Walking the walk, ALT, independence and open-ness #altc

One of the most exciting things to happen in my professional life over the past six months has been becoming Chair of ALT (Association of Learning Technology), the UKs largest  professional membership organisation supporting the effective use of learning technology.

After the successful launch of our new strategy last year, the Board of Trustees and the senior staff of ALT began a process of exploring if ALT could become a truly independent organisation.  I am delighted to say that after a lot of hard work from all the ALT full time team,  ALT has now achieved that ambition. It has now transitioned from a largely office-based team into a distributed, home-based workforce and to set up virtual operations fit to meet the changing requirements of the association and our membership.

This has been no mean feat, and I want to publicly thank our CEO Maren Deepwell for going above and beyond to achieve a pretty ambitious schedule to achieve this.  Martin Hawksey, our Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer has also been instrumental in helping us meet our deadlines.

I’m delighted that in the spirit of open-ness Maren and Martin have begun to share their experiences through a series of blog posts.  You can read the first one here.   If you are curious at all about open, organisational change this this is a must read.

I really believe that this move will truly enhance our ability to meet our values of participation, open-ness, collaboration and independence and will allow the organisation to increase our ability to support and represent our members.

ALT logo

Some positive words for the New Year

Don’t worry, dear reader, this isn’t one of those posts full of wise words. Well it’s my blog so you probably guessed that already!  This is just a short post which came out of one of those generally horrible round robin facebook things.  I normally ignore them,  but this one did catch my eye and happily the attention of some of my facebook friends.  It went like this:

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

And here are the words that people left me –  I really like them and I’m going to pin the word cloud above my desk at work. Feel free to add your word in the comments. Wishing everyone a peaceful New Year.



A new home on the reclaim train

picture of train on viaduct

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

So after a long time of watching others do it, and  thinking “oh I must get round to that”, I have at last joined the reclaim train and reclaimed my domain. So in time for the New Year I have a shiny, new .net domain – howsheilaseesit.net.

Many thanks to Jim Groom for making this move so simple and overseeing the transfer process.

If you haven’t done it already why don’t you give yourself an early present and reclaim your domain today.




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.

Reshaping the educational landscape? #ofetech

Earlier this week, in my capacity as Vice Chair of ALT, I had the pleasure of chairing the Technology in Learning: Reshaping the Educational Landscape event in Manchester.

The event organisers brought together a wide range of speakers who all gave their perspectives on changes in education just now.  You can see a full list of the speakers here.   From encouraging more criticality around the use of social media, to analytics, to assessment to developing more fully online delivery options to the inevitable cloud computing is the future, there was a lot packed into a relatively short space of time.

A couple of the highlights for me were Adam Cooper’s overview of analytics as a process, and his caution around predictive analytics, “accuracy is treacherous” he said. All data needs to be seen in context, and instead of predictive analytics he prefers to the term estimated risk -which I quite like too.  Sophie Emmertsen gave a really interesting talk about the accelerated route to fully online assessment in a number of Scandinavian countries which was of particular interest to many delegates.  Denise Whitelock also gave a fascinating overview of work around using more data informed processes to help with feedback with writing assessments – rainbow diagrams ftw!

The day was pretty full on with an awful lot covered over the day. I’m not sure we reshaped the landscape but perhaps just put down some more markers down around where we are just now and where we are heading in the next year or so.

You can download copies of all the presentations here.

I also liked this clock in the room!


Learning Analytics: the good, the bad and the ugly – University of Plymouth Digital Learning Day

Last week I had the privilege of invited to be the opening keynote at the University of Plymouth’s annual learning and teaching event.  The first day of the the two day celebration of learning and teaching was devoted to digital learning developments. The day had a strong focus on learning analytics and digital capabilities.

My talk focused on the experiences we have had a GCU in developing our learning analytics which have, and continue to be, good, bad and ugly – often simultaneously!

In terms of the Western theme, I think that worked quite well too.  Data is often talked  about as new (black) gold, so I started my talk by taking a quick look back into the history of the Californian gold rush.

In the mid 19th century the cries of “thar’s gold in them there hills” brought hundreds of thousands of people to California, destroying much of the natural landscape and indigenous people, changing the demographic of that part of the world.  At the same time, technological advances in mining grew apace and outstripped human capacity.   Other technological and industrial changes such as the railroad grew too.  A handful of people got very rich, but  most people either returned home worse off than they had left or had to stay and pursue another side of the American dream.

It doesn’t take much to draw analogies between that and education today. Our student and staff demographics are changing. Technology, perhaps more accurately the expectations of technology are seen by many in power as a way to revolutionise education. Data and learning  analytics is being sold as the only way to improve retention, progression, provide personalised learner journeys etc.  In the week after the results of the first TEF, there are still many, many questions to be asked about the data we are using to measure learning. In relation to learning (and teaching)  I don’t think we have actually struck data gold yet. We are still very much in the hand panning stage. And maybe we need to stay there. Automation may well miss the small nuggets that comprise a successful learning experience.

