We are finalist in 2 categories: Best Place to Work in Digital – Large Organisations and we are winners of Project Team of the Year. The awards are for the work we do in supporting student interns into our organisation and the work the interns do in Learn Foundations.
‘Our programme has created over 300 digital student internships. We work hard to attract the brightest students and take care to train and support them by creating an environment where they grow and thrive. The student workers in our organisation transform the culture, bring new viewpoints, ideas and diversity to our teams. They provide unique perspectives on our services. Increasing the number of students who work in our organisation is our strategic ambition and a vital part of enabling the University effectively to meet future digital challenges’.
We have actually won awards for this work before, so to get more prizes reflects your sustained excellence. The winners will be announced at a glamorous awards ceremony on Wednesday 13 October in fancy London.
As LTW staff prepare to return to Argyle House en masse here’s what I’m saying to my staff to encourage them to engage with our hybrid working experiments:
You will be aware that the University’s Hybrid Working Programme is looking at how working practices might evolve as we transition out of the pandemic and how best to support all staff whether working on or off campus.
There have been a number of communications issued to staff, the Hybrid Working SharePoint Site and Website are live, and you may also be aware that planning is underway around the re-opening of Argyle House, with the establishment of a Re-opening Building Review Team. Our reps on that group are Kevin and Billy. They are keen to hear from you.
I know you are all thinking about how we can ensure that our services are the best they can be for staff and students and I have always felt that one of the ways in which LTW is distinct from some other parts of ISG is through the close connections we get through meetings and usergroups, and being part of the community.
We’ve done really well at that during lockdown and I am confident that we will do well at it during this period of hybrid experiments.
Creative thinking needed to ensure LTW is the best working environment it can be.
With regards to working on campus, you may be aware that planning and risk assessments are based around natural ventilation and having windows open at all times when staff are working in each location. This will be challenging as we move towards the winter months, so we will need to be creative in thinking about comfort and care.
We’d be happy to hear any suggestions around LTW hoodies, knitted garments, knee rugs, thermos flasks or any other creative/colourful solutions. Please do let us know.
During this experimental period you will need to be open and careful with keeping your diaries up to date so that your colleagues can find you and everyone can juggle the logistics of booking the right size of room. You may also want to take this as an opportunity to start doing time-recording, (if you do not do that already) so that we can get an overview of how working in hybrid modes changes productivity of services and projects or adds new elements. Our ideas and experiences can feed into the development of Hybr-ED teaching models, the hybrid meetings service, the hybrid events service and the university’s review in response to NSS and staff satisfaction surveys. As ever, I encourage you to be creative in thinking about how we can be the best LTW we can be.
From the top
Gavin and his SLT have been discussing their initial plans and have agreed that they will work together on-campus 2 days per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), with individual SLT members working both on and off campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Fridays being reserved as no-SLT meeting, off-campus days to prioritise other work activities such as writing (code or prose).
LTW SMT have begun our initial planning and we are aware that discussions are now taking place within each Section to listen to colleagues and move towards the next phase, where individual conversations will take place, to determine the best, initial hybrid working options for each team and staff member.
It has been a long time since all of LTW were off campus. Several of our teams have been back on campus and working in hybrid modes for much of this year and last summer. You have been discussing the return to campus with your managers and I have been listening to your suggestions.
Many of you have said that you would appreciate clear starting points for hybrid working experiments in LTW and I am happy to give you those:
LTW staff living in Scotland should be on campus 2 days per week minimum.
Friday will be a day with no meetings in LTW. You can use this day for focus and writing without having to stop and start for meetings.
Meetings which include academic staff and students and cover content/subjects relating to learning, teaching and the student experience should be prioritised on-campus.
For those of you not already working in hybrid modes you should start your experiments in week beginning 13, 20 or 27th Sept, agreeing the initial timeframe and review points with your manager. We will review what we are learning across LTW in December and have a clear steer towards agreeing ongoing hybrid working arrangements at the end of the first experimental year.
It is clear that in some teams the fully online working has brought real benefits and we must ensure that hybrid working does too. Decisions about hybrid working in LTW should be inclusive, involving a wide range of voices, but also attention to difference. What works for you may not work for someone else, and we are all involved in multiple groups/communities with colleagues and students outwith LTW.
