Instruction

Following on from my two previous posts which cover my thought process about familiarity in learning design and how distractions can affect both our work and learn environments, I wanted to write about instruction. Instructions we give as well as those we receive.

When you start something new, at work or at home, do you read or follow the instructions? If it’s a new cabinet (Ikea anyone?) or piece of furniture, you’ll probably follow the instructions quite clearly. I know I do. Same with Lego? Yes, me too, although I do like to mess with Lego and see what weird-yet-satisfyingly-symmetrical construction me and my boys can come up with.

Even with new technologies I usually like to read a little of the instructions to get me started, at least to the point where I know how to charge it and when it’s ready to use. These days most modern companies provide some excellent get-you-started instructions with their products; enough for the likes of me who just want to get started, more detailed versions online for those who want to delve deeper. 

When we have a new person join our team we often find ourselves working through an induction programme, introducing them to key people they need to know (IT, HR, estates, etc.) and then spend time showing the ropes in the VLE, LMS, online HR system, file server, phones, etc. See, we take care of our own and make sure they have enough to get started, then step back and give them room to find their feet, all the time being a careful parent ready to step in and answer any questions.


When was the last time you read the induction materials, and I mean read not just link-and-fact checked them?
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But what of our online learners? We have probably developed a full-on induction or on-boarding process for them. We’ve probably not revisited it for a couple of years as well, but have we done too much or too little for our distant and online clients (yes clients … there is a payment transaction going on, even in MOOCs these days). When was the last time you read the induction materials, and I mean read not just link-and-fact checked them? What about getting them tested by someone new to the programme? 

In my time I’ve seen old induction instructions that are out of date, yet still valid because links work and the platform hasn’t changed. That shouldn’t mean we can let them be. In the last few years I’ve seen major changes in how different learning platforms are used. What they do are still mostly the same, but how we use them is constantly, or should be constantly changing. Therefore the induction programme should also be changed to reflect that too. Again, it’s not just about the click-this and click-that instructions, but the information around why we are asking students to do something that needs checking.

What do you do then? Do you keep referring back to those initial instructions throughout the courses, reminding the learner about the tools or help available, or do you rely on them remembering it and, hopefully, reviewing the induction programme? When you use a different or new tool with the learners do you write some guide for them, on both the how it works and why you’re using it? I bet you do, but do you go and add it to the induction programme for the next cohort of learners? You should.

For me the process of inducting learners to your organisation or platform never ends, or rather ends when they complete the course or programme and ‘graduate’. If they’re studying a three year degree it’s an easy bet that the tools and how you use them will change (again, SHOULD change!) over the lifespan of their studies. If your learners are only with you for a short while, a matter of weeks, then there’s still no reason to not keep them informed with either email communications or VLE announcements when they’re going to encounter something new as part of their learning. If they’re used to MCQs week on week,  then you start using discussion boards, then a reminder about what they are, what you expect from the learning in the discussion, and how to use them is a good way to introduce the activity.

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

All change

In April, 2007, I joined Bournemouth University as Learning Technologist. This was the start of my journey in learning technology and working in an academic environment. Not really knowing or understanding what the role was I jumped in at the deep end and started learning all about pedagogy, learning technology, VLEs, assessments, assessment and marking criteria, copyright, academic personalities, missed meetings, impossible deadlines, broken links, unnecessary emails, internal politics, etc. and how to work with both highly passionate and distracted academics. Every day was different, no two projects or modules or meetings were the same. This is the kind of creative environment I found, and still find, comforting, challenging and worth getting out of bed for!

A little over five years later, May 2012, I moved the family to the Midlands and joined the University of Leicester. Working closely with academics from different departments the challenges were the same, the technology (for the most part) the same, and the support and camaraderie equally as inspiring and engaging.  

