2017 looks like an interesting year

2017

2017 will be an interesting year. The Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight. Penguin order a 75,000 reprint of Orwell’s 1984. Council for the US President invites debate on the nature of ‘alternative facts’ while the alleged influence of social media during the US election suggests ‘critical digital literacies’ warrants attention.

Should Media Studies be taken more seriously? Narrowly escaping Gove’s bonfire of the subjects the MS GCSEgives students the chance to develop a critical understanding of the role of the media in daily life’  while MS A level includes ‘understand and evaluate how meanings and responses are created’ alongside ‘develop and formulate… its influential role in today’s society.’ The only thing wrong with a well taught Media Studies programme is it isn’t mandatory!

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It’s not too far fetched to suggest truth and knowledge are under attack. The internet is awash with speculation and fake news masquerading as truths. To counter balance this we may need to re-frame ontology and epistemology in everyday language, encourage examination of media beliefs and interrogate preferred sources of news – be it the BBC, Daily Mail or Twitter. Words like ideology and discourse can be challenged but should at least be discussed. A baseline dose of Foucault with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World wouldn’t do anyone any harm.

Following the US election I blogged about the media in The Truth is out there somewhere . Today, just 8 weeks later, it seems even more important to address issues of truth and knowledge. Regardless of personal politics, the US election is a wake-up call.  Who do we believe and why? Suroweiki’s Wisdom of Crowds and Gladwell’s Tipping Point have supported the development of Communities of Practice – where relevant knowledge is situated within the connections we make  – and these concepts remain true; the risk is when wisdom and tipping points are based on fakery rather than evidence.

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2017 will be a busy year.

I’ve begun to let go of wider commitments to create space for the PhD and shhh…. complete the dissertation for my p/t creative writing degree which no one knows about so far! The timing is not perfect but when it comes to doctoral research there’s no such thing. A time-table is mapped out for the PhD transfer process to the University of Northampton, a week with NVivo booked for April and I’m loving the educational research conversations with my supervisors, Director of Studies and fellow students.

On the work front there’s an exciting new focus on Learning Design. This will inform development of a digital capabilities framework for staff who teach and support learning and I want to develop the world of the TEL-People. The only downside is withdrawing from projects like #creativeHE and it was really difficult to put #poetryfeedHE to one side – albeit temporarily – but something had to give.

Lastly – the allotment lies waiting – as it did last year, and the year before that. At some point I need to find my allotmenteering hat and wear it again.

So here’s to 2017.

Did I say it looks like an interesting year? 🙂


 

 

It isn’t technology it’s learning design

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This began as a PhD reflection but turned into a blog post because the issues matter. We need to talk. What has gone wrong? Quite a lot.

December 1 was the first Graduate School Research workshop day. I thought joining in remotely would be a motivator. I’m self-funding so every opportunity for contact is welcome. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but couldn’t join in the activities. In the afternoon the sound was lost. I’m hoping the recording will be ok and wondering when it will appear on the VLE. The cognitive connection has already faded.

What is meant by the phrase ‘online distance learning?’ What did I get from passively listening and watching on my laptop? Not a lot to be honest. The common model of distance learning is still a delivery one. Recorded lectures are seen as progression and if you build in some formative MCQ then Hallelujah – you have an online course.

My PhD includes mandatory research and ethics modules. They’re produced by Epigeum, so expensive and considered gold standard. I’ve sat alone in my room clicking through linear screen after screen of content in order to take the test at the end. It’s lonely and my learning is surface recall rather than any deeper approach achieved by cognitive understanding via critical reflection or discussion with colleagues.

What has gone wrong with the promise of student centered, interactive collaborative learning – online? How can the principles of Social Learning Theory be applied to what is fundamentally learning in isolation?

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In the THES last month there was a piece called Mass Learning must mean web based study It claimed the elements exist to make online learning happen, but ‘institutional inertia’ creates lack of progress. Thinking this might refer to the invisibility of on-campus digital divides or lack of recognition of diverse digital capabilities I read on. Technology has its problems I’m told – and here the piece links to Distance and Discontent the Downside of Digital Learning – but it will continue to evolve, solving all the negative issues as it does.

There are barriers such as the need for more teaching hours (at last – acknowledgement it requires additional resources rather than less to build and run effective online learning environments) plus new forms of examination and inclusion of ‘the broader social and cultural benefits of higher education’ but hey the piece goes on – none of these are insuperable. No. The problem is the university itself. Over the past decades they’ve continued to expand their physical presence at the expense of their virtual one, to a point where they can no longer afford to go online. As the author says, Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but – don’t you know – technology is still the solution!

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As if this were not depressing enough, the Distance and Discontent piece offers two further narratives of online education failure. Against a sector which still shouts about the transformative power of digital environments, something isn’t fitting. The rhetorical promise of e-learning solutions continues to be promoted in headlines, straplines, Jisc-speak and conference halls. In the meantime research and anecdote speak of digital depository models of VLE usage, empty discussion forums and neglected project sites return broken links and 404 errors.

So often over the years I’ve seen digital layers added onto existing face-to-face practice. It rarely creates effective online learning because it isn’t about the technology, it’s about learning design.


images from pixabay.com 

Panopto Power and the American Dream

As a team we’re askedimg_1845 to feed back on conferences and other excursions. This week was my first Panopto Conference and I headed off to London. It was dark, cold and raining and the car park ticket machine was broken. The message said try another machine but at Hull Station there isn’t one. I leave a note in my car saying I have photographic evidence of being unable to pay and splash through puddles towards the station. It can only get better.

