If the product works, but what about the people?

This is probably going to be an even more incoherent ramble than normal but I have been trying to write posts around a number of things for the last couple of weeks I’m going to try and merge them.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this post by David Wiley. At the time I tweeted:

I confess to a more than a bit of this sentiment, and not just in relation to OER,   “Much of the OER movement has a bad attitude about platforms.” I am always wary when the focus is on developing platforms and not developing the people who will use these platforms.

I was once in a meeting where I put forward the “people and process not platforms and products” case. I was told that what was being discussed was platform “in the Californian sense of platform”.  . .  I’m sure a classic WTF look must have passed over my face, but it was explained that this meant people as well as technology.  Geography aside, three years later this sense of platform doesn’t seem to be that wide spread or acknowledged. Maybe I need to go to California. But I digress.

Not long before the Wiley post I was reading the Pearson White Paper on learning design.  It caused me a bit of unease too.  Part of me was delighted to see learning design being recognised by, whatever might happen to them, a significant player in the education technology provider field.   Using learning design to help product design is a bit of a no brainer. Technology should be driven by educational need or as Pearson put it :

“Products and systems that effectively leverage learning design can deliver superior learning outcomes.”

One example in the paper referred to work they had done in social science classes

“we quickly recognized that students were easily distracted by conventional textbooks. This told us we needed to eliminate distractions: any extraneous cognitive load that doesn’t promote learning. Fortunately, our learning design work reveals many proven techniques for accomplishing this. REVEL segments all content into manageable pieces and presents it via a consistent structure. It provides strong signaling cues to highlight key material and places all relevant content on screen simultaneously to offer a continuous, uninterrupted experience”

Which kind of related to this point from the Wiley post:

“Our fixation on discovery and assembly also distracts us from other serious platform needs – like platforms for the collaborative development of OER and open assessments (assessments are the lifeblood of this new generation of platforms), where faculty and students can work together to create and update the core materials that support learning in our institutions. Our work in OER will never be truly sustainable until faculty and students jointly own this process, and that can’t happen until a new category of tools emerges that enables and supports this critical work. (Grant money for OER creation won’t last forever.)

And don’t even start trying to explain how the LMS is the answer. Just don’t. “

Well of course Pearson do try to explain that:

“As testing progresses, we can overcome problems that compromise outcomes and build a strong case that our design will support learning. The very same work also helps us tightly define assessments to find out if the product works in real classrooms”

Of course they don’t really touch on the OER aspect (all their learning design stuff has been made available with CC goodness) but I’ll come back to that.

That phrase “if the product works”, I keep coming back to that.  So on the one hand I have to be pleased that Pearson are recognising learning design. I have no argument with their core principles .  I agree with them all.  But I am still left with the niggle around the  assumption that the platform will “do” all the learning design  for both staff and students. That underlying  assumption that if only we had the right platform all would be well, everything could be personalised, through data and analytics and we’d have no retention issues.  That niggles me.

I was part of a plenary panel at the HESPA conference last week called “the future of learner analytics” where a number of these issues came up again.   The questions asked by this group of educational planners really stimulated a lot of debate. On reflection I was maybe a bit of a broken record.  I kept coming back not to platforms but people and more importantly time.  We really need to give our staff and students (but particularly our staff) time to engage with learning analytics.   Alongside the technical infrastructure for learning analytics we need to asking where’s the CPD planning for analytics?  They need to go hand in hand. Cathy Gunn, Jenny McDonald and John Milne’s excellent paper “the missing link for learning from analytics” sums this up perfectly:

there is a pressing need to add professional development and strategies to engage teachers to growing range of learning analytics initiatives If these areas are not addressed, adoption of the quality systems and tools that are currently available or underdevelopment may remain in the domain of the researchers and data analysis experts” 

There seems to be an assumption that personalisation of learning is a “good thing” but is it?  Going back to learning design, designing engaging learning activities is probably more worthwhile and ultimately more useful to students and society than trying to create homogenised, personalised chunked up content and assessments.  Designing to create more effective engagement with assessment and feedback is, imho, always going to be more effective than trying to design the perfect assessment platform.

