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.

Q&A

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 Todaysmeet.com/DF1734
  • Jisc A&I Offer: TinyURL.com/hw28e42
  • Survey: TinyURL.com/jd8tb5q

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.

Q&A

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.

[Discussion]

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.

Dec 052016
 
Image credit: Brian Slater

This is a very wee blog post/aside to share the video of my TEDxYouth@Manchester talk, “What do your digital footprints say about you?”:

You can read more on the whole experience of being part of this event in my blog post from late November.

It would appear that my first TEDx, much like my first Bright Club, was rather short and sweet (safely within my potential 14 minutes). I hope you enjoy it and I would recommend catching up with my fellow speakers’ talks:

Kat Arney

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Ben Smith

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VV Brown

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Ben Garrod

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I gather that the videos of the incredible teenage speakers and performers will follow soon.

 

Dec 042016
 

This summer I will be co-chairing, with Stefania Manca (from The Institute of Educational Technology of the National Research Council of Italy) “Social Media in Education”, a Mini Track of the European Conference on Social Median (#ECSM17) in Vilnius, Lithuania. As the call for papers has been out for a while (deadline for abstracts: 12th December 2016) I wanted to remind and encourage you to consider submitting to the conference and, particularly, for our Mini Track, which we hope will highlight exciting social media and education research.

You can download the Mini Track Call for Papers on Social Media in Education here. And, from the website, here is the summary of what we are looking for:

An expanding amount of social media content is generated every day, yet organisations are facing increasing difficulties in both collecting and analysing the content related to their operations. This mini track on Big Social Data Analytics aims to explore the models, methods and tools that help organisations in gaining actionable insight from social media content and turning that to business or other value. The mini track also welcomes papers addressing the Big Social Data Analytics challenges, such as, security, privacy and ethical issues related to social media content. The mini track is an important part of ECSM 2017 dealing with all aspects of social media and big data analytics.

Topics of the mini track include but are not limited to:

  • Reflective and conceptual studies of social media for teaching and scholarly purposes in higher education.
  • Innovative experience or research around social media and the future university.
  • Issues of social media identity and engagement in higher education, e.g: digital footprints of staff, students or organisations; professional and scholarly communications; and engagement with academia and wider audiences.
  • Social media as a facilitator of changing relationships between formal and informal learning in higher education.
  • The role of hidden media and backchannels (e.g. SnapChat and YikYak) in teaching, learning.
  • Social media and the student experience.

The conference, the 4th European Conference on Social Media (ECSM) will be taking place at the Business and Media School of the Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) in Vilnius, Lithuania on the 3-4 July 2017. Having seen the presentation on the city and venue at this year’s event I feel confident it will be lovely setting and should be a really good conference. (I also hear Vilnius has exceptional internet connectivity, which is always useful).

I would also encourage anyone working in social media to consider applying for the Social Media in Practice Excellence Awards, which ECSM is hosting this year. The competition will be showcasing innovative social media applications in business and the public sector, and they are particularly looking for ways in which academia have been working with business around social media. You can read more – and apply to the competition (deadline for entries: 17th January 2017)- here.

This is a really interdisciplinary conference with a real range of speakers and topics so a great place to showcase interesting applications of and research into social media. The papers presented at the conference are published in the conference proceedings, widely indexed, and will also be considered for publication in: Online Information Review (Emerald Insight, ISSN: 1468-4527); International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments (Inderscience, ISSN 2050-3962); International Journal of Web-Based Communities (Inderscience); Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society (Emerald Insight, ISSN 1477-996X).

So, get applying to the conference  and/or to the competition! If you have any questions or comments about the Social Media in Education track, do let me know.

Nov 212016
 
The band Cassia play at TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016.

Last Wednesday, I had the absolute pleasure of being part of the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016, which had the theme of “Identity. I had been invited along to speak about our Managing Your Digital Footprint work, and my #CODI2016 Fringe show, If I Googled You, What Would I Find? The event was quite extraordinary and I wanted to share some thoughts on the day itself, as well as some reflections on my experience of preparing a TEDx talk.

