What Sheila's seen this week – learning analytics, data and open education

It’s been a really busy couple of weeks here at blended learning HQ at GCU.  My colleagues are in the middle of preparing our annual blended learning report. There’s not a huge amount I can add this year, but it is a great opportunity to find out more about what is happening, so data and analytics have been high on the agenda. For the past couple of years there’s been an encouraging increase in the use and access to our VLE, which we call GCU Learn.  This year the web accesses are down but the mobile accesses have increased exponentially with Apple devices far and away the most popular. Tuesdays also seem to be a popular day . . .  We’re also seeing a significant uptake in use of turnitin and trademark.  E-assessment and feedback is definitely something staff and students want and are using.

Last Friday we met with Blackboard about and they took us through their analytics platform.  I was in that strange position of being quoted back to myself, as they were referencing the Cetis Analytics Series quite heavily. Still a great piece of work, and if you haven’t had a look, and are interested in analytics I would throughly recommend it.  We are probably not at the stage to start working with their system yet. There are some key questions that need some really serious discussion, not least around benchmarking. But I am now taking a leaf out of my own book and really considering the who, what, where, why and how of data here.

Although I’m not exactly a newbie anymore, I am still finding my way around and getting to know what  people are doing in terms of blended learning.  Our Engineering and Built Environment School had a lunchtime “technology taster” session yesterday which gave me the opportunity to see some of the practice in that school. There was a really good mix of activities including the use of WebPA, screen capture and various student response systems packed into an hour. We’re developing case studies of practice just now so a few more names were added to my list of people to speak to.  Library colleagues also gave a demo of BoB  our national broadcasting recording service. You can easily create playlists of clips and or whole tv/radio programmes which can be embedded into webpages and most VLEs. The slight downside for us is that we don’t have complete single sign on and BoB uses Athens authentication so if we embed in our VLE students will have to login with their Athens details to view   . . . but hopefully that will change relatively soon.

There is a lot of activity around new IT infrastructure as well as overarching discussions and consultations around a new institutional strategy to take us to 2020. I’m really pleased that I have the opportunity to take forward the work I’ve been doing with Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth on exploring the concept of the digital university as a possible way to link up a number of “things” that  seem to have some kind of digital dependency.

Sharing and exploring practice is pretty much at the forefront of everything I’m doing just now.  Although I consider myself an open practitioner, and an advocate for open educational practices, I am aware that my own practices, my networks and connections are changing in response to my new position.  As you’ll be aware, dear reader, it’s Open Education week next week. David Walker has organised a brilliant week of events at Sussex.  I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to run a webinar with Catherine Cronin about the challenges of being open. The title of our session is “Open and online: connections, community and reality”  and I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and experiences along with Catherine’s  research on openness, identities and online spaces.

I’ll also be blogging more about this next week and using the responses to my twitter question

Tweeps do you think I am an open practitioner? Your response will help me with a couple of things for open education week

— Sheila MacNeill (@sheilmcn) March 5, 2014

In the meantime tho, my good friend and former Cetis colleague David Sherlock has written a really thought provoking post  in response to my tweet, which takes a different angle on sharing, data and who really benefits.

Random picture of a bit of welcome sunshine earlier this week.

Morning sunshine
Morning Sunshine

What Sheila's seen this week – open boat building, secret wikipedians, NMC report

This has been a bit of a meeting-tastic week for me, and so most of my time has been taken up with internal developments here at GCU. All quite exciting for me but not so much in terms of a blog post. However I still have had half an eye on the rest of the world, well parts of it at least.

On Monday I went to the 3rd Open Data Glasgow Meet up.  As one of community organisers is was heartening to see a core of regulars building up, and of course welcome new faces.  The presentations were as diverse as ever from using wikipedia for developing research and scholarly skills at the Glasgow School of Art, where a number of secret wikipedians have been ‘outed’;  to using open source designs and 3-D printers to build boat houses in the Hebrides. Added to this mix was a touch of open science and another up date from the Glasgow Future Cities demonstrator Project.  I collated a twitter time line of the event which gives an overview of the presentations.

The NMC HE Horizon report was released. I’m not even going to attempt to review it (David Hopkins has done a great round up of reviews), but I can easily match most of the key trends, significant challenges and important developments to activities  and/or areas in need of development within my own institution. I still have reservations the relevance of big data approaches in assessment in my context at this point in time. We are seeing a really big up take in e-assessment which is great. But it is going to take a while for the analytics side of things to become part and parcel of the emerging workflows/practices of our staff.  At this stage, we need to a lot of  work on developing (relatively) small and local approaches to data. We really are just taking baby steps in terms of actually getting the data in the first place never mind be in a position to make any sense of it. A more pressing priority just now is ensuring that e-assessment systems are reliable.  As many of you know many of us in the UK HE sector are more than a little bit cross with certain well known similarity checking system.

