Today I’m at the IT Futures Conference 2017, an annual University of Edinburgh conference. I’m chairing a session later but I’ll otherwise be liveblogging our wonderful speakers. This is a liveblog so any corrections and additions are, of course, welcomed and encouraged.
John Lee is introducing the day – which is being recorded – and also noting todays hashtag which you should definitely keep your eye on today: #itfutures.
John: Today’s event is about Scaling and Transformation and there is a lot to challenge ourselves with, we hope there will be lot for us to think about and reflect upon over the Christmas break.
Our first speaker today is Melissa Terras, who recently joined us from UCL as our new Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage.
University Technology Futures: the View from a Newbia at the UoE – Professor Melissa Terras, UoE College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
There are two ways to do these things: the show and tell or saying something more meaningful. I hope to do the latter today.
So, I went from studying Greek sculpture to doing hardcore machine learning in my PhD and research. I then went to UCL where I was one of the founders of the UCL centre for Digital Humanities, working on
I will be directing “digital stuff” at the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and working heavily with the Edinburgh Futures Institute which is leading data driven innovation for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. So, futures… There are lot of those… So many futures initiatives and organisations but also we face rather uncertain future… And we will we be looking at these issues at the EFI, how to deal with this uncertain future and the changing information environment. And of course the word comes from financial markets, it is speculative. When you think to the future you see speculative fiction imaging what might happen, but what does this mean for us as a University.
If I’d given this talk a few years ago it would have been quite different. The internet is changing as an environment and it has become a less pleasant place to be over the last few years. I’ve actually done some grieving for the internet I grew up with… I’ve been online since I was 17 and a lot has changed. But lets be more positive, what will we do to equip ourselves for this information environment?
So, lets start with the students – those people we criticise for not being able to buy a house because they are buying too many avocados… Lets start with ethics… I’ve been working on a project called Digital Library Futures – looking at usage stats of who borrows what, and that comes with issues of anonymity, huge ethical issues, huge data protection issues. These are the conversations we have to have with our students to understand what we can and should do.
I’ve said it before but… All data is history. It comes with a cultural background, a societal history… We do this in historical studies all the time, but do we do this with our informatics students? We’ve been doing some work at UCL on the Time Digital Archive (1785-2010) which looks at how men and women are talked about… If you use this as a training corpus for machine learning you are embedding the bias and historical issues into that learning. Even historic information has a real impact on current computational work and approaches.
Which brings me to diversity… There is a lovely piece of nineteenth century newspaper analytics identifying images from newspapers… But only white men. There were images of women and non-white people in those papers but machine learning hasn’t recognised them. This is so important in how we use and train machine learning and what computational methods we use…
And then there is context and understanding what you engage with… There are the sites that let you automatically insert yourself in a range of images – without any idea of provenance or context. Or the Twitter bots that will give your profile image a smile… A huge shout out here for librarians.
What about academics? Well all of the above! But also… We need to understand what is happening
How locked down the digital environment is – there are things I can’t do with my desktop, and then three days later it changes. I’m working on an EU handwriting recognition project and it’s hard to install the software I’m writing. To enable data driven innovation we have to give people flexibility – if you don’t do that people do workarounds and that’s where security issues start to come in. We need to ensure we have the access to do this work.
The other thing I wanted to mention is the Jeremy Bentham Panopticon… Whether through diary systems… And also lecture recording… And the change in rules that students can record anything and what that means for what we say… How you talk about your work changes when that is recorded. Being recorded at any time by students what does that mean for students… And what does that mean for students from, say, Turkey… Anything we do can potentially be done at any one time. You may think that I’m being paranoid. There have been all sorts of threats, death threats, scandal, etc. when something is broadcast and shared. How do we support staff and students if something goes wrong. So we have to understand that challenge, to engage with difficult topics.
I’m a great believer in looking after it’s own data… What does the university do to archive it’s own websites… What can we do to best look after our own information environment – our work, our data, our web content.
So, we have a bright future ahead. But it’s a complicated future. We have to be aware of all of this, we have a role to be the place to go for truth when truth is being debabed.. And that’s where the Edinburgh Futures Institute comes in. We are still developing our work – keep an eye on the website, https://efi.ed.ac.uk/. It has huge potential and a real opportunity to be a beacon of light and truth at a time when the world really needs that. And I am hugely excited to be here and in a role that can help shape that.
Q1) You talked about light and truth… What about openness… And being closed about some things… How do you provide spaces that are both open and closed and safe?
A1) I am a firm believer in Open Data and Open GLAM, but I think it’s about equipping people with the skills to understand when and how and what framework you can share under. It’s not about closing things off but about being tooled up as an individual. The Open Data and Open Science agenda tends to be about projects post-peer review when they are ready to share. I was talking with a colleague here working on the history of censorship and she isn’t on Twitter because of the abuse she’d get for her work – and that is the right decision for that context… Having those skills to decide is important.
Q2) Thinking about the GDPR coming in, as a newbie, how do you think the University is prepared, and how do staff manage their own digital environment in that context?
A2) I am on committees at Edinburgh, I was on similar at UCL, and I have sat as an external person on similar groups at Oxford. Across all universities there is a need to help stafff understand the legal requirements, and the significance of them. These things are generally understood better when something goes wrong… In a way that’s the “Daily Mail” test – will what we are doing be at risk of appearing there?! But I have been cheered by what I have seen over the last few weeks here, and where the thinking is at.
Mr Stefan Hyttfors
I thought I would start by telling you about my 21 year old son who is a university student. He lives away from home… This summer we sat down together to have this great barbeque, to talk about his plans for the summer… About what he would do for a summer job… And he said “no, I won’t get a summer job” and that surprised us as he had lots of plans, and they require money… But he said “it’s fine! I have this crypto currency wallet” and he had 2 bitcoin – which last summer was worth about $5000. And I wanted to start with that… He questioned what is money, is paper money real? It’s belief, we believe it has value because it has been there for a long time… We have symbols… the dollar, the pound, the krona, the Euro… We don’t believe in the paper anymore but we believe in the banks, we check on our phones. We don’t ever see our money as a thing… We know what they owe us, as long as we believe in that system, it works. He said he doesn’t believe in that system – it’s dysfunctional and it will be disrupted… It is an inefficient system… I believe in crypto currency. And his bitcoin is worth more like $37k, so he was right, he didn’t need a summer job.
What Melissa told us about education is right, if we want to create new citizens… We do know that in the future we have huge problems… We have climate change. We don’t know if we can cope with that yet… There are ways to change your impact: eat less meat; fly less; drive an electric car or ditch the car altogether. There is one way to trump all that: have less children! We are in this time where the best way to save the future is to stop having kids… Which is strange… Surely a better faster idea woudld be suicide? Zero carbon emissions! But this is serious… We need to understand and think about how we think about the future, about what we can do… I’, in a hotel tonight, in the hotel has a sign to reuse the towels to save the planet… But the planet will be fine for millions of years… We have to think about the future of humanity, and that’s about sustainability in all senses – environment, diversity, equality… If we don’t do that we will have more divide, more people scared about human futures.