In my talk I tried to highlight some of the issues I think we all need to think about more carefully, particularly around alerting systems.  I am becoming increasingly alarmed by a prevalent train of thought that is espousing that the only way to scale up education is through automation. There doesn’t seem to be any questioning of the need to “scale up”, or indeed some of the dangers that  automated personalised teaching pathways (aka lowest common denominator pathways) may bring. What if, heaven forbid, some one does actually fail, despite being told by “the system” (the one that they pay thousands of pounds for every year) that they were on track? Who’s fault is that? How would our quality systems deal with that?

Despite these and other worries, I do still see a good side of learning analytics and that, for me just now, is around curriculum design.  I do believe that if we can get some greater insights into the how, what, where and whys of interactions in the VLE (and other learning systems) we can use that to have data informed (not driven) conversations with staff about curriculum design and pedagogical approaches.  That is a core part of my job in an academic development team.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I went to over the day, including the keynote from Helen Beetham about her work around students expectations of digital technologies and the results of this years Jisc student tracker survey.  With 22, 000 responses this is a really rich source of data!

Here are my slides from the day.

Weaving our way around the complex tapestry of strategy, practice and policy, in learning technology: ALT Scotland meeting


(image: unsplash)

This week saw the annual ALT Scotland group face to face meeting. This year’s years location was the stunning new City of Glasgow College campus. What a learning space that is!  You can see more here – it really is every bit as good as the video illustrates.

As well as chairing the morning sessions, my colleague Professor Linda Creanor, also presented an overview of institutional strategic developments on digital learning here at GCU.

Linda use the analogy of weaving to describe the way our team (Academic Development) has to move across the institutional loom weaving  between, above, below the various threads of strategies and policies that support enhancing practice and the adoption and the effective use of learning technology.  As the day progressed I think this analogy became more resonant for me. A lot of the threads we are working with are quite delicate, and to create an effective pattern we need to be quite expert weavers. That expertise can’t just be replaced by automated services. There maybe some high level patterns that we can share across the sector, but as they say but devil is always in the detail. And it’s the details, the human interactions, that really matter in providing effective learning.

As ever there were a really good mix of presentations from across the sector, touching on some key issues many of us are facing including: VLE procurement, with updates on the recent Scottish national VLE procurement framework; GSA (Glasgow School of Art)  also shared their decision and plans to change their VLE; copyright (this time from my library colleague Marion Kelt).

The first two presentations of the afternoon focused on lecture recording.  Presentations from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow shared their developing policies and practice.

Edinburgh are in the process of developing an institutional wide policy and share some of the issues they are grappling with including opt-in or opt-out, copyright, is it capture or recording? longevity  and storage to name but a few.  This work is being driven as part of their overall student enhancement and engagement work.

From Glasgow, we actually got to hear the student voice about lecture capture.  Students want it. They can’t understand why, if the tech is in place, lecturers wouldn’t want to do it. Students will record parts of lectures anyway as revision aids.  Conversely though in the discussion it became apparent that students prefer more active, participatory forms of learning and teaching – not just traditional passive lectures.

This illustrated so clearly to me some of the underlying tensions around the use of technology. Lecture capture can be really useful, but it isn’t a magic wand. It costs a lot to provide a comprehensive system, and unless there is equally investment around thinking about the most effective ways of using that technology there is a danger of perpetuating the same old, same old.

Effective use of video is much more than just recording the traditional 1 hour lecture. Lecture capture sh/could be the catalyst for more flipped approaches, for more blending of shorter (at times) video based resources, for more in class active engagement.  But that requires rethinking of time, preparation, f2f, and online time. Many people are doing just that, but again they are weaving in and around of the neat 1 hour time pattern. 1 hour prep, 1 hour delivery (or maybe 15 minutes) , 1 hour follow up.   That needs to change.  Increasingly I am having conversations about rethinking of time in relation to learning and teaching.

The final presentation of the day came from Joe Wilson who gave us a round up of a number of open education conferences and events he has attended recently as part of the Open Scotland group. You can read more here and here .

Joe also highlighted some of the international open initiatives that are growing apace and have significant government support. Oh,  the irony of hearing that the Moroccan government have just published an open education policy based on the (community led)  Open Scotland Declaration, yet here in Scotland we are still finding it so hard to get the Scottish Government to engage in a meaningful way around open education policy.

All in all a really interesting and useful day in a great location. Presentations will be online from the ALT website over the coming days.

I say open, you say ? #EUNIS2017

Last week during my keynote at the #eunis2017 conference I tried to get a bit of audience participation and idea of what open meant to the delegates by asking the question:

“I say open – you say?”