In terms of assessment, early last week I was also at a Scotbug (our regional Blackboard user group) meeting, where I was in a group where we had to design an assessment system. This is what we came up with – the flipped assessment – aka student generated assessments.

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Not new, but based on pedagogy and technology that is already in use ( NB there’s been a really great discussion around some of this in the ALT list this weekend).   I don’t think we need any new platforms for this type of approach to assessment and feedback – but we do need to think about learning design (which encapsulates assessment design) more, and give more time for CPD for staff to engage more with the design process and the technologies they either have to,  use or want to use.  This of course all relates to digital capability and capacity building.

So whilst  we’re thinking about next gen platforms, learning environments, please let’s not forget people. Let’s keep pressing for time for staff CPD to allow the culture shifts to happen around understand the value of OER, of sharing, of taking time to engage with learning design and not just having to tweak modules when there’s a bit of down time.

People are the most important part of any  learning environment – next gen, this gen, past gen. But people need time to evolve too, we can’t forget them or try to design out the need for them for successful learning and teaching to take place. Ultimately it’s people that will make the product work.

Where Sheia’s been this week – codesigning next gen learning environments with Jisc

You may or may not be aware of Jisc’s current co-design consultation exercise with the HE/FE sector.  The co-design approach is a way to try and ensure that Jisc developments are supportive and representative of the needs of the sector.   Building on feedback from the first iteration of the process, this time around there has been a concerted effort to get wider sectoral involvement in the process through various methods, including social media, blog posts, tweet chats and voting.

Yesterday, along with about 30 others, I attended a face to face meeting to explore, review and discuss the results of the process and feedback on the six “big” challenges identified by Jisc.

  1. What does the imminent arrival of the intelligent campus mean for universities and colleges?
  2. What should the next generation of digital learning environments do?
  3. What should a next-generation research environment look like?
  4. Which skills do people need to prepare for research practice now and in the future?
  5. What would truly digital apprenticeships look like?
  6. How can we use data to improve teaching and learning?

You can see the results of the voting here too.

The voting process does need some refinement as Andy McGregor was clear to point out, and we really used it and the comments as a guide for the discussions.  Personally I found the voting process a bit cumbersome – having to fill out a google doc for each one. I can see why Jisc wanted to get all that information but I would have preferred something a bit more instant with the option of giving more detailed information. That might have encouraged me to cast more than one vote  . . .

I joined the next generation learning environments discussion. I had been quite taken with the pop up VLE notion but as the discussion evolved it became clearer to me that actually the idea articulated so well by Simon Thomson (Leeds Beckett Uni) of connecting institutional and user owned tech was actually a much stronger proposition and in a way the pop up VLE would fall out of that.

The concept is really building on the way that IFTT (if this then than) works, however with a focus on connecting institutional systems to personal ones.  Please, please read Simon’s post as it explains the rationale so clearly.   I use IFTT and love the simplicity of being able to connect my various online spaces and tools, and extending that into institutional systems seems almost a no brainer.

We talked about space a lot in our discussion, personal space, institutional space etc (Dave White has a good post on spaces which relates to this).  For both staff and students it can be quite complex to manage, interact in and understand these spaces.

We (teachers, support staff,  IT, the institution) are often a bit of obsessed with controlling spaces.  We do need to ensure safety and duty of care issues are dealt with but activity around learning doesn’t always need to take place in our spaces e.g. the VLE.  Equally we (staff) shouldn’t feel that they have to be in all the spaces where students maybe talking about learning. If students want to discuss their group activity on snapchat, what’s app, Facebook then let them. They can manage their interaction in those spaces. What we need to be clear on is the learning activity, the key interactions and expectations of outputs and in which spaces the learning activities/outputs need to be.  The more connected approach advocated by Simon could allow greater ease of connection between spaces for both staff and students.

