Tag: trust

withdrawing the invisible glue?

The Hive, by Graham Sutherland. I don’t have copyright of the picture, but I do own this print at home and this picture is taken by me.

I appreciate being invited to sign the open letter that the University of Edinburgh professors are sending to the Principal. The UCU and USS are not exclusive to lecturers.  I also appreciate the effort my local UCU leadership made in talking with me about lecture recording policy in the run up to this industrial action. I also appreciate the support of my good friends who work in and around NUS Scotland who give me sage advice as I try to navigate the journey of being senior management and union member.

There’s an article in the THES today ‘USS strike: why aren’t more administrative staff on picket lines?’  It’s a good question. The article says some nice things about us like:

‘Academic-related, professional, technical and support staff are the invisible glue holding a university together and providing essential services to maintain the day-to-day running of complex institutions.’ and ‘While we all collectively work towards excellence in teaching and research, it can sometimes feel like a thankless task. Too often, administrators are blamed when things go wrong but are rarely praised when things go well. And too often they are overlooked in conversations that directly affect them.’

It suggests that there is a conversation UCU need to be having.  I think there are other conversations to be had more generally. There are conversations to be had between academic and academic-related staff, and there are conversations academic-related staff need to be having with each other*.

As a woman who has spent her entire career offering technology to lecturers who are then very rude about it, and setting her face to look interested as yet another colleague explains to her about the panopticon, I am quite looking forward to having a decent pension.

I do my best to keep relations good. I always encourage my staff to refer to ‘academic colleagues’ rather than ‘the academics’. I remind them about the fact that we all come from different discipline backgrounds, and to be aware that the kind of evidence which will persuade in one group will not in another. We talk about things you can count and things you cannot and the value of counting. I also try to discourage lazy stereotypes like ‘digital natives, ‘digital immigrants’, ‘luddites’ and ‘CAVEs’.

There are also conversations to be had about the different kinds of impact withdrawal of labour can have. Sometimes support staff withdrawing their labour will seem invisible.  I have a suspicion that if a large IT system goes down and no-one is there to pick it up the impact would be obvious.

“Are you even allowed to strike?” a colleague asked me last week.  It’s an interesting topic to discuss; the very different attitudes to being managed in the university. The lecture recording policy consultation has drawn out some fascinating stuff about informing, asking permission, agreeing, trust, ownership, rights etc from academic colleagues. It was instructive to hear some speak about their lack of trust with students, their managers and each other.

Management in the support groups is clearly different, as is the attitude to providing services**.

Do staff in support groups know/ want/ feel able to strike? Are we just as racked with guilt as lecturers who would rather be lecturing? Do we know what ‘action short of a strike’ means in our roles? all the guidance seems to the about marking and meetings. To what extent does the action itself rely on the university email for communication? To what extent should learning technology be used to mitigate a strike and how much should we help with that? Will academic colleagues stand with us if we refuse to? How many of our university systems have just one person as the single point of failure? and is that person ‘allowed’ to strike?’ Should teams cover for colleagues who strike? How rude will academic colleagues be if we are not there to fix the thing they are using, or using to work from home? These seem to me the kind of conversations we need to be having as IT professionals, and it would be great to have UCU in the room to advise.



*While I’m on the topic, I think support staff need to be discussed in a more nuanced way. I was reading our Athena Swan stuff and it seems like because there are generally more women than men in the support groups everything is fine. Until you look at the STEM bits of the support groups, like IT for instance!  ‘IT guys’ seems to be a stereotype the university is happy to perpetuate. Also, the promotions structures for academic -related staff are quite different from academic staff, and we don’t have the option to do consultancy work on the side. For academics apparently that’s a ‘nice little earner’.  I’d argue that perhaps the support staff are proportionally more ‘local’, are we a group being considered as beneficiaries of the City Deal investment? How many of us are in jobs which will be replaced by robots, and will those be robots we built ourselves?  And, you know there are going to be intersections of class, age, race, gender and academic snobbery to consider…….

** ‘you provide services and are thus a servant‘, someone once told me. I think you can guess at which institution that was.





strike that

Strike that from Waddington’s Lexicon, ‘The Wonder Game’.

Sometimes, people look to me for advice and wisdom.

