Jul 122016

This week I am at the European Conference on Social Media 2016. I’m presenting later today, and have a poster tomorrow, but will also be liveblogging here. As usual the blog is live so there may be small errors or typos – all corrections and additions are very much welcomed!

We are starting with an introduction to EM Normandie, which has 4 campuses and 3000 students.

Introduction from Sue Nugus, ACPI, welcoming us to the event and the various important indexing etc.

Christine Bernadas, ECSM is co-chair and from EM Normandie, is introducing our opening keynote Abi Ouni, Co-founder and CEO of Spectrum Group. [http://www.spectrumgroupe.fr/]

Keynote Address:Ali Ouni,Spectrum Group, France – Researchers in Social Media, Businesses Need You!!!

My talk today is about why businesses need social media. And that, although we have been using social media for the last 10-15 years, we still need some approaches and frameworks to make better use of it.

My own personal background is in Knowledge Manageent, with a PhD from the Ecole Centrale Paris and Renault. Then moved to KAP IT as Head of Enterprise 2.0, helping companies to integrate new technologies, social media, in their businesses. I belive this is a hard question – the issue of how we integrate social media in our businesses. And then in 2011 I co-founded Spectrum Groupe, a consulting firm of 25 people who work closely with researchers to define new approaches to content management, knowledge management, to define new approaches. And our approach is to design end to end approaches, from diagnostic, to strategy development through to technologies, knowledge management, etc.

When Christine asked me to speak today I said “OK, but I am no longer a researcher”, I did that 12-15 years ago, I am now a practitioner. So I have insights but we need you to define the good research questions based on them.

I looked back at what has been said about social media in the last 10-15 years: “Organisationz cannot afford not to be listening to what is being said about them or interacting with their customers in the space where they are spending their time and, increasingly, their money too” (Malcolm Alder, KPMG, 2011).

And I agree with that. This space has high potential for enterprises… So, lets start with two slides with some statistics. So, these statistics are from We Are Social’s work on digital trends. They find internet activity increasing by 10% every year; 10% growth in social media users; and growth of 4% in social media users accessing via mobile; which takes us to 17% of the total population actively engaging in social media on mobile.

So, in terms of organisations going to social media, it is clearly important. Ut it is also a confusion question. We can see that in 2010 70%+ of big international organisations were actively using social media, but of these 80% have not achieved the intended businesses. So, businesses are expending time and energy on social media but they are not accruing all of the benefits that they have targeted.

So, for me social media are new ways of working, new business models, new opportunities, but also bringing new risks and challenges. And there are questions to be answered that we face every day in an organisational context.

The Social Media Landscape today is very very diverse, there is a high density… There are many platforms, sites, medias… Organisationsa re confused by this landscape and they require help to navigate this space. The choice they have is usually to go to the biggest social media in terms of total users – but is that a good strategy? They need to choose sites with good business value. There are some challenges when considering external sites versus internal sites – should they replicate functionality themselves? And where are the values and risks of integrating social media platforms with enterprise IT systems? For instance listening to social media and making connecting back to CRMs (Customer Relationship Management System(s)).

What about using social media for communications? You can experiement, and learn from those… But that makes more sense when these tools are new, and they are not anymore. Is experimenting always the best approach? How ca we move faster? Clients often ask if they can copy/adopt the digital strategies of their competitors but I think generally not, that these approaches have to be specific to the context and audience.

Social media has a fast evolution speed, so agility is required… Organisations can struggle with that in terms of their own speed of organizational change. A lot of agility is requires to address new technologies, new use cases, new skills. And decisions over skills and whether to own the digital transformation process, or to delegate to others.

The issue of Return on Investment (ROI) is long standing but still important. Existing models do not work well with social media – we are in a new space, new technology, a new domain. There is a need to justify the value of these kinds of projects, but I think a good approach is to work on new social constructs, such as engagement, sentiment, retention, “ROR” – Return on Relationship, collective intelligence… But how does one measure these?

And organisations face challenges of governance… Understanding rules and policies of engagement on social media, on understanding issues of privacy and data protection. And thought around who can engage on social media.

So, I have presented some key challenges… Just a few. There are many more on culture, change, etc. that need to be addressed. I think that it is important that businesses and researchers work together on social media.


Q1) Could you tell me something on Return on Relationships… ?

A1) This is a new approach. Sometimes the measure of Return on Investment is to measure every conversation and all time spent… ROR is about long term relationships with customers, partners, suppliers… and it is about having benefits after a longer period of time, rather than immediate Return on Investment. So some examples include turning some customers into advocates –so they become your best salespeople. That isn’t easy, but organisations are really very aware about these social constructs.

Q1) And how would you calculate that?

Comment) That is surely ROI still?

Comment) So, if I have a LinkedIn contact, and they buy my software, then that is a return on investment, and value from social capital… There is a time and quality gain too – you identify key contact and context here. Qualitative but eventually quantitative.

A1) There absolutely is a relationship between ROR and ROI.

Q2) It was interesing to hear your take on research. What you said reminded me of 20 years ago when we talked about “Quality Management” and there was a tension between whether that should be its own role, or part of everyone’s role.

A2) Yes, so we have clients that do want “community management” and ask us to do that for them – but they are the experts in their own work and relationships. The quality of content is key, and they have that expertise. Our expertise is around how to use social media as part of that. The good approach is to think about new ways to work with customers, and to define with our consulting customers what they need to do that. We have a coaching role, helping them to design a good approach.

Q3) Thank you for your presentation. I would like to ask you if you could think of a competency framework for good community management, and how you would implement that.

A3) I couldn’t define that framework, but I think rom what I see there are some key skills in community management are about expertise – people from the business who understands their own structure, needs, knowledge. I think that communication skills need to be good – writing skills, identifying good questions, an ability to spot and transform key questions. From our experience, knowing the enterprise, communication skills and coordinating skills are all key.

Q3) What about emotional engagement?

A3) I think emotional engagement is both good and dangerous. It is good to be invested in the role, but if they are too invested there is a clear line to draw beteen professional engagement and personal engagement. And that can make it dangerous.

Stream B – Mini Track on Empowering Women Through Social Media (Chair – Danilo Piaggesi)

Danilo: I proposed this mini track as I saw that the issues facing women in social media were different, but that women were self-organising and addressing these issues, so that is the genesis of this strand. My own background is in ICT in development and developing countries – which is why I am interested in this area of social media… The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which include ICT, have been defined as needing to apply to developing and developed countries. And there is a specific goal dedicated to Women and ICT, which has a deadline of 2030 to achieve this SDG.

Sexting & Intimate Relations Online: Identifying How People Construct Emotional Relationships Online & Intimacies Offline
Spurling – Esme, Coventry University, West Midlands, UK

Sexting and intimate relations online have accelerated with the use of phones and smart phones, particularly platforms such as SnapChat and Whats App… Sexting for the purpose of this paper is about the sharing of intimate texts through digital information. But this raises complexity for real life relationships, and how the online experience relates to that, and how heterosexual relationships are mediated. My work is based on interviewees.

I will be talking about “sex selfies”, which are distributed to a global audience online. These selfies (Ellie is showing examples on the “sexselfie” hashtags) purport to be intimate, despite their global sharing and nature. The hashtags here (established around 2014) show heterosexual couples… There is (by comparison to non-heterosexual selfies) a real focus on womens bodies, which is somewhat at odds with the expectations of girls and women showing an interest in sex. Are we losing our memory of what is intimate? Are sexselfies a way to share and retain that memory?

I spoke to women in the UK and US for my research. All men approached refused to be interviewed. We have adapted to the way we communicate face to face through the way we connect online. My participants reflect social media trends already reported in the media, of the blurring of different spheres of public and private. And that is feeding into our intimate lives too. Prensky (2001) refers to this generation as “Digital Natives” (I insert my usual disclaimer that this is the speaker not me!), and it seems that this group are unable to engage in that intimacy without sharing that experience. And my work focuses on shairng online, and how intimacy is formed offline. I took an ethnographic approach, and my participants are very much of a similar age to me, which helped me to connect as I spoke to them about their intimate relationships.

There becomes a dependency on mobile technologies, of demand and expectation… And that is leading to a “leisure for pleasure” mentality (Cruise?)… You need that reward and return for sharing, and that applies to sexting. Amy Hassenhof notes that sexting can be considered a broadcast media. And mainstream media has also been scrutinising sexting and technology, and giving coverage to issues such as “Revenge Porn” – which was made a criminal offence in 2014. This made texting more taboo and changed public perceptions – with judgement online of images of bodies shared on Twitter. When men participate they sidestep a label, being treated in the highly gendered “boys will be boys” casualness. By contrast women showing their own agency may be subject to “slut shaming” (2014 onwards), but sexting continues. And I was curious to find out why this continues, and how the women in my studies relate to comments that may be made about them. Although there is a feeling of safety (and facelessness) about posting online, versus real world practices.

An expert interview with Amy Hassenhof raised the issue of expectations of privacy – that most of those sexting expect their image to be private to the recipient. Intimate information shared through technology becomes tangled with surveillance culture that is bound up with mobile technologies. Smartphones have cameras, microphone… This contributes to a way of imagining the self that is formed only by how we present ourselves online.

The ability to sext online continues despite Butler noting the freedom of expression online, but also the way in which others comment and make a real impact on the lives of those sharing.

In conclusion it is not clear the extent to which digital natives are sharing deliberately – perceptions seemed to change as a result of the experience encountered. One of my participants felt less in control after reflective interviews about her practice, than she had before. We demand communication instantly… But this form of sharing enables emotional reliving of the experience.


Q1) Really interesting research. Do you have any insights in why no men wanted to take part?

A1) The first thing is that I didn’t want to interview anyone that I knew. When I did the research I was a student, I managed to find fellow student participants but the male participants cancelled… But I have learned a lot about research since I undertook my evidence gathering. Women were happy to talk about – perhaps because they felt judged online. There is a lot I’d do differently in terms of the methodology now.

Q2) What is the psychological rationale for sharing details like the sex selfies… Or even what they are eating. Why is that relevant for these people?

A2) I think that the reason for posting such explicit sexual images was to reinforce their heterosexual relationships and that they are part of the norm, as part of their identity online. They want others to know what they are doing… As their identity online. But we don’t know if they have that identity offline. When I interviewed Amy Hassenhof she suggested it’s a “faceless identity” – that we adopt a mask online, and feel able to say something really explicit…

A Social Network Game for Encouraging Girls to Engage in ICT and Entrepreneurship: Findings of the Project MIT-MUT
–  Natalie Denk, Alexander Pfeiffer and Thomas Wernbacher, Donau Universität Krems, Ulli Rohsner, MAKAM Research Gmbh, Wien, Austria and Bernhard Ertl,Universität der Bundeswehr, Munich, Germany

This work is based on a mixture of literature review, qualitative analysis of interviews with students and teachers, and the development of the MIT-MUT game, with input and reflection from students and teachers. We are testing the game, and will be sharing it with schools in Austria later this year.

Our intent was to broaden career perspectives of girls at the age of 12-14 – this is younger than is usually targeted but it is the age at which they have to start making decisions and steps in their academic life that will impact on their career. Their decisions are impacted by family, school, peer groups. But the issue is that a lot of girls don’t even see a career in ICT as an option. We want them to show that that is a possibility, to show them the skills they already have, and that this offers a wide range of opportunities, possible career pathways. We also want to provide a route to mentors who are role models, as this is still a male dominated field especially when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Children and young people today grow up as “digital natives” (Prensky 2001) (again, my usual critical caveat), they have a strong affinity towards digital media, they frequently use internet, they use social media networks – primarily WhatsApp, but also Facebook and Instagram. Girls also play games – it’s not just boys that enjoy online gaming – and they do that on their phones. So we wanted to bring this all together.

The MIT-MUT game takes the form of a 7 week long live challenge. We piloted this in Oct/Nov 2015 with 6 schools and 65 actie players in 17 teams. The main tasks in the game are essentially role playing ICT entrepreneurship… Founding small start up companies, creating a company logo, and find an idea for an app for the target group of youth. They needed to then turn their game into a paper prototype – drawing screens and ideas on paper to demonstrate basic functionality and ideas. The girls had to make a video of this paper prototype, and also present their company on video. We deliberately put few technological barriers in place, but the focus was on technology, and the creative aspects of ICT. We wanted the girls to use their skills, to try different roles, to have opportunity to experiment and be creative.

To bring the schools and the project team we needed a central connecting point… We set up a SeN (Social Enterprise ?? Network), and we did that with Gemma – a Microsoft social networking tool for use within companies, that are closed to outside organisations. This was very important for us, given the young age and need for safety in our target user group. They had many of the risks and opportunities of any social network but in this safe bounded space. And, to make this more interesting for the girls, we created a fictional mentor character, “Rachel Lovelace” (named for Ada Lovelace), who is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, coming to Austria to invest. And the students see a video introduction – we had an actress record about 15 video messages. So everything from the team was through the character of Rachel, whether video or in her network.

A social network like Gemma is perfect for gamification aspects – we did have winners and prizes – but we also had achievements throughout the challenge for finishing a face, making a key contribution, etc. And if course there is a “like” button, the ability to share or praise someone in the space, etc. We also created some mini games, based on favourite genres of the girls – the main goal of these were as starting points for discussing competencies in ICT and Entrepreneurship contexts. With the idea that if you play this game you have these competencies, and why not considering doing more with that.

So, within Gemma, the interface looks a lot like Facebook… And I’ll show you one of these paper prototypes in action (it’s very nicely done!), see all of the winning videos: http://www.mitmut.at/?page_id=940.

To evaluate this work we had a quantitative approach – part of the game presented by Rachel – as well as a quantitative approach based on feedback from teachers and some parents. We had 65 girls, 17 teams, 78% completed the challenge at least to phase 4 (the video presentation – all the main tasks completed). 26% participated in the voting phase (phase 5). Of our participants 30 girls would recommend the game to others, 10 were uncertain, and 4 would not recommend the game. They did enjoy the creativity, design, the paper prototyping. They didn’t like the information/the way the game was structured. The communication within the game was rated in quite a mixed way – some didn’t like it, some liked it. The girls interested in ICT rated the structure and communication more highly than others. The girls stayed motivated but didn’t like the long time line of the game. And we saw a significant increase in knowledgeability of ICT professions, they reported increase in feeling talented, and they had a higher estimation of their own presentation skills.

In the qualitative approach students commented on the teamwork, the independence, the organisational skills, the presentation capabilities. They liked having a steady contact person (the Rachel Lovelace character), the chance of winning, and the feeling of being part of a specialist project.

So now we have a beta version, we have added a scoring system for contributions with points and stars. We had a voting process but didn’t punish girls for not delivering on time, wanted to be very open… But girls thought that we should have done this and given more objective, more strict feedback. And they wanted more honest and less enthusiastic feedback from “Rachel”. They felt she was too enthusiastic. We also restructured the information a bit…

For future development we’d like to make a parallel programme for boys. The girls appreciated the single sex nature of the network. And I would personally really like to develop a custom made social media network for better gamifiation integration, etc. And I’d like


Q1) I was interested that you didn’t bring in direct technical skills – coding, e.g. on Raspberry PIs etc. Why was that?

A1) Intentionally skipped programming part… They have lessons and work on programming… But a lack of that idea of creative ways to use ICT, the logical and strategic skills you would need… But they already do informatics as part of their teaching.

Q2) You set this up because girls and women are less attracted to ICT careers… But what is the reason?

A2) I think they can’t imagine to have a career in ICT… I think that is mainly about gender stereotypes. They don’t really know women in ICT… And they can’t imagine what that is as a career, what it means, what that career looks like… And to act out their interests…

And with that I’ve switched to the Education track for the final part of this session… 

Social Media and Theatre Pedagogy for the 21C: Arts-Based Inquiry in Drama Education – Amy Roberts and Wendy Barber, University of Ontario, Canada

Amy is starting her presentation with a video on social media and performance pedagogy, the blurring of boundaries and direct connection that it affords. The video notes that “We have become a Dramaturgical Community” and that we decide how we present ourselves.

Theatre does not exist without the audience, and theatre pedagogy exists at the intersection between performance and audience. Cue another video – this time more of a co-presentation video – on the experience of the audience being watched… Blau in The Audience (1990) talks about the audience “not so much as a mere congregation of people as a body of thought and desire”.  Being an audience member is now a standard part of everyday life – through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Vine… We see ourselves every day. The song “Digital Witness” by Saint Vincent sums this up pretty well.

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Richard Allen in 2013 asked whether audience actually wants conclusive endings in their theatre, instead showing preference for more videogame open ended type experiences. When considering what modern audiences want… Liveness is prioritised in all areas of life and that that does speak to immediacy of theatre. Originally “live” was about co-presence but digital spaces are changing that. The feeling of liveness comes from our engagement with technology – if we engage with machines, like we do with humans, and there is a response, then that feels live and immediate. Real time experiences gives a feeling of liveness… One way to integrate that with theatre is through direct digital engagement across the audience, and with performance. Both Baker and Auslander agree that liveness is about immediate human contact.

The audience is demanding for live work that engages them in its creation and consumption through the social media spaces they use all the time. And that means educators have to be part of connecting the need for art and tech… So I want to share some of my experiences in attempting “drama tech” research. I’m calling this: “Publicly funded social board presents… Much ado about nothing”. I had been teaching dramatic arts for many years, looking at new technologies and the potential for new tools to enable students to produce “web theatre” around the “theatre of the oppressed” for their peers, with collaboration with audience as creator and viewer. I was curious to see how students would use the 6 second restriction of Vine, and that using familiar tools students could create tools familiar to the students.

The project had ethics approval… All was set but a board member blocked the project as Twitter and Vine “are not approved learning tools”… I was told I’d have to use Moodle… Now I’ve used Moodle before… And it’s great but NOT for theatre (see Nicholls and Phillip 2012). Eisner (2009) talks about “Education can learn from the arts that form and content cannot be separated.How something is said or done shapes the content of experience.”. The reason for this blocking was that there was potential that students might encounter risks and issues that they shouldn’t access… But surely that is true of television, of life, everything. We have to teach students to manage risks… Instead we have a culture of blocking of content, e.g. anything with “games” in the name – even if educational tools. How can you teach media literacy if you don’t have the support to do that, to open up. And this seems to be the case across publicly funded Ontario schools. I am still hoping to do this research in the future though…


Q1) How do you plan to overcome those concerns?

A1) I’m trying to work with those in power… We had loads of safeguards in place… I was going to upload the content myself… It was really silly. The social media policy is just so strict.

Q1) They’ll have reasons, you have to engage with those to make that case…

Q2) Can I just ask what age this work was to take place with?

A2) I work with Grade 9-12… But this work specifically was going to focus on 17 and 18 year olds.

Q3) I think that many arts teachers are quite scared by technology – and you made that case well. You focus on technology as a key tool at the end there… And that has to be part of that argument.

A3) It’s both… You don’t teach hammer, you teach how you use the hammer… My presentation is part of a much bigger paper which does address both the traditional and that affordances of technology.

Having had a lovely chat with Amy over lunch, I have now joined Stream B – Monitoring and Privacy on Social media – Chair – Andree Roy

Monitoring Public Opinion by Measuring the Sentiment of Re-tweets on Twitter – LashariIntzar Ali and Uffe KockWiil,University of Southern Denmark, Denmark

I have just completed my PhD at the University of Southern Denmark, and I’ll be talking about some work I’ve been doing on measuring public opinion using social media. I have used Twitter to collect data – this is partly as Twitter is most readibly accessible and it is structured in a way that suits this type of analysis – it operates in real time, people use hashtags, and there are frequent actors and influencers in this space. And there are lots of tools available for analysis such as Tweetreach, Google Analytics, Cytoscope. My project, CBTA, is combining monitoring and analysis of Tweets…

I have been looking for dictation on geographical location based tweets, using a trend based data analyser, with data collection of a specific date and using network detection on negative comments. I also limited my analysis to tweets which have been retweeted – to show they have some impact. In terms of related studies supporting this approach: Steiglitx (2012) found that retweets is a simple powerful mechanism for information diffusion; Shen (2015) found re-tweeting behaviour is an influencing behaviour from the post of influential user. The sentiment analysis – a really useful quick assessment of content – looks at “positive”, “negative” and “neutral” content. I then used topic base monitoring an overview of the wider public. The intent was to move towards real-time monitoring and analysis capabilities.

So, the CBTA Tool display shows you trending topics, which you can pick from, and then you can view tweets and filter by positive, negative, or neutral posts. The tool is working and the code will be shared shortly. In this system there is a keyword search of tweets which collects tweets, these are then filtered. Once filtered (for spam etc), tweets are classified using NLTK which categorises into “Endorse RT”, “Oppose RT” and “Report RT”, the weighted retweets are then put through a process to compute net influence.

So for my work has looked at data from Pakistan around terms: Zarb-e-Azb; #OpZarbeAzb; #Zerb-e-asb etc. And I gathered tweets and retweets, and deduplicated those tweets with more than one hashtag. Once collected the algorithm for measuring re-tweets influence used follower counts, onward retweets etc. And looking at the influence here, most of the influential tweets were those with a positive/endorsing tone.

But we now have case studies for Twitter, but also for other social media sites. We will be making case studies available online. And looking at other factors, for instance we are interested in the location of tweets as a marker for accuracy/authenticity and to understand how other areas are influencing/influenced by global events.


Q1) I have a question about the small amount of negative sentiment… What about sarcasm?

A1) When you look at data you will see I found many things… There was some sarcasm there… I have used NLTK but I added my own analysis to help deal with that.

Q2) So it registers all tweets right across Twitter? So can you store that data and re-parse it again if you change the sentiment analysis?

A2) Yes, I can reprocess it. In Twitter there is limited availability of Tweets for 7 days only so my work captures a bigger pool of tweets that can then be analysed.

Q3) Do you look at confidence scores here? Sentiment is one thing…

A3) Yes, this processing needs some human input to train it… But in this approach it is trained by data that is collected each week.

Social Media and the European Fundamental Rights to Privacy and Data Protection – BeyversEva, University of Passau and TilmanHerbrich, University of Leipzig, Germany

Tilman: Today we will be talking about Data Protection and particularly potential use in commercial contexts, particularly marketing. This is a real area of conflict in social media. We are going to talk about those fundamental rights to privacy and data protection in the EU, the interaction with other fundamental rights, and things like profiling etc. The Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) are primary law based on EU law. There is also secondary law including Directives (requiring transposition into national law, but are not binding until then), and Regulations (binding in entirity on all member states, they are automatically law in all member states).

In 2018 the CFR will become legally binding across the piece. In this change private entities and public bodies will all be impacted by the CFR. But how does one enforce those? They could institute a proceeding before a national court, then the National Court must refer questions to the European Court of Human Rights who will answer and provide clarifications, that will then enable the National Courts to take a judgement on the specific case at hand.

When we look across the stakeholders, we see that they all have different rights under the law. And that means there is a requirement to balance those rights. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has always upheld that concerned rights and interests must be considered, evaluated and weighed in order to find an adequate balance between colliding fundamental rights – as an example the Google Spain Data Protection case in Spain where their commercial rights were deemed secondary to the inidividual rights to privacy.

Eva: Most social media sites are free to use, but this is made possible by highly profiled advertising. Profiling is articulated in Article 4 in the CFR as including aspects of behaviours, personality, etc. Profiling is already seen as an issue that is a threat to Data Protection. We would argue that it poses an even greater threat: users are frequently comfortable to give their real name in order to find others which means they are easily identifiable; users private lives are explicity part of the individual’s profile and may include sensitive data; further this broad and comprehensive data set has very wide scope.

So, on the one hand the users individual privacy is threatened, but so is the freedom to conduct a business (Art 16 CFR). The right to data protection (Article 8, CFR) rests on the idea of consent – and the way that consent is articulated in the law – that consent must be freely given, informed and specific – is incompatible with social networking services and the heavy level of data processing associated with them. These spaces adopt excessive processing, there is dynamic evolution of these platforms, and their concept is networking. Providers make changes in platform, affordances, advertising, etc. create continued changes of the use and collection of data – at odds with specific requirements for consent. The concept of networking means that individuals manage information that is not just about themselves but also others – their image, their location, etc. European Data Protection law does nothing to accommodate the privacy of others in this way. There has been no specific ruling on the interaction of business and personal rights here, but given previous trends it seems likely that business will win.

These data collections by social networking sites also has commercialisation potential to exploit users data. It is not clear how this will evolve – perhaps through greater national law in the changing or terms and conditions?

This is a real tension, with rights of businesses on one side, the individual on the other. The European legislator has upheld fundamental data protection law, but there is still much to examine here. We wanted to give you an overview of relevant concepts and rights in social media contexts and we hope that we’ve done this.


Q1) How do these things change when Europe is outwith the legislative jurisdiction of most social media companies are – they are global
A1) General Data Protection Law 2018 will target companies in the EU, if they profile there. It was unclear until now… Previously you had to have a company here in Europe (usually Ireland), but in 2018 it will be very clear and very strict.

Q2) How has the European Court of Human rights fared so far in judgements?

A2) In Google Spain case, in another Digital Rights case the ECHR has upheld personal rights. And we see this also on the storage and retention of data… But the regulation is quite open, right now there are ways to circumvent.

Q3) What are the consequences of non-compliance? Maybe the profit I make is greater than that risk?

A3) That has been an issue until now. Fines have been small. From 2018 it will be up to 5% of worldwide revenue – that’s a serious fine!

Q4) Is private agreement… Is the law stronger than private agreement? Many agree without reading, or without understanding, are they protected if they agree to something illegal.

A4) Of course you are able to contract and agree to data use. But you have to be informed… So if you don’t understand, and don’t care… The legislator cannot change this. This is a problem we don’t have an approach for. You have to be informed, have to understand purpose, and understand means and methods, so without that information the consent is invalid.

Q5) There has been this Safe Harbour agreement breakdown. What impact is that having on regulations and practices?

A5) The regulations, probably not? But the effect is that data processing activities cannot be based on Safe Harbour agreement… So companies have to work around or work illegally etc. So now you can choose a Data Protection agreement – standardised contracts to cover this… But that is insecure too.

Digital Friendship on Facebook and Analog Friendship Skills – KordoutisPanagiotis, Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens and EvangeliaKourti,University of Athens, Greece

Panagiotis: My colleague and I were keen to look at friendship on Facebook. There is a lot of work on this topic of course, but very little work connecting Facebook and real life friendship from a psychological perspective. But lets start by seeing how Facebook describes itself and friendship… Facebook talk about “building, strengthening and enriching friendships”. Operationally they define friendship through digital “Facebook acts” such as “like”, “comment”, “chat” etc. But this creates a paradox… You can have friends you have never met and will never meet – we call them “unknown friends” and they can have real consequences for life.

People perceive friendship in Facebook in different ways. In Greece (Savrami 2009, Kourti, Kourdoutis, Madaglou 2016) young people see Facebook friendship as a “phony” space, due to “unknown friends” and the possibility of manipulating self presentation. As a tool for popularity, public relations, useful acquaintances; a doubtful and risky mode of dating; the resort of people with a limited nnumber of friends and lack of “real” social live; and the resort of people who lack friendship skills (Buotte, wood and pratt 2009). BUT it is widely used and most are happy with their usage…

So, how about psychological definitions of analog friendship? Baron-Cohen and Wheelright (2003) talk about friendship as survival supporting social interdependence based on attachment and instrumentality skills.

Attachment involves high interdependence, commitment, systematic support, responsiveness, communication, investment in joint outcomes, high potential for developing the friendship – it is not static but dynamic. It is being satisfied by the interaction with each other, with the company of each other. They are happy to just be with someone else.

Instrumentality is also part of friendship though and it involves low interdependence, low commitment, non-systematic support, low responsiveness, superficial communication, expectations for specific benefits and personal outomes, little potential for developing the relationship – a more static arrangements. And they are satisfied by interacting with others for a specific goal or activity.

Now the way that I have presented this can perhaps look like the good and the bad side… But we need both sides of that equation, we need both sets of skills. What we perceive as friendship in analog life usually has a prevalence of attachement over instrumentality…

So, why are we looking at this? We wanted to look into whether those common negative attitudes about Facebook and friendship were accurate. Will FB users with low friendship skills have more Fb friends? Engage in more Fb “friendship acts”; will they use Fb more intensely; will they have more “unknown” friends than users with stronger friendship skills”. And when I say stronger friendship skills – I mean those with more attachment skills versus those with more instrumental skills.

In our method here we had 201 participants, most were women (139) from Universities and technological Institutes in metropolitan areas of Greece. All had profiles in Fb. median age was 20, all had used Facebook for 2 hours the day before, and many reported being online at least 8 hours a day, some on a permanent ongoing basis. We asked them how many friends they have… Then we asked them for an estimate of how many they know in-person. Then we asked them how many of these friends they have never met or will never meet – they provided an estimation. There were other questions about interactions in Facebook. We used a scale called the Facebook Insensity Scale (Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe 2007) which looks at importance of Facebook in the persons life (this is a 12 pt Likert scale). We also used an Active Digital Sociability Scale which we came up with – this was a 12 pt likert scale on Fb Friendship acts etc. And we used a Friendship Questionnaire (Baron-Cohen and Wainwright 2003). This was a paper exercise, for less than 30 minutes.

When we looked at stronger and weaker friendship skills groups – we had 44.3% of participants in the stronger friendship skills group, 52% in the weaker friendship skills group. More women had stronger friendship skills – consistent with the general population across countries.

So, firstly do people with weaker friendship skills have more friends? No, there was no difference. But we found a gender result – men had more friends in facebook, and also had weaker friendship skills.

Do people with weaker friendships skills engage more frequently in Fb friendship operations of friendship acts? No. No difference. Chatting wa smost popular, browsing adn liking were most frequet acts regardless of skills. Less frequent were participating in groups, check in and gaming. BUT a very telling difference: Men were more likely to comment than women, and that’s significant for me.

Do people with weaker friendship skills engage in Fb use it more intensively? Yes and No. There was a difference… But those with stronger friendship skills showed high Fb intensity, compared to those with weaker friendship. Men with stronger skills were more intensive in their use than women with strong skills.

Do people with weaker friendship skills have more friends on facebook? No. Do they have more unknown friends? No. But there was a gender effect. 16% of men have unknown friends, ony 9% of women do. Do those with weaker friendship skills interact more with unknown friends? No, opposite. Those with stroger skills, interact more with unknown friends. And so on.

And do those with weaker friendship skills actually meet unknown friends from Fb in real life? Yes, but opposite to expected. If they have stronger skills I’m more likely to meet you in real life… If I am a man… The percentages are small (3% of men, 1% of women).

So, what do I make of all this? Facebook is not the resort of people with weak friendship skills. Our data suggests it may be advantageous space for those with higher friendship skills, it is a socail space regulated by lots of social norms – it is an extension of what happens in real life. And what is the norm at play? It is the famous idea that men are encouraged to be bold, women to be cautious and apprehensive. Women have stronger social skills, but Facebook and the dynamics suppresses them, and enhances men with weaker skills… So, that’s my conclusion here!


Q1) Very interesting. When men start to see someone they haven’t met before… Wouldn’t it be women? To hit on them?

A1) Actually yes, often it is dating. But men are eager to go on about it… to interact and go on to meet. Women are very cautious. We have complimented this work with qualitative work that shows women need much longer interaction – they need to interact for maybe 3 years before meeting. Men are not so concerned.

Q2) You haven’t talked about quality etc. of your quantitative data?

A2) I haven’t mentioned it here, but it’s in the paper (in the Proceedings). The Friendship questionnaire is based on established work, saw similar distribution ratios as seen elsewhere. We haven’t tried it (but are about to) with those with clinical status, Aspergers, etc. The Facebook Intensity questionnaire had a high reliability alpha.

Q3) Did you do any comparison of this data with any questions on trolling, cyber bullying, etc. as the consequences for sharing opinion or engaging with strangers for women is usually harsher than for men.

