Moving to a new digital home

Having had a bit of hiatus in blogging, (it’s almost a year since I last posted!) it’s time to get blogging again and particularly so as I’ve finally made the move to get my own domain on Reclaim Hosting.

I first started blogging here on e-LiME in 2008 and I’ve been struck in the past year by how often I refer back to some of my old posts, both the published ones and those that have remained as eternal drafts!  I was never a prolific blogger but I found blogging was a good way to support reflective practice and think out loud. Some of my old posts are full of questions and were an attempt to gain the views of others and often they generated helpful learning conversations on Twitter, others through comments posted on individual posts.

When I moved to a more central University role two and a half years ago I found it quite a challenge to blog. My previous post was an academic one and I think I felt freer to blog and share some of my thinking,  Moving to a professional service puts you in a slightly different position and I guess there’s perhaps been a sense of feeling more wary of blogging.  The other challenge has been time, I’ve written lots of blog posts in my mind but they’ve never made it to being spelled out on my keyboard.  Recently though I’ve realised that I’ve missed blogging, there’s almost something cathartic about it, but I think importantly for me blogging was a way to reflect and support my own personal learning.  So I’m back blogging about higher education, open education, the role of technology in learning and teaching and good old medical education.  If you want to keep up with posts on my new digital home you’ll find me blogging over on Still Learning on my own domain.

More reflections of day one of Jisc #digifest14: Part 2

So here’s part two of my reflections on the first day of the Jisc Digital Festival meeting following on my post earlier this evening with  part one of my reflections on the opening keynote.

After the opening keynotes there was a brief Q&A session and my ears pricked up at a question asking whether there was a Jisc strategy to support open source solutions to create digital transformations.  The Twitter back channel picked up on this and highlighted that many open source tools had been developed with JISC funding but that these hadn’t been sustained and further developed due to the stop start nature of the funding.  Some highlighted that open source systems should be promoted and encouraged ahead of proprietary systems.  I have a lot of sympathy for this view and have written previously about HE adopting open technologies and an agile approach to developing our technical solutions in the same way that the Cabinet Office has. I’ll pickup on this thread later.

Following the keynote we moved onto a mix of workshops, expert speaker sessions, panels and tech demos.  First off I went to the workshop which launched the new Jisc Open Badges Design Toolkit.  We worked through the Toolkit and I think this is going to prove really useful to those looking at open badges and thinking about how you might use them.

Next up I pitched up at the hangout session – ‘Flipped classroom, or just flippin’ technology? Where are we now with technology, student experience and organisational change?’  The slides for this session aren’t up as yet, which is a shame because I’d like to have another look at them.  I found myself at odds with some of what was said in this session, for example the notion that the use of technology in a lecture makes it interactive.  Surely it’s not the technology that makes the lecture interactive it’s the design of the learning activity.  There’s also the issue of how we design learning spaces, our newly refurbished lecture has been designed to support team-based learning and small group learning, technology is used in these interactive learning sessions but it doesn’t work in isolation.  There was also the suggestion that technology makes the flipped classroom more flipped but I was left thinking again about whether students are really engaged with the flipped classroom.  It would have been nice to have seen a bit more attention given to the pedagogical approaches rather than the notion as the technology being the agent of change (it’s worthwhile looking at this paper on the missing evidence of scholarly approach to teaching and learning with technology in higher education).

Onto the afternoon and another workshop this time on developing digital literacies.  This linked to another Jisc toolkit and there was some good discussion in the various groups in this session.

The day ended on a bright note for me with Joss Winn’s session looking at ‘The university as a hackerspace: Can interventions in teaching and learning drive university strategy?’.  In part one of my reflections on the first day I asked whether we need to think about what higher education really is.  Joss outlined how at Lincoln they have been questioning the purpose of the University and how teaching and research need to work together.  In so many of our universities these have been separated and the relationship between them has become dysfunctional.  Lincoln is well known for its work on students as producers and it was interesting to hear how this concept is becoming embedded into their programmes.  Joss also raised questions about who’s driving innovation in our Universities, is it IT departments and are they best placed to be doing this.  He proposed that University’s need a hack space to foster interprofessional innovation and research.

