Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Structures to Support & Develop Technology Enhanced Learning

CC BY: Scaffold photo by Icegem
I've been working in HE for a good 10 years now, and for a large part of that I've wondered about the structures in place to scaffold and develop Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) - who does what, where and how. I guess to a large degree, this post links in with discussions around 'what is a learning technologist'.

When I think about the 'structures', I think about a number of things:

  • Who is leading TEL at a strategic level? Is this central in the University and/or within Faculties? Are they experienced in this (still relatively young) area? How might this impact on uptake?
  • What shape do learning technologists take e.g. 'developer', 'administrative', and/or 'academic' angles, and what department do they sit in? Again, are they in a central team and/or based in Faculty?

In my experience I've worked in a number of teams - I've been based in a central team (as part of a library service) as well as a broader department for learning technologies. I've also been (and am) employed by and within a faculty. Is it better to based within a library service, an IT department, or a centre for learning and teaching? I don't know! Who calls the shots? I've seen librarians, subject-based academics, and those in CETLs.

I think there are tensions and challenges with all these scenarios. Whilst part of a central team it's often hard to break barriers to actually get embedded in schools/departments. Many academics/departments don't engage with central services a great deal (for a number of reasons I suspect). Although, when employed directly within a Faculty, it can still be tough. The flip side is that central teams generally know all about software/systems; when they're being updated; common problems, etc. This often doesn't trickle through quite as well when based in Faculty. Whilst this often doesn't matter if we hold an academic role, it's still nice to know!

Here at Liverpool, there is a small central team of learning technologists (x4) in our eLearning Unit - part of the Centre for Lifelong Learning. The Faculty of Health & Life Sciences have invested in this area though. We have me and my equivalents - Lecturers in Learning Technology. We have one in each of our 6 schools, with my role working across each. This is supported by a TEL Support Team (x8). The view is that we work on high level, strategical issues which are supported by the TEL ST. This setup is a lot more than what many HEIs have, but at the same time, some Medical Schools have all of this just to themselves!

What about the role - academic or non-academic? I think it depends on the individual actually. I certainly love teaching so have enjoyed the academic roles I've had, and it does give me the ability to talk about how I actually use tools/technologies in my teaching, rather than just how people 'could' use them. And it is useful if you want to engage in research as you have your own students! However, there's nothing to suggest non-academic learning technologists don't do an effective job, because they certainly do! I think the expectation level is different though.

So with all of this, I'm sure it barely covers the range of setups that actually exist across the sector. But what is the most effective way to support and develop TEL? What strategies are best employed to develop things? If we were to start a new University and were looking at how we scaffold TEL, where do we start? Obviously there has to be strong leadership and structures to implement and support, but there are just so many options!

Answers on a postcard...

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The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Minimum Standards - automating content for our Baseline

Screenshot of the Blckboard test server at the University of Liverpool
[Reposted from the ELESIG Blog]

As some people will already know, the University of Liverpool is investigating the introduction of a baseline for Blackboard modules - essentially, a series of minimum standards that should appear in every module. Much of this is driven from the Liverpool Guild of Students 'Making the Most of IT' campaign, as well as the Faculty Staff and Student Surveys we conducted between August-November 2013.

Well, thankfully, colleagues in Computing Services have been working to see if  they could possibly automate certain pieces of content. Much of what students are asking for already exists in TULIP where our Module Specs live (module leader name/contact; assessment requirements; etc), so CSD have managed to extract that information and dynamically present it into a new 'Module Overview' page in Blackboard Modules (via a custom made building block). Automated content will be presented in the following order:
  • Module Title & Module Code
  • Module Co-ordinator (name and email address)
  • Aims
  • Learning Outcomes
  • Syllabus
  • Teaching & Learning Strategy
  • Assessment requirements
  • Contact hours
  • Disclaimer
It's still early days as yet, but the following video (2 minutes) demonstrates how the building block looks.

I should give a shout out to colleagues at Newcastle who have certainly been open to sharing their work with Blackboard!

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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Reinventing the wheel for the last time - a reusable research methods module

Recycle image - CC BY Kevin Dooley

I'm sure it's the case in most universities, but there are so many variations of research methods modules knocking about, it's so obvious that we should try to do something about it. Sure there will be some niche areas that need dedicated focus, but generally there are lots of common aspects that could be shared.

