Category: People, Place and Work

time for an evidence base for technology enhanced learning?

Red herring
Red Herring By misocrazy from New York, NY (Cropped from Kipper) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I spoke at JISC Digifest 2017. It was lovely to see so many colleagues old and new there.

Jisc had gathered a community of learning technologists and IT specialists and asked us to think about how we might find an evidence base for TEL.

But I do wonder: Should we even try?

There is a real risk to the universities in having the people who are best placed to build and develop excellent new services  spending too much of their time of fruitless tasks.   I think knowing what kinds of evidence is relevant for which decisions is a leadership skill, and leadership in learning technology is what its all about.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t make evidence-based decisions, or decisions based on data. We need to know the difference between evidence and data. But I think ‘technology enhanced learning‘ might be a red herring. Or possibly a hens tooth.  Or may be both.

Even before the Trump era of post-fact and post-truth there were already many people, with strong convictions will not be persuaded by evidence, however well it is presented.

Some times I suspect that people ask for evidence not because they want to make a decision, but because they already have.

Sometimes I suspect that the request for more evidence, and more detail is a stalling or blocking tactic. It is just one approach to resistance.  No amount of detail will ever be enough and you’ll spend a long time looking for it.

What I am sure is true is that different kinds of evidence persuades different kinds of people in different kinds of decision-making and we need to be smart with that. The  kinds of evidence that persuades users to use the tools, is very different from evidence budget-holders need to make decisions on spend and buy the tools in the first place.

The evidence-base is not the same as the business-case.

So, In summary: Should we spend more time assembling an evidence base for technology enhanced learning?

I vote No. The opportunity cost is too great.   It would have to be so broad, yet so detailed to convince university lecturers it would be quickly unstainable. It would be backward looking and the data unreproducable. It would have little useful link to the real, real-time decisions being made for investment for the future. We should not waste that time, we have more urgent things to do.

 

OER risks: why not being open now costs us money in the future.

It’s that time of year again. OER17 conference will see a gathering of the OER clans in the UK once more. Together we will map the political landscape for OER.  I will be arguing that it is OER which will save the HE institutions from Brexit, Trump and possibly Indyref2.

Wed, Apr 5 2017, 11:20am – 12:40pm

23 things to consider https://www.flickr.com/photos/interactive-content/sets/72157673454583515

It is clear that business models associated with OER are in their infancy and whether any institution pursues models[…….] will be highly dependent on any given institutions business strategy.’(1)

“The clear identification of ownership and copyright permissions is integral to managing open educational resources. This means that institutions become much more aware of intellectual property in relation to the resources they create and use. “ (2)

The senior management briefing papers and guides produced as a result of the JISC /HEA funding programmes (2009-13) offered suggestions to colleagues within institutions on how to best engage with senior stakeholders. They also offered suggestions to those stakeholders as to reasons why they might invest in OER as part of strategic planning.  And yet, at many OER conferences, workshops and events the questions are still raised: ‘What can we do to get institutional support for our open education practice?’ ‘ How can we persuade senior managers?’

What piece of the puzzle is missing?   In this presentation I will offer a view from the perspective of one UK HEI senior management which I hope will be of interest and use to colleagues working in large institutions at a time of Brexit and Trump.  Making a business case for OER is simple if it aligns that activity to institutional strategies for investment, market differentiation, student and staff satisfaction or IT, IP and mitigation of risk. The context of OER includes a range of views relating to the economics of OER . This short presentation will focus on just one, but one which identifies persuading budget holders within the institution as key to successful sustainable services.

This session is a presentation rather than a workshop but please feel free to bring  a copy of your own University’s strategic mission.

 

(1)Open Educational Resources infoKit JISC[online] Available at: https://openeducationalresources.pbworks.com/w/page/24838043/Approaches%20and%20models [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

(2)Compelling Reasons to Adopt Open Educational Resources [online] Available at: https://openeducationalresources.pbworks.com/w/page/45742558/Compelling%20Reasons%20to%20Adopt%20Open%20Educational%20Resources# [Accessed 11 Nov. 2016].