My advice today, to anyone who works in a role similar to mine is:  try to avoid being in an institution-wide consultation about an opt-out lecture recording policy at  a time of national industrial action.


We are consulting on a draft new policy at Edinburgh. It’s a good policy. It’s better than previous policies and it’s been developed over many months with input from across the University.

I am a strong believer that if you are a member of a union you should remain a member of that union even when you become senior management. The reason for this is that I believe you get better decision making when there is diversity around the board table, and union members are part of that diversity of thinking. Having some managers in the room who are union members means you get better management which is more inclusive and considerate of a range of staff views. The hope, is that with this better-informed thinking, comes fewer staff-management stand-offs.


Because of this, I have ensured that the campus unions have been part of the policy consultation since the start. A UCU rep has been part of our task group.
What  have learned:


‘We can just use recorded lectures‘ is the knee-jerk go-to response of university management when threatened by an academic walk-out, but that really isn’t what this is all about. The University believes that having more lectures recorded and offering a consistent staff and student experience around that service, benefits us all in the longer term. That is why they have invested.
For colleagues at Edinburgh University, please let me assure you: The new policy is predicated on the idea that we are all in this together.


The new policy clearly states the essential purpose and aims to address a number of concerns.   In the Policy Point 1. The statement of the “essential purpose” in the policy is to reassure lecturers that the intention of the service is the provision of recordings for students to review, and that this is limited to the students on the Course for which the lecture is delivered i.e. those who were entitled and expected to be present at the original lecture.


In 1.5 it clearly states that to use the lecture for business continuity , such as a volcanic eruption leaving everyone in the wrong place around the world*, or loss of a major teaching building, or absence of a major teaching person,  the university can use the recording ‘if the lecturer and other participants agree, and as specified within business continuity plans relevant to the School. ‘   People on strike would presumably not agree.   That is the reassurance we have been giving colleagues.


Policy wording below.


Essential purpose
The essential purpose referred to within this policy is to allow the students undertaking a taught Course to review recordings of lectures given as part of that Course.  The policy also permits a lecturer to re-use recordings of their lectures for other relevant and appropriate purposes, if all the participants in the recording agree to this.


Use of recordings
1      The University will provide recordings of lectures to students on taught Courses, where possible, to aid their learning through review and reflection.  These recordings are not, other than in very exceptional circumstances, a replacement for lecture attendance or other contact hours.


1.1             The Lecture Recording Policy Privacy Statement details how the University will use and share personal data in relation to the lecture recording service.


1.2             Recording of sensitive personal data as defined in current legislation[1] shall not take place without the explicit written consent of the person(s) to whom the data relate.


1.3             The University will provide lecture recordings to students on the Course(s) to which the lecture relates.  By default, it will also provide access to the staff associated with the Course(s) in the Virtual Learning Environment.  The lecturer may restrict staff access to a recording further if required.

1.4             The University encourages teaching innovation, sharing and re-use of recorded lectures where relevant and appropriate.  A lecturer may publish a recording of their lecture as an open educational resource, with appropriate modifications and safeguards, including an appropriate attribution, licence and having obtained any permissions required from other participants or third parties whose intellectual property resides within the recording.  Guidance on this is contained within the Open Educational Resources Policy and Website Accessibility Policy.  Staff and students may otherwise only publish or share restricted-access lecture recordings with the permission of the School that owns the Course and of the lecturer and any other participants in the recording.


1.5             A School may use a past recording held within the lecture recording service in exceptional situations to provide continuity, if the lecturer and other participants agree, and as specified within business continuity plans relevant to the School.


1.6             The recordings and any associated metadata will not be used by the University for staff performance review or disciplinary processes except in the case of alleged gross misconduct.  A lecturer may however choose to use recordings of their own lectures for these purposes or to allow peer observation of their teaching.


1.7             Learning Analytics from the lecture recording service may be used in accordance with the Learning Analytics policy.


* I was first convinced of the value of lecture recording ( and video conferencing) when that Icelandic volcano stranded the staff and students of my university all around the world. There were no flights in and out of Europe and, as an international research institution, we were all widely scattered. The impact on teaching, and the research activities and conferences for those few weeks was considerable.

TEL evidence to persuade

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.