Elements of a TEL strategy pt 3

So we’re now down to the final five.

11. Provide blended and online learning options

When I was doing the mapping between the Jisc NUS tool and the Brookes TEL framework, I linked two principles, from the tool: “Provide online and blended options where they offer genuine enhancements” and from the framework “Learning, teaching and assessment at Oxford Brookes enables all students to reach their potential and does not disadvantage any groups of students.”

This might seem like a bit of a fudge, but actually when you unpack the two principles, there’s a lot of coherence.

A strategy needs to enable students to overcome the access issue, access not in the sense of making all content of use to students when they’ve got to it (i.e. screenreadable for visually impaired students, captioned for deaf students, and so on) but access in the sense of enabling all students to get to it in the first place. With constraints of geography and time, not all students can engage with all aspects of face-to-face teaching, so providing an online version of all the teaching, so that students can mix and match as they need to, reduces this disadvantage. As with the other sort of accessibility, though, what supports the most disadvantaged students actually helps all students. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that because online content reduces this access barrier, it always offers genuine enhancements.

12. Digital identity and well-being

Identity leads of from the concept of citizenship and community, but is fundamental to the online experience. Knowing who we are when we’re online is informed by what we understand of digital citizenship, and most social theories go into some depth about how community roles and identity complement each other. Supporting students to develop an identity as a learner helps them with their learning, supporting them to develop an online identity helps them with their online learning, and stands them in good stead for life after university.

Digital wellbeing might be a new one for most people, but it makes sense that we also need to work out how to encourage students to take care of themselves online, and the Jisc NUS benchmarking tool also lists knowing when to switch off amongst its student experiences. I summarised digital wellbeing in one seminar as everything from cyberbullying to lumbar support. The latter particularly weighing on my mind at the moment as I’m typing this standing up through not paying enough attention to my posture while sitting for too long.

 13. Virtualisable transformative learning spaces

The Brookes strategy has a line in it which says “The University will continue to develop and exploit the potential of digital and physical learning spaces, and will encourage and support staff and students in partnership to find different ways of using these spaces effectively and creatively.” As I mentioned in a previous post, in parallel to this work, I was also working with a group of academics who were interested in benchmarking these spaces. People contributed ideas (specifically Kathrine Jensen, Liz Falconer and Andrew Middleton – let me know if I’ve missed anyone out) and then Richard Francis and I organised them into a whole.

What we ended up with was a matrix in which each row followed a constant theme, and not only that, each one actually fitted in with one of the other principles of the matrix. We could have added these to the separate principles, but the response we got from the other people we showed an early stage of the matrix to was that they would find it more useful if it was kept in the format of the Jisc NUS tool. In the hope that if we made it useful for them, they would be more likely to contribute content, we went along with this, and just added this as a 13th principle.

Linked Good Practice Principle  First steps  Developing  Developed  Outstanding
7 – Support students to use their own devices for learning (Bring Your Own or BYO) Classroom activities that include use of personal mobile devices for individual use. Classroom activities that include use of personal mobile devices for collaborative activities. Group work spaces, flexible furniture and shared plug-and-play screens in classrooms. Use of augmented reality approaches in co-creation and collaboration.
8 – Provide a robust, flexible digital infrastructure Classroom and meeting environments for cross-site meetings.
Develop and maintain experimental teaching spaces
Classroom environments for satellite classrooms, online DL, conferences, symposia etc.Experimental teaching spaces available to all staff. Fully integrated participation of co-located and distanced participation in class activities. Fully integrated participation of co-located, remote and virtual participation in class activities.
9 – Communicate with students about their digital experience Convene a learning spaces development team to ensure joined up approach. Extra-curricular spaces and networks established / encouraged.
10 – Use digital systems to build a sense of belonging Performance art, e.g. drama performances, fashion shows, craft exhibitions. Students’ interaction / dissemination to professional / educational networks Students developing and sharing their work in open online spaces, using appropriate open licenses, tagging and engaging with relevant communities outside the university (e.g professional, arts, etc.).
11 – Provide online and blended options where they offer genuine enhancements Field trips to physical and virtual spaces.Guest visits to classrooms through remote access. 3D virtual space replication of physical space activities.

