The Future of Learning Technology in UK Higher Education

Last year I was approached and interviewed by Microsoft. In that interview I talked about my experiences and hopes for my work, both in the sense of personal development and in how I see (and want to see) the use of technology improve in higher education. This improvement, I said, needs to come from three main areas:

  • How we, learning technologists (in our various roles and titles) perceive technology is being used, can be used, and should be used with students. These students can be classroom based or fully online, or the use of technology in a blended approach.
  • How we work with staff (academic and administrative) to introduce new technology or new ways of working with existing technology, how this relationship with our colleagues grows and whether they are the kind who are receptive to new tools and techniques or ‘ludites‘, and
  • Why we look at new technology, how we work out if there is a use for it and if so, what is it? We’re also fully aware that some technology needs to mature before it becomes an effective teaching tool (either in reliability, resilience, or in it’s adoption across the sector).

From the report:

Learning delivery in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is being reshaped before our eyes, thanks in part to advances in technology and the new pedagogical theories facilitated by that technology. In order to understand more about the ever-evolving relationship between technology and learning, we spent time speaking with six of the UK’s leading learning technologists working within HEIs.

In a series of interviews exploring current practice, changing needs and key trends, we were able to establish how digital devices are being used in universities and how cutting-edge technology can continue to compliment a sector experiencing fresh emphasis on collaboration, creation and innovation.

Key take-away messages from the interviews and report look at things like our ability to be device agnostic (despite this being a report from Microsoft Surface), seamless capability, VR and AR developments, AI, collaborative working and learning analytics.

David Hopkins reiterated the point (investment in institutional infrastructure) that the role of a learning technologist is “to make sure that the academics use their time with the students efficiently.”

Alongside key “UK’s leading learning technologists” like Mike Sharples (OU), Terese Bird (Leicester), Neil Morrise (Leeds), Rose Luckin (UCL), Dave White (UoAL) and myself, the Microsoft report concluded that “the revolution in learning technology is quickly becoming the most significant factor in improving student performance – in turn helping universities to fulfil their transformative role for society, the jobs market and the economy.”

Download the Microsoft Surface report here: The Future of Learning Technology in UK Higher Education.

50 Most Influential HE Professionals Using Social Media #Jisc50social

For a month or two JISC has been asking for names and nominations to a new list they’ve been producing – 50 Most Influential HE Professionals Using Social Media. Well, the time has come and the final list has been announced.

There are some wonderful people on this list I am proud to know and call friends, and some I’m not previously aware of and will be looking at (hmm, sounds a bit stalker’ish, sorry) to learn about what they do, why, and how.

“The final line-up – chosen by a panel of social media experts, including award-winning social media editor for Times Higher Education Chris Parr, Insider Higher Ed journalist and blogger Eric Stoller, and Teacher Training Videos founder Russell Stannard, as well as Jisc’s David Kernohan and Sarah Knight – features an impressive mix of academics alongside vice-chancellors, librarians and IT and support staff.”

The final 50 features outstanding cases of social media use that others could benefit from, and we will be looking to highlight some of this excellent practice in the weeks to come.”

Even more helpful than the list is also the Twitter list, making it easier to follow the work of all those on the list.

Again, it’s an honour to be on the list, and I’d just like to sat how much I enjoy being ‘social’, talking about and sharing ideas and experiences, and above all hearing all about the wonderful things people are doing with students, learning, engagement, collaboration, technology, communication, and each other.

Harness the power of video and increase student engagement

Earlier this year I was invited to contribute to a guide for teachers on the flipped classroom, concentrating on the inclusion, or rather availability, of video to increase student engagement (flipped classroom or not).

This is what I wrote:

“Believe it or not YouTube has only just turned 10 years old. Yes, that’s right. So much has changed in that time that it’s often easy to forget just what the rate of change has been. Video has always been something that could be used in classrooms or for teaching and learning, but it was often a bulky CRT television on a trolley, with a VHS player and a multitude of knotted cables that the teacher could never unravel to get it near the wall socket. Therefore, in my experience, my teachers often gave up and tried something else instead. Not only was the actual technology / hardware itself difficult to use, the materials we were shown would be old programmes, not always relevant or interesting, and more often than not of poor quality that only a few in the class would be able to see and hear it properly.

Now fast forward to today and look at what you have. We have access to hours of genuine, original television programmes to choose from. The quality of both the video and content is as good as it’s ever going to get (even the self-produced materials), and the opportunities to create and share our own material has never been easier. With personal computing and audio/video equipment as cheap as it is, and with the growth of mobile computing still climbing, there really isn’t any excuse for a teacher to not find something to use in their classroom.