Providing this type of  architecture (basically building and sharing more open APIs)  is not trying to replace a VLE, portfolio system etc, but actually allowing for greater choice around engagement in,  and sharing of,  learning activity. If I like writing in evernote (as I do) why can’t I just post something directly into a discussion forum in our VLE? Similarly if our students (as ours do) have access to one note and are using it, why can’t they choose to share their work directly into the VLE?  Why can’t I have my module reading lists easily saved into a google doc?

This isn’t trying to replace integrations such as LTI, or building blocks that bring systems/products  into systems. This is much more about personalisation and user choice  around notifications, connections and sharing into systems that you (need to) use.  It’s lightweight, not recreating any wheels but just allowing more choice.

So at  a university level you could have a set of basic connections (recipes) illustrating how students and staff and indeed the wider community could interact with institutionally provided systems, and then staff/students decided which ones (if any) they want to use, or create their own.  Ultimately it’s all about user choice. If you don’t want to connect that way then you don’t have to. It’s lightweight, not recreating any wheels but just allowing more choice

As well as helping to focus on actual learning activity, I would hope that this approach would helping institutions  to think about their core institutional provision, and “stuff that’s out there and we all are using” – aka byod.  It would also hopefully allow for greater ease of experimentation without having to get a system admin support to try something out in the VLE.

I would hope this would also help extend support and understanding of the need for non monolithic systems and get edtech vendors to build more flexible interaction/integration points.

Anyway hopefully there will be more soon from Jisc, and Simon actually has some funding to trying an build a small prototype based on this idea.  Jisc will also be sharing the next steps from all the ideas over the coming weeks.  Hopefully this idea is simple and agile enough to get into the Jisc R&D pipeline.

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Jisc R&D Pipeline

#BYOD4L reflections, adding another “c” to the mix – custodian v (re) designer

A large part of my last week was taken up with the Bring Your Own Device for Learning (#BYOD4L). Along with my co-organisers Alex Spiers and Neil Withnell, and our lovely team of mentors (couldn’t have done it without you guys).  I was connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating all over “t’interweb”. Well, to be more accurate I was actually active on twitter with a wee splash of periscope. I glanced a bit a google+ but it’s only really today that I have been able to make some time to reflect on the week.

One area we wanted to try and engage our community with this year was reflection,  the notion of developing their own (digital) stories of their experiences. You can see some stories here, and this blog post which explains our thinking in a bit more detail.

We really hoped that this approach might help share some of the conversations and practice sharing that take particularly in the tweet chats.  Also from a more pragmatic point of view, due to my departmental restructuring, I have had to articulate the value of my participation in the event and the value of running f2f drop in sessions during the week. Being able to describe how this informal learning experience can be valuable for formal CPD has been slightly higher on my agenda than on previous years.

It’s probably too early to say if/how this approach has worked, but both online and in our f2f session colleagues were talking about how they were going to try new  their own contexts. I’m certainly going to try mentimeter for feedback.

Looking at the google+ community I was taken by this post from Józefa Fawcett. Apart from really liking the format of the post.  It really got me thinking about my role in the event and some of the opportunities and challenges of taking over the running of an established open course.

BYOD4L was created by Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Buckingham. They have published widely and openly about the underpinning pedagogical model they developed and used to design the course.

BYOD4L has always embraced a number of online spaces – the main site (which is a wordpress blog), twitter, google +, Facebook (though that community has kind of naturally come to an end).  This can be overwhelming and confusing for many, but for people like me ( a bit of a digital flibbertigibbet ) it’s not a problem, from the beginning I embraced the chaos challenges of communicating across multiple platforms.

