Category: People, Place and Work

digital internships

A picture of some of our interns in previopus years. Picture not taken by me. Original at: http://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/mini-series-turning-internships-into-blog-posts-and-friendship-into-teamwork/

In common with many other universities we worked with students over the summer  to prepare for hybrid learning and teaching.  LTW recruited and managed 44 student interns who migrated over 3000 courses from 20 schools into the institutional template in our VLE.

The Learn Foundations project team is experienced in employing student interns to support business requirements generated as a result of the implementation of the Learn Foundations approach.  This year however, the number of interns working with the team and School colleagues was quadrupled and the students all had to work remotely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the support provided by the student interns, the following was achieved:

  • Over 3000 20/21 courses migrated onto the Learn Foundations template;
  • Over 1000 of the above courses supported with content migration;
  • Over 100 academics liaised with directly regarding content migration;
  • Over 600 courses were mapped with over 80, 000 items reviewed to allow for an institutional baseline for Learn courses to begin to be created;
  • Undertook over 16, 000 accessibility checks across circa 2000 19/20 Learn Courses to understand ‘how accessible’ content and courses are within Learn;

Careful thought went in to supporting the interns to bond as a team and structure their days with a mix of work, set breaks and social activities to keep them busy, motivated and refreshed.  A daily briefing session was held to discuss tasks, review progress and allocate activities, this also provided the interns with an opportunity to come together as a team.  These sessions have been positively evaluated by the students who valued the structure and sense of purpose they provided.  They also enabled students to raise questions with team members about technical questions and other issues.

“Having a set time for a call each morning was great as it provided a structure and set out the tasks. It also allowed us to feel more a part of the team.”

In addition to the morning briefing, the team instigated a twice-weekly social hour for students to come together and have a bit of fun.  These served to support team bonding and break up work flow.  These were managed by the project manager and project administrator and were positively evaluated by the students.

“The social hours were great to allow us to bond as a team. It created a healthier atmosphere and made us more comfortable working with each other.”

Coordination

With such a large number of interns working remotely there was a risk that the coordination of task allocation and delivery could become fragmented and messy.  Microsoft Teams was used as a work platform with one central channel for all students and latterly, additional work specific channels were created for those students involved in certain tasks.

“I think working on Microsoft teams, having dedicated channels and a daily meeting worked well.”

There were challenges in managing workflow throughout the internship as a result of the large number of students involved and rapidly changing business requirements as a result of the speed with which School colleagues were adapting and adjusting to new ways of working.  When there was a break in workflow, students were encouraged to use LinkedIn Learning as a tool for professional development.

Hardware, software and the internet

Students were offered hardware to ensure they were able to deliver their work from home.  In previous years, computers and laptops would have been available from an office base.  Some of the students experienced a delay in receiving hardware which had an impact on their ability to get started straight away with their work.

The students commented on the challenges of remote working.  Some experienced periods of isolation and felt separated from their colleagues; most appreciated the effort that went in to building a team and keeping them involved and busy.

“It was tough doing this remotely as you couldn’t really get to know your colleagues. The social hours helped but I think it was often tough to organise fun activities with each other and people often backed out.”

“It was really nice that we were given so much social time, as it felt especially isolating working from home and not meeting other people.”

“It was challenging for a start to bond online however after a few weeks our team became quite close.”

The team was aware that technical and internet issues may impact on workflow and took positive steps to support the interns with hardware and software advice.  These issues were taken account of in the work flow to ensure the students were not placed under pressure or disadvantaged as a result of these factors which were out of their control.  This was appreciated by the students.

“The team was very understanding of technical or internet issues which was great because that could have been stressful.”

Remote working

Despite the challenges of engaging with such a large number of student interns working from home, the experience of remote working seems to have been valued by them.  They identified the challenges but most also commented on how beneficial the experience had been to them.

“It was a really developing experience because I think I learnt more about working in a team virtually than when working in the office! The number of emails and messages sent also made me much more comfortable with working online in a professional setting.”

