holobox “thrilling” students . . . I have a bad feeling about this . . .

That clip from Star Wars

I am old enough to be young when the first Star Wars was released. I still remember the excitment of seeing the glitchy hologram images of Princess Leia, then the thrill of seeing her whole message. Wow, in a galaxy far away they knew how to communicate.

And now, as no doubt many of you will have seen in this Guardian article earlier this week, the dream of 3-D has is becoming reality in a university not so far away from me. The holobox technology developed by LA based start up Proto has been making inroads with its holographic box technology for the last couple of years. From the quick search I’ve done, it does look quite impressive and the box idea is a great way to create shadows to increase the 3-D effect. Of course this technology is going to revolutionise “everything”. It’s another future education moment, providing the future of online education, allowing “teachers to connect with unlimited students around the world.”

I think I may have heard this line before, but at least they’re not saying yet this will mean the death of the university. This future is not going to let the lecture die, the future is one to many, mass distribution. We’ll work out the cost, the access to tech/networks later . . .and not bother with that in our promos.

screen grab on image with text "future of onliline learning"

But wait, not only that, the “expert beaming” this box offers also increases engagement. Apparently “the engagement and interaction our holographic display achieves is unprecedented

screen shot of web page with words "expert beaming means more attention"

I couldn’t find any stats to back up how this unprecedented engagement is measured, and I will caveat that with the fact that I didn’t look that hard! But I did pick up that the system uses tech that can distinguish viewers based on age and sex, which as they point out is really handy for personalised advertising, bringing you the “stuff” that’s appropriate to your demographic. So that’s alright then, because there’s no problem with bias in algorithms used in facial recognition. Just pop that into the education offering with a bit of eye tracking and bingo – engagement stats.

The technology can also bring people back from the dead. The Guardian article includes this:

“David Nussbaum, who founded Proto four years ago after working on dead-celebrity holograms, said his company could soon bring some of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers back from the dead.

He said: “Proto has the technology to project an image of Stephen Hawking, or anybody, and make it look like he’s really there. We can hook it up to books, lectures, social media – anything he was attached to, any question, any interaction with him. An AI Stephen Hawking would look like him, sound like him and interact like it was him.

But who controls the interaction? Who is responsible for the curation, the fact checking? How do we teach using this technology allowing students to make sense of the mass of information and make critical judgements? This point was raised in the article too and I was pleased to see this quote included:

Gary Burnett, a professor of digital creativity at Loughborough University, said: “Different immersive technologies and AI are the new forms of literacy. Students need to understand what it means to use those, to be in those worlds, to experience them, to interact … and these are all things they’re going to need for their future careers.”

But the headline was all about the ‘thrill’ that students were experiencing with the box. I do wonder about that ‘thrill’ – and how long it will last. Just now it might be more thrilling to have a guest lecturer appear 3-d like on a box on the wall than a 2-D version on a big screen. But how long will that thrill last? What meaningful engagement will result from the lecture?

Now, I don’t want to knock this technology completely. I can see the potential for 3-d holographic images in education, we’ve been working with developing technology around simulations and improved real time communication for decades now. I can also see the potential for us all to have our own Princess Leia hologram moment. But the hologram technology itself is not our only hope. Like any technology we need to work with educators and students to understand how to use this technology most effectively for learning and to increase our understanding of what effective engagement in education is, and what data really matters to our understanding of that.

In theory it’s great that “experts” can appear (almost) like they are are in the room, anywhere in the world, but who has access to a room that has that technology? What language is being used? Do students know what data the system is accessing from/about them? We need to be mindful of equity, accessibility and the cost of this type of technology. And until the headline lines messages and actual evidence of companies like Proto include more about this I will always have a bad feeling about anything claiming to be the future of education.

Not crossing the streams (and more random reflections for the year ahead)

Hello reader, it’s been a while I know. Last year my blogging output reduced substantially and once habits (and blogging was once a better habit for me) start to slip it is harder to get back into the groove. In the many half written posts in my head or in a draft somewhere, I have tried to articulate what has happened. Hopefully this post will get finished and I will hit the “publish” button and you can read it.