This is the second year that Neil, Alex and I have been in charge of the event. And it strikes me now that we haven’t really ever had a big discussion about changing the design.  It’s not that we’ve not talked about it, we just haven’t haven’t had a big chat around the design and any potential re-design. We all, I think,  take comfort from the “if it ain’t broke . . .” adage. We are all also limited by amount of time we can spare to actually make any substantial changes.

Today I’m  wondering have we been subconsciously acting more like custodians of the event, the original learning design and web design.  Not wanting to change the original design in case we offended Chrissi or Sue by changing their design. Which is odd really as it is an open resource, we all claim to be open practitioners, and both Chrissi and Sue I’m sure would be delighted if we did.  Any changes, like adding daily periscope broadcasts, the idea of personal stories have maybe been more like tinkering round the edges.

One of the perennial challenges of getting people to use OERs is that of context.  Early studies such as the Good Intentions report highlighted that.  People can feel it’s almost easier to create their own resource than to edit an existing one.  For me, with BYBO4L it has almost been the opposite. The overall design works (despite some of the confusion that some people feel) so why change it?

Perhaps we should have made the time to really edit and update, in particular, the blog. But part of me feels like that is the history of the event which should be shared and I don’t actually have the right to significantly change it or archive it.  Or is that just an excuse for bad resource and archiving management on my part (aka laziness)?  I thought writing this post my help me with this conundrum, but I think I need a bit more time. If you have any suggestions or thoughts then I’d love to hear them.

Ring for Custodian

Is it really all about the deal?

We are now truly in the post-truth era. With Brexit becoming a reality and  today’s inauguration of “the Donald”, we are also firmly in the age of ‘’the deal’.

Life, democracy, world peace, nuclear weapons, courgettes – everything we know is about doing deals.  Just how these deals will pan out remains to be seen.  Britain may be “open for business” and ready to do deals; the new US Presidency may be headed by a self proclaimed King of the deal. But from where I’m sitting I am very skeptical about both.

Deals are about about negotiation. Call me crazy, but I’m just not convinced the business aka bullying tactics of the boardroom are really appropriate for nuclear arms negotiations for example. Similarly vacuous soundbites from Mrs May do not really convince me of any strong negotiation position for the UK with the EU and the rest of the world.

But she needs to walk the deal maker walk.  The image of the deal maker is all to often associated with stereotypical (male ) power and imho bullying tactics.   More than ever the deals will spun to suit to political ends and egos.  Winning, or the perception of winning, will be all important.

So where does this leave us in education?  Will we need to embrace ‘the deal’ in new ways? What negotiation tactics can we employ to ensure our future? Consolation which is all were are really offered by governments  around any major change in our provision, structure and funding is not negotiation.

Negotiated Learning is not new, it quite rightly permeates many of our university level  programmes. Education should always be a negotiated process. Education is not about telling people what to do or what to think. Equally it can’t all be customer driven. Part of the joy of being a student is actually not knowing what you need to know. But you don’t realise that until well after you finished particularly any formal education.

Education is about providing learning environments that support engagement and foster confidence, understanding, knowledge sharing, extension and growth.  But that’s really hard to measure. It’s hard to broker a deal based on fuzzy stuff (hello TEF). Easier to tell universities, schools what they need to measure, produce some league tables, give out some medals and let the politicians do their deals.

It’s really hard to know what do write, or say today of all days, maybe this is the start of the end of days.  But I do think what we can and should do as educators is to help empower everyone in our society to articulate and understand the process of negotiation. To question bland, meaningless statements made by politicians, to demand evidence not “gut instinct”.  Most of all we can’t be silent we need to be able to bring the deal makers to task and make sure that the are constantly engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, the electorate.

I still don’t understand what the Brexit deal is for the UK – a direct result of the  failure from both sides during the referendum to engage effectively and meaningfully with the electorate.  Just now all I can see is a few people wanting more of something from the past, but leaving the rest of us with less than we had for the future.