Augmenting of physical environments with virtual attributes, eg.data visualisation etc.

Practice-based activities in virtual and remote environments such as law courts, forensic examinations, psychology counselling, laboratory work. Integration of virtual and physical spaces, via augmented reality technologies.

14. Assessment

Assessment is covered in the Jisc NUS tool but is separated across the other principles. In the DC matrix we just link to a search on the term. The Brookes strategy however, adds assessment as a separate principle.

I think assessment affects TEL in two ways. One is that it offers a lot more flexibility and robustness to assessing the usual stuff. You can use online submission – which is more admin than TEL, but it does enhance the student experience to be able to just send an assignment in by clicking a button, rather than print it out, stick it in a folder and travel somewhere to stick it in a box. Particularly if you’re doing this at 11.59 p.m.  And then GradeMark and TurnItIn and so on. You can do computer-aided assessment like multiple choice, which then means you can do formative assessment more easily, and gamify it if you’re into that sort of thing. Formative assessment is also excellent for making sure that students do the preparation if you’ve gone down the flipped classroom route. If you don’t pass the online quiz on the content, you don’t get to go to the class.

What’s maybe more interesting though is how TEL then affects what you assess. If you have online forums, to which students contribute, how do you assess the contribution? If they can submit multimedia content instead of essays (number 3 of this list), do you know how to assess them? I’ve produced a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B036xtd0d_4 summarising these. I produced it for the Teaching Online Open Course that I’m a tutor on at Brookes. For Brookes. I was actually on the top floor of the Hyatt in Kathmandu when I did it, you might be able to hear the altitude in my narration. I know … Grant Morrison has a transcendental epiphany involving rippling, dribbling blobs of pure holographic meta-materials, angels or extraterrestrialswhile in Kathmandu, which led him to write The Invisibles, and I create a video on online assessment …

 0. Staff development

Also not included in the original Jisc NUS tool (because it’s not directly related to the student experience) but is in the Brookes TEL strategy is the principle of staff development. The Brookes strategy states “All staff who support learning participate annually in collective professional development to ensure that their practice is evidence-based, informed by the scholarship of learning and teaching, and employs up-to-date learning tools and technologies.”. As the starting point for putting the Digital Choices matrix together was to come up with a staff development programme for TEL, we obviously had to add something on this.

As mentioned in a previous post, the idea is that we have a zeroth principle, sitting alongside all the rest; teachers come for the ideas on improving the learning experience, but stay for ideas on how they can repurpose this for their own professional gain. We’re assuming that there may be different reasons for developing practice, they might need to boost their experience to get their HEA fellowship (or associate fellowship if they’re not directly connected to teaching), or they might want to use their teaching development as a basis for research, and to get published. Or they’ve been told to by their line manager. The professional development strand is there to support them through whatever they need.

 

So that’s what I’ve been able to glean so far from a comparison of the two frameworks. There’s some small differences, but overall most of them match. It’s interesting that independently, the same basic principles emerge, and I wonder if those themes are present in other strategies, or if there’s some that both have missed. There’s obviously some overlap between some of the principles, but overall they seem to be discrete identifiable aspects of the TEL experience at HE. So far, anyway.

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Elements of a TEL strategy pt2

I should point out that I’m doing these in the order that they’re in the Jisc NUS Digital Experience Benchmarking tool, as that would be more helpful to anyone looking at that for more detail. You’ll notice I’ve split these posts into fives, and there are twelve principles in that tool, which means there are three extra in these posts. All will be revealed in the next post.

6. Access and inclusion

In this category I mean access in the sense of enabling equity for people with disabilities, access in the sense of people being able to log on comes later. This one is a no-brainer though, and shouldn’t really need any clarification. One thing though, if you think assistive technologies are just for people with disabilities, you probably ought to take a look at the work of TechDis, or EA Draffan. Technologies that I first encountered through working with students with disabilities, actually make life more useful for everyone, or at least offer people more choice and flexibility. For example, podcasts – really picked up first by dyslexic students, and those with visual impairment, but a great source of learning. Listening to audio books on your walkman was pretty much the first instance of mobile learning. Having everything readable by screen readers for example, and making presentations available in advance, doesn’t just help the students who need it read on their devices, it helps everyone.

