Month: May 2020

digital safety

Picture taken by me of a troll in Norway. No rights reserved by me.

Universities may be moving online but precious few are investing to keep their students safe.

The internet is not a safe place for everyone. As students study remotely and conduct more of their lives online, they are exposed to more risks of harassment, abuse, racism , misogyny, transphobia, fraud, scamming, bullying and doxing.

Universities are un-prepared for supporting students (and staff) who are attacked online and the headlines are starting to mount up.

Particularly when institutions are slow to respond.

There is reputational risk for student support services at universities in failing to engage with supporting our students. A worrying level of ignorance and low level of digital / social media skills amongst professional staff exacerbates this. Despite the duty of care accorded to UK universities to act reasonably in students’ best interests, to protect their well-being and to provide support as they continue in education there remains a lack of guidance to support good practice in safeguarding students, and very little focused on tackling sexual violence, hate crime and online harassment.

We must bring together guidance and training to support the development and effective implementation of a digital safety network and strategy, providing online safeguarding advice, support and training for students and staff, and drawing upon best practice from within and outwith the University, we must self-review our online safeguarding.

With a rise in cyber bullying and socially engineered threats many staff and students are not aware of the vulnerabilities of their own systems or best practice in safeguarding oneself and others online.

There are guidelines from UUK , OFS and from JISC

Colleges and universities can prevent access to illegal, harmful or inappropriate websites with filtering software, but this may not protect staff and students who access the internet from home or mobile networks – especially if using their own devices. This is particularly concerning for institutions with a cohort under 18, for which web filtering is an Ofsted requirement under safeguarding guidelines.

When users are logging in from home – and particularly where an institution makes significant use of cloud services, as at UoE ,policies and guidance need to be amended to refer specifically to any use of institutional systems or for institutional purposes, such as accessing collaboration tools like Teams and Zoom, and to harassment and bullying which happens online between known or anonymous parties.

Universities win awards and plaudits for the recent improvements to the student experience and student support services, however the support for students online is still lacking, with numerous reports of students being passed for one support to another and a then being left to sort it out themselves or engage with their harasser alone.

It’s time to do something.

equality, diversity and inclusion issues to consider

Dominique and me presenting and representing in London about EDI.

There is a risk that when we change things at speed some of the gains we have made previously get lost, reversed or return to ‘business as usual’. Business as usual was not particularly equal, diverse or inclusive at the best of times. This could be an opportunity to establish a new normal which would impact a lot of people.

The protected characteristics under the Equality Act are: · Age · Disability · race (including ethnicity and nationality) · religion or belief · sex · sexual orientation · gender reassignment · pregnancy and maternity · marriage or civil partnership.

There are likely to be particular issues for how we support both students and staff with protected characteristics when we move to new modes for large numbers of students.

By way of example, issues to consider might include:

  • Students with physical disabilities may be unable to take part at all in on campus activities due to health risks from covid19 and have to access all services and carry out all transactions remotely
  • Designing one way systems and new routes through the campus is going to involve using a bunch more doors, which may not be fully accessible.
  • Students with mental health issues may need more support if their conditions are exacerbated by social distancing / lockdown / covid19 worries
  • BAME students and staff, and older students and staff, may need greater protection or targeted advice as BAME and older people appear to be higher risk groups
  • Students and staff may be subject to harassment or abuse during the covid19 pandemic as a result of their faith or ethnicity
  • The nature and responses to harassment, bullying and abuse online is different from face to face and is particularly experienced by women, BAME, disabled, LGBT+ staff and students
  • Staff and students with young children may be unable to work on campus at all or may only be able to do for limited periods, due to childcare obligations
  • Caring, pastoral support and mental health support work, traditionally has been done disproportionately by women.
  • Students working from home in countries with restrictive regimes may experience online environments differently than those not.
  • Students living areas of social deprivation  or low connectivity may have limited or different access to technology.
  • Students with disabilities are easily excluded for accessing learning if care is not taken to ensure that learning materials and activities are accessible.
  • Staff with disabilities are easily excluded for accessing  online meetings and events if care is not taken to ensure that closed captions and text chat are accessible.
  • The images, reading lists, case studies and examples used in the curriculum may not be chosen with care to represent the diverse student body.

Any more? Many more?

shifting priorities

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

There is a lot going on. Priorities are changing all across the University.

For me, one priority has been to get some of my learning technology service teams on to contracts which are more secure. I have some amazingly talented and highly skilled professional in my teams.

That done, my next step was to ensure that we maintain our commitment to our student internships and sandwich placements.  I’m pleased to say we are recruiting dozens of students to help us with our digital shift to blended, flexible and inclusive learning in semester 1, and we are offering placement years to computing students from Napier University.

Another priority is to recruit some more to join us.

If you know anyone interested: ‘Working closely with colleagues across the University, you will bring a strong customer focus, an enthusiasm for problem-solving, a methodical and efficient management of your workload as well as a desire to learn new skills and gain expertise in new areas. We value your communication and digital skills, knowledge and experience of working with learners and teachers’.

At Edinburgh Learning Technology Support Officers may specialise in a particular area of technology to provide expert guidance and support. We are interested to hear from people who might specialise in video, AR/VR, remote teaching, skills training, digital humanities or computational notebooks as these are growing areas of demand.

We are also recruiting e-learning software developers to help us deliver next generation learning environments: “Will you help us to deliver online, blended and hybrid learning for University of Edinburgh? We are looking for an agile developer to join our team to build capability for the future and contribute to teaching and learning in a world-leading centre of academic excellence. You will demonstrate experience of building and maintaining web applications, with proven skills in modern web technologies, including HTML, PHP, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, and the ability to prioritise your own workload and work independently. You will also have well-developed communication skills, and be able to identify and understand user requirements. You will understand the impact of legislation (such as accessibility, equality and GDPR) in the context of online education.”