Finding joy in ethics and criticality: reflections on #altc21

I have to admit I at the start of the conference, I felt pretty jaded. It’s been a long year. I haven’t had a proper break – that’s my own fault – not blaming anyone but me for that. And like everyone else I’ve had, and continue to have, my fair share of challenges this year. Another online conference wasn’t exactly filling me with eager anticipation.

There’s always something of the start of the new term feel about the ALT annual conferences, which is one of its strengths. That is also historically why it’s been a challenge for some people to attend the physical conferences. One positive thing about the move to is a lot more flexible, and accessible for many. Anyway, like I said, I wasn’t really feeling any excitement for anything at the start of the week – online or in the “real” world! I knew I would be dipping in and out of the conference due to work commitments, but as is so often the way with ALT conferences, it and more importantly the ALT community, slowly drew me in.

The keynotes were, as ever, very strong this year. Sonia Livingston’s “the datafication of education: in whose interests?”, focused on her research with in schools around the use and understanding of data (particularly children’s understanding of data and how it is used). The give and take of data in schools (and throughout education) is quite unbalanced. The ‘system’ takes data, often without any really questioning from students or wider society. Schools/colleges/universities, are generally trusted entities, with a (at least here in the UK ) a legal duty of care for their students. However, as more 3rd party systems are integrated in education, and more data is being given to companies, the balance is changing. They take the data and offer it back in ways that they choose. Sonia highlighted that adults often give children a false sense of trust about managing data, without highlighting that once a company has your data, despite GDPR, there is a lot it can do with it without you realising. Just what is Google/Zoom/Microsoft etc actually doing with all the extra data they have collected over lockdown for example? The need for data literacy for us all, not just kids, is increasingly important.

Data literacy was central to Mutale Nkonde’s keynote, based on her 2019 paper “Advancing racial literacy in tech” , Mutale expertly took us through the bias of AI and algorithms, highlighting in particular the racial basis in social platforms (Tiktok was cited here) with their implementation of data proxies for popularity, that clearly have historical racial bias “baked in”. Mutale encouraged us all to question and have more conversations about data, AI, algorithms. To participate in projects such a AI for the people which aims to develop and support the ethical use of data. Mutale also reminded us that algorithms are IP and so have commercial confidentiality on their side. Companies do not need to share the algorithms they use. I for one think that should be challenged more, particularly in education. If we use a AI or any 3rd party company and it is harvesting data, then part of the contract should be full disclosure around how that data is being used, so that there can be informed discussions around what patterns, historical trends, etc algorithms are being built on.

Starting these conversations can be tricky. That’s where the (launched at the conference) ALT Framework for Ethical Learning Technology might come into play too. During its launch John Traxler asked if we need to decolonise educational technology. This sparked off a bit of a debate on the ALT mailing list, so I think the answer is a clear yes! Adapting the statements in the framework to questions would be a good starting point, imho around conversations about the ethics of technology, the ethical use of data, what that actually means in context.

The highlight of the conference for me was the final keynote from Lou Mycroft. Lou is one of the founders of #JoyFE. This really did bring back my #joy. I loved Lou’s explanation of: joy as an intentional practice, of the power of being affirmingly critical, but not cynical, of quiet resistance, of the joyful militancy of embracing “the power of giving away power”. I loved the wave Lou weaved ideas around leadership, around transformation being a start not an end point, of turning values into questions. For example what would assessment look like as a practice of hope? What would timetabling look like as a practice of care? I would encourage you, dear reader to watch all the keynotes, as well as the other sessions.

For me the ALT-C conferences have always been places and spaces of joy, for sharing of ideas, for getting re-energised, and also for getting confidence from the community to continue (or start) some bits of quiet resistance. Lou proposed leadership as being more about co-ordination, not control. On reflection, I think that is strength of ALT too, it can, and does provide co-ordination for the community. The range of special interest/member groups are a living example of that.