7. Augmenting the physical environment with technology including BYOD

As I said in the last post, some elearning strategies I’ve seen have equated “technology” with “VLE”. I think we’re getting away from that and the idea of using technology in the classroom, for people to interact with each other in different ways, and with online content is making more of an impact due to devices like the smartphone and tablet. Of course an immediate reaction to these sort of proposals is “but they don’t all have them”. I’m not sure what is the most appropriate ethical response here – do you impair all students’ learning because you can’t provide the same experience for everyone – is that better or worse than introducing a disadvantage? Although of course there’s always disadvantages between students. Not all will have the text book. Some will have a disability. Some will have a better social life so be there with a hangover. We’re just introducing one additional inequity to the prevailing mix of scores of inequities, but it gets noticed because it’s new and shiny.

8. Providing an appropriate infrastructure

Technically, maybe, not TEL, references to this aren’t in the Brookes TEL strategy for example. Providing an IT infrastructure is the role of the IT department, not the pedagogues, but the reality is that if you divorce one from the other, things aren’t going to work so well. Ideally, decisions about what to support are made for pedagogical reasons, so the supported technologies are those that lecturers need, not what the IT department think are appropriate. This isn’t necessarily the way things work out though. Being able to just rely on WiFi and the VLE being up, and having a power socket within reach when you sit down don’t just happen, but people expect them to. The problem with IT infrastructure is that when it works you don’t notice it, when it doesn’t it does. But then, that’s fair enough really. It’s the same with oxygen. The Brookes IT strategy has a great line – “Systems that just work”.

The Jisc NUS tool calls this principle “Providing a robust, flexible digital infrastructure”. I’m not sure that’s the goal really. One of the important things to do as a teacher is to innovate, and that means adopting new technologies, and often when we do so, we don’t get the support we need from the IT department, because they’re focusing on keeping the basics running. Robust and flexible are, (with limited resources) mutually exclusive. I’d like yes, most of the effort in making the basics robust, but with a bit spare for looking at the flaky flexible stuff that maybe doesn’t always work.

9. Understanding digital citizenship/rights/responsibilities

This is a bit trickier a principle to really pin down than the last one. The Jisc NUS tool labels this as “Communicate with students about their digital experience”, Brookes expresses the goal that “Students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to engage actively with feedback and assessment, and to develop their own justifiable ways of thinking about and constructing their view of the world.” When you unpack these, there’s stuff around understanding plagiarism, intellectual property and netiquette, but also where to go to for support and including digital issues in the curriculum. This also includes students engaging with their own digital support, so being polled about how effective the other 14 principles are being conducted. For Brookes I added a line to the DC matrix that “Students develop their view of the world through global digital citizenship.”. This probably needs summing up better than I’ve done here, but strategies need something in this field, understanding what it means to be a participative responsible student (initially) when online, but ultimately a citizen. This links also with the idea of digital wellbeing (number 12) and segues nicely into …

10. Creating and supporting digital communities

If 9 is a theme on supporting students’ understanding of what their role is as netizens (perhaps abstaining from painful portmanteau neologisms could be one attribute we should instil in our graduates), 10 is about enabling them to participate fully in online communities. Both the Jisc NUS tool, and the Brookes TEL Framework have this as their tenth principle, and the wording is very similar. One summarises this as “Using digital systems to build a sense of belonging”, the other says that “We will provide the digital environments and technologies that enable students easily to create and support their own groups and networks comprising Brookes students and staff and relevant groups and individuals.” Retention of students is highly dependent on the students’ feeling of inclusion, and providing the right platforms for them to communicate with each other, and with the institution, can increase this. Communities extend outside of the institution too, and creating effective links through these can enable transition to the students’ lives after graduation.

Elements of a TEL strategy pt 1

In the previous set of posts on the process by which we developed the Digital Choices Matrix at Brookes I mentioned how part of that process was mapping the Brookes Technology-Enhanced Learning Framework to the Jisc NUS Digital Experience Benchmarking Tool. The plan is that Brookes staff come to the site via the principles of the Brookes framework, and are then redirected to the appropriate bit of the tool. The DC Matrix is the Jisc NUS tool with a couple of things added. Other institutions can then adopt the Benchmarking tool as the same back-end, but similarly their front-ends would be their own TEL strategy. Or whatever.

