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.

A life lived in hope and kindness

This is just a very short post in memory of my former colleague and friend, Marion Kelt.

Sadly, and very suddenly Marion passed away last month. I’m not going to attempt to write a eulogy for Marion. I couldn’t do her justice. Also, as one of many colleagues who attended her funeral on Friday, I think all the right words were found and shared by her family and friends there. Words that made us smile, laugh and through some tears, remember the fantastic, frantic, fun, music loving person Marion was.

Over the past year or so I have written quite a bit about the increased need for critically informed hope and love, and the value of academic kindness. To me Marion was the embodiment of all these things. Marion was always willing use her expertise and enthusiasm to share and help and students and staff alike. She didn’t do anything for personal glory, only to help others. She was one of the most self effacing people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Doing something with Marion was always fun, and you always learnt something new and often totally unrelated along the way.

If you ever saw Marion present at a conference, then you will have something of an idea of what I mean. Her conference presentations were always funny, honest, sincere and with a purpose – just like Marion.

I’m going to end with some of the words that had meaning for Marion, ones which she shared on social media, and were shared in the order of service on Friday. Then I’m going to make myself a cup of tea and start the week with a smile and hope.

“none of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There is no time for anything else.” (Anthony Hopkins)

What is important is not so much how long you live as whether you live a meaningful life. This doesn’t mean accumulating money and fame, but being of services to your fellow human beings. It means helping other if you can, but even if you can’t do that, at least not harming them.” (Dalai Lama)

And just for Marion here is a picture of a cat.

Moving on

After almost 5 and a half years, today I am leaving my post at Glasgow Caledonian University to start a new phase of both my professional and personal life.   I have decided to rethink my work life balance. I want to have time for my more creative, artistic pursuits, so in order to do that I am going to now work as a freelance educational consultant.

I’m delighted that my first contract in this new phase of my career/life is with the University of Edinburgh, in their DLAS (distance learning at scale) project, where  I’m working on staff development course for staff new to teaching online. I’ll still be continuing in my role as Chair of ALT, so I am not disappearing.  I will of course, continue to post to this blog. #spoiler-  there maybe a little change in the layout over the next week or so. And look out for another site with some of my artwork too.

2018 – mayhem and hope?

And so dear reader, the Christmas holiday season is almost upon us and this may well be my last post of the year. 

I have had on overwhelming sense that this year that  I have really struggled to keep writing regular posts on this blog.  It has been cathartic and reassuring this morning to look back and see that I actually haven’t done that badly – certainly up until around summer. However there was a change about half way through the year . Weekly posts (my sort of self imposed writing schedule) became a rarity, and I really struggled with what to write.    

There are a number of reasons for the downturn in posts, not least the current  completely mad political situation in the UK. But also a lot of my time has been taken up with writing a book with co-authors Bill and Keith. Looks like we have missed the Christmas list for this year, but hopefully it will be published in January. 

Writing the book has allowed me to engage more critically with my own praxis and begin to really understand the importance of critical pedagogy.  So whilst it was extremely cathartic to have a rant about the dangers neoliberal  forces attacking our education systems, it is also quite depressing.  I swing from feeling totally empowered and energised particularly from my peer group at events such as this year’s ALT conference (which was a real highlight of the year for me) to feeling utterly dismayed at the the current UK governments ominshambles over Brexit. 

My last post from 2017 was based on one of those sort of annoying, but sometimes fun Facebook round robin things 

Leave a positive word I can carry through 2018 that starts with the 1st letter of your name – it can only be one word

 This is the word cloud I made from the responses.  Looking back at it this morning, it did make me smile that mayhem and hope were so prominent.  I hope that the latter can help alleviate the former in 2019.    

Living in interesting times

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

As the end of 2018 approaches, the old adage of living in interesting times seems more apt than ever.  Nothing in UK politics seems to make sense any more. So when I was looking for the origins of the phrase “we live in interesting times” ,  I had that sad, ironic, I should be laughing but I’m actually dying feeling when I saw from wikipedia that there are claims that it originates from an ancient  Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”.  I wonder if our current PM knows this. 