The Hybrid Working Programme is structured to evaluate Hybrid Working experiments, working collaboratively to continue to improve the Framework and agreeing a final version by May 2022. I am committed to ensuring that those experiments include everyone so that we can ensure that hybrid works for all our services and projects in the future.
Working for a hybrid university which has its ‘centre of gravity’ on campus will be different from the way things were in the Before Times and different again from the times we have been all working from home. We have managed change like this successfully in the past, for instance in 2016 when we all moved from our separate, dispersed offices into fewer bases in Argyle House and Main Library and then again in 2020 when we all moved to remote working.
I hope you will embrace this opportunity to experiment with hybrid working, because what we learn now will shape the options which are offered to us for the rest of our time here. I’m in this for the long haul and I want to make sure we get the best range of possible models which recognise the different shapes and balances of our lives and help us to attract new colleagues in the future. 2 years ago the range of hybrid working options available to us was pretty limited, a year from now I hope they will be much more aligned to diverse needs.
Please see links below to some of the key resources and spend some time reviewing these. LTW colleagues have already been involved in shaping these through feedback in focus groups and hybrid working pilot groups.
Making sure you have the tools you need to do your job
Further details will follow from your line managers regarding the individual conversations. These will include consideration of the kit required to work effectively and connect staff who may be in multiple locations. The link below contains information and exemplars and we will look to collate requirements and, where required, order additional tech/kit to support both on and off campus working.
We are aware that there are still questions and concerns we need to resolve before we are in a position to return to campus and we will ensure that we communicate regularly as we resolve these or receive additional guidance. So please keep track of the situation as it evolves.
Please keep in touch with your manager and other members of your team so that we can engage in pro-active and creative problem solving.
Data informed decision-making
I hope we will have good data to evaluate hybrid working modes in semester 1 to shape what we do in semester 2. Please think in your teams about data we can collect within services to ensure that we maintain our high standards of service provision through a period which will be fairly chaotic for staff and students.
We will aim to be all together and use this data for the group work at our LTW all-staff meeting in December.
For those of you who are a bit green fingered and like gardening. You’ll know we always have to remember what to dead-head and what to leave. We dead-head flowers so that they don’t go to seed. Unfortunately that has happened all across the university estate.
If you want to grow a successful, health, well-stocked and well-designed web garden on your digital estate you need to get ruthless with your deadheading and weeding.
In order to improve the quality of our website content we have conducted the first University-wide website content audit.
This is, I think, the sort of equality data in which sex matters although presumably sex and gender are being used interchangeably in the reporting context.
The average full time equivalent salary of women in ISG is 16.97% lower than the average salary of men. This compares to 9.59% across all Professional Service Groups and 16.18% for the whole University.
The median full-time equivalent salary of women is 25.48% lower than the median for men. This compares to 14.87% across all Professional Service Groups and 11.10% for the whole University.
Gender pay balance is different in the various Directorates.
LTW has a gender paygap in the opposite direction. I have overshot and I will now seek to correct, as all gaps are bad.
With regard to senior management the gender imbalance and broad salary range within grade 10 have a major impact on the University’s overall gender pay gap. When grade 10 staff are excluded from the dataset, the University average and median pay gaps reduce to 8.8% and 8.5%. However, this is not the case in ISG where the numbers of women and men are roughly equal and are paid much the same ( apart from the CIO/VP who skews the data obv).
The University’s average salary disability gap is 1%; there is no median pay gap. However, at 3%, the rate of proactive disclosure by staff renders it difficult to make meaningful observations regarding any pay gap between staff who have disclosed a disability and those who have not. For ISG, 4.5% have declared a disability and the average disability pay gap is 3%. Interestingly, when the recent home-working survey was done ISG recorded a much higher rate of disability than our HR data would suggest and than other parts of the University.
The University’s ethnicity pay gap is 1% (average) and 5.7% (median) in favour of staff who have proactively declared their ethnicity as ‘White’. While these have reduced since the 2019 audit (8.8% and 8.4%) there has been an increase in the percentage of staff whose ethnicity is unknown/withheld (to 21%) rendering it difficult to draw overall meaningful conclusions regarding the pay of our BAME staff. For ISG, our ethnicity pay gap is 19% (average) and 24.6% (median) and the demographic of our staff ethnicity declaration is: 75% White; 8% BAME; and 8% unknown. Although our Learning Technology colleague Rachael features widely as the face of the university, including on the equal pay report!