TEL evidence to persuade

SearchersPoster-BillGold
The Searchers. Bill Gold [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am often asked by academic colleagues to provide an evidence base for TEL.

When colleagues ask me for evidence they hope I will find for them evidence of exactly this technology being used in exactly the way they teach at exactly the same level at a peer university. And that ideally this evidence will have been published with peer review. And that it will be entirely free from bias.

One thing about academics is they all come from difference research backgrounds, different research paradigms and use different research methods. So what they consider to be evidence strong enough for making decisions upon can be very varied.

Another thing about academics is that they may not know much about each others research methods – because they mostly spend time writing, researching, conferencing and publishing within their own discipline.

I am always being told that academics spend more time in their discipline networks, than in their university, so I do  think they might be better placed to discover the practice of their peers than I.

University of Edinburgh established a number of TEL chairs to improve the quality of teaching in the disciplines but it sometimes feels like other colleagues deliberately do not engage with the development of teaching in their own disciplines.  I’m not sure why.

I used to teach on the PGcert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at University of Leeds and we always organised a session in which colleagues went around the room just describing how they do research. I think it was eye-opening for all.

We asked them ‘how do you do research? Some do experiments, some do clinical trials, some do text mining, some do field trips, some do focus groups and ethnographic studies some, do qualitative others do quantitative. Some do practical, some do theoretical. Some are empirical, some not so much. Some wrangle big data live, some seek metaphysical interpretation and engage in hundreds of hours of reading.  Doing research in History is quite different from doing research in Chemistry. Even evidence-based medicine and  evidence-based practice are not the same. Very few academics outside of Education departments do research in Education.

It is also true that learning technologists are drawn from many discpline backgrounds. Some of us have studied Education, some Computing, some Philosophy, some Medicine, some Geography, some Copyright Law. We will tend to use the research methods with which we are most familiar.

For most early career academic there’s no reward for researching TEL. They are unlikely to  want to spend time on that task.  They may be happy to contribute to a quick case study. Even then, case studies tend to be based on cohorts and every teacher will tell you that cohorts can be markedly difference for many reasons. There really is very little higher education educational research that is generalisable. A colleague who doesn’t trust your methodology will never trust your findings.

Where colleagues do engage with PGcert Learning and Teaching courses, those courses sometimes aim to do the action research on situated practice. Some of this will be about using technology in teaching. For many of the participants this will be the first time doing education research and they are doing it at a beginners Masters level. They will tend to want to use the research methods of their own discipline. So although the case studies exist, they may still fail to persuade each other. The PGcertLTHE community of academic developers do little to gather these case studies together as an evidence base for all. They lock them away on internal wikis  with no intention to share openly.

I miss the HEA subject centres.

At Edinburgh I offer hard cash to colleagues to research their own practice. There’s a special emphasis on online learning and lecture recording this year.

evidence for TEL investment

23 things to consider https://www.flickr.com/photos/interactive-content/sets/72157673454583515

I am often asked by senior budget holders to provide an evidence base for investment in learning technology.

The evidence they want is not the same as the evidence lecturers ask for.  Budget holders are more persuaded by market research than academic research. They want evidence that has been gathered at scale.  Across whole institutions, across the sector, or across the globe.

Academic colleagues want to be persuaded to spend their own time. Budget holders want to be persuaded to invest the institution’s money and many, many people’s time.

A business case is not the same as an evidence base.

Different kind of evidence entirely.

Senior managers want to know what competitors are doing- they are working to find a value proposition, they are looking at what other universities are doing and looking for differentiation in the market. They want to know what to buy now for the university in 5 years not what a lecturer did somewhere three years ago.

From the learning technology out there, who’s offering the best price, service resilience, future proofing and information security? What’s the full cost of ownership over 5-10 years? We look at what integrates with the systems we have on campus – offering a streamlined approach. What efficiencies, what re-use, what standardisation, what new business?

