Month: March 2021

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.

International Women’s Day 2021

As is now traditional I did some wikipedia editing, and also had some fun with AI animation.

The original weather girl:

And the woman for whom the word ‘scientist’ was invented.