#digifest17 asks if digital technology is changing learning and teaching

computing technologies

We all know determinists. Excited about the new. Putting tech in place. Waiting for transformation. Any failure is blamed on it being the wrong time, place or connections, but there’s much more than this to digital education. We have to go deeper.

Enthusiasm for education technology comes in waves. Last century it was CBA, CMC, VLE, then web 2.0 and social media, followed by oer and mooc, mobile devices, big data and dashboards. There were the go-to reports. Paul Anderson’s What is Web 2.0? (2007), or Peter Bradshaw’s Edgeless University (2009). Back further to Oleg Liber’s framework for pedagogical evaluation of vle (2004), Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design by Conole et al (004) or Death of the VLE by Mark Styles (2007). These are just a few and how many more predictions  from these times remain more promise and potential than fact?

advertising from jisc digifest17

I didn’t go to Digifest17 but followed as much as I could online. For me the star of the show was Amber Thomas from the University of Warwick. In conversation with Neil Morris from the University of Leeds, Amber dared to refer to digital technology as pixie dust and snake oil, suggesting what matters more are the non-digital aspects of education, namely the design of learning experiences.

There’s more than a little synchronicity here. My ex Lincoln colleague Andy Hagyard is now Academic Development Consultant at Leeds while Kerry Pinny is Academic Technologist at Warwick. Spot the similarities. We should form our own SIG. In the meantime, we’re under review at Hull and top running for our new job titles is learning enhancement rather than TEL. Amber was spot on. The future is less with the technology and more for the people.

looking for evidence cartoon

Predictions of tech-adoption are rarely realised in the way we expect. We look in the wrong places. It’s not the tech innovators or early adopters (who can be pedagogically astute but remain a minority), it’s those who self-exclude from technology events and opportunities. Who – dare I say – care more for the EL in TEL than the T itself. The solution to learning enhancement is not rocket science. It’s as simple as this. We need to talk more across our different sides of the fence.

Make the conversations less driven by technology and more about evidence of success. How do we know what works and why? Where is the scholarship of learning technology? The research informed practice? I’ve referred to existing literature critiques before in TEL-ing Tales, Evidence of Impact and Learning Design+TEL=the Future. These critiques can be powerful drivers and all the more reason for change. The brave new world of TEF and learning analytics is an optimum time to review the design of learning and how to evaluate its impact. Not just at the end, when students are moving on and it’s too late to change their experience, but by building iterative loops of feedback throughout modules and courses which tell everyone how they are doing when it most matters.

suggested list of criteria for learning design

Digifest17 was bold. …we’ll be celebrating the power of digital, its potential to transform and its capacity to revolutionise learning and teaching.

Transformation and revolution is the early language of BECTA  – remember the internet super highway? It’s worth revisiting HEFCE’s 2005 and revised 2009 elearning strategies, the Towards a Unified eLearning Strategy Consultation Document (2003) and the National Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education, otherwise known as the Dearing Report (1997). The text from the past is scarily similar to the text of the present.

rosie the riveteer

We’re still talking transformation and revolution, yet as Diana Laurillard said nearly ten years ago – ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’ (2008: 1)

Maybe technology isn’t the answer. The literature around Inquiry based learning stresses the need for fallibility so I have to admit I could be wrong. However, if technology is the answer then I’d suggest a more critical approach is needed. Here’s some suggestions. Andrew Feenburg’s Ten Paradoxes of Technology or Questioning Technology, Norm Friesen’s Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-Learning, Neil Selwyn’s Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology or Distrusting Educational Technology for starters. Then lets have conversations. Let’s start reading groups which discuss the pros and cons from wider social and cultural perspectives. Let’s ask questions like why are we investing in technology in the first place? How useful is data counting footfall and logins? Where is the evidence of enhancement?

quote from Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011)Slowly but surely places are emerging where education technology is aligning with academic practice. It seems a promising way forward. Why wouldn’t we want to introduce scholarship and pedagogy, build learning design around experiential loops of action research and appreciative inquiry? Lets shift the emphasis and make the future for higher education one which is more shaped by people rather than by machines.

groups of students


Images from Learning Analytics & Learning Design Digifest17 presentation by Patrick Lynch (p.lynch@hull.ac.uk) and pixabay.com. Jisc image from Jisc


does learning design + TEL = the future?

typeset image from pixabay.com

Language matters. Whether its training or lecture capture instead of teaching or recording resources, the words we use and the ways we interpret them are full of unconscious bias. When designing learning, one of the first steps is to bust the jargon. Ask the questions. What are we saying here and what does it mean?

