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.
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.
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.
I am sometimes surprised by how passionately academic colleagues will demand to be ‘allowed’ to teach using Teams when for many years they have insisted that only tools designed for educational use were suitable for their pedagogy.
Microsoft sell a lot of software to universities and I am sure they are keen for us to use it in all kinds of ways, a lot.
When the university is considering the future of work and colleagues lobby to stay at home, it is worth getting up to speed on the surveillance tools in business software and reading the fine print of your contract carefully.