As someone who’s worked closely with students as producers and also piloted a hack event I’m perhaps slightly biased but for me this is so much more interesting and exciting than flipped classrooms, MOOCs and learning analytics. For me it shifts the focus from students as consumers as learners to developing our students as producers and scholars and their creativity and problems solving skills.  Having recently worked with a colleague in the School of Computing on a 4 week module which saw medical students work with computing students on technology projects, it’s clear that both sets of students developed skills in communication, team work, time management, problem solving, digital literacy in ways that mirrored what goes on the work place whilst applying their subject knowledge and understanding.  Both sets of students found it a great experience and we’re hoping to run this again next year.  The conversations that have resulted from this experience have also been interesting.  The computing students were surprised that the Medical School weren’t using Blackboard as their VLE but WordPress.  Following this initial surprise they asked why we couldn’t work together to further develop WordPress as a VLE more widely across the University which links in with the issues around open source technologies in HE.  We pay so much to consultancy firms in HE and yet we have so much talent and creativity in our institutions.  How much more could we achieve if we created hackspaces for staff and students to come together and take forward and build solutions to enhance learning and teaching, research and administration in our institutions.  What if JISC and the HEA and other funding bodies awarded funding to projects born from HE hackathons that addressed issues common to most universities rather than just giving the money to what seems to many of us like the usual suspects.  Would this be a way to better support a more sustainable approach to the development of open source solutions in higher education.

There are some of us involved in UK medical education who are keen to explore the notion of hackerspaces further and it would be great to extend that conversation across HE more widely.

Some reflections on day one of Jisc #digifest14

Today I’ve been at the Jisc Digital Festival being held in Birmingham and here are few quick reflections following the opening keynote from Diana Oblinger, President and CEO of Educause who looked at ‘Designed Digital. You can watch the recording of Diana’s keynote over on the JISC mediaplayer.

Diana highlighted that so much of what we do with digital is a retro fit or a bolt on.  We were challenged to think about the digital experience and the role of digital in the student life-cycle and beyond into how digital is shaping the workplace and employment, how it’s changing work and changing society.  Rather than thinking of man and machine as separate entities we need to think of the two working together.  The demographics of those engaging with education are changing in the US, there are more adult learners and students from minority backgrounds or first generation students in higher education. To support this education needs to change we need new models.  Should we be moving from face-to-face delivery to online delivery and exploring the potential of collaborative and immersive learning environments.  Thinking of health care professions education the area I work in this all sounds great, however the costs in developing these environments is not inconsiderable.

There were a couple of things which really struck me from the session.  There was mention of the push in the US to more competency based learning and the lack of technology to support this.  Also the notion of a type of pick and mix approach to earning a degree by selecting and progressing through a pathway of competencies using curated elearning resources. All of this raised some questions for me:

  • Is that really higher education though, are we talking about providing training rather than an education?  Do we need to stop and think about what higher education really is?
  • Why do people want to study for a degree?  Far more people go onto higher education than when I left school.  It’s maybe not a politically correct question to ask but do so many people need to go onto University.  When I first started working in a University many of the secretarial/admin staff had not been to University, they had left school and gone into further education and gained an HND or HNC in secretarial studies or office administration.  Nearly 15 years on these posts seem to be nearly all filled by graduates. We keep hearing how so many graduates end up in unskilled jobs and yet we’re also hearing that we have a lack of people with skills.
  • Brings us back again to whether we need to rethink post 18 education and training.  There’s perhaps a role for competency based training but are Universities the place to be delivering this?

There was also big mention of learning analytics – (alongside MOOCs and flipped classroom this seems to be the other big hype in higher education).  I think learning analytics have a lot to offer, having integrated systems that can flag up students who might be struggling would be great , it’s where we’d like to get to in my own institution.  I like the notion of adapted learning and how technology can help support this. BUT in the back of my mind I’m also left thinking whether learning analytics will end up as another means of technology being used to spoon feed our learners when actually what we need to do is be encouraging them to be self-directed and independent learners and helping them to nurture and develop skills for lifelong learning.

I had a brief twitter exchange with Pat Parslow about some of this and I tend to share his fear that all of this talk about how we apply digital and technology to higher education is taking us back to an industrial model that will turn out clones.