We look to other industries and demographics trends of technology use. What devices students bring, what devices people use, how people use technology. We suspect that staff and student are people. We consider their use of personal devices at home and for work and their expectation that they will find this at university too.

We know they expect choice and a high quality of service. Does it shift time and space? Does it give flexibility? Does it work on my mobile?

Student demand for digitisation is about being able to watch a thing rather than not, being able to find a thing rather than not. Being able to do a thing in the middle of the night.

So budget holders are persuaded by the kind of evidence you find in business and IT disciplines: hype cycles and horizon scanning, evidence of use video traffic across the network, evidence of what students use and what students voted for when they elected their reps.

The kind of evidence being gathered by student experience surveys, and digital student experience surveys are driving institutional investment from the centre faster and harder than you might think.

Senior managers are looking for solutions at scale.

 

what would an evidence base really TEL?

Trinity College Dublin, Jedi Archive. Picture taken by me. No rights reserved by me.

The thing about working in universities, is you have to be very careful about language. I am very lucky to work at University of Edinburgh. Previously I worked at University of Oxford. In both those places I learned that colleagues will, quite rightly, question you and push you to be clear. And so they should.

At Edinburgh I work alongside a group of digital education researchers who have published their thoughts about technology enhanced learning.  It’s a good read. I would encourage you to take a look.

According to Sian, the problem is the words: technology, enhanced and learning.

When we talk about technology in universities we tend to assume we know what we mean by TEL- that there is a shared understanding of the phrase. I’m not sure there is or should be.

Technology could be a range of things, not just computers, not just online,  there might be all kinds of technologies we should investigate which might enhance learning. We should think of performance-enhancing study  drugs and quantified-self technologies which might be used by students to enhance their revision timetable or maximise their studying stamina.

For TEL evidence-based research we seem to focus only on quite a small set of technologies- most of which are not particularly new- and are mostly fairly unremarkable even invisible, to students- websites, handouts, lecture recordings, tests, wikis, blogs. These days these are hard to distinguish from everyday content for most students who routinely read online, watch online and chat online. Do we show our age when we refer to these as innovation?

And then there’s the word ‘enhanced’. Enhanced is not the same as support, or change or disrupt, or transform- all of which might be worth exploring. Enhanced implies that learning is a thing well understood the way it is and that the only thing worth doing with technology is a bit more of that, but with some tweaked enhancement.   If we approach it like that we find studies which show no significant difference, or not much and no moves forward are made. And it’s hard to justify investment.

And learning?  Do we really mean learning, or is it the teaching that’s to be changed or the education? Or the accessibility, or the discoverability, or the administration?

It does strike me that in this country we have made make a rod for our own backs. TEL and VLE are both very UK specific terms. In other countries Balckboard, Moodle et al are  LMS- Learning Management Systems. ‘Virtual Learning Enviroment’ promises a lot.  It sounds like a platform for virtual worlds and immersive environments and beautifully designed, challenging games.

You know your VLE is never going to deliver that. It won’t even compare to the kind of impressive learning environment offered by a splendid library but because of the name, we seek to find the affordances and cognitive gains instead of just admiring the rather elegant ways it manages groups, integrates with the timetabling system and works on a mobile phone.

Sometimes I wonder in whose interest it is for our tech experts to be tamed, domesticated and confined to a term like ‘TEL’? But I suspect we did this to ourselves. We called them VLEs * to convince our senior budget holders to invest and now we beat on, like boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past, searching endlessly for the evidence.

* I blame Aggie. He started it.

 

International Women’s Day

IWD20171Recently I met a man who warned me I had spoken for long enough. “If I went on for that long it would be called mansplaining” he mansplained without a hint of irony.

I’d like to say I persisted, in reality I was just pissed off.

I mused on this today, on International Women’s Day.

Today we celebrate and amplify women’s voices. The hashtags are #BeBoldForChange and #ShePersisted. The latter being, of course, in reference to when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to silence his colleague Elizabeth Warren.