The conference also saw the launch of the ALT/ITN co production “The Future of Learning “. Lots of “shiny” tech stuff there and worth a watch not to see the future, but to see what is happening now. Not a lot of critique of technology/AI/ data so I wonder if there were to be another episode if a theme of the ethical use of technology would be apt? That would give a space for the new framework and the work of the ALT community in this area to be highlighted. It could help raise wider awareness of the need to question how, where, why, when and with/by whom data is collected and shared. That might provide a way to show some joyful resistance and coordinated leadership can allow for more equitable, ethical, caring and joyful future for learning.

Many thanks to the conference co-chairs, the conference committee, the ALT team, and everyone who participated in the conference.

ALTC delegate open badge image

Stack ’em up, zoom ’em down

Spoiler alert, this post is a mini rant! Don’t expect anything balanced, and because I didn’t get round to writing this last week it’s probably out of date.  
So last week I spotted this tweet from Vicki 

which was a reaction to this tweet from Lawrie 

about the new immersive scenes Zoom are adding to “allow the host to set a custom background theme for their meetings or create layouts where participant videos are embedded within a scene that everyone shares, like a classroom . . .” 

Why? Just why? If you are running a virtual classroom then you and your students are not all in the same room, so why pretend? Why create a false visual hierarchy?  What purpose does it serve except to extend and enhance a false sense of “normality” and control with students neatly staked in rows and the teacher at the “front”. Why try to re-create an old fashioned notion of a classroom and badge it as the “future now”.  

It does kind of remind me of when Second Life was all the rage and there was a trend for universities to build virtual campuses that replicated the physical campus including huge (mostly empty) offices for senior staff.  . .    

But back to Zoom. The newly enhanced creation “thingys” (my choice of technical term)  might be more useful.  They will apparently provide  “animated reactions to make nonverbal communication more noticeable and fun. These animations will also include an audio element (e.g. sound of clapping)”.   Sound of clapping might be nice, for a bit, particularly at online conferences – but I just wonder how long it will take for “noticeable and fun” to become ‘annoying and bland”?  

I just wish companies like Zoom would think out of box just now and not try to stuff us all back into them.  When we do all get back into rooms again, lets hope we don’t just go back to rows of desks . . . I’m now thinking even more about the need for asterisks not straight lines . . .

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 . . .)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of #GCUGamesOn Evalution Findings

As promised this post shares the summary findings from our recent online event, GCU Games On. As I’ve written about before we developed this very quickly (in a month from idea to online) so we were very aware of some of the pedagogic shortcomings of our overall design. However given the rapid development time during the start of summer holidays when most of our subject experts were on holiday we had to make some very pragmatic design decisions.

Overall the feedback was pretty positive and the whole experience is helping to shape our developing strategy to open, online courses. (Nb the text below has been adapted from an internal report).

Background

GCU Games On was an open online event designed to celebrate, explore and share experiences during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. It ran between 16 July and 8 August 2014.

Instigated by the PVC Learning and Student Experience, it was developed in little over a month. Due to the time constraints (one month from idea to being available openly online) a simple design was developed which included: background and contextual information with relevant links, making a wish on our digital wishing trees, at least one twitter based activity and a medal quiz challenge each week. Sharing experiences of Glasgow 2014 via twitter was encouraged each week. Daily email updates were sent to all registered participants.

The event was delivered via the new Blackboard Open Education platform.

Participation

  • Registrations: 211
  • Countries: 12 excluding the UK
  • Digital Badges issued: 174
  • Tweets: 424
  • Digital wishes: 107

Evaluation

Of the 211 registrations, 22 completed the survey giving a 10.4% response rate. In addition, due to the use of social media (and in particular, twitter) a number of informal responses to the event were shared.

Summary Findings

The majority of respondents to the survey were female, aged between 25 to 65, based in the UK with no connection to GCU. The majority of participants were based in the UK, with 36% based in both Glasgow and Scotland respectively. 18% of respondents were from the rest of the UK, and there were equal numbers (4.5%) of respondents from other Commonwealth countries and non Commonwealth countries. From registration information we know we had registrations from Australia, India, Trinidad & Tobago, Ireland, Israel, Denmark, Canada Italy, Israel, New Zealand, Spain and South Korea.

