the reconstruction of part-time higher education

green front cover of OU report Fixing the broken market

There a new report out

Fixing the Broken Market in Part-Time Study

From the OU

I quote

Lord Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science at the time of the reforms, has said that the collapse in part-time student numbers is ‘one of my biggest regrets about my time as Minister’

Oh come on!

Was anyone in his circle of family and friends affected? I doubt it.

Part-time education matters. Anyone could have predicted what the changes in student fees would do.

And it did.

The market isn’t just broken its crushed.  For all the rhetoric about widening access and participation,  it’s never been harder to get into university as a part-time student.

image of herbs being crushed in a bowl

I came into higher education at the turn of the century.  On the back of the Dearing report (1997) I worked on widening participation projects. The ones where you go into schools and talk to pupils about aspirations, bring them onto campus for mini-university experiences, play spot the lecturer (yes, honest, jeans and trainers, the suit is in ICT) It was all about breaking down the social and cultural barriers which make people believe a higher education is not for them.

The years before I’d worked in adult and community education, teaching computer skills, supporting adults who’d been out of formal education for some time or never had the opportunity to study, helping them get back into employment after a career break or disability. I’d started my first degree after  the family were all at school. I was widening participation in action. Ten years before the Dearing Report it was already happening – albeit without the internet.

image showinf two cartoon people on either side of a chasm

I’ve been lucky.

Both my MA’s were part time and six years  ago I signed up for a part time degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull. It was the thought of the new fees wot did it. I got in just before the changes. Still had to pay – over 6 years it worked out as @£1000 a year – but for me it was money well. There were opportunities to be creative, meet new people, cover a wide range of genre. Hard work but worth it. The subsequent fee increases led to an inevitable drop in numbers and the part-time degree has now closed. Over half of my class wanted to take the MA in Creative Writing. They had the talent but simply couldn’t afford it.

For most it was their first experience of HE. I don’t think many would disagree that in one way or another the past 6 years were transformative. Not only in terms of knowledge and experience but in the acquisition of a  variety of skills and overall confidence in both the subject and as individuals. They were so proud to graduate and I was proud to have been part of such an talented and energetic group. Isn’t this what life is about? Learning there’s more to the world than exists in your little corner?

pink and green direction arrows

Fixing the Broken Market says some right things:

For prospective students, greater flexibility in degree provision will help people access the life-changing opportunities that a university education can provide…allowing people additional routes to higher skills – such as through flexible ‘learn-while-you-earn’ higher education provision or apprenticeships – will be vital to allow people to upskill and retrain whilst in work.

Apprenticeships.

Mmmm……

I’m currently involved in supporting a Degree Apprenticeship Programme. Intended to be partnerships between employers, universities, and professional bodies, students will have the opportunity to study (UG and PG) while working. It’s a revival of part-time study through work based learning.

book, phone and keyboard

At Lincoln I supported a variety of Work Based Learning programmes which focused on the needs of local employers. For me, WBL was widening participation in action. It was where the affordances of education technology came into their own and inclusive practice was essential in rural areas with poor broadband connections. I built transition support and helped amend the validation process. By the time a  WBL award got to validation, the differences and challenges had already been addressed, the first module developed and was demonstrated. For years I did the best I could to support staff teaching on these programmes. What I couldn’t control then, and still struggle with today, is time.

cartoon person pushing a brown cog wheel representing the gears of digital shifts

I know from experience how studying part-time while working full-time is tough.

My PhD is on a burner so far back I can’t see it.

Without support from your employer, part time study risks being an unachievable goal. The new Degree Apprenticeships have to acknowledge the reality of the full time work/part time study dichotomy.

It’s good to see Fixing the Broken Market in Part Time Study has bought up the issues, but the rationale worries me. Times have changed and the purpose of higher education is changing too. This resurgence of attention is also a reconstruction.  Part-time is repackaged as shorter, flexible modes of study. ‘Learning and Earning’ the new catch phrase. Improving the skills of the working-age population the driver.  A  meritocratic society the vision. Technology the discipline focus. This isn’t about the Arts or Humanities which, if I’m reading it right, are presented  low-value learning. It’s STEM STEM STEM all the way home.

keyboard with a sign saying Under Construction

Parts of the report make me want to cry – not in a good way. Page 9 addresses the lessons learned following the Browne Report and show how far removed the government was (still is) from reality. Read it yourself and see. Here are some tasters