If you needed convincing, how about these examples? What if you wanted to show, instead of explain, how truncated spurs are created over millions of years by water or glacial erosion? What if your students can’t contemplate the distances involved when dealing with the planets in our solar system, or beyond? What about trying to help a student who’s struggling to understand a complex mathematical theory, such as the Brouwer’s Fixed-Point Theorem?

This is the power of video as part of a teaching and learning programme. For me there really is no reason to not include video in your teaching materials. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s to introduce complicated or difficult concepts, other times it could be to relieve stress or boredom.

Whatever, there is a reason, you just need to find it!”

Download the PDF guide and read from myself and other leading educators on flipped classrooms and other techniques for enhancing student engagement in the Teacher’s Practical Guide to the Flipped Classroom.

Supporting emerging technologies

Thanks to Grainne Conole for sharing this on Facebook this morning, and to Michelle Pacansky-Brock for sharing on LinkedIn too – 5 Ways to Support Faculty Who Teach with Emerging Technologies.

It’s a great image (available from Mindwires, CC BY) depicting 5 types of innovators, or rather 5 approached of innovating in learning and education, from the (my understanding of the labels, anyway!):

  • ‘Laggards’. Those who  follow on once a technology has proven itself.
  • Late majority. Those who will join the implementation of something new once the initial buzz has quietened down and the research is starting to support it’s use.
  • Early majority. Like those in the ‘late’ majority, they will wait for the back to be broken on the testing and development before adopting and implementing, but will have been keen observers from the start.
  • Early adopters. Being involved and helping developing new uses for existing technologies (as well as driving developments) the early adopters will often be closely tied with the ‘innovators’ through professional connections.
  • Innovators. The first to know, the first to try, and sometimes the first to fail. These ‘technology enthusiasts’ will not stop when something doesn’t work, they’ll often try again, alter their approach or expectations, and keep looking around to see if there’s anything else they could use to improve work or learning efficiencies.

What do you think, do you identify yourself (or someone else) in any of the descriptors here?

Desks of doom! #blimage

In response to Steve Wheeler’s invitation, here’s my response to his #blimage request. But first, Steve explains #blimage as:

“You send an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Just make sure the images aren’t too rude. The permutations are blimmin’ endless.” Steve Wheeler, 2015

The above (banner) image is an edited version of the challenge, an image Steve set those of us who takes up his challenge – a row of fairly old flip-top desks.

The thing is, I hadn’t thought of these for years, but I sat at one from when I started at secondary grammar school to when I left after completing my A-levels! That’s a looong time (including resits)!!

So, what do they mean to me? 

They mean sitting in silence trying desperately trying to keep up with my history teacher as he dictated our notes on the Russian revolution, World War II, and England in the time of Gladstone and Disraeli. They represent a language teacher I really really didn’t like, and using it as a shield as I wrote and passed notes to my friends. They mean leaving my textbooks and notebooks in overnight only to find them missing in the morning. They signify desperate and pathetic attempts to store notes during tests and to surreptitiously try and lift the lid to cheat.

Calculators were hidden in them during class and tests, comics were quickly thrown in and the lid slammed shut before the teacher caught me or my friends reading them. Latin books were dumped there and found there way to the bottom, never to see daylight again (the same with homework and reports). Worse was to come during puberty … ;-)

The desks were 5 rows deep in the classroom, spread across 3 pairs from one side to the other, and there was always one empty one, right in front of the teacher, you know, for the poor unfortunate sod who got caught talking, cheating, was late, messing around. Or was new.

Most of the time, in years 1 to 5 (or years 7-11 as they now are), we stayed in our form room and the teachers came to us. This is why I knew my desk intimately … every bit of grafitti, every notch or chip in the desk lid or ink well (no, I’m not old enough to have used at as an actual ink well, but I did try cartridge pens for a while: I thought they made me cool. I was wrong), and how high you can lift the lid before it creaks and groans and gives you away to the teacher.

These desks were, as I also found out in Geography, great to hide behind when you hear the whistle of the board rubber whizzing it’s way to the back of the room as the teacher tried to silence you as he drew diagrams of glaciers and truncated spurs on the blackboard.

I’ve remembered so much more about my school days from this one image. I’ve also remembered how much I hated those desks, not for what they are, but for what they now represent about my school days – overbearing, controlling, and extremely formal, leaving no room for individuals or any kind of creativity.

How I survived and made it to University, I don’t know. I think it was more to the credit of my parents and their belief in me than my teachers, or my attempts to provide the level of assignments required from an environment so alien and restrictive to someone like me who has an imagination and creative streak.

