Boris Johnson presented Joe Biden with my photo of Frederick Douglass to mark their first meeting

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass#/media/File:Ross_Blair_%E2%80%93_Frederick_Douglass.jpg

A picture I shared on Wikimedia has been given by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a gift to President Joe Biden.

Just goes to show that serendipitous things happen when you share openly.

President Biden and Dr Biden are visiting the UK this week. In preparation for the visit the  Downing Street offices began searching for a thoughtful gift. They know that the Bidens have an interest in history and in the life of Frederick Douglass.  They found my picture of a mural of Douglass on Wikimedia and contacted me.

The mural is by Edinburgh artist Ross Blair (AKA TrenchOne) and features as part of our BLM ‘Curious Edinburgh‘ mural tour which in turn is part of a wider tour Scotland-wide.

I gave them a high-res version and the Prime Minister’s Office  got it printed up and framed.

When I saw the mural I recognized the subject immediately. The artist is talented and the image is striking.

Frederick Douglass was one of the most photographed people of his time, many people were interested in him and he was keen to ensure that he was represented as an equal during such a difficult time in American history. During the 1800s he sat for more portraits than even Abraham Lincoln.

Frederick Douglass is part of the cultural history not just of the US, but also of Scotland. He came to Edinburgh several times, first in 1846 . He made a number of public anti-slavery speeches and wrote letters back to the USA from here. He considered the city to be elegant and grand and found the UK to be very welcoming. ‘Everything is so different here from what I have been accustomed to in the United States. No insults to encounter – no prejudice to encounter, but all is smooth. I am treated as a man an equal brother. My color instead of being a barrier to social equality –is not thought of as such’.

I was born in Scotland but I am a dual national by virtue of having an American parent. My US family are in Maryland and I am delighted to see this image of such an important American icon here in our public spaces. The fact that I am a dual national seems to be an added bonus for the gift to President and Dr Biden.

I took the photograph on an evening walk during lockdown just as the sun was setting. The mural is very close to the building where Frederick Douglass stayed while he was in Edinburgh. I shared it on Wikipedia so that more people could see it and enjoy it.

The picture has had 1,200,000  pageviews on English Wikipedia since it was added to the Frederick Douglass page on 23 October 2020. My profile on wikipedia is here:  User:Melissa Highton – Wikipedia

Some people on Twitter are being a bit rude about the traffic cone but I would remind you that both Edinburgh and Glasgow have a fine tradition of adding traffic cones to significant public art works and perhaps David Hume wasn’t using his.

Global press coverage:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/picture-of-edinburgh-anti-slavery-mural-given-to-president-biden-by-pm-n3l953nrn

PM gifts photo of Edinburgh anti-slavery mural to Biden – BBC News

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/06/12/biden-boris-gifts/

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/boris-johnson-gifts-joe-biden-picture-of-anti-slavery-campaigner-spotted-by-officials-on-wikipedia/ar-AAKXjuv

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/biden-boris-johnson-frederick-douglass-mural-b1864468.html

https://www.edinburghlive.co.uk/news/edinburgh-news/boris-johnson-welcomes-president-biden-20799321

https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/with-nod-black-lives-matter-uks-johnson-gives-biden-mural-photo-2021-06-10/

https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/black-lives-matter-uk-s-boris-johnson-gifts-joe-biden-mural-of-19th-century-abolitionist-frederick-douglass-101623377062480.html

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/joe-biden-gifts-boris-johnson-24294179

http://proudamericanblog.com/?p=10045

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/try-harder-boris-have-given-biden-g7-summit

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/with-a-nod-to-black-lives-matter–uk-s-johnson-gives-biden-mural-photo-14990120

https://www.tech-gate.org/usa/2021/06/10/boris-johnson-gives-joe-biden-gifts-at-g7-summit-in-cornwall/

Boris Johnson presents gifts to Joe and Jill Biden ahead of G7 Summit – Wales Online

https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-06-10/with-a-nod-to-black-lives-matter-uks-johnson-gives-biden-mural-photo

Black Lives Matter: Johnson gifts Biden mural of 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass – 1st for Credible News (1stnews.com)

‘Special relation’: UK PM gifts Biden a mural depicting abolitionist Frederick Douglass (republicworld.com)

Open Education on a Post-Pandemic Planet

Slide designed for me by Gill because I am very lucky to have a graphic design team.