It was thought that part-time students would respond to increases in deferred fees in the same way as full-time students…. it [was] thought that more part-time students would be entitled to and take-up tuition fee loans than actually did…  we would not expect a negative impact on the demand for part-time study… The experience of the last few years shows that this assumption, that all of us made, was catastrophically wrong

No shit Sherlock!

silhouette of raised arms

Apart from higher education becoming purely an employability incentive there are some lights at the end of this long dark tunnel. ‘Lessons from recent history include part-time students and full-time students need to be thought about differently by policymakers.‘ Yep, they certainly do. And by the universities and by all staff who teach and support learning but I would challenge statements like ‘Less time out of work is required for these flexible study modes‘ because this isn’t true. 20 credits is still 200 hours of learning no matter how you present it.

timer laid on its side in the sand

However the biggest single hurdle to achieving authentic and meaningful part- time study is time. Without an institution and employer wide shift in culture towards genuine CPD, part-time study will continue be a source of stress rather than reward.

I know…

I’m stressed…the Phd sleeps quietly in my absence….while I count down the days to Christmas for all the wrong reasons.

christmas baubles and tree

all images from pixabay.com

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Accessibility Matters Part Two

cartoon figure holding a sign saying access denied
Accessibility can be hard work.

Accessible content requires the user to jump over hoops.

It gets tiring. Frustrating. No one understands unless they’ve been there too.

Most ‘accessible practice’ is lip service… tokenism.

Here’s an example of the separation between theory and practice. I followed an interesting looking tweet (as you do) to a blog by Wendy Mitchell @WendyPMitchell who was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in her fifties. Visit Wendy’s website Which Me Am I Today for more details.

Wendy Mitchell website banner showing a view over a lake surrounded by hills

Wendy raises awareness about what the condition is like, in particular what it means for her in daily life. At one such event three ‘healthcare professionals’ had arrived to join her.

‘Two nurses were from the Learning Disabilities team and one from Mencap. We were also joined by Acho from the Recovery College ….They all dealt with people with dementia so I went through all my challenges and simple solutions. They, like many professionals weren’t aware of dementia affecting so many of our other senses so I filled them in on that as well.’

Here lies the heart of the issue. Unless you’ve had personal or 1-2-1 experience of impairment or disability you don’t know what the day-to-day reality is like. If ‘health care professionals’ don’t know the full story then what hope is there for digital content designers and internet providers to create fully accessible and inclusive online environments.

The topic of last week’s #lthechat + #HEAchat was designing interaction for diverse cohorts with Dr Pauline Hanesworth. Many answers to the first few questions included  suggestions of what diversity might look like. Try to define this yourself. By definition, diversity is broad because humanity contains a complex array of difference. Designing for diversity is almost always going to be impossible. So let’s turn it around

tweets from #lthechat

Rather than identification of the constituent parts of a diverse student cohort, we should focus on preventing barriers to access instead – put inclusive practice first –and promote the principles of inclusive design. While there will never be a one-size-fits all model e.g. multimedia will always have exclusive parameters, creating and making time to think about the issues. Learning the value of alternative formats (textual equivalents which can be customised to suit user requirements) is always time well spent.

My colleague Lee Fallin got it…

tweets from #lthechat

tweets from #lthechat

It’s always comforting to find like minded people – who understand the need need to get beneath the academic theorising to the nitty gritty reality – the practical steps everyone can take to ensure their content reaches the greatest number. After all, equality legislation was always about being proactive – about anticipating requests for alternative formats – and providing them at source rather than them having to be asked for.

What went wrong? Why does society seems to be taking backward steps?

In the 1990’s the three Equality Commissions did some fantastic work campaigning and raising awareness of discrimination around the triad of disability, age and sex. When disbanded, replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, dilution of focus was predictable. The single Equality Act introduced a host of protected characteristics – all of which matter – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they don’t.

What I am saying is attention to disability over the years seems to have become blurred and relegated to a back seat. Changes to the benefit system are bad enough – for every so called Daily Mail ‘scrounger’ and ‘benefit cheat’ there are thousands whose physical and cognitive impairment, often through no fault of their own, makes participation in society both challenging and difficult.

image of a broken mirror from pizabay

We’ve reached a state where some individuals with genuine ‘disability’ now have fears about disclosure, who feel they have to disguise integral aspects of themselves in case of negative repercussions, in particular from those with no idea of what it’s like to live in 2017 – in a society which seems to be taking backwards rather than forward steps around access to the built environment – e.g. dropped kerbs which take away the distinction between pavements and roads, street art with no warning of obstruction and it’s not just the real world – it’s the digital one too. This is what concerns me the most. In a society when the platforms of the public sphere are digital and the provision of welfare is first and foremost, where the NHS policy is Digital First, then to be digitally excluded is to be silenced, discriminated against and excluded.

access denied sign with red figure sat looking downcast
image from https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-access-denied-sign-clipping-path-included-image-image60841223

What can be done?

