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.


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.

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.

Open sanctuary versus cyber security

The title of this post might be a bit misleading. It’s not a “fight” situation, or playing one of the other in black and white. This post is more about me trying to make sense of some “stuff” that has been churning around in my head for the past couple of weeks about my relationship with open education and openness in general. Doing our institutional cyber security training yesterday has helped give me a (sort of) focus for the post.

So, the last couple of months, in fact the whole of 2016 has been, to put it mildly, a bit of a funny old year. In the first of her annual ed tech review posts, Audrey Watters has (as ever) accurately summarised the feelings of so many of us regarding the loss of so much and so many.

Despite the corporate driven changes to many social media platforms, and in particular twitter, I have found solace after Brexit, after the US election, from many of my friends and colleagues and others who I don’t know, as they have expressed and shared their feelings. There are too many people to mention, but Martin, Lorna, and Helen  spring to mind.

This open sharing helps keep me sane, helps me fight my despair around the post truth climate we all find ourselves in. I make no apologies for “my bubble”. I also know many people are moving to different places in protest at many aspects of social media platform management and data manipulation.

last week as I tried to follow the “cool kidz” into mastodon, I felt for the first time in a long time, isolated, unsure and really not at all comfortable in a social network -see this comment for more. Part of me wants to start an “occupy” movement in twitter, claim back our network, but I digress.

I’ve always, probably naively, tried to keep Politics our of my professional life. Dealing with internal politics has always been quite enough. But that’s no longer the case. Education, imho, has never been so Politcised. It’s never been so necessary for all of us in education to be so. We are where the fight back against post truth, the dismal of fact needs to be strongest.

The theme of OER17 – The Politics of Open  will have even greater resonance than when it was first announced. Planning a contribution to the conference is where and when the notion of open sanctuary came to my mind.

I found it really hard to come up with anything to submit to the conference, and partly that was do with internal politics. Actually sharing some of the issues I perceive in my institution openly could potentially put me in a very difficult position.

During discussion for a fingers crossed successful workshop submission to the conference, with the wonderful Frances Bell and Viv Rolfe, they reassured my that I wasn’t alone. Our open networks allow us to reach out from the institutional madness, to inspire us to keep going and do our bit to support OEP and OER to grow within our own institutions. I’m still not articulating all of this very well, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

So yesterday I had to do my cyber security training. OMG, that’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back. Now, I’m not writing this to have a go at anyone involved in producing this. It’s all standard corporate training with the obligatory “high quality” videos and quizzes. But I have a real issue with this whole cyber security thang.

It’s all about closing things down, about corporate security, about platforms vying to place themselves as the most cyber secure cloud, about shutting down our civil liberties.

I realise there are serious issues “out there in cyber space” (and is it just me or does cyber space just sound scary?) around data, information management and access. But, particularly in a university setting instead of taking the (cyber) stick, padlock, lock down approach be thinking about empowerment? About developing digital capability and capacity?

Uncertainty causes fear (hello Mr Trump, Mrs May). Uncertainty causes people to make mistakes. If you are clear and confident about “stuff” you’re going to be able to make better judgements for example not to send exam marks via email. Instead of sitting through 2 hours of videos, wouldn’t it have been better to you know, try something different? Maybe a team based scenario where you had to deal with some major data breach that was (and this is crucial) relevant to your context? Maybe look at productive failure approach (as highlighted in this years OU Innovating Pedagogy report)

It’s easier to just push out corporate style training. Isn’t it ironic that in universities where we are supposed to extend notions of learning and teaching, we can’t see past standard corporate training for our staff? Another way to turn us off, to make us disengage, to make us fear the open,  disengage from open practice, for the platforms to come in and take over?



My little bit of sanctuary  . . .


A little ray of CMALT sunshine

It’s fair to say that in the last week or so there hasn’t been very much to celebrate.  Many of us are still trying to come to terms with the result of the US presidential election, and the implications not just for the US but for the rest of us. However I did have a bit of good news this week.  I finally achieved CMALT status (cue  imaginary fireworks, carnival celebrations etc or make do with this gif).

I’ve had lots of lovely congratulatory messages, to which all I can say in addition to thank you, is “it’s about bloomin’ time.”

