Tag: research

intersecting sectors

‘Intersecting sectors’ slide made in powerpoint by me for a research presentation . No rights reserved by me.

If one were going to try to evaluate the success of a diversity programme at work ECU have published a handy guide to methods you might use to monitor and evaluate impact .  We work in a space which is shaped by characteristics and  drivers of overlapping sectors.  The HE sector has its own diversity, nature and drivers; the sector of digital employers in Scotland has significant growth of its own and a different focus as regards ‘bottom line’.

The size of the digital sector is growing, the size of the university sector is growing, universities (indeed, all organisations) are becoming more digital. Competition for best employees is increasing. The IT sector is under some pressure to be more diverse, but that is difficult to link to a bottom line. Some employers have diversity programmes, and there are awards to celebrate that. Diversity programmes are notoriously hard to implement and evaluate and there needs to be a strong force to make a shift happen. Perhaps the rising competition for visible fairness and diversity will be that moment of overlap for the sectors.

Within the IT industry there is a significant gender split. According to BCS there were 1.18m IT specialists working in the UK in 2014, of which only 17% were women. This compares with a figure of 47% for the workforce as a whole (BCS, 2015) and that level has been fairly stable for ten years. Women represent 10 per cent of IT directors (Shankland, 2016).

University of Edinburgh headcount of professional staff by job segment and gender, 2016/17

Universites do collect gender information about staff working in IT roles, and we know what it is for University of Edinburgh, so presumably the other universities know their numbers too. I note that although BSC women produce some numbers for the national sector, ScotlandIS give no gender information in their reports. They refer only to categories of staff as graduates, contractors etc.

If you were wondering how big these sectors are and how much they are growing, here’s what I’ve found:

Significant amounts of public money are spent on higher education. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reports that there are 162 higher education institutions in the UK in 2017. In academic year 2016–17 there were circa 207,000 academic colleagues employed. There were also circa 212,000 non-academic staff (UniversitiesUK, 2018). Non-academic staff numbers include a variety of professional and technical staff who provide services, support and management to the institutions. The total operating expenditure for the sector in 2017 was £33 billion and Universities UK (UUK) report that of that £3 billion was spent on IT, museums and libraries (UniversitiesUK, 2018).

The ‘IT, Museums and Libraries’ sector within HE is in itself diverse in size, shape and investment. In some universities those services are combined or consolidated in one large group within the organisation, in others the libraries and museums are managed separately from IT, and from each other. In some institutions IT is largely centralised, in others any central services may be supplemented by locally based IT staff in academic departments and colleges. UCISA, an industry membership body for HE IT, report that UK universities currently invest some £1.3billion in their technology infrastructure every year.(UCISA, 2018) UUK report that in 2014 universities spent £630 million running 390 libraries (UniversitiesUK, 2016).

The Scottish higher education sector is part of the wider sector in the UK, with some distinct funding sources. There are 19 universities in Scotland and Scotland has 4 research intensive universities which achieve consistently high world rankings. The Scottish Government provided £1.1 billion to universities in 2014/15, and approximately £623 million for university student finance support. (AuditScotland, 2016)

Across the UK in 2015-16 the income for the sector was £34.7 billion and the universities generated £95 billion in gross output for the economy. The sector contributes 1.2 % of UK GDP and supported more than 940,000 UK jobs.(UniversitiesUK, 2018). In Scotland in 2014/15. Universities had an income of £3.5 billion, and was growing rapidly. The sector in Scotland generated a surplus of £146 million in 2014/15 and overall reserves stood at £2.5 billion. (AuditScotland, 2016)  Universities Scotland calculated that the Scottish higher education sector supported 144,549 jobs and contributed an estimated £7.2 billion to the Scottish Economy in 2013/14, only the energy, financial and business services sectors made a larger contribution.(AuditScotland, 2016)

Scotland’s digital sector contributed £4.45 billion to gross value added in 2014. Employment in the digital sector was 64,100 in 2015.Total digital sector exports were £4.24 billion in 2015 (Scottish_Government, 2017). In 2018 the sector is growing and optimistic (BBC, 5 April 2018; BBCNews, 2018) and firms continue to plan to recruit more staff (ScotlandIS, 2018). Demand for graduate recruitment is growing with 72% of digital employers expecting to recruit graduates in 2017. As business grows demand for experienced staff also increases (ScotlandIS, 2017) Companies predict that they will recruit most of their new staff (73%) from the Scottish market.(ScotlandIS, 2017).

Recruitment and retention of good IT staff  for universities in Scotland is likely to get even more  competitive in the next few years. Best get ready.

If you have other reports etc which might help me to find out how diverse the UK HE IT community is, please do let me know.  Thank you.