“The opportunity to work remotely in a team has been a valuable experience. Because of this, I believe that my communication skills and confidence in working independently have improved.”

Investment and outcomes

Whilst the students have highly evaluated their internship experience, the investment required from the team to support such a large number of students and provide them with a high quality experience, was high, especially by the project manager and project administrator.  It is estimated that between them, the project manager and project administrator, invested the equivalent of 4 months of work over the internship period to supporting the students with additional resource from Colleges for supporting students allocated to them.  That said, the students delivered a collective equivalent of 21 months of work (based on the hours worked by each intern over the period).  This represents a four-fold return on investment.  The student interns effectively provided a focused resource boost, at scale, over the 5 months that they were employed.

Whilst this larger number of students has had to be carefully managed, the return has far outweighed the investment, although should this approach be adopted next year, consideration may need to be given to the appointment of an internship coordinator to ensure a continuing positive experience for the students and the ongoing quality of their work.  Feedback gained from School colleagues has been unanimously positive about the work completed by the student interns.

Without the considerable impact of the student interns, the project would not have been able to ease the burden from Schools of taking on the Learn Foundations approach, especially at such a business critical time, nor would the project have been in a position to work at such a granular level to ensure courses were effectively migrated to Learn Foundations.

With the dedicated support of the Learn Foundations team, the student interns have become ambassadors for Learn Foundations, widening the positive impact of the approach and demonstrating the value of student as partners in the delivery of University-wide activities.

Thank you, All.

about the place

I keep meaning to go back to this blog post and update it with further steps but in the meantime I have been out and about online while staying safely at home.

I was on the ALT Summer Summit Opening Plenary panel, ‘Learning Technology in times of Crisis, Care and Complexity – the Strategic view’ , 26th August 2020

I spoke at the University of Stavanger, Norway edtech event KnowHow EdTech, 23rd September

I gave a keynote  ‘Design For Life’ at the AACE Innovate Learning Summit,  November 3-5, 2020

I presented ‘The Value of Wikipedia Editing’ at the conference “Wikipedia’s Women Problem” – Università degli studi di Padova,  9th November 2020

and I’m scheduled to speak in Sheffield Hallam in December.

I was supposed to be at OEB in Berlin but I missed the email deadline to switch from Christmas markets to online.

 

 

‘Gradually, then suddenly’ as Hemingway would say.

Tassel shop in Madrid for all your matador needs. Picture taken by me, no rights reserved.

In The Sun Also Rises* one character asks another how they went broke. The reply is ‘Gradually, then suddenly’.  I am reminded of this when people ask me about the progress of digital education at scale at University of Edinburgh.  We have been world-leading in online masters courses for many years and our previous Principal invested heavily in digital innovation and technology for education. I am a  grateful beneficiary of this in working with such a large learning technology group.

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 years plans.

And then Suddenly Last Summer**  we have lifted and shifted the entire, enormous, unwieldy, UoE undergraduate offering online.

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 truth serum may be what we need.

 

*Ernest Hemingway

** Tennessee Williams

This post inspired by Vicki and Robyn who are missing a bit of gothic.

 

 

 

Shofar, so good.

Pastoral.

We’ve been having a bit of a rocky time with some of our platforms as the activity ramps up wildly toward the start of semester and the head of the year.  We now have 92,995  items in Media Hopper Create,  8300 of those have been uploaded since the 1st of September.

That’s on top of the 63,000 items we have in our Replay Lecture recording system. That’s a huge collection of home grown, born digital content. Worth blasting and shouting about.

3470 of the items in Media Hopper have the open, creative commons licenses on them. I think we could do better on this.  If you have ideas how to encourage  more colleagues to choose that  option to make their materials open educational resources (OER) for others to use, that will help the university towards its commitment to the UN sustainable development goals.

Have a sweet new year.