Maybe I’m being to pessimistic?! I’ll hopefully get a chance to post some more reflections on discussions around the final session of the day which I think give us much more cause for hope.

Attention & students checking out of the flipped classroom

Following a couple of conversations with students over the past week and reading a few articles in Clinical Teacher and Medical Education I’ve been thinking about attention in lectures and student learning skills.  The picture above isn’t too far removed from the daily view our lecturers see, a sea of MacBooks and laptops, there are growing numbers of iPads and other tablets and some students will be interacting with 2 or 3 devices.  It’s a sight that some teaching staff find disconcerting.  They question what students are really up to, are they paying attention, are they on Facebook, texting their mates?
After being hit by a sea of laptops in a tutorial she was delivering Hannah Beckwith (1) has asked if we’re hitting a wall in teaching undergraduate medical students.  Hannah was taken aback and questioned why students felt the need to have their laptops.
First of all, I found myself asking the question ‘why?’ Why had the students felt it necessary to bring a laptop to the tutorial? Were they scared? Had previous sessions been too interactive, and did they feel the need to place a physical barrier between the ‘interrogator’ and themselves? Or were topics too complex, and learners struggling to keep up? Such that they needed to search the internet during the tutorial to supplement understanding? Or were they bored, and using the time to check e-mails or Facebook, messaging their friends around the globe complaining about their ‘ridiculous timetables’?
I tweeted the link to this and got a couple of responses
If I was a student today I’d be taking my iPad or laptop along to lectures and tutorials in the same way I used to take along a note pad.  I do it at conferences, I take notes, might tweet or Google to look up something that’s been mentioned so I have it saved for future reference. I do however fully accept that there are students who have an issue with attention in lectures and classes and that lecturers may find it off putting not being able to make face contact with students as they are hidden behind laptop screens.

Students switching off in lectures is nothing new, I remember boring lectures where students ended up playing hangman or battle ships or keeping a tally of how many times a lecturer repeated a particular phrase or word. We had some great lecturers and some weren’t so good.  Lectures get a bad press these days because they don’t necessarily promote active learning and higher order thinking, for me lectures provided a framework to build on in my own study time and I’ve referred previously to the fact that students do still get inspired in lectures.  Howard Rheingold has also written extensively about attention and I’ve often thought it would be interesting to replicate what he has done. Videoing a class and then showing them what’s it’s like from the teacher perspective and then showing what the students were doing on their laptops and then running classes where only one or two students are allowed to use a laptop for notes taking for the class.

After MOOCs perhaps one of the other things most talked about is the flipped classroom and there is growing interest in applying this approach where students watch condensed video lectures or engage with pre-reading resources before coming to the class and then applying that knowledge in various learning activities in the lecture session. Whilst appreciating the attraction of this approach, I’ve never really thought it was anything particularly new given that we’ve always had smaller group teaching sessions where students are required to come prepared and engage with pre-class resources.  I know many colleagues get exasperated because many students simply don’t come prepared and so half the session is spent trying to get everyone to the place where they can start to effectively take part in the learning activities they’ve planned.  It was interesting therefore to read a paper by Casey White and colleagues (2) at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and their experience of the flipped classroom in their new curriculum.

Virginia School of Medicine has redeveloped its curriculum to encourage more student engagement and active learning in the classroom based around constructivist and adult learning principles. The flipped classroom was adopted as an approach and there was a hope that this would also address falling attendance at lectures.  Students seemed to like these flipped sessions when they worked well but teaching staff noticed ‘dwindling’ attendance over the course of the phase of the pre-clinical curriculum and a growing issue around student attention with students being distracted from the learning task in hand.  Student evaluation highlighted only 25% of the class regularly attended these sessions and that the sessions varied in quality.

White and her colleagues ran student focus groups to investigate why students weren’t engaging with these flipped classroom sessions (allbeit the groups were volunteers and represented less than 10% of the year group).  Analysis of the discussions highlighted a number of issues including that

  • students did not always appreciate the value of collaborative working
  • some students lacked the skills for self-directed learning
  • some did not have reflective skills
  • others did not have the motivation required for adult learning.