A3) Yes, some came up in the qualitative study where individuals were able to explain their reasons.

Q4) Did your work look at perceptions by employers etc. And how that made a difference to selecting friends?

A4) We didn’t look at this, but others have. Some are keen not to make friends in specific groups – they use Facebook to sell a specific identity to a specific audience.

Q5) The statistics you produced are particularly interesting… What is your theoretical conjecture as a result of this work?

A5) My feeling is that we have to see looking at Facebook as an alternative mode of socialising. It has been normalised so the same social rules functioning in the rest of society do function in Facebook. This was an example. It sounds commonplace but it is important.

The Net Generation’s Perceptions of Digital Activism –  StochLouise and SumarieRoodt, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Sumarie: I will be talking about how the Net Generation view digital activism. And the reason this is of interest to me is because of the many examples of digital activism we see around us. I’ll talk a bit about activism in South Africa, and particularly a recent campaign called “Fees Must Fall”.

There are various synonyms for Digital Activism but that’s the term I’ll use. So what is this? It’s origins start with the internet, with connection and mobilisation. We saw the rise of social media and the huge increase in people using it. We saw economies and societies coming online and using these spaces over the last 10 years. What does this mean for us? Well it enables quick and far-reaching information sharing. And there is a video that goes with this too.

Joyce 2013 defines Digital Activism as being about “the use of digital media in collective efforts to bring about social or political change, using methods outside of routine decision-making processes”. “It is non-violent and civil but can involve hacking (Edwards et al. 2013). We see digital activism across a range of approaches: from Slacktivism (things that are easy to participate in); online activism; internet activism; cyber activism; hacktivism. That’s a broad range, there are subtleties that divide into these and other terms, and the different characteristics of these types of activism.

Some examples…

In 2011 we saw revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Occupy Wall Street;

2012-14 we saw BringBackOurGirls, and numerous others;

2015 onwards we have:

  • RhodesMustFall – on how Cecil John Rhodes took resources from the indigenous communities, and recent removals of statues etc. and naming of buildings, highly sensitive.
  • FeesMustFall  – about providing free education to everybody, particularly university – less than 10% of South Africans go to University and they tend to be those from the more privileged background – as a result of that we weren’t allowed to raise our fees for now, and we are encouraged to find other funders to subsidise education and we cannot exclude anyone because of lack of economic access, the government will help but…. a lot of conflict there particularly around corruption, but government also classified universities as advantaged or non advantaged university and distributes funds much more to non advantaged university.
  • ZumaMustFall – our president is also famous for causing havoc politically and economically for what many see as very poor decisions, particularly under public scrutiny in the last 12 months.

In the room we are having a discussion about other activist activities, including an Israeli campaign against internet censorship law targeted at pornography etc. but including political and cultural aspects. Others mention 38 degrees etc. and successful campaigns to get issues debated. 

Now, digital activism can be on any platform – not necessarily Facebook or Twitter.

When we look at who our students are today – the “Net Generation”, “Millennials”, “Digital Natives” – and characteristics (Oblinger and Oblinger) associated this group include: confidence with technologu, always connected, immediate, social and team orientated, diverse, visual, education driven, emotionally open. But this isn’t homogenous, not all students will have these qualities.

So, what did we do with our students to assess students view? We looks at 230 students, and targeted those looked at in the literature: those born in any year from 1983 to 2003, and they needed to be those with some form of online identit(ies). We had an online questionnare that ran over 5 days. We analysed with Qualtrics, and thematic analysis. There are limitations here – all students were registered in the Comms department – business etc.

In terms of the demographics: Male participants were 38%, female were 62%; Average age was 22, minimum was 17, maximum was 33. We asked about the various characteristics, using a Likert scale questions… Showing that all qualify suffiently to be this “Net Generation”. We asked if they paid attention to digital activism… Most did, but it’s not definitive. Now this is the beginning of a much bigger project…

We asked if the participants had ever signed an online petition – 145 had; and 144 believed online petitions made a difference. We also asked if the internet and social media have a positive effect on an activism campaign – 92% do, and that has huge interest to companies and advertisers. And 89% of participants felt the use of social media in these causes has contributed to creating a society that is more aware of important issues.

What did we learn? Well we did see that this generation are inclined to participate in slacktivism. They believe digital activism mades a difference. They pay attention to online campaigns and are aware of which ones have been successful – at least in terms of having some form of impact or engagement.

Now, if you’d like access to the surveys, etc. do get in touch.


Q1) How does UCT engage with the student body around local activism?

A1) Mostly that has been digitally, with the UCT Facebook page. There were also official statements from the University… But individual staff were discouraged from reacting. But freedom of speech for the students. It increased conflict in some way, but it also made students feel heard. Hard to call which side it fell on. Policy change is being made as a result of this work… They had a chance to be heard. We wanted free speech (unless totally inappropriate).

Q2) I see that you use a lot of “yes” and “no” questions… I like that but did you then also get other data?

A2) Yes. I present that work here. This paper doesn’t show the thematic analysis – we are still working on submitting that somewhere. We have that data, so once the full piece is in a journal we can let you know.

Q3) Do you know any successful campaigns in your context?

A3) Yes, FeesMustFall started in individual universities, and turned then to the government. It actually got quite serious, quite violent, but that definitely has changed their approach. And that campaign continues and will continue for now.

At this point of the day my laptop lost juice, the internet connection dropped, and there was a momentary power outage just as my presentation was about to go ahead! All notes from my strand are therefore from those taken on my mobile – apologies for more typos than usual!

Stream C – Teaching and Supporting Students – Chair – Ted Clark

Students’ Digital Footprints: Curation of Online Presences, Privacy and Peer Support – Nicola Osborne and Louise Connelly,University of Edinburgh, UK

That was me!

My slides are available on Prezi herehttps://prezi.com/hpphwg6u-f6b/students-digital-footprints-curation-of-online-presences-privacy-and-peer-support/

The paper can be found in the ECSM 2016 Proceedings, and will also be shared on the University of Edinburgh Research Explorer along with others on the Managing Your Digital Footprint (research strand) researchhttp://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/students-digital-footprints(5f3dffda-f1b4-470f-abd4-24fd6081ab98).html 

Please note that the remaining notes are very partial as taken on my smartphone and, unfortunately, somewhat eaten by the phone in the process… 

How do you Choose a Friend? Greek Students’ Friendships in Facebook – KourtiEvangelia, University of Athens and PanagiotisKordoutisand AnnaMadoglou,Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Greece

This work, relating to Panagiotis’ paper earlier (see above) looked at how individuals make friends on Facebook. You can find out more about the methodology in this paper and Panagiotis’ paper on Analog and Facebook friends.

We asked our cohort of students to tell us specifically about their criteria for making new friends, whether they were making the approach for friendship or responding to others’ requests. We also wanted to find out how they interacted with people who were not (yet) their friends in Facebook, and what factors played a part. The data was collected in a paper questionnaire with the same cohort as reported in Panagiotis’ paper earlier today.

Criteria for interacting with a friend, never met before within Facebook. The most frequent answer was “I never do” but the next most popular responses were common interests and interest in getting to know others better. physical appearance seems to play a factor, more so than previous interactions but less so than positive personality traits. 

Criteria for deciding to meet a previously unknown friend. Most popular response here was “I never do so”, followed by sufficient previous FB interaction, common acquaintances, positive personality etc. less so.

Correspondence Analysis – I won’t go into here, very interesting in terms of gender. Have a look at the Proceedings. 

Conclusion is that Facebook operated as social identity tool. And supporting offline relationships. self involvement with the medium seems to define selection criteria compatible with different social goals reinforcing one real-life social network.


Q1) I’m very interested in how FB suggests new friends. Did students comment on that. 

A1) We didn’t ask about that.

Q2) isn’t your data gender biased in some way – most of your participants are female.

A2) Yes. But we continue this… With qualitative data it’s a problem, but means and standard deviation cover that. 

Q2) Reasons for sending a request to who you don’t know. First work by Ellison etc. showed people connecting with already known people… I wonder if it is still true? 

A2) Interesting questions. We must say that students answer to their professor in a uni context, that means maybe this is an explanation… 

Comment) Facebook gives you status for numbers and types of friends etc. 

A2) it’s about social identity and identity construction. Many have different presences with different goals. 

Comment) there is a bit of showing off in social. For status. 

Professional Development of Academic Staff in the use of Social Media for Teaching and Learning – Julie Willems, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia

This work has roots in 2012. from then to 2015 I ran classes for staff on using social media. This follows conversations I’ve heard around the place about expecting staff to use social media without training. 

Now I use a very broad definition of social media – from mainstream sites to mobile apps to gaming etc. Media that accesses digital means for communication in various forms. 

Why do we need staff development for social media? To deal with concerns of staff, students move there, also super enthusiasm.. 

My own experience is of colleagues who have run with it, which has raised all sorts of concerns. Some would say that an academic should be doing teaching, research, service and development can end up being the missing leg on the chair there. And staff development is not just about development on social media but also within social media. 

We ran some webinars within Zoom webinar, showing Twitter use with support online, offline and on Twitter – particularly important  for a distributed campus like we have. 

When we train staff we have to think about the pedagogy, we have to think about learning outcomes. We need to align the course structure with LOs, and also to consider staff workload in how we do that training. What will our modes of delivery be? What types of technology will they meet and use – and what prep/overhead is involved in that? We also need to consider privacy issues. And then how do you fill that time. 

So the handout I’ve shared here was work for one days course, to be delivered in a flipped classroom – prep first, in person, then online follow up. Could be completed quickly but many spent more time on these.

This PPT from a module I developed for staff at Monash university, with social media at the intersection of formal and informal learning, and the interaction of teacher-directed learning and student-centred learning. That quadrant model is useful to be aware of: Willem Blakemore(?): 4QF.


Q1) What was the object among staff at your university?

A1) First three years were optional. This last year Monash require staff to do 3 one day courses per year. One can be a conference with a full report. Social Media is one of 8 options. Wanted to give an encouragement for folk to attend. 

Q2) How many classes use your social media as a result?

A2) I’ve just moved institution. One of our architecture lecturers was using FB in preference to LMS: students love it, faculty concerned. Complex. At my current university social media isn’t encouraged but it is use. Regardless of attitude social media is in use… And we at least have to be aware of that. 

Q3) I was starting to think that you were encouraging faculty staff to use Social media alone, rather than with LMS.

A3) At Monash reality was using social alongside LMS. That connection discouraged in my new faculty. 

Q4) I loved that you brought up that pressure from teaching staff – as so many academics in social media now, they are min more active and a real pressure to integrate.

A4) I think that gap is growing too… Between resisters and those keen to use. Students are aware of what they share – a Demi formal space… Have to be aware.

Q5) do you have a range of social media tools or just Facebook?

A5) mainly Facebook, sometimes Twitter and Linked In. I’m in engineering and architecture. 

Q5) Are they approved for use by faculty?

A5) Yes, the structure you have there had been. 

Q6) also encourage academic staff to use academic networking sites?

A6) depends on context. Depends… ResearchGate good for pubs, Academic.edu like bus card. 

Q7) Reward and recognition

A7) Stuff on sheet was for GCAP… Came out of that… 

Q8) Will we still have these requirements to train in, say, 5 years time? Surely they’ll be like pen and pencil now?

A8) Maybe. Universities are keen for good profiles though, which means this stuff matters in this competitive academic marketplace. 

And with that Day One has drawn to a close. I’m off to charge a lot of devices and replace my memory sticks! More tomorrow in a new liveblog post. 

 July 12, 2016  Posted by at 9:22 am Events Attended, LiveBlogs Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Jul 072016

On 27th June I attended a lunchtime seminar, hosted by the University of Edinburgh Centre for Research in Digital Education with Professor Catherine Hasse of Aarhus University

Catherine is opening with a still from Ex-machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland). The title of my talk is the difference between human and posthuman learning, I’ll talk for a while but I’ve moved a bit from my title… My studies in posthuman learning has moved me to more of a posthumanistic learning… Today human beings are capable of many things – we can transform ourselves, and ourselves in our environment. We have to think about that and discuss that, to take account of that in learning.

I come from the centre for Future Technology, Culture and Learning, Aarhus University, Denmark. We are hugely interdisciplinary as a team. We discuss and research what is learning under these new conditions, and to consider the implications for education. I’ll talk less about education today, more about the type of learning taking place and the ways we can address that.

My own background is in anthropology of education in Denmark, specifically looking at physicists.In 2015 we got a big grant to work on “The Technucation Project” and we looked at the anthropology of education in Denmark in nurses and teachers – and the types of technological literacy they require for their work. My work (in English) has been about “Mattering” – the learning changes that matter to you. The learning theories I am interested in acknowledge cultural differences in learning, something we have to take account of. What it is to be human is already transformed. Posthumanistics learning is a new conceptualisations and material conditions that change what it was to be human. It was and it ultra human to be learners.

So… I have become interested in robots.. They are coming into our lives. They are not just tools. Human beings encounter tools that they haven’t asked for. You will be aware of predictions that over a third of jobs in the US may be taken over by automated processes and robots in the next 20 years. That comes at the same time as there is pressure on the human body to become different, at the point at which our material conditions are changing very rapidly. A lot of theorists are picking up on this moment of change, and engaging with the idea of what it is to be human – including those in Science and Technology Studies, and feminist critique. Some anthropologist suggest that it is not geography but humans that should shape our conceptions of the world (Anthrpos- Anthropocene), others differ and conceive of the capitalocene. When we talk about the posthuman a lot of the theories acknowledge that we can’t talk about the fact that we can’t think of the human in the same way anymore. Kirksey & Helmreich (2010) talk of “natural-cultural hybrids”, and we see everything from heart valves to sensors, to iris scanning… We are seeing robots, cybords, amalgamations, including how our thinking feeds into systems – like the stockmarkets (especially today!). The human is de-centered in this amalgamation but is still there. And we may yet get to this creature from Ex-machina, the complex sentient robot/cyborg.

We see posthuman learning in uncanny valley… gradually we will move from robots that feel far away, to those with human tissues, with something more human and blended. The new materialism and robotics together challenge the conception of the human. When we talk of learning we talk about how humans learn, not what follows when bodies are transformed by other (machine) bodies. And here we have to be aware that in feminism that people like Rosa Predosi(?) have been happy with the discarding of the human: for them it was always a narrative, it was never really there. The feminist critique is that the “human” was really retruvian man.. But they also critique the idea that Posthu-man is a continuation of individual goal-directed and rational self-enhancing (white male) humans. And that questions the post human…

There are actually two ways to think of the post human. One way is the posthuman learning as something that does away with useless, biological bodies (Kurzweil 2005) and we see transhumanists, Verner Vinge, Hans Moravec, Natasha Vita-More in this space that sees us heading towards the singularity. But the alternative is a posthumanistic approach, which is about cultural transformations of boundaries in human-material assemblages, referencing that we have never been isolated human beings, we’ve always been part of our surroundings. That is another way to see the posthuman. This is a case that I make in an article (Hayles 1999) that we have always been posthuman. We also see have, on the other hand, Spinozists approach which is about how are we, if we understand ourselves as de-centered, able to see ourselves as agents. In other words we are not separate from the culture, we are all Nature-cultural…Not of nature, not of culture but naturacultural (Hayles; Haraway).

But at the same time if it is true that human beings can literally shape the crust of the earth, we are now witnessing anthropomorphism on steroids (Latour, 2011 – Waiting for Gaia [PDF]). The Anthropocene perspective is that, if human impact on Earth can be translated into human responsibility fr the earth, the concept may help stimulate appropriate societal responses and/or invoke appropriate planetary stewardship (Head 2014); the capitalocene (see Jason Moore) talks about moving away from cartesian dualism in global environmental change, the alternative implies a shift from humanity and nature to humanity in nature, we have to counter capitalism in nature.

So from the human to the posthuman, I have argue that this is a way we can go with our theories… There are two ways to understand that, the singularist posthumanism or spinozist posthumanism. And I think we need to take a posthumanistic stance with learning – taking account of learning in technological naturecultures.

My own take here… We talk about intra-species differentiations. This nature is not nature as resource but rather nature as matrices – a nature that operates not only outside and inside our bodies (from global climate to the microbiome) but also through our bodies, including embodied minds. We do create intra-species differentiation, where learning changes what maters to you and others, and what matters changes learning. To create an ecological responsible ultra-sociality we need to see ourselves as a species of normative learners in cultural organisations.

So, my own experience, after studying physicists as an anthropologists I no longer saw the night sky the same way – they were stars and star constellations. After that work I saw them as thousands of potetial suns – and perhaps planets – and that wasn’t a wider discussion at that time.

I see it as a human thing to be learners. And we are ultra social learning. And that is a characteristic of being human. Collective learning is essentially what has made us culturally diverse. We have learning theories that are relavent for cultural diversity. We have to think of learning in a cultural way. Mediational approachs in collective activity. Vygotsky takes the idea of learners as social learners before we become personal learners and that is about the mediation – not natureculture but cultureculture (Moll 2000). That’s my take on it. So, we can re-centre human beings… Humans are not the centre of the universe, or of the environment. But we can be at the centre and think about what we want to be, what we want to become.

I was thinking of coming in with a critique of MOOCs, particularly as those being a capitolocene position. But I think we need to think of social learning before we look at individual learning (Vygotsky 1981). And we are always materially based. So, how do we learn to be engaged collectively? What does it matter – for MOOCs for instance – if we each take part from very different environments and contexts, when that environment has a significant impact. We can talk about those environments and what impact they have.

You can buy robots now that can be programmed – essentially sex robots like “Roxxxy” – and are programmed by reactions to our actions, emotions etc. If we learn from those actions and emotions, we may relearn and be changed in our own actions and emptions. We are seeing a separation of tool-creation from user-demand in Capitalocene. The introduction of robots in work places are often not replacing the work that workers actually want support with. The seal robots to calm dementia patients down cover a role that many carers actually enjoyed in their work, the human contact and suport. But those introducing them spoke of efficiency, the idea being to make employees superfluous but described as “simply an attempt to remove some of the most demeaning hard task from the work with old people so the wor time ca be used for care and attention” (Hasse 2013).

These alternative relations with machines are things we always react too, humans always stretch themselves to meet the challenge or engagement at hand. An inferentialist approach (Derry 2013) acknowledges many roads to knowledge but materiality of thinking reflects that we live in a world of not just case but reason. We don’t live in just a representationalism (Bakker and Derry 2011) paradigm, it is much more complex. Material wealth will teach us new things.. But maybe these machines will encourage us to think we should learn more in a representative than an inferentialist way. We have to challenge robotic space of reasons. I would recommend Jan Derry’s work on Vygotsky in this area.

For me robot representationalism has the capacity to make convincing representations… You can give and take answers but you can’t argue space and reasons… They cannot reason from this representation. Representational content is not articulated by determinate negation and complex concept formation. Algorithmic learning has potential and limitations, and is based on representationalism. Not concept formation. I think we have to take a position on posthumanistic learning, with collectivity as a normative space of reasons; acknowledge mattering matter in concept formation; acknowledge human inferentialism; acknowledge transformation in environment…


Q1) Can I ask about causes and reasons… My background is psychology and I could argue that we are more automated than we think we are, that reasons come later…

A1) Inferentialism is challenging  the idea of giving and taking reasons as part of normative space. It’s not anything goes… It’s sort of narrowing it down, that humans come into being in terms of learning and thinking in a normative space that is already there. Wilfred Sellers says there is no “bare given” – we are in a normative space, it’s not nature doing this… I have some problems with the term dialectical… But it is a kind of dialective process. If you give an dtake reasons, its not anything goes. I think Jen Derry has a better phrasing for this. But that is the basic sense. And it comes for me from analytical philosophy – which I’m not a huge fan of – but they are asking important questions on what it is to be human, and what it is to learn.

Q2) Interesting to hear you talk about Jan Derry. She talks about technology perhaps obscuring some of the reasoning process and I was wondering how representational things fitted in?

A2) Not in the book I mentioned but she has been working on this type of area at University of London. It is part of the idea of not needing to learn representational knowledge, which is built into technological systems, but for inferentialism we need really good teachers. She has examples about learning about the bible, she followed a school class… Who look at the bible, understand the 10 commandments, and then ask them to write their own bible 10 commandments on whatever topic… That’s a very narrow reasoning… It is engaging but it is limited.

Q3) An ethics issue… If we could devise robots or machines, AI, that could think inferentially, should we?

A3) A challenge for me – we don’t have enough technical people. My understanding is that it’s virtually impossible to do that. You have claims but the capacities of AI systems so far are so limited in terms of function. I think that “theory of mind” is so problematic. They deteriorise what it means to be human, and narrow what it means to be our species. I think algorithmic learning is representational… I may be wrong though… If we can… There are poiltical issues. Why make machines that are one to one to human beings… Maybe to be slaves, to do dirty work. If they can think inferentiality, should they not have ethical rights. In spinostas we have a responsibility to think about those ethical issues.

Q4) You use the word robot, that term is being used to be something very embodies and physical.. But algorithmic agency, much less embodied and much less visible – you mentioned the stock market – and how that fits in.

A4) In a way robots are a novelty, a way to demonstrate that. A chatbot is also a robot. Robot covers a lot of automated processes. One of the things that came out of AI at one point was that AI couldn’t learn without bodies.. That for deep learning there needs to be some sort of bodily engagement to make bodily mistakes. But then encounters like Roxy and others is that they become very much better… As humans we stretch to engage with these robots… We take an answer for an answer, not just an algorithm, and that might change how we learn.

Q4) So the robot is a point of engaging for machine learning… A provocation.

A4) I think roboticists see this as being an easy way to make this happen. But everything happens so quickly… Chips in bodies etc. But can also have robots moving in space, engaging with chips.

Q5) Is there something here about artifical life, rather than artifical intelligence – that the robot provokes that…

A5) That is what a lot of roboticists work at, is trying to create artificial life… There is a lot of work we haven’t seen yet. Working on learning algorithms in computer programming now, that evolves with the process, a form of artifical life. They hope to create robots and if they malfunction, they can self-repair so that the next generation is better. We asked at a conference in Prague recently, with roboticists, was “what do you mean by better?” and they simply couldn’t answer that, which was really interesting… I do think they are working on artifical life as well. And maybe there are two little connections between those of us in education, and those that create these things.

Q6) I was approached by robotics folks about teaching robots to learn drawing with charcoal, largely because the robotic hand had enough sensitivity to do something quite complex – to teach charcoal drawing and representation… The teacher gesticulates, uses metaphor, describes things… I teach drawing and representational drawing… There is no right answer there, which is tough for robototics… What is the equivelent cyborg/dual space in learning? Drawing toolsa re cyborg-esque in terms of digital and drawing tools… BUt also that diea of culture… You can manipulate tools, awareness of function and then the hack, and complexity of that hack… I suppose lots of things were ringing true but I couldn’t quite stick them in to what I’m trying to get at…

A6) Some of this is maybe tied to Schuman Enhancement Theory – the idea of a perfect cyborg drawing?

Q6) No, they were interested in improving computer learning, and language, but for me… The idea of human creativity and hacking… You could pack a robot with the history of art, and representation, so much information… Could do a lot… But is that better art? Or better design? A conversation we have to have!

A6) I tend to look at the dark side of the coin in a way… Not because I am techno-determinist… I do love gadgets, technology enhances our life, we can be playful… BUt in the capitalocene… There is much more focus on this. The creative side of technology is what many people are working on… Fantastic things are coming up, crossovers in art… New things can be created… What I see in nursing and teaching learning contexts is how to avoid engaging… So lifting robots are here, but nursing staff aren’t trained properly and they avoid them… Creativity goes many ways… I’m seeing from quite a particular position, and that is partly a position of warning. These technologies may be creative and they may then make us less and less creative… That’s a question we have to ask. For physicists, who have to be creative, are always so tied to the materiality, the machines and technologies in their working environments. I’ve also seen some of these drawing programmes…. It is amazing what you can draw with these tools… But you need purpose, awareness of what those changes mean… Tools are never innocent. We have to analyse what tools are doing to us

Jul 052016

This afternoon I’m at UCL for the “If you give a historian code: Adventures in Digital Humanities” seminar from Jean Bauer of Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University, who is being hosted by Melissa Terras of the UCL Centre for Digital HumanitiesI’ll be liveblogging so, as usual, any corrections and additions are very much welcomed. 

Melissa is introducing Jean, who is in London en route to DH 2016 in Kraków next week. Over to Jean:

I’m delighted to be here with all of the wonderful work Melissa has been doing here. I’m going to talk a bit about how I got into digital humanities, but also about how scholars in library and information sciences, and scholars in other areas of the humanities might find these approaches useful.

So, this image (American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain. By Benjamin West, London, England; 1783 (begun). Oil on canvas. (Unframed) Height: 28 ½” (72.3 cm); Width: 36 ¼” (92.7 cm). 1957.856) is by Benjamin West, the Treaty of Paris, 1783. This is the era that I research and what I am interested in. In particular I am interested in John Adam, the first minister of the United States – he even gets one line in Hamilton: the musical. He’s really interested as he was very concerned with getting thinking and processes on paper. And on the work he did with Europe, where there hadn’t really been American foreign consuls before. And he was also working on areas of the North America, making changes that locked the British out of particular trading blocks through adjustments brought about by that peace treaty – and I might add that this is a weird time to give this talk in England!

Now, the foreign service at this time kind of lost contact once they reached Europe and left the US. So the correspondence is really important and useful to understand these changes. There are only 12 diplomats in Europe from 1775-1788, but that grows and grows with consuls and diplomats increasing steadily. And most of those consuls are unpaid as the US had no money to support them. When people talk about the diplomats of this time they tend to focus on future presidents etc. and I was interested in this much wider group of consuls and diplomats. So I had a dataset of letters, sent to John Jay, as he was negotiating the treaty. To use that I needed to put this into some sort of data structure – so, this is it. And this is essentially the world of 1820 as expressed in code. So we have locations, residences, assignments, letters, people, etc. Within that data structure we have letters – sent to or from individuals, to or from locations, they have dates assigned to them. And there are linkages here. Databases don’t handle fuzzy dates well, and I don’t want invalid dates, so I have a Boolean logic here. And also a process for handling enclosures – right now that’s letters but people did enclose books, shoes, statuettes – all sorts of things! And when you look at locations these connect to “in states” and states and location information… This data set occurs within the Napoleonic wars so none of the boundaries are stable in these times so the same location shifts in meaning/state depending on the date.

So, John Jay has all this correspondence between May 27 and Nov 19, 1794 and they are going from Europe to North America, and between the West Indies and North America. Many of these are reporting on trouble. The West Indies are ship siezures… And there are debts to Britain… And none of these issues get resolved in that treaty. Instread John Jay and Lord Granville set up a series of committees – and this is the historical precident for mediation. Which is why I was keen to understand what information John Jay had available. None of this correspondance got to him early enough in time. There wasn’t information there to resolve the issue, but enough to understand it. But there were delays for safety, for practical issues – the State Department was 6 people at this time – but the information was being collected in Philadephia. So you have a centre collecting data from across the continent, but not able to push it out quickly enough…

And if you look at the people in these letters you see John Jay, and you see Edmund Jennings Randolph mentions most regularly. So, I have this elaborate database (The Early American Foreign Service Database – EAFSD) and lots of ways to visualise this… Which enables us to see connections, linkages, and places where different comparisons highlight different areas of interest. And this is one of the reasons I got into the Humanities. There are all these papers – usually for famous historical men – and they get digitised, also the enclosures… In a single file(!), parsing that with a partial typescript, you start to see patterns. You see not summaries of information being shared, not aggregation and analysis, but the letters being bundled up and sent off – like a repeater note. So, building up all of this stuff… Letters are objects, they have relationships to each others, they move across space and time. You look at the papers of John Adams, or of any political leader, and they are just in order of date sent… Requiring us to flip back and forth. Databases and networks allow us to follow those conversations, to understand new orders to read those letters in.

Now, I had a background in code before I was a graduate student. What I do now at Princeton (as Associate Director of the Center for Digital Humanities) is to work with librarians and students to build new projects. We use a lot of relational databases, and network analysis… And that means a student like one I have at the moment can have a fully described, fully structured data set on a vagrant machine that she can engage with, query, analysis, and convey to her examiners etc. Now this student was an excel junky but approaching the data as a database allows us to structure the data, to think about information, the nature of sources and citation practices, and also to get major demographic data on her group and the things she’s working on.

Another thing we do at Princeton is to work with libraries and with catalogue data – thinking about data in MARC, MODS, or METS record, and thinking about the extract and reformatting of that data to query and rethink that data. And we work with librarians on information retrieval, and how that could be translated to research – book history perhaps. Princeton University library brought the personal library of philosopher Jaques Derrida – close to 19,000 volumes (thought it was about 15,000 until they were unpacked), so two projects are happening simultaneously. One is at the Centre for Digital Humanities, looking at how Derrida marked up the texts, and then went on to use and cite in Of Grammatology. The other is with BibFrame – a Linked Open Data standard for library catalogues, and they are looking at books sent to Derrida, with dedications to him. Now there won’t be much overlap of those projects just now – Of Grammatology was his first book so those dedicated/gifted books to him. But we are building our databases for both projects as Linked Open Data, all being added a book at a time, so the hope is that we’ll be able to look at any relationships between the books that he owned and the way that he was using and being gifted items. And this is an experiment to explore those connections, and to expose that via library catalogue… But the library wants to catalogue all works, not just those with research interest. And it can be hard to connect research work, with depth and challenge, back to the catalogue but that’s what we are trying to do. And we want to be able to encourage more use and access to the works, without the library having to stand behind the work or analyse the work of a particular scholar.

So, you can take a data structure like this, then set up your system with appropriate constraints and affordances that need to be thought about as they will shape what you can and will do with your data later on. Continents have particular locations, boundaries, shape files. But you can’t mark out the boundaries for empires and states. The Western boundary at this time is a very contested thing indeed. In my system states are merely groups of locations, so that I can follow mercantile power, and think from a political viewpoint. But I wanted a tool with broader use hence that other data. Locations seem very safe and neutral but they really are not, they are complex and disputed. Now for that reason I wanted this tool – Project Quincy – to have others using it, but that hasn’t happened yet… Because this was very much created for my research and research question…It’s my own little Mind Palace for my needs… But I have heard from a researcher looking to catalogue those letters, and that would be very useful. Systems like this can have interesting afterlives, even if they don’t have the uptake we want Open Source Digital Humanities tools to have. The biggest impact of this project has been that I have the schema online. Some people do use the American Foreign Correspondents databases – I am one of the few places you can find this information, especially about consuls. But that schema being shared online have been helping others to make their own system… In that sense the more open documentation we can do, the better all of our projects could be.

I also created those diagrams that you were seeing – with DAVILA, a programme that creates these allows you to create easy to read, easy to follow, annotated, colour coded visuals. They are prettier than most database diagrams. I hope that when documentation is appealing and more transparent,  that that will get used more… That additional step to help people understand what you’ve made available for them… And you can use documentation to help teach someone how to make a project. So when my student was creating her schema, it was an example I could share or reference. Having something more designed was very helpful.


Q1) Can you say more about the Derrida project and that holy grail of hanging that other stuff on the catalogue record?

A1) So the BibFrame schema is not as flexible as you’d like, it’s based on MARC, but it’s Linked Open Data, it can be expressed in RDF or JSON… And that lets us link records up. And we are working in the same library so we can link up on people, locations, maybe also major terms, and on th eaccession id number too. We haven’t tried it yet but…

Q1) And how do you make the distinction between authoritative record and other data.

A1) Jill Benson(?) team are creating authoritative linked open data records for all of the catalogue. And we are creating Linked Open Data, we’ll put it in a relational database with an API and an endpoint to query to generate that data. Once we have something we’ll look at offering a Triple Store on an ongoing basis. So, basically it is two independent data structures growing side by side with an awareness of each other. You can connect via API but we are also hoping for a demo of the Derrida library in BibFrame in the next year or two. At least a couple of the books there will be annotated, so you can see data from under the catalogue.