AuditScotland. (2016). Audit of higher education in Scottish universities. from http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/uploads/docs/report/2016/nr_160707_higher_education.pdf
BBC. (5 April 2018). ‘Sharp rise’ in number of Scottish tech start-ups. from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-43647584
BBCNews. (20 March 2018). Scottish digital tech firms see ‘positive’ year ahead. BBCNews. from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-43457740
BCS. (2015). THE WOMEN IN IT SCORECARD : A definitive up-to-date evidence base for data and commentary on women in IT employment and education from https://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/women-scorecard-2015.pdf
ECU. (2018). Monitoring and evaluating impact. from https://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/monitoring-evaluating-impact/
ScotlandIS. (2017). Scottish Technology Industry Survey 2017. from https://www.scotlandis.com/media/4933/scottish-tech-industry-survey-2017.pdf
ScotlandIS. (2018). Scottish Technology Industry Survey 2018. from https://www.scotlandis.com/resources/scottish-technology-industry-survey/
Scottish_Government. (2017). Realising Scotland’s Full Potential in a Digital World: A Digital Strategy for Scotland: The Scottish Government, March 2017.
UCISA. (2018). UCISA Strategic Plan 2018-22: Connecting and Collaborating for Success.
UniversitiesUK. (2018). Higher education in numbers . Retrieved Higher education in numbers . (2018). Universitiesuk.ac.uk. Retrieved 16 June 2018, from https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/facts-and-stats/Pages/higher-education-data.aspx

TEL evidence to persuade

SearchersPoster-BillGold
The Searchers. Bill Gold [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am often asked by academic colleagues to provide an evidence base for TEL.

When colleagues ask me for evidence they hope I will find for them evidence of exactly this technology being used in exactly the way they teach at exactly the same level at a peer university. And that ideally this evidence will have been published with peer review. And that it will be entirely free from bias.

One thing about academics is they all come from difference research backgrounds, different research paradigms and use different research methods. So what they consider to be evidence strong enough for making decisions upon can be very varied.

Another thing about academics is that they may not know much about each others research methods – because they mostly spend time writing, researching, conferencing and publishing within their own discipline.

I am always being told that academics spend more time in their discipline networks, than in their university, so I do  think they might be better placed to discover the practice of their peers than I.

University of Edinburgh established a number of TEL chairs to improve the quality of teaching in the disciplines but it sometimes feels like other colleagues deliberately do not engage with the development of teaching in their own disciplines.  I’m not sure why.

I used to teach on the PGcert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at University of Leeds and we always organised a session in which colleagues went around the room just describing how they do research. I think it was eye-opening for all.

We asked them ‘how do you do research? Some do experiments, some do clinical trials, some do text mining, some do field trips, some do focus groups and ethnographic studies some, do qualitative others do quantitative. Some do practical, some do theoretical. Some are empirical, some not so much. Some wrangle big data live, some seek metaphysical interpretation and engage in hundreds of hours of reading.  Doing research in History is quite different from doing research in Chemistry. Even evidence-based medicine and  evidence-based practice are not the same. Very few academics outside of Education departments do research in Education.

It is also true that learning technologists are drawn from many discpline backgrounds. Some of us have studied Education, some Computing, some Philosophy, some Medicine, some Geography, some Copyright Law. We will tend to use the research methods with which we are most familiar.

For most early career academic there’s no reward for researching TEL. They are unlikely to  want to spend time on that task.  They may be happy to contribute to a quick case study. Even then, case studies tend to be based on cohorts and every teacher will tell you that cohorts can be markedly difference for many reasons. There really is very little higher education educational research that is generalisable. A colleague who doesn’t trust your methodology will never trust your findings.

Where colleagues do engage with PGcert Learning and Teaching courses, those courses sometimes aim to do the action research on situated practice. Some of this will be about using technology in teaching. For many of the participants this will be the first time doing education research and they are doing it at a beginners Masters level. They will tend to want to use the research methods of their own discipline. So although the case studies exist, they may still fail to persuade each other. The PGcertLTHE community of academic developers do little to gather these case studies together as an evidence base for all. They lock them away on internal wikis  with no intention to share openly.

I miss the HEA subject centres.

At Edinburgh I offer hard cash to colleagues to research their own practice. There’s a special emphasis on online learning and lecture recording this year.

what would an evidence base really TEL?

Trinity College Dublin, Jedi Archive. Picture taken by me. No rights reserved by me.

The thing about working in universities, is you have to be very careful about language. I am very lucky to work at University of Edinburgh. Previously I worked at University of Oxford. In both those places I learned that colleagues will, quite rightly, question you and push you to be clear. And so they should.

At Edinburgh I work alongside a group of digital education researchers who have published their thoughts about technology enhanced learning.  It’s a good read. I would encourage you to take a look.

According to Sian, the problem is the words: technology, enhanced and learning.

When we talk about technology in universities we tend to assume we know what we mean by TEL- that there is a shared understanding of the phrase. I’m not sure there is or should be.

Technology could be a range of things, not just computers, not just online,  there might be all kinds of technologies we should investigate which might enhance learning. We should think of performance-enhancing study  drugs and quantified-self technologies which might be used by students to enhance their revision timetable or maximise their studying stamina.