In sessions where students could sit where they wanted they were less prepared as they would typically sit with their friends and would chose their table based on fun rather than who knew their stuff. The session for some served as a ‘social catch-up’ others admitted they watched videos.  There was however a difference in approach to team-based learning sessions where students were assigned into groups, they were more likely to prepare as they were more concerned about appearing stupid.  They also found the sessions more helpful and enjoyable because they were prepared.  Some recognised that sitting with their mates wasn’t always a good move and would switch groups based on the activity.  Students also highlighted the variation in the quality of the activities and their tendency to disengage if they weren’t great.

In terms of student engagement comments included:

More and more people are less and less prepared, that’s why you see a decline in attendance. With the problem sets, if you don’t feel prepared and ready to contribute, your time is better spent [at home] doing your own work.

There are some lectures where the resources are so good – I can read the book and understand everything and I don’t really gain too much from going to the lecture… But if I have read the material and don’t understand it by the time I’ve done the pre-reading, then I’m going to the lecture.

Others mentioned hiding at the back to avoid being called upon an they used the phrase ‘checking out’ to describe being present in body but “intellectually disengaged”.  They outlined how they resisted engaging in learning activities by allowing themselves to become distracted.  Some questioned why there had been away from traditional lectures.

Liz Mossop (3) in her  commentary on this paper in Medical Education titled, ‘The curse of the teenage learner‘, suggests we need to change the learning culture and train students in active learning. In a previous post I considered whether we spoon feed students and consequently don’t help them to develop their learning skills.  This has also been discussed elsewhere such as in this piece in the Times Higher which highlights the need to treat students as independent scholars.  As students are now faced with paying fees the focus seems to be students as consumers, I don’t think this is a helpful move.  It does seem that many students don’t know how to learn independently as so we do perhaps need to consider supporting our students to develop learning skills, but I’m surprised by the comments from the students at Virginia.  In the USA medical students graduates and it’s concerning that they don’t have adult learning skills.
What’s not clear in this paper is what approach the Virginia Medical School actually took in flipping the classroom and what sort of activities were developed and whether there was any assessment associated with the learning.  For example were students using electronic voting systems so that lecturers could address gaps in knowledge and understanding?  Was there any assessment attached to the sessions as is the case in some other implementations of the flipped classroom?
This is obviously just one paper, but I wonder whether others have had similar experiences to Virginia in introducing the flipped classroom?  Maybe these issues can be addressed by better designed sessions and staff development to better prepare and equip teachers for this type of learning  and teaching approach.  Do these sessions work better when linked to assessment – given the good old adage that assessment drives learning?  With growing interest locally in piloting some flipped classroom sessions and similar experiences with falling lecture attendance this paper has certainly sparked my interest to look at what else has been published to determine if there’s a sense of an evidence-based best practice approach to running this.  I’d be interested to hear how others have got on trying out the flipped classroom.

Are MOOCs the new evening class?

I see that FutureLearn have published some preliminary data on participation on the first eight of their MOOCs.  They’ve attracted a fair bit of interest with high enrollment rates. I was struck by some of the demographic data they’ve published, which I’ve embedded below.  80% of participants hold a degree or Masters and 70% are over 35 years old.

Are MOOCs really just like the traditional evening classes or adult courses that Universities have been offering their local communities for decades but now thanks to technology accessible to a global community?  Is this the disruption – delivering evening classes online to a global audience rather than an end to higher education as we know it?  I’ve not researched extensively but this preliminary data from FutureLearn seems to be similar to the demographic data emerging from Coursera MOOCs but happy to be be corrected if I’m wrong.

Damian Roland on #NHSChangeDay

bannerEarlier today I had the privilege of chatting to Damian Roland, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at Leicester University, about NHS Change Day.  Damian is one of the key individuals who has driven forward the NHS Change Day initiative and he kindly agreed to share how the idea emerged and give some examples of pledges and tips on running events to help us at the University of Dundee as we get going with our plans to get involved in this year’s Change Day on 3 March.

We recorded our conversation in a Google Hangout but my video stream was completely out of sync and Damian’s was a bit out in places too resulting in a video that’s a bit strange so I’m posting the audio track of our conversation.