Q1) What about the commentary or research outputs from that…

A1) So, once we have our data, we’ll make a link to the catalogue and pull in from the researcher system. The link back to the catalogue is the harder bit.

Q2) I had a suggestion for a geographic system you might be interested in called Pelagios… And I don’t know if you could feed into that – it maps historical locations, fictional locations etc.

A2) There is a historical location atlas held by Newbury so there are shapefiles. Last I looked at Pelagios it was concerned more with the ancient world.

Comment) Latest iteration of funding takes it to Medieval and Arabic… It’s getting closer to your period.

A2) One thing that I really like about Pelagios is that they have split locations from their name, which accommodates multiple names, multiple imaginings and understandings etc. It’s a really neat data model. My model is more of a hack together – so in mine “London” is at the centre of modern London… Doesn’t make much sense for London but I do similar for Paris, that probably makes more sense. So you could go in deeper… There was a time when I was really interested in where all of Jay’s London Correspondents were… That was what put me into thinking about networking analysis… 60 letters are within London alone. I thought about disambiguating it more… But I was more interested in the people. So I went down a Royal Mail in London 1794 rabbit hole… And that was interesting, thinking about letters as a unit of information… Diplomatic notes fix conversations into a piece of paper you can refer to later – capturing the information and decisions. They go back and forth… So the ways letters came and went across London – sometimes several per day, sometimes over a week within the city…. is really interesting… London was and is extremely complicated.

Q3) I was going to ask about different letters. Those letters in London sound more like memos than a letter. But the others being sent are more precarious, at more time delay… My background is classics so there you tend to see a single letter – and you’d commission someone like Cicero to write a letter to you to stick up somewhere – but these letters are part of a conversation… So what is the difference in these transatlantic letters?

A3) There are lots of letters. I treat letters capaciously… If there is a “to” or “from” it’s in. So there are diplomatic notes between John Jay and George Hammond – a minister not an ambassadors as the US didn’t warrant that. Hammond was bad at his job – he saw a war coming and therefore didn’t see value in negotiating. They exchange notes, forward conversations back and forth. My data set for my research was all the letters sent to Jay, not those sent by Jay. I wanted to see what information Jay had available. With Hammond he kept a copy of all his letters to Jay, as evidence for very petty disputes. The letters from the West Indies were from Nathanial Cabbot Dickinson, who was sent as an information collector for the US government. Jay was sent to Europe on the treaty…. So the kick off for Jay’s treaty is changes that sees food supplies to British West Indies being stopped. Hammond actually couldn’t find a ship to take evidence against admiralty courts… They had to go through Philadelphia, then through London. So that cluster of letters include older letters. Letters from the coast include complaints from Angry American consuls…. There are urgent cries for help from the US. There is every possible genre… One of the things I love about American history is that Jay needs all the information he can get. When you map letters – like the Republic of Letters project at Stanford – you have this issue of someone writing to their tailor, not just important political texts. But for diplomats all information matters… Now you could say that a letter to a tailor is important but you could also say you are looking to map the boundaries of intellectual history here… Now in my system I map duplicates sent transatlantically, as those really matter, not all arrived, etc. I don’t map duplicates within London, as that isn’t as notable and is more about after the fact archiving.

Q4) Did John Jay keep diaries that put this correspondance in context?

A4) He did keep diaries… I do have analysis of how John Quincy Adams wrote letters in his time. He created subject headings, he analysed them, he recreated a filing system and way of managing his letters – he’d docket his letters, noting date received. He was like a human database… Hence naming my database after him.

Q5) There are a couple of different types of a tool like this. There is your use and then there is reuse of the engineering. I have correspondance earlier than Jay’s, mainly centred on London… Could I download the system and input my own letters?

A5) Yes, if you go to eafsd.org you’ll find more information there and you can try out the system. The database is Project Quincy and that’s on GitHub (GPL 3.0) and you can fire it up in Django. It comes with a nice interface. And do get in touch and I’ll update you on the system etc. It runs in the Django framework, can use any database underneath it. And there may be a smaller tractable letter database running underneath it.

Comment) On BibFrame… We have a Library and Information Studies programme which we teach BibFrame as part of that. We set up a project with a teaching tool which is also on GitHub – its linked from my staff page.

A quick note as follow up:

If you have research software that you have created for your work, and which you are making available under open source license, then I would recommend looking at some of the dedicated metajournals that will help you raise awareness of your project and ensure it is well documented for others to reuse. I would particularly recommend the Journal of Open Research Software (which, for full disclosure, I sit on the Editorial Advisory Board for), or the Journal of Open Source Software (as recommended by the lovely Daniel S. Katz in response to my post).


Jun 292016

Today I am at theFlood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network (FCERM.net) 2016 Annual Assembly in Newcastle. The event brings together a really wide range of stakeholders engaged in flood risk management. I’m here to talk about crowd sourcing and citizen science, with both COBWEB and University of Edinburgh CSCS Network member hats on, as the event is focusing on future approaches to managing flood risk and of course citizen science offers some really interesting potential here. 

I’m going to be liveblogging today but as the core flooding focus of the day is not my usual subject area I particularly welcome any corrections, additions, etc. 

The first section of the day is set up as: Future-Thinking in Flood Risk Management:

Welcome by Prof Garry Pender

Welcome to our third and final meeting of this programme of network meetings. Back at our first Assembly meeting we talked about projects we could do together, and we are pleased to say that two proposals are in the process of submissions. For today’s Assembly we will be looking to the future and future thinking about flood risk management.  There is a lot in the day but also we encourage you to discuss ideas, form your own breakout groups if you want.

And now onto our first speaker. Unfortunately Prof Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts, Newcastle University cannot be with us today. But Chris Kilby has stepped in for Hayley.

Chris Kilby, Newcastle University – What can we expect with climate change? 

Today is 29th June, which means that four years ago today we had the “Toon Monsoon” –  around 50mm in 2 hours and the full city was in lockdown. We’ve seen some incidents like this in the last year, in London, and people are asking about whether that is climate change. And that incident has certainly changed thinking and practice in the flood risk management community. It’s certainly changed my practice – I’m now working with sewer systems which is not something I ever imagined.

Despite spending millions of pounds on computer models, the so-called GCMs, these models seem increasingly hard to trust as the academic community realise how difficult to predict flooding risk actually is. It is near impossible to predict future rainfall – this whole area is riven with great uncertainty. There is a lot of good data and thinking behind them, but I now have far more concern about the usefulness of these models than 20 years ago – and that’s despite the fact that these models are a lot better than they were.

So, the climate is changing. We see some clear trends both locally and globally. A lot of these we can be confident of. Temperature rises and sea level rise we have great confidence in those trends. Rainfall seasonality change (more in winter, less in summer), and “heavy rainfall” in the UK at least, has been fairly well predicted. What has been less clear is the extremes of rainfall (convective), and extremes of rainfall like the Toon Monsoon. Those extremes are the hardest to predict, model, reproduce.

The so called UKCP09 projections, from 2009, are still there and are still the predictions being used but a lot has changed with the models we use, with the predictions we are making. We haven’t put out any new projections – although that was originally the idea when UK CP09 projections came  out. So, officially, we are still using UKCP09. That produced coherant indications of more frequent and heavy rainfall in the UK. And UKCP09 suggests 15-20% increased in Rmed in winter. But these projections are based on daily rainfall, what was not indicated here was the increased hourly rate. So some of the models looking at decreased summer rainfall, which means a lower mean rainfall per hour, but actually that isn’t looking clear anymore. So there are clear gaps here, firstly with hourly level convective storms, and all climate models have the issue of when it comes to “conveyer belt” sequences of storms, it’s not clear models reliably reproduce these.

So, this is all bad news so far… But there is some good news. More recent models (CMIP5) suggest some more summer storms and accommodate some convective summer storms. And those newer models – CMIP5 and those that follow – will feed into the new projections. And some more good news… The models used in CP09, even high resolution regional models, ran on a resolution of 25km and downscaled using weather generator to 5km but no climate change information beyond 25km. Therefore within the 25km grid box the rain fall is averaged and doesn’t adequately resolve movement of air and clouds, adding a layer of uncertainty, as computers aren’t big/fast enough to do a proper job of resolving individual cloud systems. But Hayley, and colleagues at the Met Office, have been running higher resolution climate models which are similar for weather forecasting models at something like a 1.5km grid size. Doing that with climate data and projecting over the long term do seem to resolve the convective storms. That’s good in terms of new information. Changes look quite substantial: summer precipitation intensities are expected to increase by 30-40% for short duration heavy events. That’s significantly higher than UKCP09 but there are limitations/caveats here too… So far the simulations are on the South East of England only, simulations have been over 10 years in duration, but we’d really want more like 100 year model. And there is still poor understanding of the process and of what makes a thunderstorm – thermodynamic versus circulation changes may conflict. Local thermodynamics are important but that issue of circulation, the impacts of large outbreaks of warm air from across the continent, and that conflict between those processes is far from clear in terms of what makes the difference.

So, Hayley has been working on this with the Met Office, and she now has an EU project with colleagues in the Netherlands which is producing interesting initial results. There is a lot still to do but it does look like a larger increase in convection than we’d previously thought. Looking at winter storms we’ve seen an increase over the last few years. Even the UKCP09 models predicted some of this but so far we don’t see a complete change attributable to climate change.

Now, is any of this new? Our working experience and instrumental records tend to only go back 30-40 years, and that’s not long enough to understand climate change. So this is a quick note of historical work which has been taking place looking at Newcastle flooding history. Trawling through the records we see that the Toon Monsoon isn’t unheard of – we’ve had them three or four times in the last century:

  • 16th Set 1913 – 2.85 inches (72mm) in 90 minutes
  • 22nd June 1941 – 1.97 inches (50mm) in 35 minutes and 3.74 inches (95mm) in 85 minutes
  • 28th June 2012 – 50mm in 90 minutes

So, these look like incidents every 40 years or so looking at historic records. That’s very different from the FEH type models and how they account for Fluvial flooding, storms, etc.

In summary then climate models produce inherently uncertain predictions but major issues remain with extremes in general, and hourly rainfall extremes. Overall picture that is emerging is of increasing winter rainfall (intensity and frequency), potential for increased (summer) convective rainfall, and in any case there is evidence that climate variability over the last century has included similar extremes to those observed in the last decade.

And the work that Hannah and colleagues are working on are generating some really interesting results so do watch this space for forthcoming papers etc.


Q1) Is that historical data work just on Newcastle?

A1) David has looked at Newcastle and some parts of Scotland. Others are looking at other areas though.

Q2) Last week in London on EU Referendum day saw extreme rainfall – not as major as here in 2012 – but that caused major impacts in terms of travel, moving of polling station etc. So what else is taking place in terms of work to understand these events and impacts?

A2) OK, so impacts wise that’s a bit difference. And a point of clarification – the “Toon Monsoon” wasn’t really a Monsoon (it just rhymes with Toon). Now the rainfall in London and Brighton being reported looked to be 40mm in an hour, which would be similar or greater than in Newcastle so I wouldn’t downplay them. The impact of these events on cities particularly is significant. In the same way that we’ve seen an increase in fluvial flooding in the last ten years, maybe we are also seeing an increase in these more intense shorter duration events. London is certainly very vulnerable – especially with underground systems. Newcastle Central here was closed because of water ingress at the front – probably wouldn’t happen now as modifications have been made – and metro lines shut. Even the flooding event in Paris a few weeks back was most severely impacting the underground rail/metro, road and even the Louvre. I do worry that city planners have build in vulnerability for just this sort of event.

Q3) I work in flood risk management for Dumfries and Galloway – we were one of the areas experiencing very high rainfall. We rely heavily in models, rainfall predictions etc. But we had an event on 26th/27th January that wasn’t predicted at all – traffic washed off the road, broke instrument peaks, evacuations were planned. SEPA and the Met office are looking at this but there is a gap here to handle this type of extreme rainfall on saturated ground.

A3) I’m not aware of that event, more so with flooding on 26th December which caused flooding here in Newcastle and more widespread. But that event does sound like the issue for the whole of that month for the whole country. It wasn’t just extreme amounts of daily rainfall, but it was the fact that the previous month had also been very wet. That combination of several months of heavy rainfall, followed by extreme (if not record breaking on their own) events really is an issue – it’s the soul of hydrology. And that really hasn’t been recognised to date. The storm event statistics tend to be the focus rather than storms and the antecedent conditions. But this comes down to flood managers having their own rules to deal with this. In the North East this issue has arisen with the River Tyne where the potential for repurposing rivers for flood water retention has been looked at – but you need 30 day predictions to be able to do that. And if this extreme event following a long period of rain really changes that and poses challenges.

Comment – Andy, Environment Agency) Just to note that EA DEFRA Wales have a programme to look at how we extend FEH but also looking at Paleo Geomorphology to extend that work. And some interesting results already.

Phil Younge, Environment Agency – The Future of Flood Risk Management

My role is as Yorkshire Major Incident Recovery Manager, and that involves three things: repairing damage; investing in at-risk communities; and engaging with those communities. I was brought in to do this because of another extreme weather event, and I’ll be talking about the sorts of things we need to do to address these types of challenges.

So, quickly, a bit of background on the Environment Agency. We are the National flood risk agency for England. And we have a broad remit including risk of e.g. implications of nuclear power stations, management of catchment areas, work with other flood risk agencies etc. And we directly look after 7100 km of river, coastal and tidel raised defences; 22,600 defences, with assets worth over 20 billion. There are lots of interventions we can make to reduce the risk to communities. But how do we engage with communities to make them more resiliant for whatever the weather may throw at them? Pause on that thought and I’ll return to it shortly.

So I want to briefly talk about the winter storms of 2015-16. The Foss Barrier in York is what is shown in this image – and what happened there made national news in terms of the impact on central York. The water levels were unprecedentedly high. And this event was across the North of England, with record river levels across the region and we are talking probably 1 metre higher than we had experienced before, since records began. So the “what if” scenarios are really being triggered here. Some of the defences built as a result of events in 2009 were significantly overtopped, so we have to rethink what we plan for in the future. So we had record rainfall, 14 catchments experienced their highest ever river flow. But the investment we had put in made a difference, we protected over 20,000 properties during storms Desmond and Eva – even though some of those defences have been overtopped in 2009. We saw 15k households and 2,600 businesses flooded in 2009, with 150 communities visited by flood support officers. We issued 92 flood warnings – and we only do that when there is a genuine risk to loss of life. We had military support, temporary barriers in place, etc. for this event but the levels were truly unprecedented.

Significant damage was done to our flood defences across the North of England. In parts of Cumbria the speed and impact of the water, the force and energy of that water, have made huge damage to roads and buildings. We have made substantial work to repair those properties to the condition they were in before the rain. We are spending around £24 million to do that and do it at speed for October 2016.

But what do we do about this? Within UK PLC how do we forecast and manage the impact and consequence of flooding across the country? Following the flooding in Cumbria Oliver Letwin set up the Flood Risk Resilience Review, to build upon the plans the Environment Agency and the Government already has, to look at what must be done differently to support communities across the whole of England. The Review has been working hard across the last four months, and there are four strands I want to share:

  • Modelling extreme weather and stress testing resilience to flood risk – What do we plan for? What is a realistic and scalable scenario to plan for? Looking back at that Yorkshire flooding, how does that compare to existing understanding of risk. Reflecting on likely extreme consequences as a yardstick for extreme scenarios.
  • Assessing the resilience of critical local infrastructure – How do we ensure that businesses still run, that we can run as a community. For instance in Leeds on Boxing Day our telecommunications were impacted by flooding. So how can we address that? How do we ensure water supply and treatment is fit for these events? How can we ensure our hospitals and health provision is appropriate? How can we ensure our transport infrastructure is up and running. As an aside the Leeds Boxing Day floods happened on a non working day – the Leeds rail station is the second busiest outside London so if that had happened on a working day the impact could have been quite different, much more severe.
  • Temporary defences – how can we move things around the country to reduce risk as needed, things like barriers and pumps. How do we move those? How do we assess when they are needed? How do we ensure we had the experience and skills to use those temporary defences? A review by the military has been wrapped into this Resilience Review.
  • Flood risk in core cities – London is being used as a benchmark, but we are also looking at cities like Leeds and how we invest to keep these core key cities operating at times of heightened flood risk.

So, we are looking at these areas, but also how we can help our communities to be more resilient. The Environment Agency are looking at community engagement and that’s particularly part of what we are here to do, to develop and work with the wider FCERM community.

We do have an investment programme from 2015-2021 which includes substantial capital investment. We are investing significantly in the North of England (e.g. £54 per person for everyone in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cumbria, also East Midlands and Northumbria. And that long planning window is letting us be strategic, to invest based on evidence of need. And in the Budget 2016 there was an additional £700 million for flood risk management to better protect 4,745 homes and 1,700 businesses. There will also be specific injections of investment in places like Leeds, York, Carlisle etc. to ensure we can cope with incidents like we had last year.

One thing that really came out of last year was the issue of pace. As a community we are used to thinking slowly before acting, but there is a lot of pressure from communities and from Government to act fast, to get programmes of work underway within 12 months of flooding incidents. Is that fast? Not if you live in an affected area, but it’s faster than we may be used to. That’s where the wealth of knowledge and experience needs to be available to make the right decisions quickly. We have to work together to do this.

And we need to look at innovation… So we have created “Mr Nosy”, a camera to put down culverts(?) and look for inspect them. We used to (and do) have teams of people with breathing apparatus etc. to do this, but we can put Mr Nosy down so that a team of two can inspect quickly. That saves time and money and we need more innovations that allow us to do this.

The Pitt  Review (2008) looked at climate change and future flood and coastal risk management discussed the challenges. There are many techniques to better defend a community, we need the right blend of approach: “flood risk cannot be managed by building ever bigger “hard” defences”; natural measures are sustainable; multiple benefits for people, properties and wildlife; multi-agency approach is the way forward. Community engagement is also crucial to inform the community to understand the scale of the risk, to understand how to live with risk in a positive way. So, this community enables us to work with research, we need that community engagement, and we need efficiency – that big government investment needs to be well spent, we need to work quickly and to shortcut to answers quickly but those have to be the right answers. And this community is well placed to help us ensure that we are doing the right things so that we can assure the communities, and assure the government that we are doing the right things.


Q1) When is that Review due to report?

A1) Currently scheduled for middle of July, but thereabouts.

Q2) You mentioned the dredging of watercourses… On the back of major floods we seem to have dredging, then more 6 weeks lately. For the public there is a perception that that will reduce flood risk which is really the wrong message. And there are places that will continue to flood – maybe we have to move coastal towns back? You can’t just keep building walls that are bigger and bigger.

A2) Dredging depends so much on the circumstances. In Calderdale we are making a model so that people can understand what impact different measures have. Dredging helps but it isn’t the only things. We have complex hydro-dynamic models but how do we simply communicate how water levels are influenced, the ways we influence the river channel. And getting that message across will help us make changes with community understanding. In terms of adaptation I think you are spot on. Some communities will probably adapt because of that, but we can’t just build higher and higher walls. I am keen that flood risk is part of the vision for a community, and how that can be managed. Historically in the North East cities turned their backs on the river, as water quality has improved that has changed, which is great but brings its own challenges.

Q3) You mentioned a model, is that a physical model?

A3) Yes, a physical model to communicate that. We do go out and dredge where it is useful, but in many cases it is not which means we have to explain that when communities think it is the answer to flooding. Physical models are useful, apps are good… But how do we get across some of the challenges we face in river engineering.

Q4) You talked about community engagement but can you say more about what type of engagement that is?

A4) We go out into the communities, listen to the experiences and concerns, gathering evidence, understanding what that flooding means for them. Working with the local authorities those areas are now producing plans. So we had an event in Calderdale marking six months since the flood, discussing plans etc. But we won’t please all the people all of the time, so we need to get engagement across the community. And we need that pace – which means bringing the community along, listening to them, bringing into our plans… That is challenging but it is the right thing to do. At the end of the day they are the people living there, who need to reassured about how we manage risk and deliver appropriate solutions.

The next section of the day looks at: Research into Practice – Lessons from Industry:

David Wilkes – Global Flood Resilience, Arup – Engineering Future Cities, Blue-Green Infrastructure

This is a bit of an amalgam of some of the work from the Blue-Green Cities EPSRC programme, which I was on the advisory board of, and some of our own work at Arup.

Right now 50% of the global population live in cities – over 3.2 billion people. As we look forward, by the middle of this century (2050) we are expecting growth so that around 70% of the world population will live in cities, so 6.3 billion.

We were asked a while ago to give some evidence to the Third Inquiry of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment info flood migration and resilience, and we wanted to give some clear recommendations that: (1) Spatial planning is the key to long term resilience; (2) Implement programme of improved surface water flood hazard mapping; (3) Nurture capacity within professional community to ensure quality work in understanding flood risk takes place, and a need to provide career paths as part of that nurturing.

We were called into New York to give some support after Hurricane Sandy. They didn’t want a major reaction, a big change, instead they wanted a bottom up resilient approach, cross cutting areas including transportation, energy, land use, insurance and infrastructure finance. We proposed an iterative cycle around: redundancy; flexibility; safe failure; rapid rebound; constant learning. This is a quantum shift from our approach in the last 100 years so that learning is a crucial part of the process.

So, what is a Blue-Green city? Well if we look at the January 2014 rainfall anomaly map we see the shift from average annual rainfall. We saw huge flooding scarily close to London at that time, across the South East of England. Looking at the December 2015 we see that rainfall anomaly map again showing huge shift from the average, again heavily in the South East, but also South West and North of England. So, what do we do about that? Dredging may be part of this… But we need to be building with flood risk in mind, thinking laterally about what we do. And this is where the Blue-Green city idea comes in. There are many levels to this: Understand water cycle at catchment scale; Align with other drivers and development needs; identify partners, people who might help you achieve things, and what their priorities are; build a shared case for investment and action; check how it is working and learn from experience.

Looking, for instance, at Hull we see a city long challenged by flooding. It is a low lying city so to understand what could be done to reduce risk we needed to take a multi faceted view across the long term: looking at frequency/likelihood of risk, understand what is possible, looking at how changes and developments can also feed into local development. We have a few approaches available… There is the urban model, of drainage from concrete into underground drainage – the Blue – and the green model of absorbing surface water and managing it through green interventions.

In the Blue-Green Cities research approach you need to work with City Authority and Community Communications; you need to Model existing Flood Risk Management; Understand Citizens Behaviour, and you need to really make a clear Business Case for interventions. And as part of that process you need to overcome barriers to innovation – things like community expectations and changes, hazards, etc. In Newcastle, which volunteered to be a Blue-Green city research area, we formed the Newcastle Learning and Action Alliance to build a common shared understanding of what would be effective, acceptable, and practical. We really needed to understand citizens’ behaviours – local people are the local experts and you need to tap into that and respect that. Please really value Blue-Green assets but only if they understand how they work, the difference that they make. And indeed people offered to maintain Blue-Green assets – to remove litter etc. but again, only if they value and understand their purpose. And the community really need to feel a sense of ownership to make Blue-Green solutions work.

It is also really important to have modelling, to show that, to support your business case. Options include hard and soft defences. The Brunton Park flood alleviation scheme included landscape proposals, which provided a really clear business case. OfWATT wanted investment from the energy sector, they knew the costs of conventional sewerage, and actually this alternative approach is good value, and significantly cheaper – as both sewer and flood solution – than the previous siloed approach. There are also Grey-Green options – landscaping to store water in quite straightforward purposes, more imaginative purposes, and the water can be used for irrigation, wash down, etc. Again, building the business case is absolutely essential.

In the Blue-Green Cities research we were able to quantify direct and indirect costs to different stakeholders – primary industry, manufacturing, petroleum and chemical, utilities sector, construction, wholesale and retail, transport, hotels and restaurants, info and communication, financial and professional, other services. When you can quantify those costs you really have a strong case for the importance of interventions that reduce risk, that manage water appropriately. That matters whether spending tax payers money or convincing commercial partners to contribute to costs.

Commission of Inquiry into flood resilience of the future: “Living with Water” (2015), from the All Party Group for Excellence in the Built Environment, House of Commons, talk about “what is required is a fundamental change in how we view flood management…”


Q1) I wanted to ask about how much green we would have to restore to make a difference? And I wanted to ask about the idea of local communities as the experts in their area but that can be problematic…

A1) I wouldn’t want to put a figure on the green space, you need to push the boundaries to make a real difference. But even small interventions can be significant. If the Blue-Green asset interrupts the flood path, that can be hugely significant. In terms of the costs of maintaining Blue-Green assets, well… I have a number of pet projects and ideas and I think that things like parks and city bike ways, and to have a flood overflow that also encourages the community to use it, will clearly be costlier than flat tarmac. But you can get Sustrans, local businesses, etc. to support that infrastructure and, if you get it right, that supports a better community. Softer, greener interventions require more maintenance but that can give back to the community all year round, and there are ways to do that. You made another point about local people being the experts. Local people do know about their own locality. Arguably as seasoned professionals we also know quite a bit. The key thing is to not be patronising, not to pretend you haven’t listened, but to build concensus, to avoid head to head dispute, to work with them.

Stephen Garvin, Director Global Resilience Centre, BRE – Adapting to change – multiple events and FRM

I will be talking about the built environment, and adaptations of buildings for flood resilience. I think this afternoon’s workshops can develop some of these areas a bit. I thought it would be good to reflect on recent flooding, and the difficulty of addressing these situations. The nature of flooding can vary so greatly in terms of the type and nature of floods. For instance the 2007 floods were very different from the 2012 flooding and fro the 2014 floods in terms of areas effected, the nature of the flood, etc. And then we saw the 2015/16 storms – the first time that every area at risk of flooding in Scotland and the North of the UK flooded – usually not all areas are hit at once.

In terms of the impact water damage is a major factor. So, for instance in Cumbria 2015, we had record rainfall, over-topped defences, Rivers Eden and Petrol, Water depth of 1.5m in some properties in Carlisle. That depth of flooding was very striking. A lot of terraced properties, with underfloor voids, were affected in Carlisle. And water was coming in from every direction. We can’t always keep water from coming in, so in some ways the challenge is getting water out of the properties. How do we deal with it? Some of these properties had had flood resilience measures before – such as raising the height of electrical sockets – but they were not necessarily high enough or useful enough in light of the high water. And properties change hands, are rented to new tenants, extensions are added – the awareness isn’t consistently there and some changes increase vulnerability to flooding.

For instance, one property had, after 2005 less severe floods had led to flood prevention measures being put in place – door surrounds, airbrick covers, and despite those measures water inundated the property. Why? Well there had been a conservatory added which, despite best efforts to seal it, let in a great deal of water. They had also added an outdoor socket for a tumble dryer a few feet off the ground. So we have to think about these measures – are they appropriate? Do they manage the risk sufficiently? How do we handle the flood memory? You can have a flood resilient kitchen installed, but what happens when it is replaced?

There are two approaches really: Flood resilience essentially allows the water to come in, but the building and its materials are able to recover from flooding; by comparison Flood resistance is about keeping water out, dry proof materials etc. And there are two dimensions here as we have to have a technical approach in design, construction, flood defences, sustainable approaches to drainage; and non-technical approaches – policy, regulation, decision making and engagement, etc. There are challenges here – construction are actually very small companies on the whole – more than 5 people is a big company. And we see insurers who are good at swinging into action after floods, but they do not always consider resilience or resistance that will have a long term impact so we are working to encourage that approach, that idea of not replacing like for like but replacing with better more flood resilient or resistant options. For instance there are solutions for apertures that are designed to keep water out to high depths – strong PVC doors, reinforced, and multi-point lockable for instance. In Germany, in Hamburg they have doors like this (though perforated brick work several feet higher!). You can also use materials to change materials, change designs of e.g. power sockets, service entries, etc.

Professor Eric Nehlsen came up with the idea of cascading flood compartments with adaptive response, starting from adaptation to flooding dry and wet-proofing (where we tend to work) through to more ambitious ideas like adaptation by floating and amphibious housing… Some US coastal communities take the approach of raising properties off the ground, or creating floating construction, particularly where hurricanes occur, but that doesn’t feel like the right solution in many cases here… But we have to understand and consider alternative approaches.

There are standards for floor repair – supported by BRE and industry – and there are six standards that fit into this area, which outline approaches to Flood risk assessment, planning for FRR, Property surveys, design and specification of flood resilient repair, construction work, maintenance and operation (some require maintenance over time). I’m going to use those standards for an FRR demonstration. We have offices in Watford in a Victorian Terrace, a 30 square metre space where we can test cases – have done this for energy efficiency before, have now done for flooding. This gives us a space to show what can be achieved, what interventions can be made, to help insurers, construction, policy makers see the possibilities. The age of the building means it is a simple construction – concrete floor and brick walls – so nothing fancy here. You can imagine some tests of materials, but there are no standards for construction products for repair and new builds for flood resistance and resilience. It is still challenging to drive adoption though – essentially we have to disrupt normal business and practice to see that change to resistant or resilient building materials.


Q1) One of the challenges for construction is that insurance issue of replacing “like by like”…

A1) It is a major challenge. Insurance is renewed every year, and often online rather than by brokers. We are seeing some insurers introducing resilience and resistance but not wide-scale yet. Flood resilience grants through ECLG for Local Authorities and individuals are helpful, but no guarantee of that continuing. And otherwise we need to make the case to the property owner but that raises issues of affordability, cost, accessibility. So, a good question really.

Jaap Flikweert – Flood and Coastal Management Advisor, Royal HaskoningDHV – Resilience and adaptation: coastal management for the future

I’m going to give a practitioners perspective on ways of responding to climate change. I will particularly talk about adaptation which tends to be across three different areas/meanings: Protection (reduce likelihood); Resilience (reduce consequence); and Adaptation, which I’m going to bluntly call “Relocation” (move receptors away). And I’ll talk about inland flooding, coastal flooding and coastal erosion.. But I tend not to talk as much on coastal erosion as if we focus only on risk we can miss the opportunities. But I will be talking about risk – and I’ll be highlighting some areas for research as I talk.

So, how do we do our planning to think about how we do our city planning to manage the risk. I think the UK – England and Wales especially – are at the lead here in terms of Shoreline Management Plans – they are long term and broad scale view, there is a policy for coastal defence (HtL (Hold the Line)/MR (Managed Realignment)/NAI (No Active Intervention), Strong interaction with other sectors. Scotland are making progress here too. But there is a challenging to be flexible, to think about the process of change.

Setting future plans can be challenging – there is a great deal of uncertainty in terms of climate change, in terms of finances. We used to talk about a precautionary approach but I think we need to talk about “Managed-adaptive” approaches with decision pathways. For instance The Thames Barrier is an example of this sort of approach. This isn’t necessarily new work, there is a lot of good research to date about how to do this but it’s much more about mainstreaming that understanding and approach.

When we think about protection we need to think about how we sustain defences in a future with climate change? We will see loading increase (but extent uncertain); value at risk will increase (but extent uncertain); coastal squeeze and longshore impacts. We will see our beaches disappear – with both environmental and flood risk implications. An example from the Netherlands shows HtL feasible and affordable up to about 6m in sea level rise; with sandy solutions (also deal with coastal squeeze), and radical innovation is of vital importance.

We can’t translate that to the UK, it is a different context, but we need to see this as inspirational. In the UK we won’t hold the line for ever… So how do we deal with that? We can think about the structures, and I think there is research opportunity here about how we justify buying time for adaption, and how we design for short life (~20 years), and how we develop adaptable solutions. We can’t Hold the Line forever, but some communities are not ready for that change so we have to work on what we can achieve and how.

