My idea for a marvelous,mechanical, post-truth, gaslighting, Trump-checking app/mash-up/service

A bit of a mad Sunday afternoon post inspired by the Teen Vogue Gaslighting article that has been doing the rounds on my newsfeed this weekend.

We need to do more fact checking. President Elect Trump needs to start getting some facts right, but in this post truth age, we can’t rely on human experts – what do they know?  So I have had “a really great idea” (if I say it three times, a la The Donald, then it will be true),  a really great idea, a really great idea.

I’m not sure if this is an app/mash-up/ service/iftt recipe but it goes something like this: The Donald speaks, some type of shazam like service records the words, and automagically some AI  (note my point above about not using experts) like IBM Watson does some super clever checking of facts (remember this is my fantasy so the algorithms are you know, actually based on facts, and adapt to include more facts – not Trump-isms), the then produces a fact score -with a percentage and some links to the facts, which is then retweeted to the @realdonaldtrump twitter account, and of course anyone else who wants to subscribe to the service.  The only way to get a higher score is to get some real facts. The drawing below illustrates.

Screen Shot 2016-12-11 at 4.35.51 pm.png

Anyway, crazy Sunday idea, but if anyone wants to build this, then I would for one would sign up,  contribute to a crowd fund to build and keep it going.


Reasons to be cheerful – #altc , and the rest

Let’s face it 2016 hasn’t had too much to be jolly about, but this week  during the #altc winter online conference I was reminded of the some of the good things in my  professional life so I thought I’d take five minutes and not rant.

During the open session on ALTs future strategy there was a quite a bit of discussion about the support ALT has, and continues to, offer around professional development. As I participated  (well, waffled might be more accurate) in the discussion, I was reflecting on my own career development and thinking about how I got started in the “crazy” world of learning technology. It was unplanned, unexpected but totally the right thing for me.

Like many of my contemporaries, I just sort of fell into a newly developing field. When I got a job as Learning Technologist, nobody (including me and my employer) really knew what a learning technologist was. However, I did have a very supportive boss who encouraged me to make the role my own. I will be forever thankful to Jackie Graham for giving me that opportunity.

Lots of my contemporaries have similar stories, or were working in disciplines where they saw the potential for technology to make a real difference to learning. Making that difference to learning was the key to all of us, where ever we came from.

We were all a bit different, experimental – long before edupunks were even thought of. I think most importantly we were willing  to fail  (partly because back in the day “stuff” just didn’t work very well) and laugh with and at ourselves. We often forget to acknowledge the role of fun in learning and career development.

That diversity of backgrounds is one of the things I still cherish. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with so many clever people from such a wide range of academic disciplines, and they have all accepted me and valued my opinions, and my work and in turn influenced my own development.  Long may that continue.

So, I know it’s a bit schmaltzy , but  I just wanted to say thank you to everyone (especially you, dear reader) I have worked with, and continue to work with.  In these exceptionally unstable times, our communities, our networks will be need to be stronger than ever. In these physical and metaphorical dark days it’s good to remember that there are still some reasons to be cheerful.

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  . . .


Where Sheila’s been this week: Inverness to Edinburgh#elesig, #ldcin, and delving into the digital university

Technically this post is a quick summary of where I was last week, I just didn’t quite get round to writing a post before the end of the week.

Last week I did a mini tour of Scotland, starting at UHI  (the capital of the Highlands) Inverness for the ELESIG Scotland meeting and ending up on Friday in Edinburgh (the “other” capital) for the Learning Design Cross Institutional Network meeting.  It was great to have a few days out of the office to catch up with colleagues and developments from across the Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The theme of Monday’s ELESIG meeting was that perennial favourite, Assessment and Feedback.  David Walker (University of Sussex)  provided a great start to the day with a very engaging, interactive and thought provoking keynote around driving change and challenging established assessment practice.David Walker keynote, ELESIG 21/11/16

The rest of the day was a really good balance of presentations from across Scottish Universities around different approaches to changing assessment practice.  Topics ranged from the use of wikis, to plagiarism in MOOCs, to assessment mapping to audio feedback. This storify gives an flavour of the discussions.

I stayed on in Inverness and on Tuesday morning with my colleague Bill Johnston we led a webinar around the questions of what is a digital university?  This is a questions Bill, Keith Smyth (from UHI who hosted us) have been trying to answer for a number of years now.  It was timely that a paper we wrote for SEDA last year about our work is now openly available. – hopefully next year this work will be extended into a book.  You can catch up with the webinar here.