This morning I welcomed another set of lovely Wikipedia novices and returners to an editathon. This time the theme was ‘Bragging Writes‘. I explained why we edit. Why it is important that we edit. How Wikipedia works behind the scenes. How difficult it can be to navigate the behaviours and norms in that community and why it is important to be bold in pushing for change. And to defend the changes you make. And why, even in the face of Wikimedia’s edit-policy labyrinth and hair-trigger deletions, it is important that we persist.   I suggested that editing wikipedia is a political act and this is the day to do it.IWD2017

After lunch we had another meeting of the Playfair Steps working group. Numbers were small but we persisted. We listened as Morna from Girl Geek Scotland explained how we could be bold for change in our workplace.

This evening saw the fabulous Dangerous Women Project celebrate a year of writing dangerously.  Members of my lovely book group were out in force so we celebrated a year of reading dangerously too.

Tonight I am reading tweets and blogposts from the newly established network and giving thanks for the many, dangerous, busy, generous, talented, brave, notable, persistent women I know.

Thank you all.

 

Update:

The outcomes of the International Women’s Day Wikipedia event are detailed here . Including new pages for:
Writer, artist and founder of Maggie’s Centres, Maggie Keswick Jencks. Helen Alexander Archdale – suffragist, journalist and contemporary of Chrystal Macmillan. Mary Susan McIntosh: sociologist, political activist and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights.
And many more.

 

 

 

a cloud named eleanor

Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901).jpg
By Eleanor Anne Ormerod – Eleanor Anne Ormerod, Public Domain, Link

It’s always fun to name new services after goddesses.

Eleanor Anne Ormerod, was the first woman Fellow of the Meteorological Society and first woman to be given an honorary doctorate by University of Edinburgh. During the conferral of an LL.D. degree from the University, she was described as the “as the protectress of agriculture and the fruits of the earth, a beneficent Demeter of the nineteenth century.” Her portrait is in Old College.

We’ve named our new research cloud computing service after her.

Information Services Group has created a comprehensive cloud computing service, able to support flexible provisioning of infrastructure.  Based on OpenStack, it is an ‘Infrastructure as a Service Cloud’ for carrying out computational and digital research. We provide free and funded tiers.

Once registered, you can access the interface at eleanor.cloud.ed.ac.uk

host a wikimedian: you can’t afford not to

wikimediaconf2017-Highton[1]This week I spoke at a Wikimedia Edu conference. I spoke about the value of wikimedians in residence (WiR) for higher education (HE).  Some people have told me they can’t afford to host a wikimedian. I would argue you can’t afford not to.

There are 3 main reasons why you can’t afford not to. They are:

  1. Universities must invest in digital skills.
  2. Gender inequality in science and technology is a real thing.
  3. Wikimedians will save us from Wikimedians.

Universities must invest in the development of digital skills for staff and for students. The senior managers in your institutions will be well aware of the recent HEPI report and numerous other reports. Which urge universities to pay attention to digital skills. It is widely recognised that digital capabilities are a key component of graduate employability. To stay competitive globally, ‘the UK must ensure it has the necessary pool of (highly) digitally skilled graduates to support and drive research and innovation throughout the  economy.’

Universities do invest- some more than others. Some employ IT skills trainers, information literacy librarians, study skill tutors, they buy a site-wide license for Lynda.com. For staff they invest in staff development units, learning and development teams. They choose writing for the web training, social media training,  data management skills,  public engagement training, they choose coding for all.

If you are in a university, go look how much those digital skills trainers are paid, that is what you should be paying your wikimedian. If you have a wikimedian hiding in your library, it’s time to come out from behind the stacks and engage with the real business of teaching and learning.

We can’t afford not to develop graduates’ digital capabilities; universities need digitally-skilled staff with digitally-enabled experience.

The formal recognition of students’ digital capabilities is also important. Technology can make it easier to develop authentic learning experiences that are relevant to the labour market and help  students demonstrate their skills to employers.

