Would taking a raft approach help us think about the transition back to campus?

Photo by Tomasz Urbaszek on Unsplash

As we enter March this year, it is hard to believe that it’s almost been a year since we went into lockdown. Although we start this March with a bit more optimism particularly around vaccines, despite what many people want to think, “this” isn’t over yet. Over the weekend Auckland went back into a 7 day lock down.

I think this should sent a warning to us here in the UK. We have been no where near as successful as New Zealand in containing the spread of COVID-19. Yes, we are doing really well in terms of vaccine roll out, but that’s not a cure, there is still a lot of research to be gathered around the longer term impacts of the vaccines, their longevity and actual impact on transmission and suppression. Despite what many want to think, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of lockdowns.

As we prepare to move out of the highest levels of lockdown, schools here in Scotland have already started their phased return, and think about moving back on campus, the natural temptation is to plan for more face to face teaching, for that return to “normal”, to the spaces and places we’ve all missed for the last year. To bring our communities of learning back together in the “real” world.

However, I think it might be an idea to consider how to deal with short, sharp lockdowns and taking a what I’m calling a RAFT (rapid and flexible teaching scenarios) approach to design.

There is something in my head about a life raft metaphor too with this. Online learning has provided lots of learning life-rafts but there is the overwhelming desire to get back on to dry land. But as the lockdown in New Zealand (and there have been similar ones in other cities/countries) has shown we might have more shorter, local, lockdowns to come. So how can we deal with that?

Well maybe by simply by asking: could this activity/assessment/module be completed if we had to go back into lockdown at short notice? Are all the resources available online? Have I got at least 4 weeks teaching prepared in advance? Do students have clear signposting and support around what they are expected to do and where they should do it? Have I got established communication channels to let students know of any changes at short notice? Not rocket science, and a lot of this is already in place, so it would be tragic to loose what has been learned over the last year and just go back to “normal”. Let’s move forward with truly blended, flexible approaches.

Hope in a time of radical uncertainty

I’m doing a short keynote/vision talk next week at the Digital Learning in the Pandemic and Beyond half day conference. The event has a focus on “looking at the practicalities, possibilities and potential pitfalls of online learning”, and has a great line of speakers looking at blended learning, copyright and accessibility.

I’m giving the opening talk and I think it is even more challenging right now to come up with something visionary, yet realistic given our current context. Just going to a conference is a wholly different contextual digital and material experience than from a year ago. We have gone through a radical change not just in education but across all aspects of our lives. I was struck by a quote in an article I read last week about not giving up hope taken from a 2014 paper on Climate Change,

the context for hope is radical uncertainty” (McKinnon, 2014)

There is no doubt we have lived and continue to live in states of uncertainty. When schools/colleges/universities will fully open is just one of our current “known unknowns” – we have dates but nothing is certain.

We have experienced a radical change in the delivery of education. Arguably this might not have quite as much an impact on radically changing our education system for the future in the calls to “get back to normal” , but it has raised wider societal questions around the cost of data, equitable access to online learning, and the the limits of mobile devices for learning and teaching.

In an attempt to get a bit of community feedback before the event I put out a tweet yesterday asking people to share what if anything they had done since lockdown that they felt was radical in their teaching and learning. Thanks to everyone who responded.

From changes in access such as ports being opened so it was much easier to move in an out of institutional spaces, to making mix tapes for students to listen to as they explore resources, to creating OERs with students, to making more videos for students, to exploring with different design spaces, to getting access to more commerial courses, to choose your own adventure assignments, to using more creative pedagogies it was a very small slice of lots and lots of changes that could be having quite radical impacts on learning and teaching. I’ve collated all the responses into a wakelet shared below, but if you want to share something then please do leave a comment.

Now I am aware that some may not think of any of these as being “radical” but radical change can often be incremental starting with self awareness and having the agency to change the way you do things and look at the world. As we move forward I do think it is going to be really important to have some extended conversations between students, staff, management, government and our wider communities about what we really need to develop in order to develop our education systems to deal with the more uncertainty in equitable, open and accessible ways. And that is the kind of radical hope we all need in these uncertain times.

Bring your own device for learning or bringing learning to your device?

Maybe it’s just the time of year, maybe it’s just the context of this year, maybe it’s just a sign of age, but I am finding myself getting more and more nostalgic as various online services “pop up” reminders of what I was doing at this time, last year, 2, 4 ,5, 7 years ago. This time last year I was still travelling across the country to run workshops . . .

Over the last few days I’ve been getting reminders of #BYOD4L (Bring your own device for learning). This was a week long open “event” for staff, students and the brain child of Chrissi Nerantzi, Sue Beckingham and David Hopkins. Along with Alex Spiers and Neil Withnell, I was part of the facilitation team that took over from the original team.