For TEL evidence-based research we seem to focus only on quite a small set of technologies- most of which are not particularly new- and are mostly fairly unremarkable even invisible, to students- websites, handouts, lecture recordings, tests, wikis, blogs. These days these are hard to distinguish from everyday content for most students who routinely read online, watch online and chat online. Do we show our age when we refer to these as innovation?

And then there’s the word ‘enhanced’. Enhanced is not the same as support, or change or disrupt, or transform- all of which might be worth exploring. Enhanced implies that learning is a thing well understood the way it is and that the only thing worth doing with technology is a bit more of that, but with some tweaked enhancement.   If we approach it like that we find studies which show no significant difference, or not much and no moves forward are made. And it’s hard to justify investment.

And learning?  Do we really mean learning, or is it the teaching that’s to be changed or the education? Or the accessibility, or the discoverability, or the administration?

It does strike me that in this country we have made make a rod for our own backs. TEL and VLE are both very UK specific terms. In other countries Balckboard, Moodle et al are  LMS- Learning Management Systems. ‘Virtual Learning Enviroment’ promises a lot.  It sounds like a platform for virtual worlds and immersive environments and beautifully designed, challenging games.

You know your VLE is never going to deliver that. It won’t even compare to the kind of impressive learning environment offered by a splendid library but because of the name, we seek to find the affordances and cognitive gains instead of just admiring the rather elegant ways it manages groups, integrates with the timetabling system and works on a mobile phone.

Sometimes I wonder in whose interest it is for our tech experts to be tamed, domesticated and confined to a term like ‘TEL’? But I suspect we did this to ourselves. We called them VLEs * to convince our senior budget holders to invest and now we beat on, like boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past, searching endlessly for the evidence.

* I blame Aggie. He started it.

 

a cloud named eleanor

Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901).jpg
By Eleanor Anne Ormerod – Eleanor Anne Ormerod, Public Domain, Link

It’s always fun to name new services after goddesses.

Eleanor Anne Ormerod, was the first woman Fellow of the Meteorological Society and first woman to be given an honorary doctorate by University of Edinburgh. During the conferral of an LL.D. degree from the University, she was described as the “as the protectress of agriculture and the fruits of the earth, a beneficent Demeter of the nineteenth century.” Her portrait is in Old College.

We’ve named our new research cloud computing service after her.

Information Services Group has created a comprehensive cloud computing service, able to support flexible provisioning of infrastructure.  Based on OpenStack, it is an ‘Infrastructure as a Service Cloud’ for carrying out computational and digital research. We provide free and funded tiers.

Once registered, you can access the interface at eleanor.cloud.ed.ac.uk

european community engagement

Me at ScotlandEuropa
Me at ScotlandEuropa

I spoke in Brussels this week about University of Edinburgh’s leading role in developing and delivering innovation in higher education. The LERU league of European research institutions is an unashamedly closed club of 21, but occasionally they have open-ish meetings and this one was packed, so it was an interesting and interactive session. This particular meeting was at Scotland House, so I felt like I was representing up.

The meeting was focussed around the briefing paper which was written while I was working at Oxford, so it was fun to respond to it on behalf of Edinburgh now that I work here.

I spoke mostly about the unique positions held by the research institutions in engagement with their communities near and far and about the channels for translating research with social relevance.

Earlier in the meeting there had been much conservative concern and warnings (from those not doing MOOCs) that doing MOOCs was not worthwhile. The presentations from Leiden and Edinburgh about our MOOC success and mission relevance perked everyone up again.

I spoke about how involvement in the emerging area of MOOCs is inline with our three- part core mission: teaching, research and innovation. Our teaching in our MOOCs is strongly influenced by research we do about our MOOCs, is innovative, and the platforms we work with are informed by knowledge transfer in educational technology development.

We are motivated to inspire the citizens and leaders of tomorrow to be curious, driven, responsible and capable of academic thinking. I spoke about the U21 Critical Thinking in Global Challenges shared online course (SOC) which builds upon and runs parallel to, our MOOC of the same name. We are taking the opportunity to strategically extend our online learning opportunities to learners or co-enquirers outside our university. Universitas 21 also has 21 members, and some of them are the same as the LERU 21 members, but many are not. Nice to see colleagues from Amsterdam and Lund.

I talked about how we strategically work collaboratively with other institutions, and with commercial partners in the delivery of online learning. I mentioned our increasing strategic closeness with SRUC and their contributions to our growing stable (or barnyard) of horse, animal and chicken MOOCs*.  I mentioned our partnership work with national museums, the Scottish Government and the Edinburgh Festivals.

What struck me though, was that the hype is fading around MOOCs and the idea that this is going to transform the business of higher education  by opening it up to all has passed. It increasingly becomes attractive to those big brands who are getting the strategic benefit of these international platforms to  discourage other from getting into the same space.  Colleagues from Leiden agreed.

Doing MOOCs well is very difficult and very expensive. Unless you have excellent teams, which we do, it won’t be a success.

In fact, if you work at any of the other LERU institutions you should certainly heed all the advice in the LERU paper and not rush into it.

 

*Leiden have chosen Sharia law and international terrorism as their MOOC topics. That makes ours look actually rather tame.