As such, we've set up a small(ish) working group in the Faculty to look at developing a level 7 (m-level) online research methods 'module', with the intention of developing a number of core, common units. Of course given the scientific nature of a lot of subjects, quantitative research will be a strong focus, but it's still important we don't lose track of the qualitative. The myriad research methods modules can then reuse the content we create.

We've had a couple of brief meetings already, and from the range of existing practice, have identified an additional module entitled 'Professional & Employability Skills'. Our next step is to identify what common content might be included in these modules so as to be most effective in catering for the needs of the six schools in our Faculty.

Being in the open, I'm hoping to share as much of this work as possible, as well as reusing whatever we can, wherever we can. For example, @dkernohan pointed me towards a few resources following my tweet-request-for-help a couple of weeks ago which are certainly of interest:

University of Leicester #UKOER Course Pack
University of Surrey Learning Skills resources

So... Is this a common issue across your experience? Have you done anything about it? And can you share any good content that might be included in these modules?


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The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, 3 April 2014

UK EdChat Top Blog Nominations

I had the pleasure of waking up to find out this blog has been nominated for #ukedchat 's top 100 blogs.

Bit surprised but very pleased that someone out there likes something I've said at some point in time - thanks :-)
If my blog finishes bottom of that list, I really don't care! The nomination in itself feels very rewarding.

Firstly I would like to thank..... (What, it's not an oscar?).

Head over and see who else has been nominated and leave your vote before it closes on the 9th April. I've got my eye on a few blogs there:

I know Steve get's a ridiculous number of views to his blog, but I suspect we all blog about slightly different things. We're all HE Edtech I guess, but many of the other blogs on the list vary, including school/college focussed blogs.

Steve posts some really good overview posts on a range of topics such as pedagogy; David has a popular series on the role of the learning technologist (which I've chipped in with) as well as mobile learning topics such as eBooks (not strictly mobile I know) and QR Codes. Phil's often discusses organisational issues related to edtech, and well, mine probably does a bit of all those, with some openness stuff thrown in for good measure.

There are loads of blogs that I'm surprised are not in there - I started to list my favourites but there was too many, and I was scared in case I left any out :-)

Vote Vote Vote!!!

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The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

ELESIG Small Grants & my Minimum Standards work

I've been banging on about it for a little while now, so a lot of people will already know I've been looking into VLE minimum standards quite a bit. Well, thanks to the ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners' Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group) Small Grants Scheme, I'll be sharing some more info.

I'll probably be duplicating posts, but my primary blogging venue for sharing this work will be over at ELESIG - if you're not signed up there, then do. And then follow me :-)

I think the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme is a great initiative to help us share the work we're doing more broadly so others can benefit from it. The great thing is applications are turned around really quickly so you're not playing the waiting game too much - applications are to be submitted by the 20th of each month and you find out within 4 weeks!

I think I already work 'in the open' quite a bit, but this might make my work even more transparent, and of course ties in nicely with the newly formed North West ELESIG group that my colleague @Tundeva (Tunde Varga Atkins) has been so involved with.

As well as blogging over at ELESIG, I've also committed to producing a 'research toolkit' (of sorts) that will offer a completely transparent view of what we've done and how, including sample questions for surveys and focus groups, as well as ethics application forms. The idea here is that other people interested in this area of work could essentially reuse what I've already done to help them get started and engaged in this area of research. I've also offered to record some video footage of students talking about what they want from minimum standards, how they access this content and why it's important, etc, etc.

So... lots more to come about this and I can't wait to get going. See y'all soon!

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Introduction to Twitter

CC BY NC SA Flickr User Paul Snelling
I was asked recently to run a session on Twitter for colleagues in the School of Health Sciences, so I thought I'd share the slides up here for those interested. I've actually reposted this from my Faculty TEL Blog here.

This was aimed at a starting level for colleagues new to Twitter, and the discussion we had probably provided a richer experience than the slides might suggest but there are still some interesting examples in there.

I spoke about examples from my own experience of using Twitter with undergraduate students, so if you're interested in that you could always follow through to the journal article I published last year in Research in Learning Technology. Otherwise, here are the slides embedded below.
Slides themselves might not say much, but I've included the associated notes for each slide below.