In terms of Resilience we need to think about coastal flooding – in principle not different from inland flooding, design to minimise impact, but in practice that is more difficult with lower change/higher consequence raising challenges of less awareness, more catastrophic if it does happen. New Orleans would be a pertinent example here. And when we see raised buildings – as David mentioned – those aren’t always suitable for the UK, they change how a community looks which may not be acceptable… Coastal erosion raises its own challenges too.

When we think of Adaptation/Relocation we have to acknowledge that protection is always technically possible but what if it was unaffordable or unsustainable. For example a disaster in Grahamstown, Queensland saw a major event in January 2011 lead to protective measures but the whole community moving in land in December 2011. There wasn’t a delay on funding etc. as this was an emergency, it forced the issue. But how can we do that in a planned way? We have Coastal change Pathfinders. This approach is very valuable including actual relocation, awareness, engagement lessons, policy innovation. But the approach is very difficult to mainstream because of funding, awareness, planning policy, local authority capacity. And here too I see research opportunities around making the business case for adaptation/relocation.

To take an example here that a colleague is working on. Fairbourne, Gwynedd, on the West Coast of Wales, is a small community, with a few buildings from the 1890s which has grown to 400 properties and over 800 people. Coastal defences were improved in 1981, and again in 2012. But this is a community which really shouldn’t be in that location in the long term, they are in the middle of flood plans. The Parish Council have adopted an SMP policy which has goals across different timings: in the short term to Hold the Line; medium term – Managed Realignment, and long term – No Active Intervention. There is a need to plan now to look at how we move from one position to another… So this isn’t dissemination needed here, it is true communication and engagement with the community, identifying who that community is to ensure that is effective.

So, in closing I think there is research needed around design for short life; consultation and engagement – about useful work done, lessons learned, moving from informing to involving to ownership, defining what a community is; Making the business case for supporting adaptation/relocation – investment in temporary protection to buy time; investment in increasing communities’ adaptive capacity; value of being prepared vs unprepared – damage (to the nation) such as lack of mobility, employability, burden on health and social services. And I’d like to close with the question: should we consider relocation for some inland areas at risk of flooding?


Q1) That closing question… I was driving to a settlement in our area which has major flood risk, is frequently cut off by snow in the summer. There are few jobs there, it is not strategically key although it has a heritage value perhaps. We could be throwing good money after bad to protect a small settlement like that which has minimal contribution. So I would agree that we should look at relocation of some inland properties. Also, kudos to the parish council of Fairbourne for adopting that plan. We face real challenges as politicians are elected on 5 year terms, and getting them persuaded that they need to get communities to understand the long term risks and impacts is really challenging.

A1) I think no-one would claim that Fairbourne was an easy process. The Council adopted the SMP but who goes to parish meetings? But BBC Wales picked it up, rather misreported the timelines, but that raised interest hugely. But it’s worth noting that a big part of Gwynedd and mid Wales faces these challenges. Understanding what we preserve, where investment goes… How do we live with the idea of people living below sea level. The Dutch manage that but in a very different way and it’s the full nation who are on board, very different in the UK.

Q2) What about adopting Dutch models for managing risk here?

A2) We’ve been looking at various ways that we can learn from Dutch approaches, and how that compares and translates to a UK context.

And now, in a change to plans, we are rejuggling the event to do some reflection on the network – led by Prof. Garry Pender – before lunch. We’ll return with 2 minute presentations after that. Garry is keen that all attending complete the event feedback forms on the network, the role of the network, resources and channels such as the website, webinars, events, etc. I am sure FCERM.net would also welcome comments and feedback by email from those from this community who are not able to attend today. 

Sharing Best Practice – Just 2-minutes – Mini presentations from delegates sharing output, experience and best practice


I wasn’t able to take many notes from this session, as I was presenting a 2 minute session from my COBWEB colleague Barry Evans (Aberystwyth University), on our co-design work and research associated with our collaboration with the Tal-y-bont Floodees in Mid-Wales. In fact various requirements to re-schedule the day meant that the afternoon was more interactive but also not really appropriate for real time notation so, from hereon, I’m summarising the day. 

At this point in the day we moved to the Parallel Breakout sessions on Tools for the Future. I am leading Workshop 1 on crowd sourcing so won’t be blogging them, but include their titles here for reference:

  • Workshop 1 – Crowd-Sourcing Data and Citizen Science – An exploration of tools used to source environmental data from the public led by Nicola Osborne CSCS Network with case studies from SEPA. Slides and resources from this session will be available online shortly.
  • Workshop 2 – Multi-event modelling for resilience in urban planning An introduction to tools for simulating multiple storm events with consideration of the impacts on planning in urban environments with case studies from BRE and Scottish Government
  • Workshop 3 – Building Resilient Communities Best-practice guidance on engaging with communities to build resilience, led by Dr Esther Carmen with case studies from the SESAME project

We finished the day with a session on Filling the Gaps– Future Projects:

Breakout time for discussion around future needs and projects

I joined a really interesting Community Engagement breakout session, considering research gaps and challenges. Unsurprisingly much of the discussion centred on what we mean by community and how we might go about identifying and building relationships with communities. In particular there was a focus on engaging with transient communities – thinking particularly about urban and commuter areas where there are frequent changes in the community. 

Final Thoughts from FCERM.net – Prof. Garry Pender 

As the afternoon was running behind Garry closed with thank yous to the speakers and contributors to the day. 

Jun 272016
This afternoon I’m at the eLearning@ed/LTW monthly Showcase and Network event, which this month focuses on Assessment and Feedback.
I am liveblogging these notes so, as usual, corrections and updates are welcomed. 
The wiki page for this event includes the agenda and will include any further notes etc.: https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/x/kc5uEg
Introduction and Updates, Robert Chmielewski (IS Learning, Teaching and Web)
Robert consults around the University on online assessment – and there is a lot of online assessment taking place. And this is an area that is supported by everybody. Students are interested in submitting and receiving feedback online, but we also have technologists who recognise the advantages of online assessment and feedback, and we have the University as a whole seeing the benefits around, e.g. clarity over meeting timelines for feedback. The last group here is the markers and they are more and more appreciative of the affordances of online assessment and feedback. So there are a lot of people who support this, but there are challenges too. So, today we have an event to share experiences across areas, across levels.
Before we kick off I wanted to welcome Celeste Houghton. Celeste: I an the new Head of Academic Development for Digital Education at the University, based at IAD, and I’m keen to meet people, to find out more about what is taking place. Do get in touch.
eSubmission and eFeedback in the College of Humanities and Social Science, Karen Howie (School of History, Classics & Archaeology)
This project started about 2-3 years back in February 2015. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences wants 100% electronic submission/feedback where “pedagogically appropriate” by 2016/17 academic year. Although I’m saying electronic submission/feedback the in-between marking part hasn’t been prescribed. The project board for this work includes myself, Robert and many others any of whom you are welcome to contact with any questions.
So, why do this? Well there is a lot of student demand for various reasons – legibility of comments; printing costs; enabling remote submission. For staff the benefits are ore debatable but they can include (as also reported by Jisc) increased efficiency, and convenience. Benefits for the institution (again as reported by Jisc) include measuring feedback response rates, and efficiencies that free up time for student support.
Now some parts of CHSS are already doing this at the moment. Social and Political Studies are using an in-house system. Law are using Grademark. And other schools have been running pilots, most of them with GradeMark, and these have been mostly successful. But we’ve had lots of interesting conversations around these technologies, around quality of assessment, about health and safety implications of staring at a screen more.
We have been developing a workflow and process for the college but we want this to be flexible to schools’ profiles – so we’ve adopted a modular approach that allows for handling of groups/tutors; declaration of own work; checking for non-submitters; marking sheets and rubrics; moderation, etc. And we are planning for the next year ahead, working closely with the Technology Enhanced Learning group in HSS. We are having some training – for markers it’s a mixture of in-School and is with College input/support; and for administrators by learning technologies in the school or through discussions with IS LTW EDE. To support that process we have screencasts and documentation currently in development. PebblePad isn’t part of this process, but will be.
To build confidence in the system we’re facing some myth busting etc. For instance, anonymity vs pastoral care issues – a receipt dropbox has been created; and we have an agreement with EUSA that we can deanonymise if identification is not provided. And we have also been looking at various other regulations etc. to ensure we are complying and/or interpreting them correctly.
So, those pilots have been running. We’ve found that depending on your preocesses the administration can be complex. Students have voiced concerns around “generic” feedback. Students were anxious – very anxious in some cases. It is much quicker for markers to get started with marking, as soon as the deadline has passed. But there are challenges though – including when networks go down, for instance there was an (unusual) DDOS attack during our pilots that impacted our timeline.
Feedback from students seems relatively good. 14 out of 36 felt quality of marking was better than on paper – but 10 said it was less good. 29 out of 36 said feedback was more legible. 10 felt they had received more feedback than noral, 11 less. 3 out of 36 would rather submit on paper, 31 would would rather submit online. In our first pilot with first year students around 10% didn’t look at feedback for essay, 36% didn’t look at tutorial feedback. In our second pilot about 10% didn’t look at either assignments submissions.
Markers reported finding the electronic marking easier, but some felt that the need to work on screen was challenging or less pleasant than marking on paper.
Q1) The students who commented on less or more feedback than normal – what were they comparing to?
A1) To paper-based marking, which they would have had for other courses. So when we surveyed them they would have had some paper-based and some electronic feedback already.
Q2) A comment about handwriting and typing – I read a paper that said that on average people write around 4 times more words when typing than when hand writing. And in our practice we’ve found that too.
A2) It may also be student perceptions – looks like less but actually quite a lot of work. I was interested in students expectations that 8 days was a long time to turn around feedback.
Q2) I think that students need to understand how much care has been taken, and that that adds to how long these things take.
Q3) You pointed out that people were having some problems and concerns – like health and safety. You are hoping for 100% take up, and also that backdrop of the Turnitin updates… Are there future plans that will help us to move to 100%
A3) The health and safety thing came up again and again… But it’s maybe to do with how we cluster assignments. In terms of Turnitin there are updates but not all of those emerge rather slowly – there is a bit more competition now, and some frustration across the UK, so looking likely that there will be more positive developments.
Q4) It was interesting that idea that you can’t release some feedback until it is all ready… For us in the Business School we ended up releasing feedback when there was a delay.
A4) In our situation we had some marks ready in a few days, others not due for two weeks. A few days would be fair, a few weeks would be problematic. It’s an expectation management issue.
Comment) There is also a risk that is marking is incomplete or partially done it can cause students great distress…
Current assessment challenges, Dr. Neil Lent (Institute for Academic Development)
My focus is on assessment and feedback. Initially the expectation was that I’d be focused on how to do assessment and feedback “better”. And you can do that to an extent but… The main challenge we face is a cultural rather than a technical challenge. And I mean technical in the widest sense – technological, yes, but also technical in terms of process and approach. I also think we are talking about “cultures” rather than “culture” when we think about this.
So, why are we focussing on assessment and feedback? Well we have low NSS scores, low league table position and poor student experience reported around this area. Also issues of (un)timely feedback, low utility, and the idea that we are a research-led university and the balance of that and learning and teaching. Some of these areas are more myth than reality. I think as a university we now have an unambiguous focus on teaching and learning but whether that has entirely permeated our organisational culture is perhaps arguable. When you have competing time demands it is hard to do things properly, and the space to actually design better assessment and feedback.
So how do we handle this? Well is we look at the “Implementation Staircase” (Reynolds and Saunders 1987) we can see that it comes from senior management, then to colleges, to schools, to programmes, to courses, to students. Now you could go down that staircase or you can go back up… And that requires us to think about our relationships with students. Is this model dialogic? Maybe we need another model?
Activity theory (Engestrom 1999) is a model for a group like a programme team, or course cohort, etc. So we have a subject here – it’s all about the individual in the context of an object, the community, mediating tool, rules and conventions, division of labour. This is a classic activity theory idea, with modern cultural aspects included. So for us the subject might be the marker, the object the assignment, the mediating tool something like the technological tools or processes, rules and conventions may include the commitment to return marks within 2 weeks, division of labour could include colleagues and sharing of marking, community could be students. It’s just a way to conceptualise this stuff.
A cultural resolution would see culture as practice and discourse. Review and reflection need to be embedded and internalised way of life. We have multiple stakeholders here – not always the teacher or the marker. And we need a bit of risk taking – but that’s scary when we are thinking about risk taking. That can feel at odds with the need to perform at a high level but risk taking is needed. And we need best practice to share experience in events such as this.
So there are technical things we could do better, do right. But the challenge we face is more of a collective one. We need to create time and space to genuinely reflect on their teaching practice, to interact with that culture. But you don’t change practice overnight. And we have to think about our relationship with our students, and thinking about how we encourage and enable them to be part of the process, and building up their own picture of what good/bad work looks like. And then the subject, object, culture will be closer together. Sometimes real change comes from giving examples of what works, inspiring through those examples etc. Technological tools can make life easier, if you have the time to spend time to understand them and how to make them work for you.
Q1) Not sure if it’s a question or comment or thought… But I’m wondering what we take from those NSS scores, and if that’s what we should work to or if we should think about assessment and feedback in a different kind of paradigm.
A1) When we think about processes we can kid ourselves that this is all linear, it’s cause and effect. It isn’t that simple… The other thing about concentrating on giving feedback on time, so they can make use of it. But when it comes to the NSS it commodifies feedback, which challenges the idea of feedback as dialogic. There are cultural challenges for this. And I think that’s where risk, and the potential for interesting surprises come in…
Q2) As a parent of a teenager I now wonder about personal resilience, to be able to look at things differently, especially when they don’t feel confident to move forwards. I feel that for staff and students a problem can arise and they panic, and want things resolved for them. I think we have to move past that by giving staff and students the resilience so that they can cope with change.
A2) My PhD was pretty much on that. I think some of this comes from the idea of relatively safe risk taking… That’s another kind of risk taking. As a sector we have to think that through. Giving marks for everything risks everything not feeling like a safe space.
Q3) Do we not need to make learning the focus.
A3) Schools and universities push that grades, outcomes really matter when actually we would say “no, the learning is what matters”, but that’s hard in the wider context in which the certificate in the hand is valued.
Comment) Maybe we need that distinction that Simon Riley talked about at this year’s eLearning@ed conference, of distinguishing between the task and the assignment. So you can fail the task but succeed that assignment (in that case referring to SLICCs and the idea that the task is the experience, the assignment is writing about it whether it went well or poorly).
Not captured in full here: a discussion around the nature of electronic submission, and students concern about failing at submitting their assignments or proof of learning… 
Assessment Literacy: technology as facilitator, Prof. Susan Rhind (Assistant Principal Assessment and Feedback)
I’m going to talk about assessment literacy, and about technology as a facilitator. I’m also going to talk about something I’m hoping you may be able to advise about.
So, what is assessment literacy? It is being talked about a lot in Higher Education at the moment. There is a book all about it (Price et al 2012) that talks about competencies and practices. For me what is most important is the idea of ensuring some practical aspects are in place, that students have an understanding of the nature, meaning and level of assessment standards, that they have skills in self and peer assessment. The idea is to narrow the gap between students and teaching staff. Sadler (1989,2010) and Bod and Molloy (2013) talk about students needing to understand the purpose of assessment and process of assessment. It means understanding assessment as a central part of curriculum design (Medland 2016, Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet, 2009). We need assessment and feedback at the core, at the heart of our learning and teaching.
We also have to understand assessment in the context of quality of teaching and quality of assessment and feedback. For me there is a pyramid of quality (with programme at bottom, individual at top, course in the middle). When we talk about good quality feedback we have to conceptualise it, as Neil talked about, as a dialogic process. So there is individual feedback… But there is also course design and programme design in terms of assessment and feedback. No matter how good a marker is in giving feedback, it is much more effective when the programme design supports good quality feedback. In this model technology can be a facilitator. For instance I wanted to plug Fiona Hale’s Edinburgh Learning Design Roadmap (ELDeR) workshops and processes. This sort of approach lets us build for longer term improvement in these areas.
Again, thinking about feedback and assessment quality, and things that courses can do, we have a table here that compares different types of assessment, the minimum pre-assessment activity to ensure they have assessment literacy, and then enhancement examples. a minimum requirement for feedback and some exemplars for marking students work.
An example here would be work we’ve done at the Vet School around student use of Peerwise MCQs – here students pushed for use in 3rd year, and for revision at the end of the programme. By the way if you are interested in assessment literacy, or have experience to share, we now have a channel for Assessment and Feedback, and for Assessment Literacy on MediaHopper.
Coming back to that exemplars of students work… We run Learning to be an Examiner sessions which students could take part in, and which includes the opportunity to mark exemplars of students work. That leads to conversations, and exchange of opinions, to understand the reasons behind the marking. And I would add that any place we can bring the students and teaching staff closer together only benefits us and our NSS scores. The themes coming out of this work was that there was real empathy for staff, and quelling fears. Students also noted that as they took part, the better they understood the requirements, the less important feedback felt.
There have been some trials using ACJ (Adaptive Comparative Judgement), which is the idea that with enough samples of work you can use comparison to put work into an order or ranking. So you present staff several assignments and they can rank them. We ran this as an experiment as it provides a chance for students to see others’ work and compare to their own as well as others. We ran a survey after this experiment but students felt seeing others’ responses, and also to understand others’ approaches to comparison and marking.
So, my final point here is a call for help… As we think about what excites and encourages students I would like to find a Peerwise like system for free text type questions. Student feedback was good, but they wanted to do that for a lot more questions than just those we were able to set. So I would like to take Peerwise away from the MCQ context so that students could see and comment and engage with each others work. And I think that anything that brings students and staff closer together in their understanding is important.
Q1) How do we approach this in a practical way. We’ve asked students to look at exemplar essays but we bump into problems doing them. It’s easy to persuade those who wrote good essays and have moved to later years, but it’s hard to find those with poorer.
A1) We were doing this with short questions, not long essays. Hazel Marzetti was encouraging sharing of essays and they were reluctant. I think there’s something around expectation management – creating the idea up front that work will be available for others… That one has to opt out rather than opt out. Or you can mock up essays but you lose that edge of it being the real thing.
Q2) On the idea of exemplars… How do we feel about getting students to do a piece of work, and then sharing that with others on, say, the same topic. You could pick a more tangental topic, but that risks being less relevant, that a good essay is properly authentic… But for others there is a risk of copying potential.
A2) I think that it’s about understanding risk and context. We don’t use the idea of “model answers” but instead “outline answers”. Some students do make that connection… But they are probably those with a high degree of assessment literacy who will do well anyway.
Q3) By showing good work, showing a good range with similar scores, but also when you show students exemplars you don’t just give out the work, you annotate it, point out what makes it good, features that make it notable… A way to inspire students and help them develop assessment literacy when judging others’ work.
And with that our main presentations have drawn to a close with a thank you for all our lovely speakers and contributors.  We are concluding with an Open Discussion on technology in Assessment and Feedback.
Susan: Yeah, I’m quite a fan of mandatory activities but which do not carry a mark. But I’d seriously think about not assigning marks for all feedback activities… 
Comment: But the students can respond with “if it’s so important, why doesn’t this carry credit?”
Susan: Well you can make it count. For instance our vet students have to have a portfolio, and are expected to discuss that annually. That has been zero credits before (now 10 credits) but still mandatory. Having said that our students are not as focused on marking in that way.
Comment: I don’t want to be the “ah, but…” person here… But what if a student fails that mandatory non marked work? What’s the make-up task?
Susan: For us we are able to find a suitable bespoke negotiated exercise for the very few students this applies to…
Comment: What about equity?
Susan: I think removing the mark actually removes that baggage from the argument… Because the important thing here is doing the right tasks for the professional world. I think we should be discussing this more in the future.  
And with that Robert is drawing the event to a close. The next eLearning@ed/LTW monthly meet up is in July, on 27th July and will be focused on the programme for attaining the CMALT accreditation.  
Jun 152016

Today I’m at the University of Edinburgh Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme Forum 2016: Rethinking Learning and Teaching Together, an event that brings together teaching staff, learning technologists and education researchers to share experience and be inspired to try new things and to embed best practice in their teaching activities.

I’m here partly as my colleague Louise Connelly (Vet School, formerly of IAD) will be presenting our PTAS-funded Managing Your Digital Footprint project this afternoon. We’ll be reporting back on the research, on the campaign, and on upcoming Digital Foorprints work including our forthcoming Digital Footprint MOOC (more information to follow) and our recently funded (again by PTAS) project: “A Live Pulse: YikYak for Understanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment at Edinburgh.

As usual, this is a liveblog so corrections, comments, etc. welcome. 

Velda McCune, Deputy Director of the IAD who heads up the learning and teaching team, is introducing today:

Welcome, it’s great to see you all here today. Many of you will already know about the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme. We have funding of around £100k from the Development fund every year, since 2007, in order to look at teaching and learning – changing behaviours, understanding how students learn, investigating new education tools and technologies. We are very lucky to have this funding available. We have had over 300 members of staff involved and, increasingly, we have students as partners in PTAS projects. If you haven’t already put a bid in we have rounds coming up in September and March. And we try to encourage people, and will give you feedback and support and you can resubmit after that too. We also have small PTAS grants as well for those who haven’t applied before and want to try it out.

I am very excited to welcome our opening keynote, Paul Ashwin of Lancaster University, to kick off what I think will be a really interesting day!

Why would going to university change anyone? The challenges of capturing the transformative power of undergraduate degrees in comparisons of quality  – Professor Paul Ashwin

What I’m going to talk about is this idea of undergraduate degrees being transformative, and how as we move towards greater analytics, how we might measure that. And whilst metrics are flawed, we can’t just ignore these. This presentation is heavily informed by Lee Schumers work on Pedagogical Content Knowledge, which always sees teaching in context, and in the context of particular students and settings.

People often talk about the transformative nature of what their students experience. David Watson was, for a long time, the President for the Society of Higher Education (?) and in his presidential lectures he would talk about the need to be as hard on ourselves as we would be on others, on policy makers, on decision makers… He said that if we are talking about education as educational, we have to ask ourselves how and why this transformation takes place; whether it is a planned transformation; whether higher education is a nesseccary and/or sufficient condition for such transformations; whether all forms of higher education result in this transformation. We all think of transformation as important… But I haven’t really evidenced that view…

The Yerevan Communique: May 2015 talks about wanting to achieve, by 2020, a European Higher Education area where there are common goals, where there is automatic recognition of qualifictions and students and graduates can move easily through – what I would characterise is where Bologna begins. The Communique talks about higher education contributing effectively to build inclusive societies, found on democratic values and human rights where educational opportunities are part of European Citizenship. And ending in a statement that should be a “wow!” moment, valuing teaching and learning. But for me there is a tension: the comparability of undergraduate degrees is in conflict with the idea of transformational potential of undergraduate degrees…

Now, critique is too easy, we have to suggest alternative ways to approach these things. We need to suggest alternatives, to explain the importance of transformation – if that’s what we value – and I’ll be talking a bit about what I think is important.

Working with colleagues at Bath and Nottingham I have been working on a project, the Pedagogic Quality and Inequality Project, looking at Sociology students and the idea of transformation at 2 top ranked (for sociology) and 2 bottom ranked (for sociology) universities and gathered data and information on the students experience and change. We found that league tables told you nothing about the actual quality of experience. We found that the transformational nature of undergraduate degrees lies in changes in students sense of self through their engagement with discplinary knowledge. Students relating their personal projects to their disciplines and the world and seeing themselves implicated in knowledge. But it doesn’t always happen – it requires students to be intellectually engaged with their courses to be transformed by it.

To quote a student: “There is no destination with this discipline… There is always something further and there is no point where you can stop and say “I understaood, I am a sociologist”… The thing is sociology makes you aware of every decision you make: how that would impact on my life and everything else…” And we found the students all reflecting that this idea of transformation was complex – there were gains but also losses. Now you could say that this is just the nature of sociology…

We looked at a range of disciplines, studies of them, and also how we would define that in several ways: the least inclusive account; the “watershed” account – the institutional type of view; and the most inclusive account. Mathematics has the most rich studies in this area (Wood et al 2012) where the least inclusive account is “Numbers”, watershed is “Models”, most inclusive is “approach to life”. Similarly Accountancy moves from routine work to moral work; Law from content to extension of self; Music from instrument to communicating; Geograpy is from general world to interactions; Geoscience is from composition of earth – the earth, to relations earth and society. Clearly these are not all the same direction, but they are accents and flavours of the same time. We are going to do a comparison next year on chemistry and chemical engineering, in the UK and South Africa, and actually this work points at what is particular to Higher Education being about engaging with a system of knowledge. Now, my colleague Monica McLean would ask why that’s limited to Higher Education, couldn’t it apply to all education? And that’s valid but I’m going to ignore it just for now!

Another students comments on transformation of all types, for example from wearing a tracksuit to lectures, to not beginning to present themselves this way. Now that has nothing to do with the curriculum, this is about other areas of life. This student almost dropped out but the Afro Carribean society supported and enabled her to continue and progress through her degree. I have worked in HE and FE and the way students talk about that transformation is pretty similar.

So, why would going to university change anyone? It’s about exposure to a system of knowledge changing your view of self, and of the world. Many years ago an academic asked what the point of going to university was, given that much information they learn will be out of date. And the counter argument there is that engagement with seeing different perspectives, to see the world as a sociologist, to see the world as a geographer, etc.

So, to come back to this tension around the comparability of undergraduate degrees, and the transformational potential of undergraduate degrees. If we are about transformation, how do we measure it? What are the metrics for this? I’m not suggesting those will particularly be helpful… But we can’t leave metrics to what is easy to gather, we have to also look at what is important.

So if we think of the first area of compatibility we tend to use rankings. National and international higher education rankings are a dominant way of comparing institutions’ contributions to student success. All universities have a set of figures that do them well. They have huge power as they travel across a number of contexts and audiences – vice chancellors, students, departmental staff. It moves context, it’s portable and durable. It’s nonsense but the strength of these metrics is hard to combat. They tend to involved unrelated and incomparable measures. Their stability reinforces privilege – higher status institutions tend to enrol a much greated proportion of privileged students. You can have some unexpected outcomes but you have to have Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, UCL, Imperial all near the top then your league table is rubbish… Because we already know they are the good universities… Or at least those rankings reinforce the privilege that already exists, the expectations that are set. They tell us nothing about transformation of students. But are skillful performances shaped by generic skills or students understanding of a particular task and their interactions with other people and things?

Now the OECD has put together a ranking concept on graduate outcomes, the AHELO, which uses tests for e.g. physics and engineering – not surprising choices as they have quite international consistency, they are measurable. And they then look at generic tests – e.g a deformed fish is found in a lake, using various press releases and science reports write a memo for policy makers. Is that generic? In what way? Students doing these tests are volunteers, which may not be at all representative. Are the skills generic? Education is about applying a way of thinking in an unstructured space, in a space without context. Now, the students are given context in these texts so it’s not a generic test. But we must be careful about what we measure as what we measure can become an index of quality or success, whether or not that is actually what we’d want to mark up as success. We have strategic students who want to know what counts… And that’s ok as long as the assessment is appropriately designed and set up… The same is true of measures of success and metrics of quality and teaching and learning. That is why I am concerned by AHELO but it keeps coming back again…

Now, I have no issue with the legitimate need for comparison, but I also have a need to understand what comparisons represent, how they distort. Are there ways to take account of students’ transformation in higher education?

I’ve been working, with Rachel Sweetman at University of Oslo, on some key characteristics of valid metrics of teaching quality. For us reliability is much much more important than availability. So, we need ways to assess teaching quality that:

  • are measures of the quality of teaching offered by institutions rather than measures of institutional prestige (e.g. entry grades)
  • require improvements in teaching practices in order to improve performance on the measures
  • as a whole form a coherent set of metrics rather than a set of disparate measures
  • are based on established research evidence about high quality teaching and learning in higher education
  • reflect the purposes of higher education.

We have to be very aware of Goodhearts’ rule that we must be wary of any measure that becomes a performance indicator.

I am not someone with a big issue with the National Student Survey – it is grounded in the right things but the issue is that it is run each year, and the data is used in unhelpful distorted ways – rather than acknowledging and working on feedback it is distorting. Universities feel the need to label engagement as “feedback moments” as they assume a less good score means students just don’t understand when they have that feedback moment.

Now, in England we have the prospect of the Teaching Excellence Framework English White Paper and Technical Consultation. I don’t think it’s that bad as a prospect. It will include students views of teaching, assessment and academic support from the National Student Survey, non completion rates, measures over three years etc. It’s not bad. Some of these measures are about quality, and there is some coherence. But this work is not based on established research evidence… There was great work here at Edinburgh on students learning experiences in UK HE, none of that work is reflected in TEF. If you were being cynical you could think they have looked at available evidence and just selected the more robust metrics.

My big issue with Year 2 TEF metrics are how and why these metrics have been selected. You need a proper consultation on measures, rather than using the White Paper and Technical Consultation to do that. The Office for National Statistics looked at measures and found them robust but noted that the differences between institutions scores on the selected metrics tend to be small and not significant. Not robust enough to inform future work according to the ONS. It seems likely that peer review will end up being how we differentiate between institution.

And there are real issues with TEF Future Metrics… This comes from a place of technical optimism that if you just had the right measures you’d know… This measure ties learner information to tax records for “Longitudinal Education Outcomes data set” and “teaching intensity”. Teaching intensity is essentially contact hours… that’s game-able… And how on earth is that about transformation, it’s not a useful measure of that. Unused office hours aren’t useful, optional seminars aren’t useful…  Keith Chigwell told me about a lecturer he knew who lectured a subject, each week fewer and fewer students came along. The last three lectures had no students there… He still gave them… That’s contact hours that count on paper but isn’t useful. That sort of measure seems to come more from ministerial dinner parties than from evidence.

But there are things that do matter… There is no mechanism outlines for a sector-wide discussion of the development of future metrics. What about expert teaching? What about students relations to knowledge? What about the first year experience – we know that that is crucial for student outcomes? Now the measures may not be easy, but they matter. And what we also see is the Learning Gains project, but they decided to work generically, but that also means you don’t understand students particular engagement with knowledge and engagement. In generic tests the description of what you can do ends up more important than what you actually do. You are asking for claims for what they can do, rather than performing those things. You can see why it is attractive, but it’s meaningless, it’s not a good measure of what Higher Education can do.

So, to finish, I’ve tried to put teaching at the centre of what we do. Teaching is a local achievement – it always shifts according to who the students are , what the setting is, and what the knowledge is. But that also always makes it hard to capture and measure. So what you probably need is a lot of different imperfect measures that can be compared and understood as a whole. However, if we don’t try we allow distorting measures, which reinforce inequalities, to dominate. Sometimes the only thing worse than not being listened to by policy makers, is being listened to them. That’s when we see a Frankenstein’s Monster emerge, and that’s why we need to recognise the issues, to ensure we are part of the debate. If we don’t try to develop alternative measures we leave it open to others to define.


Q1) I thought that was really interesting. In your discussion of transformation of undergraduate students I was wondering how that relates to less traditional students, particularly mature students, even those who’ve taken a year out, where those transitions into adulthood are going to be in a different place and perhaps where critical thinking etc. skills may be more developed/different.

A1) One of the studies I talked about was London Metropolitan University has a large percentage of mature students… And actually there the interactions with knowledge really did prove transformative… Often students lived at home with family whether young or mature students. That transformation was very high. And it was unrelated to achievements. So some came in who had quite profound challenges and they had transformation there. But you have to be really careful about not suggesting different measures for different students… That’s dangerous… But that transformation was there. There is lots of research that’s out there… But how do we transform that into something that has purchase… recognising there will be flaws and compromises, but ensuring that voice in the debate. That it isn’t politicians owning that debate, that transformations of students and the real meaning of education is part of that.