And now we have the internet. The internet is a stupid network…. For thousands of years we collaborated in hierarchy…. Better to be part of that at any level rather than being alone. But now we have a decentralised network… It’s all of us and everything, in a mess… And since we are connected in a mess and not a hieracrchy, we don’t need a boss… So I have experience, and I can tell my son how to address issues in the world… But what if I’m wrong…. That means there is no boss, no teacher, who chas the power to say what should happen, innovation is at the edges… In universities you pushed out ideas, you had the power; companies too pushed things out. But now innovation is in the edges… There is no boss now. It’s decentralised, that’s the whole point… This is how crypto currencies are being established right now… Rather than haing trust in just one bank… Lets instead trust in all of us, keeping transactions across millions of ledgers, there is no middle man, no one database to hack anymore… This couldn’t work without network effect. In any university or country we need to have scale… This took off about 10 years ago… This summer was the tenth anniversary of the launch of the first smartphone, and it’s an amazing product launch from Steve Jobs – who points out current “smart” phones which are all about hardware, which can’t be easily changed as the world changes… He said then that we’d fixed the issue for computers but not for phones… Well we are still just at the beginning. Things are still changing..
The world is changing from hardware to software… Not just phones… From a University building to software… From products to services… This means we can’t think of the future in a linear fashion… In a corporation they talk about growth, in a country it’s GDP growth… in our lives we see our ages go up but it’s an odd way to mark things… I might instead celebrate the years I have left to live to keep me focused on what matters… Whatever we work on we do everything a little bit better all the time, we compete on scalable efficiency… If we are more efficient than competitors we are safe. This is a model that is seen as best practice right now… But that applies until we find a new way to address the issue… That is probably technology but may well not be devices… For instance I don’t need to own a car now, I can use Uber… That’s a new technology. New stuff is new! The world changes… And that always appears in “S” curves…. First it doesn’t work, we ridicule it… Then leaders are learners… That’s where we need a university to study and explore – there would be no new practice without it… Then we learn and adjust… and eventually it takes off and quickly thanks to network effects.
But what if I’m the blue (steady upwards) line here… What if I don’t know how to solve the problem… When the red line crosses the blue line, the blue line is over… This is a bit like the Christmas Pig in Sweden – all looks good until Christmas! Right now we have big organisations going out of business… disruption are our unicorn companies… You get disruption because you do something very very good with efficiency in mind… And you get disrupted because they find a totally different way to solve a problem. We say this in media – newspapers, music, film. And now we see it in retail… We see lots of large retail brands ticking along, busy, doing well… And then Amazon performing so much more successfully. Eric Hoffer says “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”.
As humans we always solve our problems with technology. So 1914 we have the Ford Model T launched… We have huge adoption growth, a few years of decline during the second world war, but by 1991 we are at 91% adoption… You have 76 years to adopt the technology… But right now the S curves are like rockets! An idea appears and it is adopted hugely fast! And we don’t need to shift products anymore, we can ship ideas… Artificial Intelligence is about creating machines that do not need to be programmed… Maybe you heard about the defeat of a Go champion beaten by a Google algorithm. This isn’t chess, Go is a game with 10 to the 5 variations, which has been taught from generation to generation. And that was last year, now there’s a new version of that algorithm – Alpha Go Zero – which learns the game from nothing and in 40 days learned enough to win 100 games in a row against the previous algorithm… What AI learns from us may only slow us down…
It’s scary though! We worry “Will robots take our jobs?” but that’s stupid. We are the creators. We solve problems with technology, we are part of technology… If you think about your day, your experience, how you think about life… Think about electricity and what would happen if you took that away, what that would mean for our lives… It’s hard to imagine that though. Douglas Adam described what you have now, that’s what has always been… But everything invented after the age of 35 is just not ormal… We take for granted the technology we have available to us. Technology is part of us. It’s not robots or human beings, it’s still us and what we want to do with technologuy…
When I was growing up computers were the size of a room… It wasn’t accessible or cheap, it was a huge mainframe… Now we’ve moved to mobile, to wearable, to technology that can be embedded in us as well… Your grandkids will talk about you, and think you know nothing… We will have new problems… Technology will tell us not to have another beer because it will knock 15 minutes off your life… Your insurance company may stop covering you… That’s a new problem… Maybe privacy becomes the currency in the new world
So, as we think ahead think about one word, think about dematerialisation. Digitisation means the marginal cost go down… It goes down over time… What is the marginal cost of taking pictures now? It’s zero! But you used to just have 24 shots to use, or maybe 36… It was a bigger cost… You didn’t take lots of them… Then you sent them off… And two years later you finish the film and send off… Now our toddlers can take 2000 self portraits a day! We talk about healthcare in those terms of unaffordability now, maybe we afford it through digitisation….
One more example we hear about is the automobile industry… Cars were complex… Now they are smaller, lighter, autonomous… We only have a driver now because the law requires a human in charge… Today when you say “look at that guy, he’s texting and driving!”, but in less than 10 years time you’ll say “look at that guy, he’s driving! People are the inefficient part… 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents… We don’t know how to drive… But how do deal with this… This traffic cop pulls up the Google Car and he doesn’t know what to do… No-one is in charge… But if we need fewer cars, we make fewer cars… That means the automobile industry will decline… We need to move from physical ownership of cars to the shared infrastructure for getting around. And that can be ok. But that won’t work when policy makers force us to stay in the past, to protect the old way of doing something..
Same with education… If you grow up in Uganda you just need access to the internet… You can take one of 250 courses at Harvard for free online… You don’t need the concrete building. It doesn’t matter how much political power you have, technology beats politics… They trump politics and borders… Online there is no Brexit… It’s not just corporations but also individuals that have access to technology. We can solve big problems this way. That means that the issue isn’t technology but humanity… Do we want sustainability, equality, space to explore… Do we want to see GDP growth. What do we believe i as a society… We have fantastic ecooic growth… GDP is growing… More people on the planet than ever before have access to technology, to healthcare, to vaccines. But non-humans… Oceans, forests, etc. are dying, we are clearning land to support us farming meat. We have huge air pollution issues. If we keep going on that blue line we won’t have water, air, forests to support us, we all depend on us eventually… No matter what you believe in…
There is one thing we can all relate to… There are 7.5Bn people on just one planet… No matter what business or education or purpose model we have, we have to solve our problems within that limit… Until 1986 we were just about sustainable…. Right now we are using 1.6 planets worth of resources… We have to create much more with much less… Some things, some business models, some GDP standards have to shrink not grow. It’s pretty clear that my son and his generation are aware of this, they see that old model doesn’t work, that it doesn’t make them happy… We have all these things, but we don’t have happiness… That’s not my opinion, that’s the WOrld Health Organisation’s opinion. We have a huge number of people with depression, we had 800m suicides last year. A lot of things are pointing the wrong waays… This is why future generation think old models are bullshit. They see that there must be a better way to do it… Stephen Hawkins says that “history teaches us what didn’t work” – we have to come up with better conclusions… If we are at this point in history when sustainability means no babies… Then we clearly have to change… From an educational perspective I think it is clear I don’t need a university, or a teacher… I need a network. Perhaps the university or the teacher can be a helpful node in this network… But it has to be about creating a better future, rather than preserving an old model.
