Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is Jill Watson after your job?

She began work as a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech in January 2016, helping students on a masters level artificial intelligence course. At first, she needed help from her colleagues but she soon learnt and it wasn’t long before she was providing support to all students without assistance. Human assistance that is. “Jill” was the creation of course leader Ashok Goel – an artificial intelligence tutor developed using IBM’s Watson platform.

The course was entirely online and questions were submitted via an online forum. Initially the AI derived answers weren’t so good so the human tutors responded. But as time went on “Jill”’s answers improved so the tutors took the answers and posted them to the forum. Within a short space of time, the answers were near perfect and the AI instance was responding directly to the students. The students were not aware that they weren’t dealing with a real person – but then, do they really care if they are getting good advice?

This isn’t the only form of AI that I have seen applied in the education environment. At EDUCAUSE last year, I saw a demonstration of an AI based chat bot that guided an applicant through the process of identifying a suitable course at university and ultimately the application process itself. I was driving the questions, playing the role of the applicant – the responses were reassuring and at the end of the process, I felt satisfied that I had been given good advice.

In both instances, the AI instance will have had to learn from real life examples to build up its knowledge bank in order to make informed decisions. In the case of Jill Watson, that learning took little time; with the AI applications assistance there was more initial programming which was underpinned by some clear rules and expectations. But given that in both examples, the AI instance learnt from patterns of behaviour exhibited by real people, is there scope for using artificial intelligence at the service desk?

The answer has to be yes. The service desk system has a wealth of information about problems and their solutions that can be drawn upon and used to address submitted problems. There are many repetitive questions that get asked of a service desk which could easily be handled by an AI instance. Many service desks have identified these – password resets being an obvious example – and have sought to reduce the impact of these through FAQ sections and similar channels. But how effective are these mechanisms? Do they help deliver a one stop shop?

Could AI further aid service desk staff? It could – dealing with repetitive queries is one thing but artificial intelligence could be deployed to recognise similar questions from the bank of queries in the service management system and identify solutions. The service desk staff would then be able to give a quicker response rather than having to re-learn how to deal with a problem or seek out the expert that dealt with it last time around. Alternatively, the AI system might identify the person with the most expertise and route the query accordingly.

AI is far quicker at identifying patterns than people. As a result an artificial intelligence based system would give an earlier indication of an incident or bug and so help the service desk respond more quickly (perhaps before some realised there was a problem).

So where will that leave the service desk? Will the use of AI allow service desk staff to focus on the really meaty problems that are more satisfying to solve or will it give staff the opportunity to focus on new areas? Alternatively, will it lead to a deskilling of staff, an unrewarding role reduced to passing on solutions that are drawn down from a vast body of previous experience? Is Jill Watson going to take your job?

UCISA TEL Survey

Key messages from the 2016 UCISA TEL Survey

At this year’s ALT-C conference, Richard Walker led a discussion session on: ‘Open and flexible learning opportunities for all?  Findings from the 2016 UCISA TEL survey on learning technology developments across UK higher education.

The slides for the workshop are available here and as the title of the workshop suggests, they cover some of the key messages emerging from the 2016 Technology Enhanced Learning Survey of the UK higher education sector. The full report for the Survey has been published on the UCISA website at:  https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/tel

The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Survey is the eighth of its kind that UCISA has conducted, and offers a longitudinal perspective of TEL developments over a 15-year period within UK higher education, focusing on the provision already in place within institutions and the current, emerging and planned patterns of learning technology use across the HE community. Of particular interest in this year’s Survey was the progress that institutions were making with the implementation of lecture recording and learning analytics services, as well as developments in open learning provision. The Survey also sought to keep track of longitudinal developments in strategies and drivers for centrally managed TEL services, focusing on the range of TEL tools used by students, as well as staffing provision in support of these services. The Survey is typically completed by institutional heads of e-learning and for this year’s Survey 110 out of a possible 160 UK higher education institutions responded – a response rate of 69%.

So what were the headline findings?