Access to higher education is so important to get right. The cost alone is bad enough without having additional struggle with processes and resources. Attitudes such as insistence on PDF formats, seeing accessibility as the sole responsibility of Disability Services, ignoring the need for textual equivalents to video/audio, acceptance of inaccessible environments like ebooks, provision of new digital content which breaks basic guidelines on colour, contrast and navigation – it’s all around us.

I believe digital inclusion and accessible working practices should should be the seventh element of the Jisc Digital Capabilities model

At the moment it isn’t there – why not?  It suggests those leading the digital capabilities agenda in HE are unaware of the issues themselves and this worries me.

Digital capability is about so much more than using tools – it’s about understanding and reflecting on the wider social impact of the internet and this includes parameters of inclusion and access.

Over on #lthechat the tweets had moved on…

A related topic. Not only does this challenge the myth of the digital native which I still hear being used – uncritically – by staff who teach and support learning across the sector – but it neatly opens the door to ask what being digitally capable means and these are the conversations we need to be having more often.

The #lthechat was over but the tweeting continued…

In the meantime, Lee had the right idea!

This week’s blog started as a combination of accessible and inaccessible digital environments (Accessibility Matters – Part One) with calls for opportunities to debate diversity and barriers to the HE experience – it’s concluding with a reminder how those with digital access need to raise awareness and campaign for the digital rights of those who have it less easy.

Reread and share the Jisc guide to Getting started with accessibility and inclusion

Revisit the Toolkit for creating accessible learning materials developed by TechDis.

Be sad because apart from the Toolkit, all that’s left of TechDis is an archived version of the front page of its website.

The digital world is transient, fast moving, here today and gone tomorrow, but some things should be fixed – given more permanence –  and Tech Dis was one of them.

Who is carrying on the work?

I’m not sure.

Let’s make a list of cares about digital inclusion.

If you’ve read this far and want to be included let me know…

 

image of man holding a sign is from https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-access-denied-banner-held-up-little-man-white-background-image40043062

 

Accessibility Matters Part One

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

I’d heard negative reports about Sharepoint. Which goes to show you shouldn’t judge a tool by its reputation. Using it had two advantages – a selection of useful editing tools and when the text size is increased (unlike MS Windows and Office) the text box ribbon and menus enlarge too.

Both of these matter.

First the tools.

Many user generated content boxes only offer plain text which isn’t enough. I want to edit and format, emphasise, bullet a list, switch to html.

image showing comment box in Speedgrader on Canvas

Hull has Canvas as a VLE and most of its comment boxes are plain text. The minimalist style is particularly frustrating in Speedgrader (yes, you can attach a Word document but in the Grade Studio you can bold, italicise, underline and add a URL which is great for directing students towards additional guidance and support)

Giving feedback and feeding forward for future assignments is a key part of the educational relationship. It’s a skill and an art to critique constructively. Whether feed-back or feed-forward, the process needs to sound as though the student matters and the tutor cares. This can be a challenge to achieve online, where digital text often appears cold, devoid of human touch with an increased risk of misinterpretation. Being able to edit the appearance of text can help this lack of emotion but – other than a : -) face (which doesn’t even convert to a real smile like MS does) plain text has no affordance for personalisation.

smiley from MS Word

It’s not just Canvas which sticks to plain text. The message tools on Twitter and Facebook lack editing features but their function is more ‘of the moment’ like a text equivalent of a quick message whereas meaningful feedback should be personal and contextual – if ever a place was needed for editing tools it’s the online marking of assignments.

Guidance on writing feedback e.g. REAP’s Seven principles of good feedback practice or the Seven Steps Giving Effective Feedback from Plymouth University, is all about what feedback should do. The choice of  media rarely gets a mention, other than as a beneficial alternative to text.