Response – Jen Ross
What we have from Stefan is an opportunity to reflect on what we need to do as educators to consider different sorts of materiality. We have to educate not just with technology but about it. We have to see technology as deeply integrated with society ad our values. This has implications for what we do as an organisation as well… How do we want students to respond to this new world… People at this university talk about the future in a lot of interesting ways. Posing interesting questions… This year Sian Bayne and I led a course on digital futures, and the Near Future Teaching project is looking at what teaching of the future should be… These conversations are happening. And this organisation is already thinking about ethical issues… And I want to ask you about being creative and critical in these discussions, and who can you talk to about the ideas today?
Q1) I noticed in Stefan’s presentation a self-driving car… Am I correct in saying that a self-driving car slowed when passing two females… and is that an example of bias in the algorithm.
A1) I have an autopilot on my car… and you get used to that quickly… That makes me dangerous in my wife’s car – I forget I am in charge. What Melissa raised is important in terms of bias embedded… Maybe Alpha Go can teach us something about teaching the algorithm… Maybe we can learn something new… It’s an amazing time to be alive. Thinking about the future as a destination makes the present an obstacle… We know what the future will be like because this moment is the future…
Q2) One of the interesting things about being this room is that people here work on systems… The internet isn’t stupid… That’s a live issue in the debate over net neutrality… That’s likely to break at some point… People have been trying to keep the network stupid but what happens when that breaks, what happens without net neutrality…
A2) I don’t know it has to break… But in a decentralised network there is no way to stop it… So big organisations doing things to individuals doesn’t work this way… You could only shut down blockchain by cutting power… And that’s hard to do… Most of the blockchain miners are in China and not in the big cities… I don’t believe in paranoid scenarios where you have evil Trump, evil Google… As soon as they do something bad enough… We go somewhere else… I refer to bitcoin as it’s a really interesting example. Big banks have a business model that depends on all the big people… So how do you close down a network like Bitcoin… You could do that by paying them to opt out… But that would cost £300bn right now. I do see huge problems with protectionism, because of populism, because of inequality. We have enough stuff but we don’t share it well enough… People get scared and then we go for protectionism and nationalism… I don’t claim to have an answer…
Q3) I was meeting with union heads yesterday and AI came up and the potential for disruption or job losses… I’d like to hear your view on the total amount of meaningful work and jobs over time… Any thoughts on how to deal or think about that.
A3) It’s a valid and important question. What is a meaningful job? Gallup says that only 13% of the workforce is really engaged in their role… Most people do “robot jobs”. That should mean that that opens up… As long as job loss means free time rather than our future being screwed, that’s fine… As long as people believe that we need jobs and politicians argue about creating jobs… It’s easy… Ignore technology… that will create jobs… The issue is sharing resources and the outcome… But that’s not easy… And more time means more time to think about the meaning of life. I don’t have a boss or a job as such. I’m curious, I travel, I’m essentially a student… And what I do funds my life… Lets talk about sharing resources as a problem… We have a system that has served us well… But now we are scared of missing out… That’s the thing about Trump and Brexit… People are scared… We have to realise that and address it…
And we are back from coffee for our next session…
Replay Highlights: Lessons from lecture recording at scale – Ms Anne-Marie Scott
When the call came out for IT Futures a few months ago I knew there would be a story to share about Lecture Recording now that we are 100 days into that project… And as we are first and foremost a research organisation so it is only right that we reflect and understand what we are doing.
When we started this project I talked first with librarians – as Melissa pointed out this morning librarians are heroes – and they pointed out that lecture recording is nothing new. The technology is new but there have been many ways to record lectures… For instance notes from our archive on giving anatomy lectures – including content and stage directions to add a little theatre to proceedings.
So, it’s nothing new… We have also been using lecture recording (in a technology sense) at a modest sense for nearly a decade. It extends the range of materials already provided by online library resources, VLE etc. It is useful for accessibility and acces, and can help ease the pressure on physical space. But more than that EUSA sabbatival officers elected in each of 2012-2016 elections with lecture capture as part of their manifestos. Our students have complex lives and access is important, as is accessibility – hence our recording policies around this.
Actually we were coming in late to this, which was to our advantage. It meant we could talk to other people and other organisations about how they do lecture capture and what their experiences have been. We have a three year programme, that’s partly because we are equipping 400 rooms, but it is also because we wanted to ensure we included space for critical reflection. The first phase was done in four and a half month, with procurement which takes most university a year to do at this scale.
We put a lot of thought into the branding and communications around the university. It has been important to work with those on the ground across schools and colleges, and our IT support officer colleagues. I think we were a little overwhelmed by the interest in automated scheduled recording actually. So we need to acknowledge and thank our colleagues across the university.
The lecture capture programme has led to some improvements in teaching spaces. We have added signage, added interactive lights and added additional microphones – doubling up in many spaces and support accessibility as well as recording. And – now this is futuristic! – we added a support phone with preprogrammed hot keys. It sounds silly but it matters, and it’s about understanding the impact on real users.
One of the other things we did was to add a big button in each room with a light that makes it very clear what is or is not being recorded. And it acts as a pause button too – it means recording can be stopped at any time, to get that balance of trust and openness right.
The service was delivered by September 2017 in 138 teaching spaces. We had 246 courses requesting lecture recording, and we trained a huge number of colleagues to engage in lecture recording. This was a phased, varied, local. We thought carefully about the issues here, including privacy, copyright, etc. And the content was in three strands: preparing, delivering, enhancing. And these included face to face and webinar courses. And those do continue.
We also knew we were rolling out a lot over a short time, and we know we have support from students for this project, so we recruited a number of students to work across campuses – 28 in total were there in and around the main spaces to gently offered support and advice. We had positive feedback from staff and students, and we are now talking to the vet school about extending that work there. This is an interesting space and approach, and it works well for our students – and we pay well compared to quite a lot of student roles in the city!
Since we’ve launched the service we’ve seen a growth in use, and we now have about 2000 things recorded each month… And that’s across the schools. Early on the School of Engineering decided to record as standard. But law, who’ve been using lecture capture in general the longest have very high student use.