Probably more interesting to me than the report were the video entries for the ELI video competition which show real examples of a number of the trends, challenges and developments from the report itself.

The HEA also released their flexible pedagogies report, which is a bit a contrast to the NMC report, but has some useful overview information in it.

Developing staff (and student) digital literacies were featured in the NMC and ALT ‘s Special Issue: Scholarship and Literacies in a Digital Age includes a fascinating range of papers around digital literacy issues – weekend reading for me I think.

Elements of the Creative Classroom Research Model - NMC HE 2014
Elements of the Creative Classroom Research Model – NMC HE 2014

What Sheila's seen this week

The first week back at work after the Christmas break is always a bit of a struggle, and having had a bit of an extended trip to Australia just in early December I do kind of feel the work part of my brain has been in hibernation mode for normal thank longer. However this week has got everything switched back on (almost!).  Our blended learning team here at GCU Lead is now complete with Jim Emery  now part of the team, and it’s been great to be able to start having some really good discussions about our plans for the coming year interspersed with a few about the new episodes of Sherlock.

At this time of year there’s lots of reviews and predictions around. Alastair Creelman has written a useful summary of the key points of this year’s NMC Horizons preview report.

My first thoughts on 2014 Horizon Report http://t.co/aItsL9xARJ (earlier tweet had wrong link)

— Alastair Creelman (@alacre) January 8, 2014

Online, hybrid and collaborative learning is one of their “fast moving” trends, which I think working in a blended learning team is just part and parcel of my everyday job. This is intrinsically linked to one of the “slow trends” (in the next 5 years and beyond) of making online learning natural~ the increased use of audio/video communication is the key to this according to the report. Whilst I fully advocate the development and integration of non text based approaches it’s more than just “communication” that needs to be natural, the workflows and practices of teachers and learners should be too. It’s not enough just to have the tech in place people need to be comfortable with recording/listening/watching to themselves and others in an educational context.  I agree with Alistair that this is more of a medium trend. Like many others,here at GCU we are having a lot of  (quite heated) discussions about the merits of lecture capture and will be making decisions fairly quickly. We’re also seeing (and actively encouraging) the use of alternative feedback methods primarily audio.  The report also highlights the some of the challenges in increased adoption of TEL approaches including scalability and recognition and reward.

Lack of career development and incentives in TEL is also highlighted in the “Charting the development of technology- enhanced learning development across the UK higher education sector: a longitudinal perspective (2001-12) which I picked up on via a tweet from Peter Reed. The paper reviews the key findings and trends from the annual UCISA TEL surveys and is another good read.  Particularly around the tensions between central and local provision of technology within institutions, consistency of delivery versus more innovative approaches and the many remaining challenges around “developing course delivery models which focus on active student learning, maximising the opportunities that web and mobile technologies now offer for interactive, student centred learning design” .  Going back to lecture capture data from the UCISA surveys indicates that it is one of the emerging centrally provided technologies but “usage data indicate that the values of these tools is still to being determined by staff. . .”  So the fight goes on to support our staff and students from  technology  “being used to replicate or supplement existing teaching practices, rather than support structural change in instructional practice which transform the learning experience” .  As the report highlights MOOCs maybe are a catalyst for interest in TEL (particularly from senior management)  but there’s also a lot of work to be done in terms of ensuring that senior management really see beyond the hype around MOOCs  and that they not are the ultimate manifestation of TEL.

The central, departmental provision of technology of course is now expanding to incorporate byod.  Mobile devices can provide a way to use technology more imaginatively and engagingly, which brings me nicely onto the BYOD4L course. This “open magical box’ for those who don’t like the term ‘course’ very much, for students and teachers (nothing is locked away or private and you won’t even need to register) who would like to develop their understanding, knowledge and skills linked to using smart devices for learning and teaching and use these more effectively and creatively.” From 27th to 31st January this will be actively moderated and supported by a great team of people.  I may well be tempted to join in.

I really do wish I could do all the data stuff, maybe one day when I grow up I can be a data scientist. In the meantime, Shayne Lynn has pulled together a great online curriculum  for would be data scientists.  In the meantime I’m valiantly working my way through the left over Christmas chocolates in the office kitchen …

Left over Christmas chocolates

and there has been a small edutechie rush of activity of blip photo so hoping that along with others I can fulfil this year’s 365 challenge.