1. -

This slide asks if there any participants in the room that already use Twitter. Why or how do people currently use Twitter, or want to use twitter? What do you want from today’s session?

Today we’ll cover an intro to Twitter, terminology associated with twitter, why ‘people’ use twitter; who uses twitter and how you can use Twitter.

Twitter is technically known as a Micro Blog in that it only allows ‘tweets’ of 140 characters or fewer. This can be restrictive at times, but over time you do get used to it. Twitter generally works by people ‘following’, or being ‘followed’, by other users. Over time other functionalities have been added, such as the use of Lists to help organise or categorise the people you follow.

For me, Twitter is about making connections. I personally use Twitter in 3 ways; i) To keep in touch with family and friends (although my 14 year old nephew has ceased engaging since I’m the ‘Twitter-police’ when he posts inappropriate content. ii) To follow and engage with people with shared interests. I always relate back to my diverse follower base – a split between colleagues interested in higher education or technology enhanced learning, and the group of Everton fans who regularly tweet about football issues. This can prove a tricky task in balancing my tweets but I’ve started to focus more on professional uses and tweet less often about football. iii) I also follow people that I might like to know – or perhaps people that I might be interested in. So this might still include people from the elearning field, but it might be football players or celebrities such as Stephen Fry.

Over 500 million people use Twitter – I use it both on my work computer and iPad as well as my personal laptop and iPhone. I’m always connected, and so can you be!

Twitter has started to emerge as a news reporting service, as regular passers-by tweet the news live. This is much faster (and probably a more accurate representation) than news services responding and scrambling to scenes to report news. One of the most famous examples was the ‘miracle on the hudson’ where passers-by tweeted as the plane was landing on the Hudson river in New York.

I came across an infographic demonstrating the top brands on Twitter – some you may have heard of and some you will not. But Twitter is becoming a huge platform for companies to engage in consumers. http://www.nestivity.com/the-top-25-most-engaged-brands-on-twitter-today/

Two of the companies I follow include Mr Porter (a high end online fashion retailer) and Sky News (a very popular news reporting account). You can see by the number of followers in the sky account that they really are engaging with ‘customers’ (in a different sense of the word I suppose). People can access the news wherever they are when they follow an account like this, or people could live report incidents and include Sky News in the tweets. Lots of potential in this area.

Many companies use twitter as an effective customer services channel – take this example (start at the top). A passenger is angry at his delayed flight and the airline (obviously monitoring any tweets mentioning their name) respond to de-escalate the situation.

And this nice example of one of the people I follow providing feedback to Virgin Trains.

So given these examples, how might we use Twitter to support our professional roles?

Here are some examples of UoL Twitter accounts and their uses


I like this example of a conversation between the school of Dentistry and a potential student

And this example from the University computing services account engaging with a future student about the wifi availability in halls of residence

These are two other accounts I follow from colleagues at the university – lots of people are active so it’s worth looking at Twitter’s recommended people to follow feature…. It’s based on an algorithm that looks for people that are followed by the people you follow (if that makes sense). 

But there’s more theoretical underpinning to using Twitter than mindless sharing of nonsense. Chickering and Gamson’s principles for good practice in UG education can be applied. We’ve already seen examples of #1 – student—faculty contact, but having used Twitter to support my teaching in various module, I can attest to it’s suitability to the other principles as well.

Every piece of research around the use of twitter in higher education has been positive. I like this quote from Ray junco (an active researcher of social media in HE)

And these are some of the quotes from my own students – comments like ‘Tutor on Demand’ and ‘it’s better than email’. Sure, you need to manage expectations, but all of my students who engaged with twitter reported positive benefits. I’ve published this work in Research in Learning Technology, so if you want to learn more head over http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/19692

Of course there are some downfalls or cautions to be aware of.

I suppose in my own teaching I’ve seen students expecting a 24/7 service, but is that any different from email? I think we also need to be mindful of professional identities of students, as well as ourselves and our professional/corporate identities

Recognise this guy?

He’s the chief executive of a cash strapped NHS organisation, who, whilst making severe cuts, etc, tweeted about buying a new boat. Sensitive much? This is a good example at how we must consider this things we post online...

But despite the scary stories, most of the time you just need to think about what you’re doing and apply some common sense.