The CMALT portfolio is really a reflective exercise on your own practice,  so I thought it might be worthwhile to share a short reflective post on my experiences of the process, as it did take me a while to actual get round to submitting.

I am to paraphrase one of my assessors, a “well kent face” in the ALT and UK learning technology community. I’m an ALT trustee, and a previous  winner of Learning Technologist of the year.  Whilst  these are undoubtedly  “good things” for me professionally, and didn’t just happen for no reason;  they also highlight  my inner struggle with imposter syndrome.  I still have doubts around my work, my value, my academic ability etc.  What if I failed ?  Easier not to submit, or continually delay submission than go through that pain and embarrassment.

However I do regularly chastise myself about the imposter syndrome.  I was determined to finish and submit my portfolio before the end of this year. The move to having set submission times really helpful in this respect as they provide the deadlines which we all need.

I had actually started thinking about my submission about 2 maybe 2 and a half years ago; around  about the same time  as I started on my portfolio submission for HEA fellowship.  I thought I could do both simultaneously.  I thought wrong. Pragmatically my HEA submission had to take precedent, and once it was done I just needed a bit of a rest.  I was very fortunate in that both my work (who paid for the sumission) and ALT were very accommodating about letting me roll over submission opportunities.

There were a few colleagues at work who had decided to go for CMALT around the same time as me. As ever peer support was crucial in getting me motivated and focused.  This year my colleague Lina Petrakieva was pivotal in this respect.  This summer she booked a series of writing times in our calendars  where we just took a couple of hours, talked things through and wrote. I had made a start on my portfolio in a first  flush of enthusiasm about 18 months ago, but this summer I really got stuck in.

I also found attending one of the ALT webinars on getting started with CMALT really useful. I said there and I’ll say it here, getting started isn’t the problem, it’s finishing it that is!  The webinar was great as it gave participants the chance to speak to a newly accredited member and an experienced assessor. It also illustrated some good/ not so good examples for each category, and just gave the opportunity to ask some questions about length, tone etc.

There is the option to ask for a preferred assessor, all submissions are double reviewed. Once person who has really helped me think about CMALT through his sharing of his own experiences is the fabulously generous David Hopkins (one of the best learning technologists in the business).  If you are thinking about CMALT definitely check out David’s blog.

I had decided to go for the end of September submission, so at the ALT. conference I took the opportunity to ask David if he would be one of my assessors. During our chat David again was really helpful in terms of focus and thinking about the parts of the portfolio that are assessed and the parts that aren’t. With that in mind I actually made couple of videos of me explaining my  contextual and future plans sections. They seemed to be more about me so it made sense to make them a bit more personal and not just text.  ALT do share a google sites template, but you don’t have to use that. I did start out using it, and did change it a bit. But if I’m honest, I just didn’t really like it. So I presented my portfolio using Adobe Sparke.  It just seemed a nicer UI, easier to read, and OK I’ll be honest a bit more swooshy  – yes I am that shallow.

The feedback  I received was really fair and helpful. I did end up making a final push right up to the wire and so didn’t get anyone to review it for me. If they had, they may have helped to pick up on some of the comments made. I wasn’t as reflective in parts as I c/should have been. I didn’t explain some things as clearly or as well as I c/should have. Despite these flaws, overall I made the grade and I was so happy when I got the email earlier this week telling me I had got it.

So if you are thinking about CMALT, or like me had started but just never seemed to be able to get round to finishing writing your portfolio, why not just block out some time and get back to it?   Use all the resources that ALT and the CMALT community provide. Look at the portfolios in the repository, speak to people, but most of all, just do it. It’s really not that scary, and if you follow the guidance, and use the opportunity to reflect on what you do/have done, what impact it has had, what you have learned, then you too will be a CMALT holder my friend.


SEDA Winter conference: new spaces to survive and thrive

Last week I was honoured to be asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the SEDA winter conference in Brighton.The theme of the conference was Surviving and Thriving – Effective Innovation and Collaboration in the New Higher Education.

A theme across all the keynotes was space. Professor Rhona Sharp (OCSLD, Oxford Brookes) in her “SWEET strategies for HE Developers in working in the 3rd space” talk introduced us to the notion of the third space for academic developers. In this context,  the 3rd is the space  “between academic and professional services”. Drawing on the work of Celia Whitchurch, Rhona introduced me, and perhaps one or two others, to the concept of the unbounded professional. In academic development terms, someone who doesn’t have to fit into the boundaries that others do e.g. the timetable. I really liked that description of where many academic/educational developers and learning technologist sit within in the traditional boundaries of institutions.  Rhona’s SWEET (strategic, work-based, efficient, evidence based, technology enhanced) approach is certainly something I’ve been discussing with colleagues since I’ve got back.