Probably the simplest explanation is that I have found it increasingly hard to write. Partly this is due to my work, being freelance there are large chunks of time where I am working but there’s not really anything that I feel is at at stage for sharing. This does sharply contrast with when I had a full time lecturing position. It felt a bit easier, and more appropriate to share challenges small and large. I could, and wanted to openly question my practice a bit more then. Over the past few years as I have been working independently I have been developing my sharing habit for my art practice where I am far more regular at sharing a different kind of reflection.

But also, and I think probably more relevant to this continuation of this blog and my blogging practice, is that it was just so hard to write last year. In so many ways the world just seemed to ratch up the crazy, mis-guided, right wing, destructive, self obsessed levels just that bit more.

Like so many others, I finally left Twitter. The changes brought about by the new “management” made it too toxic to be there anymore. Although I had probably passed my “peak tweet” period, removing myself from the platform was quite sad. Again there are several draft posts about that loss, the benefits that I got from that space, the importance of developing and maintaining PDN connections, wondering how new academics/educators can build and benefit from community connections now. Like everyone else I’m on mastadon, threads, bluesky. But honestly, it does feel like such a lot of work to try and keep a presence across all of them. I count myself lucky in that I have a strong professional network and I can still have some connections with like minded people.

Over the holidays the original Ghostbusters movie was on TV and that line about “not crossing the streams” did resonate. There was such a lot of (positive) power when you could cross social media streams easily, now it seems more fragmented and connections diluted. Maybe that’s a reflection of my more fragment life now too . . .


Then of course there’s been the whole GenAI thang. I’m still at the stage where I need to read and research what other far more critical and attuned have to say about that. Big shout out to Helen Beetham for her ongoing (far from ) imperfect offerings series.

So in 2024, I do hope that I can find my blogging mojo again. I know I have lots of “stuff” that I will (and already am) working on that are really quite exciting, relevant and hopefully worthy of sharing here.

Where is the wisdom in AI?

Hello dear reader, it’s been a while.  Over the past year I have been finding it harder to write  as regularly as I used to for this blog.  Or perhaps it’s actually that I am finding it hard to focus on what to write, and so half formed ideas in my head never quite make it to the draft then “publish on the blog” stage. 

It’s not that I am not writing. I am writing lots of different “things” for work.  Like everyone else I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT as a writing aide.  I’ve found it slightly discombulating watching “the beast” devour my text almost instantaneously represent it.  To be honest, what it has given back has been ok, more than OK in some cases. The results have also caused a few wry smiles, as I suddenly see all too clearly  the homogeneity of language it perpetuates.

This post isn’t about the using GenAI.  Thankfully there are many far more qualified people doing that. I rely on them to help my understanding of the challenges and opportunities GenAI is creating.  I have to give a special mention to Helen Beetham’s amazing Imperfect Offerings substack (I aspire to that level of imperfection in my writing! ).

But to the point of this post.  I was listening to Elif Shafak talking about story telling on the Great Women Artists podcast the other day.  Shafak is a very wise woman, that’s what makes her writing so good.  During the interview the conversation got around to information, knowledge and wisdom.  She was reflecting on how there was a presumption that with “t’internet” (my word, not hers!) there was a presumption that we would all have access to information, and so knowledge would be more fairly distributed and democracy would spread and develop. As we all know that hasn’t happened.  But access to information is still critical. The neo-liberal politics of silicon valley are still driven by the control of access to information.

GenAI provides a way to access information in an apparently efficient and most importantly speedy way. No need for anyone to write anyone, because ChatGPT and its ilk can do that for us now.  It will “help” us produce the information and by default the knowledge the world needs. But, and this was the bit that really struck me in the interview, what about wisdom? There doesn’t seem to be time now to value the time that it takes to develop wisdom. To understand, critique, ponder information and create our own personal corpus of knowledge which we can share. 

