What’s going on with curriculum and learning design in UK HE? – help me to find out

One of the great things about working freelance is that you get the opportunity to work with a range of people. Over the past three years I’ve been really lucky to have been able to work with some really fabulous people, and happily I’m in that situation again. For the next couple of months I am working with Helen Beetham on a review of curriculum and learning design across UK HE, commissioned by Sarah Knight at Jisc.

Helen, Sarah and I all worked on the Jisc Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes well over a decade ago. So it is great to come almost full circle with this piece of work. With everything that has happened over the past 2 years, I think this review is really timely. The pandemic and the subsequent “pivot” to emergency online teaching caused a huge cultural shift in learning and teaching practice. As we transition back to more on campus delivery, have the experiences of the past 2 years impacted practice and what are the main challenges facing the sector moving forward?

As part of the review we have developed a survey which had launched today and will be open until 13th June. We’re also looking for vignettes of effective practice, so if you would like to share more, then please do complete the survey and leave your contact details. Or if you want to find out more – just DM me.

We’ll be sharing the outputs of the review, including the survey results, in late summer.

You can access the survey from the link below. Thank you in advance if you are able to participate in this study.

https://jisc.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/curriculum-and-learning-design-survey

Universities and post pandemic digital praxis: critically reframing education and the curriculum: WIHEA seminar slides

Just a short post to share the slides from a presentation Keith Smyth, Bill Johnston and myself gave at a webinar organised by WIHEA early this week. We took the presentation to further explore some of the issues we raised in a short post published last year by the Post Pandemic University to celebrate the centenary of Paulo Friere’s birth, and also to revisit our previous work around the concept of the digital university.

This is just a marker to share the slides as quickly as possible. During the session we got lots of feedback from delegates around changes they have experienced during the past 2 years and over the next couple of weeks we have agreed to analyse the rich feedback we got from participants during activities in the session, and publish a more in depth follow up post.

We were delighted with the open and thoughtful responses we received throughout the session, so thanks to Letizia Gramaglia and the team at Warwick for giving us the opportunity and platform to share our thoughts.

Do we need a period of convalescence in education?

I’ve been easing myself back into work mode this week. I’ve been “hangin’ around” twitter a bit more, trying to do a bit more formal and informal academic reading, trying getting my brain switched back into writing mode, having more meetings, speaking to people and generally doing “stuff” after work free festive break. I’ve also been trying not contain my rage about the current revelations around the UK govt actions during the first lockdown. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have been laughing a lot about #partygate, because if I let my thoughts and emotions go the other way my head might just explode with rage; or I would never stop crying thinking about the now over 175,000 people in the UK who died from COVID-19.

We have all been through so much in the past nearly 2 years now. Yet still our future seems to be firmly rooted in the past. Getting “back to normal” still seems to be the ultimate aim. Back to campus, back to exams, back to not having to consider how our actions could impact others health. In our rush to economic recovery (for ultimately that’s all our political leaders really care about) are missing out a vital step around human recovery and the need for a period of convalescence?

Just before Christmas I heard the poet (and COVID-19 survivor) Michael Rosen recommend book called Recovery, The Lost Art of Convalescense, by Dr Gavin Francis. Michael was in a COVID induced coma for many months, so the topic was particularly relevant to him. I was intrigued by his description of the the book so I bought it. It’s quite a slim volume and documents the experiences of one doctor (based with a western/global north medical tradition). The author describes it as “a series of explorations of recovery and convalescence.”

In the first chapter, the author shares his own childhood experiences of convalescence and recovery. He talks about the rehabilitation he went through after a serious knee injury, and the rehabilitation he went through. I was drawn to his description of rehabilitation

the word rehabilitation comes from the the Latin habilis, ‘to make fit’, and carries the sense of restoration: ‘to stand, make, or be firm again.”

I think there is an an analogy here with what is happeing in education just now. There doesn’t seem to be space for any kind of rehabilitation after the roller coaster of covid infections isolations, lockdowns, continuted restrictions. It’s all full steam ahead for “back to normal”. I can’t help but think that this is a mistake. Staff and students need time to recover. Despite the urban myth that moving online wasn’t a real or proper education experience, and seen as an easy option, it was bloody hard work for thousands of staff. There has been a bit more focus on “well being” but that’s not really addressing some of the key issues. Is it too far beyond our imagination to acknowledge that we need to have some space for recovery to heal and regain strenght and perhaps a different perspective on how we actually do things. Gavin says in the book “the flow of my life had been stilled, but it was that stillness that allowed me to heal.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everything stops, but I do think that it is possible to make some space for critical reflection on what has happened and what needs to be done next. Could we revisit notions of the sabbatical in terms of recovery to allow staff some dedicated time reflect, to engage with different pedagogical approaches, with (re)design, to have more opportunity to improve public engagement around online learning and teaching and assessment and maybe start to have an informed discussion about the apparent need for final summative exams? There could be cross disciplinary/institutional opportunities for sharing of ideas, practice whilst on sabbaticals which could then feed back into institutional developments. Every member of staff (academic and support) should be offered the opportunity too.

I’m still really thinking all of this through, however I do think there could be something about revisiting our notions of recovery and convalescence that could help us do more than just “get back to normal’ and actually allow us time to heal and so that our education systems, and more importantly the people who work in them can be restored, be fit, and firm again. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Living and learning in a time of solitude: GMIT #DigitalEd keynote

Earlier today,I was delighted to give the opening keynote for day 2 of GMIT‘s Digital Education Week. Despite not being able to all meet in person in Galway, it was fantastic to be able join so many people from across Ireland and the UK and be part of the event.

For my talk I wanted to reflect on what we have all experienced in the past year of living and learning through a global pandemic. To use the luxurious position of a keynote to ask some questions about our lived experiences, and what we need to think about going forward. I wanted to reflect on words like isolation, self isolation,solitary, quarantine. These words that are so commonplace now, but pre-pandemic were not really part of our everyday discourse and vocabulary.

What really struck me about the quotes I used at the start of my talk about solitude and being alone (and many others I didn’t use) is how out of time and context they seem right now. In all of them, there is a sense of almost noble sacrifice to solitude. Solitude is necessary for great (artistic) work.  It’s as if they all had to justify the right to be alone, to be solitary to achieve greatness, and an enhance sense of self worth. In our present day context, that seems to me like a very distant, privileged concept from a bygone era.  Enforced solitude is quite a different experience, as we all now know. It’s been hard enough to get out of bed sometimes, never mind reach the great heights of getting dressed!

The realities of living, working and learning from home are bound as much by our physical spaces as our digital ones. I used some of the recent work of Professor Lesley Gourlay to explore this a bit more and talk about the entanglements of our phsyical and digital worlds, and the assemblages we have had to create to “be” at university. Today I thought I might stand to give the talk ( I don’t do much standing these days, do you?) so I created my own assemblage of a lectern using an ironing board, and some boxes. All a bit meta, but actually it work so I might do that again!

my standing desk!

The session was recorded so I will add a link to that when it is available, but in the mean time you can view my slides including feedback from participants here.

And here is a screen shot the wonderful sketch note of the talk by Maia Thomas.

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.