BYOD4L was always a brought a bit of focus and fun to gloomy January’s past. The structure of the event was based around the 5 c’s – connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating. Each day focused on one of the “c’s”, and there were daily tweet chats each evening. Lots of us used the flexibility and open-ness of the concept to run face to face sessions (remember them?) in our institutions. It gave a focus to bring people together to share the ways they used technology in their learning and teaching.

It was also a really fantastic way to introduce people to twitter and connect to a ready made learning network. It was exhausting to facilitate but always great fun, and for me, a really positive learning experience. It was also a great incentive for writing blog posts!

Although BYOD4L was largely online, it enabled so many different face to face interactions. It was also predicated on the context that the majority of staff and students were travelling to campus, and so bringing their devices to those physical locations. Students and staff were accessing their “stuff” on the bus/train/car/tube where ever, as well as on campus/in class/in the library/in the refectory etc. But now, we’re all at home (or maybe in halls of residence, or maybe with very limited time on campus), so it’s not so much a case of bringing your own device for learning, rather bringing learning to your own device (BYOD2L instead of BYOD4L). That’s a subtle but important change of emphasis. And of course, access to “your own” device isn’t a given. The last year has certainly highlighted the digital divide around access to devices. Not all students (or teachers) have a laptop/computer/device that they can use, or afford the data allowance to engage with online learning. Having a mobile phone is one thing, but their limitations for learning have been well and truly exposed. We still can’t assume that they everyone has unlimited online access.

Over the last year a huge amount has been done by everyone in terms of moving to online learning and teaching and providing access to equipment and data. Back in the day, there were a core of #BYOD4L-ers who might have been seen as “outsiders” from the norm, as they were interested, and more importantly using technology actively in their learning and teaching and sharing that practice openly.

Looking back a the BYOD4L model, it still holds up. So I wonder if there is an opportunity to revisit it and use it as a way to focus on reflecting on what has happened over the last 10 months and help us focus on what should be our priorities (based on actual practice) for the foreseeable future? Although the event was designed with staff and students in mind, getting students involved was always a challenge and one I never managed to crack. But I think that might be different now, I think that this could provide a focus for student/staff engagement that is relevant to our current context.

This needs a lot more thought, but I’d love to know what you think.

Teaching in Higher Ed podcast: Time, space and place

A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to spent a really lovely hour or so chatting with Bonni Stachowiak as part of her amazing Teaching in Higher Ed podcast.

We covered a myriad of “stuff” around some of big questions around time and space and how we are all “being” at university just now. I really enjoyed the conversation – I hope you do too.

A practical guide to digital teaching and learning

Earlier this summer I was delighted to be asked to contribute to a special feature by Times Higher Education on digital learning. The guide was published last week and includes contributions from a number of international contributors and covers some relevant topics including course design, technology, safeguarding, participation and inclusion. My contribution focuses on where staff can turn to for help in preparing digital learning and teaching.

“Being” at university in the new academic term is going to be very different for both students and staff, and we are all going to have to learn together about what works, where, when and why. Lots of our old assumptions have and continue to be challenged, we all need to adapt.

The good news is that there is lots of support available, from inhouse teams to the wider sharing of practice from communities such as ALT and individuals like Sally Brown and Kay Sambell who have curated a fantastic set of alternative assessment resources.

Another recommendation I make is to become an online student and see things from “the other side”. Again there are lots of options out there, including Creating Courses for Adult Learners, a new course from the Open University which provides a really solid overview of online course design and delivery.

You can access the full guide here ( behind usual THE paywall I’m afraid . . .)

The lockdown diaries week 15: still not normal . . .

Another week of easing out of lock down and the death toll  in the UK as I write is 44,198.  There are still over 100 people dying everyday in the UK from COVID-19, this is not over. Lock down restrictions are lifting across the UK and different paces.  Non essential shops opened this week in Scotland. I found seeing shops open a heartening sign but to be honest it also made me feel a bit uneasy. From next Friday it will be mandatory to wear face coverings/masks in shops in Scotland.  Again, I am fine with that, but I do have worries about the invincibility behaviour some people seem to demonstrate when wearing masks – no need for physical distancing, no need for hand sanitizer, or washing hands.

The death rate in Scotland is now very low, and the impact in divergence of approach from the UK government is becoming more apparent. I just hope that the  rush to “get back to normal”, economic factors will be prioritised over health priorities.