Q2) I found the idea of transformation that you started with really interesting. I work in African studies and we work a lot on decolonial issues, and of the need to transform academia to be more representative. And I was concerned about the idea of transformation as a decolonial type issue, of being like us, of dressing like that… As much as we want to challenge students we also need to take on and be aware of the biases inherent in our own ways of doing things as British or Global academics.

A2) I think that’s a really important question. My position is that students come into Higher Education for something. Students in South Africa – and I have several projects there – who have nowhere to live, have very little, who come into Higher Education to gain powerful knowledge. If we don’t have access to a body of knowledge, that we can help students gain access to and to gain further knowledge, then why are we there? Why would students waste time talking to me if I don’t have knowledge. The world exceeds our ability to know it, we have to simplify the world. What we offer undergraduates is powerful simplifications, to enable them to do things. That’s why they come to us and why they see value. They bring their own biographies, contexts, settings. The project I talked about is based in the work of Basil Bernstein who argues that the knowledge we produce in primary research… But when we design curriculum it isn’t that – we engage with colleagues, with peers, with industry… It is transformed, changed… And students also transform that knowledge, they relate it to their situation, to their own work. But we are only a valid part of that process if we have something to offer. And for us I would argue it’s the access to body of knowledge. I think if we only offer process, we are empty.

Q3) You talked about learning analytics, and the issues of AHELO, and the idea of if you see the analytics, you understand it all… And that concept not being true. But I would argue that when we look at teaching quality, and a focus on content and content giving, that positions us as gatekeepers and that is problematic.

A3) I don’t see knowledge as content. It is about ways of thinking… But it always has an object. One of the issues with the debate on teaching and learning in higher education is the loss of the idea of content and context. You don’t foreground the content, but you have to remember it is there, it is the vehicle through which students gain access to powerful ways of thinking.

Q4) I really enjoyed that and I think you may have answered my question.. But coming back to metrics you’ve very much stayed in the discipline-based silos and I just wondered how we can support students to move beyond those silos, how we measure that, and how to make that work.

A4) I’m more course than discipline focused. With the first year of TEF the idea of assessing quality across a whole institution is very problematic, it’s programme level we need to look at. inter-professional, interdisciplinary work is key… But one of the issues here is that it can be implied that that gives you more… I would argue that that gives you differently… It’s another new way of seeing things. But I am nervous of institutions, funders etc. who want to see interdisciplinary work as key. Sometimes it is the right approach, but it depends on the problem at hand. All approaches are limited and flawed, we need to find the one that works for a given context. So, I sort of agree but worry about the evangelical position that can be taken on interdisciplinary work which is often actually multidisciplinary in nature – working with others not genuinely working in an interdisciplinary way.

Q5) I think to date we focus on objective academic ideas of what is needed, without asking students what they need. You have also focused on the undergraduate sector, but how applicable to the post graduate sector?

A5) I would entirely agree with your comment. That’s why pedagogic content matters so much. You have to understand your students first, as well as then also understanding this body of knowledge. It isn’t about being student-centered but understanding students and context and that body of knowledge. In terms of your question I think there is a lot of applicability for PGT. For PhD students things are very different – you don’t have a body of knowledge to share in the same way, that is much more about process. Our department is all PhD only and there process is central. That process is quite different at that level… It’s about contributing in an original way to that body of knowledge as its core purpose. That doesn’t mean students at other levels can’t contribute, it just isn’t the core purpose in the same way.

Parallel Sessions from PTAS projects: Social Media – Enhancing Teaching & Building Community? – Sara Dorman, Gareth James, Luke March

Gareth: It was mentioned earlier that there is a difference between the smaller and larger projects funded under this scheme – and this was one of the smaller projects. Our project was looking at whether we could use social media to enhance teaching and community in our programmes but in wider areas. And we particularly wanted to look at the use of Twitter and Facebook, to engage them in course material but also to strengthen relationships. So we decided to compare the use of Facebook used by Luke March in Russian Politics courses, with the use of Twitter and Facebook  in African Politics courses that Sara and I run.

So, why were we interested in this project? Social media is becoming a normal area of life for students, in academic practice and increasingly in teaching (Blair 2013; Graham 2014). Twitter increasingly used, Facebook well established. It isn’t clear what the lasting impact of social media would be but Twitter especially is heavily used by politicians, celebrities, by influential people in our fields. 2014 data shows 90% of 18-24 year olds regularly using social media. For lecturers social media can be an easy way to share a link as Twitter is a normal part of academic practice (e.g. the @EdinburghPIR channel is well used), keeping staff and students informed of events, discussion points, etc. Students have also expressed interest in more community, more engagement with the subject area. The NSS also shows some overall student dissatisfaction, particularly within politics. So social media may be a way to build community, but also to engage with the wider subject. And students have expressed preference for social media – such as Facebook groups – compared to formal spaces like Blackboard Learn discussion boards. So, for instance, we have a hashtag #APTD – the name of one of our courses – which staff and students can use to share and explore content, including (when you search through) articles, documents etc. shared since 2013.

So, what questions did we ask? Well we wanted to know:

  • Does social media facilitate student learning and enhance the learning experience?
  • Does social media enable students to stay informaed?
  • Does it facilitate participation in debates?
  • Do they feel more included and valued as part of the suject area?
  • Is social media complementary to VLEs like Learn?
  • Which medium works best?
  • And what disadvantages might there be around using these tools? \

We collected data through a short questionnaire about awareness, usage, usefulness. We designed just a few questions that were part of student evaluation forms. Students had quite a lot to say on these different areas.

So, our findings… Students all said they were aware of these tools. There was slightly higher levels of awareness among Facebook users, e.g. Russian Politics for both UG and PG students. Overall 80% said they were aware to some extent. When we looked at usage – meaning access of this space rather than necessarily meaningful engagement – we felt that usage of course materials on Twitter and Facebook does not equal engagement. Other studies have found students lurking more than posting/engaging directly. But, at least amongst our students (n=69), 70% used resources at least once. Daily usage was higher amongst Facebook users, i.e. Russian Politics. Twitter more than twice as likely to have never been used.

We asked students how useful they found these spaces. Facebook was seen as more useful than Twitter. 60% found Facebook “very” or “somewhat useful”. Only a third described Twitter as “somewhat useful” and none said “very useful”. But there were clear differences between UG and PG students. UG students were generally more positive than PG students. They noted that it was useful and interesting to keep up with news and events, but not always easy to tie that back to the curriculum. Students claimed it “interesting” a lot – for instance comparing historical to current events. More mixed responses included that there was plenty of material on Learn, so didn’t use FB or Twitter. Another commented they wanted everything on Learn, in one place. One commented they don’t use Twitter so don’t want to follow the course there, would prefer Facebook or Learn. Some commented that too many posts were shared, information overload. Students thought some articles were random, couldn’t tell what was good and what was not.

A lot of these issues were also raised in focus group discussions. Students do appreciate sharing resources and staying informed, but don’t always see the connection to the course. They recognise potential for debate and discussion but often it doesn’t happen, but when it does they find it intimidating for that to be in a space with real academics and others, indeed they prefer discussion away from tutors and academics on the course too. Students found Facebook better for network building but also found social vs academic distinction difficult. Learn was seen as academic and safe, but also too clunky to navigate and engage in discussions. Students were concerned others might feel excluded. Some also commented that not liking or commenting could be hurtful to some. One student comments “it was kind of more like the icing than the cake” – which I think really sums it up.

Students commented that there was too much noise to pick through. And “I didn’t quite have the know-how to get something out of”. “I felt a bit intimidated and wasn’t sure if I should join in”. others commented only using social media for social purpose – that it would be inappropriate to engage with academics there.  Some saw Twitter as a professional, Facebook as social.

So, some conclusions…

It seems that Facebook is more popoular with students than Twitter, seen as better for building community. Some differences between UG and PG students, with UG more interested. Generally less enthusiasm than anticiapted. Students were interested in nd aware of benefits of joining in discussions but also wary of commenting too much in “public”. This suggests that we need to “build community” in order for the “community building” tools to really works.

There is also an issue of lack of integration between FB, Twitter and Learn. Many of our findings reflect others, for instance Matt Graham in Dundee – who saw potential for HE humanities students. Facebook was particularly popular for their students than Twitter. He looked more at engagement and saw some students engaging more deeply with the wider African knowledge. But one outcome was that student engagement did not occur or engage sustainably without some structure – particular tasks and small nudges, connected to Learning Outcomes, flagging clear benefits at beginning, and that students should take a lead in creating groups – which came out of our work too – also suggested.

There are challenges here: inappropriate use, friending between staff and students for instance. Alastair Blair notes in an article that the utility of Twitter, despite the challenge, cannot be ignored. For academics thinking about impact it is important, but also for students it is important for alignment with wider subject area that moves beyond the classroom.

Our findings suggest that there is no need to rush into social media. But at the same time Sara and I still see benefits for areas like African Studies which is fast moving and poorly covered in the mainstream media. But the idea of students wanting to be engaged in the real world was clearly not carried through. Maybe more support and encouragement is needed for students – and maybe for staff too. And it would be quite interesting to see if and how students experiences of different politics and events – #indyref, #euref, etc. differ. Colleagues are considering using social media in a course on the US presidential election, might work out differently as students may be more confident to discuss these. The department has also moved forward with more presences for staff and students, also alumni.

Closing words from Matt Graham that encouraging students to question and engage more broadly with their subject is a key skill.


Q1) What sort of support was in place, or guidelines, around that personla/academic identity thing?

A1) Actually none. We didn’t really realise this would happen. We know students don’t always engage in Learn. We didn’t really fully appreciate how intimidating students really found this. I don’t think we felt the need to give guidelines…

A1 – SD) We kind of had those channels before the course… It was organic rather than pedagogic…

Q1) We spoke to students who wanted more guidance especially for use in teaching and learning.

A1 – SD) We did put Twitter on the Learn page… to follow up… Maybe as academics we are the worst people to understand what students would do… We thought they would engage…

Q1) Will you develop guidelines for other courses…

A1) And a clearer explanation might encourage students to engage a bit more… Could be utility in doing some of that. University/institution wise there is cautious adoption and you see guidance issued for staff on using these things… But wouldn’t want overbearing guidance there.

Q1) We have some guidance under CC licence that you can use, available from Digital Footprints space.

Q2) Could you have a safer filtered space for students to engage. We do writing courses with international PG students and thought that might be useful to have social media available there… But maybe it will confuse them.

A2) There was a preference for a closed “safer” environment, talking only to students in their own cohort and class. I think Facebook is more suited to that sort of thing, Twitter is an open space. You can create a private Facebook group… One problem with Russian Politics was that they have a closed group… But had previous cohorts and friends of staff…

A2 – SD) We were trying to include students in real academia… Real tensions there over purpose and what students get out of it… The sense of not knowing… Some students might have security concerns but think it was insecurity in academic knowledge. They didn’t see themselves as co-producers. That needs addressing…

A2) Students being reluctant to engage isn’t new, but we thought we might have more engagement in social media. Now this was the negative side but actually there was positive things here – that wider awareness, even if one directional.

Q3) I just wanted to ask more about the confidence to participate and those comments that suggested that was a bigger issue – not just in social media – for these students, similarly information seeking behaviour

A3) There is work taking place in SPS around study skills, approaching your studies. Might be some room to introduce this stuff earlier on in school wide or subject wide courses… Especially if we are to use these schools. I completely agree that by the end of these studies you should have these skills – how to write properly, how to look for information… The other thing that comes to mind having heard our keynote this morning is the issue of transformative process. It’s good to have high expectations of UG students, and they seem to rise to the occasion… But I think that we maybe need to understand the difference between UG and PG students… And in PG years they take that further more fully.

A3 – SD) UG are really big courses – which may be part of the issue. In PG they are much smaller… Some students are from Africa and may know more, some come in knowing very little… That may also play in…

Q4) On the UG/PG thing these spaces move quickly! Which tools you use will change quickly. And actually the type of thing you post really matters – sharing a news article is great, but how you discuss and create follow up afterwards – did you see that, the follow up, the creation, the response…

A4 – SD) Students did sometimes interact… But the people who would have done that with email/Learn were the same that used social media in that way.

A4) Facebook and Twitter are new technologies still… So perhaps students will be increasingly more engaged and informed and up for engaging in these space. I’m still getting to grips with the etiquette of Twitter. There was more discussion on Facebook Groups than on Twitter… But also can be very surface level learning… It complements what we are doing but there are challenges to overcoming them… And we have to think about whether that is worthwhile. Some real positives and real challenges.

Parallel Sessions from PTAS projects: Managing Your Digital Footprint (Research Strand) – Dr Louise Connelly 

This was one of the larger PTAS-funded projects. This is the “Research Strand” is because it ran in parallel to the campaign which was separately funded.

There is so much I could cover in this presentation so I’ve picked out some areas I think will be practical and applicable to your research. I’m going to start by explaining what we mean by “Digital Footprint” and then talk more about our approach and the impact of the work. Throughout the project and campaign we asked students for quotes and comments that we could share as part of the campaign – you’ll see these throughout the presentation but you can also use these yourself as they are all CC-BY.

The project wouldn’t have been possible without an amazing research team. I was PI for this project – based at IAD but I’m now at the Vet School. We also had Nicola Osborne (EDINA), Professor Sian Bayne (School of Education). We also had two research students – Phil Sheail in Semester 1 and Clare Sowton in Semester 2. But we also had a huge range of people across the Colleges and support services who were involved in the project.

So, I thought I’d show you a short video we made to introduce the project:

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The idea of the video was to explain what we meant by a digital foorprint. We clearly defined what we meant as we wanted to emphasis to students and staff – though students were the focus – was that your footprint is not just what you do but also what other people post about you, or leave behind about you. That can be quite scary to some so we wanted to address how you can have some control about that.

We ran a campaign with lots of resources and materials. You can find loads of materials on the website. That campaign is now a service based in the Institute for Academic Development. But I will be focusing on the research in this presentation. This all fitted together in a strategy. The campaig was to raise awareness and provide practical guidance, the research sought to gain an in-depth understanding of student’s usage and produce resources for schools. Then to feed into learning and teaching on an ongoing basis. Key to the resaerch was a survey we ran during the campaign, which was analysed by the research team..

In terms of the gap and scope of the campaign I’d like to take you back to the Number 8 bus… It was an idea that came out of myself and Nicola – and others – being asked regularly for advice and support. There was a real need here, but also a real digital skills gap. We also saw staff wanting to embed social media in the curriculum and needing support. The brainwave was that social media wasn’t the campaign that was needed, it was about digital footprint and the wider issues. We also wanted to connect to current research. boyd (2014) who works on networked teens talks about the benefits as well as the risks… as it is unclear how students are engaging with social/digital media and how they are curating their online profiles. We also wanted to look at the idea of eprofessionalism (Chester et al 2013), particularly in courses where students are treated as paraprofessionals – a student nurse, for instance, could be struck off before graduating because of social media behaviours so there is a very real need to support ad raise awareness amongst students.

Our overall research aim was to: work with students across current delivery modes (UG, PGT, ODL, PhD) in order to better understand how they 

In terms of our research objectives we wanted to: conduct research which generates a rich understanding; to develop a workshop template – and ran 35 workshops for over 1000 students in that one year; to critically analyse social media guidelines – it was quite interesting that a lot of it was about why students shouldn’t engage, little on the benefits; to work in partnership with EUSA – important to engage around e.g. campaign days; to contribute to the wider research agenda; and to effectively disseminate project findings – we engaged with support services, e.g. we worked with Careers about their LinkedIn workshops which weren’t well attended despite students wanting professional presence help and just rebranding the sessions was valuable. We asked students where they would seek support – many said the Advice Place rather than e.g. IS, so we spoke to them. We spoke to the Councelling service too about cyberbullying, revenge porn, sexting etc.

So we ran two surveys with a total of 1,457 responses. Nicola and I ran two lab-based focus groups. I interviewed 6 individuals over a range of interviews with ethnographic tracing. And we gathered documentary analysis of e.g. social media guidelines. We used mixed methods as we wanted this to be really robust.

Sian and Adam really informed our research methods but Nicola and I really led the publications around this work. We have had various publications and presentations including presentations at the European Conference on Social Media, for the Social Media for Higher Education Teaching and Learning conference. Also working on a Twitter paper. We have other papers coming. Workshops with staff and students have happened and are ongoing, and the Digital Ambassador award (Careers and IS) includes Digital Footprint as a strand. We also created a lot of CC-BY resources – e.g. guidelines and images. Those are available for UoE colleagues, but also for national and international community who have fed into and helped us develop those resources.

I’m going to focus on some of the findings…

The survey was on Bristol Online Survey. It was sent to around 1/3rd of all students, across all cohorts. The central surveys team did the ethics approval and issuing of surveys. Timing had to fit around other surveys – e.g. NSS etc. And we we had relatively similar cohorts in both surveys, the second had more responses but that was after the campaign had been running for a while.

So, two key messages from the surveys: (1) Ensure informed consent – crucial for students (also important for staff) – students need to understand the positive and negative implications of using these non traditional non university social media spaces. In terms of what that means – well guidance, some of the digital skills gap support etc. Also (2) Don’t assume what students are using and how they are using it. Our data showed age differences in what was used, cohort differences (UG, PGT, ODL, PhD), lack of awareness e.g. T&Cs, benefits – some lovely anecdotal evidence, e.g. UG informatics student approached by employers after sharing code on GitHub. Also the important of not making assumptions around personal/educational/professional environments – especially came out of interviews, and generally the implications of Digital Footprint. One student commented on being made to have a Twitter account for a course and not being happy about not having a choice in that (e.g. through embedding of tweets in Learn for instance).

Thinking about platforms…

Facebook is used by all cohorts but ODL less so (perhaps a geographic issue in part). Most were using it as a “personal space” and for study groups. Challenges included privacy management. Also issues of isolation if not all students were on Facebook.

Twitter is used mainly by PGT and PhD students, and most actively by 31-50 year olds. Lots of talk about how to use this effectively.

One of the surprises for us was that we thought most courses using social media would have guidelines in place for the use of social media in programme handbooks. But students reported them not being there, or not being aware of it. So we created example guidance which is on the website (CC-BY) and also an eprofessionalism guide (CC-BY) which you can also use in your own programme handbooks.

There were also tools we weren’t aware were in usage and that has led to a new YikYak research project which has just been funded by PTAS and will go ahead over the next year with Sian Bayne leading, myself, Nicola and Informatics. The ethnographic tracing and interviews gave us a much richer understanding of the survey data.

So, what next? We have been working with researchers in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand… EDINA has had some funding to develop an external facing consultancy service, providing training and support for NHS, schools, etc. We have the PTAS funded YikYak project. We have the Digital Footprint MOOC coming in August. The survey will be issued again in October. Lots going on, more to come!

We’ve done a lot and we’ve had loads of support and collaboration. We are really open to that collaboration and work in partnership. We will be continuing this project into the next year. I realise this is the tip of the iceberg but it should be food for thought.


Q1) We were interested in the staff capabilities

A1 – LC) We have run a lot of workshops for staff and research students, done a series at vet. Theres a digital skills issue, research, and learning and teaching, and personal strands here.

A1 – NO) There were sessions and training for staff before… And much of the research into social media and digital footprint has been very small cohorts in very specific areas,

Comment) I do sessions for academic staff in SPS, but I didn’t know about this project so I’ll certainly work that in.

A1 – LC) We did do a session for fourth year SPS students. I know business school are all over this as part of “Brand You”.

Q2) My background was in medicine and when working in a hospital and a scary colleague told junior doctors to delete their Facebook profiles! She was googling them. I saw an article in the Sun that badly misrepresented doctors – of doctors living the “high life” because there was something sunny.

A2 – LC) You need to be aware people may Google you… And be confident of your privacy and settings. And your professional body guidelines about what you have there. But there are grey areas there… We wanted to emphasise informed choice. You have the Right to be Forgotten law for instance. Many nursing students already knew restrictions but felt Facebook restrictions unfair… A recent article says there are 3.5 degrees of separation on Facebook – that can be risky… In teaching and learning this raises issues of who friends who, what you report… etc. The culture is we do use social media, and in many ways that’s positive.

A2 – NO) Medical bodies have very clear guidance… But just knowing that e.g. Profile pictures are always public on Facebook, you can control settings elsewhere… Knowing that means you can make informed decisions.

Q3) What is “Brand You”?

A3) Essentially it’s about thinking of yourself as a brand, how your presences are uses… And what is consistent, how you use your name, your profile images. And how you do that effectively if you do that. There is a book called “Brand You” which is about effective online presence.

Closing Keynote : Helen Walker, GreyBox Consulting and Bright Tribe Trust

I’m doing my Masters in Digital Education with University of Edinburgh, but my role is around edtech, and technology in schools, so I am going to share some of that work with you. So, to set the scene a wee video: Kids React to Technology: Old Computers:

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Watching the kids try to turn on the machine it is clear that many of us are old enough to remember how to work late 1970s/early 1980s computers and their less than intuitive user experience.

So the gaps are maybe not that wide anymore… But there are still gaps. The gaps for instance between what students experience at home, and what they can do at home – and that can be huge. There is also a real gap between EdTech promises and delivery – there are many practitioners who are enervated about new technologies, and have high expectations. We also have to be aware of the reality of skills – and be very cautious of Prensky’s (2001) idea of the “digital native” – and how intoxicating and inaccurate that can be.

There is also a real gap between industry and education. There is so much investment in technology, and promises of technology. Meanwhile we also see perspectives of some that computers do not benefit pupils. Worse, in September 2015 the OECD reported, and it was widely re-reported that computers do not improve pupil results, and may in fact disbenefit. That risks going back before technology, or technology being the icing on the cake… And then you read the report:

“Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

Well of course. Technology has to be pedagogically justified. And that report also encourages students as co-creators. Now if you go to big education technology shows like BETT and SETT you see very big rich technology companies offering expensive technology solutions to quite poor schools.

That reflects Education Endowment Fund Report 2012 found that “it’s the pedagogy, not technology” and the technology is a catalyst for change. Glynis Cousins says that technology has to work dynamically with pedagogy.

Now, you have fabulous physical and digital resources here. There is the issue here of what schools have. Schools often have machines that are 9-10 years old, but students have much more sophisticated devices and equipment at home – even in poor homes. Their school experience of using old kit to type essays jars with that. And you do see schools trying to innovate with technology – iPads and such in particular… They brought them, they invest thousands.. But they don’t always use them because the boring crucial wifi and infrastructure isn’t there. It’s boring and expensive but it’s imperative. You need that all in order to use these shiny things…

And with that… Helen guides us to gogopp.com and the web app to ask us why a monkey with its hand in a jar with a coin… We all respond… The adage is that if you wanted to catch a monkey you had to put an orange or some nuts in a jar, and wouldn’t let go, so a hunter could just capture the monkey. I deal with a lot of monkeys… A lot of what I work towards is convincing them that letting go of that coin, or nut, or orange, or windows 7 to move on and change and learn.

Another question for us… What does a shot of baseball players in a field have to do with edtech… Well yes, “if you build it, they will come”. A lot of people believe this is how you deal with edtech… Now although a scheme funding technology for schools in England has come to an end, a lot of Free Schools now have this idea. That if you build something, magic will happen…

BTW this gogopp tool is a nice fun free tool – great for small groups…

So, I do a lot of “change management consultation” – it’s not a great phrase but a lot of what it’s about is pretty straightforward. Many schools don’t know what they’ve got – we audit the kit, the software, the skills. We work on a strategy, then a plan, then a budget. And then we look at changes that make sense… Small scale, pathfinder projects, student led work – with students in positions of responsibility, we have a lot of TeachMeet sessions – a forum of 45 mins or so and staff who’ve worked on pathfinder projects have 2 or max 5 mins can share their experience – a way to drop golden nuggets into the day (much more effective than inset days!), and I do a lot of work with departmental heads to ensure software and hardware aligns with needs.

When there is the right strategy and the right pedagogical approach, brilliant things can happen. For instance…

Abdul Chohan, now principal of Bolton Academy, transformed his school with iPads – giving them out and asking them what to do with them. He works with Apple now…

David Mitchell (no, not that one), Deputy Headteacher in the Northwest, started a project called QuadBlogging for his 6th year students (year 7 in Scotland) whereby there are four organisations involved – 2 schools and 2 other institutions, like MIT, like the Government – big organisations. Students get real life, real world feedback in writing. They saw significant increases in their writing quality. That is a great benefit of educational technology – your audience can be as big or small as you want. It’s a nice safe contained forum for children’s writing.

Simon Blower, had an idea called “Lend me your writing”, crowdfunded Pobble – a site where teachers can share examples of student work.

So those are three examples of pedagogically-driven technology projects and changes.

And now we are going to enter Kahoot.it…

The first question is about a free VLE – Edmodo… It’s free except for analytics which is a paid for option.

Next up… This is a free behaviour management tool. The “Class Story” fundtion has recently been added… That’s Class Dojo.

Next… A wealth of free online courses, primarily aimed at science, math and computing… Khan Academy. A really famous resource now. Came about as Salmon Khan who asked for maths homework help… Made YouTube videos… Very popular and now a global company with a real range of videos from teachers. No adverts. Again free…

And next… an adapting learning platform with origins in the “School of One” in NYC. That’s Knewton. School of One is an interesting school which has done away with traditional classroom one to many systems… They use Knewton, which suggests the next class, module, task, etc. This is an “Intelligent Tutoring System” which I am skeptical of but there is a lot of interest from publishers etc. All around personalised learning… But that is all data driven… I have issues with thinking of kids as data producing units.

Next question… Office 365 tool allows for the creation of individual and class digital notebooks – OneNote. It’s a killer app that Microsoft invest in a lot.

And Patrick is our Kahoot winner (I’m second!)! Now, I use Kahoot I training sessions… It’s fun once… Unless everyone uses it through the day. It’s important that students don’t just experience the same thing again and again, that you work as a learning community to make sure that you are using tools in a way that stays interesting, that varies, etc.

So, what’s happening now in schools?

  • Mobility: BYOD, contribution, cross-platform agility
  • Office365/Google/iCloud
  • VLE/LMS – PLE/PLN – for staff and students
  • Data and tracking

So with mobility we see a growth in Bring Your Own Device… That brings a whole range of issues around esafety, around infrastructure. It’s not just your own devices, but also increasingly a kind of hire-purchase scheme for students and parents. That’s a financial pressure – schools are financially pressured and this is just a practical issue. One issue that is repeatedly coming up is the issue of cross-platform agility – phones, tablets, laptops. And discussion of bringing in keyboards, mice, and traditional set ups… Keyboard skills are being seen as important again in the primary sector. The benefit of mobile devices is collaboration, the idea of the main screen allowing everyone to be part of the classroom… You don’t need expensive software, can use e.g. cheap Reflector mirroring software. Apps… Some are brilliant, some are dreadful… Management of apps and mobile device management has become a huge industry… Working with technicians to support getting apps onto devices… How you do volume purchasing? And a lot of apps… One of two hit propositions… You don’t want the same app every week for one task… You need the trade off of what is useful versus getting the app in place/stafftime. We also have the issue of the student journey. Tools like socrative and nearpod lets you push information to devices. But we are going to look at/try now Plickers… What that does is has one device – the teachers mobile app – and I can make up printed codes (we’ve all been given one today) that can be laminated, handed out at the beginning of the year… So we then hold up a card with the appropriate answer at the top… And the teacher’s device is walked around to scan the room for the answers – a nice job for a student to do… So you can then see the responses… And the answer… I can see who got it wrong, and who got it right. I can see the graph of that….

We have a few easy questions to test this: 2+2 = (pick your answer); and how did you get here today? (mostly on foot!).

The idea is it’s a way to get higher order questioning into a session, otherwise you just hear from the kids that put their hands up all the time. So that’s Plicker… Yes, they all have silly names. I used to live in Iceland where a committee meets to agree new names – the word for computer means “witchcraft machine”.

So, thinking about Office365/Google/iCloud… We are seeing a video about a school where pupils helps promote, manage, coding, supporting use of Office365 in the school. And how that’s a way to get people into technology. These are students at Wyndham High in Norfolk – all real students. That school has adopted Office365. Both Office365 and Google offer educational environments. One of the reasons that schools err towards Office365 is because of the five free copies that students get – which covers the several locations and machines they may use at home.

OneNote is great – you can drag and drop documents… you can annotate… I use it with readings, with feedback from tutors. Why it’s useful for students is the facility to create Class Notebooks where you add classes and add notebooks. You can set up a content library – that students can access and use. You can also view all of the students notebooks in real time. In schools I work in we no longer have planners, instead have a shared class notebook – then colleagues can see and understand planning.

Other new functionality is “Classroom” where you can assign classes, assignments… It’s a new thing that brings some VLE functionality but limited in terms of grades being 0-100. And you can set up forms as well – again in preview right now but coming. Feedback goes into a CSV file in excel.

The other thing that is new is Planner – a project planning tool to assign tasks, share documents, set up groups.

So, Office 365 is certainly the tool most secondary schools I work with use.

The other thing that is happening in schools right now is the increasing use of data dashboards and tracking tools – especially in secondary schools – and that is concerning as it’s fairly uncritical. There is a tool called Office Mix which lets you create tracked content in Powerpoint… Not sure if you have access here, but you can use it at home.

Other data in schools tools include Power BI… Schools are using these for e.g. attainment outcomes. There is a free schools version of this tool (used to be too expensive). My concern is that it is not looking at what has impact in terms of teaching and learning. It’s focused on the summative, not the actual teaching and learning, not on students reporting back to teachers on their own learning. Hattie and self-reported grades tells us that students set expectations, goals, and understand rubrics for self-assessment. There is rich and interesting work to be done on using data in rich and meaningful ways.

In terms of what’s coming… This was supposed to be by 2025, then 2020, maybe sooner… Education Technology Action Group suggest online learning is an entitlement, better measures of performance, new emerging teaching and learning, wearables, etc.

Emerging EdTech includes Augmented Reality. It’s a big thing I do… It’s easy but it excites students… It’s a digital overlay on reality… So my two year old goddaughter is colouring in book that is augmented reality – you can then see a 3D virtual dinosaur coloured as per your image. And she asked her dad to send me a picture of her with a dinosaur. Other fun stuff… But where is the learning outcome here? Well there is a tool called Aurasma… Another free tool… You create a new Aura trigger image – can be anything – and you can choose your overlay… So I said I wanted to change the words on th epaper converted into French. It’s dead easy! We get small kids into this and can put loads of hidden AR content around the classroom, you can do it on t-shirts – to show inner working of the body for instance. We’ve had Year 11’s bring Year 7 textbooks to life for them – learning at both ends of the spectrum.

Last thing I want to talk about is micro:bit. This is about coding. In England and Wales coding is compulsory part of English now. All students are being issued a micro:bit and students are now doing all sorts of creative things. Young Rewired State project runs every summer and come to London to have code assessed – the winners were 5 and 6 year olds. So they will come to you with knowledge of coding – but they aren’t digital natives no matter what anyone tells you!


Q1 – Me) I wanted to ask about equality of access… How do you ensure students have the devices or internet access at home that they need to participate in these activities and tools – like the Office365 usage at home for instance. In the RSE Digital Participation Inquiry we found that the reality of internet connectivity in homes really didn’t match up to what students will self-report about their own access to technology or internet connections, there is such baggage associated with not having internet access to access to the latest technologies and tools… So I was wondering how you deal with that, or if you have any comments on that.

A1) With the contribution schemes that schools have for devices… Parents contribute what they can, school covers the rest… So that can be 50p or £1 per month, it doesn’t need to be a lot. Also pupil premium money can be used for this. But, yes, parental engagement is important… Many students have 3G access not fixed internet for instance and that has cost implications… some can use dongles supplied by schools but just supporting students like this can cost 15k/yr to support for a small to medium sized cohort. There is some interesting stuff taking place in new build schools though… So for instance Gaia in Wales are a technology company doing a lot of the new build hardware/software set up… In many of those schools there is community wifi access… a way around that issue of connectivity… But that’s a hard thing to solve.