(i) Drivers and barriers to institutional TEL development

The principal institutional driver for TEL development remains unchanged since 2003 with a continuing focus on the use of learning technologies to enhance the quality of learning and teaching.  Unsurprisingly student expectations have a key influence on strategic thinking when it comes to the development of institutional TEL services. Meeting student expectations, improving student satisfaction and establishing a common user experience for TEL services all appear in the top five list of driving factors for institutional TEL development.  Indeed Student learning experience and engagement strategies now represent the second most commonly cited category of institutional strategy informing TEL development after the Teaching, Learning and Assessment strategy, and have a higher profile than Corporate, Library or dedicated TEL strategies in this respect.

Lack of time continues to be the leading barrier to TEL development, with departmental / school culture rising up the list to second place. Institutional culture also features, along with Lack of internal sources of funding and Lack of staff commitment in the top five barriers to TEL development. Lack of support staff remains one of the lowest ranked barriers  with the majority of institutions reporting an increase in TEL support staff since the last Survey; further staffing changes are foreseen over the next two years, primarily relating to increasing numbers as well as the restructuring of their services.

(ii) Modes of course delivery supported by TEL services

How then are TEL tools being used by institutions to support the various modes of course delivery?

Blended learning delivery, focusing on the provision of lecture notes and supplementary resources, remains the most common mode of course delivery using TEL. The key change from 2014 has been the increasing institutional engagement in the delivery of fully online courses, with over half of the responding institutions to the Survey now supporting some form of delivery through their schools or departments.  This represents a key change from previous Surveys, where fully online delivery has previously been reported as a niche activity conducted by specialist distance learning providers.

In contrast, institutional engagement with open learning delivery has not progressed from the picture recorded in 2014, and only 11 institutions confirmed that they have an open learning strategy. The most popular open online learning format is online courses for all registered students at an institution – commonly referred to as OOCs! Despite the increasing adoption by institutions of open learning platforms such as FutureLearn and Open Education by Blackboard, less than half of responding institutions to the Survey are currently engaged in the delivery of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Where MOOC delivery is taking place, it tends not to be integrated with campus-based course delivery, with the majority of institutions opting to use a separate platform from the main institutional VLE to deliver their public courses. For a fuller discussion of the TEL Survey findings on open learning developments, take a look at the YouTube summary video by Martin Jenkins (Coventry University).

(iii) Centrally supported TEL tools and services

Have there been any notable changes in the range of TEL services that institutions are now offering to support the student learning experience since the last Survey?

The key change since the last Survey has been the increasing deployment of e-submission tools within HE institutions. After the main institutional virtual learning environment, e-submission tools are now the most common centrally-supported TEL service across the sector, rising above text-matching (plagiarism detection) services in the list of supported services. Over half of responding institutions now deploy e-submission tools in 75% or more of the courses that they deliver to students. There have also been notable increases in the adoption of formative e-assessment and document sharing tools and a broader implementation of lecture capture solutions across the sector since the last Survey, with at least 50% of members from all university mission groups now supporting such a system.

In contrast to these developments, only 20 institutions reported that they have established learning analytics services which are used by students, with 17 institutions linking their services to the main VLE. These services typically have only been deployed across 1% – 4% of their courses, representing a small-scale implementation at this stage. However, we may expect further developments in service provision in the future, with 29 institutions confirming that they will be reviewing analytics systems over the next two years. If you would like to find out more about what the Survey tells us about learning analytics developments across the sector, take a look at the following YouTube summary video. (For a summary of the discussion on Day 1 of the 2016 ALT conference on the current state of play with learning analytics across the UK higher sector, take a look at the following blog post.)

(iv) Approaches to TEL service management and support

Outsourcing of institutional services continues to grow, primarily for student email, e-portfolio systems, VLEs and staff email. The type of outsourcing model is dependent on the platform being outsourced, such that institutions are more likely to use a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud-based model for email services, and to use an institutionally managed, externally hosted model for TEL related tools, such as e-portfolios and the VLE for blended and fully online courses.

There has been little change since the last Survey in the optimisation of TEL services for access by mobile devices.  The percentage of institutions optimising access to lecture recordings has stayed at the same level as 2014, despite the steady investment in lecture capture systems which has been taking place across the sector.  This may be largely due to commercial solutions providing users with their own mobile app, as is the case at York with our own hosted Panopto service, which comes with a dedicated app for iOS and Android devices to support the viewing access and the upload of video recordings.  Course announcements, email and course materials are the leading categories of services which have been optimised for mobile devices (iOS, Android and Windows), with Russell Group institutions leading the way in optimising access to library services.