Politicians, particularly those in our current UK Government, and particularly our current Prime Minister Theresa May, keep banging on about delivering a Brexit that “the people” voted for.  But no-one voted for what is happening just now. During the referendum  no-one had sight of a draft deal,  so no-one really actually had any idea of what a deal would actually entail.  That hasn’t really changed in the past two years until the last couple of weeks.  

There were of course some vacuous, totally inaccurate slogans on buses and proclamations that the Brexit negotiation  would be the easiest trade deal in history ever.   There was never any plan to leave, just some vague, jingoist nonsense about reclaiming – laws and sovereignty – neither of which we had actually lost.  

“We, the people” are now caught up in a type of circular hell that even Dante couldn’t have imagined. 

What history will make of this, I have no idea. However what is clear to me is that to enact a plan you first need to have a plan. That plan should be critiqued, debated in a democratic way.  The complexities and implications of trade negotiations should be transparent and not swept under the carpet by very rich (mainly white) people who can afford to carry on living the way the live whilst “we, the people” have to live in chaos and economic uncertainty for the next decade or more.  Historic  international peace treaties such as the Good Friday Agreement can’t be ignored, 

All I know just now is that I feel even more invisible than normal. Democracy is failing me and I don’t know what to do.   But maybe one day some historian in the future will discover this little post will maybe get a sense of my hopelessness and despair. 

I’ve been struggling to write this blog post today,  and now I have just seen this article in The Guardian. Thank  you Ivan Rodgers for putting into words some of what I have been feeling.  

The art of remembrance

Today, November 11, 2018, I went to Ayr Beach to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War through the Pages of the Sea, a project developed by Danny Boyle to mark the centenary.

On selected beaches around the UK, over the course of several hours, a portrait of an individual from the First World War will emerge from the sand. And then, as the tide rises, be washed away as we take a moment to say a collective goodbye.

The soldier selected for the sand portait in Ayr was Walter Tull, Britain’s second black professional footballer and the first black officer in the British Army -despite the fact that black officers were not allowed in the British army then! He undertook part of his officer training in Ayrshire and was killed in in action in 1918. I don’t think I can actually comprehend the number of other battles Walter must have had to fight during his lifetime before going to France.

As well as the large portraits, people on the beach are able to make a silhouette of a service person to mark their own act of remembrance.  Walking on Ayr beach today, I found these silhouettes to have an incredible emotional impact, highlighting the pointlessness of that (and indeed any) war.  Far more impact than watching lines of politicians laying wreaths in city centre memorials.

Photo collage of Pages of Time, Ayr BeachLike many of my generation, I ‘know’ that war through art, primarily poetry. The words of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and the other war poets that I was introduced to at school and have stayed with me.

I always mark remembrance day, not to glorify war, but to remember all those who died.  I never knew my great grand father who died during it, or my grand father who was a boy messenger and was wounded during the battle for the Somme. He died the year I was born.  I do wonder just quite what they would have made of me, my life, my politics.

It is still important to remember, to understand the politics of that time, the changes in national, international, gender and racial politics that wrapped around that war and unfurled onto the rest of the 20th century.  Despite the advances we may have made, war still seems to be our ultimate threat and answer.  We don’t seem to be able to end wars any more, just displace them, or rename them as Troubles, insurgencies . . . the economics of the war machine it seems can never be stopped.

The current Poet Laurette, Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem, The Wound in Time,  as part of the project. Once again poetry giving us all the words. If you only do one thing this remembrance day, read  The Wound in Time.


Time, priorities, oppression and critical love

(Photo by Mark Doda on Unsplash)

Just over a week ago I participated in the #HEdigiID    slow twitter chat around open educational practices facilitated Suzan Koseoglu.

The conversation evolved in the wonderful, meandering, and at times insistent ways that I find only really happen on twitter.   There is a summary of themes from the chat in this open google doc which is well worth a look. Sue Watling has also has written two excellent posts around participation and isolation, available here and here.

One part of the conversation focused around time, or the lack of it, particularly to experiment and try new things. Sue has explored many of the complex issues around engagement in her posts.  How we all priorities time was also a theme that resonated with me (and others in the conversation). James Clay also responded and wrote this post around time as a solution.  I’ll come back to that later in the post.

