Navigating through the beyond blended resources – some scenarios

The Jisc Beyond Blended web resource which I have been working on with Helen Beetham, Sarah Knight, Elizabeth Newall and Lou McGill, is quite a substantial resource. As well as our 2 research reports, supporting podcasts, there are now a plethora of downloadable resources to support staff and students as we all adapt our practices around the design and delivery of learning activities in our post pandemic context.

The web resource was launched at the end of April, and we have had some really positive feedback. However, we are all aware that there is a lot of “stuff” in the resource. So whilst Lou did a brilliant job in bringing it all together into a logical, accessible structure on the Jisc website, it is quite daunting to explore. So, in this post I’m going to suggest a few pathways and scenarios to navigate through the resources.

Before that, tho’ I do want to emphasise that the guide is just that – a guide. It’s not a framework or a complete methodology. It is a set of research based findings and resources which explore the changing context of curriculum and learning design in terms of wider sector drivers, changing student expectations, and institutional transformations. It’s something we see as being able to be integrated into existing practice.

There is no one audience for the resources – we have designed the resources for use with a range of stakeholders, including strategic leaders, a range of educators including (but not limited to) teaching teams, individual academics, learning technologists, academic/ educational developers/, learning/instructional designers, librarians IT support staff, estates staff and students. The flexibility is a strength, but I do realise that flexibility can be daunting – especially if you are time poor and just need to find something useful as quickly as possible.

Of course, some resources are more relevant to some than others. But all are intended to support and extend discussions from ad hoc “help me do something different as soon as possible” – maybe something like this.

cartoon showing 2 people having a discussion around ideas for redesigning a module

– to more strategic discussions around how to develop and use the university estate (physical and digital) from a pedagogical perspective – maybe something like this.

cartoon showing a discussion about redesigning learning spaces

But moving away from the cartoons! If I was a learning technologist I might be focusing on the more practical resources, but also getting a handle of the “bigger picture”around the role of blended learning today , and be reassured that these resources have been developed in response to research in the UK HE sector, and have been developed with a lot of expert community feedback. So I might want to book mark the web resource and the reports (I may even have a hard copy of the latest report which I can read/have on my desk/take to meetings). It’s always useful to have some current UK based evidence to hand when supporting learning design and the use of digital technologies.

To help me in my day to day work, I would probably start with the Beyond Blended Guide. I’d download that 2 page PDF and add it to my “useful resources” digital box of tricks. I’d also print out a copy and pin it on an office wall somewhere. It could be a good conversation starter or interjection point. I’d also be starting to map my own practice to the six pillars, thinking about what areas I provide support for and how they relate to my practice and the support I provide. It might also help me articulate what blended learning means in my context.

In terms of practical “stuff” I can use, I would be downloading a number of the stand alone resources. In particular the Comparing live & asynchronous time  and Comparing in-place & online sessions resources. These overview tables could have multiple uses. Firstly to consolidate my own understandings of what happen in different sessions and places. I might also use these a basis for conversations with team members and share with colleagues I am supporting to brainstorm ideas.

I’d also be doing the same with the Session Types in the 4 modes of participation resource. Again this table could be used to consolidate my own understanding, to share with colleagues I am supporting and I’d also be thinking of ways to repurpose the resource with some institutional specific examples.

Similarly if I was an academic/educational developer I’d be looking at these same resources, but I might be thinking about using them as part of formal CPD courses such as PG Caps. I could use the comparing live and asynchronous time and comparing in-place and online sessions resources as a basis for group activities around sharing practice and thinking about different approaches to teaching. I could do the same with the session types – but here maybe make more direct links to pedagogical theories, and overall development of critical perspectives on modes of teaching and learning.

If was in a more strategic role, I might want to be spending time with the research reports, and use them as references for strategic discussions around say development new learning and teaching/student experience strategies. I’d been looking at the six pillars and mapping where support for each was provided, where more collaboration was needed and any gaps in provisions. I’d also be engaging with the strategic lenses (based on the six pillars). These lenses offer a set of related prompts or questions for each of the six beyond blended pillars. The questions have been designed to stimulate and extend discussions around key strategic development areas identified as part of our research and community engagement. They are

  • learning space design
  • learning platform and implementation
  • teaching time and workload
  • EDI
  • data collection and analytics

We’ve also created a curriculum/senior mangers lens and each lens has a blank template for you to add your own contextual questions. The lenses are provided as both PDF and PPT files. A blank template is also included so you can design a complete lens to suit your project or organisation.

