I was in a discussion this week about why academic colleagues are reluctant to attend formal training in the skills they need for teaching – even when there is a huge change in teaching and a bunch of new skillls needed. I do worry that some people would rather struggle with a technology tool for hours, or days and weeks rather than even try taking the training course.
I was told that the courses don’t cover the kind of teaching they do.
I was a bit pleased with myself for saying ‘ I think it is more Dunning-Kruger than Munn and Dunning’ but afterwards I did have to check that Munn and Dunning was what I thought it was. The Dunning–Kruger effect leads people with low ability at a task to overestimate their ability.
I have lots of data about who attends our learning technology training courses. In some parts of the university the numbers are really very low. It might be that people are very teaching tech savvy. It might be that the the tools are simple and easy to use. It might.
Reading about Munn and Dunning reminded me to make a wikipedia page for Pamela Munn.
I also added pictures of vigil candles to wikimedia commons image collections.
The wikipedia editors have reviewed my articles, and for that I thank them. But some of them are quite short ( the articles, not the editors) so if you have more info, please feel free to expand and add it in.
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.
One of the striking findings in my research was that there was a mismatch between the answers from the ‘digital leaders’ and the answers from the ‘HR professionals’. Everyone thought there definately were risks, but the HR professional thought there were none. If this is true more widely it would go some way to explain why HR professionals are surprised not to be able to get senior managers involved in championing issues. They have not considered the risks to us in doing so.
“In order to further understand the factors which may act as contextual cues for digital leaders in their decisions to champion equality and diversity in the workplace participants were asked to what extent they feel there may be associated risks for those who do take on champion roles. In the interviews participants were making sense of their context and reflecting on how they have seen what has happened in their own experience and those around them.
‘Critical sense making’ describes the ways in which individuals make sense of their own local environments while acknowledging power relations in the broader societal context (Mills, 2010). Part of sense-making is judging the level of risk which might follow specific course of action in your context (Weick, 1995).
Individuals make judgements to appraise threats and risks as part of their own decision making. These judgments are based on perceived or real risks and these risks are plausible because they resonate closely with one’s own experience, or the known experience of others nearby. In their previous answers respondents had clearly identified a range of business drivers which exist in their organisations. They had also identified a number of cultural and organisational elements, which they understood as creating a climate in which equality, and diversity was supported by organisational policy.
Participants all appeared to agree with a general perception that equality and diversity issues were larger than the individual, and understood the role of workplace culture in which dignity, respect and fair pay is valued. Given these findings it might be expected that they would perceive championing these issues as relatively low risk.
All respondents but one however, were adamant there were associated risks for some people in getting involved with equality and diversity issues in the workplace. The response that there was no perceived risk, or that there should be no risk, came from the interviewee who is the senior HR professional. This mis-match in expectation was analysed further and respondents answers were analysed to identify themes around risk. These include: risks to oneself (personal risks of image, reputation, how one might be perceived by others personally), professional risks (how one might risk or lose effectiveness in a professional role), risks to the business, and risks to the wider endeavour of equality itself. The prominence of the discussion of risk in the data makes it worth discussing these findings in detail.”
I have continued to test this finding informally with further groups. I have been lucky to be able to get gigs doing CPD workshops and conference workshops in February and March.
The first one I did was for senior IT professionals in FE and HE. I asked the question ‘Do you think there are risks associated for some people in championing equality and diversity issues in the workplace’? I asked for responses in chat : Yes, no, maybe, not sure, some ….. etc
Not everyone chose to answer obviously, but
Yes: Maybe was 3:1 No noes.
I asked the same question again in a session at the Advance HE conference. The session was recorded so I plan to look at the chat if it was recorded too, but this was a group of HR professionals and I saw at least one ‘No, not any more’
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.
For #IWD2021 Eleanor Ormerod, after whom we named University of Edinburgh Research Computing Cloud. First woman to be a Fellow of the Meteorological Society and first woman to be given an honorary doctorate by University of Edinburgh. pic.twitter.com/TGNiUNwcpi
Please make sure that all your friends, family, colleagues and student groups know how to keep themselves safe online.