We chatted for about 12 minutes so it’s not too long to listen to.  Damian is really inspiring and I hope some of that inspiration rubs off as you hear him and we can get the word about Change Day locally in Tayside but also across the rest of Scotland.

To keep up with NHS Change Day in Scotland join our Google+ Community and follow @NHSCDScotland on Twitter.

Loving Haiku Deck

I have a tendency to download apps onto my iPad if I see them being tweeted about in a positive way or something catches my eye in Zite or my RSS feeds in feedly.  One such app is Haiku Deck, I’m not sure exactly when I downloaded it, but it’s certainly been sitting there for a good while unused.  A few weeks ago when I as visiting the Medical School in Galway I had to put together a series of presentations and although I did make my slide decks in Keynote and PowerPoint I did start to have a play with Haiku Deck and liked what I saw.  I’ve now had an opportunity to have a proper go at using it to create a visual representation of openness in education for one of the tasks on the OU’s Open Education MOOC and I like it!!

If you’re a fan of Presentation Zen design using images to tell your story, with few words and no bullet points in sight, then Haiku Deck makes creating presentations really easy.  You simply choose a template type in your title and then you can search creative commons images on Flickr from within the app and add them to your presentation.  You can select the key words to search against if the first stream of images doesn’t quite meet your needs.  All the attribution on the images is published at the bottom of each slide.  You can select images from your camera roll, Dropbox etc and also create charts and you can have a few bullet points or numbered lists if you must!

Presenting can be done straight from your iPad and you can also publish your presentation to the Haiku Deck website and there are options to share to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc.  There’s also an embed code so you embed on a blog or website, but unfortunately hosted blogs don’t yet support the embed.

There’s also more, because if Slideshare is where you like to publish and share your presentations you can share your Haiku Deck directly to Slideshare.  It simply posts a  PDF of your slide deck to your Sideshare account.

One final great feature of Haiku Deck is that you can export your slides to PowerPoint or Keynote.  The app simply emails the presentation to you so that you can use and present in the conventional way.  I exported my openness in education deck to Powerpoint and then uploaded to Slideshare so that I could embed it here.

So if you have an iPad I’d recommend giving Haiku Deck a go, the app is free and comes with a number of template themes with the option to pay for some premium themes.

An opportunity to vote for Eduroam in the NHS

The Department of Health is currently developing it’s Interoperability Toolkit (IKT). Following a call for suggestions of themes that should be added to the Toolkit they are now available to view and it’s great to see that one of the potential themes addded is to deliver secure, open access to the Internet at any NHS site.

The aim of this theme would be to

Provide “free” internet access for workers / visitors involved in academia / research, enabling access to relevant information sources to support users whilst on an NHS site (and vice versa).

and would support this scenario:

Whilst visiting an NHS Trust, an academic data consumer requires internet access to retrieve information concerning research and  education.  He is enrolled to eduroam at is home University and fortunately, the university he is visiting is also an eduroam site.  As a consequence, he has automatic access to the internet at the site he is visiting.  His access is authenticated through his home site.  It would be useful if similar access could be made available when visiting an NHS Trust.

Eduroam is  used across many academic sites internationally and this the proposal would be to extend Eduroam to include NHS Trusts.  The proposal has been supported by cases studies prepared by the NHS-HE Forum IT connectivity best practice working group, which I’m a member of.

The NHS are now inviting individuals to vote for the 5 themes they think will deliver the grestest benefits.  Voting is open until close of business on 27 February.  If you work in medical education or research in the NHS then you might want to vote for this as a priority.

NOTE – eduroam is towards the bottom of the list in Technology Enhancements described as “ Deliver secure, open access to the internet at any NHS site”

Technology, HE and spoon-feeding students

2010 Canon Photo5 Brief 5: Inspired by S by Jessica M. Cross, on Flickr

Alison Seaman has written an interesting piece on Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy.  This sentence in particular caught my attention:

Underlying the development of a PLN is the need for individual learners to be able to have the capacity for self-direction, which requires a higher level of learning maturity—an absence of which may represent a barrier for a percentage of adults to learn in this way. Also crucially important for networked learning is the level of development of individuals’ digital and web literacies in order for members to optimally filter out ‘noise’ and contribute to the health of the network.

