Mar 152017

Today I’m still in Birmingham for the Jisc Digifest 2017 (#digifest17). I’m based on the EDINA stand (stand 9, Hall 3) for much of the time, along with my colleague Andrew – do come and say hello to us – but will also be blogging any sessions I attend. The event is also being livetweeted by Jisc and some sessions livestreamed – do take a look at the event website for more details. As usual this blog is live and may include typos, errors, etc. Please do let me know if you have any corrections, questions or comments. 

Part Deux: Why educators can’t live without social media – Eric Stoller, higher education thought-leader, consultant, writer, and speaker.

I’ve snuck in a wee bit late to Eric’s talk but he’s starting by flagging up his “Educators: Are you climbing the social media mountain?” blog post. 

Eric: People who are most reluctant to use social media are often those who are also reluctant to engage in CPD, to develop themselves. You can live without social media but social media is useful and important. Why is it important? It is used for communication, for teaching and learning, in research, in activisim… Social media gives us a lot of channels to do different things with, that we can use in our practice… And yes, they can be used in nefarious ways but so can any other media. People are often keen to see particular examples of how they can use social media in their practice in specific ways, but how you use things in your practice is always going to be specific to you, different, and that’s ok.

So, thinking about digital technology… “Digital is people” – as Laurie Phipps is prone to say… Technology enhanced learning is often tied up with employability but there is a balance to be struck, between employability and critical thinking. So, what about social media and critical thinking? We have to teach students how to determine if an online source is reliable or legitimate – social media is the same way… And all of us can be caught out. There was piece in the FT about the chairman of Tesco saying unwise things about gender, and race, etc. And I tweeted about this – but I said he was the CEO – and it got retweeted and included in a Twitter moment… But it was wrong. I did a follow up tweet and apologised but I was contributing to that..

Whenever you use technology in learning it is related to critical thinking so, of course, that means social media too. How many of us here did our educational experience completely online… Most of us did our education in the “sage on the stage” manner, that’s what was comfortable for us… And that can be uncomfortable (see e.g. tweets from @msementor).

If you follow the NHS on Twitter (@NHS) then you will know it is phenomenal – they have a different member of staff guest posting to the account. Including live tweeting an operation from the theatre (with permissions etc. of course) – if you are medical student this would be very interesting. Twitter is the delivery method now but maybe in the future it will be Hololens or Oculus Rift Live or something. Another thing I saw about a year ago was Phil Baty (Inside Higher Ed – @Phil_Baty) talked about Liz Barnes revealing that every academic at Staffordshire will use social media and will build it into performance management. That really shows that this is an organisation that is looking forward and trying new things.

Any of you take part in the weekly #LTHEchat. They were having chats about considering participation in that chat as part of staff appraisal processes. That’s really cool. And why wouldn’t social media and digital be a part of that.

So I did a Twitter poll asking academics what they use social media for:

  • 25% teaching and learning
  • 26% professional development
  • 5% research
  • 44% posting pictures of cats

The cool thing is you can do all of those things and still be using it in appropriate educational contexts. Of course people post pictures of cats.. Of course you do… But you use social media to build community. It can be part of building a professional learning environment… You can use social media to lurk and learn… To reach out to people… And it’s not even creepy… A few years back and I could say “I follow you” and that would be weird and sinister… Now it’s like “That’s cool, that’s Twitter”. Some of you will have been using the event hashtag and connecting there…

Andrew Smith, at the Open University, has been using Facebook Live for teaching. How many of your students use Facebook? It’s important to try this stuff, to see if it’s the right thing for your practice.

We all have jobs… Usually when we think about networking and professional networking we often think about LinkedIn… Any of you using LinkedIn? (yes, a lot of us are). How about blogging on LinkedIn? That’s a great platform to blog in as your content reaches people who are really interested. But you can connect in all of these spaces. I saw @mdleast tweeting about one of Anglia Ruskin’s former students who was running the NHS account – how cool is that?

But, I hear some of you say, Eric, this blurs the social and the professional. Yes, of course it does. Any of you have two Facebook accounts? I’m sorry you violate the terms of service… And yes, of course social media blurs things… Expressing the full gamut of our personality is much more powerful. And it can be amazing when senior leaders model for their colleagues that they are a full human, talking about their academic practice, their development…

Santa J. Ono (@PrezOno/@ubcprez) is a really senior leader but has been having mental health difficulties and tweeting openly about that… And do you know how powerful that is for his staff and students that he is sharing like that?

Now, if you haven’t seen the Jisc Digital Literacies and Digital Capabilities models? You really need to take a look. You can use these to use these to shape and model development for staff and students.

I did another poll on Twitter asking “Agree/Disagree: Universities must teach students digital citizenship skills” (85% agree) – now we can debate what “digital citizenship” means… If any of you have ever gotten into it with a troll online? Those words matter, they effect us. And digital citizenship matter.

I would say that you should not fall in love with digital tools. I love Twitter but that’s a private company, with shareholders, with it’s own issues… And it could disappear tomorrow… And I’d have to shift to another platform to do the things I do there…

Do any of you remember YikYak? It was an anonymous geosocial app… and it was used controversially and for bullying… So they introduced handles… But their users rebelled! (and they reverted)

So, Twitter is great but it will change, it will go… Things change…

I did another Twitter poll – which tools do your students use on a daily basis?

  • 34% snapchat
  • 9% Whatsapp
  • 19% Instagram
  • 36% use all of the above

A lot of people don’t use Snapchat because they are afraid of it… When Facebook first appeared that response was it’s silly, we wouldn’t use it in education… But we have moved that there…

There is a lot of bias about Snapchat. @RosieHare posted “I’m wondering whether I should Snapchat #digifest17 next week or whether there’ll be too many proper grown ups there who don’t use it.” Perhaps we don’t use these platforms yet, maybe we’ll catch up… But will students have moved on by then… There is a professor in the US who was using Snapchat with his students every day… You take your practice to where your students are. According to global web index (q2-3 2016) over 75% of teens use Snapchat. There are policy challenges there but students are there every day…

Instagram – 150 M people engage with daily stories so that’s a powerful tool and easier to start with than Snapchat. Again, a space where our students are.

But perfection leads to stagnation. You have to try and not be fixated on perfection. Being free to experiment, being rewarded for trying new things, that has to be embedded in the culture.

So, at the end of the day, the more engaged students are with their institution – at college or university – the more successful they will be. Social media can be about doing that, about the student experience. All parts of the organisation can be involved. There are so many social media channels you can use. Maybe you don’t recognise them all… Think about your students. A lot will use WhatsApp for collaboration, for coordination… Facebook Messenger, some of the asian messaging spaces… Any of you use Reddit? Ah, the nerds have arrived! But again, these are all spaces you can develop your practice in.

The web used to involve having your birth year in your username (e.g. @purpledragon1982), it was open… But we see this move towards WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, these different types of spaces and there is huge growth predicted this year. So, you need to get into the sandbox of learning, get your hands dirty, make some stuff and learn from trying new things #alldayeveryday


Q1) What audience do you have in mind… Educators or those who support educators? How do I take this message back?