As we get back to some sort of normal, I have become quite nostalgic for some of the elements of the early days of lockdown – little or no traffic, saying hello to people you passed as you were out for your daily walk on the canal, and people smiling and saying hello back with that knowing understanding and shared relief of being allowed to be outside for a bit.   Not being able to go anywhere, see anyone was easier in some ways easier than working out who and when you can see now . . .

Overall though, this has been quite a good week for me work wise.  I gave a keynote at the London Met Teaching and Learning Conference on Tuesday. It built on some of the ideas I presented earlier this year at the GMIT event, particularly around notions of “being and belonging” at university (both physically and digitally) for students and staff. This is going to be quite different as we move forward, and we really need to make sure we are giving our students and staff plenty of time to become confident and comfortable with the spaces and places they will be “be” at university from now on.

The first local lockdown in Leicester  this week also highlighted the need for flexibility. Staff and students could be off campus again at very short notice, so we need to be prepared for that and really seriously think about design and refocus on our current context, notions of care, inclusion, accessibility as we expand our notions of curriculum development and day to day delivery.

It’s always nice to get positive feedback from any speaking event, but I was thrilled to get almost instant positive feedback afterwards, and I’m looking forward to speaking with a smaller group of colleagues from there later in the month.

On Friday I was part of a panel in SEDA webinar about the challenges and opportunities facing educational development and learning technology just now.  Here’s what I hoped to say.  One of my fellow panelists, Teresa McKinnon wrote a really powerful reflection of her experience with a slight tech glitch, and the need for ensuring we care for our students when they are using technology, give them lots of opportunities to build up their confidence and get things wrong and cope with with in low stakes activities before getting them to do high stakes activities.  We need to keep reminding ourselves that whilst a lot of us have been having zoom-tactic times over the past few months, not everyone has, and using any kind of technology in an educational context changes everything.

What the future of our new normal will be in education is still up for grabs. I can recommend this paper by Eamon Costello and colleagues, a re-imagining of how things might turn out.  I was thrilled to see this published, and also to be given such a lovely acknowledgement – I am seriously considering changed my bio to “Thought-smith Sheila-who-sees-MacNeill

I feel that the lockdown context is changing too, so this might be the last in this series of posts. Maybe I’ll do a final reflection next week. Until then dear reader, stay safe. I’ll leave you with a song that might be one of my favourites over the past few months.

Facing the Future of HE – another podcast experiment

Last week I took part in the Advance HE Community webinar title, Facing the Future: Higher Education in the era of artificial intelligence. As I was traveling home from Galway, I didn’t want to risk joining the session from the bus. Although I have to say the wifi on the buses in Ireland is pretty good. So instead did a short podcast (having been inspired by my recent experience of the InVinoFab podcast series).

The session was only open to Advance HE members, but I thought I’d share my contribution to the session -which is far less around AI but more about people, critical pedagogy and curriculum.

What I did on my holidays . . . some thoughts on NGLEs

I’m just settling back into work after my annual summer holiday. I did my very best not to check work email or twitter and to slow down my digital networking activities, and keep any activity purely related to the nicer things in life.  But I did have a holiday experience that made me reflect a lot on work and some of the discussions around the Next Generation Learning Environment (NGLE) that have been floating around the twitter/blog-o-spheres recently.

Luckily for me and my not quite full powered brain, Anne Marie Scott has written a really thoughtful  blog post about the recent NGLE debate, which highlights a number of concerns I share, particularly around the apparent lack of student involvement in some work, data presumptionism (not sure if that is a word!)  and the technocentric stance that seems to be underpinning much of the debate. I urge you to read the post, and have a think about Temporary Autonomous Zones.

But back to my holiday.  I spent a week in the Lake District on a painting holiday called Colour Expression with Mixed Media.  Now, although this was an informal learning experience there were a number of elements of a learning environment involved.

In terms of an NGLE, it certainly was for my next generation in that the average age on the course was about 75.  Whilst I got some amusement from the long lost thrill of being the youngest person in the room, it was an eye opener of the potentially good things I could spend my time doing when I (if I can actually afford to) retire.

The learning space, both in the centre and when we were working en plein air were flexible.  We all had to bring our own materials (byod if you like) so that gave another level of personalisation and flexibility. The supporting structures around the course were great –  very helpful staff,  great food, lovely location, free wifi.

wild fowers and hills

However despite all this I found the experience to be not quite what I had expected. It was in parts quite surreal – a bit like being in an extended Victoria Wood sketch –  and in parts quite frustrating.   The frustration was caused by a really crucial element in any learning environment – the teacher.

Unfortunately my “teacher” had no understanding of some of the basic elements of what makes a good learning and teaching experience.  Although a competent painter, he lacked some basic facilitation and people skills.