Q1 – Me) There was a proposal some years ago from Gordon Brown’s government, for all school aged children to have government supported internet access at home but that has long since been dropped.

Q2) I fear with technologies is that if I learn it, it’s already out of date. And also learners who are not motivated to engage with these tools they haven’t used before… I enjoyed these tools, their natty…

A2) Those are my “sweet shop” tools… Actually Office365/Google or things like Moodle are the bread and butter tools. These are fun one-off apps… They are pick up and go stuff… but its getting big tools working well that matter. Ignore the sweets if you need or want… The big stuff matters.

And with that Velda is closing with great thanks to our speakers today, to colleagues in IAD, and to Daphne Loads and colleagues. Please do share your feedback and ideas, especially for the next forum!

May 122016
Participants networking over lunch at eLearning@ed

Last week I was delighted to be part of the team organising the annual eLearning@ed Conference 2016. The event is one of multiple events and activities run by and for the eLearning@ed Forum, a community of learning technologists, academics, and those working with learning technologies across the University of Edinburgh. I have been Convener of the group since last summer so this was my first conference in this role – usually I’m along as a punter. So, this liveblog is a little later than usual as I was rather busy on the day…

Before going into my notes I do also want to say a huge thank you to all who spoke at the event, all who attended, and an extra special thank you to the eLearning@ed Committee and Vlad, our support at IAD. I was really pleased with how the event went – and feedback has been good – and that is a testament to the wonderful community I have the privilege of working with all year round here at Edinburgh.

Note: Although I have had a chance to edit these notes they were taken live so just let me know if you spot any errors and I will be very happy to make any corrections. 

The day opened with a brief introduction from me. Obviously I didn’t blog this but it was a mixture of practical information, enthusiasm for our programme, and an introduction to our first speaker, Melissa Highton:

Connecting ISG projects for learning and teaching – Melissa Highton (@honeybhighton), Director: Learning, Teaching and Web (LTW), Information Services.

Today is about making connections. And I wanted to make some connections on work that we have been doing.

I was here last year and the year before, and sharing updates on what we’ve been doing. It’s been a very good year for LTW. It has been a very busy year for open, inspired by some of the student work seen last year. We have open.ed launched, the new open educational resources policies, we have had the OER conference, we have open media, we have had some very bold moves by the library. And a move to make digital images from the library are open by default. That offers opportunities for others, and for us.

Extract from the Online Learning Consortium's 2016 Infographic

Extract from the Online Learning Consortium’s 2016 Infographic (image copyright OLC 2016)

There is evidence – from the US (referencing the EdTech: a Catalyst for Success section of the Online Learning Consortium 2016 Infographic). with students reporting increased engagement with course materials, with professors, with fellow students. And there is also a strong interest in digital video. MediaHopper goes fully launched very soon, and we are taking a case to Knowledge Strategy Committee and Learning and Teaching Committee to invest further in lecture capture, which is heavily used and demanded. And we need to look at how we can use that content, how it is being used. One of the things that I was struck by at LAK, was the amount of research being done on the use of audio visual material, looking at how students learn from video, how they are used, how they are viewed. Analytics around effective video for learning is quite interesting – and we’ll be able to do much more with that when we have these better systems in place. And I’ve included an image of Grace Hopper, who we named MediaHopper after.

Melissa Highton speaking at eLearning@ed 2016

Melissa Highton speaking at eLearning@ed 2016

Talking of Learning Analytics I’m a great fan of the idea that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing a 2×2 matrix. So this is the Learning Analytics Map of Activities, Research and Roll-out (LAMARR – a great mix of Hollywood screen icon, and the inventor of wifi!), and there are a whole range of activities taking place around the university in this area at the moment, and a huge amount of work in the wider sector.

We also are the only University in the UK with a Wikimedian in Residence. It is a place entirely curated by those with interest in the world, and there is a real digital literacy skill for our students, for us, in understanding how information is created and contested online, how it becomes part of the internet, and that’s something that is worth thinking about for our students. I have a picture here of Sophie Jex-Blake, she was part of the inspiration for our first Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on women in science. Our Wikimedian is with us for just one year, so do make use of him. He’s already worked on lots of events and work, he’s very busy, but if you want to talk to him about a possible event, or just about the work being done, or that you want to do.

Here for longer than one year we have Lynda.com, an online collection of training videos which the University has signed up to for 3 years, and will be available through your University login. Do go and explore it now, and you will have Edinburgh University access from September. The stuff that is in there, can be curated into playlists, via learn, usage etc.

So, Wikipedia for a year, Lynda.com for three years, MediaHopper here now, and open increasingly here.

Highlights from recent conferences held in Edinburgh, chaired by Marshall Dozier

Marshall: Conferences are such an opportunity to make a connection between each other, with the wider community, and we hope to fold those three big conferences that have been taking place back into our own practice.

OER16 Open Culture Conference – Lorna Campbell (@lornamcampbell), Open Education Resources Liaison for Open Scotland, LTW.

This was the 7th OER conference, and the first one to take place in Edinburgh. It was chaired by myself and Melissa Highton. Themes included Strategic advantage of open, creating a culture of openness and the reputational challenges of “open-washing”; converging and competing cultures of open knowledge, open source, open content, open practice, open data and open access; hacking, making and sharing; openness and public engagement?; and innovative practices in cultural heritage contexts, which I was particularly to see us get good engagement from.

There was originally a sense that OER would die out, but actually it is just getting bigger and bigger. This years OER conference was the biggest yet, and that’s because of support and investment from those who, like the University of Edinburgh, who see real value in openness. We had participants from across the world – 29 countries – despite being essentially a UK based conference. And we had around a 50/50 gender split – no all male panel here. There is no external funding around open education right now, so we had to charge but we did ensure free and open online participation for all – keynotes live-streamed to the ALT channel, we had Radio #EDUtalk @ OER16, with live streaming of keynotes, and interviews with participants and speakers from the conference – those recordings are hugely recommended; and we also had a busy and active Twitter channel. We had a strong Wikimedia presence at OER16, with editing training, demonstrations, and an ask a Wikimedian drop-in clinic, and people found real value in that.

Lorna Campbell speaking about OER16 at eLearning@ed 2016

Lorna Campbell speaking about OER16 at eLearning@ed 2016

We also had a wide range of keynotes and I’m just going to give a flavour of these. Our first was Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway, who explored different definitions of openness, looking at issues of context and who may be excluded. We all negotiate risk when we are sharing, but negotiating that is important for hope, equality, and justice.

In the year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we were delighted to have Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith, who had a fantastic title: Free Willy: Shakespeaker & OER. In her talk she suggested teaching is an open practice now, that “you have to get over yourself and let people see what you are doing”.

John Scally’s keynote talked about the National Library of Scotland’s bold open policy. The NLS’ road to openness has been tricky, with tensions around preservation and access. John argued that the library has to move towards equality, and that open was a big part of that.

Edupunk Jim Groom of Reclaim Hosting, has quite a reputation in the sector and he was giving his very first keynote in the UK. JIm turned our attention from open shared resources, and towards open tech infrastructure, working at individual scale, but making use of cloud, networked resources which he sees as central to sustainable OER practice.

The final keynote was from Melissa Highton, with her talk Open with Care. She outlined the vision and policy of UoE. One idea introduced by Melissa was “technical and copyright debt”, the costs of not doing licensing, etc. correctly in the first place. IT Directors and CIOs need to be persuaded of the need for investment in OER.

It is difficult to summarise such a diverse conference, but there is growing awareness that openness is a key aspect that underpins good practice. I wanted to quote Stuart Allen’s blog. Stuart is a student on the MSc in Digital Education. HE did a wonderful summary of the conference.

Next year’s conference has the theme of Open and Politics and will be co-chaired by Josie Frader and Alec Tartovsky, chair of CC in Poland (our first international co-chair).

Learning@Scale 2016 – Amy Woodgate, Project Manager – Distance Education Initiative (DEI) & MOOCs, LTW.

I am coming at this from a different perspective here, as participant rather than organiser. This conference is about the intersection between informatics approaches and education. And I was interested in the degree to which that was informed by informatics, and that really seems to flag a need to interrogate what we do in terms of learning analytics, educational approach. So my presentation is kind of a proposal…

We have understood pedagogy for hundreds of years, we have been doing a huge amount of work on digital pedagogy, and the MSc in Digital Education is leading in this area. We have environments for learning, and we have environments at scale, including MOOCs, which were very evident at L@S. At University of Edinburgh we have lots of digitally based learning environments: ODL; MOOCS; and the emergence of UG credit-bearing online courses. But there is much more opportunity to connect these things for research and application – bringing pedagogy and environments at scale.

The final keynote at L@S was from Ken Koedinger, at Carnegie Mellon University. He suggested that every learning space should be a learning lab. We shouldn’t just apply theory, but building, doing, providing evidence base, thinking as part of our practice. He talked about collecting data, testing that data, understanding how to use data for continuous improvement. We are a research led institution, we have amazing opportunities to blend those things. But perhaps we haven’t yet fully embraced that Design, Deploy, Data, Repeat model. And my hope is that we can do something together more. We’ve done MOOCs for four years now, and there are so many opportunities to use the data, to get messy in the space… We haven’t been doing that but no-one has been. What was hard about the conference for me was that lots of it was about descriptive stats – we can see that people have clicked a video, but not connecting that back to anything else. And what was interesting to me was the articulation into physical environments here – picking up your pen many times is not meaningful. And so many Learning Analytics data sources are what we can capture, not necessarily what is meaningful.

The keynote had us answer some questions, about knowing when students are learning. You can see when people view or like a video, but there is a very low correlation between liking and learning… And for me that was the most important point of the session. That was really the huge gap, more proactive research, engagement, for meaningful measures of learning – not just what we can measure.

Mike Sharples, OU was also a keynote at L@S, and he talked about learning at scale, and how we can bring pedagoguey into those spaces, and the intersection of diversity, opportunity and availability. One of the things FutureLearn is exploring is the notion of citizen inquiry – people bring own research initiatives (as students) and almost like kickstarter engage the community in those projects. Interesting to see what happens, but an interesting question of how we utilize the masses, the scale of these spaces. We need you as the community working with us to start questioning how we can get more out of these spaces. Mike’s idea was that we have to rethink our idea of effective pedagoguey, and of ensuring that that is sustainable as being a key idea.

Working backwards then, there were many many papers submitted, not all were accepted, but you can view the videos of keynotes on Media Hopper, and there were posters for those not able to present as well. The winner of the best paper was “1A Civic Mission of MOOCs” – which gave the idea that actually there was a true diversity of people engaged in political MOOCs, and they weren’t all trolly, there was a sense of “respectful disagreement”. There were a lot of papers that we can look at, but we can’t apply any of these findings that can be applied without critical reflection, but there is much that can be done there.

It was interesting Lorna’s comments about gender balance. At L@S there were great female speakers, but only 15% of the whole. That reflected the computer science angle and bias of the event, and there felt like there was a need for the humanities to be there – and I think that’s an aspiration for the next one, to submit more papers, and get those voices as part of the event.

Although perhaps a slightly messy summary of the event, I wanted to leave you with the idea that we should be using what we do here at Edinburgh, with what we have available here, to put out a really exciting diverse range of work for presenting at next year’s third L@S!

So, what do people think about that idea of hacking up our learning spaces more? Thinking more about integrating data analysis etc, and having more of a community of practice around online pedagogies for learning@scale.

Amy Woodgate speaking about Learning@Scale 2016

Amy Woodgate speaking about Learning@Scale at elearning@ed 2016


Q1) I think that issue of measuring what we can measure is a real issue right now. My question here is about adapting approach for international students – they come in and play huge fees, and there are employers pushing for MOOCs instead… But then we still want that income… So how does that all work together.

A1) I don’t think learning at scale is the only way to do teaching and learning, but it is an important resource, and offers new and interesting ways of learning. I don’t feel that it would compromise that issue of international students. International students are our students, we are an international community on campus, embracing that diversity is important. It’s not about getting rid of the teacher… There is so much you can do with pedagogies online that are so exciting, so immersive… And there is more we can get out of this in the future. I find it quite awkward to address your point though… MOOCs are an experimentation space I think, for bringing back into core. That works for some things, and some types of content really work at scale – adaptive learning processes for instance – lots of work up front for students then to navigate through. But what do others think about using MOOCs on campus…

Comment, Tim) I think for me we can measure things, but that idea of how those actions actually relate to the things that are not measured… No matter how good your VLE, people will do things beyond it. And we have to figure out how we connect and understand how they connect.

Q2, Ruby) Thank you very much for that. I was just a little bit worried… I know we have to move away from simplistic description of this measure, means this thing. But on one slide there was an implication that measuring learning… can be measured through testing. And I don’t think that that that is neccassarily true or helpful. Liking CAN be learning. And there is a lot of complexity around test scores.

A2)  Yes, that chart was showing that viewing a particular video, hadn’t resulted in better learning uptake at the end of the course… But absolutely we do need to look at these things carefully…

Q3) At the recent BlackBoard conference there was the discussion of credit bearing MOOCs, is there any plan to do that now?

A3) This sometihng we can do of course, could take a MOOC into a credit bearing UG course, where the MOOC is about content. What becomes quite exciting is moving out and, say, the kind of thing MSc DE did with eLearning and Digital Cultures – making connections between the credit bearing module and the MOOC, in interesting and enriching ways. The future isn’t pushing students over to the MOOC, but taking learning from one space to another, and seeing how that can blend. Some interesting conversations around credit alliances, like a virtual Erasmus, around credit like summer school credit. But then we fall back of universities wanting to do exams, and we have a strong track record of online MScs not relying on written exams, but not all are as progressive right now.

Q4, Nigel) I’m in Informatics, and am involved in getting introductory machine learning course online, and one of the challenges I’m facing is understanding how students are engaging, how much. I can ask them what they liked… But it doesn’t tell me much. That’s one issue. But connecting up what’s known about digital learning and how you evaluate learning in the VLEs is good… The other thing is that there is a lot of data I’d like to get out of the VLE and which to my knowledge we can’t access that data… And we as data scientists don’t have access.

Comment, Anne-Marie Scott) We are still learning how to do that best but we do collect data and we are keen to see what we can do. Dragan will talk more about Learning Analytics but there is also a UoE group that you could get involved with.

Q5, Paul) That was fascinating, and I wish I’d been able to make it along… I was a bit puzzled about how we can use this stuff… It seems to me that we imagine almost a single student body out there… In any programme we have enthusiastic students desperate to learn, no matter what; in the middle we have the quite interested, may need more to stay engaged; and then there are people just there for the certificate who just want it easy. If we imagine we have to hit all of the audiences in one approach it won’t work. We are keen to have those super keen students. In medicine we have patient groups with no medical background or educational background, so motivated to learn about their own conditions… But then in other courses, we see students who want the certificate… I think that enormous spectrum give us enormous challenges.

A5) An interesting pilot in GeoSciences on Adaptive Learning, to try to address the interested and the struggling students. Maths and Physics do a lot with additional resources with external sites – e.g. MOOCs – in a curated list from academics, that augment core. Then students who just want the basics, for those that want to learn more… Interesting paper on cheating in MOOCs, did analysis on multiple accounts and IP addresses, and toggling between accounts… Got a harvester and master account, looked at clusters…. Master accounts with perfect learning… Harvesting were poorer, then the ones in the middle… The middle is the key part… That’s where energy should be in the MOOC.

Q6) I was intrigued by big data asset work, and getting more involved… What are tensions with making data openly available… Is it competition with other universities…

A6) That’s part of project with Dragan and Jeff Haywood have been leading on Learning Analytics data policy… MOOCs include personally identifiable data, can strip it, but requires work. University has desire to share data, but not there yet for easy to access framework to engage with data. To be part of that, it’s part of bigger Learning Analytics process.

LAK’16 Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference – Professor Dragan Gasevic (@dgasevic), Chair in Learning Analytics and Informatics, Moray House School of Education & School of Informatics

The Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, LAK’16, took place in Edinburgh last week. It was in it’s sixth edition. It started in Canada as a response to several groups of people looking at data collected in different types of digital environments, and also the possibility to merge data from physical spaces, instruments, etc. It attracted a diverse range of people from educational research, machine learning, psychology, sociology, policy makers etc. In terms of organisation we had wonderful support from the wonderful Grace Lynch and two of my PhD students, who did a huge amount. I also had some wonderful support from Sian Bayne and Jeff Haywood in getting this set up! They helped connect us to others, within the University and throughout the conference. But there are many others I’d like to thank, including Amy and her team who streamed all four parallel sessions throughout the conference.

In terms of programme the conference has a research stream and a practitioner stream. Our chairs help ensure we have a great programme – and we have three chairs for each stream. They helped us ensure we had a good diversity of papers and audiences, and vendors. We have those streams to attract papers but we deliberately mix the practice and research sessions are combined and share sessions… And we did break all records this time. This was only the second conference outside North America, and most of our participants are based there, but we had almost double the submissions this year. These issues are increasingly important, and the conference is an opportunity to critically reflect on this issue. Many of our papers were very high in quality, and we had a great set of workshops proposed – selecting those was a big challenge and only 50% made it in… So, for non computer scientists the acceptance ratio maybe isn’t a big deal… But for computer scientists it is a crucial thing. So here’s we accepted about 30% of papers… Short papers were particularly competitive – this is because the field is maturing, and people want to see more mature work.

Dragan Gasevic speaking about LAK'16 at eLearning@ed 2016.

We had participants from 35 countries, across our 470 participants – 140 from the US, 120 from the UK, and then 40 from Australia. Per capita Australia was very well represented. But one thing that is a little disappointing is that other European countries only had 3 or 4 people along, that tells us something about institutional adoption of learning analytics, and research there. There are impressive learning analytics work taking place in China right now, but little from Africa. In South America there is one hub of activity that is very good.

Workshops wise the kinds of topics addressed included learning design and feedback at scale, learning analytics for workplace and professional learning – definitely a theme with lots of data being collected but often private and business confidential work but that’s a tension (EU sees analytics as public data), learning analytics across physical and digital spaces – using broader data and avoiding the “streetlight effect”, temporal learning analytics – trying to see how learning processes unfold… Students are not static black boxes… They change decisions, study strategies and approaches based on feedback etc; also had interesting workshop on IMS Caliper; we also had a huge theme and workshop on ethical and privacy issues; and another on learning analytics for learners; a focus on video, and on smart environments; also looking for opportunities for educational researchers to engage with data – through data mining skills sessions to open conversations with with informaticians. We also had a “Failathon” – to try ideas, talk about failed ideas.

We also had a hackathon with Jisc/Apero… They issues an Edinburgh Statement for learning analytics interoperability. Do take a look, add your name, to address the critical points…

I just want to highlight a few keynotes: Professor Mireilla Hildebrandt talked about the law and learning as a a machine, around privacy, data and bringing in issues including the right to be forgotten. The other keynote I wanted to talk about was Professor Paul A Kirshner on learning analytics and policy – a great talk. And final keynote was Robert Mislevy who talked about psychometric front of learning analytics.

Finally two more highlights, we picked two papers out as the best:

  • Privacy and analytics – it’s a DELICATE issue. A checklist for trusted learning analytics – Hendrik Drachsler and Wolfgang Greller.
  • When should we stop? Towards Universal approach – details of speakers TBC

More information on the website. And we have more meetings coming up – we had meetings around the conference… And have more coming up with a meeting with QAA on Monday, session with Blackboard on Tuesday, and public panel with George Siemens & Mark Milliron the same day.


Q1) Higher Education is teaching, learning and research… This is all Learning Analytics… So do we have Teaching Analytics?

A1) Great point… Learning analytics is about learning, we shouldn’t be distracted by toys. We have to think about our methods, our teaching knowledge and research. learning analytics with pretty charts isn’t neccassarily helpful – sometimes event detrimental – t0 learners. We have to look at instructional designs, to support our instructors, to use learning analytics to understand the cues we get in physical environments. One size does not fit all!

Marshall) I set a challenge for next year – apply learning analytics to the conference itself!

Student-centred learning session, chaired by Ruby Rennie

EUSA: Using eLearning Tools to Support and Engage Record Numbers of Reps – Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka (@TanyaLubiczNaw), Academic Engagement Coordinator, EUSA; Rachel Pratt, Academic Representation Assistant, EUSA; Charline Foch (@Woody_sol), EUSA, and Sophie McCallum,Academic Representation Assistant, EUSA.

Tanya opened the presentation with an introduction to what EUSA: the Edinburgh University Students Association is and does, emphasizing the independence of EUSA and its role in supporting students, and supporting student representatives… 

Rachel: We support around 2000 (2238) students across campus per year, growing every year (actually 1592 individuals – some are responsible for several courses), so we have a lot of people to support.

Sophie: Online training is a big deal, so we developed an online training portal within Learn. That allows us to support students on any campus, and our online learners. Students weren’t always sure about what was involved in the role, and so this course is about helping them to understand what their role is, how to engage etc. And in order to capture what they’ve learned we’ve been using Open Badges, for which over to Tanya…

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka speaking about EUSA's use of Learn and Open Badges at elearning@ed 2016

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka speaking about EUSA’s use of Learn and Open Badges at elearning@ed 2016

Tanya: I actually heard about open badges at this very conference a couple of years ago. These are flexible, free, digital accreditation. Thay are full of information (metadata) and can be shared and used elsewhere in the online world. These badges represent skills in key areas, Student Development badges (purple), Research and communication badges (pink) and ? (yellow).

Tanya shows the EUSA Open Badges at elearning@ed 2016

Tanya shows the EUSA Open Badges at elearning@ed 2016

There have been huge benefits of the badges. There are benefits for students in understanding all aspects of the role, encouraging them to reflect on and document their work and success – and those helped us share their success, to understand school level roles, and to understand what skills they are developing. And we are always looking for new ways to accredit and recognise the work of our student reps, who are all volunteers. It was a great way to recognise work in a digital way that can be used on LinkedIn profiles.

There were several ways to gain badges – many earned an open badge for online training (over 1000 earned); badges were earned for intermediate training – in person (113 earned); and badges were also earned by blogging about their successes and development (168 earned).

And the badges had a qualitative impact around their role and change management, better understanding their skills and relationships with their colleagues.

Sophie McCallum speaking about EUSA's work on training and Open Badges at elearning@ed 2016

Sophie McCallum speaking about EUSA’s work on training and Open Badges at elearning@ed 2016

Rachel: Looking at the learning points from this. In terms of using (Blackboard) Learn for online functionality… For all our modules to work the best they can, 500 users is the most we could. We have two Learn pages – one for CSE (College of Science & Engineering), one for CHSS (College of Humanities and Social Sciences), they are working but we might have to split them further for best functionality. We also had challenges with uploading/bulk uploading UUNs (the University personal identifiers) – one wrong UUN in several hundred, loses all. Information services helped us with that early on! We also found that surveys in Learn are anonymous – helpful for ungraded reflection really.

In terms of Open Badges the tie to an email address is a challenge. If earned under a student email address, it’s hard to port over to a personal email address. Not sure how to resolve that but aware of it. And we also found loading of badges from “Backpack” to sites like LinkedIn was a bit tedious – we’ll support that more next year to make that easier. And there are still unknown issues to be resolved, part of the Mozilla Open Badges environment more broadly. There isn’t huge support online yet, but hopefully those issues will be addressed by the bigger community.

Using eLearning tools have helped us to upscale, train and support record numbers of Reps in their roles; they have helped us have a strong positive quantitative and qualitative impact in engaging reps; and importance of having essential material and training online and optional, in-person intermediate training and events. And it’s definitely a system we’ll continue to have and develop over the coming years.

Rachel Pratt talks about EUSA's training approach, working with student representatives across the University, at elearning@ed 2016

Rachel Pratt talks about EUSA’s training approach, working with student representatives across the University, at elearning@ed 2016


Q1) Have you had any new feedback from students about this new rep system… I was wondering if you have an idea of whether student data – as discussed earlier – is on the agenda for students?

A1 – Tanya) Students are very well aware of their data being collected and used, we are part of data analytics working groups across the university. It’s about how it is stored, shared, presented – especially the issue of how you present information when they are not doing well… Interested in those conversations about how data is used, but we are also working with reps, and things like the Smart Data Hacks to use data for new things – timetabling things for instance…

Q2) ?

A2) It’s a big deal to volunteer 50 hours of their time per year. They are keen to show that work to future employers etc.

Q3) As usual students and EUSA seem to be way ahead. How do you find out more about the badges?

A3) They can be clicked for more metadata – that’s embedded in it. Feedback has been great, and the blogposts have really helped them reflect on their work and share that.

SLICCs: Student-Led Individually Created Courses – Simon Riley, Senior Lecturer, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health

I’m Simon Riley, from the School of Medicine. I’m on secondment with the IAD and that’s why I’m on this. I’m coming to it from having worked on the student led component in medicine. You would think that medicine would be hugely confined by GMC requirements, but there is space there. But in Edinburgh there is about a year of the five year programme that is student led – spread across that time but very important.

Now, before speaking further I must acknowledge my colleague Gavin McCabe, Employability Consultant who has been so helpful in this process.

SLICCs are essentially a reflective framework, to explore skill acquisition, using an e-portfolio. We give students generic Learning Outcomes (LOs), which allow the students to make choices. Although it’s not clear how much students understand or engage with learning outcomes… We only get four or five per module. But those generic LOs allow students to immediately define their own aims and anticipated learning in their “proposal”. Students can take ownership of their own learning by choosing the LOs to address.

Simon Riley talks about SLICCs at eLearning@ed 2016

Simon Riley talks about SLICCs at eLearning@ed 2016

The other place that this can raise tensions is the idea of “academic rigor”. We are comfortable at assessing knowledge, and assessments that are knowledge based. And we assume they get those other graduate attributes by osmosis… I think we have to think carefully about how we look at that. Because the SLICCs are reflection on learning, I think there is real rigor there. But there has to be academic content – but it’s how they gain that knowledge. Tanya mentioned the Edinburgh Award – a reflective process that has some similarities but it is different as it is not for credit.

Throughout their learning experience students can make big mistakes, and recover from them. But if you get students to reflect early, and reflect on any issue that is raised, then they have the opportunity to earn from mistakes, to consider resilience, and helping them to understand their own process for making and dealing with mistakes.

The other concern that I get is “oh, that’s a lot of work for our staff”… I was involved in Pilot 1 and I discovered that when giving feedback I was referring students back to the LOs they selected, their brief, the rubric, the key feedback was about solving the problem themselves… It’s relatively light touch and gives ownership.

So, here are three LOs… Around Analysis, Application, Evaluation. This set is Level 8. I think you could give those to any student, and ask them to do some learning, based on that, and reflect on it… And that’s across the University, across colleges… And building links between the colleges and schools, to these LOs.

So, where are we at? We had a pilot with a small number of students. It was for extra credit, totally optional. They could conduct their own learning, capture in a portfolio, reflect upon it. And there is really tight link between the portfolio evidence, and the reflective assignment. It was a fascinating set of different experiences… For instance one student went and counter river dolphins in the Amazon, but many were not as exotic… We didn’t want to potentially exclude anyone or limit relevance. Any activity can have an academic element to it if structured and reflected upon appropriately. Those who went through the process… Students have come back to us who did these at Level 8 in second year (highest level senate has approved)… They liked the process – the tutor, the discipline, the framework, more than the credit.

So we have just over 100 students signed up this summer. But I’m excited about doing this in existing programmes and courses… What we’ve done is created SCQF LOs at Level 7, 8, 10 and 11, with resources to reflect, marking rubric, and board of studies documents. I am a course organiser – developing is great but often there isn’t time to do it… So what I’m trying to do is create all that material and then just let others take and reuse that… Add a little context and run onto it. But I want to hold onto the common LOs, as long as you do that we can work between each other… And those LOs include the three already shown, plus LO4 on “Talent” and LO5 on “Mindset”, both of which specifically address graduate attributes. We’ve had graduate attributes for years but they aren’t usually in our LOs, just implicit. In these case LOs are the graduate attributes.

Simon Riley gets very animated talking about Learning Outcomes at eLearning@ed 2016

Simon Riley gets very animated talking about Learning Outcomes at eLearning@ed 2016

What might they look like? Embedded in the curriculum, online and on campus. Level 11 on-campus courses are very interested, seems to fit with what they are trying to do. Well suited to projects, to skill acquisition, and using a portfolio is key – evidencing learning is a really useful step in getting engagement. And there is such potential for interdisciplinary work – e.g. Living Lab, Edinburgh CityScope. Summer schools also very interested – a chance for a student to take a holistic view of their learning over that period. We spend a lot of money sending students out to things – study abroad, summer schools, bursaries… When they go we get little back on what they have done. I think we need to use something like this for that sort of experience, that captures what they have learnt and reflected on.


Q1) That idea of students needing to be able to fail successfully really chimes for me… Failures can be very damaging… I thought that the idea of embracing failure, and that kind of start up culture too which values amazing failure… Should/could failure be one of your attributes… to be an amazing failure…

A1) I think that’s LO5 – turning it into a talent. But I think you have touched on an important aspect of our experience. Students are risk averse, they don’t want to fail… But as reflective learners we know that failure matters, that’s when we learn, and this framework can help us address this. I look to people like Paul McC… You have students learning in labs… You can set things up so they fail and have to solve problems… Then they have to work out how to get there, that helps…

Q1) In the sporting world you have the idea of being able to crash the kit, to be able to learn – learning how to crash safely is an early stage skills – in skateboarding, surfing etc.

Keynote, supported by the Centre for Research in Digital Education: In search of connected learning: Exploring the pedagogy of the open web – Dr Laura Gogia MD, PhD, (@GoogleGuacamole)Research Fellow for the Division of Learning Innovation and Student Success at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA, chaired by Jen Ross

Jen: I am really delighted to welcome Laura Gogia to eLearning@ed – I heard her speak a year or so ago and I just felt that great thing where ideas just gel. Laura has just successfully defended her PhD. She is also @GoogleGuacamole on Twitter and organises a Twitter reading club. And her previous roles have been diverse, most interestingly she worked as an obstetrician.

Laura: Thank you so much for inviting me today. I have been watching Edinburgh all year long, it’s just such an exciting place. To have such big conferences this year, there is so much exciting digital education and digital pedagogy work going on, you guys are at the forefront.

So I’m going to talk about connected learning – a simpler title than originally in your programme – because that’s my PhD title… I tried to get every keyword in my PhD title!

Laura Gogia begins her keynote with great enthusiasm at eLearning@ed 2016

Laura Gogia begins her keynote with great enthusiasm at eLearning@ed 2016

Let me show you an image of my daughter looking at a globe here, that look on her face is her being totally absorbed. I look for that look to understand when she is engaged and interested. In the academic context we know that students who are motivated, who see real relevance and benefit to their own work makes for more successful approaches. Drawing on Montesorri and other progressive approaches, Mimi Ito and colleagues have developed a framework for connected learning that shapes those approaches for an online digital world.

Henry Jenkins and colleagues describe Digital Participatory Culture that is interactive, creative, about sharing/contributing and informal mentoring. So a connected teacher might design learning to particularly use those connections out to the wider world. George Siemens and colleagues talk about digital workflow, where we filter/aggregate; critique; remix; amplify – pushing our work out into a noisy world where we need to catch attention. Therefore connected learners and teachers find ways to embed these skills into learning and teaching experiences…

Now this all sounds good, but much of the literature is on K-12, so what does connected learning mean for Higher Education. Now in 2014 my institution embarked on an openly networked connected learning project, on learning experiences that draw from web structure and culture to (potentially) support connected learning and student agency, engagement and success. This is only 2 years in, it’s not about guaranteed success but I’ll be talking about some work and opportunities.