When we did begin talking about lecture recording one of the first things we heard from staff was that you cannot record lectures for maths. You can see a fantastic series of lectures on Dark Matter on MediaHopper which show the role of the chalkboard in lectures. When we scoped our system we looked at other options… Lots of high tech tracking cameras, digital notepads… So we stepped back and thought about what would be feasible and easy to use… So, we – my colleague Ewan Murray – looked at what we might be able to do so that you can walk into a room, do as normal, and have it capture properly… So there are a few components that are needed. Firstly the touchscreen interface have been redesigned to make them accessible – do you want slides, document viewer, or combinations? Simple controls here… Then presets of left, up, down, right… That lets you select the chalkboard to use… So you have control that is simple, and you have screens that we’ve installed – feedback on what is being recorded… Once you’ve worked out how to use the room… That’s it. You do your thing. The system records (generally) the bottom chalkboard… It simple records what has been scheduled. And that’s enabled the school of maths to go from skeptical to having the lecture capture system accommodate what they do… So for instance some videos capture slides, TopHat voting and the chalkboard. And, for instance, Prashant Valluri (Engineering) has had really positive feedback from his students… And I think we have to think beyond chalkboards, and extend to other writing spaces – whiteboards, writable walls, spaces in art and design… Not just digital content
So, where next?
There is a governance strand around this programme, with a Policy group, an Academic User Group, Engagement and Impact, etc. And that Academic User Group is important. And we are moving forward with expansion to another 130 spaces, expansion of analogue writing surfaces. And we do need to think about information literacy and what it is (and is not) appropriate to do with these materials – our students can and know how to capture video, but they need to be equipped to know how best to use it.
In terms of evaluation we have five PTAS projects looking at lecture recording in different contexts, usages, and issues such as inclusion. We are also commissioning other pieces of evaluation. Dr Jill Mackay is looking at the value of lecture recording, and a further project on staff experience. And there will be a further call coming through PTAS in March 2018, but we are open to other ideas too.
Since this is a futures event I wanted to end with some provocation… The telescope at Joddrell Bank is now starting to give students (remote) access. Lecture capture can enable that sort of access to things you couldn’t access before. So lets think beyond chalkboards, what other creative things can we be doing with this?
Q1) In terms of brainstorming possible futures… How about capturing performances and 3D capture?
A1) That is really interesting. It also came up in MediaHopper before for sports and sports science, and assessment in that. Really interesting what we can do with that which will be useful – we don’t advocate for recording everything unless it is useful…
Q2) Are there ways to think about integrating cameras across campuses… Around presence and time shifting… and what is possible?
A2) I think that’s fascinating… And John has been looking at this with an online distance programme that is also taught on campus…
A2 – John) Lecture capture does support livestreaming.. that’s one possibility for other sites and online distance students…. Where students can access the course live, that’s an option but they can also catch up later.
A2) We can also do more to connect up and continue to work with video over time, enriching it over the long term…
Q2) I know there was some work on small scale teaching – YouTute – and was wondering if that has been considered…
A2) The 400 teaching spaces include some quite small teaching spaces… The potential for small scale teaching is there. But we are clear about capturing lectures, rather than seminars and the need to keep those more open and safe spaces for discussion. The facility will be there though, so if someone wants to do that the barrier is just about careful thought – it might be an excellent PTAS project.
Q3) Just occurred to me… Has there been any insight into note taking by students, that sort of thing?
A3) We don’t have information on that. The maths PTAS project is looking at study skills so it might come out from that. We do know from other institutions that sometimes there is less note taking, there is also
Comment) In the previous system we had informal feedback from students along the lines of “I feel free to pay more attention rather than frantically trying to take it all down)
A2) We do also see rewatching
Comment) Our students seem to take similar amounts of notes over time but maybe from re-watching, not just in the lecture.
Q3) Any evidence of how lecture recording impacts how students do?
A3) That’s hard to measure of course, because it could mean a number of different things… The inclusion PTAS project is looking at how lecture capture can support those with complex schedules and lives, etc. And our evaluation will continue post project too to see how that impact of lecture recording develops.
Scaling an online Masters: approaches and challenges to growth on the MSc Clinical Education – Drs Gill Aitken, Tim Fawns, Derek Jones
GA: We are going to speak about our experience of scaling an online masters, and specifically the MSc in Clinical Education, the largest programme in the college of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at the moment. Our students for this programme are medical professionals, including medics, nurses, and increasing numbers of dentists. We follow a similar credits/exit routes structure as most part time MScs. Our students are still working when they are studying so they can put what we talk about into real clinical practice.
I started on the programme in 2010, Tim joined in 2014, and Derek in 2015. We’ve seen fairly sustained growth in the programme until 2014 when we were inundated with applications. We thought that we’d share that experience… But that growth was, I should say, somewhat accidental. We did have a really carefully thought through programme and pedagogy, we had something simple that worked well. Our programme is concerned with what we want to achieve, and we use technology but we are fairly indifferent to the technology.. It’s all about the student experience, interaction and chat so it’s how we use the technology to enable that interaction.
We have a real programme ethos and having more staff has allowed us to step back and think about that, about what works best. And we do share our programme ethos o the course site, with our students, and we are collaborative with our students, working with our learners to develop a vibrant academic community. We encourage and support all our students to develop their own academic voice and a critical approach – and our students see how we engage with them as important for modelling behaviour, as a form of mentoring. That aspect is something we are reflecting and writing up just now.
In terms of where we are now, and where we have bottlenecks right now, it is around dissertation supervision, about marking, and about staff presence.
TF: The crux of those graphs Gill shared is that every person there is a real person. We are terrified of targets we have been given, next year we are needing to reach 96 first years… So this is about approaches we are taking to maintain our ethos and manage the demand. For instance we have peer support for dissertation sessions – with students benefitting from each others’ experience but that requires experienced programme staff to be there, and one-to-one dissertation supervision to complement that.
It is really important that students feel part of the community around the programme, fellow students, alumni, etc. and we also have key partnerships with NHS Scotland, with colleagues in other organisations, as well as colleagues in IAD and Digital Education. In order to maintain our integrity as we grow we are keeping up to speed on the literature on education, as well as understanding staff and student perceptions of the course. As we are marking those essays we always leave a 3 minute audio with in-text comments, to make it clear a real person has engaged directly and so that students understand the feedback specifically to them. And we also link student projects with our research, which helps maintain that sense of community post-programme.
