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.

Teachers are like gardeners …

Another wonderful sound-bite from Sir Ken Robinson:

” A great gardener, a great farmer, depends upon plants growing under their care, otherwise they’re out of business. But the irony is that every farmer and gardener knows you cannot make a plant grow. You cannot do that – you don’t stick the roots on, paint the petals, attach the leaves, you know. The plant grows itself. What you do is provide the conditions for growth. Great farmers know what the conditions are and bad ones don’t. Great teachers know what the conditions of growth are, and bad ones don’t. With bad teaching all this potential of students shrivels in the face of it. With great teaching all this stuff starts to flourish and flower. And that, to me, is the great gift of teaching: to recognise that growth is possible, at any time.”

Sir Ken Robinson – Teachers are like gardeners

Image source: Sebastiaan ter Burg (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Making a MOOC ‘successful’

Designing a ‘successful’ MOOC is one thing. Making a MOOC ‘successful’ is something completely different.

Much has been written by far better and more eloquent people than me (here and here and here and here and here) on what makes a successful MOOC – all about interactions, journeys, optimum length, appropriate materials, platform, etc.. But what about making a MOOC successful? To me, there is a difference.

This isn’t about making / building / designing a MOOC, it’s about making / encouraging / promoting / informing people about the MOOC.

The argument about MOOC success, learner retention, completion numbers, registrations, etc., is one that will rage on and on, everyone has an opinion, everyone looking at something different, all very valid, and all very important questions. There isn’t a definitive answer – each MOOC is different, for a different audience, for a different demographic (maybe), and designed in a way that different learner ‘profiles’ can get something different out at the end. If indeed they reach the end, which of course they don’t have.

No, making a successful MOOC requires more than a lead academic(s) subject knowledge, learning technology, instructional/education design, assessments, an appropriate learning goal/journey, working platform, etc. You need all the other stuff as well.

The other stuff you need? Well, try: 

Support
Support for the academic to develop the course in the first place. This could be time allocated to their schedule to relieve them from teaching, research, meetings, etc. It could be time and resources to create the materials and resources needed for the MOOC. We could be talking extra training in how to design for online audiences (not everyone has designed for an online audience before), or media training, or training in how to facilitate or moderate the course once it’s running. This support is required from more areas than just the team helping to put the course together in the first place.

Support is also required for all other aspects of the course progression. If there are facilitators or moderators (use whichever term you prefer – I don’t like ‘moderators’) do they require training in netiquette or how to handle the volume of comments as well as the quality (or lack of) in the comments?

If you are running the course more than once and, let’s face it you should if you’ve put all this effort into planning and designing it, then who will continue to be involved? If the facilitators change, the training starts from scratch.

Coverage
This is a biggie, and depends solely on each course and the intended audience. If you’re aiming at business professionals for specific business process, and the outcome is they get a certificate that can be used for CPD or other such professional recognition, then you need to contact the appropriate professional bodies (trade, commercial, publishing, etc.) and see firstly about accreditation or, at least, whether they will endorse the course or send a notice to their members/readers informing them it’s running.

If your course is a teaching course in something specific, aimed at giving the online student a taste or perspective of online learning from your Institution, perhaps at a degree level education, then make sure you’ve something to give them or sell to them afterwards? Can the certificate be used on an application form as evidence of XYZ? Is completion (by whatever metric ‘completion’ is measured in the course or on the platform) enough to warrant further study with you, and can it be used as an incentive?

Has a course, with a specialist audience (perhaps not ‘massive’ in the sense of tens of thousands of active users, but with a well defined but small community that covers a very specialist industry, theory, concept, etc.) got what it takes to attract the right people without fuller involvement of their trade body or publication?

Marketing
Nothing can happen without someone telling someone else about the course. Yes, most of us have Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. I’ll put my hand up and admit I’ve been very active pushing my/Warwick’s latest MOOC (Literature and Mental Health) as much as I dare on my various channels. But, here’s the rub – yes, I have +8,500 followers on Twitter, so the reach of my tweets are quite high, but these followers are looking for tweets about learning design, learning technology, reflections on conferences, that kind of stuff. I am not the right person, or rather my social accounts are not the right fit, to be marketing this course.

I’ll use examples here from the Literature MOOC, to help explain what I mean.

Without the full cooperation of the individual department or Institution marketing, your course will only get limited coverage. Yes, I can tweet about my courses. So can the lead educator(s). So can anyone else interested in the course. What you need, to make a course successful is maximise the audience that is out there. You need to get the big players in the field of influence the course covers involved, get them tweeting about it, get them to blog about it, write to their subscriber list about it – and not just a mention, you need a full on (positive) review and endorsement. That will mean something to their readers, not just another advert that we all ignore.