This week I attended a workshop on Marking and Feedback with Prof Lin Norton. Lin spoke about final vocabulary, a term used by philosopher Richard Rorty which refers to words containing deeply held beliefs and assumptions without the necessary explanations. For example feedback comments like good, excellent, exactly what I’m looking for. The marker knows what they mean but it isn’t clear to the recipient. Lin says final vocabulary leaves students no room to manoeuvre. Markers need to make comments which open up conversations rather than close them down. Like active listening or going back to Socratic questioning. Those ancient Greeks really knew their stuff.

question mark from pixabay

The tendency to make uncritical use of language is common. We’re often more subjective than we realise. I think I’m a critical reflector but there’s always something new to learn.  I don’t have a data driven approach to practice. A bit dyscalculic as well as suspicious of quantitative data sets. No matter how the figures are presented, I want to know the stories behind them. But – I’m also an action researcher and promoter of experiential learning. I like critical reflection loops which take you on a journey of change.

data image from pixabay

Recently I’ve come to realise I do have a data driven approach; it’s my interpretation of what data represents which is skewed. Phrases like Big Data or Learning Analytics made me think randomized controlled trials or NSS scores and VLE dashboards. I knew data didn’t  have to be numbers – I’m doing qualitative research for heavens sake (Doh!) but my subjective interpretation was linking the two together. It’s only by developing a learning design approach to TEL with an expert data-king colleague which has uncovered a bias I wasn’t consciously aware of.

scrabble tiles from pixabay.com

How often do we act without questioning that we do? Last week I blogged about the impact of research on TEL and the literature TEL people use to inform their practice. I’m still searching for answers. Let’s broaden it out. Where’s the evidence base for learning and teaching? Is there a contemporary equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1987)

  • encourages contact between students and faculty,
  • develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  • encourages active learning,
  • gives prompt feedback,
  • emphasizes time on task,
  • communicates high expectations, and
  • respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

The authors claim these support ‘six powerful forces in education’

  • activity,
  • expectations,
  • cooperation,
  • interaction,
  • diversity,
  • responsibility.

Spot the gaps. It would make a useful online activity. I’d add the need for critical thinking, reflection and creativity as well as having an evidence base. Let’s put scholarship in there. Being research informed and engaged.  This week my colleague and I have scoured the UK literature  around L&T in HE (e.g. Knight, Biggs, Prosser, Trigwell, Trowler, Race, Baud, Nicol, Moon, Brookfield etc) but can’t find anything so succinct or contemporary.

Maybe the subject is too complex to be reduced to bullet points. Maybe it reflects its late arrival. In many ways pedagogic research in HE is still the new kid on the block. It’s not a happy partner to the REF and HE staff having an ‘appropriate teaching qualification’ is a relatively recent requirement. The HESA returns for data on academic teaching qualifications was only introduced in 2012/13 with many  institutions still returning a percentage of ‘not known‘.

opening slide from lin Norton assessment workshop

Events like Lin Nortons are welcome opportunities to ask questions and discuss answers, as in the slide image above. I think they’re useful for TEL people. Marking and feedback are foundation elements of the student experience. Sometimes it can help to separate them out from the technology – which in itself risks becoming a distraction – in order to examine more closely the fundamental principles of assessment practice. Not all TEL people come from a teaching background so it helps to make TEL about learning as well technology. The problem is the language. Again, language matters. Too often when you say you work with TEL or in a TEL Team you’re instantly categorised into a techie box.  This is one of the reasons I believe TEL needs to be reversed. Less of the T and more L please Bob.

There’s a phrase associated with the early days. RTFM stood for read the ******** manual.  All computers came packed with a doorstop of an instruction book. RTFM soon came to mean don’t ask me how the bloody thing works, go and look it up yourself.

Today the technology has (allegedly) changed to a more intuitive click and play  approach – as well as being introduced almost from birth – and the internet has replaced the manual. Today we know how it works. We need to be asking where it’s being used and why. What do we know about how people learn? What is the equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s principles for 21st century TEL? If we’re promoting digital feedback then lets look at Lin Norton’s research or have a TEL Team discussion around the HEA’s Marked Improvement or visit outputs from the Oxford Brookes ASKe project or REAP.

I believe the design of learning is an essential part of TEL and we should adopt a scholarly approach to our practice by being more research informed and engaged. In which case maybe RTFM is not redundant but needs updating to RTFL. Read the ******** literature.

Now the HEA Subject Centres have closed and the HEFCE funded CETLs have come to an end who is promoting research into learning and teaching practice? Students are paying huge amounts of money for their time at universities where traditional teaching methods are still evident and VLE resemble repositories. Lets take a fresh look at the TEL people what we do because it looks a lot like learning design + TEL = the future.

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!

media-studies

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.

community

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

communication-pixabay

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?

digital-tech-pixabay

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!

turkeys-pixabay

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.

video_icon2

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.

bed-in_for_peace_amsterdam_1969_-_john_lennon__yoko_ono_17

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.