The Digital Skills and Training team offers a range of resources designed to help students and staff stay safe while meeting with others and hosting events online. Our Staying Safe While Learning and Teaching Onlinepage in our Digital Safety and Citizenship web hub provides safety tips on avoiding zoom-bombing and video conference etiquette suggestions. We also run a variety of webinars on best practice when using online meeting tools, including Introduction to Zoom video conferencing, which covers important security steps and features that help minimise the potential for disruption. Our Digital Safety and Citizenship for Students webinar (also open to staff) also provides general information on how to stay safe while engaging with others online. Additionally, the Information Services Zoom guidance includes important information on security, data protection and privacy that staff and students should take into consideration when using Zoom.
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.
This year I have invited my teams to a virtual Burns night on Monday.
‘Please bring your favourite poem/ song/dance by Burns or any of his contemporaries or similar Scottish music. Burns was prolific and one of the joys of his work is that you can find a poem or a view from him on just about anything. If you can find his view on Brexit ‘While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things’, COVID ‘Tae a virus’ , lockdown ‘Here’s friends locked doon on baith sides o’ the firth’, working from home, social distancing ‘Gin a body meet a body, catching Covid, Aye?’, face coverings ‘Fair fa’ your honest, covered face…’, well-being, hobbies, black lives, sourdough, furlough, home-schooling ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’, Teams ‘To see oursels as others see us!’ or elearning you’ll win a fab prize.’
Haggis is just haggis, a smile is just a smile.
Our virtual Burns Night featured beautiful music performances from Lauren (Wild Mountainside) and Lorraine ( The Silver Tassie), and the suggestion that we all upload pictures of our haggis dinners to Wikipedia.
During the evening a number of lost Burns manuscripts were given their first public performance. A selection is curated below:
When chapman billies leave the street And drouthy neebors video meet As Waitrose delivery is running late An’ folk begin to accept their fate; While we sat boozing at the telly And getting fou and awfy smelly We think na on the lang Scots miles. The fit bit steps we tracked with smiles That lie between us and our hame Whare sits our sulky sullen dame Gathering her brows like gathering storm Nursing her Deliveroo to keep it warm.
So, Shall Distance
This tale o’ truth I shall read, woman and mother’s son take heed; Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d, Or social joys run in your mind, Think! ye may buy joys for now But wi’ mair pox horrible and awfu’, Three lawyers says it is unlawfu’.
We think na on the lang Scots miles, The mosses, waters, slaps, and styles, That lie between us and our hame in argyle house, Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet, To think how many counsels sweet, How many lengthen’d, sage advices, The workers wish the boss, consise is.
That dreary hour she opens Teams in; On such a night she was online in. The storm without might rair and rustle, Karen did na mind the storm a whistle. Till first ae system, syne anither, Gave up working a’ thegither, And roars out, “Media Hopper doesnae work!” And in an instant all was dark: And scarcely had she Liam rallied, When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke, When plundering herds assail their byke; As eager runs the market-crowd, When “Catch the thief!” resounds aloud; So Karen runs, the witches follow, Wi’ mony an eldritch skriech and hollo.
To LISC Ah, Karen thou’ll get thy fairin’! In ITC they’ll roast thee like a herrin’! And KSC awaits thy commin’!
The Cotter’s Night Locked In
O Scotia! my dear, my native soil! For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent, Long may thy hardy staff of IT toil Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet open content! And O! may Heaven their simple lives prevent From covid’s contagion, weak and vile! Then howe’er crowns and coronets be rent, A virtuous populace may rise the while, And stand a wall of fire around their much-lov’d isle.
The judge reminded us that this is one of the most important things you can do as part of civic society and I can add that it is also a huge credit to the Scottish Courts system that they have managed to digitally transform their operations in this way.
‘These facilities have been specifically designed to provide a safe environment for jurors during the pandemic – and support the administration of justice in relation to the most serious criminal cases.’
I was really impressed with how well organised it was, how safe I felt covid-wise and how immersive and intense the experience was despite the distance. I might even suggest that since the cinema business may never recover from this pandemic, this set up might be the way forward for jury trials of the future. The prospect of being crowded in with 14 other people cheek by jowl in a jury box for a week really does not appeal. The technology and the space afforded by the multiplex made it possible to concentrate fully on the content and conduct of the trial.
We each had an individual camera so they could see us, but there is no 2-way audio link between the jury and the court. That is, they can speak to us and see us, and we can see them, but we cannot speak to the court ( except via our jury wrangler and clerk of court) .
If you get called you should definitely do it if you can.