*Update: after writing this post on 18th Sept our media platform ground to a halt and our VLE crashed. I assume this is my comeuppance and must duly atone.

 

to gather data about equality in university IT teams

Front Cover Issue 9 – Image of woman with household items: iron, thread etc. Usage terms: © Estate of Roger Perry Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence – See more at: http://www.bl.uk/spare-rib/articles/design-and-spare-rib#sthash.LtV84Eu5.dpuf

In February 2018 an attempt was made from within UCISA to gather data about gender equality in university IT teams and to understand what focus there was on gender equality. An email survey of 20 questions gained 126 responses from 53 institutions.

The results are not formally published but have been presented at UCISA events in 2018 and influenced the decision to have a focus on gender equality at the UCISA leadership conference in 2019.  While recognising the limitations and unscientific nature of the email survey study it serves to highlight the need for further research and practice to support equality and diversity in IT departments in higher education in the UK.   Many of the respondents indicated that they did not think that their institution had in place policies to support gender equality and that in their workplace they could see that gender diversity was not widespread across teams, with project management and helpdesk teams having more women than other areas.

In the UCISA study the majority of respondents were concerned about gender equality and diversity in the IT profession – 80% indicated ‘definitely’ or ‘probably yes’ they were concerned, 11% were ‘not concerned’. 48% of respondents said their institution did not have any gender equality policies in place, and 57% reported that their IT departments did not have specific policies in place to support gender equality. (Fraser-Krauss & Priestley, 2018 unpublished?)

In their 2018 book ‘ Professional and Support Staff in Higher Education’ the authors note the absence of input from any digital, HR or IT professionals and suggest that there is more work to be done in integrating the contribution of these groups to leadership and scholarship:

“we (as contributors, colleagues, and more broadly as institutions) must take some deliberate steps to promote greater inclusion amongst authors contributing to research regarding professional and support staff, especially those who do not currently see themselves as part of the scholarly conversation. Professional and support staff within higher education are diverse, their roles multifaceted, and their contribution and experiences under-examined.”(Bossu et al., 2018b, p. 460)

The UCISA survey, however informal,  further informed the need for further, ongoing work to understand the experiences and perceptions of staff in university IT departments in relation to equality and diversity practice.

Here’s some data from University of Edinburgh IT Services Dept which we can add to the endeavour. EDI ISGReport Summary Report 2020

 

being a lert

PERFORMANCE COSTUME 2009, LEILA DEARNESS © Edinburgh College of Art http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/xc5j6y

Let me just say, being a woke IT director is exhausting.

Not only do you end up writing theses about ‘diversity and digital leadership‘, you also find yourself employing OER service managers (to research and promote equitable distribution of resources), E-Safety Officers (to support students and staff who discover that the internet is not a safe space), and Data and Equality Officers (to ensure that your services and workplaces even know what they are doing).

You end up talking about digital accessibility  and inclusion at every meeting and you keep your antennae poised to nip any potential carcrashes in the bud.

So much of what we do is actually just about how we communicate it.

This month I’ve suggested:

  • That ‘Race Sub Group’ may be a difficult name for a good effort.
  • That ‘Welcome Period’ sounds odd too.
  • As do ‘Courses to help you with transitions’
  • That  Estates and Digital Infrastructure (EDI) is not the same as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
  • That using a picture of Chinese students wearing masks might contribute to Sinophobia on campus
  • That there’s not much evidence that  ‘EDI training’ actually works.
  • That some staff may want to attend more than one ‘identity network’ in the workplace.
  • That we could add rainbows to Teams backgrounds instead of distributing rainbow lanyards to people’s homes.
  • That even if you are wearing a mask you should still wear a lapel mike.
  • That Teams, Zoom and Collaborate may tend to search for white faces on camera more easily than black ones.
  • That those huge video files you are struggling to upload to Media Hopper are the same ones your students with low bandwidth will struggle to download.
  • That as well as removing the name ‘David Hume Tower’ we should check the slavery credentials of George Brown after whom the square is named.
  • That no EQIA was done on the decision to not fund an improved subtitling service.  ART was offered several options but chose to accept the risk of putting the workload on to individual owners of their materials.   The nature of these speech to text robots (and many other algorithms) is that they are structurally biased. The data sets on which they are trained are largely spoken corpora from business settings, in male voices and with US accents.  So the burden of correction will fall disproportionately on women, people with accents and anyone teaching disciplines with words the robots do not already know.
  • That students choosing to study online rather than come into class isn’t evidence that the online learning is excellent, only that it is more attractive than catching Covid.