Not all teachers at this school we’re bad – I have very fond memories of a few who I was able to connect to and with on many personal levels (Mr Hubbard for English, Mr Webb for Geography, Mr McCabe for French, and Mrs Wass as my year 4 and 5 form teacher).

It couldn’t have been all that bad, I’m still here and doing alright, I think.

Right. Your turn. You can use Steve’s image for your own #blimage or one of your own – nut I’d like to know what you make of Steves image. Write your own blog post or update somewhere, and please put a link to it below for all to see?

Wearable Technology

I’ve been meaning to write about wearable technology for a while now, but have resisted because (a) everyone and his dog has written about it, (b) I wasn’t sure on why I was feeling so negative about it, and (c) I couldn’t actually be bothered.

So, what changed? Well, it was a reply tweet I got from Jason Bradbury last week. Jason, if you’re interested, is the face of The Gadget Show here in the UK. It started when Jason shared a tweet about Apple not being able to crack the wearable market with sales of their watch down on expected volume. I replied:

By this I meant that I don’t believe watches are really the right medium for innovation in wearable technology. I’m not surprised that companies like Apple have investigated and tried it out – watches, rings, necklaces, etc. seem the natural choice for ‘wearable’ innovation- but I am surprised and a little disappointed they carried on down this avenue.

I didn’t think anything else about it until Jason replied! I wasn’t expecting that as, let’s face it, with +260k followers I’m sure he gets a lot of tweets aimed his way. But he did reply, which makes him all the more special as Twitter, for me, is about connections like this. So for someone of Jason’s standing in this community to engage with me is a highlight I’ll remember.

As Simon Finch said on Facebook when I said Jason had relied to me: “Fab :-) It’s odd when famous folk do that. I got one from Guy Kawasaki and it was more special than a reply I got from the tooth fairy when I was 5 ;-)”

But, back to Jason’s reply:

Firstly, Jason, thanks for taking the time to reply. You didn’t have to but it shows you understand Twitter and your place on it! Secondly, I agree, the icons just look, um, naff! I don’t have, nor want, an Apple Watch for many reasons. But the point I was trying to make my tweet  was not about the icons, or how the watch looks or works. It was more about the choice these companies made to make a watch, which basically does the same as the smartphone its tethered to, and for the media to concentrate on watches as the future direction for technological development.

I have a watch, it tells the time. I have a smartphone, it does just about everything else I need from a mobile device. If the young are not wearing watches, why put an Internet-enabled watch into the market? Ive read a little about th Apple watch, and most seem moderately positve, but also quite a few saying they like it but are happy sending it back or selling it on. It’s just not ‘there’ yet.

Other aspects of technology that we could be wearing, or in fact already are, are things like identity chips in our pets: why not incorporate something like the Google contact lens project into these chips to monitor health issues present, or identifiable, through contact with blood, bones, nervous systems, etc.? I’m not a vet or a doctor, but surely there are applications for bringing these two technologies together.

What would you like to see ‘wearable’ technology do? Are the big companies who control the direction of development going in the right direction for evolving the technology, or just reacting to market ‘forces’ and chasing the big-bucks?

I really like the way the Mota Smartring looks and works, but this is still just another notification tool, not really doing anything new? At the moment it can show you’ve an email or been mentioned on Facebook and Twitter (coming soon), but that’s really all it does. It’s certainly as stylish and well designed as an Apple watch, perhaps more appropriate as its doing one thing and one thing well – notifications. What else could you do with a ring or similar device – monitor pulse, stress, mood? If you can, what can you do with that information – share it with your GP if you’re already taking medication for high blood pressure, keep records of mood swings if you suffer depression? There are possibilities beyond the pedictable route we seem to be fixated in following at the moment?

Moving away from watches, wearable technology that has, for me, truly shown potential are things like Google contact lenses which enable real-time monitoring of blood glucose levels, using “sensors sandwiched between two soft layers to measure the glucose levels in the wearer’s tears, transmitting this information wirelessly to connected smartphones.”

I know I’m concentrating on the health aspects of ‘wearable’ technology, but anything else at this stage doesn’t seem to be fully utilising the creativity in technology development. So many of us have smartphones or mobile computers now, do we really need another device that still tethers us to it? Both the watch and Mota ring need a Bluetooth device to work – personally I’d rather just look and use one device to stay connected, the device I already have.

So far I’ve not mentioned Fitbit. I haven’t got one, and probably need one as I should be more active. I think this is a more original view on wearable technology than a watch, and has the most to offer development possibilities for how we can use wearable tech. Saying this, you still need a seperate device to know what you’ve done with your Fitbit.