If you put your wikimedian alongside your digital skill trainers and learning technologists.  Their impact can be significant.

wikimediaconf2017-Highton[1]And it’s not just about editing skills, it’s about open data, replicability, re-use, understanding sources, spotting fake news, understanding analytics, understanding copyright, being part of communities on line. Writing in different styles. Understanding how robot editors and human editors work together- all that new ‘digital labour’.

With HE students and staff wikipedia leads to discussions about privilige and geographies of knowledge, transparency, bias, and if there is ever a ‘neutral’ point of view.  If our staff and students choose to participate in developing new tools, they are developing tools as part of a world-wide  open-source software development project, which is  a significant authentic opportunity.

Gender inequality in science and technology is a real thing, and that is the second reason why you can’t afford not to have a wikimedian in residence.

Your institutions will all be participating in Athena Swan initiatives to some extent.  To achieve Athena Swan awards departments must show how their workplaces and practices tackle the structural barriers for women working in academia, specifically in the STEM disciplines. The Athena Swan assessors like to see evidence of networks and activities, highlighting achievements, and role models and  visibility.

One of our early editathons at Edinburgh – focusing on the Edinburgh 7– the first women to study medicine,  was cited as an example of good practice by the institution in preparing our submission for silver award. Edinburgh was the first of the Scottish institutions to gain that award. The challenges of overcoming structural inequalities which mitigate against  women’s contributions  is an endeavor higher education shares with Wikipedia. It is not enough to say women don’t participate because they don’t have time or technical skills. It is not enough to say that if women learned to behave more like men they would be able to fit in or join in. It is not enough to say that the world of Wikipedia- and science in general- is ‘neutral and fact driven’ and thus free from bias.

wikimediaconf2017-Highton[1]The first step maybe to target articles about women, and recruit new female editors, but  as soon as you go a step beyond that, and apply some kind of Wikipedia Bechdel test –does an article about a woman scientist draw upon a credible source written by a woman? Do those credible sources about women scientists exist, if not why not?  You quickly come up against a wider structural issue about womens participation in academia and scholarship, and promotion, and publication.*

So I suppose my point here is that if you are making a business case for a WiR and you can’t get the funding straight away from the digital skills budget holder, you might be able reference your own institution’s Athena Swan activity and show how the kind of work activities a WiR would do would deliver successful, measurable outcomes for gender equality initiatives.

Which brings me to the third reason why you need a Wikimedian in Residence- is because dealing with Wikimedia is a job in itself.

Wikimedia has developed, in quite a short time,  a particular culture amongst its community. Also it’s tools , toys and projects are growing at a rate of knots.  It’s hard to keep up unless you are immersed.

Sprawling bureaucracy and policy labyrinth is very familiar to those in HE- particularly those in ancient institutions. We also know about exclusive language and communities of practice. There is some irony in the fact that Wikipedia cannot explain itself clearly. Its policies, its processes, its rules and community.

What I have learned from hosting a WiR to develop curriculum activities for students is that is it just not that simple. I was lucky to get one who is already a teacher, because he has had to do a lot of work to ‘translate’ Wkimedia’s policies and processes into ways we can engage.

wikimediaconf2017-Highton[1]Editing as an individual is a different activity than editing as a group or class. Classroom activities – learning and teaching activities- need to be carefully designed and structured and although this can be done successfully it takes a bit of work and that’s what we need a resident to help us with. So if Wikipedia can meet educators halfway and explain its process simply & effectively (e.g. a detailed lesson plans, a robust Visual Editor, easy to follow video tutorials etc) that would really help teachers and trainers in their workplace.

We can’t expect learners and teachers to bend themselves completely out-of-shape to accommodate Wikipedia when there are things we can do quite simply to which would bridge the gap: highlighting its rubrics, assessment criteria, word count tools, plagiarism & copyright detectors and past course assignments & materials etc. Modelling good practice and sharing exemplars will lead to takeup in courses.

Students come to classes and staff come to staff development sessions to learn in groups and that group work activity requires time, effort and resources before during and after. We are working towards that at Edinburgh, creating and sharing re-usable lesson plans and models for classroom activities, but it is that ‘translation’ role between the technology and the teachers which is missing.