59% of respondents had no connection with GCU and 45% of respondents cited wanting to experience online learning at GCU as their main reason for participating. The vast majority of respondents had some form of formal educational qualification, 45% up to Masters level.  This correlates to general trends in open online courses, but may also reflect a network effect from the Blended Learning Team’s network and promotion of the event. 95% of respondents found the site easy or partially easy to use.  54% of respondents completed all of the activities.

Open feedback was generally positive about the experience.

“I really enjoyed this as a bit of fun.  What I got out of it most was seeing new blackboard system in operation and it looks and feels very impressive.”

“I think looking at the Twitter feed this was spot on for what it was trying to achieve. Much fun was had by all it seems and the course gave a great scaffold to talk about their experiences at the games.”

“I do know it is hard to pull together a learning experience around an event like this and I guess that was weakness of this approach.  At times I think really perhaps due to lack of substance or clear learning outcomes – the learning design was a bit hit or miss – but I think you did achieve outcome of getting folks to engage with learning platform which was I think what it was about rather than the content”

 

GCU Games On Gold Medal
GCU Games On Gold Medal

Where Sheila's been this week: APT Conference, University of Greenwich #uogapt

I’ve been quite busy over the last few weeks, but I did manage to get back to the day job earlier this week and attend the  APT Conference at the University of Greenwich. There was a really great programme and I found every session I went to really informative. Unlike keynote speaker Stephen Downes, I don’t record every presentation I do, and despite his best efforts to convince us all to do so, I’m not going to start anytime soon. However,  I do try and reflect on every conference presentation I make, and every event I go to, and at the very least share my slides openly.

The theme of the conference was Connected Learning in an Open World, and Stephen got the day off to a great start with his keynote, where he challenged the traditional role of HE institutions, the cost of education, how current business drivers /models are trying their best to make us pay for open.  This is my sketchnote of the talk. As ever a larger, CC version is available by clicking on the image.

 

#uogapt 2014
visual notes from Stephen Downes Keynote,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My colleague Evelyn McElhinney and I presented our work on mapping student’s online residency.  Since my last post we have conducted another workshop and some more issues, particularly around the use of online spaces are emerging.  As we work with students getting them to map their use of online spaces, it is becoming apparent that there is currently a lack of useful utility type services in terms in access to our educational spaces compared with other “real life” utility type services.  This is raising questions for us in terms of thinking about what kinds of services we need to develop. We need to make sure access to what Mark Stubbs calls the “hygiene  factors” i.e. timetables, reading lists and our course material is easy, but that the learning activities themselves are still challenging. I’ll elaborate more on this in another post

Space and place was something that came up in the final panel session, which I was roped into. I firmly believe that traditional campus based institutions do have a future. People want to go to University, there is more to the HE experience, and indeed any kind of learning than content and courses.  Successful interactions (and not just educational ones) require confidence and social skills. In an online context these are even more crucial.  As anyone who has been on any kind of online course, never mind a massive one, online education can be a lonely experience.

I had to leave the panel a bit early to catch my flight home, and of course it was just as things were starting to get interesting. One particular set of questions from the floor centred on the perceived “best of breed” approach of the Oxbridge tutorial system. We can’t replicate that everywhere, and like many I don’t think we should be. I’m not sure if that type of experience really does much more than continue the power of the old boy network, which given the current state of the world isn’t doing that well unless you are part of that club or rich enough not to need to care.  Along with everyone else who went to the session on Digital Dissidence and CVs (creative visionary spaces), I was really impressed by Anthea, a recent Greenwich graduate, as she showed us via music, video and images how she had been encouraged to express her professional knowledge and herself in a truly multimedia and meaningful way.  Mark Webb’s innovative program exploring cultural diversity in relating to professional development is something I can see working in so many contexts, but I doubt that there would be such richness in an Oxbridge class, and it is more the poorer for that.

Thanks to everyone involved in organising the conference and to all the presenters.  I really hope I can get back to Greenwich for next’s years conference.

Here are the slides from our presentation.

GCU Games On – open and online, and not an "M" word in sight

A couple of years ago at a Cetis Conference Professor Patrick McAndrew said that perhaps we needed to concentrate more on the open and online and less on massive and courses. Wise man, that Patrick. That notion has stayed with me and today I am very excited as we are doing exactly that.