I am really loving it when I read about developments in prosthetics limbs (Lego-friendly arm, so kids can swap its gripping attachment for their own custom creations and artificial leg that stimulates “feeling” for the patient) or eye and ear implants. When veterans return injured from war zones, when civilians are injured in terrorist attacks, or when illness or injury robs someone of a part of their body, wearable technology can help. Remember, wearable technology doesn’t have to be miniature, Internet-connected, a Facebook or Twitter notification centre, or anything like what we’re seeing. It can be something truly unique. Mind you, I’m not sure I like these life-like, interactive babies designed for something, I’m not sure what …. just too spooky for me.

Lastly I want to consider something truly science fiction – could wearable tech go as far as implants? In the film Johnny Mnemonic the main character transports dangerous data which will kill him if he can’t retrieve it in 48 hours. In another Keanu Reeves film, The Matrix, we see the real people ‘plug in’ to the matrix to battle cyber ‘agents’ via some very nasty looking spikes. There are so many books and films depicting a dystopian future based on the misuse or gulability of the human race in how they/we have let more and more minature computing devices invade our lives, in deed invade our bodies.

Wired magazine ran an article in Febraury looking at key attributes wearable devices needed and concluded by saying that “never before has computing been small enough to be worn relatively comfortably around the clock on the body, presenting opportunities for breakthrough medical advancements and unfortunately marketing nuisances.” This is the key for me … will we get wearable technology for good, or for profit?

And I didn’t even cover what this kind of technoloy can do for students, teachers, assessment, copying, plagiarism, learning, geo-located activiti

Mapping Digital Skills in HE

A few weeks ago this image/infographic was doing the rounds and being tweeted in my network (thank you Catherine Cronin!) – mapping digital skills in Irish Higher Education.

Bringing together themes of ‘tools and technology, ‘create and innovate’, ‘communicate and collaborate, this is a wonderful resource that can help map and highlight how skills cross sectors and areas of knowledge and capabilities. Examples include the humble (?) VLE … crossing ‘tools and technology’, ‘teach and learn’, and ‘communicate and collaborate’. 

Technology is now part of everyday life for all of us, whether as a student, teacher, administrator, technical specialist, or even just as an ordinary citizen.  The pace in which new technologies emerge from initial concept to widespread adoption is also much faster than ever before, new words being added to the dictionary each year and new websites and apps to get our heads around for anything from paying tax to ordering pizza; from watching the latest movies to speaking with distant relatives; or for learning a new skill and collaborating with others.

As part of the National Digital Skills Framework AllAboard are building, this is intended to be a flexible ‘organic’ (I don’t like phrase) document able to adapt as the learning technology environment changes.

What do you think – do they have everything here? Are the right kind of links and relationships represented?

Mapping Digital Skills in HE[click to enlarge]

Banner image: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How has technology transformed the classroom?

Last month I was asked to provide a few lines about how I believe Apple has transformed classrooms. Unfortunately for the organisers I didn’t want to concentrate on just what one company, or even one single piece of technology., has done to ‘transform’ or enhance the classroom. I also don’t agree we should concentrate on one single entity or company as being more important than another. So I wrote a more generic piece about my experiences with changes in technology, as well as its use, who uses it, and why, in classrooms. From this they could take a few choice snippets as it suited them. Here’s what I wrote:

“Classroom learning, and for that matter learning in general, has been transfdormed by the rise of mobile computing. Smartphones and tablets have brought about the ‘always-on’ availability of anyone with the funds to buy the devices. Being connected to the Internet enables interaction and engagement with networks of learners from any locations, from coffee shops to shopping centres, to libraries and schools – it is this that has transformed the use of technology for learning.

The rise of the App Store, whilst not a ‘technology’ per se, has brought about such a change in approach and delivery of learning resources to teachers, parents, and children – at no other time have so many passionate and talented individuals been able to design and implement such a varied range of learning resources, and have the ability to reach a global audience. This is the power of the App Store (once you filter out the dross and poorly designed Apps).”

You can read the published version below and on their website, along with five other perspectives from the likes of Erin Klein and Shelly Sanchez in the first part of the How has Apple transformed your classroom series of articles:

For University of Warwick Business School eLearning Consultant, David Hopkins, there’s no denying that recent technology has transformed learning, specifically with the rise of mobile computing. For Hopkins, smartphones and tablets bring about an “always-on” availability, and by developing the iPhone and iPad, Apple has contributed to this in the classroom.