I gave a keynote presentation at Open Apereo conference.

Here’s the recording https://youtu.be/D7hL9i-NdyM

Here’s the blurb:

Open Education on a Post-Pandemic Planet

As we try to predict what the future may hold there are a few things  from the Before Times that we still know to be true: Open educational resources, open source software and open access digital tools offer our last, best hope for equity and inclusion. Education must not be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies, and large educational institutions must show their support for open sharing, collaboration and assurance of accessibility for all our audiences. As well as deep reflection on our purchasing decisions and the skills in our edtech teams we must ensure ‘open literacy’ within the curriculum and within pedagogical training. As we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge, actively fight misinformation, attempt to decolonise and care for our planet, there is much to be done. Melissa will bring stories from Scotland on how universities are rising to these challenges and bringing their own leadership to the table.

health-based approaches to supporting learning technologists

As soon as we all moved to work from home it became clear that our top priority was going to be to identify the protective factors that support health and wellbeing for our learning technology teams so that they would be able to perform at the top of their game in supporting the university in this extraordinary year.

In universities, colleges and schools all across the UK and the wider world, learning technology managers could quickly see that their services were going to be put under extreme pressure. We have, for many years been persuading, inspiring and supporting colleagues to make use of online technologies to do their teaching in different and new ways. It was a long term, gradual, endeavor with 2 year, 5 year and 10 year plans. This year has seen a huge shift from using learning technologies with colleagues who had opted in and wanted to learn, to a world in which people with very little knowledge, or familiarity with the tools for teaching online were suddenly forced to upskill fast.

Focusing resources that promote the self-esteem, resilience and coping abilities of individuals and communities of learning technologists has been essential as they have been on the forefront of services overwhelmed by demands from colleagues who are too stressed to care. It is challenging for online learning leaders and learning technology aficionados to come to terms with the fact that we did not deliver this pivot to online teaching through inspirational argument or the power of convincing evidence. We had to do it in ways we never anticipated. We have put in place systems and support for rushed replication of on-campus delivery online even though we know in our hearts that is not the best way for learning technology to be used.

With many people locally engineering their own solutions in a panic, resilience mitigations against the risks of chaos were essential and we have brought a new focus to sharing practice in our community . For many years the University of Edinburgh learning technology roadshows provided a focus for distributed learning technologists to come together across schools. This year these have grown and moved online as community events. Through these we have been able to identify and mobilise the community’s assets to help local learning technologists to overcome some of the challenges they face. We have invited senior managers to give regular updates to the community of learning technologists to ensure that the bigger picture is understood.

Staying grounded in what we know has been important. University of Edinburgh has been world-leading in online masters courses for many years and invested heavily in digital innovation and technology for distance education which put us in a better position than many of our peer universities . We have a  strong culture of sharing open resources and a good understanding of the licencing  issues involved in re-using materials from elsewhere. In some of our services this commitment to openness and sharing ensured that we were able to stay in business.  Information Services Group have good infrastructure for media which ensured that we didn’t have to resort to YouTube. Senate Education Committee have spent time on the policies for privacy, ethics and accessibility in digital teaching. We have a strong culture of research informed delivery and we have ensured that learning technology at Edinburgh is shaped by published educational research about uses of learning technology in pedagogy.

The learning technology community of practice has grown fast this year and it is important to take time to ensure than new members were welcomed. During this pandemic year the university has recruited a dozen new learning technologists and in order that they were all able to join our community with a shared understanding of the technologies we have on campus, we put together a training programme available to Schools to ensure that their new recruits were quickly up to speed as expert users of the university systems and a reading group to provide a place to discuss some of the more nuanced aspects of technologies such as bias, surveillance and online harms. We invested quickly in a ‘grow your own‘ strategy for up-skilling and cross-skilling  other technology staff to support learning technologies and in recruiting and training students to help us with the up-scaling and heavy-lifting in our services. Last summer 40 students joined us to help with Learn and I am delighted to see so many of them return to ISG for another stint as interns this summer. Their input and insights are energising.