The marketing team(s) need to target more than just the list of local businesses, or the alumni network, or a generic email list. While these may have their place in this and other uses, MOOCs need more. If you have the contacts, then get national press involved too!

A MOOC about psychology? What would really help get the word out would be positive interaction and authentic ‘reviews’ from the likes of Psychology Today (Facebook: 6.6m followers) or the Psychology Magazine (Twitter: @psychmag 48k followers).

A MOOC about automotive engineering? Having international organisations like Automotive News (Twitter: @Automotive_News 128k followers) interested, or get it added to the Engineering Management Science Manufacturing LinkedIn group (288k members) would help.

For me (putting my old hat on I used to wear as a freelance/self-employed web designer) the marketing is NOT about sending a press release and waiting for the news to hit. It’s not about the phone call where you ask something. It’s about building those relationships (if you don’t already have them) with an organisation who can benefit, either themselves or their members, from the course. Let them see the course, talk to them about the purpose and requirements, offer some advice or editorial, accept advice or criticism in return (you never know, it may make the course better, or at least more applicable to their members).

When I work on an online course or MOOC I want as many (appropriate) people to be able to get on it. Big Data isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to know about Shakespeare. Reading isn’t to everyone’s taste. But in order to make the courses successful we need to reach out to individuals to whom these courses could be important, or certainly interesting. If we can’t get to them directly, through whatever channels we have, we need to reach out to the places they congregate; the trade publications, the fan sites, the online communities, the conferences, etc.

After all, if you put the effort in to designing the best online course and best online experience for your thousands of students/learners, you want them to be able to find it in the first place. Yes?

Image source: Marjon Kruik (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Reading list: November 14th, 2015

Like many in my line of work (eLearning, Educational or Learning Technology) I read. I read a lot. I read books, articles, blog posts, journals, etc. I sometimes tweet them, I sometimes print them, I sometimes actually finish them. Sometimes I bin them (those are the ones I wished I’d not started).

I’m going to try and keep a diary (a web-log, or blog, if you like) of the more important, or rather more interesting things I read, at or for work. I’ve also decided to up my game regarding my general reading habits … here is my side project of books I’m reading outside of a work setting.

So far this month I’ve been reading, in no particular order: 

What about you, what have you read that has meant something or that you’ve identified with?

Image source: Bernal Saborio (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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?

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)

Maybe digital isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

So much of what I do these days, and what I produce, is digital. Tweets, status updates, audio & video files, documents, reports, etc. Less than 1% gets to where it needs to get to in any other way than by electronic transfer – money to friends (bank transfer), documents to colleagues (emails, networks, Dropbox), sharing (tweets, blog posts, status updates, etc.). Hell, even a message home to say I’ll be late will be a Facebook message instead of a phone call!

For my 40th birthday my brother bought my a USB turntable (Denon DP-200USB), something I (we) could use to rip our extensive collection of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s vinyl collection of rock, metal, and various dubious listening pleasures. So, the past few winter’s I’ve been holed up in the spare room with 300+ vinyl records (I’m sure we had more) and the turntable, ripping them, adding to iTunes, loading cover art and track listings, transferring to my iPod and listening to my childhood and teenage years in the car during the daily commute.

Even my two boys (ages 4 and 5) are getting in on it, asking for certain tracks or bands in the car with me, looking over the vinyl covers, reading the lyrics, laughing at the band photos (it’s the hair!), and not quite understanding just ‘how’ the sound works!It’s been quite an emotional experience, reliving parts of my youth I’d forgotten, just by hearing the opening riff or vocal to a song I’d not heard for decades.The feelings of a teenager trying to find his way in life, as lived (as many of us did) through our taste in music. Some of this music I’d not heard since I sold my last turntable – I’ve been slowly getting MP3 versions of the best stuff I could from the vinyl collection, but it’s still not the same as the crackles and hiss from the vinyl.

Last week, for the first time in 20 years, I bought a vinyl LP. Yes, it wasn’t the same experience as buying it from the local independent record store I used to spend hours browsing in (I bought this one online and waited for Mr Postie to deliver). But it came today, and I felt like a kid again – touching, smelling, handling, the LP, excited that’s a gatefold limited edition (those in the know know why this is special!) … and what’s more, it’s a new album. Yes, new music on an old format, and it made me feel so good! It made me think that all my MP3 tracks (some 10,000 of them) mean nothing, I’ve nothing to hold or ‘feel’. It may be the same music, but it lacks a connection and emotion when it’s just a track listed among so many others.