After two years with friends and colleagues at Leicester, May 2014, I made another move, this time to Warwick Business School. Joining a larger team as a Teaching and Learning Consultant (equivalent role and responsibilities to a senior Learning Technologist at Bournemouth and Leicester) I found my place within an established team dynamic, learning the processes and environments, using my experience and knowledge to enhance and further the ongoing projects. At Warwick I have been heavily involved in the FutureLearn MOOCs, as I wrote about in my 3-year CMALT review, as well as working with colleagues on the leading distance learning MBA program. With less hands-on involvement in the actual setting up and managing modules, and more instructional design, managerial and strategic responsibilities (for both the MOOCs and academic liaison) the role moved me and my interpretation of learning technology to a new level.

So, now we’re up to date (including a renewed and reworked CMALT portfolio). Now its the start of a new chapter for me and my family, moving onwards and upwards. Again.

Not that it was necessarily a conscious decision to go looking for a change but, from the beginning of November, 2017, I will no longer be working at Warwick, nor HE. I join a new startup venture as their manager for ‘product and proposition’ which, for me, means I’ll be managing and running their online platform and portfolio of accredited courses. Called the EasyCare Academy, it’s focus is to “improve older people’s lives with a person-centred approach that supports healthy ageing” through a person centred approach. The individual, their needs, their environment, their health, their wellbeing. Aimed, at the moment, at nurses, care workers, clinicians, etc. the courses will cover aspects of a whole of life approach for an ageing population, not just their medical needs. All delivered online.

Distance learning never looked so promising, interesting, engaging and worthwhile!


Learning technologists need to expand and explore, and @hopkinsdavid is not one to stay still (for too long) #CMALT
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The challenge, for me, is bringing my experience from +10 years in UK HEIs and +25 years with the internet and online communities, into the commercial world but not losing the core experiences of learning, online resources, design, pedagogy, management, leadership, network, etc. And enthusiasm. With a timetable for the first courses already set, and discussions around accreditation partners taking place, the schedule will only get busier as we work with more associations and partners, add more courses to the development cycle and explore a new platform and it’s capabilities. A platform has been chosen for it’s resilience, accessibility, scalability, and proven success at delivering online learning to a (large) global audience (more on this another time), which will be a great move for me on the back of my work on MOOCs (reflections like this and this and this).

So. This is an exciting and very scary move for me and my family, but one we’re confident is a good move. The EasyCare family are very welcoming, generous, passionate, dedicated and focused on the goals: to ‘change the future of healthy ageing’.

Image source: Forsaken Fotos (CC BY 2.0)

The University of tomorrow is …?

I’ve just read this article and wanted to share a couple of thoughts I had while I was reading it: “It’s the end of the university as we know it”

The title is clearly clickbait, testing your resolve to read beyond the tweeted headline, knowing full well ‘the end of the university’ will get people interested (or enraged that this kind of talk is still going on … MOOCs anyone?). That the URL is not the same as the title implies they might change the title at a later stage … “/the-future-of-the-university-is-in-the-air-and-in-the-cloud/”?

Here are some soundbites from the article:

“Shocking as it might seem, there is one catch-all answer that could be the remedy to many of these concerns: Cut the campus loose. Axe the physical constraints. The library? Classrooms? Professors? Take it all away. The future of the university is up in the air.”

Another, when looking at the history of how and why universities are set up like they are:

“It is untenable for universities to continue existing as sanctums for a small group of elite students, taught by top scholars.Technology isn’t only refashioning the ways in which we live and work, but also changing what we need to learn for these new schemes of existence: It’s returning us to a need for specialized learning, for individualized education that is custom-tailored to one’s needs. A world in which most of our learning is more self-directed and practical is, in many ways, a return to an apprenticeship model that existed before industrialization.”

Predictions on the future of learning, at universities at any rate:

Online “cloud” teaching is cheaper; universities can offer such online-based (or majority-online) degrees at the lowest rate—making for a cheap(ish) degree, available to everyone with access to the internet, and taking place completely digitally. Meanwhile, other students will pay a premium to interact with professors and have more of a traditional campus experience. At the highest end, the richest or most elite students may get the full Oxford tutorial experience, brushing elbows with the best of scholars; they’ll just have to pay through the nose for it”

Read the article, let me know what you think – agree or disagree with the tenet of the article, that this is the end of the university?

