I am looking forward to providing a keynote presentation at the University of South Wales’ internal learning and teaching conference on 15th July.
Even though I don’t get to travel down there, it’ll make a nice change from so much Teamsing and Zooming with colleagues in Scotland. The title for the conference is ‘Building Connections and Embracing Diversity’ – How does technology help?‘ I’ll be talking about the Edinburgh experience of digital education and the ways in which technology teams can work alongside academic teams and students to deliver active and inclusive learning.
Coincidentally, few days before this event, on 9-10th July, The Celtic Knot conference will also be answering some of these questions, focusing on minority languages in Wikipedia. This is a conference we were happy to host in Edinburgh a few years ago as part of our partnership with WikimediaUK.
This morning I waited at my garden gate to see a hearse go by. My neighbour, Aileen Christianson died during lockdown. She would often talk with me over the garden fence. The picture in her Guardian obituary is in our tenement’s shared back green.
She was a lecturer at Edinburgh and a feminist and writer. There are a couple of nice obituaries for her in the Guardian and The Scotsman.
Anyhow, I made a Wikipedia page for her in her memory. It seemed like the right thing to do.
We all know the job market is crazy at the moment. Some industries are not recruiting at all, others are scrabbling to get the best expertise they need for this new world. The market for learning technologists is hot and I’ve never seen so many job ads out.
Here’s what I am seeing at Edinburgh:
We advertised for student summer interns. We planned to take 20, we got 100+ applications and we are taking 45.
We advertised for Learning Technology Support Officers. Again, over 100 applicants, we’ll aim to appoint five.
We advertised for Senior Content Designers in March and got 12 applicants, for a similar role in June we now have 52.
We advertised for a Learning Technology Team Manager, got 45 applicants, appointed one.
We advertised for Project Managers and got 75+ applicants, including many people who had previously been working only as contractors.
If you’ll forgive me for celebrating yet another really impressive piece of work completed by LTW and the team of learning technologists from across Schools to establish a co-ordinated learning design service to support hybrid courses in Learn. I’ve always suspected that learning design was key to delivering learning technologies at this institution, I’m glad we have such an excellent team across LTW and the Schools, and that people are able to give time, even when everything is so busy. Thank you to Jon, Ryan, Tracey, Neil, Brendan, Meredith, Lizzie, Graeme, Alison and Lorraine.
Directors have now agreed that this work should continue. Which is full credit to many ISG colleagues who have been involved and given their time to supporting this work and organising events. I was very lucky to have a student intern (Dominique) working with me over several years and now to have an Equality and Data officer (Lilinaz) for the next two years. This has given us the resource and time to really engage with our research. We have carried out 2 E&D surveys in ISG. One in 2015 and one in 2019. Both surveys led directly to recommendations for action.
You ( ISG staff) can read a report of the 2019 survey findings:
Recommendations for EDI development in ISG for the next 2-5 years are drawn from staff feedback gathered from workshop participants, research literature and from interpretations of data gathered from ISG staff.
Here are some of the things we aim to do:
Quick top ten:
Continue PlayFair Steps EDI initiatives which address the interpersonal aspects of intergroup relations, tacking issues of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.
Combine data informed decision-making with qualitative and social science informed research to ensure that we make the best decisions for ISG.
Seek and listen to the opinions and experiences of the minority groups in our organisation such as black and ethnic minority colleagues to better understand their experiences which may be hidden by statistical analysis grouping of data.
Collect and analyse the data relating to EDI practices in ISG so we can track differences in career progression, pay, and promotions.
Understand and address the gender and race pay gaps in ISG where they exist.
Address the inequality that women and ethnic minority colleagues in ISG are more likely to be in low-paid, part-time and fixed-term roles.
Proactively attempt to attract and retain a staff to reflect the diversity of the university. If that is not possible, we should at least aim to reflect the demographics of the region in which we live.
Identify, support and reward the c40 staff who are developing as leaders in EDI, reflecting the value of this area of leadership in the organisation.
Continue to engage directly with communities to show commitment to improving the lot of historically disadvantaged groups. Whether that be ‘women in tech’, disabled people or other minority groups.
Monitor EDI impact of all our post-COVID19 recovery work with the knowledge that economic recovery is unlikely to be evenly spread.
Market and promote sessions to encourage those who would not normally attend. Each session should clearly explain why it is taking place and what the benefits of attending are.
Provide context for EDI practices in addition to providing a snapshot of ISG as a workplace that can be presented to staff members. It serves to fill in a knowledge gap for staff members in why attending EDI sessions are recommended.