Easy access to the Internet is enabling interaction and engagement such as, “networks of learners from any location, from coffee shops to shopping centers to libraries and schools,” Hopkins explains.
The rise of the App Store, he adds, has helped bring about this change in approach via the delivery of learning resources to teachers, parents, and children. “At no other time have so many passionate and talented individuals been able to design and implement such a varied range of learning resources, and have the ability to reach a global audience,” says Hopkins.

What do you think? Has Apple single-handedly transformed the learning and classroom landscape, or are they part of a more ‘organic’ movement? Is there a moment where you can see, from your own experience and perspective, a more profound shift in the use of technology in your classes?If so, what was it and when did it happen?

Image source: James Harrison (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Become a Google power-user

“Search engines are the backbone of everyday Internet use, but are you aware of the hidden tips and tricks available to improve your search? Here are some pointers that’ll save you Googling ‘how to Google’.”

I’ve seen this before, a while ago, and lost it. So here it is, blogged and saved forever! 

Google search tips and tricks (infographic)

Going home?

As a parent of two lovely and very bright boys aged 4 and 5 (or, as they like to say, nearly 5 and very nearly 6) I feel the pain of all parents who don’t think the schooling is capable of adapting to all possible levels of children’s capabilities within the defined age/year structure that children are subjected to.

My 5 year old (year 1) has a reading age of a year 3 child, and is doing sums (numeracy) of year 2 and sometimes year 3. Yet his teacher has him doing number-bonds to 10 … something he could do 2 years ago. He’s been stuck here for a year already, not because he’s not developing, but because the school doesn’t think he can do it. He brings a new book home to read every other day from school and has read it within 20 minutes of getting home, he can answer quite difficult questions on the subject, characters, locations, emotions, etc. of the story. He writes lots too. Loves it. 

It’s not that we’ve been schooling and stretching him at home … he just loves his books and numbers and puzzles and Lego and play and anything he doesn’t know. He wants to learn about everything! Same goes for his brother … if there’s a book he hasn’t read, he wants to try.

But the school can’t cope. Is the answer home schooling? What about private schools, where the classes are supposed to be smaller, therefore each child has a more personal and engaged relationship with the teacher? It’s not something I’ve thought about before, but if the school can’t offer either of them what they need, when they need it (no, he isn’t allowed to read that Red Level book because he’s in year 1, not year 3 … really?). More effort, it seems, is given to children with lower abilities whilst higher achieving children are left to their own devices … and what should they be doing, aged 4 and 5, without direction? Sit still, don’t talk, and leave your friends alone, they’re working. Right, like that’s gonna work!

As you know, I’m no slouch when it comes to thinking or trying different things. I’m no expert either. But I am a caring, thoughtful, and reflective parent who can see both his kids getting bored at school: they’re not pushed, they’re not used to finding things that can’t do, they’re not stretched. They are becoming the turned off children that Stephen Heppell talks about. The school is ignoring the passion and creativity they were born with, and the thirst to learn that Sir Ken Robinson says schools are killing. Worse than this is that, if they keep coming home frustrated and bored, they will stop liking it, start playing up in school, and become one of the trouble-makers … not because they can’t do the work, but because they could do it years ago and it’s, well, beneath them.

I’ve just read this article on Wired:  The Techies Who Are Hacking Education by Homeschooling Their Kids. Go read it, then come back.

“The Internet has already overturned the way we connect with friends, meet potential paramours, buy and sell products, produce and consume media, and manufacture and deliver goods. Every one of those processes has become more intimate, more personal, and more meaningful. Maybe education can work the same way.

Ought I to seriously think about the school (which is a good one, we moved to the area three years ago because the school was, and is good) and find an alternative schooling for them? Is taking them out of mainstream schooling the answer where we can be sure they’ll get more real-world and appropriate learning? is this only looking at the academic input of their lives, and will it effect their social development skills? There is so much to think of which, when you think about it, you don’t even consider when it’s just “taking the boys to school”.

“Problems arise, the thinking goes, when kids are pushed into an educational model that treats everyone the same—gives them the same lessons and homework, sets the same expectations, and covers the same subjects. The solution, then, is to come up with exercises and activities that will help each kid flesh out the themes and subjects to which they are naturally drawn.”

“Of course, there are plenty of private schools, charters, or gifted programs pursuing some version of what’s called student-directed learning. But most unschoolers told me that even these schools were still too focused on traditional standards of achievement. Unless every family homeschools their children—a prospect that even homeschooling advocates say is untenable—it will remain an individualized solution to a social need.”

I hadn’t heard of or thought of home-school groups before, and perhaps they are not common in the UK, but it’s worth looking in to, right?

Going home?

Image source: Patty Lagera (CC BY-ND 2.0)