Pre #bydo4l reflections on twitter, Trump and why I’m not leaving social media

I’m getting ready for the week long social media frenzy that is #BYOD4L (bring your own device for learning).  This is the 5th iteration of the open, online course and as it’s evolved, it’s becoming less about devices and more about general effective use of technology within in education.   As I’ve blogged about before, I really enjoy #byod4l and the effective way it brings people together to share practice. As Chris Jobling has done it’s a great way to reflect on how your own use of technology has evolved.

Sunday is one of the few days that I buy an actual newspaper.  I tend to consume most of my news online now.  Today I saw a couple of articles about digital detoxes, and people leaving social media. These were alongside articles about the President Elect of the USA, and of course you can’t talk about him without at least a passing reference to twitter.

I doubt that when Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass  were developing twitter, they never,  in their wildest dreams, imagined that there would come a point where their fledgling idea would become the main communication channel for a President of the United States.

The at times, bizarre and incoherent stream of consciousness from the President elect illustrates (imho)  the antithesis of everything I use twitter for. It’s  Broadcast Mode (with deliberate capitalisation), uncensored, offensive . . .   So whilst I’m not wanting in anyway to compare myself to or with “The Donald”,  his use of twitter does illustrate why many people are turning off the service.

A few years ago, when twitter was new and shiny and free from advertising and obvious megalomania, when I was explaining its use to people I often used to say “you can’t really understand it or see the point of it until you use it”.  Making and sustaining connections – and yes, I’ll admit in the beginning there was a bit of thrill  (or as the wonderful @ambrouk called in “vanalytics “) watching how many followers I seemed to be amassing.

BYOD4L is a clear illustration of the  power of twitter as an  an educational tool/technology.  It’s free and easy to use, (in the beginning) community driven by for example #hashtags, the conventions of RTs, @ messages, acknowledgements etc.

It allowed us to use SNA to understand our community engagement in ways we hadn’t been able to before (take a bow @mhawksey for inventing the wonderful Tags Explorer visualisation tool).  It allows us to save and share all kinds of “stuff”. I  am still amazed at how articulate (some)  people  can be in 140 characters.  It allows use to connect and sustain networks, which to me has been and still is the most powerful aspect of twitter for me.

Having been one of the early adopters, my use of twitter has settled from the first thrills of always checking, always sharing  to the realisation that twitter was for me mainly a work tool so I should step away from it after work, at the weekends etc.

I guess I’ve been quite lucky in that my use of twitter has always had a clear professional purpose. Once I started using it I easily started making connections and found a clear rationale for using it.  The personal benefits ( for example the Eurovision Song Contest is lifted to a whole other level via the twitter backchannel), have always been a bit of an add on.

I’ve never gone on twitter just to broadcast (though i do confess to a certain level of “shameless self promotion” through sharing links to my blog posts, presentations etc),  I don’t go on to fight with people or deliberately be offensive/aggressive/obtuse . I’ve had some great conversations. I’ve also been very fortunate in that I haven’t been trolled. I’ve only had a couple of abusive messages.  I am very aware of the bubble I exist in, and I am thankful for it.

So whilst I can see that many people now find the adverts, the aggression, the trolling, the broadcast (as opposed to engaged mode that I prefer) mode of delivery,  it still works for me. Today I had a lovely exchange of twitter with some colleagues (@carolak @sharonflynn, @catherinecronin) I would never have known, or benefited from the sharing of their work  without twitter.

I’m not giving that up just because “the Donald” is around. I won’t let him take that away from me.

#BYOD4L – a story of personal and professional needs and wants

It’s only 10 days ’til the next iteration of Bring Your Own Device for Learning (#byod4l).  Once again, along with Alex Spiers and Neil Withnell I’m facilitating the week long open event ably assisted with a team of volunteer mentors.