So, a quick overview of VCU, we have an interesting dynamic institution, with the top rated arts college, we have diverse students, a satellite campus in Quatar and it’s an interesting place to be. And we also have VCU RamPages, an unlimited resource for creating webpages, that can be networked and extended within and beyond the University. There are about 16k websites in the last year and a half. Many are student websites, blogs, and eportfolios. RamPages enable a range of experiences and expression but I’ll focus on one, Connected Courses.

Connected Courses are openly networked digital spaces, there are networked participatory activities – some in person, all taught by different teaching staff. And they generate authentic learning products, most of which are visible to the public. Students maintain their own blog sites – usually on RamPages but they can use existing sites if they want. When they enroll on a new course they know they will be blogging and doing so publicly. They use a tag, that is then aggregated and combined with other students posts…

So, this is an example of a standard (WordPress) RamPages blog… Students select the blog template, the header images, etc. Then she uses the appropriate tag for her course, which takes it to the course “Bloggregate”… And this is where the magic happens – facilitating the sharing, the commenting, and from a tutors point of view, the assessment.

Laura Gogia shows the VCA/RamPages

Laura Gogia shows the VCA/RamPages “Bloggregate” at eLearning@ed 2016

The openly networked structure supports student agency and discovery. Students retain control of their learning products during and after the course. And work from LaGuadia found students were more richly engaged in such networked environments. And students can be exposed to work and experience which they would not otherwise be exposed to – from different sites, from different institutions, from different levels, and from different courses.

Connected learning also facilitate networked participation, including collaboration and crowdsourcing, including social media. These tools support student agency – being interdependent and self regulated. They may encourage digital fluency. And they support authentic learning products – making joint contributions that leads to enriched work.

A few years ago the UCI bike race was in Virginia and the University, in place of classes, offered a credited course that encouraged them to attend the bike race and collect evidence and share their reflections through the particular lens of their chosen course option. These jointly painted a rich picture, they were combined into authentic work products. Similarly VCU Field Botany collaboratively  generate a digital field guide (the only one) to the James Richer Park System. This contributes back to the community. Similarly arts students are generating the RVArts site, on events, with students attending, reflecting, but also benefiting our community who share interest in these traditionally decentralised events.

Now almost all connected courses involve blogging, which develops multimodal composition for digital fluency and multiple perspectives. Students include images and video, but some lecturers are embedding digital multimodal composition in their tasks. Inspireed by DS106, University of Mary Washington, our #CuriousCoLab Creative Makes course asks students to process abstract course concepts and enhance their digital fluency. They make a concrete representation of the abstract concept – they put it in their blog with some explanation of why they have chosen to do this in their way. The students loved this… They spent more time, they thought more on these abstract ideas and concepts… They can struggle with those ideas… This course was fully online, with members of the public engaged too – and we saw both students and these external participants did the creative make, whether or not they did the reflective blogging (optional for outside participants).

In terms of final projects students are often asked to create a website. These assignments allow the students to work on topics that really talk to their heart… So, one module can generate projects on multitasking and the brain, another might talk about the impact on the bombing of Hiroshima.

I’ve talked about connected learning but now I’d like to turn to my research on student blogging and tweeting, and my focus on the idea that if students are engaged in Connected Learning we require the recognition and creation of connections with people, and across concepts, contexts and time. I focused on Blogging and tweeting as these are commonly used in connected learning… I asked myself about whether there was something about these practices that was special here. So I looked at how we can capture connected learning through student digital annotation… Looking at hyperlinks, mentions, etc. The things that express digital connection… Are they indicative of pedagogical connections too? I also looking at images and videos, and how students just use images in their blog posts…

Because the Twitter API and WordPress allow capture of digital annotations… You can capture those connections in order to describe engagement. So, for the class I looked at there were weekly Twitter chats… And others beyond the course were open participants, very lightly auditing the course… I wanted to see how they interacted… What I saw was that open students were very well integrated with the enrolled students, and interacting… And this has instructional value too. Instructors used a similar social network analysis tool to ask students to reflect on their learning and engagement.

Laura Gogia speaking about linking and interaction patterns at VCU as part of her eLearning@ed 2016 keynote

Laura Gogia speaking about linking and interaction patterns at VCU as part of her eLearning@ed 2016 keynote

Similarly I looked at psychology students and how they shared hyperlinks… You can see also how sources are found directly, and when they access them exclusively through their Twitter timeline… That was useful for discussing student practice with them – because those are two different processes really – whether reading fully, or finding through others’ sharing. And in a course where there is controversy over legitimate sources, you could have a conversation on what sources you are using and why.

I found students using hyperlinks to point to additional resources, traditional citations, embedded definitions, to connect their own work, but also to contextualise their posts – indicating a presumption of an external audience and of shaping content to them… And we saw different styles of linking. We didn’t see too many “For more info see…” blog posts pointing to eg NYT, CNN. What we saw more of was text like “Smith (2010) states that verbal and nonverbal communication an impact” – a traditional citation… But “Smith 2010” and “nonverbal” were both linked. One goes where you expect (the paper), the other is a kind of “embedded description” – linking to more information but not cluttering their style or main narrative. You couldn’t see that in a paper based essay. You might also see “As part of this course, I have created a framework and design structure for..”… “this course” links to the course – thinking about audience perhaps (more research needed) by talking about context; framework pointed to personal structure etc.

I also saw varying roles of images in blog posts: some were aesthetic, some were illustration, some as extension. Students making self-generated images and videos incorporated their discussion of that making process in their blog posts… I particularly enjoyed when students made their own images and videos.

Laura Gogia talks about the Twitter patterns and hyperlinking practices of her research participants in her eLearning@ed 2016 keynote

Laura Gogia talks about the Twitter patterns and hyperlinking practices of her research participants in her eLearning@ed 2016 keynote

In terms of Twitter, students tweeted differently than they blog. Now we know different platforms support different types of behaviours. What I noticed here was that students tweeted hyperlinks to contribute to the group, or to highlight their own work. So, hyperlink as contribution could be as simple as a link with the hashtag. Whilst others might say “<hyperlink> just confirms what was said by the speaker last week”… which is different. Or it might be, e.g. “@student might find this on financial aid interesting <hyperlink>, now that inclusion of a person name significantly increases the chances of engagement – significantly linked to 3+ replies.

And then we’d see hyperlinks as promotion, although we didn’t see many loading tweets with hashtags to target lots of communities.

So, my conclusions on Digital Annotations, is that these are nuanced areas for research and discussion. I found that students seldom mentioned peer efforts – and that’s a problem, we need to encourage that. There is a lack of targeted contribution – that can be ok and trigger serendipity, but not always. We have to help students and ourselves to navigate to ensure we get information to the right people. Also almost no images I looked at had proper attribution, and that’s a problem. We tell them to cite sources in the text, have to do that in the images too. And finally course design and instructor behaviour matters, students perform better when the structure works for them… So we have to find that sweet spot and train and support instructors accordingly.

I want to end with a quote from a VCU Undergraduate student. This was a listening tour, not a formal part of research, and I asked them how she learned, how they want to learn… And this student talked about the need for learning to be flexible, connected, portable. Does everyone need an open connected space? No, but some do, and these spaces have great affordances… We need to play more here, to stay relevant and engaged with that wider world, to creatively play with the idea of learning!


Q1) It was fantastic to see all that student engagement there, it seems that they really enjoy that. I was wondering about information overload and how students and staff deal with that with all those blogs and tweets!

A1) A fabulous question! I would say that students either love or hate connected courses… They feel strongly. One reason for that is the ability to cope with information overload. The first time we ran these we were all learning, the second time we put in information about how to cope with that early on… Part of the reason for this courses is to actually help students cope with that, understand how to manage that. It’s a big deal but part of the experience. Have to own up front, why its important to deal with it, and then deal with it. From a Twitter perspective I’m in the process of persuading faculty to grade Twitter… That hasn’t happened yet… Previously been uncredited, or has been a credit for participation. I have problems with both models… With the no credit voluntary version you get some students who are really into it… And they get frustrated with those that don’t contribute. The participation is more structured… But also frustrating, for the same reasons that can be in class… So we are looking at social network analysis that we can do and embed in grading etc.

Comment – Simon Riley) Just to comment on overload… That’s half of what being a professional or an academic is. I’m a medic and if you search PubMed you get that immediately… Another part of that is dealing with uncertainty… And I agree that we have to embrace this, to show students a way through it… Maybe the lack of structure is where we want to be…

A2) Ironically the people with the least comfort with uncertainty and unstructured are faculty members – those open participants. They feel that they are missing things… They feel they should know it all, that they should absorb it at. This is where we are at. But I was at a digital experience conference where there were 100s of people, loads of parallel strands… There seems to be a need to see it all, do it all… We have to make a conscious effort at ALT Lab to just help people let it go… This may be the first time in history where we have to be fine that we can’t know it all, and we know that and are comfortable…

Q3) Do you explicitly ask students not to contribute to that overload?

A3) I’m not sure we’re mature enough in practice… I think we need to explain what we are doing and why, to help them develop that meta level of learning. I’m not sure how often that’s happening just now but that’s important.

Q4) You talked a lot about talking in the open web in social media. Given that the largest social networks are engaging in commercial activities, in political activities (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg in China), is that something students need to be aware of?

A4) Absolutely, that needs to be there, alongside understanding privacy, understanding attribution and copyright. We don’t use Facebook. We use WordPress for RamPages – have had no problems with that so far. But we haven’t had problems with Twitter either… It’s a good point that should go on the list…

Q5) Could you imagine connected courses for say Informatics or Mathematics…? What do they look like?

A5) Most of the math courses we have dealt with are applied mathematics. That’s probably as far as I could get without sitting with a subject expert – so give me 15 mins with you and I could tell you.

Q6) So, what is the role of faculty here in carefully selecting things for students which we think are high quality?

A6) The role is as it has ever been, to mark those things out as high quality…

Q6) There is a lot of stuff out there… Linking randomly won’t always find high quality content.

A6) Sure, this is not about linking randomly though, it’s about enabling students to identify content, so they understand high quality content, not just the list given, and that supports them in the future. Typically academic staff do curate content, but (depending on the programme), students also go out there to find quality materials, discussing reasons for choosing, helping them model and understand quality. It’s about intentionality… We are trying to get students to make those decisions intentionally.

Digital Education & Technology Enhanced Learning Panel Session, chaired by Victoria Dishon

Victoria: I am delighted to be able to chair this panel. We have some brilliant academic minds and I am very pleased to be able to introduce some of them to you.

Prof. Sian Bayne (@sbayne), Professor of Digital Education in the School of Education, and Assistant Principal, Digital Education

I have a slight identity crisis today! I am Sian Bayne and I’m Professor of Digital Education but I am also newly Assistant Principal, Digital Education. It’s an incredibly exciting area of work to take forward so I thought I’d talk a bit about digital education at Edinburgh and where we are now… We have reputation and leadership, 2600 PG online students, 67 programmes, 2m MOOC learners, and real strategic support in the University. It’s a good time to be here.

Sian Bayne speaking about her exciting new role, at eLearning@ed 2016

Sian Bayne speaking about her exciting new role, at eLearning@ed 2016

We also have a growing culture of teaching innovation in Schools and a strong understanding of the challenges of academic development for and with DE. Velda McCune, Depute Director of IAD, currently on research leave, talks about complex, multilateral and ever shifting conglomerations of learning.

I want to talk a bit about where things are going… Technology trends seem to be taking us in some particular directions…We have a range of future gazing reports and updates, but I’m not as sure that we have a strong body of students, of academics, of support with a vision for what we want digital education to look like here. We did have 2 years ago the Ed2020 trying to look at this. The Stanford 2025 study is also really interesting, with four big ideas emerging around undergraduate education – of the open loop university – why 4 years at a set age, why not 6 years across your lifetime; paced education – 6 years of personalised learning with approaches for discipline we’re embedded in and put HE in the world; Axis flip; purpose learning – coming to uni with a mission not a major… So it would be interesting to think of those ideas in this university.

UAL/LSE did a digital online hack event, Digital is not the future, to explore the idea of hacking the institution from the inside. Looking at shifting to active work. Also a great new MIT Future of Digital Education report too. And if you have any ideas for processes or approaches to take things forward, please do email or Twitter me…

Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal, Online Learning (@honeybhighton)

I am also having quite an identity crisis. Sian and I have inherited quite a broad range of activities from Jeff Haywood, and I have inherited many of the activities that he had as head of IS, particularly thinking about online learning in the institution, number of courses, number of learners, what success would look like, targets – and where they came from – get thrown about… Some are assumptions, some KPI, some reach targets, some pure fantasy! So I’ll be looking at that, with the other Assistant Principals and the teams in ISG.

Melissa Highton talks about her forthcoming new role, at eLearning@ed 2016

Melissa Highton talks about her forthcoming new role, at eLearning@ed 2016

What would success look like? That Edinburgh should be THE place to work if you want to work on Digital Education, that it is innovative, fund, and our practice must be research informed, research linked, research connected. Every educator should be able to choose a range of tools to work with, and have support and understanding of risk around that… Edinburgh would be a place that excellent practitioners come t0 – and stay. Our online students would give us high satisfaction ratings. And our on campus learners would see themselves continuing studies online – preferably with us, but maybe with others.

To do that there are a set of more procedural things that must be in place around efficiency, structures, processes, platforms, to allow you to do the teaching and learning activity that we need you to do to maintain our position as a leader in this area. We have to move away from dependence on central funding, and towards sustainable activity in their departments and schools. I know it’s sexy to spin stuff up locally, it’s got us far, but when we work at scale we need common schools, taking ideas from one part of the institution to others. But hopefully creating a better environment for doing the innovative things you need to do.

Prof. David Reay (@keelincurve); Chair in Carbon Management & Education Assistant Principal, Global Environment & Society

Last year at eLearning@ed I talked about the Sustainability and Social Responsibility course, and today I’ll talk about that, another programme and some other exciting work we are doing all around Global Change and Technology Enhanced Learning.

So with the Online MSc in Carbon Management we have that fun criteria! We had an on campus programme, and it went online with students across the world. We tried lots of things, tried lots of tools, and made all sorts of mistakes that we learned from. And it was great fun! One of my favourite students was joining the first Google Hangout from a bunker in Syria, during the war, and when she had connectivity issues for the course we had to find a tactic to be able to post content via USB to students with those issues.

David Reay speaks about the new Online

David Reay speaks about the new Online “Sustainability & Social Responsibility” MSc at eLearning@ed 2016

So that online course in Sustainability and Social Responsibility is something we’ve put through the new CAIRO process that Fiona Hale is leading on, doing that workshop was hugely useful for trying those ideas, making the mistakes early so we could address them in our design. And this will be live in the autumn, please do all take a look and take it.

And the final thing, which I’m very excited about, is an online “Disaster Risk Reduction” course, which we’ve always wanted to do. This is for post earthquake, post flooding, post fire type situations. We have enormous expertise in this area and we want to look at delivery format – maybe CPD for rescue workers, MOOCs for community, maybe Masters for city planners etc. So this is the next year, this is what I’ll speak about next year.

Prof. Chris Sangwin (@c_sangwin), Chair in Technology Enhanced Science Education, School of Mathematics

I’m new to Edinburgh, joined in July last year, and my interest is in automatic assessment, and specifically online assessment. Assessment is the cornerstone of education, it drives what people do, that is the action they undertake. I’ve been influenced by Kluger and DeNiki 1996 who found that “one third of feedback interventions decreased performance”. This study found that specific feedback on the task was effective, feedback that could be seen as a personal attack was not. Which makes sense, but we aren’t always honest about our failures.

Chris Sangwin talks about automated approaches to assessing mathematics, at eLearning@ed 2016

Chris Sangwin talks about automated approaches to assessing mathematics, at eLearning@ed 2016

So, I’ve developed an automatic assessment system for mathematics – for some but not all things – which uses the computer algebra system (CAS) Maxima, which generates random structured questions, gives feedback, accommodates multiple approaches, and provides feedback on the parts of the answer which does not address the question. This is a pragmatic tool, there are bigger ideas around adaptive learning but those are huge to scope, to build, to plan out. The idea is that we have a cold hard truth – we need time, we need things marking all the time and reliably, and that contrasts with the much bigger vision of what we want for our students for our education.

You can try it yourself here: http://stack.maths.ed.ac.uk/demo/ and I am happy to add you as a question setter if you would like. We hope it will be in Learn soon too.

Prof. Judy Hardy (@judyhardy), Professor of Physics Education, School of Physics and Astronomy.

I want to follow up my talk last year about what we need to focus on “awareness” knowledge, “how to” knowledge, and we need “principles” knowledge. Fewer than a quarter of people don’t modify approaches in their teaching – sometimes that is fine, sometimes it is not. So I want to talk about a few things we’ve done, one that worked, one that did not.

Judy Hardy talks about modifying teaching approaches, at eLearning@ed 2016

Judy Hardy talks about implementing changes in teaching approaches, at eLearning@ed 2016

We have used Peerwise testing, and use of that correlates with exam performance, even when controlling for other factors. We understand from our evidence how to make it work. We have to move from formative (recommended) to summative (which drives behaviour). We have to drive students ownership of this work.

We have also used ACJ – Adaptive Comparative Judgement – to get students to understand what quality looks like, to understand it in comparison to others. They are not bad at doing that… It looks quite good at face value. But when we dug in we found students making judgments on surface features… neatness, length, presence of diagram… We are not at all confident about their physics knowledge, and how they evidence that decision… For us the evidence wasn’t enough, it wasn’t aligned with what we were trying to do. There was very high administrative overheads… A detail that is easily overlooked. For a pilot its fine, to work every day that’s an issue.

Implementing change, we have to align the change with the principles – which may also mean challenge underlying beliefs about their teaching. It needs to be compatible with local, often complex, classroom context, and it takes time, and time to embed.

Victoria: A lot of what we do here does involve taking risk so it’s great to hear that comparison of risks that have worked, and those that are less successful.

Dr Michael Seery, Reader, Chemistry Education. (@seerymk)

Like Chris I joined last July… My background has been in biology education. One of the first projects I worked on was on taking one third of chemistry undergraduate lab reports (about 1200 reports_ and to manage and correct those for about 35 postgraduate demonstrators. Why? Well because it can be hard to do these reports, often inconsistent in format, to assess online and I wanted to seek clarity and consistency of feedback. And the other reason to move online was to reduce administrative burden.

Michael Seery speaks about moving to online learning (image also shows the previous offline administrative tools), at eLearning@ed 2016

Michael Seery speaks about moving to online learning (image also shows the previous offline administrative tools), at eLearning@ed 2016

So Turnitin (Grademark) was what I started looking at. But it requires a Start Date, Due Date, and End date. But our students don’t have those. Instead we needed to retrofit it a bit. So, students submitted to experimental Dropbox, demonstrators filtered submissions and corrected their lab reports, and mark and feedback returned immediately to students… But we had problems… No deadline possible so can’t track turnaround time/impose penalties; “live” correction visible by student, and risk of simultaneous marking. And the Section rubrics (bands of 20%) too broad – that generated a great deal of feedback, as you can imagine. BUT demonstrators were being very diligent about feedback – but that also confused students as minor points were mixed with major points.

So going forward we are using groups, students will submit by week so that due dates ad turnaround times clearer, use TurnItIn assessment by groups with post date, and grading forms all direct mark entry. But our challenge has been retrofitting technologies to the assessment and feedback issue, but that bigger issue needs discussion.

The format for this session is that each of our panel will give a 3-5 minute introductory presentation and we will then turn to discussion, both amongst the panel and with questions and comments from the audience.

Panel discussion/Q&A

Q1) Thank you for a really interesting range of really diverse presentations. My question is for Melissa, and it’s about continuity of connection… UG, online, maybe pre-arrival, returning as a lifelong learning… Can we keep our matriculation number email forever? We use it at the start but then it all gets complex on graduation… Why can’t we keep that as that consistent point of contact.

A1, Melissa) That sounds like a good idea.

Q2) We’ve had that discussion at Informatics, as students lose a lot of materials etc. by loss of that address. We think an @ed.ac.uk alias is probably the way, especially for those who carry on beyond undergraduate. It was always designed as a mapping tool. But also let them have their own space that they can move work into and out of. Think that should be University policy.

A2, Melissa) Sounds like a good idea too!

Q3) I was really pleased to hear assessment and feedback raised in a lot of these presentations. In my role as Vice Principal Assessment and Feedback I’m keen to understand how we can continue those conversations, how do we join these conversations up? What is the space here? We have teaching networks but what could we be missing?

A3, Michael) We all have agreed LOs but if you ask 10 different lab demonstrators they will have 10 different ideas of what that looks like that. I think assessment on a grade, feedback, but also feed forward is crucial here. Those structures seems like a sensible place.

A3, Judy) I think part of the problem is that teaching staff are so busy that it is really difficult  to do the work needed. I think we should be moving more towards formative assessment, that is very much an ideal, far from where we are in practice, but it’s what I would like to see.

Q4) A lot of you talked about time, time being an issue… One of the issues that students raise all of the time is about timeliness of feedback… Do you think digital tools offer a way to do this?

A4, Judy) For me, the answer is probably no. Almost all student work is handwritten for us… What we’d like to do is sit with a student to talk to them, to understand what is going on in their heads, how their ideas are formed. But time with 300 students is against us. So digital tools don’t help me… Except maybe Chris’ online assessment for mathematics.

A4, Chris) The idea of implementing the system I showed is to free up staff time for that sort of richer feedback, by tackling the limited range of work we can mark automatically. That is a limited range though and it diminishes as the subject progresses.

A4, David) We implemented online submission as default and it really helped with timings, NSS, etc. that really helped us. For some assessment that is hard, but it has helped for some.

A4, Michael) Students do really value that direct feedback from academic staff… You can automate some chemistry marking, but we need that human interaction in there too, that’s important.

A4, Sian) I want to raise a humanities orientated way of raising the time issue… For me time isn’t just about the timeline for feedback, but also exploring different kinds of temporality that you can do online. For our MSc in Digital Education we have students blog and their tutors engage in a long form engaged rich way throughout the course, feedback and assessment is much richer than just grading.

Q5) In terms of incorporation of international students here, they are here for one year only and that’s very short. Sometimes Chinese students meet a real clash of expectations around language proficiency, a communication gap between what assessment and feedback is, and what we practice. In terms of technology is there a formative model for feedback for students less familiar with this different academic culture, rather than leaving them confused for one semester and then start to understand.

A5, David) It’s such an important point. For all of our students there is a real challenge of understanding what feedback actually is, what it is for. A lot of good feedback isn’t badged properly and doesn’t show up in NSS. I love the idea of less assessment, and of the timing being thought through. So we don’t focus on summative assessment early on, before they know how to play the game.. I agree really.

A5, Judy) One thing we don’t make much use, is of exemplars. They can be very valuable. When I think about how we get expertise as markers, is because of trying to do it. Students don’t get that opportunity, you only see your own work. Exemplars can help there…

The panel listening to questions from the floor at eLearning@ed 2016

The panel listening to questions from the floor at eLearning@ed 2016

Q6) Maybe for the panel, maybe for Fiona… One thing to build in dialogue, and the importance of formative assessment… Are you seeing that in the course design workshops, use of CAIReO (blog post on this coming soon btw), whether you see a difference in the ways people assess….

A6, Fiona) We have queues of people wanting the workshop right now, they have challenges and issues to address and for some of them its assessment, for others its delivery or pace. But assessment is always part of that. It comes naturally out of storyboarding of learner activities. BUt we are not looking at development of content, we are talking about learning activity – that’s where it is different. Plenty to think about though…

Comment, Ross) Metaphor of a blank piece of paper is good. With learning technologies you can start out with that sense of not knowing what you want to achieve… I think exemplars help here too, sharing of ideas and examples. Days like today can be really helpful for seeing what others are doing, but then we go back to desks and have blank sheets of paper.

Q7) As more policies and initiatives appear in the institution, does it matter if we believe that learning is what the student does – rather than the teacher? I think my believe is that learning occurs in the mind of the learning… So technologies such as distance and digital learning can be a bit strange… Distance and digital teaching maybe makes more sense…

A7) I think that replacing terminology of “teaching” with terminology of “learning” has been taking place. Hesper talks about the problems of the “learnification of education”, when we do that we instrumentalise education. That ignores power structures and issues in many ways. My colleagues and I wrote a Manifesto for Teaching Online and we had some flack about that terminology but we thought that that was important.

Q8) Aspirationally there would be one to one dialogue with students… I agree that that is a good aspiration… And there is that possibility of continuity… But my question was to what extent past, present, and future physical spaces… And to what extent does that enable or challenge good learning or good teaching?

A8, Judy) We use technology in classrooms. First year classes are flipped – and the spaces aren’t very conducive to that. There are issues with that physical space. For group working there are great frustrations that can limit what we can do… In any case this is somewhat inevitable. In terms of online education, I probably have to hand to colleagues…

A8, David) For our institution we have big plans and real estate pressures already. When we are designing teaching spaces, as we are at KB right now, there is a danger of locking ourselves into an estate that is not future proof. And in terms of impinging on innovation, in terms of changing demands of students, that’s a real risk for us… So I suppose my solution to that is that when we do large estate planning, that we as educators and experts in technology do that work, do that horizon scanning, like Sian talked about, and that that feeds into physical space as well as pedagogy.

A8, Sian) For me I want leakier spaces – bringing co-presences into being between on campus and online students. Whole area of digital pedagogical exploration we could be playing with.

A8, Melissa) There is is a very good classroom design service within the Learning and Teaching spaces team in IS. But there is a lag between the spaces we have today, and getting kit in place for current/future needs. It’s an ongoing discussion. Particularly for new build spaces there is really interesting possibility around being thoughtful. I think we also have to think about shifting time and space… Lecture Capture allows changes, maybe we need fewer big lecture rooms… Does the teaching define the space, or the space that designs the teaching. Please do engage with the teams that are there to help.

A8, Michael) One thing that is a danger, is that we chase the next best thing… But those needs change. We need to think about the teaching experience, what is good enough, what is future-proof enough… And where the need is for flexibility.

Victoria: Thanks to all our panel!

eMarking Roll Out at Abertay – Carol Maxwell, Technology Enhanced Learning Support team Leader, Abertay University, chaired by Michael Seery

I am Carol Maxwell from Abertay University and I am based in the Technology Enhanced Learning support team. So, a wee bit about Abertay… We are a very small city centre university, with 4025 students (on campus) and 2091 in partner institutions. We are up 9 places to 86 in Complete University Guide (2017), And our NSS score for feedback turnaround went up by 12%, which we think has a lot to do with our eMarking roll out.

We have had lots of change – a new Principal and new Vice Chancellor in summer 2012. We have many new appointments, a new director of teaching and learning enhancement, and we’ve moved towards central services rather than local admin. We get involved in the PGCert programme, and all new members of staff have to go through that process. We have monthly seminars where we get around 70 people coming along. We have lots of online resources, support for HEA accreditation and lots of things taking place, to give you a flavour of what our team does.

Carol Maxwell talks about the work of the Abertay Teaching and Learning Enhancement Team, at eLearning@ed 2016

Carol Maxwell talks about the work of the Abertay Teaching and Learning Enhancement Team, at eLearning@ed 2016

So the ATLEF project was looking at supporting assessment and feedback practice with technology, this was when our team was part of information services, and that was intended to improve the University’s understanding and awareness of the potential benefits, challenges and barriers associated with a more systematic and strategic approach to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback, we wanted to accelerate staff awareness of technological tools for assessment.

So we did a baseline report on practice – we didn’t have tools there, and instead had to interrogate Blackboard data course by course… We found only 50% of those courses using online assessment were using Grademark to do this. We saw some using audio files, some used feedback in Grade Centre, some did tracked changes in Word, and we also saw lots of use of feedback in comments on eportfolios.

We only had 2% online exams. Feedback on that was mixed, and some was to do with how the actual user experience worked – difficulties in scrolling through documents in Blackboard for instance. Some students were concerned that taking exams at home would be distracting. There was also a perception that online exams were for benefit of teaching staff, rather than students.

So we had an idea of what was needed, and we wanted to also review sector practices. We found Ferrell 2013, and also the Heads of eLearning Forum Electronic Management of Assessment Survey Report 2013 we saw that the most common practice was e-submission as well as hard copy printed by student… But we wanted to move away from paper. So, we were involved in the Jisc Electronic Marking and Assessment project and cycle… And we were part of a think tank where we discussed issues such as retention and archiving of coursework, and in particular the importance of it being a University wide approach.

So we adopted a new Abertay Assessment Strategy. So for instance we now have week 7 as a feedback week. It isn’t for teaching, it is not a reading week, it is specifically for assessment and feedback. The biggest change for our staff was the need for return of coursework and feedback in 10 working days before week 13, and within 15 weeks thereafter, That was a big change. We had been trialing things for year, so we were ready to just go for it. But we had some challenges, we have a literal grading policy, A+, A, B+ etc. which is harder in these tools.

We had senior management, registry, secretariat, teaching staff, teaching and learning staff discussing and agreeing the policy document. We had EMA champions demonstrating current process, we generated loads of supporting materials to. So one of our champions delivered video feedback – albeit with some student feedback to him that he was a little dry, he took it on the chin. One academic uses feedback on PebblePad, we have a lecturer who uses questions a great deal in mathematics courses, letting students attempt questions and then move on after completion only. We also have students based in France who were sharing reflections and video content, and feedback to it alongside their expected work. And we have Turnitin/Grademark, of which the personalised feedback is most valuable. Another champion has been using discussion forums, where students can develop their ideas, see each others work etc. We also hold lots of roadshow events, and feedback from these have raised the issue of needing two screens to actually manage marking in these spaces.

Carol Maxwell talks about the support for staff in rolling out eMarking at Abertay, at eLearning@ed 2016

Carol Maxwell talks about the support for staff in rolling out eMarking at Abertay, at eLearning@ed 2016

The areas we had difficulty with here was around integration, with workarounds required for Turnitin with Blackboard Grade Centre and literal grading; Staff resistance – with roadshows helping’ Moderation – used 3 columns not 2 for marking; Anonymity; returning feedback to students raised some complexities faced. There has been some challenging work here but overall the response has been positive. Our new templates include all the help and support information for our templates to.

So, where to now… Carry on refining procedures and support, need on going training – especially new staff, Blackboard SITS Integration. More online exams (some online and some off site); digital literacy etc. And, in conclusion you need Senior Management support and a partnership approach with academic staff, students and support services required to make a step change in practice.


Q1) I’m looking at your array of initiatives, but seeing that we do these things in pockets. The striking thing is how you got the staff on board… I wonder if we have staff on board, but not sure we have students on board… So what did you do to get the students on board?

A1) There was a separate project on feedback with the students, raising student awareness on what feedback was. The student association were an important part of that. Feedback week is intended to make feedback to students very visible and help them understand their importance… And the students all seem to be able to find their feedback online.

Q2, Michael) You made this look quite seamless across spaces, how do you roll this out effectively?

A2) We’ve been working with staff a long time, so individual staff do lots of good things… The same with assessment and feedback… It was just that we had those people there who had great things there… So like the thinking module there is a model with self-enroll wikis… You end up with examples all around. With the roll out of EMA the Principal was keen that we just do this stuff, we have already tested it. But Abertay is a small place, we have monthly meet ups with good attendance as that’s pretty much needed for PGCAP. But it’s easier to spread an idea, because we are quite small.

Q3) For that 10-15 day turnaround how do you measure it, and how do you handle exemptions?

A3) You can have exemptions but you have to start that process early, teams all know that they have to pitch in. But some academic staff have scaled assessment back to the appropriate required level.

At this point we broke for an extended break and poster session, some images of which are included below. 