Video and audio offer opportunities for a more personal touch but are still best used in combination with written text rather than as an alternative.  The interpersonal effect of digital writing – i.e. being able to ‘talk’ online as you do face-to-face – is hardly addressed any more. Yet the truth is – compared to (legible) handwriting – Times New Roman is impersonal. Where are the workshops on How to reduce the neutrality of Helvetica or Ways to make TNR emotionally supportive. Choice of media matters. Digital feedback is one of those fuzzy places where the affordances of communicating online meet the limitations of digital text but too few people are discussing it.

So the first surprise with Sharepoint was the text editor toolbar.

Second was the enlarging tool bar.

One of the advantages of dodgy vision (and truth be told, there’s not many) is how it highlights the inaccessibility of digital practice, both from the software giants and from individuals uploading content.

I don’t image of tv on a wall use screen margination software for a number of reasons – one of them being you need a large screen. Suggestions like plug your laptop into your TV assume you have a TV in the first place and  besides, have you ever tried it? If you could put the TV on your desk it might work but most TVs sit in the corner of the room or are fixed to a wall.  Not everyone has wireless connectivity, cables are trip hazards while sitting comfortably with a keyboard, books, coffee cup etc on the floor is not always easy.

I get by with Ctrl+ and Ctrl – although some recent websites designs prevent this. Instead of enlarging content I find myself scrolling down the screen instead. Latest versions of Windows have a slider bar controlling magnification but my Surface and laptop only have a limited choice of magnification options. Choosing the higher ones creates anomalies e.g. items you’re used to seeing on the taskbar get hidden like in the before and after images below (the upward arrow is the hidden icons tray). This might seem trivial but it isn’t. Also note how the text in the footer bar remains the same size!

Image showing the taskbar at default size

Image showing the task bar enlarged with missing icons

I don’t always want everything enlarging so I prefer Ctrl+ and Ctrl- to manage my onscreen view on a page by page, file by file basis.  The problem with programmes like Word is you can only increases the working area.

image showing enlarged text in Word while menu bars remain small

Sharepoint shows enlarging the toolbars and menu items as well is possible but you can see in the image below how the browser tabs remain resolutely tiny.

images howing enlarged text in Sharepoint also enlarges the edit toolbars while browser tabs remain small

It’s worth mentioning how exploring and utilising the Windows accessibility options involves working with menus displaying a default text size – which is too small to read – which is why I need to enlarge it in the first place!   This is a typical accessibility loop – like opening an online document to find a message on page iv saying if you need an alternative format please contact …… Um….. shouldn’t this information be provided somewhere other than within the online document itself?

I don’t want the size fixing – I want the flexibility to increase and decrease online content depending on the context, device, location, light, time of day etc. If MS SharePoint can take the step towards getting it right,  why doesn’t the Office suite give me the same accessible working environment?

Who else cares about these issues? Some answers can be found in Accessibility Matters; Part Two

avalanches, golden eggs and yellow brick roads

avalanche image from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/waterfall-avalanche-volcano-cascade-2757596/

Have you read An Avalanche is Coming my DoS asks. It should be a must-read now Michael Barber is head of the Office for Students (OfS) – replacing the Office for Fair Access and HEFCE.

I’d just looked at the Securing student success: risk-based regulation for teaching excellence, social mobility and informed choice in higher education Government consultation on behalf of the Office for Students which was also a a DoS recommend. Like this. ‘Whether you are a student, work in HE, or intend to work in HE after graduation, the consultation matters to you. Have a look at it, see what changes are planned.’ So I did.

magnifying glass and fingerprints
image from https://pixabay.com/en/detective-clues-find-finger-152085/

My approach with chunky digital docs is the Find function. First off the search is for digital, online, virtual, technology – this indicates if it might be relevant to my research topic of digital shifts – next up are pedagogy, teaching and learning.  So, relatively painlessly I discovered the government in the consultation document is still using the language of revolution and transformation by technology. ‘Artificial intelligence and other technology might revolutionise assessment, educational research might transform pedagogy.’ (2017: 48)

At least they’re using the word ‘might’ but still cause for concern. Technology was bestowed with transformative potential back in the 1990s. Has it happened? There’s little evidence it has and much to the contrary. Other than widen access for some (and create barriers for others) alongside the mass digitisation of resources, policy and processes, the literature suggests technology has neither revolutionised nor transformed student learning.