In 2009 I delivered a keynote at LILAC conference.
I was the new Head of Learning Technologies Group at the University of Oxford.
The talk was titled ‘Managing Your Flamingo‘, an analogy from Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is trying to play croquet and every time she goes to play either the flamingo’s head pops up or the hedgehog uncurls and walks away. The challenges of getting our back end and front end systems working together are not much changed.
Wonderland analogies are timeless and rife at Oxford and I own a print from the original Tenniel woodblocks.
This year I am hosting a panel at LILAC which brings together Josie Fraser, Jane Secker and Allison Littlejohn. Each of our panel have more than 10 years as change agents in information and digital literacy and have led high profile initiatives to shift thinking and disrupt traditional ideas in (in)different institutions and sectors. Together they will bring unique perspectives on the topic of ‘2020 hindsight’. Come along to find out if their radical inclinations have been tempered by their time in institutions.
The conference is delayed by a year and as Josie has pointed out, you get one year’s extra reflection for free.
Hindsight bias can be dangerous if it leads us to think we ‘knew it all along’ . We all suffer sometimes from memory distortion (“I said it would happen”), inevitability (“It had to happen”), and foreseeability (“I knew it would happen”). Our panel will join you in reflecting on, considering and explaining what has happened and how things that didn’t happen, could have happened. How would things be different if we knew then what we know now?
Is there such a thing as lilac-tinted spectacles?
Back then, I spoke about different types of literacy, (digital, media and information) and questioned whether they were all comparable concepts or subsets of each other, and how far IL should integrate itself into these other literacies. I encouraged librarians to contribute to a digital literacy framework (i=skills) and encouraged everyone to edit and contribute to the digital literacy page on Wikipedia. And media literacy is a hot topic because of the Internet Safety Bill.
In 2009 I predicted that all graduates, not just computing graduates, needed algorithmic modelling literacy and back then, Oxford was working on a Modelling4all project. Check out their website, The Epidemic Game Maker provides a way to quickly and easily make models of epidemics and turn the models into games.
In 2009 I predicted that Youtube U (an educational YouTube) was just around the corner, in much the same way as the University of Oxford had just launched on iTunes U in October 2008. ItunesU and podcasting were a huge success for Oxford, we even featured in the ipod advert on the telly. Who’d have thought that podcasts would be having such a renaissance a dozen years later?
Our partnership with Apple on Itunes brought massive scale and reach, millions of downloads for openly licensed recorded lectures. When Coursera and Edx came in 2012 I thought the reaction would be similar but I struggled to get Oxford interested in MOOCs. They never did, and have suffered no ill-effects as a result. I moved institution and Edinburgh now boasts a boat-load of online open courses. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s them.
I was also wrong about YouTube U. But I have spent some years building something similar in-house. The widespread use of lecture recording has added a whole new type of ‘learning resources’ which are part of the way students learn, study and revise. Huge, born-digital collections.
No-one can really predict how the future will be. We learned that last year. But we can pay attention to signals and think about readiness. I know that the work we did at Edinburgh around business continuity for snow and strikes served us well for Covid.
It is perhaps challenging for online learning leaders and learning technology aficionados to come to terms with the fact that we did not deliver this change through careful support, inspirational argument or the power of convincing evidence. We had to do it in ways we never anticipated. We have been forced to do things we hoped we would never have to do. We have put in place systems and support for rushed replication of on-campus delivery online. We have become middleware. We are at the same time essential and largely irrelevant. And we are caught in a crazy world in which students and staff who would previously have mounted barricades to resist the use of technology in their teaching are balloting their unions and lobbying management to insist on it.
How will this play out? If students do well in their exams this year will we hail the lift and shift as a success? Perhaps all our previous insistence on planned, careful design was unwarranted. Are exam results the measure of good teaching and learning? If so, it’s a good thing each institution has autonomy in assessment and everything is open to interpretation. In whose interest is it for the shift to online story to be told as a huge success or a massive failure?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.