There is a lot of noise in society in general about the ethics involved in AI, but again the “need for speed” to get products “out there” wins over taking time to think how wise these early releases  with their biases are.  The men at the top (and sadly it still pretty much is men) who share their “profound” statements about AI doing everything for us, are in my mind, not wise. The do not have wisdom. They do not value wisdom. They don’t have the time for that. They want to provide seemingly simple and speedy answers to “everything”.

Where is the space for wisdom around AI in education?  The sector is reacting incredibly quickly in terms of policies particularly around assessment.  There is a lot of collective wisdom around how to avoid students “just getting ChatGPT to write their essays” and using GenAI in more considered ways.  But what about the AI learning design tools that are popping up?  Are they wise? Where are they getting their ideas and information from? Where is the wisdom in increasing homogeneity of courses?  Or does the economic “wisdom” of cutting back on expensive human resource (aka teachers) take precedent?

Education should always evolve in  parallel with society.  But if information is so readily available now, shouldn’t we be thinking more of how we develop and value wisdom? Could we (re)develop society so that people can once again have informed, rational discussion and debate, where we understand and appreciate the ambiguities of society, where polarisation of opinion isn’t used as a tool for personal, political and monetary gain?

Who knows, maybe I should try one of those AI learning design tools to develop course around wisdom . . .

Did a (cc) search on google images for “wisdom” . . . lot to ponder there too. . .

Celebration the publication Higher Education for Good

It’s not often that the two sides of my working life come together, but this week I am delighted to share an amazing collision of education and art. Early this week “Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures” was published. An open access, free download version of this incredible edited collection is available here .

Thank you to the editors Laura and Catherine for asking me to contribute to this project. Here is my text to accompany my piece ” Little Me”.

“This work is based on a work which I created as part of a collaborative project for the NPA Lab 2021 Collaborative Online Exhibition. Our project was titled “Copped Out” and used the COP26 Climate Change Conference as its central theme.

Living in Glasgow, I was intensely aware of the impacts of the conference — both at local and global levels. One of the most profound experiences for me was a night time march with Little Amal, the 2m puppet who has walked from Syria to Europe. Watching and following Little Amal as part of a torch lit parade was an intensely emotional experience. Hearing small children ask questions about the why and how of her reminded me of the importance of education and sharing lived experiences of the impact of our actions.

The puppet has an almost hyper real presence, embodying struggle, fear, resistance, hope but most importantly, humanity.

Education is the key to all our futures, signifiers such as Little Amal bring the plight and stories of real people to those who are currently protected from the ravages of human cruelty and climate change. Her presence creates new empathy, understanding and new narratives, providing hope. I hope that this image provides some synergies with the narratives of hope being shared in this book.”

How do we know if we have the right blend? Some reflections on SQAA’s Future of Learning & Teaching event.

I really enjoyed attending the SQAA The Future of Learning and Teaching: Planning and Delivery of Digitally Enhanced Blended Learning on 20 September in Glasgow. Here in Scotland, there is now a focus on developing approaches to learning, teaching and enhancement across tertiary education. You can read more about the work on developing a common approach here.

The event was very much focused on the learning and teaching aspects of the wider quality framework work. And, as the title suggests, exploring approaches to the planning and delivery of digitally enhanced blended learning.

Over the past year, SQAA have led a cross sectoral agency project around defining and delivering and inclusive digital/blended learning for across tertiary education. This is the first cross sector enhancement project, as well as the first cross agency one, including CDN, ES-HMIE, and sparqs. Thework includes Scottish universities and colleges.

The team shared the an outline of the research they have been undertaking to discover the current balance of delivery across the sector. They are using the terms f2f, hybrid, and online, but were very clear that they recognise that there are issues around definitions – or perhaps it is contextual use of definitions. Hybrid in particular has quite a range of practice interpretations. The overall aim is to establish what the current balance of delivery is across the sector. A key question the partners are hoping to address is how can institutions re-balance their provision to “get the blend right” for all students.