The lecture is not yet dead!

large empty lecture theatre with rows of empty seats
image from https://pixabay.com/en/room-lecture-hall-assembly-hall-2775439/

Instead, a trail of rejected, unfulfilled promises litter the ed-tech landscape; VLE, Web 2.0, MOOC, mobile –  picking up stuff like Second Life and Oculus Rift along the way – toward Learning Analytics, more virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Each one a technology-first approach. All with technology determinist foundations. Each with scant evidence of critical questioning around who creates and develops it, markets, purchases, controls access etc (apart from the overall critiques from the likes of Neil Selwyn, Sian Bayne, Audrey Watters et. al. of course)

With this thinking in mind I approached An Avalanche is Coming, published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) with three authors (Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly, Saad Rizvi) affiliated with Pearson Publishing Corporation. They refer to learners as “customers” and discuss six change factors, claiming these could challenge the university as we know it and set off the avalanche of change.

  • changing global economy,
  • crisis-ridden global economy,
  • rising costs of higher education,
  • declining value of a traditional degree,
  • ubiquity of content,
  • quickening intensity of competition in the educational marketplace.

The authors also introduce the concept of unbundling and rebundling which is the inclusion and exclusion of traditional university components – thereby potentially separating out aspects of HE provision to third party providers.

I hang on the adage where there’s change there’s also opportunity.

avalanche control fences image from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/avalanche-protection-1001284/

What did the Find button reveal?

References to technology, e.g. increased global access, expansion of competition, greater choices etc are all familiar, as is the need for students to shift from consuming knowledge towards evidencing a diversity of creative and innovative learning experiences and abilities. Put together, all this constitutes the need for digital shifts on institutional, pedagogical and personal levels. None of which is new. The problem has always been technology as the answer when it’s not the T for Technology in TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) but the T for teaching in LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) which needs attention.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift persuasively argue (to those in favour of market-oriented reforms of education) that reconstructing students as consumers ‘does not necessarily yield improved outcomes in student learning.’ (2011, p. 137)

fairy shadows in transparent brown hearts
image from https://pixabay.com/en/elves-fee-on-wood-romantic-2769599/

Ok – this is the crux. We’re chasing the chasing the golden egg, looking for the rainbow’s end, each Yellow Brick Road contains echoes of the emperors new clothes. The fairy tale analogies are deliberate because FT are stories imbued with universal truths. They survive because we recognise their message. They have resonance. So it is with the quest for learning improvement. The secret is under our noses. It’s been there all along. Where there is widening participation, support for transition needs to be addressed. Where technology is promoted the necessary philosophical and pedagogic changes in practice need to be supported.

cartoon rainbow
image from https://pixabay.com/en/buy-me-a-coffee-natural-cloud-field-2757467/

So when it comes to the enhancement of learning and teaching, what is needed is inquiry of the pedagogical rather than technological kind. This doesn’t need revolution or even transformation. The roots are already in place. The majority of students learn best through discussion, dialogue, sharing, questioning, comparing, contrasting, getting out of their comfort zone in supportive collegial environments alongside the processes of critical thinking and reflection. Addressing questions such as these:

  • What worked well and why?
  • What worked less well and why?
  • What should I do again?
  • What should I do differently?

More time and resource on transition into HE, in particular the differences between the learning and teaching culture and expectations of school, college and university, would enable students to hit the ground running.

pink and green direction arrows
image from https://pixabay.com/en/one-way-street-decisions-opportunity-1991865/

Giving those who teach and support learning the time allocation – plus reward and recognition – to become research informed and engaged with regard to their own teaching practice – would enable them to develop the active learning environments which the literature shows students perform best in.

I’d also suggest rethinking curriculums to embody learning development at both generic and subject knowledge levels, alongside digital graduate attributes, internationalisation, employability, and inclusive practices.

A three pronged approach – students, staff, curriculum…

and they all learned happily ever after.

Written on a research day…

Everything is related…

 

 

Warning; may or may not include technology #lthechat

We interrupt this blog schedule to bring you some post #lthechat thoughts.

There was a lot of chatter!

Put Wednesdays at 8.00 on Twitter in your calendar. #lthechat is a synchronous discussion around selected learning and teaching in higher education topics. Check out the hashtag #lthechat or the accompanying blog https://lthechat.com/ and Twitter page @lthechat.  #lthechat even has its own bird!

Started by Chrissi Neranszi @chrissinerantzi and Sue Beckingham @suebecks  in 2014, the discussion has become part of the working week for hundreds of tweeters and  I’ve been lucky enough to facilitate a couple of sessions. This weeks followed on from last week’s blogpost  Bought to you by the Letter T which reflected on the similarities between Technology and Teaching brought about by our recent restructure at the University of Hull.