Help staff to connect the importance of having a good understanding of EDI to their roles and success as leaders and team managers.
Help staff to connect the importance of having a good understanding of EDI to their roles and success as service providers.
Develop case studies of teams, projects or services where ISG seems to benefit from ‘diversity advantage’.
Do further research into the value of identity group networks and ‘allies’ in ISG.
Make time to attend
Managers should ensure that they make it possible for colleagues to attend EDI sessions.
Attend to Recruitment
Collect data on student employees, as anecdotal evidence suggests a more diverse group of students take up these positions, increasing the diversity within ISG. Knowing more about this demographic could inform hiring practices and the future of student employment within ISG (e.g. designing permanent roles that would follow internships).
Develop teams and leadership
Ensure that the growing group of ISG staff in the 16-24 age group are supported to develop, and that all managers are aware of the EDI issues inherent in cross-generational team working.
Encourage sharing of practice between directorates to address how staff participation in EDI activities can be supported and encouraged by managers.
If you have a shortage of learning technologists about the place, you may need to grow your own in-house.
If you can find colleagues who have a lively interest in learning and teaching and excellent digital skills, just sprinkle with them with a nutritious training programme and try to equip them with the resilience for coping with a lot of crop.
Our excellent teams in LTW have come up with a new learning technologist training toolkit.
This toolkit provides learning design and digital skills development resources and training for those new to working with learning technology, whether they have just joined the University or have moved internally from another role. It can be used as part of an on-boarding plan, or more generally for skills development.
The toolkit aims to build a foundation level of knowledge across our pool of learning technologists, covering the core learning technologies used at the University alongside learning design practices. Details of school-specific tools and practices should be added locally.
Additionally, the toolkit aims to develop and maintain the University’s network of Learning Technologists through which you can meet others in similar roles, keep up to date with the fast-changing teaching landscape, share good practice and support each other.
The toolkit offers flexibility through providing a variety of guidance and training, which you can work through on a self-study basis. In recognition of the variety of roles that exist in this area, you should use the toolkit on a pick-and-mix basis identifying with your manager which areas are most relevant to your role.
During lockdown it quickly became clear that some of the staff who work in ISG could not do their roles from home. In some cases this was true for whole teams, e.g. our staff who manage the library shelves, our staff who work on drop-in help desks, our staff who manage buildings and facilities, our staff who fit AV and IT equipment into teaching rooms.
One of the advantages of working in a large, converged service ( IT, learning technology, libraries, museums and collections together) is that we could take a holistic view and look across the organisation to find new opportunities. In some areas there was new, urgent demand for people. I was in no doubt that we needed many more people to help with the huge shift to hybrid teaching for semester 1, so it simply made sense to re-skill in house. We have converted shelving staff to subtitlers and facilities staff to access facilitators.
Within ISG we decided to find flexibility in our workforce and offer opportunities to re-skill to our staff. In the Learning, Teaching and Web Directorate, we offered 3 roles for colleagues to move into: Learn VLE Assistant, Web Editor and Subtitling Assistant. We offered a job description, training and support for working from home.
The result of this re-organisation and reskilling is that we have 7 colleagues from other parts of ISG now working to do accessibility audits in our VLE, another 7 adding subtitles to public facing video content and one new web editor. All of these roles need a high attention to care and detail, accessibility and accuracy. All of these roles bring with them a chance to learn new digital skills and to understand the challenges our diverse groups of students face when they use our online content and the solutions which facilitate better access.
Thank you to the teams in LTW who welcomed and trained our colleagues into these new roles, and thank you to those colleagues who were so willing to add new skills to their repertoire. When the lock down ends and we go back into our libraries and teaching rooms, I am sure we will feel the benefit.
This year, more than ever, our new and returning students need to know we care about their learning. Edinburgh is in a strong position to respond to the challenges ahead whilst maintaining a quality learning experience.
We have recruited dozens of students to work with us over the summer, and did I mention that our VLE teams just won another award?
The Learn Foundations team has won the 2020 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Student Experience.
The award recognises those institutions whose educational and administrative innovations have markedly improved the total learner experience.
The Learn Foundations project is transforming the online learning space at Edinburgh by providing students with everything they need simply, quickly and efficiently to minimise time spent searching and maximise time spent learning.
By redesigning Learn, our biggest Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), we are providing our 40,000 students with easy access to lecture recordings, online reading lists and all their course related materials. And for those students who study across courses, these improvements are being implemented institution-wide to ensure consistency of student experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.