Using a mixed methods approach of desk research and interviews the team have been exploring 4 lines of enquiry with colleges and universities, namely: what they state they are offering, what learns want, what learners are experiencing and what does the evidence suggest is best for learning. A report with the initial research findings is due for publication soon.

The focus of this year is to establish the effects of different modes and to facilitate national conversations, around the theme of designing and delivering blended learning to improve leaner outcomes in a tertiary landscape. The meeting on Wednesday was the start of those conversations.

The team shared some of their early findings which included:

  • Need to focus on getting the blend right
  • All provision should be accessible and inclusive
  • Digital poverty is recognised and being addressed
  • Sense belonging key to learner engagement regardless of modality
  • Active and peer learning are essential
  • Learners and staff need clear, consistent info about what blended means
  • Ongoing promotion of digital literacies with a shift to pedagogical understanding for staff and learners
  • There are tensions between institutional estates and learning and teaching 
  • Institutions need to build in times and have a particular strategy for designing and delivering high quality blended learning

These findings resonated with the research Helen Beetham and I have been doing with Jisc around curriculum and learning design. In our recent “Beyond Blended” report we share our findings particularly around evolving understandings of the changing relationships of time, space and place of learning post pandemic. In terms of tensions between estates and learning and teaching, we have recognised this and have developed a series of strategic lenses one of which is focused on use of space. These lenses provide a series of prompts which we hope will foster richer, curriculum focused discussion between stakeholders.

The day was designed really well in terms of engagement and discussion. A big shout out to Susi Peacock and the SQAA team for that. There were plenty of opportunities for discussions, and I was delighted to be asked to be participate in the lightening presentations to share our Beyond Blended work. Though I was slightly out of breath running up and down the stairs to each group!

In the plenary session the perennial issues of time, finding and developing evidence, senior management support were all raised. Simon Thomson highlighted the need to explore the value of different modalities of learning so we can share them with students. If we want students to turn up and participate in any mode of learning, they need to recognise the value of it. Equally at institutional (and sectoral ) levels we need to ensure we aren’t making knee jerk reactions to perceived issues. Foro example stopping lecture capture to get students to turn it could actually disadvantage students. I just spotted this excellent paper from Emily Nordmann which provides evidence of the benefits of lecture capture.

In terms of senior management support, I have been reflecting on how quickly that has changed again. From research and conversations I had with colleagues here in the UK and in Ireland, it was very clear that during the pandemic senior management were very focused on learning and teaching. So many people told me that “they had a seat a the table” they never had before, that they were listened to and supported. And now . . . well I’m not sure if the seats have totally been removed from all the tables, but the “back to normal” mentality does seem to have meant that senior management focus isn’t as sharply focused on the key issues of delivering flexible, accessible, equitable learning and teaching opportunties.

During and just after the pandemic, I talked quite a bit (well in one keynote at least!) about pandemic amnesia. By that I mean forgetting the experiences of lock down, of thinking that everything will be like before. It can’t be and it isn’t. If we are going to provide flexible, accessible and equitable learning that really engages our students, an meets all the claims of various strategic goals, then we need to be changing our practices and attitudes to planning and designing learning and re thinking our workload models so we can allow educators (and students) to develop, engage with, reflect and share evidence around the different modes of learning we are using. That needs serious senior management engagement. But it might also take a little bit of bottom up subversion of “normal” practice too.

The SQAA work is a such an important part of developing and sharing evidence and practice and I’m looking foward to seeing their report and being part of the discussions moving forward.

Waiting to be myself again

Hello dear reader, it’s been a while. I don’t know if you are still “with me” or if you, like me have found yourself a bit lost over the past few months. I saw this quote from Georgia O’Keeffe in an Instagram post last week and it seemed to sum up how I have been feeling, particularly around writing.

“I have done nothing this summer but wait to be myself again”

Of course I haven’t actually been doing nothing, but I have felt that I am waiting, or perhaps more accurately wanting, to be able to find the “right” words, and the “right” platform to say it on.