The letters TEL (past team) and LTE (current team) are T for technology and T for teaching. This weeks chat looked at using LTE to talk about TEL. Confused? Stay with me…

Warning, May or may not include Technology asked 6 questions:

  1. Please share your understanding of the term learning design
  2. Where do aspects of learning design fit in your role?
  3. Which models, tools, authors, have informed your thinking about LD?
  4.  How have you evaluated the effectiveness of your LD interventions?
  5. How do you introduce the concept of LD to academics/how would you not talk about it?
  6. Name one thing you’ll take away from this #lthechat tonight.

With ten minutes on each one, the session kicked off a debate on the phrase ‘learning design’ – an example of the discussions we hoped to generate.

At Hull we’re developing an approach to teaching enhancement which we’ve called Design for Active Learning (D4AL).  The approach is based on curriculum alignment; you have the learning outcomes and assessments – D4AL is about the activities students do. Conversations tend to be initially about teaching rather than technology and this chat aimed to provide opportunities for sharing LD/D4AL practices.

With over 800 tweets in total you could say #lthechat is becoming a victim of its own success. While you’re trying to keep up with multiple ‘live’  conversations, and swapping tweets between them, the rest of the chat is continuing. It’s becoming a case of continual catch-up and I’m still working my way through the Storify which can be accessed here https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthe-chat-no-92 

image of Storify front page

This is where I must say thanks to the ‘behind-the-scenes’ team this semester – Jenny Lewin-Jones @JennyLewinJone  Rebecca Sellers @becksell2001 and Scott Turner @scottturneruon  without whom the coordination and dissemination of #lthechat would not be possible.  

thabk you image from oixabay

No other hour of the week flies by so fast!

I followed Ale Armellini’s contribution with interest. With the University of Northampton adopting institution wide Active Blended Learning (ABL) there’s much to learn from their  approach, outline in this report Overcoming barriers to student engagement with Active Blended Learning and the video explaining ABL to students.

However, it’s rare to find true pedagogical innovation e.g. flipped learning which was in all the media a few years ago is not so different to setting homework or seminar reading. The #lthechat showed is that for everyone who is new to the principles of activity based  learning, there are those who’ve been doing it for years

What the chat also revealed was how much good practice is already happening. It’s all out there but often in pockets, but not disseminated outside teaching teams or even sometimes beyond individual practice. The scholarship of teaching and learning in HE remains a niche area with work to be done around the sharing of practice, knowledge and experiences.

Speaking of niches, #lthechat assumes an internet connection and a Twitter account for contributing. All that vital but virtual energy is restricted to the participants who in themselves demonstrate high levels of digital fluency making digital differences in practice another key area to be addressed.

One further question is should academics take courses on LD/D4AL or should teaching teams include LD/D4AL specialists to work in tandem?

As the tweets below indicate, there may be other opportunities to continue the discussions around these topics.

In the meantime, there’ll be another #lthehat next week so don’t forget – tut Wednesdays at 8.00 on Twitter in your calendar.

 

brought to you by the letter T

cartoon person pulling a yellow letter T
image from https://pixabay.com/en/t-letter-alphabet-alphabetically-1015548/

Restructure complete. For TEL read LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) For TEL Advisers read Teaching Enhancement Advisers.  T for Technology. T for Teaching.

What’s the difference or have they become one and the same? However you view learning and teaching in a digital age, the strength of our new team is how we can be both. We are all aspects of T, in varying degrees of experience and expertise.

I’ve written about the risk of TEL people not getting out and about enough Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People You know how it is. Like attracts like. It seems being badged with technology can make it harder to reach the late tech-adopters, those who tend to self- exclude from anything with a digital flavour. Yet once you get talking about teaching, the technology is usually in there – it just sometimes needs a different approach.

inger pointing at a white cloud on a blue background
image from https://pixabay.com/en/cloud-finger-touch-cloud-computing-2537658/

Design for Active Learning (D4AL) is our solution to TEL isolation.

Partly a response to TEF flags signalling areas to be addressed, D4AL emerged from conversations around adopting a pedagogy first-approach. Instead of going in with tech-first solutions, unlikely to resonate with the digitally shy and resistant, this is an approach to teaching enhancement which focuses on student learning activities. These might include technology, or might not. The plan is to open doors, get to the table and so far, it seems to be working.

D4AL has provenance.