TEDxYouth@Manchester is in it’s 8th year, and is based at Fallibroome Academy, a secondary school with a specialism in performing arts (see, for instance, their elaborate and impressive trailer video for the school). And Fallibroome was apparently the first school in the world to host a TEDxYouth event. Like other TEDx events the schedule mixes invited talks, talks from youth speakers, and recorded items – in today’s case that included a TED talk, a range of short films, music videos and a quite amazing set of videos of primary school kids responding to questions on identity (beautifully edited by the Fallibroome team and featuring children from schools in the area).

In my own talk – the second of the day – I asked the audience to consider the question of what their digital footprints say about them. And what they want them to say about them. My intention was to trigger reflection and thought, to make the audience in the room – and on the livestream – think about what they share, what they share about others and,hopefully, what else they do online – their privacy settings, their choices..

My fellow invited speakers were a lovely and diverse bunch:

Kat Arney, a geneticist, science writer, musician, and author. She was there to talk about identity from a genetic perspective, drawing on her fantastic new book “Herding Hemingway’s Cats” (my bedtime reading this week). Kat’s main message – a really important one – is that genes don’t predetermine your identity, and that any understanding of there being a “Gene for… x”, i.e. the “Gene for Cancer”, a “Gay Gene”, a gene for whatever… is misleading at best. Things are much more complicated and unpredictable than that. As part of her talk she spoke about gene “wobbles” – a new concept to me – which describes the unexpected and rule-defying behaviour of genes in the real world vs our expectations based on the theory, drawing on work on nematode worms. It was a really interesting start to the day and I highly recommend checking out both Kat’s book, and the The Naked Scientists’ Naked Gentics podcast.

Ben Smith, spoke about his own very personal story and how that led to the 401 Challenge, in which he ran 401 marathons in 401 days. Ben spoke brilliantly and bravely on his experience of bullying, of struggling with his sexuality, and the personal crises and suicide attempts that led to him finding his own sense of self and identity, and happiness, through his passion for running in his late 20s/early 30s. Ben’s talk was even more powerful as it was preceded by an extraordinary video (see below) of the poem “To This Day” by performance poet Shane Koyczan on the impact of bullying and the strength in overcoming it.

VV Brown, singer, songwriter, producer and ethical fashion entrepreneur, gave a lovely presentation on identity and black hair. She gave a personal and serious take on issues of identity and appropriation which have been explored (from another angle) in Chris Rock’s Good Hair (2009). As well as the rich culture of black hairdressing and hugely problematic nature of hair relaxants, weaves, and hair care regimes (including some extreme acids) that are focused on pressuring black women to meet an unobtainable and undesirable white hair ideal. She also spoke from her experience of the modelling industry and it’s incapability of dealing with black hair, whilst simultaneously happily engaging in cultural appropriation, braiding corn rows into white celebrities hair. V.V. followed up her talk with a live performance, of “Shift” (see video below), a song which she explained was inspired by the gay rights movement, and particularly black gay men in New York expressing themselves and their sexuality.

The final invited speaker was Ben Garrod, a Teaching Fellow in evolutionary biology at Anglia Ruskin University as well as a science communicator and broadcaster who has worked with David Attenborough and is on the Board of Trustees for the Jane Goodall Institute. Ben spoke about the power of the individual in a community, bringing in the idea of identity amongst animals, that the uniqueness of the chimps he worked with as part of Jane Goodall’s team. He also had us all join in a Pant-hoot – an escalating group chimp call, to illustrate the power of both the individual and the community.

In amongst the speakers were a range of videos – lovely selections that I gather (and believe) a student team spent months selecting from a huge amount of TED content. However, the main strand of the programme were a group of student presentations and performances which were quite extraordinary.

Highlights for me included Imogen Walsh, who spoke about the fluidity of gender and explained the importance of choice, the many forms of non-binary or genderqueer identity, the use of pronouns like they and Mx and the importance of not singling people out, or questioning them, for buying non gender-conforming, their choice of bathroom, etc. Because, well, why is it anyone else’s business?

Sophie Baxter talked about being a gay teen witnessing the global response to the Pulse nightclub shooting and the fear and reassurance that wider public response to this had provided. She also highlighted the importance of having an LGBT community since for most LGBT young people their own immediate biological/adoptive family may not, no matter how supportive, have a shared experience to draw upon, to understand challenges or concerns faced.