I gave delegates the opportunity to share up to 3 words.  This image below shows the resulting word cloud.  Quite a range of responses, and maybe unsurprisingly for an information services conference, data featured pretty highly, but some of the other words are quite interesting too – education, available, seamless, access, collaboration.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 15.53.23

As a quick way to get some swhooshy interactivity into a presentation mentimeter worked really well, it was quite entertaining to see the cloud develop in real time as delegates responded.   If you would like a go – then you can add your 3 words here  and see the results here.

You can see the conference cloud unfold in real time in the video recording of the presentation that Martin Hamilton made using a couple of tricks from his Futurists toolkit (well actually a mobile phone and a niffy little tripod).

Kith and nomads: a small thought on digital citizenship #digciz


(image: Unsplash)

I’ve noticed a number of tweets and blogs over the last couple of weeks using  #digciz.

This week the conversation is being led by Maha Bali and Kate Bowles.  Both have, as ever written very moving and thought provoking blog posts. Kate on kith and Maha on citizenship

Kate asks:

Where can we experience anything like kith online? Are there places that we love online, environments where we feel at home, that seem to love us back? Is this about user experience, or ethos? Is it about the trust we’re willing to place in design, in what data is kept and what is done with it? Can we feel at home under conditions of continual digital surveillance? Can we love a place that is manipulating us for business or political gain? Is it ever possible to experience kith when the whole thing is set up, controlled, regulated and organised in service of values we don’t share?

Maha writes:

I am talking about citizenship with a network that is mostly people in North America, or at least in some Western country, and their understanding of citizenship will be so vastly different from mine simply because our experiences of citizenship are so vastly different . . . I’m a digital citizen in spite of all the risks and potential ugliness it brings. The more I stay, the more I can see this, but I stay. We have much more mobility with our digital presence than our physical presence, don’t we? And yet I stay for the people. And maybe, just maybe, my staying some place will make a difference, no matter how small

Both posts and some of the discussions I’ve seen today on twitter, I’ve been quickly reflecting on my own digital citizenship, or perhaps more accurately my own digital interactions.   I haven’t actually ever really consciously thought about my own digital citizenship. Like Kate highligted I think I tend to think of citizenship as a formal, bureaucratic process – only really to be called upon for serious, legal things. Perhaps that’s because I have never (thank all your gods) been in a position where it has been really threatened, or rights taken away from me. I need to think about that a lot more!

I have a presence in a number of spaces, have built connections and friendships via those spaces. I’ve also followed parts of this wider digital community to other spaces, some of which I have liked and explored, others where I have looked around and quickly moved on never to return.   So I’m wondering if my digital citizenship is more nomadic, more like the definition:

“A member of a people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals and has no permanent home.” 

I think I move from place to place to find not fresh pasture, but maybe fresh ideas, my community, my kith and kin. I leave these spaces for the same reasons. However much of my data remains. An echo of me that companies can mine and manipulate. Is that evidence of my digital citizenship?  Is that how I will be measured and monitored? Or does that matter as much as the community I interact with?

Caught between The Nothing and the Something? 

I’m currently travelling home from Germany where earlier in the week I gave ia keynote at the EUNIS conference. My talk was about open education and I called it “The Never Ending Story of Open“. I choose this title as I think the story of open education is still unfolding, but also because I felt that the concept of The Nothing, which in the book, and the film, is a very apt metaphor for what is happening in our (western) society just now. Post truth, alternative facts, incuriosity, are all combing to eat away at the very fabric of our society. Expertise, experts – who needs them?

In terms of openness in general there is an even greater threat.  The balance between regulation and censorship, the manipulation and erosion of human rights, free speech is being threatened as never before. As much as many of us want to continue to open up eduacation, the nothing is working hard to take that away too. Another of the keynotes spoke about the future of technology, about AI, self driving cars and seemed to be holding Uber and Amazon automation as the models education should be aspiring to. I wrote about this last week too. For me that is another arm of The Nothing  giving us the same hemgonised version of the future eating away at any creativity or alternative predictions. Mass personalisation of education is invevitable, the only way to “manage” this is through AI. That’s the only way to train the DNA editors, the asteroid engineers of the future.  

At the end of my talk I give a rallying call to fight against the many tentacles of the nothing that are eroding society from so many sectors. I see open education as a potential beacon of hope. It is our openness, our permability, our notions of open hospitality and sharing that provide the ammunition to beat The Nothing.  
In the light of the UK election results this morning I am wondering if we are at a bit of a turning point. Something has definitely happened, but something has happened in the last 3 elections I’ve voted in and The Nothing has marched rentlessly on. Are enough of us waking up and seeing beyond the nothing of meaningless political narrative and nothingness? Is now final  the time fo some serious and informed debate about key issues such as healthcare, social care, funding for education and of course Brexit? 

 I hope so, but we still have to be wary, The Nothing is always only a step behind or two behind us and there are still many people who are willing to take its offered version of the future.