What Sheila's seen this week

This week started with the 2nd Open Data Glasgow meet-up on Monday night. There were a fascinating range of presentations which Lorna Campbell has helpfully summarised in this blog post

Duncan Bain’s presentation on open approaches to architecture provoke a lot of discussion around the cultural barriers in adopting openness. In particular there were comparisons made between software development and the common sharing of code and the lack of similar sharing in architecture. Given the impact buildings have on all our lives, having more collaborative, open approaches does seem to make perfect sense – but when did that make a difference anywhere 🙂

Hearing an architect talking about design patterns and co-design approaches was also quite a change for me, as my introduction to these concepts has been through research around learning design where these concepts of design language and approaches have been “appropriated” or should I say re-used?  and are being used fairly successfully. The overall concepts certainly cross over well.

On Monday I also came across the QAA report on Students Expectations and Perceptions of HE report, and I’ve been having some great twitter conversations with Peter Reed and Mark Stubbs about what Mark calls technology “hygiene factors”, which are all too often not given the recognition they need.  Peter has been sharing the findings of surveys he’s conducted with staff and students around their use of TEL and he helpfully produced this post contexualising the hygiene issues too.

I found Peter’s findings around students expectations of lecture capture particularly revealing

“the most striking thing for me is that so many HEIs appear to buying into incredibly expensive, sophisticated lecture capture systems. Internal work at Liverpool costed out what it would take to rig out all our lecture rooms – the cost was around £4 million. In actual fact, the majority of students would just prefer simple audio sync’ed with the slides, which can be achieved for about £30k (I think)”

Lecture capture is something that is on our agenda here at GCU, like most we’ve had/are having mixed responses. The University of Leicester held a “great debate” on the issue this week too. Grainne Connole’s post  summarises the outcome. It’s also worth checking out Alan Cann’s What’s wrong with lecture capture post, summarising his experiences and contribution to the debate.

Some thoughts on the "Students expectations and perceptions of higher education" report

Via a tweet from David Walker I’ve just come across a QAA research report produced  by Kings College around students expectations and perceptions of higher education.

The aims of the project were to provide:

  • A better understanding of student perceptions of quality and standards, leading to the possibility of more effective relationships within and across institutions
  • Sector, academic and student groups that are better equipped to understand student engagement and thus facilitate enhancement
  • Examine the impact of recent policy developments on students’ perceptions of quality
  • A more developed understanding of how perceptions vary across student groups. iinstitutional types and regional settings

Although it’s primary focus was on students in English institutions, and the impact of increasing fees,  a number of the key recommendations have wider applicability to the rest of the UK and beyond.

A couple of the recommendations stood out for me including:

1. Students’ Framing of Ideology: Consumerist ethos: Student perceptions of value.

“there should be greater information and transparency over of information on how money is spent on teaching and learning activities, what qualifications do academics have in their subjects and for teaching, how are academics hired and trained and how teaching is structured and allocated.”

I’ve been trying to write something polite about this, but in light of experiences at my former host institution finding it very hard! Needless to say, there needs to be more  real buy-in and recognition of the importance of educational development within universities along side research activities. . . I’m very happy now to be in an institution that is providing increased opportunities and backing up rhetoric with adequate numbers of dedicated staff for CPD in educational development.

Related to this:

5. Staff: Attributes, practices and attitudes.  

“Students praised enthusiastic, experienced and engaged staff, but wanted mechanisms in place to develop staff and to manage ‘bad’ teachers. Students wanted staff to be qualified and trained  . . .”

In relation to perceptions of technology the points below jumped out at me:

2. Students’ Framing of Practice: Student expectations of the learning environment: Clear benchmarks. 

“Students’ expected their learning environment to meet clear benchmarks across four areas: instrumental (computers and physical spaces); organisational (timetabling and course structure); interpersonal (staff support and engagement); and academic (lecturers’ knowledge and attitude towards students).”

This reminds me of many of the findings from the Jisc DVLE and Curriculum Design programmes and in particular what Mark Stubbs refers to as the “hygiene” factors that really need to be in place in learning environments to support students. We really need to concentrate on having these basics in place we can move on to other “shinier” things.

In this section the executive summary also states:

“Students value face‐to‐face interactions for learning and support. Students viewed technology as a means to access resources and support studying, and no students mentioned pedagogical uses of digital technologies.”  (NB words in bold are my own emphasis) 

“Recommendation: Institutions should be cautious of using technology as a replacement for face‐to‐face interactions, or as a substitute for developing an active and collaborative learning environment and community.

I would agree that technology shouldn’t be seen as a replacement, but if we allow our staff more time for CPD then many more may be able to see the affordances that technology can bring to their teaching and in particular collaboration,  and allow more students to understand that the use of technology in learning is not just about retrieval of content and uploading of assessments.

Once again another argument for emphasis on creating blended learning opportunities?