Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Reality of the coming years in TEL - My team sheet!

I've been doing a bit of thinking about the future of Technology Enhanced Learning over the coming years - say, the next five years. And I'm increasingly frustrated with NMC's annual Horizon report. I haven't even read this year's but just from looking at the contents page I'm questioning it. Again.

Flipped Classroom - been happening for years but is certainly nowhere near mainstream adoption.
Learning Analytics - is, and will be of interest to central departments, but I fear as a means to justify expenditure on systems e.g. we've had x number of students log in from x locations at all hours of the day. Using that to influence learning and teaching is something entirely different. Cath Ellis has presented a few times (at ALT-C and ELESIG) on her assessment analytics which I think has great potential, but relies on those who are engaged, not the masses. [It makes me sad to say that because I actually really like this area and can see the potential].
The Quantified Self? Please...

The Horizon Reports have used the term 'mainstream adoption' in recent years, but we really need to think about what we (or it) mean by 'mainstream'. By definition (whichever source you choose), 'mainstream' requires the thoughts/actions of most people. I'm pretty sure that 'most' lecturers will not be flipping their classroom, despite how good we may think that approach is. Why? Simply because of the huge teaching loads on many staff. Flipping requires time and effort.

Instead, the next 5 years in TEL will be mainly driven, perhaps underwhelmingly so, by the key issues that are important across Schools, Faculties and Institutions as larger entities, not by the (few[er]) innovators. But this might not be such a bad thing - working towards and achieving these key goals will enable capacity building in the various innovations taking place. But it's a slow process.

I'm sitting here thinking about a way to put this next bit, and like most things, I refer back to football (or soccer if you're from the US). Many good football teams rely on what is known as a 'Spine'; that is, strong and reliable players down the centre of the pitch. So this includes a Goalkeeper, a Central Defender, a Central Midfielder and a Striker. These are often the key priorities for teams to get sorted and the other positions can drop into place, or maybe even experiment with.

So from an Institutional perspective, the TEL spine will tackle large scale issues that will receive investment if needed, and can have an impact across the board - on entire programmes, etc. On that basis, here's my TEL Team Sheet for the coming years:

Goalkeeper: VLE Minimum Standards
Minimum standards are coming into focus across a number of institutions lately because of reported inconsistencies in the student experience across modules/programmes. Some HEIs have had them in place for a while, but many are only just getting on board - like us at Liverpool. Minimum standards (or baselines) can help achieve some consistency (but not in a one-size-fits-all approach), and will have to be mobile friendly.

Central Defender: Online Assessment & Feedback
Pretty much of a no-brainer, but a huge deal considering A&F is consistently the lowest scoring area in the NSS across the country. This will probably focus mostly on online submission, marking and feedback given the difficulties (and lack of trust) in moderating online exams for large numbers. Still, with the ongoing problems with one plagiarism detection service over the last 4 years, it's quite surprising there is still no perfect solution to support and enhance processes, despite the promise.

Central Midfielder: Lecture Capture
The recording of lectures is again something that our students want. Certainly at Liverpool and apparently so at other Russell Group Unis, as well as other pre & post 92s. Students want access to recordings; many staff think it will drive down attendance (despite contrary evidence); and although the benefits are more about convenience than pedagogy, management will invest. Still, whilst many HEIs are investing in expensive all-singing solutions, some research (inc. some I've done internally) suggest students only really want/need audio recordings synchronised with Powerpoints (screencasts).
Regardless, lecture capture will only reach mainstream if the solutions are as simple as a tap of the button to record and publish. And they're going that way!

Striker: ePortfolios
I'm torn for this position but portfolios are such a big deal in so many courses now. Whether that's to showcase student's best work (as in Art or Graphic Design); to evidence professional standards (as in Education and many healthcare disciplines); or as a a general means to bring student work/artefacts together to support transition and progression.
Again, there's no perfect solution to meet each of the different needs I've mentioned above. PebblePad does appear strong in aligning to professional standards though, and something of particular interest in our Medical and Management Schools.

Other Positions
This is where we can flirt with innovation as well as tackle some fundamental problems. Monitoring student attendance and engagement in a standard way across Institutions is still something not really managed as well as you'd imagine. It was on the agenda whilst I was at MMU but was on teh back burner (I think there may be progress with their Data farm), which would enable a traffic light system monitoring student activity with the library, coursework receipting, VLE access, etc. We can also look at novel ways to present content (multimedia, augmented reality); mobile access (more so than 'mobile learning'); engage learners in communities (social media); simply improve communication (text messaging); and look at widening participation and brand identity (MOOCs and Open Ed?).