Maddie Travers and Nina Holland-Jones described a visit to Auschwitz (they had actually landed the night before the event) reflecting on what that experience of visiting the site had meant to them, and what it said about identity. They particularly focused on the pain and horror of stripping individual identity, treating camp prisoners (and victims) as a group that denied their individuality at the same time as privileging some individuals for special skills and contributions that extended their life and made them useful to the Nazi regime.

Sam Amey, Nicola Smith and Ellena Wilson talked about attending the London International Youth Science Festival student science conference, of seeing inspiring new science and the excitement of that – watching as a real geek and science fan it was lovely to see their enthusiasm and to hear them state that they “identify as scientists” (that phrasing a recurrent theme and seems to be the 2016 way for youth to define themselves I think).

Meanwhile performances included an absolutely haunting violin piece, Nigun by Bloch, performed by Ewan Kilpatrick (see a video of his playing here). As brilliant as Ewan’s playing was, musically the show was stolen by two precocious young composers, both of whom had the confidence of successful 40 year olds at the peak of their career, backed up by musical skills that made that confidence seem entirely appropriately founded. Ignacio Mana Mesas described his composition process and showed some of his film score (and acting) work, before playing a piece of his own composition; Tammas Slater (you can hear his prize winning work in this BBC Radio 3 clip) meanwhile showed some unexpected comic sparkle, showing off his skills before creating a composition in real time! And the event finished with a lively and charming set of tracks performed by school alumnae and up and coming band Cassia.

All of the youth contributions were incredible. The enthusiasm, competence and confidence of these kids – and of their peers who respectfully engaged and listened throughout the day – was heartening. The future seems pretty safe if this is what the future is looking like – a very lovely thing to be reminded in these strange political times.

Preparing a TEDx talk – a rather different speaking proposition

For me the invitation to give a TEDx talk was really exciting. I have mixed feelings about the brilliantly engaging but often too slick TED format, at the same time as recognising the power that the brand and reputation for the high quality speakers can have.

I regularly give talks and presentations, but distilling ideas of digital identity into 14 minutes whilst keeping them clear, engaging, meeting the speaker rules felt challenging. Doing that in a way that would have some sort of longevity seemed like a tougher ask as things move quickly in internet research, in social media, and in social practices online, so I wanted to make sure my talk focused on those aspects of our work that are solid and long-lived concepts – ideas that would have usefulness even if Facebook disappeared tomorrow (who knows, fake news may just make that a possibility), or SnapChat immediately lost all interest, or some new game-changing space appears tomorrow. This issue of being timely but not immediately out of date is also something we face in creating Digital Footprint MOOC content at the moment.

As an intellectual challenge developing my TEDx talk was useful for finding another way to think about my own presentation and writing skills, in much the same way that taking on the 8 minute format of Bright Club has been, or the 50 ish minute format of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, or indeed teaching 2+ hour seminars for the MSc in Science Communication & Public Engagement for the three years I led a module on that programme. It is always useful to rethink your topic, to think about fitting a totally different dynamic or house style, and to imagine a different audience and their needs and interests. In this case the audience was 16-18 year olds, who are a little younger than my usual audience, but who I felt sure would have lots of interest in my topic, and plenty of questions to ask (as there were in the separate panel event later in the day at Fallibroome).

There are some particular curiosities about the TED/TEDx format versus other speaking and presentations and I thought I’d share some key things I spent time thinking about. You never know, if you find yourself invited to do a TEDx (or if you are very high flying, a TED) these should help a wee bit:

  1. Managing the format

Because I have mixed feelings about the TED format, since it can be brilliant, but also too easy to parody (as in this brilliant faux talk), I was very aware of wanting to live up to the invitation and the expectations for this event, without giving a talk that wouldn’t meet my own personal speaking style or presentation tastes. I think I did manage that in the end but it required some watching of former videos to get my head around what I both did and did not want to do. That included looking back at previous TEDxYouth@Manchester events (to get a sense of space, scale, speaker set up and local expectations), as well as wider TED videos.

I did read the TED/TEDx speaker guidance and largely followed it although, since I do a lot of talks and know what works for me, I chose to write and create slides in parallel with the visuals helping me develop my story (rather than writing first, then doing slides as the guidance suggests). I also didn’t practice my talk nearly as often as either the TED instructions or the local organisers suggest – not out of arrogance but knowing that practicing a few times to myself works well, practising a lot gets me bored of the content and sets up unhelpful memorisations of errors, developing ideas, etc.