For example if I was involved in a new working group reviewing the university’s learning space provision, I’d been sharing the beyond blended 2 page guide as well as the learning space design strategic lens with colleagues and suggesting a workshop to explore the questions from the perspectives all all stake holders. I might also use the lenses as part of curriculum review processes . There are more suggestions in the guide with a couple of really nice examples of practice too.

I might also be thinking about using the Beyond Blended posters to work with student partners to find out exactly how, where, when and what our students are doing in different spaces. The posters illustrate modes of student participation across different spaces, places and times and you can download them directly here and here. We’ve included a number suggestions for use in the guide including at induction, student co-creation, with professional services.

So there you have it – a few scenarios of how some of the resources could be used. But I know that there are many more, and if you have any more real world examples of use, we’d love to hear them. Jisc is collating examples of practice, and you share your practice here – or just leave a comment in this post.

Writing, Gen AI and zones of awkward engagement

I’ve been thinking and reflecting on my own writing habits recently. As you might remember, dear reader, I used to be quite a regular blogger, but over the past year (maybe 2) my output has really tailed off. Partly this is due to the work I have been doing, but also it’s due to a lack of an imperative to write here. When you are working as a consultant, it’s not always possible or appropriate to share everything you are doing on a regular basis. This contrasts with when I started blogging, when I was working firmly within “the university/the academy” and sharing of practice through blogging was not just an habit, but almost an imperative to my professional “being”.

I used to joke that my blog was my professional memory. A place for me to record what I had seen, done, was thinking about. There was a freedom in sharing practice outside the confines of an academic publication. I have a different kind of freedom from the academy now – but it comes with a different set of parameters. At times I really do feel the need to write something. I have to get whatever ‘it’ is out and into text. Over the past year I have noticed that physical need to write here has receded.

I think that is partly due to the work I have been doing, “other stuff” going on, and tbh a bit of laziness on my part. You know that feeling of “I’ll do it tomorrow” but tomorrow is always another, day, week away . . . I also think it’s partly down to not being sure what to write about – particularly in relation to Gen AI. I’ve been reading a lot, forming my own understanding of how LLMs work, trying to work out what the implications of it are for education. I still can’t quite articulate my views as clearly as others – and I’m still quite early on in my personal journey using some of the tools.

As part of my learning journey around Gen AI, I’ve been so grateful for the work of Helen Beetham with her (far from) imperfect offerings. I’ve also been listening to the Generative Dialogues: Generative AI in Higher Education podcast series Helen and Mark Carrigan have created. I’ve been particularly taken with the episodes where Mark and Helen share their experience, drivers and approaches to writing and the use of Gen AI in the writing process.

I was really taken with Mark’s explanation of the differences he has found with different AI tools – comparing ChatGPT to a list generator, where as Claude he finds more critical, and I guess more useful. He has spent time inputting lots of his work and developing prompts to get useful responses. He shared how he finds using these tools can help him be more productive and also more reflective. Again, he has spent a lot of time getting to this point, is fully cognisant of the negative implications Gen AI. But it was really interesting to hear how he is experimenting with using the tools.

In contrast, Helen talked more about the role of language, its structural and cultural implications. She shared how in creative writing classes she helped her students to develop their “academic voice” through various techniques including parody, irony and imitation. This is all part of developing students’ own voice. This again really resonated with me, and made me reflect on how writing on this blog had allowed me to develop my voice. One that wasn’t constrained by “academese”, that was a bit underwhelming in places, had a few mistakes, lots of typos but also seemed to resonate with other people and their experiences.

Blogging allowed me to connect with people in different ways. More importantly the process of writing, helped me to articulate my understanding, experiences, thoughts on the factors that were influencing my practice and my outlook/philosophy. It also allowed me to make mistakes, to learn, to (hopefully) improve in a safe space that I controlled.(Thank you Reclaim Hosting).

The craft of writing takes time, and time is the one thing that there just never seems to be enough of. We all need to be more “efficient”, save time, create more “stuff”, QA will come through the tech . . . Ergo using GenAI tools must be useful – something that we all need. Of course, it’s not that simple. There are positive aspects around tools can increase accessibility, that help scaffold and support – there’s always a balance to be struck.

Every digital tool I use is always “encouraging” me to try out their AI options. In terms of LLMs, I do see some useful aspects – particularly for structuring writing. For students (and for anyone) having some additional support around structure can be useful. In my own experiments, I have found that ChatGPT (more recently Claude) can help with certain writing tasks, including structure and the what I now see as inevitable lists. The time I have found ChatGPT most useful was when I used it to help write a data protection policy. That was a task, and and area that I don’t have much expertise or tbh much will to find out out more about, so getting a quick response from the prompts I gave it was really helpful and did save me a lot of time and huffing and puffing!