A1) You need to think about how you support educators, how you do sneaky teaching… How you do that education… So.. You use the channels, you incorporate the learning materials in those channels… You disseminate in Medium, say… And hopefully they take that with them…

Q2) I meet a strand of students who reject social media and some technology in a straight edge way… They are in the big outdoors, they are out there learning… Will they not be successful?

A2) Of course they will. You can survive, you can thrive without social media… But if you choose to engage in those channels and spaces… You can be succesful… It’s not an either/or

Q3) I wanted to ask about something you tweeted yesterday… That Prensky’s idea of digital natives/immigrants is rubbish…

A3) I think I said “#friendsdontletfriendsprensky”. He published that over ten years ago – 2001 – and people grasped onto that. And he’s walked it back to being about a spectrum that isn’t about age… Age isn’t a helpful factor. And people used it as an excuse… If you look at Dave White’s work on “visitors and residents” that’s much more helpful… Some people are great, some are not as comfortable but it’s not about age. And we do ourselves a disservice to grasp onto that.

Q4) From my organisation… One of my course leaders found their emails were not being read, asked students what they should use, and they said “Instagram” but then they didn’t read that person’s posts… There is a bump, a challenge to get over…

A4) In the professional world email is the communications currency. We say students don’t check email… Well you have to do email well. You send a long email and wonder why students don’t understand. You have to be good at communicating… You set norms and expectations about discourse and dialogue, you build that in from induction – and that can be email, discussion boards and social media. These are skills for life.

Q5) You mentioned that some academics feel there is too much blend between personal and professional. From work we’ve done in our library we find students feel the same way and don’t want the library to tweet at them…

A5) Yeah, it’s about expectations. Liverpool University has a brilliant Twitter account, Warwick too, they tweet with real personality…

Q6) What do you think about private social communities? We set up WordPress/BuddyPress thing for international students to push out information. It was really varied in how people engaged… It’s private…

A6) Communities form where they form. Maybe ask them where they want to be communicated with. Some WhatsApp groups flourish because that’s the cultural norm. And if it doesn’t work you can scrap it and try something else… And see what

Q7) I wanted to flag up a YikYak study at Edinburgh on how students talk about teaching, learning and assessment on YikYak, that started before the handles were introduced, and has continued as anonymity has returned. And we’ll have results coming from this soon…

A7) YikYak may rise and fall… But that functionality… There is a lot of beauty in those anonymous spaces… That functionality – the peers supporting each other through mental health… It isn’t tools, it’s functionality.

Q8) Our findings in a recent study was about where the students are, and how they want to communicate. That changes, it will always change, and we have to adapt to that ourselves… Do you want us to use WhatsApp or WeChat… It’s following the students and where they prefer to communicate.

A8) There is balance too… You meet students where they are, but you don’t ditch their need to understand email too… They teach us, we teach them… And we do that together.

And with that, we’re out of time… 

Are you future ready? Preparing Students fro living and working in the digital world

Introduction –  Lisa Gray, senior co-design manager, Jisc.

Connected Curricula model is about ensuring that employability is built into the curricuum, in T-profile curricule; employer engagement; and assessment for learning. That assessment is about assessing throughout the student experience as they progress through the curriculum.

The Jisc employability toolkit talks more about how this can be put into action. Looking at Technology for employability aspects include enhanced authentic and simulated learning experiences; enhanced lifelong learning and employability; and digital communications and engagement with employers; enhanced employability skills development – and learner skills diagnostics and self-led assessment; employer focused digital literacy development.

The employable student in the digital age model. The toolkit unpicks the capabilities that map into that context.

You can find out more, along with other resources, at:

The Employer View: Preparing students for a digital world – Deborah Edmondson, talent director, Cohesion Recruitment

We manage early talent recruitment processes. Whilst it is clear that automation is replacing some roles, it won’t replace creativity, emotional awareness, and similar skills and expertise.

Graduate vacancies are reducing this year – this has been the third time in the last four years. Some of that is associated with Brexit – especially in construction – but also represents a rise in apprentice roles. Many employers are replacing existing training programmes to the new Apprenticeship model (and levy). Recruitment is typically, for early talent, online application, video interview, psychometric testing, assessment centre. Some employers gamify that process. And we are also seeing a big influence of parental role as well.

Employers have had to up their own digital skills in order to recruit graduates. We’ve had to ensure application forms are online and mobile enabled. And we know that online forms are not the best predictor of who will succeed in graduate recruitment so we’ve reduced or removed them. Video interviews are becoming much more frequent as they give the best idea of a candidates skills, confidence, communication. We still see psychometric testing but there is less focus there, it’s more about contextual recruitment and focusing less on scores, more on the context of that student and achievement. We are also starting to see virtual reality in final stages of recruitment – this is about understanding authentic reactions and responses rather than pre-prepared responses.

So, what do employers want in terms of digital skills? It’s not about skills a lot of the time, often it’s about willingness to use digital skills and capabilities. There are nine key attributes and I’d particularly like to draw your attention to business communications. Students often focus on immediacy… But realities of business and their tools is that things can move slowly, so graduates need real flexibility. The other area I wanted to raise is etiquette: one client mentioned a graduate recruited colleague sending multiple chasers in a single email – that’s just annoying. Similarly use of text speak – wholly inappropriate. Also hiding behind the screen – only emailing and reluctant to call or meet face to face…

Graduates have great skills but they are also described as entitled, hard to manage, etc. So, how can universities help? Well expectations – around success and job satisfaction, as well as about the kinds of technologies they will be using. There isn’t immediacy or instant gratification in the world of work, patience is required. It is about business communication – that emails are long enough, professional enough, and that text speak or emoji in emails – or phrases like “in my oils” which won’t mean much to employers! We also need graduates who are able and willing to have conversations, face to face conversations, phone conversations – they have to be able to talk about their work. And with digital footprint – this can come back to haunt you. We have recruiters looking for high security roles that even check online purchase history – if it’s out there, we will find it. And it’s about perceptions too – those with ambitious career plans have to bear that in mind in how they present themselves from day one. And Excel – it’s important in business but not all students have experience of it. Research… graduates need to be professional on LinkedIn (including photographs) and be able to do the research, to understand the employer, but not to be too stalkery. And it’s about employer interaction – we receive abusive, sweary, etc. responses to rejections but graduates need to be asking for feedback and being graceful in dealing with rejection.

Note: for those interested in digital footprint you should take a look at our new #dfmooc which launches next month and is already open for registration:

SERC – Kieran McKenna, South Eastern Regional College

At SERC a students first few weeks are abou entrepreneurship, with guest speakers, student volunteers, and project based learning built around PBL/Enterprise Fairs. We see success in a number of areas and skills contests because of this model. We use the CAST/CAPS approach – Conference for Advancement of Science and Technology – with students working with industry standard PBL and enterprise learning. We also take a “whole-brain learning” approach – ensuring students understand how they learn best.

So, now we will look at three ways we have enabled this. We created a Whole Brain eLearning resource – called EntreBRAINeur – where students understand typical skills of entrepreneurs, have information about the brain, and answer questions that report back to them on their left brain/right brain placement, their learning styles… One message to take home is the language we use.. That the following information “may be of benefit to your working styles” – encouraging the learner in a positive way. The learner knows best how they learn best. And we link results with activity planning – so you can look at a group with their right/left brain dominance.