I do hugely appreciate that TED/TEDx insist on copyright cleared images. My slides were mostly images I had taken myself but I found a lovely image of yarn under CC-BY on Flickr which was included (and credited) too. Although as I began work on the talk I did start by thinking hard about whether or not to use slides… TED is a format associated with innovative slides (they were the original cheerleaders for Prezi), but at the same time the fact that talks are videoed means much of the power comes from close ups of the speaker, of capturing the connection between speaker and the live audience, and of building connection with the livestream and video audience. With all of that in mind I wanted to keep my slides simple, lively, and rather stylish. I think I managed that but see what you think of my slides [PDF].

  1. Which audience?

Normally when I write a talk, presentation, workshop, etc. I think about tailoring the content to the context and to my audience. I find that is a key part of ensuring I meet my audience’s needs, but it also makes the talk looks, well, kind of cute and clever. Tailoring a talk for a particular moment in time, a specific event or day, and a particular audience means you can make timely and specific references, you can connect to talks and content elsewhere in the day, you can adapt and adlib to meet the interests and mood that you see, and you can show you have understood the context of your audience. Essentially all that tailoring helps you connect more immediately and builds a real bond.

But for TEDx is the audience the 500+ people in the room? Our audience on Wednesday were mainly between 16 and 18, but there were other audience members who had been invited or just signed up to attend (you can find all upcoming TEDx events on their website and most offer tickets for those that are interested). It was a packed venue, but they are probably the smallest audience who will see my performance…

The video being during the event captured goes on the TEDxYouth@Manchester 2016 Playlist on the TEDxYouth YouTube channel and on the TEDx YouTube channel. All of the videos are also submitted to TED so, if your video looks great to the folk  there you could also end up featured on the core TED website, with much wider visibility. Now, I certainly wouldn’t suggest I am counting on having a huge global audience, but those channels all attract a much wider audience than was sitting in the hall. So, where do you pitch the talk?

For my talk I decided to strike a balance between issues that are most pertinent to developing identity, to managing challenges that we know from our research are particularly relevant and difficult for young people – ad which these students may face now or when they go to university. But I also pitched the talk to have relevance more widely, focusing less on cyber bullying, or teen dynamics, and more about changing contexts and the control one can choose to take of ones own digital footprint and social media content, something particularly pertinent to young people but relevant to us all.

  1. When Is it for?

Just as streaming distorts your sense of audience, it also challenges time. The livestream is watching on the day – that’s easy. But the recorded video could stick around for years, and will have a lifespan long beyond the day. With my fast moving area that was a challenge – do I make my talk timely or do I make it general? What points of connection and moments of humour are potentially missed by giving that talk a longer lifespan? I was giving a talk just after Trump’s election and in the midst of the social media bubble discussion – there are easy jokes there, things to bring my audience on board – but they might distance viewers at another time, and date rapidly. And maybe those references wouldn’t be universal enough for a wider audience beyond the UK…

In the end I tried to again balance general and specific advice. But I did that knowing that many of those in the physical audience would also be attending a separate panel event later in the day which would allow many more opportunities to talk about very contemporary questions, and to address sensitive questions that might (and did) arise. In fact in that panel session we took questions on mental health, about how parental postings and video (including some of those made for this event) might impact on their child’s digital footprint, and on whether not being on social media was a disadvantage in life. Those at the panel session also weren’t being streamed or captured in any way, which allowed for frank discussion building on an intense and complex day.

  1. What’s the main take away?

The thing that took me the longest time was thinking about the “take away” I wanted to leave the audience with. That was partly because I wanted my talk to have impact, to feel energising and hopefully somewhat inspiring, but also because the whole idea of TED is “Ideas worth sharing”, which means a TED(x) talk has to have at its core a real idea, something specific and memorable to take from those 14 minutes, something that has impact.