One of the most enduring education development papers, Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, has us up there at Number 3 Good practice encourages active learning. 

lego bricks from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/lego-colors-toys-build-up-disorder-688154/

The D4AL Evidence Hub is looking like an education developers pic n’ mix. Primarily about brokering discussions, the first layer of contact is a @50 minute introductory session. A conversation around the table –  tea and biscuits – coffee and cake – with a question format similar to this.

Tell us…

  • What is the context?
    • Where are you now?
    • Where do you want to be?
  • Who are your students?
  • How can our evidence hub help?
  • How will you know success? What does it look like?

Take assessment.  Topics could be team approaches to marking, encouraging students to engage with feedback, alignment with learning outcomes, suggestions for feeding forward or the purposes of the assessment e.g. is it measuring performance or looking for evidence of learning.

In the words of educationalist Graham Gibb, the best way to enhance teaching can be to rethink assessment.

Our Evidence Hub is full of resources. We’re also developing a system for sharing practice. We want to be called on not only for problems but to discover and disseminate what works well too.

Technology has a place. Take assessment again. We can provide support with digital feedback; developing banks of comments or exploring audio or video. We’ll look at arguments for and against, time saved versus time spent. Sometimes investment in a new way of working might not seem worth it but X in Y did Z and are happy to talk to you.

Previous TEL identities and knowledge are still relevant, just not centre stage.

image of the rows of seating in a large empty theatre
image from https://pixabay.com/en/theatre-show-concert-stage-2617116/

After the introductory session comes the bespoke workshop and we’ve been busy here too. Over the last year, Liz Bennett and Sue Foley from the University of Huddersfield have delivered us a D4 Curriculum Design session and Ale Armellini from the University of Northampton ran us a half day CAIeRO taster. We’ve experience of  Carpe Diem and plans to develop discussion prompt cards like those used in UCL’s ABC Connected Curriculum. We’ve also spent two days Digital Storytelling with Chris Thompson from Jisc, definitely want to offer this again, while in November Chrissi Neranzti is introducing us to Lego Serious Play.

Our D4AL workshops will have a blended element so content can be front-loaded prior to face-to-face time. They’ll be hands on and experiential, based on connectionist approaches shown to enhance engagement. I’ve been a supporter of #creativeHE for several years ,as well as facilitator on their open online courses. and keen to explore some new ways of working, There could be post-it notes, story boards, lego, prompt cards, labyrinths and poetry alongside plain paper and pen plus ideas from this Activity book from the University of Stanford’s Reflect Imagine Try sessions.

page from activity book

None of this means TEL has gone away. We might be stepping out of our TEL Tribe, taking tentative footsteps away from our TEL Territory, but in doing so, we’re hoping to attract those who say they ‘don’t do technology’. The number of NAYs, those who are neither Residents nor Visitors but Not Yet Arriveds is higher than many TEL Tribes might realise or believe. The next blog post will be looking at digital disconnection in 2017 in more detail.


*   Chickering, A. W. and Gamson, Z. F. (1987) Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education Washington Center News Fall 1987

#lthechat next week (Wednesday 11th October 8.00-9.00pm) is on the topic of learning design 


#HEblogswap My PhD Journey by Chrissi Nerantzi

blogswap logo with image of Chrissi Nerantzi

Bought to you from Chrissi Nerantzi, Principal Lecturer in Academic CPD at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, MMU.   


Thank you Santanu Vasant (@santanuvasant) for bringing #HEblogswap to life. It is a great way to share and connect experiences among practitioners.

Doing something in tandem with Sue Watling (@suewatling) came to my mind as soon as I received the information. We first met at Lincoln University in 2012 during an HEA OER Change Academy project. Since then we both changed institutions. But we stayed in touch, have worked together in the open and are both PhD students. When Sue invited me to write about my PhD journey for this blog swap, I thought do I really want to reflect on the experience of the last 4.5 years at this moment in time? I just survived my viva last Friday. Everything was still very fresh in my mind… I decided to go ahead and am looking back not at the whole experience but specific aspects of it.