So, with that, we are going to see a short video on this…

So, having created this tool we set up an enterprise portal. This has objectives including sharing enterprise and entrepreneurship best practice across multiple campuses. So the PBL activities create a web presence and they are explaining how they undertook the PBL design cycle, and they are looking for votes on their projects. They are then assessed against creativity; innovation, team working; and solutions matching the challenge.

So, are we future ready? Looking at students who completed the e-resource found that only about 10% of our students have an entrepreneurial mindset… But we are confident that the tools, the learning tools, the peer assessment will give our students the edge they need.

Self-designed learning and “future proofing” graduates – Ian Pirie, Emeritus Professor, University of Edinburgh

I am going to talk about self-designed learning. We are two years into a pilot programme in Edinburgh where students literally design their own project, it is approved, they manage it, it is assessed, and ends up in an eportfolio online. Edinburgh is a large university – 3 colleges, 22 schools – and we don’t always do things the same way. We had a number of factors colliding – we have a QAA Enhancement theme around learning and a large careers team which was looking for more self-led opportunities; and employers were also saying they valued graduates but felt some skills could be stronger; and for students in e.g. humanities your tutor would tell you what you must do, but you also have a choice of modules – from over 8.5k courses which is quite intimidating.. And staff also wanted to teach their specialist areas which is a challenge.

So I’ll talk in four areas here…

A rapidly changing world… Students can now access all information very quickly, globally, 24/7. It often isn’t the students ability to use technology, it’s often universities and employers that can fall behind. For education the challenge can be that the kind of teaching we are used to doing isn’t necessarily fit for purpose. Traditionally teaching is information rich and assessed a few times in a semester, and that isn’t what they need and frustrating. And we also see a socially mobile environment – university and private coffee shops used socially and professionally by students. And in fact the Kaplan Graduate Recruitment Report 2014 suggests 1 in 2 will become future leaders – and 60% of businesses are looking for graduates with leadership skills.

Looking at the CBI Survey Data – as already mentioned earlier – really isn’t about the subject area. It is about having studied to a particular level… Not what you have learned in the course in terms of subject content. So how can that be taught? And when we survey our own students we find frustration amongst some students about the way they are taught. And indeed the importance of understanding that equality doesn’t mean treating everyone the same – there is a lot of literature here and it is hard to see how we implement this, particularly at scale.

Students are consistently very clear about what they would like… They would like to be treated professionally and individually, they want clarity about what is expected of them and what they can expect in return. They want clarity in assessment critiera with associated timely and effective feedback – an issue across the sector. They also want an academic community comprised of vertical peer groups and academic staff. They want 24/7 access to online information, ideally in one place. And they increasingly want assurance that they are being prepared for the future.

And, for so many reasons, there is a lot of change. HE can be slow to change… But we need to move away from a teaching model towards a learning model where the tutor supports that learning. It is about accepting responsibility for “future proofing” the whole person, and part of that is about ensuring that “digital literacy” is embedded in the curriculum, as well as the abstract skills.

So, three years ago we developed our future vision for a future curriculum. Some of the steps here look innocuous, but some will really radically upset academics – we wanted to design out passive learning. If a student can sleep through a lecture, hand in an essay, do an exam, and that’s them completed the course, that’s not good enough. We also wanted appropriate use of technology – there is no substitutive for the face to face experience. Each student are also required to use online learning in some form, to prepare them for the future, for elearning, for their ongoing development…

And that takes us to the SLICCS. This is a university-wide framework contextualised to the discipline by each student. And there is one framework, the student then contextualises their own course. Student creates, owns, manages and are formatively assessed. There is deliberately minimal input and supervision from academic staff – it’s a lot of work but for the student, not the staff. Inductions are done by Institute for Academic Development staff… the academic input is at the “front end” for induction and presentation of proposal. But students then reflect on their experience.

In order to do this our inductions are face to face – not online – to make sure students are able to take on the SLICC. They also cannot take on a SLICC if they have any fails – academically they have to be solid to go into this phase of their learning. So, the process is for the student to identify and select a learning experience – often a work placement related project; they develop a proposal and work plan; and then engage in ongoing reflection – sometimes once a day. Then there is formative self-assessment by the student, and summative assessment by staff. Staff don’t see the formative assessment until they have marked the work but in our pilots we had over 96% correlation between those assessments.

We are used to seeing staff responsibility for returning marked work etc. But we also make it clear what the student expectations are in terms of giving and receiving feedback (separate from the SLICC), with students needing to submit that self-graded assessment constructively aligned to the LOs. A critically-selective web folio is submitted along with an (up to 2000 word) report. Initially there was concern that SLICCs were 20 credits and students wouldn’t do the work… But they have done mountains of work and really produced fantastic engaged pieces. Students gave us feedback on the courses, but the technology is barely mentioned – the staff struggled more – as the students learned most from the self-management and self-direction. Students from pilot 1 immediately signed up for pilot 2… And now it is mainstream. As one student says “it made me take control of my own learning”. I can’t show you all the portfolios now but if you look at our website, you’ll find out much more: Contact Simon Riley and Gavin McGabe for more information.


Q1) Coming back to the first speaker I was quite concerned about the phrase “early talent” as it implies all graduates are young.

A1 – DE) That’s fair. It is a collective term but employers tend to separate into apprenticeships and graduate programmes. But graduate programmes aren’t dependent on age.

Q2) On PebblePads and ePortfolios – do students use those with employers…. Are they effective tools for jobs

A2 – DE) From employers perspective we don’t see them in high volume. We follow it quite closely. We see more of universities encouraging students to use LinkedIn profiles instead.

A2 – IP) For many this approach is new to the students and staff. But in medicine the idea of portfolios is well embedded, and those courses have just adopted PebblePad for that purpose. But it’s discipline specific… And students thought about it before being asked and staff see enthusiastic.

Q3) About the neurological approach to learning… Isn’t there a real risk of thinking of learning being only for employment… What about motivation, what about changes in the market?

A3 – KM) We predominantly try to develop “whole brain” learners. We have electricians and plasterers taking that whole brain learning questionnaire – it’s interesting for them to look at that, to look back at their school experience and how their preference shapes that. The response from students has been quite positive.

Q4) We talked about this on Twitter already but I really hope that you use “left brain” and “right brain” and “learning styles” lightly – these have been debunked so perhaps give students a false sense of security… We are complex organisms… And maybe its just a way to articulate different potential… [Thank you to this person, it was a concern I had too!]

A4 – KM) We do try to address a lot of different learning styles… There is a wide variety of how that phrase is used… A real range of different skills that learners can have. It is important not to pigeon hole… But it is useful to raise awareness of how we can develop as people, regardless of how we label this. There are a range of approaches to this… This is the one that we are using.

Q5) There can be this sense of higher education as being to train the best people for employers – the best meat almost. What is the role and responsibility for employers to train graduates?