 

how we tried to save our students from bad e-learning on a biblical scale

Painting the mouth of a paper mache dinosaur head. 1950
© Edinburgh College of Art https://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/47r44y

At ALT-C in 2018 I gave a reflective presentation entitled ‘Next expect locusts’ I talked about the importance of business continuity planning in the face of the big challenges which might beset universities. Little did I know.

At a time of uncertainty around the return of students and staff to campuses and the long term impact of major social behaviour change some institutions are facing an existential threat, or at least a major re-think about size, shape and funding.

It is vital that learning technologists at all levels in our universities and colleges take a nuanced view on how our services, support and evaluation will need to change.

The strength of our partnerships with academic colleagues, and our partnerships with vendors and platforms were tested under extreme conditions, as were our capacity and capability to work remotely from home. The policy environment for accessibility, inclusion, OER, assessment, e-safety and care online in our institutions suddenly became mainstreamed. The importance of staff training in online pedagogy was magnified and the role of learning technologist became the sexiest job in IT with hundreds of applications for any job advertised.

When we write our CMALT portfolios and reflect on critical incidents this year we will think about our core values, our specialist areas and the way we tried to save our students from bad e-learning on a biblical scale.

Step1.

For me, for many of us as digital leaders the first, immediate priority was to look after our people. To keep our staff safe, to keep them in jobs and to channel all our resources into surviving the flood.

Once we were all safely home, in LTW we took a leap of faith in banking on the university having an ongoing need for learning technologists and secured permanent contracts for any that we could. Then we set about up-skilling, re-skilling and growing our own in-house.

I’ve written a guest post for ALT in advance of the Summer Summit this week.

Diversity and digital leadership

Something I’ve been working on for a while:

Diversity and digital leadership: Understanding experiences of workplace equality and diversity and inclusion

Doing a doctorate part-time while working full-time has been exhausting and invigorating in equal measure. It has occupied my annual leave, evenings and weekends as well as two periods of prolonged industrial action and the covid lockdown. I have learned all kinds of new stuff, including a bunch of new digital and infolit skills.  As I get ready to submit my final thesis, here’s how my abstract is looking:

Abstract

The aim of this research is to gain an understanding of the experiences and perceptions of workplace equality and diversity issues amongst digital leaders in higher education. The participants interviewed for this study are digital leaders working in universities in Scotland in 2019. The study provides a snapshot of data which has been interpreted to provide an understanding of the participants’ experiences and attitudes towards workplace equality, diversity and inclusion. It is the first study of its kind as it focuses on overlapping areas of leadership (diversity, digital and organisational) amongst digital leaders in higher education, a group rarely researched. This study makes a contribution to both both theory and practice and is timely and useful for the university sector.

The study uses a feminist approach to research design and data analysis which serves to highlight the issues of power and privilege which shape the experience of the participants. It takes an intersectional approach to understanding the diverse identity characteristics of digital leaders, recognising that people’s identities and social positions at work are shaped by multiple and interconnected factors, and the significance of these factors for leadership.