Professor Ale Armellini, (Institute of Learning and Teaching in HE, University of Northampton) also talked about space in his keynote, but this time in more in terms of physical space and the experiences that the University of Northampton are currently going through as they prepare to move to a brand new campus.  Through his “Flying not flapping: from blank canvas to reality” Ale provided us with an interactive  ( what would be the one key thing you would want in a brand new campus?) and honest overview of the challenges of physically moving a whole university.

I also talked about space in my keynote, but more in terms of inhabiting and reclaiming learning and teaching spaces so we can thrive and not just survive.  Using a number of jumping off points, including Audrey Watter’s pigeons of ed tech, a bit of dance. I wanted to get people to think not so much about the perfect learning environment, but of reclaiming the “empty box” – be that physical or digital. Not reducing learning and teaching to templates and check boxes. I also referred to the ongoing discussion on next generation learning environments being led by Jisc.

There is a rich discussion going on there, but I am concerned about over design. Trying to think about everything and actually forgetting some key things.  We need to make sure we have some empty open and closed spaces where practice can emerge.  Places that people can inhabit, adapt and grow in.

Over the two days of the conference I had many stimulating discussions in conference sessions and during the breaks. One conversation that has really stuck with me is one I had with Phil Race about space.  He made a very interesting observation. During all the conversations about spaces no-one (either of us were aware of anyway) mentioned assessment spaces. What kind of new spaces are we designing for assessments? Are we still just assuming that we need big, spaces where we put students at desks with bits of paper? Is this still the elephant in the room when we are talking about new learning environments?  Are the discussions around proctoring exams really moving us forward in terms of re-thinking assessments or are they just trying to create a digital wrapping around traditional exam practice?

Lots to think about and I want to thank the conference Chairs, committee for inviting me  and all the delegates who presented and so richly discussed this and so many other relevant issues last week.

A list of “stuff” around my talk is available here and the slides are below.

Creating creative digital literacy or creating digital dependency?


Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 09.54.20

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework

Digital literacy and in turn digital capability is something that I care a great deal about.

Part of my working life involves supporting and exploring  the development of digital capabilities. The work that Helen Beetham, Sarah Knight and many others at Jisc have done around developing definitions that have evolved into a digital capabilities framework is an essential part of my “digital toolkit.”  I’m always on the look out for other resources that I can add to said toolkit.

Earlier this week  I spotted via twitter  that the NMC had produced a Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy .  Full of expectations my heart sank when I read this:

“Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief was commissioned by Adobe Systems to explore an increasingly pressing challenge for United States higher education institutions: advancing digital literacy among students and faculty. Unfortunately, lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs. . . . Adobe’s support of this publication is significant as their technologies are increasingly being adopted by colleges and universities to foster greater digital literacy, particularly the Adobe Creative Cloud and the design, production, and storytelling apps it encompasses.” (my emphasis)

So before I even read the report my guard was up that there would be a bias towards Adobe products. I should state I don’t have anything against Adobe per se. I use, and at times encourage others to use Adobe products, and not just for reading PDFs.

I’m was intrigued as to how the report would address the “lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy”.  Feeling confident in those nice people at NMC  I was sure that some reference would be made to the great work going on here in the UK around digital literacy.  After quick skim of the document I couldn’t see anything – however this exchange on twitter did indicate that the Jisc work was indeed included.

On closer inspection, I still can’t find it – there is a link to some work at Leeds Beckett which refers to Helen Beetham’s early digital literacy model, but I can’t find anything else.

This is the point where I wish I was Audrey Waters and could write an elegant, informed take down of why I find the approach of this report so wrong and why we, those of us who work in the education sector, need to be involved in the creation, critique  and control of the narrative around educational technology.   Bear with me as I give it a shot.   At this point I’m  tempted just to say ADOBE PAID FOR THIS REPORT AND IT IS ALL ABOUT SELLING THEIR PRODUCTS UNDER THE GUISE OF DEVELOPING CREATIVITY AND DIGITAL LITERACY.