Mapping the two though, was surprisingly easy because, although developed separately, if you’re looking at the student digital experience (which is what both the tool, and the Brookes TEL framework are based on) you are going to come up with similar things.

This post, and the several following it, are really just commentaries on that mapping process; the bits that were the same and why they were the same, and the bits that are different.very superficial oversimplifications, but I needed to reduce these down to top-level descriptors to get an overview of how everything fitted together, and found it helpful. Maybe you will too. If not just move on, there’ll be some rant about what grinds my gears along probably in a while. It’ll help to see the details too and you can see the principles in the Jisc NUS tool here repository.jisc.ac.uk/6140/1/Jisc_NUS_student_experience_benchmarking_tool.pdf

  1. Preparing students for study

This is the first principle in both frameworks. These are generic skills that students need to have throughout their lives, but also particularly while they are studying. This is partly about accessing information, but also about being able to build up the networks that will be useful in engaging with communities, both of their peers and external organisations. Both strategies note that this process starts before induction because ideally you want the students to know who the other people are on their course before they start. Social media is very effective for this.

2. Providing the skills they need for their course

This is the second principle in both frameworks. This overlaps a lot with the first, but is mainly about making sure students have access to, and training in, the specific programs and equipment they need for their subject discipline. A note on IT strategies in general. I’ve been asked to look at a few, and about half make the same mistake, of equating TEL with online, or even worse, with VLE. Technology has a hugely wider range than that, and most of the interesting stuff is actually what happens in the classroom when you add technology.

3. Using technology to bring new experiences to courses

This isn’t about making helping students with technology that they already know or need to know. This strand is about making more multimedia content available, representing material in ways that makes it more accessible, or understandable, to students, or more interesting and engaging. Enabling students to create multimedia content during their course (irrespective of what their subject discipline is) also makes it more engaging than just more text again, although is a lot more work. When I was teaching physics, a simple flash animation of magnetic flux cutting an induction loop would have saved me hours of trying to explain something from just drawings. But it wasn’t around then. When I taught theatre studies using Second Life, being able to take students on field trips around the theatres they were studying, or staging Shakespeare on an actual (well virtual) Globe made the subject come alive in new ways.

4. Prepare students for the digital workplace

I’ve worked a lot recently with online collaboration as an educational process (I have a book coming out on it early next year) and students see the skills that are acquired through working in remote teams, for example, as being enormously useful. It’s a huge motivator. Unless they’ve actually come from industry in which case they see it as completely irrelevant. However, we’re teaching for how things will be, not how they are, and all the signs point to remote working and collaboration being a key aspect of many sectors. Ensuring activities students engage with will enable them to develop these sorts of skills is enormously helpful. Probably. Even if it turns out to not be the case, it still makes life a lot more interesting.

5. Provide access to digital content

When we’ve worked with Academic Liaison Librarians, this is the aspect they’ve focused on. Well, they’ve been engaged with all the aspects, but this is the bit that they feel they own. This is mainly ebooks and journals, and the citation indices that help you find them, but could be VRML models, useful apps and so on. Imagine a class where everyone downloads an app to their phone and walk around wearing google cardboard headsets – like looking around inside a body or something. How cool would that be?

 

Legacy logic and traditional media

I’m not sure how apocryphal it is, but animals with a fairly autonomous system can remain moving for a while after their head is cut off. All the bits of the body still function and do so, even though the creature is dead. It just takes a while for it to realise it.

I see the same thing happening with some of the older forms of media. The reasons why they were there in the first place are no longer valid, they no longer fulfil a function, and yet because they have existed for so long, they keep enduring, long after the moment that – if they were to be invented from scratch – the concept would be laughable. They’re dead, but they don’t realise they are.

Imagine this as a dragons’ den proposal:

“What I want to do is take a news website. Arrange the webpages as print pages. Print it out thousands of times. Deliver those printouts to shops around the country. And then they get posted to people’s houses.”

“So they get the news they’ve already read?”

“Yes. On paper.”

“A day after it was actually news?”