On Friday Fiona Hale and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh hosted the 4th Learning Design Cross Institutional Network. I was so pleased that this, the fourth meeting of the was being held in Edinburgh as it meant that I could actually attend in person and not remotely.  This meeting was also much bigger that previous meetings. It was really pleasing to see around 40 colleagues coming together to talk about learning design in the lovely Dovecot which provided perhaps the tastiest sandwiches and pastries I have eaten all year!

I was delighted to share the approaches and methodologies we have been developing here at GCU.

Again this storify  of the day gives a flavour of the discussions and activities.  I was particularly interested in Mario Toro- Troconis (University of Liverpool)  Course Design Sprint Framework and the associated activity  cards which rather neatly map design approaches, Blooms taxonomy, tools, the UKPSF and Medical council descriptors.  As these are available via CC licence this is something I hope to return to in a future post as I think this could be really useful for us to adapt and use here at GCU.

Sharing practice, ideas, frustrations, challenges is so important to staff development and actually to our well being.  It’s all to easy to get caught up in the day to day of our own institutions. Now where is as challenging as our own institutions, right? But we all share common issues and can share common approaches to solutions.  Getting a bit of external validation is also really important in times where institutional thanks/validation is increasingly hard to find.  So it’s great that we are seeing more of these bottom up forums becoming more established.

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.


The day after the night before: thinking about data #codesign16

I’m writing this the morning after the night before the US 2016 election. What a day to be writing about data, and in this context learning analytics. The same thing happened to me earlier this year with the Brexit result, I was giving a keynote about learning analytics the day after that night too.

Once again the pollsters – even Nate Silver, the data, got it wrong.  Those pesky people who weren’t on the data gathering radar went out and voted – and not in the way that the data predicted.

I don’t know if Facebook “called it” or not but there are some pretty big questions to be asked about the predictive algorithms being used for elections.  What this all means is not something I’m going to talk about in this post (you might want to read this excellent response to the election result from Lorna Campbell in that respect), but I cannot not mention it today.

You may be aware that Jisc is running its codesign challenge just now and “how can we use data to improve teaching and learning” is on of their 6 challenges.

With both government and students focusing on value for money and a quality student experience, it is essential that universities and colleges are directing their resources appropriately to deliver the best learning experiences to students. Universities will need to draw on the vast array of data and information available not just to demonstrate the quality of their teaching for the TEF, but to examine what makes the most difference to students’ learning, employability and overall satisfaction with their experience, in order to continuously improve their offer. Fuller text about the challenge is at:

Jisc have fielded a number of questions:

  • How are you currently using data to improve learning, teaching and student outcomes?
  • What would be the key questions about learning and teaching that you would like to see explored through data-driven approaches?
  • What data is needed in FE to better understand which aspects of course design and teaching lead to higher success rates for their learners?
  • How can a data-driven approach lead to improved quality and greater understanding of higher education, without risking losing its richness and diversity?
  • Should the UK HE offer be more strongly shaped by higher-level skills needs in the national and international economies?

Like many colleagues in the sector, I am trying to get a handle on our institutional analytics capabilities. I don’t really know what we want to do yet, but just have this feeling that there are indeed some “actionable insights” that we could get from a more systematic exploration and visualisation of our data that would help us in some way to address all of the questions above. However, before I can do that I have to overcome my biggest problem and that is actually getting at the data. I’ve blogged about this before and shared our experiences at this year’s ALT conference.  It is still “a big issue.”  As is consent, and increasingly, data processing agreements.

This is one area where I think Jisc could (and through the current effective learning analytics programme are beginning to)  make a significant contribution to sectoral knowledge and understanding.

I worry about the lack of understanding and subsequent misunderstanding about secondary use of data; about multiple, varied DPA agreements between institutions and vendors, that may inadvertently forget about student consent, about the still unanswered question of who actually owns student data – is it institutions or the individual students?   I know none of this is new, but it is still challenging.

I’m still very wary of predictive analytics, and the dangerous metrics and measurements that are being discussed as what can still only be seen as proxies for “student engagement”  I couldn’t actually answer this question, it’s not a binary choice or even reality for me just now.

However I do think have more insight into our data can help us in terms of our understanding.  Understanding engagement is a huge task. Do we even have a clear understanding of what we mean by engagement? In TEF terms is this engagement and ergo success (passing) in assessments? Does this relate only to digital interactions, what about our offline engagement? How do we measure critical reflection, perhaps 5-10-30 years after leaving formal education?

One thing’s for sure today of all days we have seen how predictive data analysis has failed to measure human behaviour and engagement or lack of it.

That said I’m looking forward to the rest of the Jisc discussion as it unfolds. If you have any views then, please join the discussion using #codesign16 and this Friday (11th November) there is a tweet chat at 12.30 -1.30.


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.