He had a great time all week. I’m not sure he even realised that some of us didn’t quite get the same thrill from hearing all about him, all about the gear you “must have”,  the (very expensive) paper you need to use (which handily he could sell us at a more reasonable rate) all week that he did.  There was no attempt to get us to share experiences, have some fun working together, and don’t even start me about critique and review. . . it was quite amazing and amusing (in the wtf sense) how that all came back to his work.

All of this had a huge impact on my learner experience. I spent much of the week frustrated and that impacted on my work,  my confidence and my overall enjoyment of the experience.

However, I did learn a lot about what I don’t want to do in terms of my artistic endeavours and hat I should do some more research on tutors and venues before signing on the dotted line.  It also reaffirmed in my head the role of the teacher within any learning environment.  In that week I lacked scaffolding, I needed someone with the pedagogical (innate or more learned) knowledge and understanding to encourage and support me, to care about my learning experience, to help me turn my frustrations into something more positive.  Someone who could adapt a fairly flexible learning design into a really effective and personsalised experience. There were only 7 of us on the course.

Now I have been around a bit and so have the self regulated learning skills to be able to reflect on this experience and actually turn it into something more positive. But many of our students don’t. It was also only a week of my life and it has given me a whole new range of anecdotes. However it was a salient reminder of the lack of understanding of the art of teaching.

Discussions around the future/next generation learning environments shouldn’t presume that personalised, data driven, adaptive learning is the holy grail for a successful learning experience. Whilst I’m all for interoperable, light weight services being easily available, we can’t forget the need for the teacher; the need ensure that our teaching staff have the time to reflect on their practice, learn how to use some of the new “stuff” that is out there to really make our old, current and next generation learning environments really effective.

Being with the BOLD-ers #ETBOLD17

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

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

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

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

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

 

Using Trello for learning design

I was introduced to Trello last year by my colleague Jim Emery. For those of you unfamiliar with it,  Trello is a “free, flexible, and visual way to manage your projects and organize anything.”

Like many people I seem to have an aversion to most project management tools, but I have to say I took to Trello like a proverbial duck to water. We used it last year when we were developing our open course GCU Games On. In that instance we really used it more for task management,  having a board with three categories – to do, doing and done. But it can be used for so much more than that.  Doug Belshaw has a created a little video where he illustrates a workflow between Trello, gmail and github.  It’s strength really is it’s flexibility and the fact that it works cross platform and on any device. It also embeds into our VLE which is kinda handy too.

Earlier this year we recommended it to another of our colleagues, Anne Russell. Anne is a Senior Lecturer on our staff CPD programme. As part of a redesign and re-approval of the programme Anne was looking for a  tool to help her plan, and give an visual overview of her new module structure.  What she has come up with using Trello is, imho, pretty fab.  She has exploited features such as the colour coded labels in a really effective way to breakdown the activities, interactions and resources in each timed block of study. The screen shot below provides an illustration (click on the picture to see a larger version).

screenshot of trello board

We are also currently providing support for staff developing fully online programmes. We’ve been using a variety of learning design methodologies (see here and here). Today we ran a session for some colleagues in our school of Health and Life Sciences where we moved from paper based design to actual course and activity structure.  All of the participants today had already developed an outline paper storyboard. At the start of the session we showed Anne’s trello board. Immediately I could see lightbulbs going on. Within 5 minutes they were all totally absorbed and creating their own boards, sharing them with others not at the workshop and generally “having the most fun I’ve had all year”.

I’ve never really thought of Trello as a learning design tool, but I am now.  It has an almost natural flow with the Carpe Diem and Hybrid Learning Model storyboard/cards approach. The Trello board can be shared and adapted by course teams,  and the overall structure can then be used as they structure for a prototype (or actual) course design. Collaboration, deadlines, tasks etc can easily be built in too. I wish we’d had a tool like this back in the heady days of the Jisc Curriculum Design programme when there were a number of card/paper based design tools developed but a common challenge was what to do next with the paper prototype.

We are encouraging our staff to use Coursesites as a prototype area, primarily as our VLE is Blackboard and so it is a very familiar environment for them to work in. However we are also encouraging our staff to think about open, online courses, and Coursesites is a stepping stone in allowing people to make their designs more open and think about run them or bits of them as open courses.  The Coursesites option also allows for far easier peer review as the staff have complete control over who can access their sites.

We seem to have a really nice workflow now from paper storyboard to online, sharable, more detailed structure/activities/resources (via Trello) to prototype (Coursesites) to final delivery via our VLE GCULearn.  Over the coming months as this develops I’ll share how it is actually working, but as usual I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have in the comments.

design workflow model