I managed to catch Eamon Costello (DCU) talk about kindness in education, and a project around storytelling kindness in teacher education. In his talk he walked through various definitions and examples of kindness, mostly these related to people doing something. But he did say something that stuck with me. I’m going to paraphrase here, it went something like this. “I’m a writer, so maybe if I show kindness to the words, the words will be kind to me and help me write.” I’m hoping that will work for me too!

Since Musk took over Twitter I have steadily moved away from it. I still have an account – mainly for work reasons. I do still share news, reposts and occasionally get and send DM s to people, but X certainly does not mark the spot for me. It’s just not a place I want to be associated with, or really be in anymore.

So like everyone else I have tried to find something that felt as connected and comfortable. Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky – I’m trying them all. But it feels fractured, even though I probably follow largely the same people on each of them. My current digital desire paths are more like small circles returning to my starting position at my desk. I haven’t had the energy, or the will, to find a way to easily cross post across the services. I can’t be everything everywhere, all at once, and to be honest I don’t want to be. But I do want to stay connected, to share, to learn, to “be”.

Martin Weller has written about the digital diaspora in relation to Twitter which outlines most the challenges and the inevitability of this fracturing of audiences. We do need to find new ways/practices to use all these platforms in ways that are useful to us.

When I went freelance I created a deliberate fracture in my use of Instagram – it is now about my art practice – not what I am eating! On the other side of my working life, I am finding LinkedIn much more useful now though. I really like the fact that it is so work centred. No need to post pictures of coffee/dogs/your “perfect” life – just tell share proper work “stuff”. Maybe having a clear purpose is a good thing after all! After all no-one really ever knew what Twitter was actually for, we just made it useful until too many people tried to monetise it. When I signed up for it (way back in the before times), I didn’t really know what Linkedin was for either. But others were there, wanting to connect so I did. I’ve had a bit of an up and down or perhaps more accurately on and off relationship with it since. But it’s definitely more “on” now.

Substack seems to be an interesting place to be. I am just a visitor right now but I am really enjoying following the “imperfect offerings” of Helen Beetham on AI and education. It has been my essential summer reading and I do share those posts “everywhere.”

Should I move my writing from here to there? I don’t know, there is still something comforting about having a domain of my own.

Anyway I have been doing quite a bit of interesting ‘stuff’ which I will be sharing more about, now I written (and hopefully posted) this. Most importantly the second phase of work (with Helen Beetham and Sarah Knight at Jisc) around curriculum and learning design. And I’ll keep trying to “find myself” and hopefully all of you on a variety of other platforms.

My short and long “must reads” around ChatGPT and LLM

Undoubtedly LLM (large language models), and in particular ChatGPT, is the hot topic in education right now. David Hopkins has helpfully started and shared a flipgrid where he is sharing articles around generative AI, and I know many others are doing the same. Amongst the hype there are thankfully a growing body of people who are writing informed critiques. In this post I just want to quickly highlight a couple of publications that I think are a must read.

Firstly the UNESCO Quick Start Guide to ChatGPT and Artificial Intelligence. This is provides a really good overview of issues including a useful flow chart to help decisions around using ChatGPT, applications for education and some of the current issues. I suspect this will become a “go to” resource. It’s something that all educators should read.

And once they’ve done that then I have to recommend 2 longer pieces by Helen Beetham. Firstly, “on language, language models and writing“. In this essay, Helen really gets to grips with a key issue that is missing in many of the articles about LLM and ChatGPT, that is what is the purpose of writing? Why do we do it? It’s not just about structuring of text, personal reading. I think most people (well at least you, dear reader) does now understand that these language models work on prediction, and have no sense of context. So although the text may read well, it will often lack purpose and understanding. As Helen points out ” Writing by human writers is not only about the world, it is of the world and accountable in it.”

She goes on to explore some of the potential benefits of using systems such as ChatGPT. Can they be seen as writing partners? We supply the prompts, they supply the text . . ? I was struck by this.