Recognising the professionalism of the community we have continued to support colleagues in completing their professional accreditation and CPD to develop in their roles.  Reflections on the demands of this year have provided good content for their portfolios. Our national networks have been essential for understanding that in each institution the learning technologists are tacking the same challenges. Many of us deal directly with the same software suppliers. We have swapped guidance, experience and shared stories to keep each other going and offered help to those whose systems collapsed. At the annual national conference of the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) we came together to share experiences and everyone got an award to say thank you, recognising the importance of the role they play in keeping our institutions teaching.

As learning technologists’ mental health suffered and joined the queues to access counselling support,  we worked hard to ensure that the central technology teams had the regular meetings, catch-ups and social interactions needed to combat isolation.  We have used blogs and social media to celebrate achievements and talk about the things that are going well, exchanged home-schooling tips and grieved for the loss of loved ones. Whether we survive this year unscathed remains to be seen. Universities across the UK seem to be expanding their online learning teams in moves towards the future, but at the same time many exhausted technologists are leaving the business and taking the opportunity to find new things to do. The set of digital skills, understanding of technology, empathy, resilience and commitment to helping people which are core to the job of learning technologists are transferable in many ways and this year has underlined the importance of support for health and well-being for resilience.

digital natives

Picture taken by me in the street. No rights reserved by me.

I called out the myths of digital natives again today at a WonkHE event on the Future of Learning Resources.

I am impressed with how long this idea has been perpetuated, it clearly offers a hook for those who want to push for innovation, but it still has an air of ageism and is a worrying starting point for service or course design.

As a reminder, Prensky wrote that stuff in 2001. That’s 20 years ago.

Those college grads  he was writing about are well into their 30s and 40s now.  They are the faculty, the librarians and the support staff in universities. If they were all  “native speakers” of the ‘digital language of computers, video games and the Internet‘   they would by now have turned all teaching into ‘edu-tainment‘ and games as he predicted and we wouldn’t be finding it so hard to deliver good quality higher education online this year.

proctoring

Is it just me who thinks proctoring exams sounds like a pain in the backside?

I am inspired to write a poem about entymology:

Educe or education means to bring out.
Pedagogy requires a boy child.
Assessment means to sit beside, and examine to weigh.
Seminars plant seeds for ideas to grow, over three semesters or 18 months.
Curriculum is a race chariot, that gets you round a course. 
A symposium requires wine, not just crisps and online proctoring is the arse end of what we do.
………………………….

Any how, if you want to do it, here’s the Edinburgh University Information Services position: https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/learning-technology/assessment/onlineproctoring

more Dunning-Kruger than Munn and Dunning

I was in a discussion this week about why academic colleagues are reluctant to attend formal training in the skills they need for teaching – even when there is a huge change in teaching and a bunch of new skillls needed.   I do worry that some people  would rather struggle with a technology tool for hours, or days and weeks rather than even try taking the training course.

I was told that the courses don’t cover the kind of teaching they do.

I was  a bit pleased with myself for saying ‘ I think it is more Dunning-Kruger than Munn and Dunning’  but afterwards I did have to check that Munn and Dunning was what I thought it was. The Dunning–Kruger effect leads people with low ability at a task to overestimate their ability.

I have lots of data about who attends our learning technology training courses. In some parts of the university the numbers are really very low.  It might be that people are very teaching tech savvy. It might be that the the tools are simple and easy to use.  It might.

Reading about Munn and Dunning reminded me to make a wikipedia page for Pamela Munn.

women in red, women in blue

picture taken by me at a protest. no rights reserved by me.

The recent high profile of policing and violence against women has sent me down another wikipedia wander.

I updated information about femicide, and created new pages for Rape Crisis Scotland and Shakti Women’s Aid.  I watched a drama on the telly about honour killings which sent me to create a page for Caroline Goode. Thinking about senior policewomen, I also made pages for Susannah Fish, Janet Hills and Gillian MacDonald.    I listened to podcasts about police failings and victims adjacent to Sarah Everard, I made pages for Lee-Annne Stringfellow and Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry.

I also added pictures of vigil candles to wikimedia commons image collections.

The wikipedia editors have reviewed my articles, and for that I thank them. But some of them are quite short ( the articles, not the editors) so if you have more info, please feel free to expand and add it in.

 

strategic review of VLEs

It’s been a big year for our VLE, Blackboard Learn.

We have had Learn at University of Edinburgh for a long time. VLEs are not a particularly new technology, they’ve been around for more than 20 years. In other countries VLEs are known as LMSs: learning management systems.   In the UK virtual learning environments (VLEs) suffer from a branding which often makes them sound more immersive and dynamic than they are.