I did have to think of a title far in advance of the event and settled on “What do you digital footprints say about you?”. I picked that as it brought together some of my #CODI16 show’s ideas, and some of the questions I knew I wanted to raise in my talk. But what would I do with that idea? I could have taken the Digital Footprint thing in a more specific direction – something I might do in a longer workshop or training session – picking on particularly poor or good practices and zoning in on good or bad posts. But that isn’t big picture stuff. I had to think about analogy, about examples, about getting the audience to understand the longevity of impact a social media post might have…

After a lot of thinking, testing out of ideas in conversation with my partner and some of my colleagues, I had some vague concepts and then I found my best ideas came – contrary to the TED guidance – from trying to select images to help me form my narrative. An image I had taken at Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival earlier this year of an artwork created from a web of strung yarn proved the perfect visual analogy for the complexity involved in taking back an unintended, regretted, or ill-thought-through social media post. It’s an idea I have explained before but actually trying to think about getting the idea across quickly in 1 minute of my 14 minute talk really helped me identify that image as vivid effective shorthand. And from that I found my preceding image and, from that, the flow and the look and feel of the story I wanted to tell. It’s not always the obvious (or simple) things that get you to a place of simplicity and clarity.

Finally I went back to my title and thought about whether my talk did speak to that idea, what else I should raise, and how I would really get my audience to feel engaged and ready to listen, and to really reflect on their own practice, quickly. In the end I settled on a single slide with that title, that question, at it’s heart. I made that the first stepping stone on my path through the talk, building in a pause that was intended to get the audience listening and thinking about their own digital identity. You’d have to ask the audience whether that worked or not but the quality of questions and comments later in the day certainly suggested they had taken in some of what I said and asked.

  1. Logistics

As a speaker there are some logistical aspects that are easy to deal with once you’ve done it a first time: travel, accommodation, etc. There are venue details that you either ask about – filming, photography, mics, etc. or you can find out in advance. Looking at previous years’ videos helped a lot: I would get a screen behind me for slides, there would be a set (build by students no less) and clear speaker zone on stage (the infamous red carpet/dot), I’d have a head mic (a first for me, but essentially a glamorous radio mic, which I am used to) and there would be a remote for my slides. It also looked likely I’d have a clock counting down although, in the end, that wasn’t working during my talk (a reminder, again, that I need a new watch with classic stand up comedy/speaker-friendly vibrating alarm). On the day there was a sound check (very helpful) and also an extremely professional and exceptionally helpful team of technicians – staff, students and Siemens interns – to get us wired up and recorded. The organisers also gave us plenty of advance notice of filming and photography.

I have been on the periphery of TEDx events before: Edinburgh University has held several events and I know how much work has gone into these; I attended a TEDxGlasgow hosted by STV a few years back and, again, was struck buy the organisation required. For TEDxYouth@Manchester I was invited to speak earlier in the year – late August/early September – so I had several months to prepare. The organisers tell me that sometimes they invite speakers as much as 6 to 12 months ahead of the event – as soon as the event finishes their team begin their search for next years’s invitees…

As the organising team spend all year planning a slick event – and Fallibroome Academy really did do an incredibly well organised and slick job – they expect slick and well organised speakers. I think all of us invited speakers, each of us with a lot of experience of talks and performance, experienced more coordination, more contact and more clarity on expectation, format, etc. than at any previous speaking event.

That level of detail is always useful as a a speaker but it can also be intimidating – although that is useful for focusing your thoughts too. There were conference calls in September and October to share developing presentation thoughts, to finalise titles, and to hear a little about each others talks. That last aspect was very helpful – I knew little of the detail of the other talks until the event itself, but I had a broad idea of the topic and angle of each speaker which meant I could ensure minimal overlap, and maximum impact as I understood how my talk fitted in to the wider context.

All credit to Peter Rubery and the Fallibroome team for their work here. They curated a brilliant selection of videos and some phenomenal live performances and short talks from students to create a coherent programme with appropriate and clever segues that added to the power of the presentations, the talks, and took us on something of a powerful emotional rollercoaster. All of us invited speakers felt it was a speaking engagement like we’d never had before and it really was an intense and impactful day. And, as Ben G said, for some students the talks they gave today will be life changing, sharing something very personally on a pretty high profile stage, owning their personal experience and reflections in a really empowering way.

In conclusion then, this was really a wonderful experience and a usefully challenging format to work in. I will update this post or add a new post with the videos of the talks as soon as they are available – you can then judge for yourself how I did. However, if you get the chance to take part in a TEDx event, particularly a TEDxYouth event I would recommend it. I would also encourage you to keep an eye on the TEDxYouth@Manchester YouTube channel for those exceptional student presentations!