The illusion that these are more than tools or interfaces – that they are our partners in language, our interlocutors. We already spend large parts of our lives engaged in vivid graphical and sensory illusions. We should count the costs and benefits before rushing into a life of dialogue with illusory others

And this

Students see writing as a diverse, messy, inexact, variously motivated practice they are developing for themselves. Then perhaps they can aspire to be a writer among writers, and not a human version of ChatGPT.

I thank Helen for being the writer she is to have come up with that last turn of phrase. And then she goes on to point out:

But tools are not neutral. Just as language is not ‘simply’ the words we use to express our meanings to other people, tools are not ‘simply’ the means we use for exercising our personal intentions in the world. Tools carry the history of how they were designed and made. They shape practices and contexts and possible futures. . . With so many other tools we can use creatively, we must surely weigh the risks against the creative possibilities.”

In terms of education Helen also raises some really valid points for strategic leadership in universities. It does seem an awful lot of responsibility is being heaped on students, maybe we need to be asking these questions

While students are held stringently to account for their use of LLMs, how will universities account to students for their own use of these systems? Can they hold out against black-box capabilities being embedded into the platforms they have come to depend on? Who is assessing the risks, and how are those risk assessments and mitigations being shared with the people most affected? These are questions that universities should be attending to with at least as much energy as they are policing students’ use of apps.”

There is also an accompanying piece students assignments in a time of language modelling. Again this is a really thoughtful (and pragmatic) piece about why, how and when to use writing tasks in assessments.

I would thoroughly recommend reading both essays, and engaging with Helen’s writing over on substack.

Reflections and speculations from #oer23

I was lucky enough to be in Inverness last week for the #OER23 conference. The OER conferences do have quite unique atmosphere. They are relatively small, and there is always a really strong sense of community. This year was no different, in fact it I think that community sense was even stronger. So before I get into the meat of this post I just want to thank the co-chairs, conference committee, ALT and everyone at UHI for pulling everything together so well.

I’m still processing quite a lot of what I heard over the 2 days of the conference, so this post is really just focusing on one element that has been swirling around my brain. The conference marked 10 years of the Open Scotland Declaration. This was a community driven initiative to try and get the Scottish Government to formally adopt the UNESCO open education . . you can read more here. But the basic premise boils down to publicly funded educational resources should be publicly available. Not rocket science, totally achievable, but so far it has been almost impossible to get the Scottish Government to engage.

Lorna Campbell and Joe Wilson gave an excellent narrative of their stalwart efforts to engage with the Scottish Government over the past decade. There were many discussions and ideas about what should be done next. Based on some thoughts from the first key note from Rikke Toft Nørgård which looked at hybrid futures, I thought I’d take a bit of a speculative futures approach to Open Scotland. I also have to thank my Bill Johnston for a few ideas during a 3 hour car drive home. Spoiler alert, I haven’t done this before so it might be pants! But here goes . . .

The year is 2043. Scotland is celebrating 10 years of independence. The year has been badged as “Scotland, open for the world”. Celebrations officially started on April 6 – a nod to the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, the original document asserting Scotland’s right as an independent country. International events during the year include the opening of new UNESCO centre for open knowledge and policy development. COP 47 is returning to Glasgow to showcase how Scotland has exceeded the targets set in 2022, and has worked with 73% of all the signatories to every COP agreement since 2033 to develop sustainable and equitable energy solutions.

Scotland officially rejoined the EU in 2039, but between times has struck a number of international partnership agreements including a new Nordic alliance on knowledge exchange and sustainable energy, tourism and creative cultural developments. In a recent international survey on the best places to live, Scotland (for the 5th year running) came in at number 1. This was due mainly to the health and happiness of the population, not on property values. Scotland’s unique approach to education was seen to be at the centre of a remarkable evolution of a relatively small (by size of population), and newly independent nation. The UEP ( universal education partnership) is now recognised as being central to Scotland’s economic, cultural and health renaissance.

So what is the UEP and how did it come into being? Well, after the political turmoil of 2023 and 2024, the then SNP decided to that the only way to set out a vision for an independent Scotland would be for the people to decide its priorities. A (much maligned at the time from opposition parties) large scale public consultation of peoples assemblies began. The aim was to engage with at least 85% of the population through a series online and f2f events. During the first round of these assemblies there was a focus on a small number of key themes (sustainable energy, fiscal policy, education, creative industries, and health).