Amy Burge and Laine Ruus show their posters during the eLearning@ed 2016 Poster Session

Amy Burge and Laine Ruus show their posters during the eLearning@ed 2016 Poster Session


Participants explore posters including Simon Fokt's Diversity Reading List poster at eLearning@ed 2016

Participants explore posters including Simon Fokt’s Diversity Reading List poster at eLearning@ed 2016


Ross Ward provides an informal LTW drop in session as part of the eLearning@ed 2016 Poster Session

Ross Ward provides an informal LTW drop in session as part of the eLearning@ed 2016 Poster Session

Taking this forward – Nicola Osborne

Again, I was up and chairing so notes are more minimal from these sessions… 

The best of ILW 2016 – Silje Graffer (@SiljeGrr), ILW/IAD

ILW is in its fifth year… We had over 263 events through the event, we reached over 2 million people via social media…

How did we get to this year? It has been amazing in the last few years… We wanted to see how we could reach the students and the staff in a better way that was more empowering for them. We went back to basics, we hired a service design company in Glasgow to engage people who had been involved in ILW before… In an event we called Open ILW… We wanted to put people first. We had 2 full time staff, 3 student staff, 20 school coordinators – to handle local arrangements – and created a kind of cool club of a network!

Silje Graffer talks about the Innovative Learning Week team, at eLearning@ed 2016

Silje Graffer talks about the Innovative Learning Week team, at eLearning@ed 2016

So we went back to the start… We wanted to provide clarity on the concept… We wanted to highlight innovation already taking place, that innovation doesn’t just happen once a year. And to retain that space to experiment.

We wanted to create a structure to support ideas. We turned feedback into a handbook for organisers. We had meet ups every month for organisers, around ideas, development, event design, sharing ideas, developing process… We also told more stories through social media and the website. We curated the programme around ideas in play. We wanted to focus on people making the events, who go through a valuable process, and have scope to apply that.

Silje Graffer talks about some of the highlight events from ILW16, at eLearning@ed 201g

Silje Graffer talks about some of the highlight events from ILW16, at eLearning@ed 201g

So I just wanted to flag some work on openness, there was a Wikipedia Editathon on the history of medicine, we had collaboration – looking at meaningful connections between different parts of the university, particularly looking at learners with autism which was really valuable. Creativity… This wasn’t digital education in itself, but the Board Game Jam was about creating games, all were openly licensed, and you can access and use those games in teaching, available from OER. A great example for getting hands dirty and how that translates into the digital. And iGEM Sandpit and Bio Hackathon, are taking ideas forward to a worldwide event. Smart Data Hack continued again, with more real challenges to meet. Prof Ewan Klein gas taken work forward in the new Data, Design and Society Course… And in the Celebratory mode, we had an online game called Edinburgh is Everywhere, exploring Edinburgh beyond the physical campus! And this was from a student. You can browse all the digital education events that ran on the website, and I can put you in touch with organisers.

Next year its happening again, redeveloped and imagined again.

Q1) Is it running again

A1) Yes! But we will be using some of the redesigning approaches again.


CMALT – what’s coming up – Susan Greig (@SusieGreig),

Are you certified… I am based in LTW and I’m really pleased to announce new support for achieving CMALT within the University. And I can say that I am certified!

CMALT is the Certified Member of ALT, it’s recommended for documenting and reflecting on your work, a way to keep pace with technology, it is certified by peers, update certification every three years. So, why did I do CMALT? When back when I put my portfolio forward in 2008 I actually wrote down my reasons – I hoped to plan for my future careers more effectively, the career path isn’t well definied and I was keen to see where this would take me. And looking back I don’t think that career path has become more clear… So still very useful to do.

Susan Greig talking about support for CMALT, at eLearning@ed 2016

Susan Greig talking about support for CMALT, at eLearning@ed 2016

So, to do CMALT you need to submit a portfolio. That is around five areas, operational issues; teaching, learning and/or assessment processes; the wider context; communication; and a specialist area. I did this as an individual submission, but there is also an option to do this together. And that is what we will be doing in Information Services. We will provide ongoing support and general cheer-leading, events which will be open to all, and regular short productive cohort meetings. There will also be regular writing retreats with IAD. So, my challenge to you is can we make the University of Edinburgh the organisation with the most accredited CMALT members in the UK?

If you are interested get in touch. Likely cohort start is August 2016… More presentations from alt 3rd june, showcase event there in july

Making Connections all year long: eLearning@ed Monthly meet ups – Ross Ward (@RossWoss), Educational Design

Today has been a lovely chance to  get to meet and network with peers… Over the last year in LTW  (Learning, Teaching and Web Services) we’ve looked at how we can raise awareness of how we can help people in different schools and colleges achieve what they are trying to do, and how we can support that… And as we’ve gone around we’ve tried to work with them to provide what is needed for their work, we’ve been running roadshows and workshops. Rather than focus on the technologies, we wanted to come from more of a learning and teaching perspective…Around themes of Interactive learning and teaching, assessment and feedback, open educational resources, shakers, makers and co-creators, and exploring spaces… From those conversations we’ve realised there is loads of amazing stuff coming on… And we wanted to share these more widely…

Ross Ward talks about recent elearning@ed/LTW Monthly MeetUps, at eLearning@ed 2016

Ross Ward talks about recent elearning@ed/LTW Monthly MeetUps, at eLearning@ed 2016

Luckily we have a great community already… And we have been working collaboratively between elearning@ed and learning, teaching and web services, and having once a month meetings on one of the themes, sharing experiences and good practices… A way to strengthen networks, a group to share with in physical and digital shared spaces… The aim is that they are open to anyone – academics, learning technologists, support teams… Multiple short presentations, including what is available right now, but not ignoring horizon scanning. It’s a space for discussion – long coffee break, and the pub afterwards. We have a 100% record of going to the pub… And try to encourage discussion afterwards…

So far we’ve looked at Using media in teaching (January); Open Education – including our Wikimedian in residence (February); Things we have/do – well received catch up (March); Learning Design – excellent session from Fiona (April). We put as much as we can on the wiki – notes and materials – and you’ll find upcoming events there too. Which includes: Assessment and Feedback – which will be lively if the sessions here are anything to go by (27th June); CMALT (27th July); Maker Space (August) – do share your ideas and thoughts here.

In the future we are trying to listen to community needs, to use online spaces for some, to stream, to move things around, to raise awareness of the event. All ideas and needs welcomed… Interesting to use new channels… These tend to be on themes so case by case possibilities…

The final part of our day was our wrap up by Prof. Charlie Jeffrey, who came to us fresh from Glasgow where he’d been commenting on the Scottish Parliamentary election results for the BBC… 

Wrap Up – Professor Charlie Jeffrey, Senior Vice Principal.

I’m conscious of being a bit of an imposter here as I’m wrapping up a conference that I have not been able to attend most of. And also of being a bit of an obstacle between you and the end of the day… But I want to join together a few things that colleagues and I have been working on… The unambiguous priority of teaching and learning at Edinburgh, and the work that you do. So, what is the unambiguous priority about? It’s about sharpening the focus of teaching and learning in this university. My hope is that we reach a point in the future that we prize our excellent reputation for learning and teaching as highly as we do our excellent reputation in research. And I’ve been working with a platoon of assistant principals looking at how best to structure these things. One thing to come out of this is the Teaching Matters website which Amy (Burge) so wonderfully edits. And I hope that that is part of that collegiate approach. And Ross, I think if we had blogs and shorter contributions for the website coming out of those meetings, that would be great…

Charlie Jeffrey gives the wrap up at eLearning@ed 2016

Charlie Jeffrey gives the wrap up at eLearning@ed 2016

I’m also conscious of talking of what we do now… And that what we do in the future will be different. And what we have to do is make sure we are fit for the future… Traditional teaching and learning is being transformed by Teaching and Learning… And I wouldn’t want us to be left behind. That’s a competitive advantage thing… But it is is also a pedagogical issues, to do the best we can with the available tools and technologies. I’m confident that we can do that… We have such a strong track record of DEIs, MOOCs, and what Lesley Yellowlees calls he “TESEy chairs”, the Centre of research in Digital Education, an ISG gripped in organisational priorities, and a strong community that helps us to be at the forefront of digital education. Over the last few weeks we’ve had three of the worlds best conferences in digital education, and that’s a brilliant place to be! And an awful lot of that is due to the animation and leadership of Jeff Haywood, who has now retired, and so we’ve asked Sian and Melissa to help ensure that we stay in that absolutely powerful leading position, no pressure whatsoever, but I am very confident that they will be well supported. It’s pretty rare within an organisation to get 90 people to make time to come together and share experience like you have today.

And with that the day was finished! A huge thank you again to all who were part of the event. If you were there – whether presenting or to participate in the poster session or just to listen, I would ask that you complete our feedback survey if you haven’t already. If you weren’t there but are interested in next year’s event or the eLearning@ed community in general, you’ll find lots of useful links below. Video of the event will also be online soon (via MediaHopper – I’ll add the link once it is all live) so anyone reading this should be able to re-watch sessions soon. 

Related Resources

More about eLearning@ed

If you are interested in learning more about the eLearning@ed Forum the best place to start is our wiki: http://elearningforum.ed.ac.uk/.

If you are based at Edinburgh University – whether staff or student – you can also sign up to the Forum’s mailing list where we share updates, news, events, etc.

You can also join us for our monthly meet ups, co-organised with the Learning, Teaching and Web Services team at Edinburgh University. More information on these and other forthcoming events can be found on our Events page. We are also happy to add others’ events to our calendar, and I send out a regular newsletter to the community which we are happy to publicise relevant events, reports, etc. to. If you have something you’d like to share with the eLearning@ed community do just get in touch.

You can also read about some of our previous and more recent eLearning@ed events here on my blog:


Apr 202016

This is a very belated LiveBlog post from the CSCS Network Citizen Science and the Mass Media event, which I chaired back on 22nd October 2015. Since the event took place several videos recorded at the event have been published by the lovely CSCS Network folks and I’ve embedded those throughout this post.

About the Event

This session looked at how media and communications can be used to promote and engage communities in a crowd sourcing and citizen science project. This included aspects including understanding the purpose and audience for a project; gaining exposure from a project; communicating these types of projects effectively; engaging the press; expectation management; practical issues such as timing, use of interviewees and quotes, etc.

I was chairing this session, drawing on my experience working on the COBWEB project in particular, and I was delighted that we were able to bring in two guest speakers whose work I’ve been following for a while:

Dave Kilbey, University of Bristol and Founder and CEO of Natural Apptitude Ltd. Natural Apptitute works with academic and partner organisations to create mobile phone apps and websites for citizen science projects that have included NatureLocator, Leafwatch, Batmobile, and BeeMapp. Some of these projects have received substantial press interest, in particular Leafwatch (along with the wider Conker Tree Science initiative), and Dave will talk about his personal experience of the way that crowd sourcing and citizen science and the media work together, some of the benefits and risks of exposure, and some of the challenges associated with working with the press based on his own experience.  @kilbey252

Alastair (Ally) Tibbitt, Senior Online Journalist at STV, where he has been based since 2011 working both in journalism and community engagement. Aly’s background lies in community projects in Glasgow and Edinburgh, experience that informs his work writing both for STV and Greener Leith. He has particular interests in hyperlocal news, open data and environmental issues, giving him a really interesting insiders’ perspective on the way that citizen science and crowd sourcing can engage the press, some of the realities of media expectations, timings, etc. and an insight into effective ways to pitch a citizen engagement story. @allytibbett

My notes from the talks were captured on the day but, due to chairing, I wasn’t able to capture all of the discussion or questions that arose in the session. The video below captures the talks, with my notes from these below. 

YouTube Preview Image

Musings on Media and Communications for Citizen Science Projects – Dave Kilbey, Natural Appitude

I’m not an expert but I have been working in this area for some time so these are some musings informed by my work to date.

I’ve worked on a variety of projects, which started with a project called NatureLocator – all basically mobile apps, but also website. We try to make it as simple as possible for people to take part in these projects, and we try to do that working with experts so that the data we collect is useful and purposeful. So our projects include work on invasive species, work with the biological monitoring centre. So effectively we work with researchers, organisations, and engaging the public in what we do. And we do that with design of bespoke smartphone apps and websites. In theory Innovative but actually much of this is established – although BatMobile is an exception – as was never really good enough to launch. And public engagement is central to what we do, and from that naturally comes much of our engagement with media.

We spend a lot of time and money on design and usability, because if they aren’t easy to use and appealling then participants won’t use them or use them again. The apps are for contribution, the website is for looking at the data – that’s more of an unprovoked engagement…

So the content on media on communications is this bit, which I’m calling “Smurfs… and the wrong kind of conkers”.

So I thought about why we want media coverage in the first place? It’s obvious but it matters… And these are selfish through to altruistic…

We want this to get the project (and us) noticed – we want to share what we do, and to get the project out there (important for a business too). You want to engage an army of volunteers – you can’t have citizen science without citizen scientists, you need people engaged. You want to attract more funding – crucial in a university context. Success metrics – which include impact – we are measured on how many people took part, engaged etc. and as researchers we are also measured on media presence to an extent. But there is also the aspect of personal satisfaction, and that matters.

On a more altruistic basis is increase knowledge of a concept or problem – we’ve really had that feedback on our invasive plant species work. Citizen science is increasingly about finding solutions to problems – there are all sorts of things like examination of proteins being gamified, so participants contribute regardless of knowledge. We also want to inspire interest, perhaps even the next generation of researchers – we are all passionate about what we do, and want to share that…

But the crux of the matter is that media isn’t always as important in the ways you’d expect.

If your project isn’t ready, the media coverage will be a real pain. There is a project called Ash Town done more of less as a media stunt… The organisation using the data wasn’t ready, the data wasn’t ready… and they had a backlog of verification and that disillusioned participants… The feedback loop wasn’t there but they had to take advantage of that moment. So I tend to be quite conservative about when I share projects, I want them ready.

Quite a few of our projects have had mass media interest and that can be brilliant but they cause a big spike and are largely unfocused… Normally you want a focused set of interested participants. It can be helpful but long term it’s less clear how it is helpful for finding those participants. By contrast micro media and focused marketsing and events, such as conferences, lead to better engagement – and the data from targeted audiences tends to be much better. For example there was a big issue of giant hog weed in the media this summer – we had more records than ever before… but 80% of that data was incorrect. Normally the data in Plant Tracker is 90% accurate. That was due to lots of people finding out about giant hog weed and recording lots of false positive. NOt neccassarily a problem, but an issue for data centric projects.

So we find drip feeding/organic networking works best for us. But as they say “Any publicity is good publicity?”… Maybe…. Mostly we’ve had good coverage,

To use a fishing analogy I see the mass media as ground bating – causing a general feeding frenzy, but then you have to think about how you are baiting your hook to make use of this… So it’s all about how you follow up…

So, with our first app, Leaf Watch, we had loads of media coverage. This project was small scale before with maybe 500 records a year, without the photos or georeference. So we set up a smartphone app with that sort of data for verification interested… And we had 5000 records… But also a lot of noise… 3 bottom pictures, and worse… even a smurf!

So, how to attract publicity… Again, I’m no expert… Often it’s about finding an interesting story to tell that has relevance at this point in time – is there a hook to draw people in, trigger their imagination. For the Uni of Bristol it was often our Public Relations Office that often got us the gig. Me, on my own using my Twitter feed, is going to get the Times interested… So utilise your existing resources in your organisation, they have some great powerful contacts etc. to call on. And I have a colleague who does a good job of researching likely journalists and contacting them directly…

Really much of this feels random, but it’s about a lot of events coming together, and stuff in the outside world… Looking for those opportunities to tell your story to an audience that’s ready to listen… (And do get in touch).

Engaging the Media – Ally Tibbett, STV

I work at STV, and have a background in community projects and volunteering activities. I currently work at STV, also setting up a fledgling news site.

So I wanted to set the context of engaging with media… ANd I wanted to set the scene. Many newspapers are losing 10% circulation, broadcast TV are doing better, but still online transition. But most media company websites are booming – our STV pages collectively reach a few million people a day. So still a lot of reason to get word out there. And it’s worth planning that as you do your citizen science project. You need to think about where you will find the people you do want to engage with. More and more people get their news via social media. Many read news via mobile device. It’s getting more visual with vides, images, infographics. Big interactive graphics are great, but hard to scale to a phone so many media companies keep it simple..

So I’ve tried to set this up as a timeline… How you might engage the media… Before your project. When recruiting participants – who do you want to reach, is it a specific geography? Age greoup? demographic? that should influence both the scial media platfors and media companies you use. What is the benefit for participants? What is the long term goal. Is ther ean interesting back story – and what change will it bring about. And plan out a communication calendar – can you hook into, e.g. International Authors day. Editors are always looking for a new angle on events, or a local angle on a national news story. And even if that doesn’t fit your timing it can be helpful. The other thing to think about is what digital assets can you share/produce. A press release is nice, but a press release with bangs and whistle, with infographics or images etc. That is brilliant – helps journalists know why they should engage now. It’s about the infotainment, not just the data. And it could be as simple as a slideshow, or animated gifs, or data we could map. Thinking about citizen science projects I’ve already worked on, I thought of a project on happiness on different neighbourhoods – we persuaded them to share some data. If you do want help producing maps etc, then there are skilled journalists who can help. We’ll need a Shapefile. And we need that data to be open to support more open interactive stuff…

So, assuming you had a nice launch and a little publicity boost… How do you engage dring th eproject? Well citizen engagement can be more than just research – can they promote project fro you on social media. You need a #hashtga to generate social media buss and help you collate conversation. Can you give progress reports to journalists who covered the launch and those you hope will cover final results. And building that buzz from the outset, can mean there is a story, and help show th eimpact of your prokect. Also, thnk about things that cannot be shared – could be copyright or child protection etc. issues. And as you aggregate content around the hashtag and curate the best, remove anything with an issue. Tools like STorify let you do this.

From my point of view one of the best ways to engage the press is when there is a result, a discovery… The media thrives on a wee bit of controversy etc. So Neive Short from CRESH at Edinburgh looks at mapping alchohol etc. and social issues – she is a campaigning academic, taking her studies to policy makers, and that, for instance, is always of interest. So air quality or air pollution crowd sourcing project would certainly have some of those qualities, those cases to engage policy makers. Too often we get press releases about “we did a study… we might be able to do something in the future…” but we need a concrete story really…

A note on press releases… They are fundamentally quite useful. Do send them out. Keep them short. Include multiple short quotes. have a clear top line, be clear about what you’ve done. Comes with a variety of visuals in different formats – landscape, portrait, infographics, animated films etc. And supplying images in multiple formets – making our job to package it easier – makes a big difference. Is the story important enough for us to send someone out to take new images? Maybe not. BUt actually don’t send 6MBs of materials is not good – so send a press release linking to resources.

So, journalists. Do send releases etc to a generic news email addresses. Use tools like Twitter and LinkedIn to find journalists with an interest in your subject, message them direct. Provide advance warning, reminders, photo and filming opportunities. Don’t do it at the weekend – no TV will come. Do it at a lunchtime on a weekday… PRactical stuff. If no one shows up, don’t worry about it, do send them pictures etc. And if there is one place that you really really want to be featured in, offer it as an exclusive and see it works. Obviously I’d like that to be me… BUt that’s something useful to hold back ni that way…

And, lastly, humour works. If you can find something daft, and can present it in a funny way… Our story “What if Back to the Future was set in Glasgow” is the second most ready story on our website having gone up yesterday. Most read story in the last year on STV was a very tall man who using the bathroom had a hand dryer calamity – that did great and almost made the front page of Reddit. We can be too serious… Be fun. Share the 15 things that happened in this project that were most funny, say… Humour works.

And with that we turned to some really interesting questions and discussion – huge thanks to all who came along and took part in this.

Whilst he was in Edinburgh for this event Dave Kilbey was also able to give an interview for the CSCS Network website, which you can watch there, or in the embed below:

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Huge thanks to Dave and Ally for making the time to come along and speak to the CSCS network who I know really appreciated their presentations and sharing of experience. Huge thanks too to the lovely CSCS network team for providing a space for this event and support for our speakers and their travel. 

Mar 142016

Back on 2nd December 2015 I attended a Digital Scholarship event arranged by Anouk Lang, lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

The event ran in two parts: the first section enabled those interested in digital humanities to hear about events, training opportunities, and experiences of others, mainly those based within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the second half of the event involved short presentations and group discussions on practical needs and resources available. My colleague Lisa Otty and I had been asked to present at the second half of the day, sharing the range of services, skills and expertise EDINA offer for digital scholarship (do contact us if you’d like to know more), and were delighted to be able to attend the full half day event.

My notes were captured live, so all the usual caveats about typos, corrections, additions, etc. apply despite the delay in me setting this live. 

The event is opening, after a wee intro from Anouk Lang, with a review of various events and sessions around Digital Humanities, starting with those who had addtended the DHOxSS: Digital Humanities Summer School at Oxford in summer 2016.

Introduction to Digital Humanities – Rhona Alcock

Attended with bursary from College. Annual event for a range of interests and levels. Was an introductory strand on DH. Then another ~9 that were much more specialist. The introductory session was for those new to the field, or keen to broaden understanding. Gave an overview of other strands (some quite technical). Learnt a huge amount for that week. Came back and write up notes – 25 pages of them and I’ve referred back to them a huge amount. Main topics I benefited from was on planning DH research projects, on light weight usability testing (and QA). Great session on crowdsourcing and comining in your research area. Also some great sessions on knowledge exchange and engagement. More than anything what I had was the sense of connecting with others interested in DH and what they could get from it and do with it. And loads of new ideas for what I do, new audiences to take it to. Ractical advice to take it forward, tools etc. So, highly recommended.

David Oulton, College Web Team

I went to the summer school too. Found a big gap in the range of tools and resources (WordPress, Drupal, ESRI, ArcGIS, etc). There are so many tools that are just out there and can be used for all sorts of things, that can be downloaded, etc.

I’ve created a list on pbworks (dhresourcesforprojectbuilding.pbworks.com). And there are lots of resources listed there. I’m keen to encourage academics to just go and try these things, that can be set up quickly and easily.

Digital Medieval – Jeremy Piercy

Worked with new digital Bodleian interactive tools. Interactive scans of images that allow you to see hidden writing with a varieties of light – often can’t do on an artefact. Also learned a lot about ArcGIS, and how useful that can be. Also curation issues – many of our documents will eventually cease to be. This allows ongoing curation of those items. We have various high quality images and scans that will “always be accessible”. Portability of data is a key issue – not tying your work to a particular interface that may later fail/change/etc. Need to be able to move information around. I wasn’t the only person at that…

Gavin Willshaw, Digital Curator at the Library

I also went to Dig approaches to medieval and renaissance studies. Was quite specialist in many ways. Lots of hard work but learned a lot. I was also keen to understand how DH researchers work and what the library can do to support that with collections and tools. Was also some sessions on DIY digitisation – mini projects around doing that, managing that data. Tools such as Retro Mobile – ways to see what lies beneath images. Also some quite good introductory overviews of areas like TEI and IIIF for interoperability etc. Also several workshops to try stuff out directly. Really enjoyed seeing new stuff – e.g. hyperspectral imaging. Also a session on how museums can use wifi signals to track visitors movements and tailor what they do to that experience. And fed into discussions we’ve been having about Beacons and Blue Tooth in the library. From my point of view it was a really interesting mixture of tools and skills and experience. And I’m now looking for how the library can get more involved. Again, would highly recommend.

Humanities Data: Curation, Analysis, Access and Reuse – Rocio von Jungenfeld

I work in the data library, but am also finishing my PhD at ECA. I was looking at data tools and analysis tools. To compare what we do to what others do. And the recommendations from other places. Had very interesting speakers. Combination of HATHHI trust, and also OxII. They gave really practical advice on software out there, schemas, metadata, methodology, great insights to data tools and analysis. New tools to me, e.g. Gephi, and was very useful. Good experience overall – was a big Edinburgh contingent there, stuff done together. Interesting people and good lectures. Would recommend. My notes are available.

Harriet Cornell, Edinburgh Law School

I’m a post doc in HCA, and project officer for the political settlements programme. It was a complex workshop. Went for this one not introduction as I felt up to date. But this was at the sharp end in terms of the technical stuff. Galloped through technical stuff, would have liked more time on software. But reflecting afterwards it was great. Trying Open Refine – that I didn’t know about it – but also how we label and tag data and research. Really useful. Four things I took away:

  1. The capacity for DH projects – having that director of the HATHII Trust was great that that could happen
  2. Tools, particularly Open Refine – so useful. I know that Anouk and Anna have run workshops on this but it’s brilliant.
  3. Labelling and tagging. I do lots of blogging on WordPress and thinking about SEO, and just thinking about that in a different way was great.
  4. Design, Curation, Research and Longevity – thinking about the time and cost of planning and making things properly sustainable, after e.g. 10 years.

If I did it again I’d have done the introductory workshop. But this was great if you were happy to get down with Owl, ontologies, Python etc. I was tweeting from the session with the #dhoxss tag.

Linked Data for the Humanities – Anouk Lang, School of Literature, Languages and Culture

When you are a researcher your data is your baby. My lovingly curated research database with rich information about which historical figures were writing to whom, from which places, at which times. The problem is that if you want to share that data, your stuff is hard for others to use. The solution is ontologies and linked open data.

So what is an ontology? It is a structured way of understanding the context of an object – e.g. for the British Museum it might be where it was from, who acquired it and where and when, when it is from, where is it located, what is it made from. So we have linked data. Which we express as a “triple” – a subject, predicate, and object. So for a James Joyce letter then you have a lot of known individuals already – James Joyce is out there. And then locations wise there are lists of locations – you want an authority list (someone elses ontology of places). And then the predicate (e.g. when James Joyce was born) is also already available…

So, data is stored in a “triplestore” and you can query it using SPARQL, which lets you ask about name, place, location etc. There is a structure for SPARQL queries. That lets you query stuff within others databases.

So, if you are interested in using stuff in others’ databases or how to share your data with others, then you want to learn about Linked Open Data and SPARQL.

DHSO – Jim Mistiff

PhD student in English Lit. Went to the summer school and did the Linked Open Data and RDF course. Before PhD I was a Drupal developer, so had an interest from that so interesting to see it from another angle. I’ll be looking at specific application of LOD. Specifically for a text heavy usage for my own PhD. Not a perfect solution but an interesting starting point for a conversation.

Getting some definitions out of the way. LOD is a scary term for literary humanists. Any texts I’m using is a data object really. Breaking a long text up is a more useful way to think of it. Open Data helps you share data with others (and vice versa). The Linked part lets you interlink stuff. So if, say, a DB at Edinburgh (modernist data), and one at UVIC (who have modernist correspondence) you can link those together to form one complete set.

One of the results of doing LOD is that your dataset or database or a version of the internet that is easier for machines to read. Right now the internet is a set of dumb links – LOD allows text data objects to be more machine readable. I think it will be easier to explain that through an example.

So, I’m writing my PhD on Hugh MacDiamid. I’m interested in later stuff, particularly a poem called In Memoriam James Joyce. I’m interested in the construction. He wrote the poem through borrowing/plaguerising from other sources which are not credited. E.g. from an ad in the Writers and Artists Yearbook 1949. I’ve gone through that poem and found about 60% of the sources. That is a very interlinked text that maps nicely onto the idea of LOD. So, what I’d like to do is to datafy MacDiarmid. What I propose in terms of what Anouk covered is to take the text, word by word… and take the two lines from the poem, break them into triples… Can do it character by character… can automate… Can then apply Stanfords NLP to it… and then identify automatically when you’ve got a name of a real person in there, the name of a text… A very vague linked data model here… Bits in boxes (in his diagram) that are in other sources. So a mention of Pape – means Capt A.G. Pape and we could grab info from DBPedia. And then a text by that author could be pulled in/connected to. Etc. This makes assumption about what else is out there. But what it gives us is a rich version of the poem. We tend to read many texts in these ways – looking up definitions, references etc. Not suggesting change in core tasks, but using technology to enhance what we do. We could turn a LOD version of the poem into a hyperlinked version that pops up those obscure references etc. Much of what we already do, but in an automated way.

My suggestion expects and relies on other people doing parts of the work. What we can all do is get it closer to LOD than it is. There are five steps (see 5stardata.info by Tim Berners-Lee). Step one is get it online – e.g. a PDF on the web. The next step is to structure that data – a table rather than an image of a table for instance. Next step is open format – so that table in CSV rather than Exel. Next step is using RDF to point to things. Final step is LOD – the stuff of linking from proper names and quotations to other names and data stores. And then we have LOD.

DHSI, University of Victoria, Canada – Anouk Lang

This is premier DH summer school but costly to get to. Cheaper with student membership of computation in humanities(?).

I did three workshops – there for 3 weeks. I’m going to talk about Programing for Human|ist|s. My area uses R, Python etc. I did an intense week long Python course. So you start with a spec. For us we decided to construct a script that will visit a website and pull out certain bits of information relating to discussion posts (username, data of posting, content) and write those to a spreadsheet so they can be used for analysis. So, a web scraper.

Then you write Pseudocode. And that includes pulling in other people’s stuff – loads of Googling Stack Exchange for code and libraries.

So, Beautiful Soup does loads of web scraping. Then wanted it to write to a file. So then, you can build the code and run it. Then creates a file. Now when I did that I did pull out the appropriate text. It looks like a mess, but that’s a starting point. I spent the rest of the summer consolidating things, and doing some other things. So that included building something fun using a Markov Chain Generator – to feed text in, and produce lovely parodies. Can then use Python to automate Twitter posts. So we did a fun PatrickTwite Twitterbot (to go with a book launch).

Programming History Live – Anna Groundwater, History, Classics and Archeaology

I’m a historian. I’m here to talk about Programming History Live, which I attended in London in October. My first encounter was with the website. And that is a fantastic website (programminghistorian.org) – free, open, very enabling. It takes you through tutorials in lots of software you can use. Great range from Zotero, Antconc to do corpus analysis tool, to Python. Stuff on data cleaning, network analysis. Using Omeca to do online exhibits – will be used for a masters renaissance course. Comes from best DH ethos. I recommend W3C for LOD and Open Data. Also clear tutorial on SPARQL on Programming Historian. Also has web scraping tutorials.

My interest is network analysis. Martin During uses Palladio – free online network analysis tool which visualizes those networks. The site takes you through step by step. Gives you working examples with data from the website so that you do it yourself. Actually doing stuff is a great way to learn. Now recommended to several dissertation students who will use Palladio and then on Gephi. One thing to add is that these amazing exciting tools are compelling and exciting but there is theoretical underpinning that you need to understand if you use them. And Programming Historian also covers areas of that.

So, fantastic resources here (and Anouk also gave a lovely plug for EDINA’s geospatial tools and expertise, including my colleagues QGIS training).

Session on BL was led by James Baker (now at Sussex, was at BL). He’s also an SSI fellow – gives you £3k for DH work and profile there. I learned a lot on Antconc, on TEI, shell and widget for web scraping.

Antconc was with Anouk, and the tutorial written by Anouk and Heather Froehlich at Sterling. Antconc helps you analyse a corpus. It’s free to download to look at your corpus. So, for example a set of movie reviews (test data from Programming Historian) that has “shot” marked up across the reviews. I like this because it combines the patterns of big sets of data, with the ability to see the exact context. Combines distant and close reading concepts. And here “shot” is shown in its many definitions and uses. Concordance is seeing that word with surrounding words (and you can choose surrounding number of works). I’m interested in this because of cognitive geography of James I and VI using text analysis with Antconc. Some work already done on Agatha Christie using Atconc (in a paper on language and dementia by Ian Lancashire [PDF]).

Other useful resources: James Baker did a great reflective post on his blog, Cradled in Caricature. Also there are a range of people I recommend following on Twitter around digital scholarship, digital humanities, etc. including: @heatherfro, @williamjturkel, @adam_crymble, @ruthahnert, @melissaterras.

And that brought Section 1 to a close. Section 2 of this event – which I was presenting at – was collaboratively noted. See: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1U1CTcTi7hC-1gVq5HD762k2MCgSXaXDfPp5KsDNfOlk/