The university also produce some guidelines to help staff think about their twitter use. http://www.liv.ac.uk/media/livacuk/corpcomms/pdf/social-media-guidelines.pdf

Rheingold identifies 5 key literacies in order thrive online.
1. Attention
2. Crap Detection
3. Participation
4. Collaboration
5. Network know-how
(Rheingold, 2012: How to thrive online).

These are important when we think of information overload, and some believe this information overload is actually filter failure - it's our own fault for not 'detecting the crap'...


This is my page when I log in

32. This is me, who I follow, etc

And this is where the tweets appear from all the people I follow

You will need to be mindful of some terminology though

We need to include a user’s twitter ‘handle’ (username) if we want to send them a tweet. So if you want to tweet me, you’ll need to include @reedyreedles I will then receive a notification to say you’ve tweeted me. Be careful though, everyone can see what you’ve tweeted

The retweet is pretty self explanatory. It allows you to share something that another user has tweeted i.e. re tweet it.

A modified tweet (MT) has evolved from the RT so you can still retweet something but you might want to add a comment to it, etc.

Hashtags are a great way to use a keyword or categorise/search tweets. These are popping up everywhere now, even at the beginning of tv programmes.

So my advice is to figure out how and why you want to use twitter and jump in . Don’t forget to follow people otherwise it might get a bit lonely.

Remember, there are more online services you can use to develop and manage your online identity. It’s important our students realise this too – Facebook is notorious for bad practice, and L
inkedin is growing from a professional identity perspective

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Sector-wide subscription to VLE minimum standards

As I've previously blogged, the University of Liverpool are looking to introduce minimum standards for all modules within the VLE, with the concern of 'consistency' across module a key priority. I'm part of a working group to investigate this in more detail, so as many people will know, I canvassed the ALT-Members email list in an attempt to crowdsource a document to detail which Universities are looking to introduce, or already have introduced, VLE minimum standards. I was also interested in the specific items/criteria that different Universities include in their minimum standards, threshold standards, and baseline agreements (there is a range of terminology related to this).

In total, 24 responses were received from the following institutions: Aberystwyth; Bath; Bristol; Durham (Physics and Arts & Humanities); Edge Hill; Exeter; Goldsmiths; Greenwich; Institute of Education, University of London; Kent; Leeds; Liverpool; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Newcastle; Nottingham; Northampton; Salford; Southampton Solent; Swansea; York St. John; Warwick; Univ. of Malta; and University College London. Whilst this doesn't cover every University in the UK, it does provide us with a useful insight!

Some of the responses indicated minimum standards might be school/faculty based, rather than institution-wide e.g. Durham, and some institutions promote the use of the ‘Blackboard Exemplary Course Program’, which provides rubrics to extend the use of the VLE further. The program focuses on four key areas: Course design, Interaction & Collaboration, Assessment, and Learner Support.

Chart 1. Subscription to minimum standards
75% (n=18) already have VLE minimum standards in place, with 25% (n=6) looking to introduce minimum standards in the future.

For those institutions with minimum standards currently in place (n=18), respondents were asked to identify the specific criteria included (Chart 2). 24 different criteria were identified, with the most common items being:

  • Dedicated VLE areas (100%, n=18); 
  • Staff Profiles/Contact Details (89%, n=16); 
  • Further/Recommended Reading (83%, n=15); 
  • Module Description/Outline inc. learning outcomes, etc (83%, n=15); 
  • Assessment Requirements (83%, n=15); 
  • Lecture handouts/slides (61%, n=11).

Chart 2. Criteria for inclusion in minimum standards

The data collected suggests a small set of criteria are commonly included in minimum standards across the sector, however there are a wide range of items which appear in a just a small number of cases.

The most commonly included criteria (detailed above) demonstrates some correlation with the views of staff and students at Liverpool (from the data I obtained in some research).

So overall, introducing minimum standards appears to be a big issue across Higher Education. Many HEIs are already doing 'something', with others looking to get on board soon. There are other debates circling which suggest introducing a 'minimum' might mean staff don't do any more. From my perspective, I think this minimum is what students want from a hygiene perspective i.e. to prevent dissatisfaction, and well ultimately, something is better than nothing!

Thanks to all those that completed the data in the Google Sheet, which of course will remain open for further editing and viewing by interested parties!


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