In this study an insider researcher was well placed to investigate perceptions and experience and to make recommendations which influence ongoing practice. In order to be credible and useful to the sector research findings are presented with rigour which addresses concerns about assumptions and unfounded interpretations. The process of achieving this by research design, particularly in the formation of interview questions and data analysis is described. The original data gathered from participants is reported and presented alongside references to relevant literature where these serve to explain or shed light on how the data have been interpreted.  Quotations from the raw data have been included to demonstrate how interpretations of the data have been achieved and to illustrate findings. This ensures reflections of the participants are presented in their own voice and brings a lived experience and credibility to the findings by ensuring that data interpretation remains close to the words said. The data are presented against themes arising in the data, several of which reflect the themes highlighted as arising from the review of previous literature.

‘Digital leadership’ is an emerging area of leadership studies which is gaining popularity as organisations seek to ensure that their businesses are best positioned to thrive in an increasingly digital world. The role of senior management in leading change in organisations is well understood and increasingly researchers and practitioners now recognise expertise in workplace equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as a significant area of valuable knowledge. ‘Diversity leadership’ is also an emerging discipline defined by combining diversity principles and leadership competencies for workplace development.

Digital leaders in higher education are a group of professional staff who lead specifically in areas of the organisation where the use of technology is key to the strategic delivery of higher education such as IT, AV, learning technology, student systems, business systems data and IT infrastructure.  Professional staff in higher education remain a much under-researched population of leaders. With increased professionalisation amongst these staff more now occupy senior executive positions within universities; roles that were previously only held by senior academics. The knowledge and skills which this group of senior leaders have are essential to the success of their institutions. The data in this study indicate that digital leaders do identify their own and organisational values as drivers for action around equality and diversity at work, and that these are negotiated and balanced in context and that that context includes policies, practice, leadership and risk.   This study offers a number of insights for understanding the importance of diversity knowledge as a leadership capability. The data shows that the ways in which managers approach and apply effort to issues in their workplace is heavily influenced by their own identity and personal experience. There is a risk in any sector that assumptions are made about the types of people who are managers and the kinds of things which will motivate them to champion issues over and above their day to day functional or multi-functional roles.  Although the participants in this study have no formal workplace designation as an equality and diversity lead in their organisation they are not ignorant of the organisational development and social justice reasons for engaging with EDI, and they see it as part of their leadership role. Digital leaders in this study were clear that they make choices about where to spend their time and that involvement in diversity and inclusion was just one of many areas which make calls upon their resources. Respondents highlighted that where they found it easier to get involved, they would, and they saw this as a help in delivering their jobs as leaders. They made a different set of considerations however, when deciding to become ‘champions’ themselves and this is inextricably linked to their perceptions of the associated risks. Digital leaders in this study  highlighted areas of personal, professional and reputational risks to themselves.  In some cases these risks were sufficient to discourage them. They found that championing equality, diversity and inclusion risked limiting their own social and cultural capital. Significantly they found that championing diversity could work against their leadership of digital thus undermining their leadership effectiveness.  Understanding these perceived risks, and the interplay of diversity and digital leadership is essential for moving forwards in developing digital and diversity leadership within organisations.

This study provides future researchers and practitioners with a starting point from which to study diversity and digital leadership activities in similar organisations and other universities, colleges and schools. Diversity management in the digital sector and higher education risks falling behind if it is slow to respond or support its digital leaders in this work. The findings of this study are a contribution to professional practice which may hope to facilitate a speedier response to the equality and diversity issues which are becoming increasingly high profile and urgent in higher education and in wider society as we embark on the 2020s.

Key words:  Digital, diversity, leadership, power, organisations, equality, inclusion, intersectional, interpretative, feminist, risk, business, higher education, professional, widening participation, women, STEM, class, race, IT, UK, human resources.

learning from demographic differences of lockdown

Graphic design from ISG BITS magazine

I wanted to know how the lockdown and working from home was experienced by staff in the University of Edinburgh. And I wanted to know whether this was experienced differently by different demographic groups.

Luckily I have a Data and Equality Officer working with me.