Over the last month (yes that’s right, 1 month) we have developed an open, online event around the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games called GCU Games On. Let me be very clear, this is not a course and most definitely not a MOOC. Rather it is about bringing people together to in an open online event to celebrate, explore and share experiences during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Many of our students and staff are (and have been) involved in various aspects of the development of the Games, and will be very active over the Games themselves. Instead of just creating something for our GCU community we thought why not open it out to anyone and everyone who is interested?

So we have developed a 3 week event, which will hopefully provide a fun way of bringing people together share their experiences during Glasgow 2014,  enable participants to experience a little bit of online learning. Each week we have a number of simple activities including a digital wishing trees. And because it was just too good an opportunity to miss we’re also doing the badge thang and giving people the opportunity to win bronze, silver and gold digital medals (aka badges).

In some ways we have broken every rule in the design book. We have developed (and are still developing) this in a very short timescale, at a time when most of our University colleagues with specialist knowledge have been on leave; we haven’t got a target learner in mind; we’re taking a very broad brush let’s just try and get some participation approach; we’re in the middle of our VLE upgrade; and oh yes, I forgot to mention we’re using Blackboard’s new open education platform which will be officially launched in on July 16th at BbWorld. It has quite possibly been the most exhilarating and scary thing that I and my colleagues Jim and Linda have ever done. But it has also been really good fun.

Until last week we really just thought it might be a proof of concept project which would have been really useful in itself. The colleagues we have been working with have reacted really positively and we couldn’t have got to this stage without them.  We’ve also had great support from Blackboard. We couldn’t even have thought about doing this without the knowledge that we had an open platform that we could use. Originally we were planning to use Course Sites.

In many ways this is an experiment for us. We aren’t ready to develop one of those “m” things. But this model of very agile, light touch activities, tapping into social media around a major event could possibly be more useful for us.  Our event starts next Wednesday, 16th July but you can enroll here from today.

As ever I will be sharing our experiences on the blog, but I would love it, dear reader, if you would sign up and join us for #GCUGamesOn too.

Here’s our teaser video (no Professor videos in our event!)

 

Jisc Digital Student Consultation Event

This week we hosted the latest in the Jisc Digital Student Consultation events. Nearly 40 colleagues from across the Scottish HE and FE sector came here to GCU LEAD to share and discuss current and future developments around students changing expectations of their digital learning environments.   There are some really useful findings coming through from the consultations so far, which were summarized by Helen Beetham and Sarah Knight over the course of the day. Helen’s recent post gives a very comprehensive overview too.  Being part of the Blended Learning team here at GCU,  I was particularly struck by the use of “branding and blending’ of institutional provided digital services and resources and ones students either bring with them or start using during their studies. The idea of core learning and teaching provision is one I’ve been an advocate of for a long time, like many others I’ve been inspired by the work Mark Stubbs and his team have been doing at MMU around this.

We also streamed the talks from the day and the recording is available online if you would like to catch up with the presentations.

As well as joining in some thought provoking discussions I took some sketchnotes during the day too.

(Click on the image to see larger version)

 

Jisc Digital Student Consultation Event, 10 June 2014

 

 

 

In a galaxy far, far, far away . . .

Do you ever get the feeling that you are living in a parallel universe? I do. Particularly this week when the “Major players in the MOOC Universe” infographic was published by The Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It was retweeted, google+’ed everywhere almost instantly. But this wasn’t a view of the MOOC universe I know of, there were quite a few bits missing. A bit like the “World Series” this was an almost completely U.S centric view. The big bang MOOC moment certainly didn’t happen slightly north of this universe.

Despite the efforts of informed commentators such as Audrey Watters, to correct the new revisionism of the history of MOOCs, the U.S centric vision seems to be winning out. Martin Weller’s response to Donald Clark’s take on MOOC developments eloquently states a number of my concerns about revisionism and the development of MOOCs and the so called MOOC wars.

But I can sort of see myself in this universe, all be it, in a very small dark corner. I can see, and know who the “big shiny lights” are in the centre, and dream of being part of the rebel alliance, and becoming an apprentice of Obi Weller Kenobi . . .