In terms of challenges for the university, we need systems that can handle noise. We have live video sessions with ADobe connect. We use that system as you can have equal size video screens for everyone, as Blackboard Connect is too hierachichal for our ethos. But Adobe Connect maxes at about 12 people. We have really hit a brick wall with that, it seems hard to find a way to have video that scales properly. And playback later is really problematic. Discussion boards are also problematic – they get noisy and busy and hard to build good engagement where all voices are heard…
Something that does work well is communication and oversight. We have regular meetings. We also have a supervision roundup – to make sure we keep up with all of those projects. With so many students you need an approach to do that.
We have a programme team of five including Gill, Derek, Debbie our administrators – a good administrator is absolutely critical and the students love Debbie – and we have the newest member of our team ?. Growth isn’t about more students, then more staff… It’s about carefully curating and managing the people and that is key to scaling. That means recruitment is crucial as the quality of the programme and student experience depends on the right mix of staff being in place.
Q1) We run something similar as a programme but it is both on campus and online. We have similar challenges to scaling… I was wondering what you think might be the limits to scaling here? Our programme is digital media design, they are practitioners… Just having more people doesn’t quite work… I am wondering where you think the boundaries are?
A1 – GA) I think we are at the boundary for us right now. Some of the comparable courses worldwide that are more correspondance courses, have hit issues because they have lost or lack that sense of community. We have good will, we are able to have alumni act as supervisors for some programmmes. We don’t want more than 100 starting in any given year. And if you focus too much on the technology, you lose the human part that makes these courses special….
A1 – DJ) Whilst I wouldn’t encourage the McDonalds idea of education, I do think that that would be the only way to scale – to clone the approach and programme and ethos but how you do that and retain the human aspects that are so important is a really hard thing to answer?
Q2) On campus students have lots of access to support of all kinds, not just IT. How would you factor in some of the support services for students in an online course? I’m thinking pastoral type interactions… And the support staff you can outsource effort in that way online?
A2 – GA) It’s an intresting question. A few years ago they introduced personal tutoring for postgrad students and online stduents. At one point I had 80 tutees and that’s difficult… These are professionals so they have fewer small crises but when they have an issue it tends to be more severe, and our role is to be an interface between them and the wider university system, doing right with regulations, taking breaks, delayed deadlines, etc. Actually I’ve never had such good relationships with my students. We have amazing people, amazing graduates, and the university could be missing a trick by not doing more with this…
Q3) I wondered about if you could expand on that… Are there things about on-campus teaching that we could do better around scaling?
A3 – GA) Yes, speaking as a mother of a student in a cohort of over 500, definitely. Our university regulations need to adapt to that. Part of what works on our programme is that these ideas can be utilised in practice, with real links being made in PGT and online. That’s partly as learners are more mature in thinking and practice.
A3 – TF) These disruptive approaches allows you to examine what you want to achieve, and how best to accomplish that… To look at other opportunities to rethink, to move beyond cramming more students in, to think differently… To see what we want to accomplish but consider how that can be achieved. It’s not translating face to face teaching online, you have to recreate it, it has to be born digital… You rethink it from scratch!
Afternoon Keynote: Educating against psychic numbing – Prof Sian Bayne
I think I came up with my title on a bit of a down day! I will talk about psychic numbing but I wanted to start by talking about a PTAS project we undertook on Yik Yak earier this year. Before I start I have tweeted all my references – do see and shared that…
So Yik Yak was a geo-social, anonymous, mobile networking app launched in 2013. It failed in 2017. And no-one really cared. It was a hugely used platform between 2013 and 2015. Including here at Edinburgh. It was a hyper local platform and it was community moderated through up/down voting. And it was entirely anonymous – with no persistant identifiers. And we knew at Edinburgh that it was in use because of the Digital Footprint research that Louise Connelly and Nicola Osborne do. And you could go in and see what was being said (some lovely examples in Sian’s slides here). We felt there were some interesting things being said on Yik Yak would tell us things about the student experience – the sort of undercurrent to the NSS.
We wanted to see how the campus was carved up as a geographical space… Most social media are non geographical, but Yik Yak was different so we wanted to see initially what these different spaces were like, how they were similar, how they were different. That was our intention… But it’s not quite how it worked. I’ll explain why later but I wanted to say more about our research team.
We ran our reseaech from July 2016 to May 2017. We had computational data which was put through topic modelling of 46k tweets, we ran focus groups, we had digital footprint survey data, and we had participant observation data from our two brilliant student researchers. Our design was tight but…
Yik Yak data is hard to come by… And Yik Yak received a huge amount of venture capital funding and started to decline just as our work started. And just after Brexit they introduced handles, dropping that anonymous aspect… And then in 2016 they laid off 60% of their staff… So we were researcing a dying app, which is interesting in all sorts of ways.
So the developers did something wrong with Yik Yak. In August 2016 thdy introduced handles – they said they were focused on hyper local, anonymity was incidental… And they positioned this as adding functionality. And it was disastrous! The students came back and were appalled – very visible on Yik Yak too. And that was at Edinburgh and global. At that point the developers released a video saying “we messed up” and were bringing back anonymity in November 2016. People were happy about this. But you can see what effect the removal of anonymity had on usage at Edinburgh – a huge deline of use. So we can see this in Yaks… “Yik Yak is like the ex you get back together with because they swear they changed”. They were right to be cynical – it shut down in May 2017. It was worth $400m in 2014, sold for $1m in 2017. And our student researchers, one wrote that no-one really cared about that shut down.
I want to talk about why we should care – not specifically about Yik Yak, but about ephemeral anonymous spaces and the significant social value of anonymity. That was valuable to Yik Yak… But Google that platform you will find a lot of headlines about bullying, harrassment, death threats, victimisation – mainly around US campuses. Also Yik Yak developers accused of releasing data who spewed abuse on the platform. But so much focus has gone on this that it has prevented proper discussion of the affordances of anonymity. Hate speech wasn’t the majority of what was going on here at Edinburgh, it was mainly student life, quite a lot of health, sex, and sexual and menta health, also some politics – Brexit, Trump, Scottish Independence… We looked for swearing and offensive language – it was only 2% and that included some day to day swears rather than offence.
There is research on other campuses (Black et al 2016) did not reveal bullying or insulting worthy of demonisation. And Saveski et al (2016) found similar in a very large sample. But the media formed a moral panic narrative around Yik Yak… Looking at the top 100 words in our data sample you can see most of these posts are about people and life…
The kind of things being yacked about of immense social value – when do we get proper grades from the university, are my marks moral for this stage of study, but also a lot of mental health talk. Bancroft and Reid (2016) write about anonymity being another way to engage, not automatically a problematic one. Nissenbaum (1999) talks about the value of being unreachable. We need to consider that more, we need to look beyond the toxic disinhibition narrative, but also the affordances of anonymity.
