence of right wing politics. We posed that finding ways to harness public pedagogy ( e.g the climate activist movement) combined with critical pedagogy may be a way to start to redefine the practice and development of tertiary education. We also shared a design cycle based on the values of the UHI Learning and Teaching Enhancement Strategy.

I felt that our talk complemented the opening keynote from Julia Fortheringham ( Edinburgh Napier University) in which Julia shared some of the findings from her research into experiences of transition students. Her talk really did highlight the challenges the transition students face and the pragmatic approaches they develop to complete their degrees. These don’t always aligned with the type and timing of support offered by Universities.

The closing keynote from Tom Farrelly ( Institute of Technology, Tralee), focused on his research into the metaphors developed over the past 20 years of VLE use, and raised a lively discussion around the realities of VLE use in tertiary education. Tom also hosted one of his (in)famous Gasta sessions during the conference. All the speakers and audience took to this style of short presentation with gusto (and slightly different Gaelic pronounciation).

I would just like to thank everyone involved in organizing the conference, in particular Alex Walker.

Innovating Pedagogy Report 2020 – just a thought . . .

The OU has recently published its 2020 Innovating Pedagogy Report. I really enjoy these annual reports which are very readable as well as being well researchers. However, I don’t always get round to really reflecting on them. In fact, I’ve just deleted a draft post from about this time last year about the 2019 report that I started and didn’t finish! So this is going to be a very short post so I actually do finish and post it. There’s lots of AI, and data but encouragingly lots around ethics, post humanist approaches and social justice.

One thing in particular has struck me around the potential impact and timescales elements of the chosen pedagogies. AI has being given a potential impact of “high” with a timescale of “ongoing“, whilst engaging with data ethics has been given an potential impact of “medium” and a timescale of “ongoing“.

Surely the ethics of using data have to go hand in hand with any work around AI. In fact I would say ethics should be the starting point. I’m sure this was debated by the team, but I can’t help thinking that a trick has been missed here to ensure that data ethics are rated equally with AI in terms of potential impact and timescales.

Making and keeping digital education new year resolutions: Heriot Watt Learning and Teaching Keynote

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of giving the inaugural Inspiring Learning Lecture for the Learning and Teaching Academy at Heriot Watt University. As the university has campuses in Dubai and Malaysia I also got to do the lecture twice. Firstly via a webinar to the Dubai and Malaysia campuses, quite early in the morning for me, and then later in person on the Edinburgh campus. It was actually lovely to be able to present twice, but I’m sure I forgot to say some things I had planned in each session. However I think both sessions worked well, if slightly differently.

The lecture was themed around making, and keeping, new year resolutions in relation to digital education. Now, dear reader, if you are anything like me and the vast majority of the population, you probably find keeping any kind of new year resolution a bit of a challenge – most of us fail to keep them. So I used the lecture to explore the notion of resolutions and more importantly changing/evolving habits in our practice. Quite often a small change in practice can have quite a profound impact.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to explore some of the wider narratives around the notion of “the digital”, and share some of my reflections on the university’s Learning and Teaching Strategy, and relate that to some wider issues around (digital) wellbeing, time, and criticality.

Using some of the ideas we developed in Conceptualising the Digital University , I also looked at notions of curriculum, and how taking a different view of that could help to change ideas and practice around teaching and assessment. Given the global reach of the university I also raised some questions around the development of truly international, culturally inclusive curriculum and digitally mediated educational colonization. I then tried to bring these bigger narratives back to everyday practice and emphasize the importance of taking time to share practice, to help each other make small changes to our practice.