What Sheila's seen this week : templates, principles and analytics

This is a probably going to be a bit of a rambling post as I haven’t really blogged for a couple of weeks as it’s been a busy couple of weeks here at Blended Learning Towers.

This year there has been quite a push on developing more fully online programmes. I’ve blogged about how we have been supporting staff through the curriculum design process, and developing our suggested workflows and tools.  We’re now developing this into a series of support materials which we can use and share with more staff, and develop into some form of online staff development.  Just now we’re internally reviewing our “stuff” but I will share it as soon as it is ready for open consumption.

As part of that process we are developing a set of principles for the GCU Online student experience. Following up from their presentation at the recent Eden Conference 2015 proceedings, I was able to catch up with Nelson Jorge from TUDelpht to discuss their approaches to staff CPD and online course production. They also have a set of principles which they are now starting to use as part of their evaluation process. They are a bit ahead of us, and have a dedicated unit supporting online developments, as well as a process for staff to get time off “normal” teaching duties, we don’t have that – yet. As always it was great to share with like minded colleagues and have the comfort that we are all facing the same issues of lack of time and resources.

A recurring theme for us around online developments has been templates. <sigh> Templates are tricky, some of people are very keen on them; more often than not  as they seem them as a quick solution. However as you well know dear reader, it’s not that simple. We do have a default template in a sense in our VLE with our standard menu, and  Blackboard does provide an extensive set of pedagogically based teaching styles templates too. However staff have the freedom and flexibility to structure their modules as they see fit.  What we are trying to do is encourage a team design approach so that there is consistency of naming conventions and approaches across programmes. In that way templates naturally evolve.  As ever consistency really comes down to planning, and that needs time . . .

As the new semester draws nearer, we’re having more discussions with colleagues about trying new approaches in their modules which is great. We have a number of programmes that have very large modules (over 600 students) so I was really interested in these two posts from Fiona Saunders at Manchester on her reflections on large class teaching and designing assessments that are equitable, meaningful and manageable. Fiona makes some excellent points particularly about equity in large class scenarios.

Yesterday we met with Paul Bailey and Niall Sclater about the Jisc Effective Analytics programme.  Our work in learning analytics had stalled due to changes in our senior management and lack of CIO. However with our new CIO and IT Director now in place it looks like we will be moving ahead in this area and be part of the Jisc pilot. So look out for more posts around that.

And finally, I am now officially a jolly, good (HEA) Fellow.  I originally submitted for Senior Fellow, which I always knew was going to be a bit of a challenge, mainly because of my lack of actual teaching practice and slightly non traditional career path. And the feedback I got did confirm that. I also think my case studies weren’t focused enough on institutional impact. They were more based on work and experiences before I started here.  So after feedback from my initial submission I resubmitted for Fellow status and now have a nice shiny certificate.

Picture of HEA certificate

Looking back towards the future – what Sheila's seen this week

This week I’ve been thinking about the past and the future a bit more than normal. I’ve just finished reading Life after Life by Kate Aitkinson which has the premise “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” The  novel follows the many lives of Ursula Todd as she relives key episodes in her life.  At times I think we all have the “if only I had done that” feeling. Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing. But what if we did know what the future was going to bring, would we change things?

A tweet from David Kernohan early in the week reminded me of an email exchange we had with BCCampus in Canada about a year ago.

Me and @sheilmcn predicting 2013 just under 1 year ago, for @dendroglyph at BCCampus. http://t.co/kQ5J6DR8zV I think we did pretty well…

— David Kernohan (@dkernohan) January 20, 2014

Looking back at it now, I agree with David that we did actually do pretty well. I had no idea this time last year I would have a “proper job” within an institution; and it has come to pass that, this week in particular, issues around which “areas of technology should be seen as commodities and those which should be considered as strategic investments.” Like many others we are having lots of discussions about our strategic developments in online learning, MOOCs, technology provision etc.  In that respect the timing of the Cetis paper “Beyond MOOCs, Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions” couldn’t really have come at a better time to give a balanced overview of strategic considerations for online learning provision.

I don’t think I would change anything from the overview we gave last year. I’m now working somewhere where we are developing an OER policy, we have 3-D printers, we are thinking about how to expand our online provison. But I do think that most people in the sector as still experiencing a bit of a groundhog day scenario with technology.  We’re all too often still buying “stuff” without really thinking through the implications, and the integrations need.  We have a solution without actually knowing what the problem(s) is/are. Although things are changing there are still too many assumptions that technology alone will solve all the problems we are facing. So I was heartened to see myself last year saying this:

“one last thing- everything is underpinned by the growing recognition of the need to develop digital literacy not just in the sector but beyond.  For us to make any sense  of “all this stuff” we need to ensure our staff and students are continually developing both the technical and meta-cognitive capabilities needed”

That’s an ethos I’d want to keep in any life.

And finally, because every blog post needs a picture, I’ve looked back to my blipfoto archive and this was my entry on Jan 24th last year.  Sadly no sunshine here today . . .

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 09.53.18