Given the size and scale of our curriculum Learn does a lot of heavy lifting which may have gone largely unnoticed by the majority of teaching staff until this year. Every course has a place on Learn to manage learning materials and groups. The learning platform is integrated into other core systems and the timetable. It draws together data from across the university to ensure that the right people have access to the learning materials and communication tools that they need.  Every year in June it rolls over and all the course spaces are replicated, ready to be filled with new materials for new students. The older course spaces stay put and students retain access to the materials and discussions from previous years to aid their revision and progression.  Many of our library resources are lisenced only for course groups and Learn makes it possible for us to make those available to select groups.

The history of VLEs at Edinburgh is characterised, as with so many areas of the university, by a proliferation of local solutions which were unsustainable and confusing for users. In the past our distance learning courses were offered on 13 different platforms, each with their own technical teams and support requirements. As the platforms aged Knowledge Strategy Committee recognised the risk of this technical debt and and in order to sustain the online distance learning activity  which brings the university thousands of learners each year we have migrated all that distance learning to Learn through our VLE consolidation project. We are now able to support this aspect of university business through a single helpdesk and the 70+ online distance learning masters level courses are now delivered on Learn.

The work on the VLE consolidation project occupied all of the effort of our ISG technical teams for several years. This left us frustratingly far behind other institutions which have been investing in their undergraduate VLE.  That began to change in 2019 when we embarked on our Learn Foundations project in an attempt to tackle the aspects of confusion and inconsistency which were badly impacting our students’ experience.  The Learn Foundations project now involves 21 Schools and we have worked closely with local learning technologists, teaching offices and student interns to deliver this change. 4,000 students have been involved in our user research and 40+ interns have worked to map, analyse and improve course areas online. The work has been shared in reports, presentations and posters  at University of Edinburgh Learning and Teaching conferences and has won awards within the global community of Learn institutions.

In the last 2 years we have engaged with thousands of Edinburgh students in the biggest co-design exercise the University has ever carried out on its VLE.  We have built up a very rich and detailed picture of what students and staff need to do in Learn, and why.  The detailed UX work we have done as part of our Learn Foundations project has given us a hope of being able to optimise our support services to support a broadly similar template.   The schools who have been part of that project have benefited from support in migration, accessibility and training.

We moved Learn to ‘the Cloud’ before the pandemic and I hope to  move it to the next version (Ultra) soon. This year the amount of activity in the VLE has grown considerably and both the license and storage costs have increased. It is even more important now that colleagues ensure that they consider course design to make the best use of the platform for teaching. Training in all aspects of using Learn is available to all and we offer a bespoke programme of support for ‘An Edinburgh Model of teaching online’.

If we were ever to move VLE it is this work on Learn Foundations which would make that even possible.  I hope that in the near future we will have support from across the university for a more root and branch overhaul of our main teaching platform.  It would be a huge, multi-year project involving every course leader, every school office, every local learning technologist, large IT teams, changes to all the training, integrations, helpdesks, student handbooks, support pages and changes to teaching practice, but I think that the lessons learned from teaching this year and the institution-wide work on curriculum review will be a great place to start.

If we were ever to move VLE. It would be expensive. And it would take years. We’d be running systems in parallel for years, so its hard to see this as a cost effective option. We would need to be sure that there are  tangible pedagogical benefits and improvements to the work our VLE does for us now.

 

‘Letting a thousand flowers bloom’ results in technical debt for the future.

Back in the day  there was not central platform, in an attempt to encourage and support innovation schools were given pots of money to build locally the tools they felt they needed.   13 local VLEs were spun up by the groups who were delivering distance learning with Distance Education Initiative (DEI ) funding. It was a worthy strategy of supporting local innovation but it resulted in a huge technical debt which was later transferred back to Information Services  and we have spent years (are still) sorting out.  Over the last 5 years those 13 local VLEs have decayed and failed, and in order to sustain the activity the university has invested heavily in migrating that distance learning to Learn ( VLE consolidation project) .

The roll-out  of Learn across UG teaching wasn’t managed consistently either.  Every course leader and school did their own thing, leading to years of user confusion from students as they moved from course to course. In the last 2 years we have engaged with more than 4,000 students in the biggest co-design exercise the University has ever carried out on its VLE.  We have built up a very rich and detailed picture of what students and staff need to do in Learn, and why.