Image source: Dave Herholz (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leaders and leadership

As part of my journey to being a Learning Technologist, and beyond this role into management and leadership (more on this soon), I have often written and spoken about how us technologists become more visible and respected in the eyes of our academic colleagues. Many of us in our roles do not have the kinds of qualifications academics that they recognise (Masters degrees, etc.) nor do some of us have either the time, inclination or finances to go down this route. From the outset of joining ALT I was interested in CMALT and then gained the qualification, worked towards gaining it and then the three-year renewal process.

How many of us have seen the image below before? The ‘leader’ as someone who is helping and guiding their team to the top in an inclusive and engaging way. Often not the first to the top, often not even reaching the top either, but ensuring no one on the team is left behind and that credit is given to the team for their collective achievements.

Leadership vs. Management

The ‘manager’ or ‘boss’ is someone here who may lead from the front, maybe even thinking they’re showing strong leadership and acting as a role model for their team to follow in their footsteps.


Do you manage or lead? Do you want a manager or leader?
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This may be a gross over-simplification of the two roles, but which would you rather work with? Who would you rather work for? Which environment seems more likely to produce a collegiate or enthusiastic workforce. Which looks like it’ll produce a resentful or dispassionate team?

I have known many people who fit both these roles, personally and professionally, as well as managers and leaders who exhibit characteristics of both generalisations above. Have you? So, what makes a good leader or manager? 

I don’t know. Other than knowing the kind of leader and manager I want to be, it’s all a bit grey-scale to me. How do we grow in the role, grow the team, grow the sense of wellbeing and belonging that we want to feel ourselves, and therefore what we want from the team, how do we do this?

As someone who identifies as an introvert, this isn’t always easy to explain. In fact, thanks to some harsh and very wrong words from a couple of school teachers I always through being an introvert was something to be ashamed of, something less than ‘whole’. I’ve since found an introvert is someone who finds the strength for the day or task ahead from within … indeed a quick google search shows the definition of “a shy, reticent person”. This cannot be further from the truth. I am not shy, I just won’t compete for your time or energy; I have my own and I’m quite happy with it. I may need to recharge more often, but this is simply time I need for myself to reflect and reengage.

In the past few years I’ve learned actually that introverts, and being introverted, is something to be proud of, something that gives me an inner strength that enables me to do more than I thought I could, and more than you thought I could, especially as a leader! Introverts as leaders are a powerful voice, often drowned in the general melee of meetings and gatherings, but you can be sure of one things .. when we’ve something to say it is carefully thought out, carefully planned, and right on the button!

Many meetings are controlled by people with lots to say, often never stopping long enough to listen. But the silence of others in the room shouldn’t be taken as that they’ve nothing to say, it’s as much the fault of those talking in that they never leave any time or space for others to contribute. This isn’t an extrovert vs. introvert face-off either; I’ve known introverts talk too much, trying to fulfil a role they feel uncomfortable in and obliged to fill.

For me this is about knowing when to talk, when to listen, when to engage, when to collaborate, when to manage, when (and how) to bring the conversation back on topic, etc. This is leadership. Those who continually take meetings off topic or use their short time to list every little detail of what they’ve been working on are saying more about their own insecurities than anything else … if the meeting is 30 or 60 minutes, then each person needs to manage themselves and the others to ensure the agenda is covered and everyone has the opportunity to have their input. 

This is why I’m so pleased to hear that ALT are launching a new CMALT initiative for a “senior/leadership CMALT strand will be appropriate for professionals with three or more years of experience, whose role involves learning technology and who are seeking to gain an advanced accreditation.”

While this will not prevent some bias against us from a small number of academics who think we’re not qualified to support or advise them. The fact that my email signature shows “FHEA CMALT” qualifications has opened doors and dialogue as some are interested in what CMALT is and what I had to do to obtain it. From there we’ve broken down a barrier and then it’s up to me to back this up with hard work, effort, leadership, management and myself. And that’s all of me because, as you know, us introverts don’t do anything unless we do it all!!

This is the kind of thing I’ll need, going forward with my role and personal perspectives, so I’m following these developments with interest.

And remember .. there’s always room for Lego ;-)

Some more links on leadership and introverts:

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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.