After a bit of a slow start, most interest began to centre on education. It’s not entirely clear how it happened, but the Open Scotland Declaration, in particular the notion of “publicly funded resources should be publicly available” started to gain traction. There are rumours of small bunch of open educational practitioners who ran an informal yet highly strategic public engagement plan ensuring that the Open Scotland Declaration was highlighted in every assembly meeting. In each of the over arching themes, the discussions quickly centred on education. It became clear that the success of any “future Scotland” depended on changing the education system. An independent Scotland would need a radical approach to education.

In late 2027 An anonymous poster began to appear in various places across the country, and online calling for a new universal education partnership (UEP) approach to education. Building on the concept of a universal basic income, this (at the time radical approach) called for every citizen to be given free access to education throughout their life time, at a time, place and pace that suited their needs.

Initial costings proved this would actually cost (slightly) less than the current tertiary education funding. #UEP gained more and more traction, and a plan developed. Instead of funding loans to post 16 education students and the current funding for universities and colleges, it was proposed that each citizen could access a fund that would cover 25% more than the basic living wage for the time that they were involved in educational activity. Quite quickly (again seemingly radical ) ideas about restructuring tertiary education and research began to emerge.

It turned out that turning “research subjects” into “research partners” has a dramatic impact on research. The fact that research participants were recognised for their part in research and could access their UEP fund has allowed Scotland to truly develop a nation of informed and engaged citizen scientists.

The earliest signs of success came from health research. As research participants didn’t have to rely on benefits, numerous studies (many of them ethnographic studies) have shown remarkable insights into treating some chronic health issues. The Glasgow Effect has almost been reversed. Similar effects are being seen across all sectors. At the same time, international research exchange programmes have flourished. Many large pharmaceutical. energy and financial companies have opened new centres in Scotland due to access to a highly skilled, and continually learning workforce. The changes to corporation tax including windfall contributions to the #UEP also seem to be positively accepted and widely cited in annual reporting.

Universities and colleges are now open spaces with new forms of partnerships around developing distributed and integrated curriculum. Tracking participation despite being seen by detractors as being a major challenge, was actually very simple. It turned out that every school child in Scotland already had a unique reference number that could be used. It was relatively simple to build out from this existing system. Closed exams are a thing of the past, Nearly every citizen in Scotland has contributed to the nationally supported knowledge base. Universities and colleges are now evaluated by public panels (decided through open ballots – using a process developed from the existing jury citation process). Community impact is a key factor of success. This approach has been adopted formally and informally by a number of other countries.

Research on the evolution of the UEP is continually developing and shared openly, including economic modelling. Though it appears that most citizens do access their UEP fund not everyone uses it all, many take up the option to gift their contributions back to the fund. Clearer longitudinal trends are just starting to emerge. For example, there appears to be a rise in access to funds in the over 50s. It appears that being able to more easily change career is actually allowing people to work longer. This combined with the overall increase in health and increased tax contributions and reduced NHS costs is providing a robust state funding model. Similarly there appears to be a new type of “research gap year” where 18 -25 year olds are participating in research projects before embarking on formal educational studies or taking up full time employment.

And All of this came about because it became apparent that open education wasn’t just about licences , selling “stuff” and services, or an abstract concept, it was about empowering people and making not just Scotland, but the world, open to education and all the opportunities that follow that.

Open Scotland logo

Everything, everywhere, all the time: some thoughts on time, space and learning design

It’s been hard to get back into writing for the blog this year. I’m not sure if it has been what seems to be the increasingly  common feeling of not quite knowing what to say,  everyone else saying it better. or to busy doing other things. It’s probably a combination of all three and of course, the addition of all the noise about ChatGPT. What’s the point of writing anything now . . . well of course there still is,  but that’s a whole other post.