But guess what, I haven’t had the time, or as came out through the discussion, might not have been able to make it a priority to write my own reflection and response to the conversation until now.  I have been musing on the discussion all week. I have just had to prioritize other “stuff” until this morning, when I have made the time to sit down and write this post.

During the conversation I was quite tired (I’ve being feeling tired a lot this year) which I kind of put down to possibly being something to do with pre holiday malaise, trying to get things finished up and off at work. But actually as the week developed I realised that it is something much deeper that is causing this tiredness.

One of the highlights of this week was that I had the priviledge and pleasure of meeting Antonia Darder and attending one of the series of lectures/events she has been featuring in during a mini Scottish tour.    The meeting held in the Pearce Institute brought together a really wide range of people from across the city. Activism, critical pedagogy and the work of Paulo Freire being the uniting factor.

During the discussions and mini culture circles I was both uplifted and depressed by the struggles we are all going through just now.  And just how hard it is to affect real change; to empower people. As Antonia put it we are all “participate in our own silencing.” How through our increasingly neoliberal societies we are taught and accept the disparities and inequalities in our world.  When what we should be doing is working within, as part of our communities to develop support and coherence.

Sitting in a Govan (a pretty deprived area of Glasgow), in a room full of motivated, community activists, I was reminded of just how lucky I am, to have an education, to have a job, to have a house, food on the table every day, but more importantly of having a voice, and the importance of not letting that voice be silenced by lack of time.

In his post James highlighted that

Priorities in theory are set by the line manager, who is operationalising the strategic direction and vision of the institution

James also points to the potential of using a digital lens to work through some of these, what I am going to call here time challenges. However, I don’t think it’s that simple.  Increasingly I see institutional and sectoral “digital solutions” as being as much an oppressor of my time as the neo-liberal political agendas that drive our education sector.  I have to fight to get buy in/recognition for open education, which should be a given for all educators,  but then have to spend time explaining why spending nearly a quarter of a million pounds on a very immature, AI system is perhaps not actually a strategic priority, whilst at the same time trying to juggle figures to get new equipment in classrooms to move our campus learning environments (aka classrooms)  out of 1988 and into 2018.  That struggle, the tiredness, the silencing, the crushing of my voice, the feeling that I need to go along with things as I have to pay the mortgage, have food on the table, remember how lucky I am to be where I am, is my oppression. I am not alone.

Meeting and spending some time with Antonia, that twitter conversation, the connections I have outside my institution are a key part of creating a sense of coherence to fight back. I have come relatively late to critical pedagogy, but the more I study it the more it resonates with my core beliefs.  We need to contextualise, to work as a community with our students and colleagues to fight back against education and particularly higher education as being turned into a consumer journey, where data analytics, smart campuses are the focus of strategic direction.   We can’t let the current obsession  with “personalisation” allow what Freire described as bank education (bring ’em in, fill ’em up, sent ’em out, take the fees) to take hold.

I am still tired, but thankful that I have a network that constantly re-energises me. Where people like Laura and Susan provide space (that I do make the time ) to have conversations that make me realise what I can do. That critical love and support I get from so many colleagues is vital to support my struggles with my oppression.  We may all only have drops of struggle (another lovely phrase from Antonia) but all these drops can create help to create waves of change.




Who’s data is it anyway?

This morning (Saturday 24 March) there was a short item on the BBC Today Programme where Paddy Ashdown was arguing the case that we should treat personal data like property and that individuals should have the right to sell their data and get their fair share of the profits.

“Oh my”,  thought my sleepy brain.  I don’t think that will work without a lot of regulation which undoubtedly will lead to more exploitation through data estate agents.  Jenni Tennison from the Open Data Institute did her best to state an alternative case, the need for greater transparency, for open-ness but it a really short radio slot, it unfortunately didn’t really hit the spot.

I know I make data and therefore privacy trade-offs almost everyday.  I’ve probably been somewhat blasé, perhaps too naive with the little knowledge that I have, with the certainty that my own self censorship will ensure that an algorithm can’t “know” me. But they can (and do) sell parts of me . . .