This is where exciting stuff might be happening and I'm only scratching the surface, but it can only happen if technology starts to achieve the promises it's been making for so long. And on a large scale. We hate acknowledging that students are increasingly referred to as 'customers', but as such, Institutions are/will focus more as 'businesses'. And wanting some big wins in return for the increasing investment is par for the course.

I read a paper on predicting edtech by Nick Rushby recently, and love his opening paragraph:

 “Prophesy is dangerous—especially when it concerns the future” 
"It was not so very long ago that those who claimed to be able to see into the future were given a show trial and then burned at the stake” 
(Rushby, 2013)

Good job my predictions aren't so revolutionary!
Do you agree? Disagree?
[I feel like I should apologise for such a bleak post ;-( ]


Rushby, N. (2013). The Future of Learning Technology: Some Tentative Predictions. Educational Technology & Society, 16 (2), 52–58.

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  1. Hi Peter

    I share your scepticism about the anticipated take-up of some of the EdTech developments in the Horizons Report, though I do think that the earlier parts of the report (i.e. covering trends and challenges) contain some useful and relevant content.

    With regard to the 'spine' of your TEL team I wouldn't dispute the value of any of these technologies but I would question how much some of them contribute to the 'E' in TEL. They might support learning but the way that some of them are used doesn't actually do a great deal to enhance it.

    The reason this is at the forefront of my thinking is that in my own institution (Westminster) I am involved in implementing a University-wide programme of change which is just beginning and these sorts of issues are currently surfacing. I would be very keen to learn from the experiences of other institutions.

    Tony Burke

    1. Hi Tony,
      Many thanks for the comment.
      I think you're spot on with the suggestion that the 'E' isn't really catered for a lot. Semantics! But perhaps we shouldn't get hung up so much on the 'L'?

      I suppose like its predecessor 'eLearning', the term 'TEL' isn't the friendliest - realistically, academic managers want to see how technology can support and enhance a range of 'things', whether that's everyday business processes or learning, teaching and assessment. In an era where the NSS rules the roost, enhancement of any sort is welcomed and justified! What the students want, the students get! :-)

  2. Great post Peter. I'd add that the striker is the student who learns to take ownership of their professional online presence and uses this to its full potential to stand out from the crowd and make an impression (score goals)

    1. Thanks Sue, and great extension of the metaphor!
      I think you're right - this will play an increasingly significant role over the next few years and is something I'll likely be getting into in relation to UG Medical students and other healthcare disciplines. Might give you a shout when that time comes.... :-)

  3. Great post Peter, thanks. I too have found the latest Horizon report to be, well, a bit dull? Each organisation needs the goalie, striker (not going out on strike, however), wingers, etc. but you also need to add the more administrative side of the team too - the coach, manager, etc.

    The coach and manager are as important as the individual players / positions, as they direct and apply the roles and positions strategically in order to maximise the talent needed in the varying conditions and progress of the match.


  4. Pete - I've added this post to my Horizon Report - see it here: http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/elearning/the-horizon-report-2014-your-reviews/


  5. Interesting post. It's a pretty defensive kind of line up, more Moyes than Martinez, but yes, when the goalie is unreliable, nobody is thinking about one-touch triangles in midfield much. As a departmental LT, I spend a lot of time playing sweeper, tying the goalie's bootlaces and trying to get him to face forwards. Apologies for mangling the metaphor.

    I like Sue's idea that the students are the strikers, maybe the rest of the team's job is to get the ball to them in the last third so they can express themselves.

    1. Thanks Paul.
      I guess it is more Moyes than Martinez. I'd actually like to think of it more like George Graham's Arsenal team where they would just win 1-0 all the time! Boring boring Arsenal perhaps, but the philosophy that if you don't concede you can't lose, isn't so bad! Get the defence right and build from there!
      Trying not to get too carried away, I suppose I believe that the longer term future of TEL will rely on the basics to provide a solid foundation i.e. a consistent baseline for VLE use (minimum standards), good practice in relation to online assessment and feedback etc....

  6. I like the Graham analogy, but even better would be a 'build from the back' Mourinho approach. Here the consistent availability of resources and reliability of processes (no, I can't maintain a metaphor) is so solid that teaching staff feel comfortable asking students to engage in more interesting learning activities, particularly along IBL/collaborative lines (my own preferred tactics). Google Apps might provide the pitch for this kind of game.