jisc

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.