What has been occupying a large part of my time is developing the recommendations from the review of approaches to curriculum and learning design that Helen Beetham and I conducted for Jisc last year.  As part of this we have been thinking a lot about the spaces and  places and modes of participation for learning and teaching. 

As part of our thinking and research Helen found what you might now call a “historical document” from the early 2000’s about learning design systems. Coppercore anyone?  It really took my back to those heady days of learning design and Learning Design (IMS spec). We were all a bit obsessed with finding ways to automate and move learners through systems and activities.  James Dalziel used the analogy of orchestration when he talked about being able to (re)use designs in different systems. This was highlighted in the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration. 20 odd years later, it did strike me that maybe that obsession with directing learners through systems was partly down to the quite difficult navigation in ye olde VLEs (and yes, before you say anything that has got a lot better!), and the holy grail of moving seamlessly between systems.  To a large extent that’s pretty much been sorted now – though we have all the fun of data and surveillance capitalism to deal with now. 

We can all access and move around different systems and devices in “relative” ease. The needs of learning design/ student orchestration have evolved. Whilst system access and navigation isn’t perfect, it’s a lot better than it was The review of approaches to curriculum and learning design Helen and I did for Jisc last year highlighted how much learning design frameworks/approaches (including ABC and Carpe Diem) have been embedded and adapted across the sector. There has been a shift of focus from system orchestration to activity design, and now equity, inclusion and accessibility. This was heightened by the experiences of lock down. 

In the analysis of our survey last year, equitable and accessible learning opportunities were highlighted as being key to providing “good learning” over the next 3 years. Also highlighted was the need to develop more shared understandings of the different modes of learning now in place across the sector.

This is what Helen and I have been exploring and developing resources and guidance on. The recent Advance HE Beyond Flexible Learning: Modes of Learning Practice Guide provides a useful overview of the main modes of learning currently in use, and is well worth reviewing. Our thinking very much aligns with these modes. We have also been considering changing notions of time. Perhaps this is where a re-focus of notions of orchestration is needed.

Students now expect some flexibility around their mode of participation. They potentially can access everything, be everywhere all the time. But providing lots of flexible pathways is a challenge. Particularly when you have a finite teaching resource to support multiple pathways. We are all orchestrating our work/lives/study through a variety of digital devices and systems. Even pre pandemic we knew that students weren’t just taking notes in class/lectures. The trick (aka teaching) has always been to design sessions that engage students. But if we have mixed modes of participation how do you do that effectively? And how do we support students to make the most of these potential different modes of participation and still provide and build the communities/social interactions that we know students (and all of us) really missed when all learning was fully online during lock-down?

How we think about how design and use the spaces, places and times for learning and teaching have to evolve. How can we provide the anchoring spaces for our learners in both in real life (on campus) and in online spaces? Access and use of digital resources is increasing and not just because of the rise of the recorded lecture.

We don’t have all the answers but we are working through these issues. As part of that process we have been trying to develop some visuals of students interactions of space, place and time. Students can actually access everything, be everywhere all the time. How can we design meaningful leaning for that?

As part of our thinking I’ve been developing some (relatively simple) visual representations of this. A couple shared below.

Where “are” students in a live lecture on campus?
Where “are” students during their own study time on campus? What are they doing?

If you have any thought/feedback on these, please do let me know in the comments.

ILTA Winter online conference keynote: beyond blended

Last week Helen Beetham and I were delighted to give the keynote presentation at the ITLA Winter online conference. The conference provided us with a very timely opportunity to share the findings of the review of approaches to curriculum and learning design we completed for Jisc last year, but also some of work we are currently developing with Jisc in response to the findings and recommendations of the review.

Starting from the premise that everything is now blended, we are developing thinking around the different aspects of time, space, place and modes of participation that contemporary HE need to develop in order to support accessible, flexible and equitable learning opportunities for students.

Many thanks to everyone involved in organising the conference for giving us the opportunity to present our work. We really appreciated the engagement from all the participants.

There will be a longer post soon from me around some of our emerging thoughts, but in the meantime you can catch up with our presentation in the recording below.