A5 – DE) There are training schemes, employers are aware of the need to train students and graduates – around 35% of students who complete a year long industrial placement will be offered a role with that employer in recognition of the training investment and and importance to employers.

Closing plenary and keynote from Lauren Sager Weinstein, chief data officer at Transport for London

The host for this session is Andy McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer, Jisc. He is introducing the session with the outcome of the start up competition that has been running over the last few days. The pitches took place last night. The winners will go into the Jisc Business Accelerator programme, providing support and some funding to take their ideas forward. And we are keen and happy to involve you in this programme so do get in touch… You’ll see us present the results digitally – an envelope seemed just too risky!

The winner of the public vote is Wildfire. And the further teams entering the project are Hubbub, Lumici Slate, Ublend, VineUp. We were hugely impressed with the quality of all of the entries – those who entered, those who were shortlisted, and the small cross section you’ve seen over the last two days.

And now… Lauren Seger Weinstein

I wanted to start by talking about the “why”… TfL has a diverse offering of transport across London – trains, buses, bikes… What are we trying to achieve? We want to deliver transport and mobility services, and to deliver for the mayor. We want to keep London working and growing. And when we think about my team and the work that we do… Our goal is to do things that help influence and contribute to the goals of the wider organisation – putting our customers and users at the core of all of our decision making; to drive improvement in reliability and safety; to be cost effective; to improve what we do.

Our customers want to understand what we stand for: excellent reliability and customer experience; value for money; and progress and innovation. And they want to know that we have a level of trust, that guides what we do and underpins how we use data. And I want to talk about how we use data that is personal, how we strip identifying data out. It is incredibly important that we respect our customers privacy. We tell our customers about how we collect data, we also have more information online. We work closely with our Privacy and Data protection team, and all new data initiatives undergo a Privacy Impact Assessment and have regular engagement with the ICO and rely on their guidance. When we do share any sensitive data we make use of Non-disclosure agreement.

So, our data – we are very lucky as we are data rich. We have 19 million smartcard ticketing transactions a dat from 12 million active cards. We know where our buses are – capturing 4.5 million bus locations a day using ibus geo-located events. We have 500k rows of train diagnostic data on the Central Line alone. We have 250l train locations. We have data from the TfL website. That is brilliant, but how do we make that useful? How do we translate that data into something we can use – that’s where my role comes in.

So we take this data and we use it to create a lot of integrated travel information that is used on our website, in tailored emails, in 600 travel apps powered by open data and created by third party app developers. We also provide advise to customers on travel options… This is where we use data to see which data is most useful… We use data on areas that are busy in terms of entrances and exists – and use that in posters in stations to help customers shift behaviours… If we tell them they have the ability to make a change, whether or not they do.

We also look at customer patterns – based on taps from cards. We anonymise the users but keep a (new) unique id to understand patterns of travel… Some users follow clear commuter patterns – Monday to Friday, we can see where home and work are, etc. But others do not fit clear patterns – part time workers, occasional attenders etc. But understanding that data lets us understand demand, peaks, and planning of shops for an area too. We also use data to help us put things right when they go wrong – paying for delays on the underground or overground. If things go *really* wrong we will look at pattern analysis and automatically refund them – that shows customers that we value them and their time, and means we have fewer forms to process.

We also use data to manage maintenance schedules, so that we can fix small things quickly to avoid bigger issues that would need fixing later on. We also use data to understand where our staff are deployed. If we know where hotspots for breakdowns are, we can deploy recovery teams more strategically. We also use data in real time operations so controllers can change the road network to manage the traffic flows most effectively.

We have also done work to consider the future and growth. We have created an algorithm to answer a question we used to have to do with surveys… With the underground you tap on and off… But on the buses  you only taps off… So we looked at inferring bus journeys… So we take our bus boarding entry taps, plus other modal taps, and iBus event data to work out where they likely exited the bus. We use it to plan busy parts of the network – where more buses may be required at busy times. To also plan out interchanges – we are changing our road layout considerably to make it better for vulnerable road users. We are also thinking about interchanges, and to understand at a granular level how customers use our network.

We are always looking to solve problems and do so in an innovative way… We are industry leaders in a number of areas. We have had wifi on the tube since 2012. We are currently looking to see if wifi data will enable us to plan better. In 2016 we ran a four week pilot to explore value of wifi connection data. When wifi tried to connect with routers in stations we grabbed timestamp, location and a (scrambled) device id. We are analysing that data… But the test was about easier use case. The cases we are currently looking at are about what we can learn about customer patterns from wifi data… And we were deliberately very transparent in that trial, with posters in situ, information online, and a real push to ensure that people were informed about what we were collecting, and how to opt out. 

Finally we have an open data policy. We support developers and the developer economy. this is delivered at very little cost. and our web presence is seen as industry leading. We also do work with universities around six key areas, and we then work with academics on proof of concept with TfL support. Then that can become TfL proof of concept and eventually end up being operational.

So, we are keen to engage with students to come and work with us. So we are planning for ways to support STEM/STEAM in schools activities, to create targeted interventions – it helps us develop the next generation and enables us to deliver the mayors education strategy. We’ve done coding events, work with the Science Museum, with local schools.

To finish my big data principles focus on protecting the privacy of our customers, that is paramount. focus on the right problems you face. Interesting or not enough and don’t start with data… Instead we think of an approach along the lines of… 

  • As a [my job title]
  • I need [big data insights]
  • So that I can [make a decision my job expects me to]

Operational infrastructure generates data… so it is crucial to interpret, translate and understand that data to make it useful. 


Q1) What have you done in terms of data from disabled travellers

A1) We have users with freedom passes… but it depends on what the disability is… so data is hard to tease out. Need a combination of automatic data and talk to our users – so you can take patterns to small groups… Nad to test and discuss those.

Q2) You mentioned that you provide open data for others. Have you thought about student projects… can you provide databank of problems or projects that students could work on?

A2) We are just beginning this now. We have ongoing research projects that require in depth knowledge of work. We also have an opportunity for key questions and key samples – you can see that data today. It isn’t packagers for schools but there is an opportunity on air quality, travel patterns, whether students can find local stops, etc. there is real opportunity but still more to do

Q3) As cities become increasingly populated with self driving autonomous vehicles the data may inform those, but also uber and tesla already collect huge amounts of data…

A3) We have some data on cars but it’s high level. To understand our road customers though we are keen to work with the appropriate companies – some are more open than others – and to understand how we can work with our customers. Historical data is easier but real time analysis is really where we want to be. 

Q4) About information and data protection… you could argue that marginal impact is low for the individual… but compared to cost of security after a data breach… I was wondering how you decided on that balance, and the rights and expectations…

A4) Well we asked our customers and asked them if they were comfortable with the approach. They were asked tangible questions about how data could be used… when we focus on  what is tangible and will improve the network for Londoners, that helps. And that pseudonymous data means you have a hashed number, not full card number but it is still sensitive. Customers can opt into giving us more data – including with wifi where we advised customers to switch off wifi to be part of the study. it’s about customers to be comfortable to engage with us at the level that they want. 