We conducted a survey at university level during 26th June – 6th July to better understand the experiences of staff members while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 5069 staff members participated in the survey. We used ONS standard questions on Wellbeing measures so we could benchmark and compare with similar studies.

The key purposes of the survey were to:

  • Understand EDI and other impacts of the COVID period and home working.
  • Serve as data for immediate decisions on how to better support staff working from home.
  • Serve as data for next steps for academic schools and Professional service groups on decisions on their return to campus plans.
  • Serve as data for decisions/discussions on longer term home/hybrid working and other reshaping thinking both locally and at a University level.

A report  was produced and a ‘power BI dashboard’ was  created so that managers and other staff members can interrogate the data (including demographic differences where this was possible) independently.

The Power BI dashboard however, does not highlight where differences in responses are statistically significant, and the overall report highlights where statistical difference is associated with high percentage differences. So Lilinaz produced a further report  to fill this gap by including all statistically significant findings for all demographic groups.

This report will be of interest to EDI officers and anyone who likes dis-aggregated data.

Professional staff were more likely to be interested in complete homeworking in the future. This was the case for more than a quarter (27%) of professional staff, compared to 12% of academic staff who were less likely to be interested in complete homeworking in the future.

Staff Homeworking Experience Survey Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Report – Comparing Demographic Differences at University of Edinburgh.University of Edinburgh Homeworking EDI Report

You can read the whole thing, but here’s a taster:

Gender

  • Men were more likely to report a large negative impact of space, internet, working hours, and non-work responsibilities while working from home. They were more likely to report an overall large negative impact of home working on their work experience. Men were more likely to report low ratings for life satisfaction. They were more likely to not be interested in homeworking in the future.
  • Women were more likely to not have previous experience of home working, and were more likely to have their equipment wholly supplied by the University. They were more likely to report a large positive impact on working hours, non-work responsibilities, and other caring responsibilities while working from home. However, they were more likely to report a large negative impact on childcare while working from home. They were more likely to report a large negative impact on their research output. They were more likely to report an overall large positive impact of home working on their work experience. Women were more likely to report much more productivity than before. However, they were also more likely to report much more tiredness than before. Women were more likely to think that they are kept informed about matters affecting them, and be satisfied with the University resources in place to help them at this time. Women were more likely to report very high values on happiness, and high values for anxiety ONS measures.

what about Chris Brand?

Last evening I attended a very interesting talk by Angela Saini in conversation with Dr Shaira Vadasaria about the concept of race, from its origins to the present day.

It was an event hosted by Race.ED and was very good.

During her talk Angela mentioned Chris Brand and his time at Edinburgh, and suggested it was worth having a think about why he was here so long.  I was a student at the time. I remember Chris Brand. The anti-nazi league used to protest his lectures and security was brought in to protect him. He was fired after 27 years in 1997.

I thought I remembered that  there had been quite a long, drawn-out process to remove him, because of academic freedom. In the end, I think I remembered that it was the IT regs which brung him down, because he was writing offensive stuff on the university hosted website.

I was not 100% sure on this memory so I had a little rumage today.  According to contemporary reports, he was fired for conduct that “brought the university into disrepute” but the University had to change its statutes to do so.

“The procedures Edinburgh University used in the case of Mr Brand were new and designed to protect the interests of both the staff member and the institution. They were modified in the wake of the Education Reform Act of 1988 and subsequent 1992 Ordinance of University Commissioners, which established model statutes designed both to protect academic freedom and ensure that university disciplinary codes are sufficiently rigorous.”  THES April 1998

He sued and the university settled. The thing is, it also meant that “Statutes [were] changed to allow institutions to remove tenure, so that new staff could be fired because of financial exigency and not just good cause.”  and that, as the man himself said,  means that “Edinburgh University and any other university can sack any academic for any ****ing thing it likes at any time of the day or night.” THES April 1998

So, the work the University did in getting rid of him changed the landscape for academic freedom forever.  It would be interesting to research this in the University archives.