Thanks to mainly to Channel 4 and The Guardian the past week has been full of extend of data manipulation, unethical practices employed in particular by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

Over the past decade I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in discourse around the potential  uses of network data and the ethical implications of being able to mine personal information.  Tony Hirst has always been my “go to guy” around this. Thanks to Tony, and others including Martin Hawksey and his Tags Explorer,  I’ve been able to see and explore for myself the potential and the pitfalls of using data.  This week Tony reminded us of a post he wrote back in  2010 about Facebook privacy settings.  “We” all knew this was coming, but what do “we” – academics, ed tech writers know . . . experts get it wrong all the time and we don’t have the big bucks that get us a seat on the data sharing explotation table.

Thankfully there is now a spotlight on data control, privacy and ethics.  There’s lots of talk about allowing users to get back their data. But how do you reclaim your Facebook data for example?  Autumn Caines has written a fantastic post around her experiences on doing just that.  Please take 10 minutes to read it.

I particularly like how Autumn relates this to gaslighting and the issues we in education face, particularly around personalisation of learning. I like Autumns notion of platform literacy. We need to know what platforms, do, can do, don’t do with data. Education has a vital role to play here.   I fear that what most platforms call personalisation is actually increasing homogenisation of content and “the student journey”.

I am struggling just now with my trade offs in terms of social media use, which have been so useful for me in terms of extending my personal learning network, in terms of extending the conversations I can participate in, the terms of allowing me easy access to the thoughts and research of so many peers, in terms of having data informed discussions around learning and teaching,  I don’t want to lose that but I feel myself stepping back more and more.


I’ve just spotted this post from David Hopkins about his Facebook data – worth a read too.

International Women’s Day, predictions, and everyday sexism #InternationalWomensDay

Earlier this morning I was wondering how I could frame a post for today, international women’s day when technology very handily provided the answer.

Whilst having breakfast this morning I was reading a really insightful post for Anne-Marie Scott about the contradictions of venue and intention of event:

It is a strange experience to be at a conference where there is highly visible and vocal leadership emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusivity, and recognition of the importance of International Women’s Day from panelists and from the President of SoLAR (Stephanie Teasley), yet be confronted visibly with the signs and symbols of structural exclusion whilst I drink my conference coffee.

At the same time I was half listening to the Today programme which was peppered with references to international women’s day.  I really wanted to share Anne- Marie’s post so I quickly went on to twitter and as I was typing in the hashtag I was astonished that after #inter – the first choice that was handily suggested to me was International Men’s Day ( you can tell it was early in the morning from my nonsensical text!)

Seriously, WTF twitter, predictive text!   If this isn’t a sign of inherent bias and everyday sexism I really don’t know what is.

Again this is why I am so wary of predictions of AI too. Surely any “intelligent” system should have been programmed or have learned that today is international women’s day. At the very least Twitter should  be running some sort of algorithm to ensure today, even just for one day, days women came before men in their handy, predictive hashtag lists. But of course, that depends on how and by who develops the algorithms that train the AI,  and what priorities and biases are programmed into them.

Everyday sexism permeates everywhere.  For too long every day has been international mans day.  It’s too easy to laugh an incident like this off and say “oh how predictable for predictive text”. Its time these insidious “little” things stopped.



What’s going on? Findings from the ALT Annual Survey #altc

alt survey word cloud

The final report and data from the 4th ALT annual member survey are now openly available from the ALT open repository.  The data and report provide a really rich picture of the priorities and practicalities around implementing and supporting technology in education across the UK.   This year it is very interesting to note the growing importance of staff development and professional recognition opportunities in terms of enablers for the use of learning technology.  If you really want to know what is going on, where the immediate future is now then I would suggest that you have a look at the findings of the survey.

VLEs, e-assessment, blended learning are top priorities this year, and have been consistently. Why open education has taken a drop in priorities is something that I’m sure will be debated at #oer18 and at this year’s #altc conference in September. (NB There’s still time to submit to the conference, the deadline is 8 March).

Part of me wants to believe it’s because open educational practice and resources are now embedded and part of mainstream practice. However, another part of knows that it’s not quite that simple. Open-ness is often the first thing to get overlooked if there isn’t serious senior management commitment.  I don’t think we have hit the sweet spot where the bottom up open practice that I see many people participating in has met a top down, sustained institutional, sectoral/ government level of support.

I want to highlight the richness of data that is now openly available via the survey.  Please explore and use it,  and encourage your colleagues do the same.