Sincere apologies for the quality of my liveblogging for Laura’s talk – my computer decided to crash about two thirds of the way through and only part of the post was successfully autosaved, with remaining notes made on my phone. Look at the tweets and others write ups for further detail or check out the excellent TfL site where I know there is already a lot of good information on their open data and their recent wifi work. 

And with that Digifest is over for another year. Particular thanks to all who dropped by EDINA’s stand and chatted with Andrew and I – we were delighted to catch up with so many EDINA customers and people interested in our project work and possible opportunities to work together in the future. We are always delighted to meet and hear from our colleagues across the sector so do leave a comment here or drop us a line if you have any comments, questions or ideas you’d like to discuss.  

 March 15, 2017  Posted by at 10:10 am Digital Education, LiveBlogs Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 142017

Today and tomorrow I’m in Birmingham for the Jisc Digifest 2017 (#digifest17). I’m based on the EDINA stand (stand 9, Hall 3) for much of the time, along with my colleague Andrew – do come and say hello to us – but will also be blogging any sessions I attend. The event is also being livetweeted by Jisc and some sessions livestreamed – do take a look at the event website for more details. As usual this blog is live and may include typos, errors, etc. Please do let me know if you have any corrections, questions or comments. 

Plenary and Welcome

Liam Earney is introducing us to the day, with the hope that we all take some away from the event – some inspiration, an idea, the potential to do new things. Over the past three Digifest events we’ve taken a broad view. This year we focus on technology expanding, enabling learning and teaching.

LE: So we will be talking about questions we asked through Twitter and through our conference app with our panel:

  • Sarah Davies (SD), head of change implementation support – education/student, Jisc
  • Liam Earney (LE), director of Jisc Collections
  • Andy McGregor (AM), deputy chief innovation officer, Jisc
  • Paul McKean (PM), head of further education and skills, Jisc

Q1: Do you think that greater use of data and analytics will improve teaching, learning and the student experience?

  • Yes 72%
  • No 10%
  • Don’t Know 18%

AM: I’m relieved at that result as we think it will be important too. But that is backed up by evidence emerging in the US and Australia around data analytics use in retention and attainment. There is a much bigger debate around AI and robots, and around Learning Analytics there is that debate about human and data, and human and machine can work together. We have several sessions in that space.

SD: Learning Analytics has already been around it’s own hype cycle already… We had huge headlines about the potential about a year ago, but now we are seeing much more in-depth discussion, discussion around making sure that our decisions are data informed.. There is concern around the role of the human here but the tutors, the staff, are the people who access this data and work with students so it is about human and data together, and that’s why adoption is taking a while as they work out how best to do that.

Q2: How important is organisational culture in the successful adoption of education technology?

  • Total make or break 55%
  • Can significantly speed it up or slow it down 45%
  • It can help but not essential 0%
  • Not important 0%

PM: Where we see education technology adopted we do often see that organisational culture can drive technology adoption. An open culture – for instance Reading College’s open door policy around technology – can really produce innovation and creative adoption, as people share experience and ideas.

SD: It can also be about what is recognised and rewarded. About making sure that technology is more than what the innovators do – it’s something for the whole organisation. It’s not something that you can do in small pockets. It’s often about small actions – sharing across disciplines, across role groups, about how technology can make a real difference for staff and for students.

Q3: How important is good quality content in delivering an effective blended learning experience?

  • Very important 75%
  • It matters 24%
  • Neither 1%
  • It doesn’t really matter 0%
  • It is not an issue at all 0%

LE: That’s reassuring, but I guess we have to talk about what good quality content is…

SD: I think materials – good quality primary materials – make a huge difference, there are so many materials we simply wouldn’t have had (any) access to 20 years ago. But also about good online texts and how they can change things.

LE: My colleague Karen Colbon and I have been doing some work on making more effective use of technologies… Paul you have been involved in FELTAG…

PM: With FELTAG I was pleased when that came out 3 years ago, but I think only now we’ve moved from the myth of 10% online being blended learning… And moving towards a proper debate about what blended learning is, what is relevant not just what is described. And the need for good quality support to enable that.

LE: What’s the role for Jisc there?

PM: I think it’s about bringing the community together, about focusing on the learner and their experience, rather than the content, to ensure that overall the learner gets what they need.

SD: It’s also about supporting people to design effective curricula too. There are sessions here, talking through interesting things people are doing.

AM: There is a lot of room for innovation around the content. If you are walking around the stands there is a group of students from UCL who are finding innovative ways to visualise research, and we’ll be hearing pitches later with some fantastic ideas.

Q4: Billions of dollars are being invested in edtech startups. What impact do you think this will have on teaching and learning in universities and colleges?

  • No impact at all 1%
  • It may result in a few tools we can use 69%
  • We will come to rely on these companies in our learning and teaching 21%
  • It will completely transform learning and teaching 9%

AM: I am towards the 9% here, there are risks but there is huge reason for optimism here. There are some great companies coming out and working with them increases the chance that this investment will benefit the sector. Startups are keen to work with universities, to collaborate. They are really keen to work with us.

LE: It is difficult for universities to take that punt, to take that risk on new ideas. Procurement, governance, are all essential to facilitating that engagement.

AM: I think so. But I think if we don’t engage then we do risk these companies coming in and building businesses that don’t take account of our needs.

LE: Now that’s a big spend taking place for that small potential change that many who answered this question perceive…

PM: I think there are saving that will come out of those changes potentially…

AM: And in fact that potentially means saving money on tools we currently use by adopting new, and investing that into staff..

Q5: Where do you think the biggest benefits of technology are felt in education?

  • Enabling or enhancing learning and teaching activities 55%
  • In the broader student experience 30%
  • In administrative efficiencies 9%
  • It’s hard to identify clear benefits 6%

SD: I think many of the big benefits we’ve seen over the last 8 years has been around things like online timetables – wider student experience and administrative spaces. But we are also seeing that, when used effectively, technology can really enhance the learning experience. We have a few sessions here around that. Key here is digital capabilities of staff and students. Whether awareness, confidence, understanding fit with disciplinary practice. Lots here at Digifest around digital skills. [sidenote: see also our new Digital Footprint MOOC which is now live for registrations]

I’m quite surprised that 6% thought it was hard to identify clear benefits… There are still lots of questions there, and we have a session on evidence based practice tomorrow, and how evidence feeds into institutional decision making.

PM: There is something here around the Apprentice Levy which is about to come into place. A surprisingly high percentage of employers aren’t aware that they will be paying that actually! Technology has a really important role here for teaching, learning and assessment, but also tracking and monitoring around apprenticeships.

LE: So, with that, I encourage you to look around, chat to our exhibitors, craft the programme that is right for you. And to kick that off here is some of the brilliant work you have been up to. [we are watching a video – this should be shared on today’s hashtag #digifest17]
And with that, our session ended. For the next few hours I will mainly be on our stand but also sitting in on Martin Hamilton’s session “Loving the alien: robots and AI in education” – look out for a few tweets from me and many more from the official live tweeter for the session, @estherbarrett.

Plenary and keynote from Geoff Mulgan,chief executive and CEO, Nesta (host: Paul Feldman, chief executive, Jisc)

Paul Feldman: Welcome to Digifest 2017, and to our Stakeholder Meeting attendees who are joining us for this event. I am delighted to welcome Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta.