Which got me thinking … Does the way that we generally use technology in higher education tend to support spoon-feeding and traditional sage on the stage approaches to teaching and learning rather than helping students to develop digital and web literacies to support more self-directed learning and skills for lifelong learning?  Our students can read announcements in the VLE and download lecture powerpoints, other announcments and important infromation are emailed. Long gone are the days of having to trek to check a departmental noticeboard in a building where you rarely had lectures. I often hear colleagues say we’re spoon-feeding students these days, they don’t know how easy they’ve got it.

Back in 2009 JISC published a report Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, which highlighted that students had little insight into how Web 2.0 tools could support their learning as opposed to their social lives. Three and a half years on I wonder how much things have changed?  How many students have the skills to develop a PLN as outlined in Alison’s article?  There are some medical students writing super blog posts, engaging in interesting twitter conversations, making great contributions to the #ukmeded twitter chat, developing their own learning resources and peer learning initiatives, they are doing some really great stuff oline and have developed very supportive PLNs. But these students are the exception rather than the rule.  Does that matter, was it any different 20 odd years ago?  Would I be one of these connected students if I was an undergraduate now, would I engage with Twitter and blogs if I’d had to use them for my learning when I was a student?

We recently used Twitter to support teaching on flu epidemics as part of our public health theme.  Some students took to it quite enthusiastically and really enjoyed the interaction with tutors, but the vast majority engaged because they had to and I suspect most will not continue to engage with Twitter to support their learning.  Alan Cann has used tools such as FriendFeed and Google+ in learning activities with his students at Leicester over the past few years but this year decided to make use of Google+ voluntary and has not linked it to assessment.  As a consequence very few students have actually enagaged with it and Alan is having more interaction with his students through Dark Social tools such as email and the VLE.

So why don’t students get how tools like Twitter and Google+ etc can support their learning? Why do they stop using them once the piece of work has been assessed?  It took me sometime to get Twitter, and it took a while for the penny to drop with Google+.  Are we just too impatient with students who don’t get this stuff, forgetting the learning curve we went through?  Are students too impatient to get how web and digital literacies can support their learning, do they think we’re just trying to be trendy using Twitter in our teaching and it’s all pretty pointless?  Or is the problem linked to how we’ve used VLEs to largely transmit information and a wider issue in higher education around students being spoon-fed and not developing the skills to become independent learners as outlined in this piece by Peter Ovens in THE from November 2011?

When we asked our 2nd year students back in 2009 whether they were interested in us running some infromal sessions on using RSS and Web 2.0 tools there was large scale disinterest.  A few months ago when we surveyed all five years of students the pendulum had swung to most students being interested.  This semester we’ll hopefully be running sessions for staff and students to share tips on how they use different tools and apps to support their learning.  It will be interesting to see how this approach goes and whether it proves any more successful than using tools in timetabled teaching activities. I’m hoping it will be and that the students who come along will pass on what they think is useful to their peers.


FutureLearn – UK HE Collaborating to Compete

futurelearnSo after asking the question a few months ago about whether UK universities were missing a trick with MOOCs it looks like the answer is no.  It’s clear that whilst Edinburgh has joined Coursera other UK universities have been working together following up on the recommendation from the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force report and are collaborating to compete and seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education with the launch of FUTURELEARN.

One of the task Force’s recommendations was for investment to be made to facilitate the development and building of consortia to achieve scale and brand in online learning

Quality online learning is not a cheap option. Through collaboration, institutions can achieve significant economies of scale and more rapid development and adoption of technologies, for example in the development of learning resources or in sharing the risk of developing new forms of provision. This approach enables institutions and organisations (that are perhaps already collaborating in other areas) to exploit their joint brands and extend them into new markets, offering innovative, quality provision. Collaboration should embrace and harness the strengths of diverse institutions and organisations, across public-private and sector divides.

FutureLearn, headed up by the OU and with other UK university partners looks to me like one response to this recommendation.  Tony Hirst and Doug Clouw have already blogged about FurtureLearn and  I fully agree with Doug about FutureLearn being worth a try.  I was quite excited when I read the piece on Friday morning in TechCrunch and I look forward to seeing how FutureLearn develops.