Registration is 9.00 for a 10.00 start. At 10.00 I’m at Liverpool Street trying to get to Tower Hill. I’ve already confused the Central and Circle line and nearly ended up in Berking. How can this be? I used to live here – I should know my way around better than this! img_1848

One disadvantage of being late is the limited view from the back but a crowded room is a good sign. Key messages throughout the day were on the theme of ‘video enhances learning‘ and supports making teaching memorable through emotional, entertaining or traumatic approaches.

Video can make possible what can’t be done in real time. During our digital storytelling workshops Chris Tompson played a video which included the death of a child. You don’t get much more emotional than that. I remember it to this day.

Entertaining is self-explanatory. We all like to laugh.

Learning through trauma is potentially risky but also powerful. In my previous institution a nurse educator would faint on a simulation ward round. The clue was in the word simulation but it was so well done as the co-lecturer called on the students for help and they were plunged from theory to sudden practice.

Video can show what you wouldn’t want to see in real life, for example disaster scenarios, or where the best laid plans can go wrong. We all prefer ‘health and safety’ messages when they’re presented in dramatic form on film. It makes it so much more real than talk or text. This is the power of Panopto. It supports a range of teaching resources which make it a useful tool for exploring the use of video and audio within learning design.

The event was held in the basement of the America Square Conference Centre in central London. This is where the streets are tiny and have names like Crutched Friars, Savage Gardens and Seething Lane. Refreshments and lunch were in a room containing a stretch of original City of London wall. Either London has risen significantly or the wall foundations were amazingly deep.

Everyone I spoke to from other institutions had cameras installed in their teaching rooms and an opt-in policy. Many had been using Panopto for some time. At Hull we’re at the start of the journey. The plan is to introduce it from the perspective of learning design and digital story telling but there’s still the question of technical confidence. Digital capabilities are never far away.  The challenge is to find the balance between the how, the why and the where and to keep the pedagogical reasons why Panopto might support learning and teaching near the surface of all our conversations.

The conference included a student panel answering questions on the value of video as a teaching tool. Students spoke of a range of ways they were introduced to video before, during and after face-to-face sessions. Students also recorded themselves for observation and feedback on performance.

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Like all technology it seems Panopto is often used on a surface level with less people engaging with features like the synchronous and asynchronous notes or the search feature. One student said I just go in there and do what I need, I don’t look around. This reinforced the risk of making assumptions about how learning technologies are used. Also, similar to complaints about VLE, students didn’t like inconsistency of use across modules because it created an uneven learning experience. Direct recording lectures was the least mentioned activity. With regard to these affecting attendance, students were unanimous in agreeing it made no difference. Fee paying students were even more likely to go to lectures and students who stayed in bed would miss them anyway – regardless of whether or not they were recorded.

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This is what the research literature suggests but it’s always reassuring to hear it directly as it’s the most commonly repeated comment from academic staff.

The  TEF gets in everywhere these days, in this instance the question being ‘will the TEF drive more use of technology enhanced learning?‘ something all TEL-Teams should be asking. How can TEL support undergraduate students in having an excellent experience?  We might argue about what teaching excellence is and how to measure it, but TEF is an opportunity to revisit how teachers teach and learners learn. There is little doubt the internet is changing how content is produced and consumed and one suggestion was to take note of how students use Facebook and You Tube to gather and share content, then build this into our learning designs. Back to digital capabilities. You need to be digitally active in order to understand learning design in the 21st century.

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Panopto’s CEO flew in from Seattle to present a road-map including a host of new features:

  • More accurate recording of system audio
  • Highlight mouse cursor
  • The ‘middle-way’ – using phone or tablet app, log in with SSO  and recording goes to your own folder
  • Rewind and pause on the webcast using HLS technology so users can pause, walk away, resume etc
  • Discussion tab enabling live chat on webcast
  • Access controls on subfolders
  • All users have their own folder/sandbox
  • Curated home page on cloud based Panopto with grid layout to look more like You Tube
  • Moved away from silverlight on editing, now HTML 5 and going to eliminate all Flash in the future
  • Subeditior now more precise for cutting
  • Undo button with sequence of changes
  • Can rename video streams
  • Changes to how captions are displayed colours etc to improve access and going to offer choice to user
  • Can designate sign-in rather give users a choice

Overall it was a useful event although I’d have liked more opportunity for Q&A sessions. It’s not often academics and learning technologists are in the same room aquestions-pixabaynd it’s the sharing of practice and asking ‘How did you do that? which is so valuable.

Coming home from London on Virgin Trains East Coast is always the opposite to arriving on First Hull Trains. The wi fi was poor. I didn’t get the home page for my free 15 minutes until Doncaster and the plug socket gave up after 7%. Standing room only meant no coffee. I like the quiet coach but was sat next to someone who liked it even more, to the extent he pointed out to everyone how the sign on the window saying quiet was the opposite of what they were doing.  An argument ensued as to whether quiet mean mobile devices or any conversation. When the catering trolley finally got through – after Grantham – my fellow traveller, who had told everyone he didn’t want to listen to their conversations, chose crisps. Hardly a quiet option but hey ho – this is life.virgin-trains-east-coast

After Newark Northgate the Hull effect kicked in and the train started to empty. By Selby I’m the only one left in my compartment and can make as much noise as I like. It’s cold. I guess they’ve turned the heating off, and I feel for Bob the Driver whose flat northern tones announce every stop and end with ‘thank you for choosing to travel with Virgin trains’. I’m not sure how the only through train between 3.40 and 7.10 constitutes a choice but I get back safely which is all that matters and I don’t have a parking ticket. Just an iced up windscreen and no de-icer. Hey ho. I listened to the radio while the ice melts and conclude President Donald Trump is the epitome of the American Dream. just as it was outlined in their Declaration of Independence. Be careful what you wish for. It might come true.

I get home 15 hours after setting off and pour a large medicinal brandy – it’s chilly out there and I don’t want to catch cold.