Next, for me, is to go and buy/make the hi-fi system I always wanted as a teenager – quality amp and speakers. I may not have the room or ability/willingness to blast it out like I used to (sorry Mum & Dad, I totally understand why you tried so hard to get me to use headphones now!) but I do value the quality of the audio experience, so I will be searching out decent equipment.

But what does this mean? For me it’s realisation that not everything that is digital is good. I realise that I now miss the old analogue, non-digital things like opening a CD or DVD case and reading the insert, opening a gatefold LP and reading the lyrics and seeing the band photos, holding the vinyl on the edges so as not to scratch the surface.

The connection is missing with digital artefacts, which is bizarre as I feel more connected with the world than I did back in 1992 (when I bought my first CD player).

I have also, of late, started buying more printed books. Yes, I still like my Kindle and eBooks, but I have realised that sometimes there is just no substitute for the real ‘hold-it-in-your-hands’ thing. For me I remember that it didn’t start with the predictable mid-life crisis or trying to relive a youth lost, it started with a power cut – no power = no Internet or TV or charged phones. I was stuck with candles (not too bad) and a book. But I didn’t have any new books to hand, it was all electronic. OK, so the power cut didn’t last more than an hour or two, but what if it had … I had nothing to do as everything needed power either to work or to charge up for reuse.

I wonder if our approach to technology and the environments we build for our students could benefit from this too?  Are we giving them so much in digital form (eBooks, scanned chapters of books or journals, PDF of presentation slides, links to news online, skype calls with experts and specialist, Apps and responsive website to make online collaboration and connection easier, etc.) that perhaps a paper copy would help?

I have been lucky enough to sit in on a few lectures recently, and the most animated and engaged students I saw was in one lecture where the PowerPoint slides didn’t explain a theory well enough so the academic switched on the visualizer and wrote it out long-hand, highlighting and updating the text as she went. The students could see something being built, in real-time, in front of them. They could see the learning ‘process’, not just the learning ‘outcome’. They could see that their academic not only knew the answer, but how to get there and how to explain it too.

So, is there room for non-digital analogue in our classrooms and learning journeys? Are we able to see the need or benefit of it if it’s there, or are we so fixed on the digital and the technology that that is all we can ‘fix’ into the equation?

With articles and tweets about teachers being replaced by computers, from the BBC and Huffington Post, I see a trend emerging that more and more people are turning away from the blind adoption of iPads and tablets for classrooms and actually looking at ‘why’ an iPad (or alternative device) would be good, and at ‘what’ it would be good at? Is there an alternative, not just to the device but to the intended use?

Here’s a good idea .. instead of using the iPad to get school children to play a game like Monopoly to learn about management, game-play, finances, control, turn-taking, etc. why not get the board-game out of the cupboard and play the ‘real’ version? Oh, I forgot, the contents of the games cupboard were binned in favour of a charging station for the iPads!

See, maybe going completely online or digital isn’t such a good idea? It isn’t about a ‘blended’ approach either, its just about using what works, where it works?!

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Book review: Learning with ‘e’s

On my shelf (virtual and real) are a series of books that I know I just don’t have time to read. I’ve recently started to use Shelfari to organise my real and virtual book shelf, where I can easily refer to books I’ve read, I am reading, or want/plan to read.

Indeed (if this embed works) here they are: 

However, from this list is Steve Wheeler’s latest/newest book Learning with ‘e’s. This is one book I am reading, enthusiastically. Taken from his blog, and enhanced with further reflection and writing, the book covers many aspects of current thinking and how we can plan for a better system of education and learning. Steve says:

“I believe that for educators everywhere, the challenge is to take devices that have the potential for great distraction and boldly appropriate them as tools that can inspire learners, focus their minds, and engage them in learning.”

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve on a few occasions over the last 5 or 6 years now as well many many tweets and RTs, and having the honour of sharing a taxi from Dundee to Edinburgh in 2011 with Donald Clark (… that was a taxi ride with a difference!). The book is an insight into his world of exploration and reflection, and well worth the cover price. My review, publicly displayed on Amazon, is:

“As someone who regularly reads and comments on Steve’s Learning With ‘E’s blog this book has more than lived up to my expectations. An explorer in more ways than one, Steve opens the readers mind to concepts and approaches to education, to learning, and to the state of our own fixation with technology, and lends us his caring hand to guide us through the quagmire that is the ‘future of technology in education’. Well structured and very articulate, Steve does not disappoint his readers, and opens our minds to more questions than we have answers to … but it is these questions we need to be asking if we are to improve our schools and universities.”

No, his eyes are not really that piercingly blue. Nearly, but not quite.

Steve Wheeler: Learning with 'e's