‘Twas ever thus in learning technology. This is not new, this is what learning technologists do. It is timely for Wikipedia now.

And in return, we  will enrich content with our collections and expand the range of knowledge covered. We will contribute not only our research to Wikipedia but do research with and about Wikipedia. We will use the data sets being shared and study how the work of knowledge sharing and gathering is conducted.

And hopefully we will all end up pulling in the same direction.

 

  • Please read
    Heather Ford and  Judy Wajcman
    ‘Anyone can edit’, not everyone does: Wikipedia’s infrastructure and the gender gap’
    Article in Social Studies of Science, May 2017

 

the time is now

picture taken by me at Gartner conf. No rights reserved by me.
picture taken by me at Gartner conf. No rights reserved by me.

The Festival of Creative Learning includes a variety of events being run by staff and students across the University. The festival runs from 20-24 February and we are running, and collaborating, on a variety of events – do come along and join us! You can view the full calendar of events on the Festival of Creative Learning website: www.festivalofcreativelearning.ed.ac.uk

 

A Public Art Puzzle: A symposium on Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road Mosaic Arches at University of Edinburgh

Fragments of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaic arches from Tottenham Court Road were donated to the University in 2015. Hear from, and engage with, the specialists tackling the art historical, curatorial and conservation challenges that this high profile gift has presented.

Board Game Jam: The Expansion

We’re taking board game jam design skills to the next level. We’re looking at prototyping and play testing as students take existing games from previous jams and give them an upgrade.

Crowdsourcing Conservation

A two-day event where 30 students will aim to rehouse section II of the Laing manuscripts – the University’s most important written collection.

Designing for you: Collaborative design techniques for better student experiences:

Collaborative design workshop to highlight the needs of students and look at how different course structures, layouts and technologies could deliver better experiences.

Design the Future of Digital Education

Automated tutors? Boredom sensors in lecture theatres? Analytics dashboards to help students map learning? Video-making instead of exams? Augmented reality lectures? Digital dissertations? All these aspects of digital teaching are already possible: but do we want them?

Gender, Global Health and Justice Wikipedia Editathon

Women across the University who work on issues related to gender, global health and/or justice are invited to participate in a day-long Wikipedia edit-a-thon.

History of Medicine Wikipedia Editathon

Focusing on areas under-represented on Wikipedia such as: the celebrating History of Nursing as it celebrates its 60th anniversary, the Scottish Women’s Hospital, the Polish School of Medicine and more.

Making history: a Feminist Craft Project

Historically, and in the present day, women’s achievements and contributions to society have been erased from history – let’s change that! Join us at the Lothian Health Services Archive to explore our materials on women’s history, and make our own history through a crafty zine-making session.

MOJO and Beyond (A guide to mobile film making)

An introduction to the mobile film making kit available for loan with a show and tell. Followed by a panel session with experts from the world of broadcasting and media.

Successes in Online Learning

Bringing together experience across the institution on delivering teaching online from MOOCs to Masters to CPD.

The Edinburgh IoT Challenge

The Edinburgh IoT Challenge is a week-long activity enabling students and staff to learn and build new applications and services using Internet-of-Things technologies.

on tour again

Touring Scotland Game, owned by me but not my copyright.
Touring Scotland Game, owned by me but not my copyright.

In February I’ll be speaking at this event:

The Wikimedia UK Education Summit, in partnership with Middlesex University, aims to bring together educators and Wikimedians to share ideas and best practice in using the Wikimedia projects to support learners of all ages. Our keynote speakers, Melissa Highton (that’s me!) and Stefan Lutschinger (Associate Lecturer in Digital Publishing at Middlesex University) will open the day with presentations about the inspirational work with Wikimedia taking place at their institutions. This will be followed by a choice of workshops where attendees can develop practical skills in using and editing the Wikimedia projects, and gain new ideas and insight into how to incorporate open knowledge into their own teaching practice. Sign up to come along. It’ll be exciting, interesting and educative.