Geoff: Thank you all for being here. I work at Nesta. We are an investor for quite a few ed tech companies, we run a lot of experiments in schools and universities… And I want to share with you two frustrations. The whole area of ed tech is, I think, one of the most exciting, perhaps ever! But the whole field is frustrating… And in Britain we have phenomenal tech companies, and phenomenol universities high in the rankings… But too rarely we bring these together, and we don’t see that vision from ministers either.

So, I’m going to talk about the promise – some of the things that are emerging and developing. I’ll talk about some of the pitfalls – some of the things that are going wrong. And some of the possibilities of where things could go.

So, first of all, the promise. We are going through yet another wave – or series of waves – of Google Watson, Deepmind, Fitbits, sensors… We are at least 50 years into the “digital revolution” and yet the pace of change isn’t letting up – Moore’s Law still applies. So, finding the applications is as exciting and challenging as possible.

Last year Deep Mind defeated a champion of Go. People thought that it was impossible for a machine to win at Go, because of the intuition involved. That cutting edge technology is now being used in London with blood test data to predict who may be admitted to hospital in the next year.

We have also seen these free online bitesize platforms – Coursera, Udacity, etc. – these challenges to trditional courses. And we have Google Translate in November 2016 adopting a neural machine translation engine that can translate whole sentences… Google Translate may be a little clunky still but we are moving toward that Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy idea of the Babelfish. In January 2017 a machine-learning powered poker bot outcompeted 20 of the world’s best. We are seeing more of these events… The Go contest was observed by 280 million people!

Much of this technology is feeding into this emerging Ed Tech market. There are MOOCs, there are learning analytics tools, there is a huge range of technologies. The UK does well here… When you talk about education you have to talk about technology, not just bricks and mortar. This is a golden age but there are also some things not going as they should be…

So, the pitfalls. There is a lack of understanding of what works. NESTA did a review 3 years ago of school technologies and that was quite negative in terms of return on investment. And the OECD similarly compared spend with learning outcomes and found a negative correlation. One of the odd things about this market is that it has invested very little in using control groups, and gathering the evidence.

And where is the learning about learning? When the first MOOCs appeared I thought it was extraordinary that they showed little interested in decades of knowledge and understanding about elearning, distance learning, online learning. They just shared materials. It’s not just the cognitive elements, you need peers, you need someone to talk to. There is a common finding over decades that you need that combination of peer and social elements and content – that’s one of the reasons I like FutureLearn as it combines that more directly.

The other thing that is missing is the business models. Few ed tech companies make money… They haven’t looked at who will pay, how much they should pay… And I think that reflects, to an extent, the world view of computer scientists…

And I think that business model wise some of the possibilities are quite alarming. Right now many of the digital tools we use are based on collecting our data – the advertisor is the customer, you are the product. And I think some of our ed tech providers, having failed to raise income from students, is somewhat moving in that direction. We are also seeing household data, the internet of things, and my guess is that the impact of these will raise much more awareness of privacy, security, use of data.

The other thing is jobs and future jobs. Some of you will have seen these analyses of jobs and the impact of computerisation. Looking over the last 15 years we’ve seen big shifts here… Technical and professional knowledge has been relatively well protected. But there is also a study (Frey, C and Osborne, M 2013) that looks at those at low risk of computerisation and automation – dentists are safe! – and those at high risk which includes estate agents, accountants, but also actors and performers. We see huge change here. In the US one of the most popular jobs in some areas is truck drivers – they are at high risk here.

We are doing work with Pearson to look at job market requirements – this will be published in a few months time – to help educators prepare students for this world. The jobs likely to grow are around creativity, social intelligence, also dexterity – walking over uneven ground, fine manual skills. If you combine those skills with deep knowledge of technology, or specialised fields, you should be well placed. But we don’t see schools and universities shaping their curricula to these types of needs. Is there a concious effort to look ahead and to think about what 16-22 year olds should be doing now to be well placed in the future?

In terms of more positive possibilities… Some of those I see coming into view… One of these, Skills Route, which was launched for teenagers. It’s an open data set which generates a data driven guide for teenagers about which subjects to study. Allowing teenagers to see what jobs they might get, what income they might attract, how happy they will be even, depending on their subject choices. These insights will be driven by data, including understanding of what jobs may be there in 10 years time. Students may have a better idea of what they need than many of their teachers, their lecturers etc.

We are also seeing a growth of adaptive learning. We are an investor in CogBooks which is a great example. This is a game changer in terms of how education happens. The way AI is built it makes it easier for students to have materials adapt to their needs, to their styles.

My colleagues are working with big cities in England, including Birmingham, to establish Offices of Data Analytics (and data marketplaces), which can enable understanding of e.g. buildings at risk of fire that can be mitigated before fire fighting is needed. I think there are, again, huge opportunities for education. Get into conversations with cities and towns, to use the data commons – which we have but aren’t (yet) using to the full extent of its potential.

We are doing a project called Arloesiadur in Wales which is turning big data into policy action. This allowed policy makers in Welsh Government to have a rich real time picture of what is taking place in the economy, including network analyses of investors, researchers, to help understand emerging fields, targets for new investment and support. This turns the hit and miss craft skill of investment into something more accurate, more data driven. Indeed work on the complexity of the economy shows that economic complexity maps to higher average annual earnings. This goes against some of the smart cities expectation – which wants to create more homogenous environments. Instead diversity and complexity is beneficial.

We host at NESTA the “Alliance for Useful Evidence” which includes a network of around 200 people trying to ensure evidence is used and useful. Out o fthat we have a serues of “What Works” centres – NiCE (health and care); Education Endowment Fund; Early Intervention Foundation; Centre for Ageing Better; College of Policing (crime reduction); Centre for Local Econoic Growth; What Works Well-being… But bizarrely we don’t have one of these for education and universities. These centres help organisations to understand where evidence for particular approaches exists.

To try and fill the gap a bit for universities we’ve worked internationally with the Innovation Growth Lab to understand investment in research, what works properly. This is applying scientific methods to areas on the boundaries of university. In many ways our current environment does very little of that.

The other side of this is the issue of creativity. In China the principal of one university felt it wasn’t enough for students to be strong in engineering, they needed to solve problems. So we worked with them to create programmes for students to create new work, addressing problems and questions without existing answers. There are comparable programmes elsewhere – students facing challenges and problems, not starting with the knowledge. It’s part of the solution… But some work like this can work really well. At Harvard students are working with local authorities and there is a lot of creative collaboration across ages, experience, approaches. In the UK there isn’t any uniersity doing this at serious scale, and I think this community can have a role here…

So, what to lobby for? I’ve worked a lot with government – we’ve worked with about 40 governments across the world – and I’ve seen vice chancellors and principles who have access to government and they usually lobby for something that looks like the present – small changes. I have never seen them lobby for substantial change, for more connection with industry, for investment and ambition at the very top. The leaders argue for the needs of the past, not the present. That is’t true in other industries they look ahead, and make that central to their case. I think that’s part of why we don’t see this coming together in an act of ambition like we saw in the 1960s when the Open University founded.