Helen and Mark’s discussions take in far more than my very simplistic overview. I am really appreciative of the way their conversations weave in the wider sociological, cultural and political aspects of not just GenAI but technology in general in relation to their own contexts within and outwith HE.

Mark’s reflections on the importance of context in terms of ed tech really resonated. So often with technology, not enough consideration is given to context. Ed tech tends to be directed at the general, the homogenous, and driven from a neo-liberal, capitalist context. Ensuring we all have the agency to understand our context, be able to experiment, critique use ed (or any) tech appropriately is so important. We can’t just buy and system and expect that financial transaction to have a meaningful, transformative impact on anything unless we support and adapt it for our context(s).

So, I was listening to Mark and Helen the other day as I travelled to an art and the environment conference. I was thinking about writing, my lack of writing and enjoying the rich discourse before I had to switch my head to a completely different context. But of course, everything is connected and as I was listening the the speakers at the conference there seemed to be quite a lot of connected themes – well for me anyway.

One of the issues around the use of GenAI in education I see is a recognition, a fear, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe it’s a sense, a sense of loss. The loss of the craft, the art and the human endeavour around creative and original writing. Writing is hard, and it maybe it should be (apart from writing data protection policies obvs!).

The first speaker at talked quite a bit about loss in terms of environmental loss. This was beautifully illustrated through a picture of a highland moor – a vast, empty landscape. It scale of the emptiness has a certain beauty, but as was pointed out this isn’t a natural landscape. It’s one that has been created by humans through cutting down the trees, displacing people, introducing and supporting sheep and deer who trample and suppress the indigenous plant. Images like the one she shared are really what most of us ( myself included) think are natural, but they are actually quite unnatural – but they are what we see, what we experience. So, how can we miss what we have never seen? A couple of terms that were used in this environmental context, was “shifting baseline syndrome” and “environmental, generational amnesia“. You can’t mourn what you don’t see or experience. How can you replace/rebuild what your have never experienced?

I think there is an analogy here with education and some of the concerns around GenAI and education. If what you see, experience, is “AI enhanced”, all the output is based on very limited, global north, biased algorithmic development and data, how can anything other than homogeny exist? Are some of us mourning the loss of human creativity, and experiencing a sense of grief around our educational loss. I think I am.

There is a lot of friction between personal practice, creating relevant educational experiences for our students, sectoral responses to ed-tech, pressures from over hyped narratives from ed-tech and “the markets” around the inevitable march of AI and its promises of efficiency. (But let’s not mention the environmental cost of all these efficiency savings). One of the other speakers talked about friction in terms of land use and environmental impacts. How it often seemed that we were ” beginning again in the middle of things” (based on the work of Anna Tsing).

That phrase, “beginning in the middle of things” just seemed to sum up my working life with edtech. You just kind of get the measure of one thing, and something else comes along. Anyway in environmental terms Tsing also talks about “zones of awkward engagement” to describe the levels of friction between global/local/human interactions. Again, this really resonated. I feel I am very much in a zone of awkward engagement with GenAI. I can’t ignore it, its impact on my working and “real” life, but I am aware of the wider implications of it – not least the environmental and human exploitation it has brought.

The speaker then went on to describe art and artists as having the potential to be “subtle disrupters” to organisational and wider public attitudes towards climate change. I’m glad we have so many subtle and not so subtle disrupters like Mark and Helen (and so many others) who are helping people like me navigate my own zone of awkward engagement with GenAI.

NB I did think about running this text through ChatGPT and/or Claude, but you know what – this is my space and I neither want or need to do that. I also tried creating an image using Openart.AI – too slow, and not that great so here is a photo of something I saw this morning that made me smile!

Open crossroads and small acts of critical resistance: some thoughts from #OER24

Was the plane landing in the snow early last Wednesday morning, after some signs of warmer, spring air finally arriving, a sign that this year’s OER conference was going to be dealing with a mass of contradictions? Or it that just part and parcel of our everyday life now?

Anyway the sun did come out, and as ever the atmosphere at OER24 was warm, welcoming, open, critically informed. Thanks to Tom Farrelly and Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin for chairing another successful conference and to all the committee, ALT staff, and MTU staff and student helpers for all their contributions.

This year I have not been writing here as much as previously but the OER conferences always provide me with inspiration to write something here. This year I’m not going on a flight of speculative fiction like last year, rather I’m going to try and set out my stall for some small acts of critical resistance. So, are you ready? Then let’s begin.