The detailed UX work we have done as part of our Learn Foundations project has given us a hope of ever being able to optimise our support services to support a broadly similar template.   The schools who have been part of that project have benefited from support in migration, accessibility and training.

 

VLE resilience

We moved Learn to ‘the Cloud’ before the pandemic and I hope to  move it to the next version ( Ultra) soon. Hopefully that will improve the interface and  make colleagues happy ( er).

Last year we had an embarrassing 240 minute outage at the start of term. Learn wasn’t actually down, we just couldn’t access it, which is basically the same thing.

Other than that we had 39 minutes down for a whole year.

 

 

the risky business of equality

One of the striking findings in my research was that there was a mismatch between the answers from the ‘digital leaders’ and the answers from the ‘HR professionals’.  Everyone thought there  definately were risks, but the HR professional thought there were none.  If this is true more widely it would go some way to explain why HR professionals are surprised not to be able to get senior managers involved in championing issues. They have not considered the risks to us in doing so.

“In order to further understand the factors which may act as contextual cues for digital leaders in their decisions to champion equality and diversity in the workplace participants were asked to what extent they feel there may be associated risks for those who do take on champion roles. In the interviews participants were making sense of their context and reflecting on how they have seen what has happened in their own experience and those around them.   

‘Critical sense making’ describes the ways in which  individuals make sense of their own local environments  while acknowledging power relations in the broader societal context (Mills, 2010). Part of sense-making is judging the level of risk which might follow specific course of action in your context (Weick, 1995).

Individuals make judgements to appraise threats and risks as part of their own decision making. These judgments are based on perceived or real risks and these risks are plausible because they resonate closely with one’s own experience, or the known experience of others nearby. In their previous answers respondents had clearly identified a range of business drivers which exist in their organisations. They had also identified a number of cultural and organisational elements, which they understood as creating a climate in which equality, and diversity was supported by organisational policy.

Participants all appeared to agree with a general perception that equality and diversity issues were larger than the individual, and understood the role of workplace culture in which dignity, respect and fair pay is valued. Given these findings it might be expected that they would perceive championing these issues as relatively low risk. 

All respondents but one however, were adamant there were associated risks for some people in getting involved with equality and diversity issues in the workplace. The response that there was no perceived risk, or that there should be no risk, came from the interviewee who is the senior HR professional. This mis-match in expectation was analysed further and respondents answers were analysed to identify themes around risk. These include:  risks to oneself (personal risks of image, reputation, how one might be perceived by others personally), professional risks (how one might risk or lose effectiveness in a professional role), risks to the business, and risks to the wider endeavour of equality itself.  The prominence of the discussion of risk in the data makes it worth discussing these findings in detail.”

I have continued to test this finding informally with further groups.  I have been lucky to be able to get gigs doing CPD workshops and conference workshops in February and March.

The first one I did was for senior IT professionals in FE and HE.  I asked the question ‘Do you think there are risks associated for some people in championing equality and diversity issues in the workplace’? I asked for responses in chat : Yes, no, maybe, not sure, some ….. etc

Not everyone chose to answer obviously, but

Yes: Maybe was 3:1   No noes.

I asked the same question again in a session at the Advance HE conference. The session was recorded so I plan to look at the chat if it was recorded too, but this was a group of HR professionals and I saw at least one ‘No, not any more’

At The ALT ( learning technologists) session

YES: maybe was 5:2

learning cultures

You’ll have seen that the university’s current stated position for next year is :’ We currently plan to deliver a mix of in-person and digital teaching for the academic year starting in September 2021’. Teaching and learning in 2021-22 | The University of Edinburgh. Ryan has been interrogating our training data and it looks like in some parts of the university fewer than 2% of the academic staff came to any training on how to use the tools they needed for their teaching this year. We must think creatively about how to create a culture of learning amongst our colleagues so that they can do it better next time.

The students who are often disabled by the  physical teaching environment are concerned that ‘Accessibility and the way that it is being dealt with is currently being seen as a side effect or a consequence of the pandemic. However, the resistance from staff to online teaching is frustrating and doesn’t give hope for post-Covid ‘. We must think creatively about how to ensure that accessibility is seen less as a technical issue but more one of inclusion.