So, to end…

Tilt is one of the most interesting things to emerge in the last few years – a 3D virtual world that allows you to paint with a Tilt brush. It is exciting as no-one knows how to do this. It’s exciting because it is uncharted territory. It will be, I think, a powerful learning tool. It’s a way to experiment and learn…

But the other side of the coin… The British public’s favourite painting is The Fighting Temorare… An ugly steamboat pulls in a beautiful old sailing boat to be smashed up. It is about technological change… But also about why change is hard. The old boat is more beautiful, tied up with woodwork and carpentry skills, culture, songs… There is a real poetry… But it’s message is that if you don’t go through that, we don’t create space for the new. We are too attached to the old models to let them go – especially the leaders who came through those old models. We need to create those Google Tilts, but we also have to create space for the new to breath as well.


Q1 – Amber Thomas, Warwick) Thinking about the use of technology in universities… There is research on technology in education and I think you point to a disconnect between the big challenges from research councils and how research is disseminated, a disconnect between policy and practice, and a lack of availability of information to practitioners. But also I wanted to say that BECTA used to have some of that role for experimentation and that went in the “bonfire of the quangos”. And what should Jisc’s role be here?

A1) There is all of this research taking place but it is often not used, That emphasis on “Useful Evidence” is important. Academics are not always good at this… What will enable a busy head teacher, a busy tutor, to actually understand and use that evidence. There are some spaces for education at schools level but there is a gap for universities. BECTA was a loss. There is a lack of Ed Tech strategy. There is real potential. To give an example… We have been working with finance, forcing banks to open up data, with banks required by the regulator to fund creative use of that data to help small firms understand their finance. That’s a very different role for the regulator… But I’d like to see institutions willing to do more of that.

A1 – PF) And I would say we are quietly activist.

Q2) To go back to the Hitchhikers Guide issue… Are we too timid in universities?

A2) There is a really interesting history of radical universities – some with no lectures, some no walls, in Paris a short-lived experiment handing out degrees to strangers on buses! Some were totally student driven. My feeling is that that won’t work, it’s like music and you need some structure, some grammars… I like challenge driven universities as they aren’t *that* groundbreaking… You have some structure and content, you have an interdisciplinary teams, you have assessment there… It is a space for experimentation. You need some systematic experimentation on the boundaries… Some creative laboritories on the edge to inform the centre, with some of that quite radical. And I think that we lack those… Things like the Coventry SONAR (?) course for photography which allowed input from the outside, a totally open course including discussion and community… But those sorts of experiments tend not to be in a structure… And I’d like to see systematic experimentation.

Q3 – David White, UAL) When you put up your ed tech slide, a lot of students wouldn’t recognise that as they use lots of free tools – Google etc. Maybe your old warship is actually the market…

A3) That’s a really difficult question. In any institution of any sense, students will make use of the cornucopia of free things – Google Hangouts and YouTube. That’s probably why the Ed Tech industry struggles so much – people are used to free things. Google isn’t free – you indirectly pay through sale of your data as with Facebook. Wikipedia is free but philanthropically funded. I don’t know if that model of Google etc. can continue as we become more aware of data and data use concerns. We don’t know where the future is going… We’ve just started a new project with Barcelona and Amsterdam around the idea of the Data Commons, which doesn’t depend on sale of data to advertisors etc. but that faces the issue of who will pay. My guess is that the free data-based model may last up to 10 years, but then something will change…

How can technology help us meet the needs of a wider range of learners

Pleasing Most of the People Most of the Time – Julia Taylor, subject specialist (accessibility and inclusion), Jisc.

I want to tell you a story about buying LEGO for a young child… My kids loved LEGO and it’s changed a lot since then… I brought a child this pack with lots of little LEGO people with lots of little hats… And this child just sort of left all the people on the carpet because they wanted the LEGO people to choose their own hats and toys… And that was disappointing… And I use that example is that there is an important role to help individuals find the right tools. The ultimate goal of digital skills and inclusion is about giving people the skills and confidence to use the appropriate tools. The idea is that the tools magically turn into tools…

We’ve never had more tools for giving people independence… But what is the potential of technology and how it can be selected and used. We’ll hear more about delivery and use of technology in this context. But I want to talk about what technology is capable of delivering…

Technology gives us the tools for digital diversity, allowing the student to be independent about how they access and engage with our content. That kind of collaboration can also be as meaningful in the context internationally, as it is for learners who have to fit studies around, say, shift work. It allows learners to do things the way they want to do it. That idea of independent study through digital technology is really important. So these tools afford digital skills, the tools remove barriers and/or enable students to overcome the. Technology allows learners with different needs to overcome challenges – perhaps of physical disability, perhaps remote location, perhaps learners with little free time. Technology can help people take those small steps to start or continue their education. It’s as much about that as those big global conversations.

It is also the case that technology can be a real motivator and attraction for some students. And the technology can be about overcoming a small step, to deal with potential intimidation at new technology, through to much more radical forms that keeps people engaged… So when you have tools aimed at the larger end of the scale, you also enable people at the smaller end of the scale. Students do have expectations, and some are involved in technology as a lifestyle, as a life line, that supports their independence… They are using apps and tools to run their life. That is the direction of travel with people, and with young people. Technology is an embedded part of their life. And we should work with that, perhaps even encouraged to use more technology, to depend on it more. Many of us in this room won’t have met a young visually impaired person who doesn’t have an iPhone as those devices allow them to read, to engage, to access their learning materials. Technology is a lifeline here. That’s one example, but there are others… Autistic students may be using an app like “Brain in Hand” to help them engage with travel, with people, with education. We should encourage this use, and we do encourage this use of technology.

We encourage learners to check if they can:

  • Personalise and customise the learning environment
  • Get text books in alternative formats – that they can adapt and adjust as they need
  • Find out about the access features of loan devices and platforms – and there are features built into devices and platforms you use and require students to use. How much do you know about the accessibility of learning platforms that you buy into.
  • Get accessible course notes in advance of lectures – notes that can be navigated and adapted easily, taking away unnecessary barriers. Ensuring documents are accessible for the maximum number of people.
  • Use productivity tools and personal devices everywhere – many people respond well to text to speech, it’s useful for visually impaired students, but also for dyslexic students too.

Now we encourage organisations to make their work accessible to the most people possible. For instance a free and available text to speech tool provides technology that we know works for some learners, for the wide range of learners. That helps those with real needs, but will also benefits other learners, including some who would never disclose a challenge or disability.

So, when you think about technology, think about how you can reach the widest possible range of learners. This should be part of course design, staff development… All areas should include accessible and inclusive technologies.

And I want you now to think about the people and infrastructure required and involved in these types of decisions…  So I have some examples here about change…

What would you need to do to enable a change in practice like this learner statement:

“Usually I hate fieldwork. I’m disorganised, make illegible notes, can’t make sense of the data because we’ve only got little bits of the picture until the evening write up…” 

This student isn’t benefitting from the fieldwork until the information is all brought together. The teacher dealt with this by combining data, information, etc. on the learner’s phone, including QR codes to help them learn… That had an impact and the student continues:

“But this was easy – Google forms. Twitter hashtags. Everything on the phone. To check a technique we scanned the QR code to watch videos. I felt like a proper biologist… not just a rubbish notetaker.”