If the news media described Yik Yak as failing for bullying and abuse, the reality was probably about their business model which couldn’t make anonymity work. There is a great piece (Bachmann et al 2017) about the commodification of personal data. Venturebeat wrote about the decline in growth being about not understanding anonymity. It failed because it is difficult to commodify anonymity… Which brings me neatly only Facebook… Kind of the polar opposite to Yik Yak. It has this compulsive visibility of the “branded self” (Goodwin et al 2016). It is prolific, 92% of students use Facebook, it’s expected, it’s ubiquitous. You have to choose to opt out of some o fthe social norms around this.
The John Lanchester (2017) writes about Facebook as the “biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind” with the hugest gap between what it says it does and what it actually dues as a company. You curate this self and they package and sell your data without you having any agency in that…
And that brings us to Facebook’s new research strand – the brain-computer interface… The neuroscience isn’t suggesting this is going to happen so fast but… It doesn’t stop ed tech bloggers getting on board with it… Donald Clark (2017) raves about this on his inexplicably popular blog. But in addition to the uncritical ed tech press. But thankfully we also have critical voices – Ienca and Andorno (2017) talks about rights, rights to cognitive liberty, mental privacy, mental integrity, psychological continuity. And I recommend Ben Williams’ Code Acts blog where he writes about this stuff.
We have this “privacy paradox” – we have lots of students who know the risks of sharing data, but do it anyway. I really liked Baruh, Secinti and Cemalcilar (2017) talk about how difficult it is to participate in effective social life and maintain privacy – the options are poor here. Yik Yak did offer an anonymous option that isn’t available in other places… The idea of an effective takes me to psychic numbing. I highly recommend Zuboff (2015) “Big Other” article on the inuring of people to the realities of being tracked, parsed, mined and monetised.
Also thinking about ephemerality, Benjamin Haber (2017), writing about SnapChat, talks about different temporalities of interaction. That ephemerality preserves communities without capturing and recording them. Indeed Anne Marie Scott, on her blog, talks about the potential value of ephemerality and time limits.
So, I want to talk about the possibility of a digital future that thinks about that ephemerality. I wanted to quote Melissa, quoting Martha Lane Fox, quoting Aaron Schwartz: “It’s no longer OK not to understand how the internet works”. We don’t just need digital skills, we also need digital understanding, what it means to engage, how we might approach these things critically…
We have the idea of “Digital Redlining” and what that means in the physical and digital world to classify and bound communities in particular ways. Yu-Wei Lin is recording students talking about privacy. Egelman (2016) has created a teaching programme. We have the Digital Footprint MOOC. and Jeremy Knox and James Lamb who have been running a module on Algorithmic cultures – hacking and playing with APIs etc. Carving out space for this in the curriculum.
So I am calling for more discussion of anonymmity and ephemerality.
Response – Kate Orton-Johnson
Thank you to Sian, I think those issues of criticality and anonymity is so important. I wanted to give a local specific example. In our Sociology 1a class – a huge course – we use Mentimeter to poll students. When you ask these students how important internet privacy is to them. We seem to have growing responses of “Important – but give up some privacy for convenience”. We ask about that, and then we horrify them by unravelling their privacy even if they are quite cautious online.
We ask students about how they manage their data online – most think they do. Then we ask them if they have a library card, use Learn, if they read all the terms and conditions… We say, OK you are enthusiastic about Learn, the importance of content being on there. So, as a lecturer there is data I can see what you can access, and when you do it… And I say, oh but I can also see you as individuals and see how many times you have logged onto learn, how many times, where from, how long… And you get a little nervousness…
And then using aggregate data I can move down to individuals, who you are, all your personal data, your family, your address… And then you have the facial equivelent of weeping.
You have this teaching tool that is immediately useful to our students… But there is a lack of knowledge, a psychic numbing to this surveillance, and how this data can be generated just by being here, that anyone teaching could access this…
Then we poll again and they all thought they could manage data, and aren’t so sure now.
Managing our data is so much more than social media. Our digital footprints and data shadows where we don’t know the implications 5-10 years down the road…
Digital Education: A student perspective from two angles – Bobi Archer, VP Education, EUSA
For this presentation I talked to learners on campus and online about digital education and technology in education. So, starting with on-campus learning, the first thing that came up was lecture capture. The response to this from the student body has been very favourable. The only negatives have been around the volume of courses online, not the technology itself – which is amazing given the scale of technology put into place. There has been huge use – 120,000 views with 9% using the notes feature.
So, why is lecture capture so useful? It allows for more focus on content rather than taking notes, allows the ability to rewatch topics for revision, it is beneficial for students who may be unable to attend the lecture, good for introductory lectures and basic concepts. And great to see PTAS supporting projects as well. It is particularly good for parents and carers, for our non-native English speaking students, and students with a learning profile. BUT it is not a good option for timetabling clashes or overspill – it isn’t a good alternative here – streaming to an alternative overflow space for instead is not the experience our students need online.
I also wanted to talk about “flipped” classroom teaching. That allows students to be able to engage with the content before class; it allows for more in depth dialogue between staff and stduents; and it is engaging and encourages attendance.
Top Hat in mid-semester feedback has been really useful. It allows immediate polling. TopHat is an online platform that anyone with a device can use and give feedback in real time – and it was used in flipped classroom teaching, but also for mid-semester feedback.The course organiser can respond and make follow up actions. It is anonymised and that is also really useful – so you can submit and share something very honestly.
A comment from a rep from the Vet school noted the importance of making changes within the semester – benefiting that group of students, not only the next generation of students. That also helps students engage in feedback, they see the real benefit.
Another topic that came up was online submissions. In 2014/15 we had 0.5 million online submissions, but in 2015/16 with the new policy in place we had 1.9 million. That’s a huge jump. And actually that’s been well received – it’s more flexible, a hub for all assignments and feedback, and Turnitin can help educate students about plagiarism. It is especially helpful for students on elective courses, joint-degree students, and again students with a learning profile.
So, online distance learning. I found it so interesting to see the feedback from the online learning reps – fewer responses here but really well considered…
How to start here… MOOCs – short online courses with no entry requirements, accessible education, typically 1-2 hours study for around 5 weeks, a great taster, Free to access, but paid for certificates That’s part of the picture. But we also have online programmes. These are accessible education to a global market, for a diverse range of students, and it is flexible learning – students are able to learn at their own page. And it’s a way to be part of the Edinburgh University Community. That helps widening participation students, international students, and also for students with learning profiles and physical disabilities.
Three big topics came up: learning and teaching; community; and representation. The comments on quality of materials and content were really positive – really good quality content, with material available from the outset to enable more flexibility. Many of our students online work full time as well so that is crucial. I saw loads of feedback that tutors responded quickly. In terms of recommendations there was a call for more course choices. Also updating in materials, especially in recordings. And they would like more individual meetings for academic support, and more focus on questions raised by other students – wanted to know what else was raised by their peers, not just the tutors. One rep commented that it was a really positive experience, and discussion boards were really active where they were used.