Ok, how did it all start?
When I was an academic developer at the University of Sunderland, I started an MSc at Edinburgh Napier University in Blended and Online Education. My dissertation brought me to experiment with academic development initiatives that had a cross-institutional and collaborative dimension. I immersed myself into this study. The seeds for my doctoral study are in there and for the many open projects that followed. I was encouraged to consider a PhD by my personal tutor. That was then Dr Keith Smyth was leading the programme and who moved to a different institution and is now a Professor. The PhD I started was at a distance, part-time, self-funded, while working full-time and with a young family. Even before I started it was evident that it wouldn’t be a smooth ride. In fact it became a rollercoaster ride. There were ups and downs… Good times and bad times. I will focus only on a few aspects of the journey today.  

highs and lows of a PHD journey

Closing my eyes and transporting my self back in time, the following fills my mind…

Loneliness
Community, or the lack of community, during the first years. I felt lonely and in the dark for a long time. I had no cohort, no peers to turn to. I was doing this study on my own and really felt it. It was hard, super hard. I missed the conversation with peers, other PhD students. People I could share my struggles with and my ideas. The lifeline came when I joined the Global OER Graduate Network for PhD students in open education from around the world. A project led by the Open Education Research Hub at the Open University in the UK. The network literally saved me and helped me grow and believe in what I was capable to do. The network has a face-to-face and online dimension and both are equally important. My own research has illustrated the importance of community in the context of professional learning. Find your network and if there isn’t one consider creating one. My colleague Penny Bentley did exactly that. She needed help with phenomenography, the methodology we both used in our study and decided to create a FB group, which has become a small but useful hub for phenomenographers, where we can support each other. So a sense of belonging was important to me and when I found my home as a PhD students, I started growing and gaining confidence in who I was and what I could achieve. 

Oh, no, what time is it?
There were time pressures from work, my studies and often I felt that I neglected my family. I felt guilty. Guilty for coming home switching on the laptop and working. Guilty for working during many many weekends and holidays. “Mummy will you get that PhD?” Is a question that my boys often asked. I needed to be disciplined, determined and stubborn, I guess, to keep going and bring this study to fruition. The discoveries I made during the study fascinated me, helped me to look beyond time. I did find time where there was none. In the end everything came together. It was an exhilarating process and I wanted to share my findings with others. I started sharing my work in progress with others through conferences and articles but also used my learning to develop open initiatives. Some might thing/say that these were distractions but in reality they helped me test some of my ideas and were invaluable for my development as a researcher and practitioner. I could do all this as my study was linked to my work. Some might not have this opportunity. 

Writing is super hard!
It is one thing to do the research and another to write about it and articulate it so that it makes sense and is appropriate for a thesis. I am not an English native speaker, so conducting the whole research in English was not easy. However, I am not sure if it would be any easier in Greek or German, as my professional language is actually English. Whatever the language, academic writing does not come naturally to me. My background in teaching languages and translation literature, means that some of that more playful flavour was making its way into the thesis. What helped me was sharing early drafts with colleagues and friends. Even my husband read multiple versions… They could see much quicker what didn’t make sense, what needed to be explained better… Write everyday a little bit, set realistic targets so that you get a sense of achievement. Stick to the routine. Write, write and rewrite. We are all getting better at it through writing. I accepted criticism and learnt through this process. More recently, I have started helping other PhD students unofficially and I can see that I have grown and can help others. Something else, I did to get a break from academic writing… I started writing children’s stories again, especially near the end when I was preparing my thesis for submission.     

There were sunny times too
Some might get the impression that it was all a struggle… Yes, there were moments when I thoughts this is never going to happen. But I kept going. My supervisors kept saying “keep going”. I kept going. They were right, I got there in the end and much sooner than the supervisory team expected. And the feeling was amazing. You just need to get through the challenges and you will. A massive portion of determination and stubbornness is of course needed. And support! So so vital. Becoming a member of a  community really helped me and filled my batteries with determination and self-belief. I can do this and so can you. 

Viva o’clock
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I just had my viva on the 8th of September. There were many moments where I thought this day would never come. But it did. Today, I feel a real sense of achievement and can see that I have contributed a little something that can make a difference to my own practice and help others consider collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development settings through the cross-boundary framework I developed and released under a creative commons license and the specific new insights I have gained into collaborative open learning and the course characteristics that play a key role in shaping that experience. If you would like to read about my viva experience, the preparation I have done for it, check out https://chrissinerantzi.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/i-have-survived-big-friday-go_gn/ and related posts to the viva.

I hope some of these reflections on the journey will be useful for other PhD students, potential and current ones, especially those at the initial stages of their studies.

If you need help, remember to reach out! I think this is key!
Through the PhD journey you will discover who you are and who you are becoming.

I hope some of the above will be useful for you.

If you would like to get in touch with me, feel free to tweet me at @chrissinerantzi.