In another example a student who didn’t want to speak in a group and was able to use a Text Wall to enable their participation in a way that worked for them.

In another case a student who didn’t want to blog but it was compulsory in their course. But then the student discovered they could use voice recognition in GoogleDocs and how to do podcasts and link them in… That option was available to everyone.

Comment: We are a sixth form college. We have a student who is severely dyslexic and he really struggled with classwork. Using voice recognition software has been transformative for that student and now they are achieving the grades and achievements they should have been.

So, what is needed to make this stuff happen. How can we make it easy for change to be made… Is inclusion part of your student induction? It’s hard to gauge from the room how much of this is endemic in your organisations. You need to think about how far down the road you are, and what else needs to be done so that the majority of learners can access podcasts, productivity tools, etc.

[And with that we are moving to discussion.]

Its great to hear you all talking and I thought it might be useful to finish by asking you to share some of the good things that are taking place…

Comment: We have an accessibility unit – a central unit – and that unit provides workshops on technologies for all of the institution, and we promote those heavily in all student inductions. Also I wanted to say that note taking sometimes is the skill that students need…

JT: I was thinking someone would say that! But I wanted to make the point that we should be providing these tools and communicating that they are available… There are things we can do but it requires us to understand what technology can do to lower the barrier, and to engage staff properly. Everyone needs to be able to use and promote technology for use…

The marker by which we are all judged is the success of our students. Technology must be inclusive for that to work.

You can find more resources here:

  • Chat at
  • Jisc A&I Offer:
  • Survey:

How can technology help us meet the needs of a wider range of learners? – Mike Sharples, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University / FutureLearn

I wanted to start with the idea of accessibility and inclusion. As you may already know the Open University was established in the 1970s to open up university to a wider range of learners… In 1970 19% of our students hadn’t been to University before, now it’s 90%. We’re rather pleased with that! As a diverse and inclusive university accessibility and inclusivity is essential for that. As we move towards more interactive courses, we have to work hard to make fieldtrips accessible to people who are not mobile, to ensure all of our astronomy students access to telescopes, etc.

So, how do we do this? The learning has to be future orientated, and suited to what they will need in the future. I like the idea of the kinds of jobs you see on Careers 2030 – Organic Voltaics Engineer, Data Wrangler, Robot Counsellor – the kinds of work roles that may be there in the future. At the same time of looking to the future we need to also think about what it means to be in a “post truth era” – with accessibility of materials, and access to the educational process too. We need a global open education.

So, FutureLearn is a separate but wholly owned company of the Open University. There are 5.6 million learners, 400 free courses. We have 70 partner institutions, with 70% of learners from outside the UK, 61% are female, and 22% have had no other tertiary education.

When we came to build FutureLearn we had a pretty blank slate. We had EdX and similar but they weren’t based on any particular pedagogy – built around extending the lectures, and around personalised quizzes etc. And as we set up FutureLearn we wanted to encourage a social constructivist model, and the idea of “Learning as Conversation”, based on the idea that all learning is based on conversation – with oursleves, with our teachers and their expertise, and with other learners to try and reach shared understanding. And that’s the brief our software engineers took on. We wanted it to be scalable, for every piece of content to have conversation around it – so that rather than sending you to forums, the conversation sat with the content. And also the idea of peer review, of study groups, etc.

So, for example, the University of Auckland have a course on Logical and Critical thinking. Linked to a video introducing the course is a conversation, and that conversation includes facilitative mentors… And engagement there is throughout the conversation… Our participants have a huge range of backgrounds and locations and that’s part of the conversation you are joining.

Now 2012 was the year of the MOOC, but now they are becoming embedded, and MOOCs need to be taken seriously as part of campus activities, as part of blended learning. In 2009 the US DoE undertook a major meta-study of comparisons of online and face to face teaching in higher education. On average students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face to face online, but those undertaking a blend of campus and online did better.

So, we are starting to blend campus and online, with campus students accessing MOOCs, with projects and activities that follow up MOOCs, and we now have the idea of hybrid courses. For example FutureLearn has just offered its full post graduate course with Deakin University. MOOCs are no longer far away from campus learning, they are blending together in new ways of accessing content and accessing conversation. And it’s the flexibility of study that is so important here. There are also new modes of learning (e.g. flipped learning), as well as global access to higher education, including free coures, global conversation and knowledge sharing. The idea of credit transfer and a broader curriculum enabled by that. And the concept of disaggregation – affordable education, pay for use? At the OU only about a third of our students use the tutoring they are entitled to, so perhaps those that use tutoring should pay (only).

As Geoff Mulgan said we do lack evidence – though that is happening. But we also really need new learning platforms that will support free as well as accredited courses, that enables accreditation, credit transfer, badging, etc.


Q1) How do you ensure the quality of the content on your platform?

A1) There are a couple of ways… One was in our selective choice of which universities (and other organisations) we work with. So that offers some credibility and assurance. The other way is through the content team who advise every partner, every course, who creates content for FutureLearn. And there are quite a few quality standards – quite a lot of people on FutureLearn came from the BBC and they come with a very clear idea of quality – there is diversity of the offer but the quality is good.

Q2) What percentage of FutureLearn learners “complete” the course?

A2) In general its about 15-20%. Those 15% ish have opportunities they wouldn’t have other have had. We’ve also done research on who drops out and why… Most (95%) say “it’s not you, it’s me”. Some of those are personal and quite emptional reasons. But mainly life has just gotten in the way and they want to return. Of those remaining 5% about half felt the course wasn’t at quite the right level for them, the other half just didn’t enjoy the platform, it wasn’t right for them.

So, now over to you to discuss…

  1. What pedagogy, ways of doing teaching and learning, would you bring in.
  2. What evidence? What would consitute success in terms of teaching and learning.


Comments: MOOCs are quite different from modules and programmes of study.. Perhaps there is a branching off… More freestyle learning… The learner gets value from whatever paths they go through…

Comments: SLICCs at Edinburgh enable students to design their own module, reflecting and graded against core criteria, but in a project of their own shaping. [read more here]

Comments: Adaptive learning can be a solution to that freestyle learning process… That allows branching off, the algorithm to learn from the learners… There is also the possibility to break a course down to smallest components and build on that.

I want to focus a moment on technology… Is there something that we need.

Comments: We ran a survey of our students about technologies… Overwhelmingly our students wanted their course materials available, they weren’t that excited by e.g. social media.

Let me tell you a bit about what we do at the Open University… We run lots of courses, each looks difference, and we have a great idea of retention, student satisfaction, exam scores. We find that overwhelmingly students like content – video, text and a little bit of interactivity. But students are retained more if they engage in collaborative learning. In terms of student outcomes… The lowest outcomes are for courses that are content heavy… There is a big mismatch between what students like and what they do best with.

Comment: There is some research on learning games that also shows satisfaction at the time doesn’t always map to attainment… Stretching our students is effective, but it’s uncomfortable.

Julia Taylor: Please do get in touch if you more feedback or comments on this.