In terms of community, students did really feel valued and part of such a high reputation institution. They used social media as part of supporting that community, but much of that was created by students. They wanted something more permanent, more embedded in the University community… Whether Learn or something like Piatza… Something that would enable building of a permanent community. They recognised the challenges of being a cohort – there are limits to building that feeling of community online. And actually simple things make a difference – a picture and personalised element for communications and lecturers. They also wanted more inclusion in on-campus events – watching events later via the lecture capture system for instance. And they also wanted to know that they could be engaging in societies and activities – online students don’t tend to be aware of these even though there are over 2000 UoE societies and communities..
In terms of representation they felt there was good training, that tutors were responsive to student emails, but there was mixed feedback regarding student engagement. But there were challenges there. Some recommendations included some sort of online platform for communication – representation, feedback and community all being key parts here. They wanted more opportunity to voice feedback. They found it difficult to attend meetings and be in the loop – many are not in Edinburgh which is fairly obvious for online distance students. There is an opportunity for more use of Skype or similar, especially for committees, for staff-student liaison discussions especially. The reps did get that information, but were unsure what to do with that… We do have training for ODL students, but that needs to change and be updated… Reps felt well supported, but it can be difficult to get students to response.
In terms of further consideration, there are some things to be considered.. It’s about the provision outwith the curriculum: welcome week; student societies and activities; academic and personal support – how do personal tutors work here; promotion of services and ability to access e.g. Advice place, Counselling and Disability. The other aspect here is deadline extensions and special circumstances.
In terms of the potentials for digital education – there is so much that could happen. The Near Future Teaching project is looking at this about what the future can hold. (Cue an excellent Near Future Teaching video).
A proposed future Digital Education Ecosystem for the University of Edinburgh – Mr Gavin McLachlan
I wanted to talk a bit about Digital Transformation. We’ve been talking about what the future might look like but I think we also need to think about how we transform as an organisation – so we don’t end up like Kodak. There is a bit of a picture of what the future might look like. A proposal I’ve made to the University is that “every educators is a digital educator” – does that mean everything is online. There had been an awful lot of discussion of data capture, does that mean you use it for everything? No, it’s not appropriate to use it for everything. But what I am saying is that every lecturer understands that technology, the changes to pratices and pedagogies around lecture capture, and how that might be useful to you, they understand the capabilities available for use. Similarly “every student is a digital student”. Then we get to “every university service is a digital service” – how do we make our services 24 x 7 services, something governments are also looking at. Then “every decision considers the available evidence” – lets use the technology and data we have to make informed decisions… And then “Everyone plans and updates their digital skills” – how do we all keep up to date, how do we plan as individuals to do this. We have lots of resources to help you do this – lots of Lynda.com courses etc. But all of you should be thinking on what the next skill you are planing on learning, and then the next… How do you plan that… My next skill is the advanced OneNote course by the way… And then “we need to stop wondering about the future – and start predicting and proactively engaging” – we have techniques available to us, many of them invented at this very university.
And then we also need to embrace the idea of the hyper connected digital economy and digital community. How do we connect to our colleagues, our students, our community around us, how big is that, how active is it. Ask any analyst to assess, in a modern way, the strength of an organisation they won’t just look at size, number of units shipped, but also the connections and size of the digital community. That should be a modern strength that we have as well.
There has been a lot of talk of digital disruption – we see that in a lot of contexts. We heard a lot about lecture capture, that’s fresh in our minds as it’s a disruptive technology that is new to us. How can we use this new technology in new and inventive ways? I think there will be significant disruption in the education and Higher Education market. We are going to get hit, we are already geting hit. We were one of the first universities running online distance education courses, but we haven’t scaled up like others. We have great quality courses but they haven’t grown in size as quickly. And also at a tiny handful of universities in the US they have scaled up their learning significantly. For instance University of Illinois has an iMBA so that they have gone from 250 in 2015 to 1500 students in 2017. How have they done that at that speed? Well they use some automation. Georgia Institute of Technology has gone from around 100 students in computer science (masters) in 2015 to 10,000 students in 2017. These numbers should worry us, things are changing.
We have a campus, and we’ve always had that. That limits competition and scaling. But online it is easier to scale, to poach students from other providers. And meanwhile we have MOOCs. Coursera has over 27 million learners. We have a huge market there. And we have a huge opportunity here, with students across the globe and QS ranking Edinburgh in the Top 10 universities in the world.
So, there is opportunity here, but also disruption and a need to address that. I think we need to create a Digital Education Ecossyetm, and that the strength of this is in five key components that build into a giant virtuous circle. Firstly there is Blended Learning – which we use a lot of today (lecture capture is part of this); we also have almost 70 online masters courses – of very high quality; we also need to build, I’m proposing, a digital skills component and we have the beginnings of that – this is the non-accredited but important skills component and how do we equip students to keep up in the future and we need to pay more attention to that; we have a strong element of MOOCs and free education is also critical.
Finally there is a new component that Sian Bayne, Melissa Highton, Charlie Jeffrey and I are working on, which is Distance Learning at Scale. That is not a distance education product, it is not an on-campus product, it’s about very large courses online. It won’t be the same, and should not be sold as the same, as those very high quality involved programmes. But we can use adaptive learning, partial teacher automation, automated marking with blogging… Where you can run a course at scale and online. It’s not going to be for everyone, but some people will want that product. World wide demand for education is huge, and we have to see how we should expand impact into that wider space. There is a lot of enthusiasm at University Court about this, but caution too. So we hope to introduce three pilot courses next year – more information will appear soon on that. This ecosystem is critical, the components all support and benefit each other and allow you to re-use and remix content. And financially that is not an even picture… MOOCs and Digital Skills don’t generate income really… Having them within the wider ecosystem allows you to balance those demands and support the less income generating activities through the more income generating elements. That’s how that has been working in some of those US universities who have introduced larger online courses.
We also need to think about our relationships within and around the university, particularly between Employers wanting to support their staff and their education, the University and the Students. That relationship is going to be quite important. Actually there is a huge market of employed people who can and want to study online. Some of our analysis of distance learning at scale showed that the single largest group (~65-70%) in universities that take distance learning programmes, live within 100m of the university.
We can think of this as a funnel and pipeline of students and income. That starts with MOOCs, then Distance Learning at Scale courses, then Distance Learning at Scale Masters, then Full Online Masters… With the potential to promote, prequalify, and build relationships as students move through that pipeline, building trust in the quality of our education in a low risk way – rather than asking them to either come on campus and pay, or you go online and pay, or you don’t. That’s a high risk product to buy… That’s what we ask students to do right now.
So we want Distance Learning at Scale using the right combination of pedagogy, quality and judicious use of approaches such as automation to enable that. Providing more choice and flexibility in when students learn and what they learn.