There are differences to between the US and UK Higher Education sector/market (I have to add that every time I write market in relation to education a little piece of my soul dies).   I think the difference of intent between a virtual learning environment and a learning management system is significant.  It frames how we describe our interactions particularly in formal learning.  Learning environments are not just digital, they are physical and personal too. We are all our own learning environments. I am noticing that more people here in the  UK are talking about the LMS. Is this a sign of technological imperialism or global homogenisation? Probably a bit of both. The north American narrative voice  is loud and has lots of dollars behind it. Again as I was reading this report he old adage of America sneezing and the rest of the world catching cold did spring to mind.

As well our differences there are similarities and digital literacy is one.  I was disappointed that the report made no mention of the work that Jisc has been supporting  in the UK for a number of years now around supporting understanding of digital capabilities, the student experience and leadership. No mention of their definition of digital literacy, no mention of their framework.  That’s not to say the references that are made aren’t valid, I just find it odd that it’s not there. Particularly if  “a lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs”.  In terms of building a community of practice, again something that the report recommends, we have done this in the UK.

So whilst the overall conclusions and  recommendations are actually pretty sensible. The undertone of “smart “ collaborations, technology companies leading the way, buying a suite of “creative” products to allow students to be “makers” troubles me greatly. Buying into a system doesn’t automagically make you, or a University digitally literate or creative. It’s knowing when and how to use/buy/move on that does.  Whilst the Adobe creative suite of products is undoubtedly powerful, it also creates another set of dependencies for organisations and individuals. “Smart collaborations” between education  and technology companies really need to figure out what the potential implications of those dependencies are.

Digital literacy  is one of our  greatest weapons against the monsters of technology. We can let them dismantle it and sell it back to us.

How do you inhabit your learning and teaching space(s)?

I haven’t blogged for the last couple of weeks, not because I haven’t wanted to, there have been a number of posts that have made want to write.  Mainly it’s because I have at last finished and more importantly submitted my CMALT portfolio, and there have been one or two other work things that have taken up my time.

As an incentive/celebration of submitting the portfolio, on Saturday night I went to the see Scottish’s Ballet’s Autumn Programme.   Before the performance started, Christopher Hampson, Chief Executive and and Artistic Director of the Company, gave an introduction to the three pieces, the first of which was short piece, Drawn to Drone,  by a young Scottish choreographer, Jack Webb. Christopher asked us, the audience, to as we were watching the piece, think about how a dancer “inhabits a space”.

As this mesmerising piece featuring one dancer and two chairs unfolded, I really did think about that. The dancer totally inhabited and filled not only the stage but the whole theatre.

During the rest of the performance and for the rest of the weekend I have been thinking about about how relevant that question of how we inhabit space is to learning and teaching.

Last week I bumped into a colleague who was literally eating lunch on the run. He had  a really full teaching day, but wanted to share how well one particular technique had worked in class. As an introduction to DNA transference with first year law students, he put some pink glitter (borrowed from his daughter) on his hands  then shook hands with a student and got that student to shake hands with another student and so on until there was no trace of the glitter (they got to about 17 handshakes). What a great way to inhabit a learning and teaching space. That glitter lesson is, I am sure, one that none of the students will forget.

Last week there was a quite a bit of debate around educational technology being  a discipline or not. Martin Weller wrote a post about how in many ways (particularly in the UK with ALT) it is, but that maybe there needed to be more of a focus on criticality. Audrey Waters wrote a riposte calling not for more discipline but for the need for “a greater willingness for undisciplining.”   Great posts, both and I encourage you to read them.

I can help feeling though, that ultimately  it’s how we use educational technology that matters, not the discipline of ed tech. We can be as rigorous critical and as we like but if that research is not easily accessible and meaningful to practice then when is the point really?

It’s how we technology  it to inhabit learning spaces that matters, ensuring we can spread the glitter and not be driven by how and when (if ever) we get to use that glitter by ed tech companies. On that note, thank you Michael Feldstein for this brilliant post).

I’m going to follow all of this up in my SEDA keynote next month, which now includes, balancing on window ledges, pigeons, ballet a bit of ed tech and now glitter. How can it fail?

DRAWN TO DRONE from jack webb on Vimeo.