Now I have to confess,  I love BYOD4L.  I love the madness of the nightly tweet chats, the sharing of practice and ideas in people’s blogs, google+, in fact all over the interweb.  But harking back to my last blog post about needs and want, although BYOD4L gives me an opportunity to do many things I want to do, is it really something I need to do?

I would say the answer is categorically yes. Although this is an open, social, informal, collaborative (with a sprinkling of badges) experience it also has provided me, my department, my colleagues, my institution with an space to allow people to experiment and experience a short blast of online collaboration and learning. In terms of staff development, BYOD4L has allowed us to augment the 5c model with informal drop in sessions where we can have more contextualised discussions about practice and experiences. In addition to the 5c model that BYOD4L uses, I think there is another C that this engenders –  confidence.  If you haven’t tweeted before, haven’t used Google+,  have no idea how or what a tweet chat is, it’s a great (and safe) place to start. You don’t have to say anything – just experience the structure, pace and interactions.  I know a number of my colleagues have done this and it has given them the confidence to start to use twitter in their teaching practice.

It is really hard to unpack what the impact of the tweet chats are. We do curate every one via storify, but it there are pretty big. However, as I facilitator I can see that there are many really interesting conversations happening. This year we are encouraging people to try and do a bit of their own more reflective curation and creating by way of telling their own byod4l story. That could be in any form – a smaller storify with a bit more context or what happened next, a blog post, an image, a video, a periscope.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly it will hopefully help to unpack the experience. We hope that more  smaller digital stories, swill be really valuable in terms of open collaboration and sharing.  Secondly, we hope that these vignettes of experience and practice will help people in terms of more formal CPD opportunities.   I have very much tried to document and reflect on my BYOD4L experiences (mainly through my blog) and this has been invaluable in terms of having evidence for both my HEA Fellow and CMALT applications.

So to get the ball rolling so to speak, here is my #BYOD4l story so far (created with Sutori). Just click on the image to see the full version.

 

 

 

2016, the year of what you want and 2017 the year of what you need?

Having successfully switched off from work for almost 2 weeks, and as it’s  Hogmanay I thought it timely to post a quick final 2016 post.   I have been trying to think of my 2016 highs and lows, but to be honest I really don’t have the energy or inclination to trawl back through the year. But I do want to thank you, dear reader for taking the time to read my little rants over the year.

Watching/reading and listening to the plethora of yearly round ups, I keep being reminded of something a documentary producer and former boss once said to me.  He said, “the trick is to give them what they need, not what they want.”  It’s probably been one of the most useful things anyone has ever said to me.  Finding out what people need, as opposed to what they say they want has been something I’ve spent most of my professional life doing.

In 2016 the Brexit and Trump results were examples of people voting for what (they thought) they wanted, and politicians and pundits riding an easy rhetoric to appear to be giving people what they wanted but not actually explaining how they would bring about  the kind of change that is really needed.  The markets are happy just now, but how long will that last?  The complications of Brexit haven’t even begun to be understood.  The impact of the USA being run like a business (and a business from somewhere in the mid 20th century by the sounds of things) is probably not actually what the “real” people of the USA need.

I had a bizarre experience this week when listening to former Cabinet Minister Michael Gove explaining his statement about not trusting experts. Apparently what he actually meant was that there should have been more rigorous criticality of some of the claims that were made during the Brexit campaign. On that I can agree with him (another example of the madness of 2016 – agreeing even briefly with Gove!) . However I do think that he kind of missed the irony of his statement when referring to academics.  Academics based their professional lives and reputation on criticality and rigorous review.

So my new year’s wish is that everyone starts to take a bit of time to engage with trying to understand what it is we all need, be that around climate change, how to sustain our health and (national) health service, education, the role of the UN, international diplomacy, Brexit, and trying to raise the level of public debate and critical questioning of the things that really matter in life. Digital literacy, engagement and participation are going to be key to ensure that we can all do that. But in the meantime I’ll leave you with Mick and the boys to give you a little bit of what you might not either want nor need.