Q1) That’s really interesting. I’m deeply embedded in online learning. I get how you can do the teaching, and how these things line up… But there is an elephant in the room… You said thousands of students in an online masters programme… That’s SQF Level 11, how do you assess in the round for that, at that level.
A1) There are a number of ways to approach this. Prof Sian Bayne and colleagues are looking at assessment approaches. Automation is a reasonable fit for some subject areas, and will run faster for some areas than others. So Georgia Institute of Technology for £10k masters students do assessment with a high quality AI agent that electronically assess the students submissions – based on their code submissions. They can critically assess that work. There are also peer review, group review, etc. which can be used, and which help reduce the cost per student of marking and assessment.
Q2) Where is this going? Is the intention that we all move to this place in the next five years.. ?
A2) I don’t think that the current campus or online masters flip over to distance learning at scale. I think we will still have that ecosystem in 5 to 10 years time. There will be three different types of products for students in different circumstances. Some courses may want to move to scale. Others may want to shift to more interaction… There will be shift back and forth. So computer science may be available on-campus and as distance learning at scale. Different products for different students. We also have a new business case form and process for the Distance Education at Scale courses, which includes market research on likely courses to success at scale. We have used that information in these business cases to make the pitch, we’ll then pick three of these to pilot.
Q2) I presume there is a heavy component of risk analysis here?
A2) Absolutely. The reputation of the university is key. What we offer has to be at high quality and research-led teaching.
Closing Address – Prof Charlie Jeffery
My starting point, in thinking of new forms of higher volume online distance learning, is to think about what we are for – this university in particular but as a sector more widely too. Discovering and disseminating knowledge through research and teaching is the heart of what we do. We’ve been doing that since 1583. When we started out we were a civic organisation with a local context. We say inspiration outside the UK as well as those within the UK. In the eighteenth century that extended to the USA, in the nineteenth century we began to attract students and other interactions with India, China and elsewhere. And in the last three or four decades we have become genuinely global. When we go to MOOC land we cover pretty much every country in the world. It’s pretty much just North Korea we don’t reach. There are maybe 3 or 4 other universities in the world with that reach for dissemination of knowledge across the world, we do need to think about that distance learning at scale.
Another prompt for me was when I was in India, travelling with the Prime Minister on one of her first overseas missions. In doing so I met one of the Hindujah brothers and spoke about distance online education. And he cut me off, saying he’d give me 50,000 nurses – an offer for training a huge group of nurses. It was a throwaway comment but that first prompted me to think about that jump in scale. That was underlined more generally in thinking about India. India has HE participation of about 13%, and want to be at 30% quickly. It is a very large country and it takes time to develop new HE organisations. And it’s not just India… There is a demand there that is easily evidenced, and connects with a capability we have shown through our MOOC programme in reaching very large quantities of people.
John, in prompting me for today, asked me about the benefits of scale that are other than financial. That’s an interesting assumption to make about scale. There is a financial calculation there, which has something to do with how successive governments have approached immigration policy, and created barriers to students in various parts of the world. Then, if that’s the case, attracting more students online becomes important. So finance is part of it… But I don’t see it as the driving reason. The driving reason is our mission. I wanted to give an example of a course we run – at smaller scale – which is the Masters in Family Medicine which runs in India in particular but has participation from other countries. It is aimed at medical practitioners – often with little training – to support them to deal with issues in situ… These are contexts where referrals to hospital often isn’t practical, better to do stuff in communities with more effective primary healthcare strategies. That is noble and speaks to our mission of ensuring our knowledge is disseminated and makes a difference. So if that can be accomplished by delivery at scale, why wouldn’t we do it. And that’s why Gavin and I are working on this distance learning at scale.
For me there are four principles here. Firstly the teaching that we do in this form has to be research-led. We are distinguished by our research excellence. And we aspire for that to be disseminated to our students who are also increasingly co-creators of our knowledge. That’s not the approach many take. We also need to not do this at arms length – Liverpool is one of the big online providers but that’s all arms length through a company in the Netherlands. That’s not what we are doing, it is a core part of what we do. Third principle is that this has to be at high quality. We have the advantage of the Centre for Research in Digital Education and the work of Prof Sian Bayne and her colleagues. We have to strike the right balance between technology adn real human interaction. Whatever we do has to be at very high quality. Finally our work has to provide excellent student experience. Actually our online distance students typically give us more positive feedback than our on-campus students. We need to understand that, and build on that as we develop our online courses – and we need to think about how we apply that in on-campus experiences too.
We are seeing this work as part of the normal academic role, and that’s how we’ve been engaging with schools. I see this as an opportunity but there is a threat there too. Some places will be left behind. Online distance learning is being offered at lower levels of intellectual content, or hived off, or run by non academic organisations… I don’t think quality there will be high. But that will be cheap, which will make it attractive to some students. And they may choose that over traditional on-campus settings. That’s a big threat to many universities. It’s not a big threat to us in the same way – we are seen as having a quality premium. But we are also in a really strong position to do this in a rigorous high quality way. That’s part of the legacy of Tim O’Shea, who retires soon, in advocating and supporting colleagues to experiment. We are thus in a tremendously healthy position to place ourselves in the changing context of Higher Education alongside smaller scale online courses, and alongside open courses too. But ONLY if it fits with our mission and culture.
Q1) One of our speakers earlier showed a slide of children in Uganda with tablets who said “they can do a degree at Harvard for nothing”. How are we placed to compete?
A1) I think we are well placed to compete. Harvard does do quite a lot online – but not usually for nothing. University of Edinburgh is well placed to be in that position and we are better placed than most if not any other university in the UK. I’d be quite comfortable where that becomes the norm, as long as education in that market is at high quality. We aren’t that clear on pricing… We have some indication from universities, but at different quality levels… We will be exploring and experimenting over the next couple of years. But I don’t think anyone else in the UK is engaging in that thinking in the UK at the moment.
Q2) I liked that you picked up the threat of low quality providers… We are in a context where education is thought of as a market. We are encouraged to think of students as customers… There may be choices and pressures to protect income… How do we protect our reputation and the quality so that all can be assured of the graduates we produce.
A2) We have to be rigorous about standards and qualities. The biggest drivers of our excellent global rankings are citations, and reputational surveys of academics and employers. That says how precious reputation is, and how we can’t afford to damage that. We have a certain amount of risk appetite but we have a low appetite for risk around finance, and about reputation. So absolute rigour in the standard of what we do is critical.
Q3) Do we currently have enough teachers to do this?
A3) No. Part of the rigorous business planning process is to secure investment to allow us to deliver pilot projects which will help us go further, to seek investment. We will need additional capability to do that.
And with that we close the day. Thank you to all our speakers, participants, and the IT Futures organising committee for a stimulating day (do take a look at the tweets for lots more debate and discussion from across the sessions).