Yesterday though I felt almost like I had crossed into the 13th dimension. I entered a place where no-one had heard of MOOCs. Yes that’s right – they hadn’t heard of MOOCs. My colleague Lorna Campbell and I had been invited to the Scottish eLearning Alliance Local Authority SIG meeting to give an overview of our work. Lorna spoke about open educational resources, and as is my want of late, I did a bit about MOOCs. Unsurprisingly for increasingly cash strapped local authorities the free part of open was very attractive. Those in charge of developing and running training programmes are always looking for new ways to enhance their offerings. However as the discussion progressed it became clear that there is still one key missing ingredient that all the open content and courses in universe(s) don’t include, and that is time. You need time to engage with learning. Although online provision of education/resources has fundamentally changed access points, it hasn’t meant that we need less time to engage.

As you know dear reader, I have done my fair share of MOOCing over the past few months. It’s probably been the best (well actually it’s been the only) PDP I’ve done in my eight years with Cetis. But I am in an incredibly privileged position where I have been able to combine professional and personal development. I have been able to legitimately use some work time to contribute to a number of courses, and in turn in my own small way contribute to some of the wider discourse and dialogue. So although I was delighted to read that Coursera are now going to be providing course for K12 teachers, I couldn’t help but have a slight sinking feeling of this being staff development on the cheap. Will teachers be given some legitimate study time and recognition to take part or will it just be the really motivated ones (who probably aren’t the ones who really need this time of development) that will just “find the time” to take part? Will there be state wide flipped classrooms for teacher staff development ? Wouldn’t it be great if there was?

There’s also a huge assumption that everyone has the (digital) literacies needed to engage successfully with any kind of online learning. This was a key concern for some of the people at yesterday’s meeting. There’s a reason distance learning providers such as the OU have developed extensive study skills resources for their students. A MOOC on MOOCing isn’t daft idea, it just sounds slightly daft when you say it out loud.

Anyway I guess to end this slightly rambling post, that we need to remember that despite the hype in “our” universe(s), there’s a whole set of parallel universes that haven’t heard about MOOCs yet. They could very well benefit from MOOCs and from open education in general, but education is more than resources and courses. It’s about human interaction and time. In our rush to create new universes let’s not forget these universal principles and cherish the time that a University degree gives to students and indeed the time that any educational experience deserves.

Why we need more Rhino's like Erica promoting digital literacy

I was delighted to take part in the University of Southampton’s 2nd digital literacies conference (#sotonmooc) event yesterday. I gave a presentation on my experiences of being a student on MOOCs. However, what really made the day for me was hearing from some “real” students about the range work they have been involved in as part of the University’s DigiChampions project. The project has been incredibly successful in getting students involved in the concept of digital literacy and getting them to provide support to their peers in a whole range of ways as this video rather neatly explains.

The development of digital literacies is increasingly been recognised as vital for the success of our student population both whilst they are studying and also when they move into the workplace.

“By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. “ (JISC)

It was fantastic to hear students share so eloquently their understanding of the importance of being able to use social networks effectively – not only for studying but also to improve their chances of getting a job. As we watched student created videos and a range of other presentations, it was clear just how much the students appreciated the innovative approaches of modules such as “living and working on the web”. Having time to develop skills and networks as part and parcel of undergraduate activities has certainly seemed to pay pretty significant dividends in terms of students developing contacts with potential employers and in several cases in terms of them securing a full time job. Watch the video to see for yourself.

But what about the Rhino I hear you ask? Well another one of the student driven projects is Erica the Rhino. Erica is a cyber rhino, who is being developed in a truly interdisciplinary way.

I thought this was just a fantastic project. I’m now following Erica on twitter and looking forward to hearing updates from when she is released into the wilds of Southampton. We need more projects like this.

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey and Hugh Davies (and everyone at Southampton involved in organising and running the event) for inviting me. It really was inspiring to hear from the students.

More information about the day is available from the event website. It will be being updated with presentations (and I think recordings) over the next few days. You can also catch up on the tweets and pictures from the event here.