“Yes.”

“Which they can’t pass on to other people who might be interested?”

“Well you could cut out bits and post them on, but normally, no, it just litters your home for a week then goes into the recycling.”

You see the problem?

In practice, newspapers died over 20 years ago, they just haven’t stopped moving yet. A legacy logic still may be able to justify their existence, but it’s getting very tired.

I consume a lot of media, TV, films, music, books, comics, games, audio. I tend to consume all of them in quite similar ways. I’ll watch a TV show for an entire season, or run, before moving onto the next. I’ll buy a complete set of a comic run or a book series before starting it, then read them all. I’ll listen to three or four albums by the same artist in a row (in chronological order, of course). The idea of “dipping in” just doesn’t suit me. For this reason I gave up on broadcast TV about 20 years ago. I’d just get the DVDs for the shows I liked. There was a brief period (just after Dr Who was revived) when I bought a TV licence and watched TV, but I soon got bored with it, and when the digital switchover happened, I just switched off instead of over.

For some reason though, a legacy logic, I have had to sign a form every year since, stating that I’m not watching broadcast TV. I don’t have to sign one saying I don’t read newspapers. No-one else has to sign one to say they don’t play computer games. For a reason that would be laughed out of the room if we were to present it as a new idea, broadcast TV is given a privileged position, that it doesn’t deserve.

The legacy logic is obvious. Broadcast TV was the dominant medium from about 1957 (the last time a radio show had higher ratings than any TV show) until maybe 2007 (when Netflix started streaming – that’s a pretty arbitrary end-date, mainly picked because it makes a nice round number). But now broadcast TV is pretty peripheral to many many people. And it’s pointless. There is no reason to put a TV show out at a particular time, so that everyone has to tune in simultaneously, unless it’s sports, news or shopping. It’s just habit that anyone does that.

And of course now that the BBC iPlayer needs a licence, legacy logic says that this means that the company that supplies it is entitled to check on people’s internet access to make sure they’re not watching it without paying for it. The assumption being that people can’t live without the BBC, I suppose. Whereas it would make much more sense to make people enter a code to access the content if they had paid. You know like Amazon, and Netflix and Sky and every other TV supplier does.

Maybe someone should tell the BBC they don’t really matter that much any more. We get our TV from Netflix (an entire season at once, rather than being dripfed one episode a week), we get our news from the Internet, we get our radio from podcasts (OK that one is a bit weak, but  .. I will just have to wait for the radio programmes to come out on CD). I would miss QI but it’s available through Netflix, No Such Thing as the News isn’t on, there’s WILTY, but that’s about it, really.

It’s a mark of how little traditional media get what’s happening that they commission little op-ed pieces like this http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-03-20/dont-let-on-demand-distract-you-from-this-mini-golden-age-of-bbc-drama in a Cnut-like attempt to hold back the tide. What makes that article so childish is that it wilfully misses the point. Yes there is good stuff on broadcast TV, no-one is arguing about that, it just doesn’t have to be broadcast. There is no virtue in stuff being time-dependent, quite the opposite. It’s no more a The Night Manager would have been a good show, but only if it had been all at once, so that people could see all the episodes rather than seeing four then missing the last two because iPlayer only keeps them for 30 days and I was in Kathmandu. Errm. If you see what I mean.

Where the legacy logic particularly stands out is “His sails deflate and his attention wanders, because that stuff is, well, a bit obvious. It’s available to everyone. There’s no rarity value, no street cred.” People do not watch Netflix or Amazon because of their rarity. They watch them because of their accessibility. And the quality of their output. X-Files, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Preacher, Archer, Bojack Horseman. All brilliant. And the most recent things I’ve watched (no BBC there note). It’s the broadcast stuff that’s not obvious, it’s the broadcast stuff that is difficult to access. If you judge these things objectively/currently and not from the perspective of the period 1957-2007.

Ultimately being a good TV programme maker does not justify being a broadcaster. We don’t really need those any more. Scheduled TV makes as much sense as picking up your copy of Rest of the Robots between 10 pm and 11 pm on a Sunday night and only reading it then. Broadcast TV is dead. We should stop trying to prop it up with more and more ridiculous legislation.