GenAI loomed heavy over nearly every session I went to. It was also a key theme of the presentation I gave with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston. We were fortunate that our presentation came after the amazing keynote from Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz. It’s no surprise that two leading open scholars would provide such a rich contextualisation of their own open practice but of the situation we all find ourselves in just now. You can read the essay that accompanies the keynote here and watch the recording here.

It does feel like everyday we are at not just a crossroad, but a precipice of climate change, political polarisation, war, famine, and general f***ed-upness. – or as Laura and Catherine more politely called it, the polycrisis . But despite all that, big tech companies are still feeding us the narrative that things can change for the better through AI, that once again technology will save us and keep the shareholders and “the markets” ticking along nicely and keep the rich rich and the rest of us in our place. We just have accept GenAI in education and do our best to re-frame what we do, how we “know”, it’s not going back in the box now. Or do we?

Catherine and Laura’s keynote was in many ways a call to arms asking us all what can we do, individually and collectively to meet the many challenges facing open education.

The way GenAI tools distort the 5 R’s of OER (retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute ) is quite a challenge to open education. Do we need OERs when we can just prompt AI to create something new, without having to worry about pesky copyright and citation? Now I’m not going to get into the copyright debate here (I don’t have the time or the knowledge) but Jisc has just published its “An introduction to copyright law and practice in education, and the concerns arising in the context of GenerativeAI” which is a good starting point.

From a personal point of view, one of the reasons I try to use and share OERs is not just about altruism (tho’ that is part of it), from a more practical and selfish perspective, if I release something with an open license I get attribution; if I share it through an open repository I can access that resource anytime, anywhere. If find and use an openly licensed resource I can see who has created it, I acknowledge them. I don’t just extract and move on.

In our talk we looked at a number of issues around critical pedagogy and AI, and how critical pedagogy could help us to address some of the challenges of AI and open education. How can we create alternative, meaningful narratives to challenge the Big Tech narrative? Some great work is already being done by many scholars ( shout out to Helen Beetham here and her imperfect offerings), but we need more porosity or leaky stories. Many of my friends don’t know about the environmental and human costs of AI, in fact some of them actually think “the cloud” is actually in the clouds, not on the ground using up masses of water and electricity.

In education it does seem that choice around using AI systems is increasingly disappearing. Whilst there is much great work going on around how to use these systems more critically (here and here are examples), maybe we should be thinking a bit less using the systems (and help to train the algorithms with every prompt we enter) and more about critically engaging with the terms and conditions of use (again a point highlighted by Laura in the keynote). So whilst many institutions are developing policies around use of AI, and publications such as the EU Ethical Guidelines on the use of AI and data in Education with sets of questions, the questions are really aimed at quite high institutional levels. I’m not sure if I could use them meaningfully. They are aimed more at awareness raising, many of them starting with “are teachers and students aware of . . .”. Which is fine as a starting point, but what level of “awareness” is really needed? What level of awareness do I need, do students need?

If (as someone mentioned to me at the conference) that they were “made aware” of MS Copilot being introduced the day before it went live, do they have time to even consider the implications for them, their work, their intellectual labour? Are the algorithms is it using transparent and explained in plain English? How are its “efficiencies” defined, and measured in the context of admin processes, learning and teaching etc? When you leave an institution, do you have a the right to withdraw your data from the copilot data set? Who/what is monitoring the outputs that the system is returning for accuracy? Is this just another version of a big system extracting our knowledge, and charging us to repackage it and sell it back to us?

I don’t know, maybe there are answers to these questions. But if there aren’t, surely this is where open educational practice comes into its own by providing the space to have discussion based on these types of questions. A form of Freire’s culture circles perhaps? And then share outputs (perhaps some standard questions that individuals could ask their institutions or use themselves to help navigation through Ts&Cs of any AI powered system) as OERs. These spaces, questions, outputs, could help us develop some small acts of critical resistance that just might help us collective create some new, open narratives and give us some hope for the future.

painting of Freire with various quotes added, from our OER presentation slides
What would Paulo think?

If you are interested in taking this further or have any other ideas, then please do let me know in the comments or by email and we can try and start to do something.

One final point about #OER24. It gave lots of us a chance to say thank you to Martin Weller for his work in open education. As you may know, Martin is leaving the OU and stepping down from the GO-GEN network in June so this was his last appearance at #OER in that capacity. I’m sure he will be back! But I just wanted to thank Martin for his open scholarship and practice. Through his blogging, not just writing but commenting on others blogs, he has opened so many doors for people like me to to engage with open education. Martin also took a bit of a chance and invited me to give a keynote (my first) at the OER15 conference. I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity. I wish him all the best for the next phase, and I have a sneaky suspicion open-ness will still be part of that.

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.