(v) TEL developments making new demands and future challenges for TEL service management and support

Finally, what are the TEL developments making new demands on support services across the sector? Taking the increasing implementation of e-submission services into account, it comes as no surprise to see that the electronic management of assessment (EMA) now tops the list of TEL developments making new support demands.  Lecture capture is the second most commonly cited development making support demands, with mobile technologies dropping down to third place. Distance learning and fully online course provision and learning analytics enter the top-five list of developments for the first time, with MOOCs dropping out of the picture.

Staff development is identified as the leading challenge to TEL development over the next two to three years, and no doubt this is related to increasing academic staff engagement with new TEL services such as EMA and lecture capture, which are becoming central to learning and teaching activities across the sector.  As we observed after the 2014 Survey (blog post here), teaching staff are now expected to use a wide range of technologies as part of their academic practice, well beyond the uploading of course notes to the institutional VLE platform. This finding underscores the importance of investment in staff development in future years – specifically with the development of digital literacies for teaching staff.

To access the full 2016 UCISA Survey findings, please download the report at: http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/tel

here.

Perpetual Honeymoon: How to build the (almost) perfect business collaboration

Tim Banks
Faculty IT Manager
University of Leeds

I have just attended a really interesting session delivered by Bill Hogue, Director of IT (CIO) at South Carolina University. He started by telling us that in 2014, he received a phone call from the Vice Chancellor (President) of the University with news of a new initiative, partnering with IBM for delivery of some of the core University IT services. His exact words were “It’s a great opportunity and I know you’ll be excited by it”

Bill has been seeking new model for IT delivery at University of South Carolina since 2004 and was convinced that the future of IT was going to be about partnerships, not least because the world of IT was changing so fast and the staff and students at the University now had access to world-class IT services at commodity items in their everyday lives. On January 1st 2015, the University of South Carolina entered into a 10-year partnership valued at an estimated $100m dollars. The actual contract value is less than this figure, but Bill is sure that more opportunities to work with IBM will present themselves over the contract period. He summarised the whole 15 month contract negotiation period and the first 10 months of the partnership into two basic principles:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Know your collaborator

He also sounded a note of caution which was an idea commonly attributed to Peter Drucker, namely “Culture eats strategic planning for lunch”. In other words, no matter how much strategic planning you do, if you don’t have a grip on your organisational culture and haven’t prepared your organisation for change, then your strategy will fail.

http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Strategy-or-Culture-Which-Is-More-Important

Assumptions

Bill then went on to list five assumptions about IT in Higher Education, as follows:

1: ‘Keeping the lights on’ is necessary but not sufficient on its own to deliver world class IT service. The important thing is how we serve the University and how we serve the Faculties. He told of the Director of Facilities at a University where he had previously worked who had a sign on the back of his door which he saw every time he left his office which read: “What have you done for the students today?” We should always remember why do we do what we do at the University.

2: Most of us are not receiving A+ grades from the staff and students at our institutions for our delivery of production services. It might be OK, but we are not doing a terrific job.

3: Our grades will get worse unless we do something different. Our expectations in IT are driven by consumer IT services; the challenge is only going to get harder. Currently there are 13 billion devices on the internet and this number is growing daily.

4: Running world class IT services is not a core competency of the University. The focus is teaching, learning, research and partnerships and we tend to be just ‘OK’ at delivering IT.

5: Most of us are in the early stages of transformation programs that promises to be disruptive. The IBM Institute for Business Value said in a recent report: “Demands on and in University IT Services continue to rise […] Both academic and industry leaders believe the current HE system is broken. We need a more practical and applied curriculum to exploit disruptive technologies and develop more partnerships.”

The Deal

Seventy three positions were transitioned from the University being the employer to IBM (without the individuals changing location / office etc.) Bill spoke about the need to handle this process very carefully and to ensure that all the University senior managers, including HR are on board with the process. The contract is mainly centred on delivery of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, as this is where it was felt that IBM could deliver the best value.

A brand new Centre for Applied Analytics and Innovation is being built. This will house IBM experts in this field alongside University researchers. There were many similarities with the recently launched Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) http://www.lida.leeds.ac.uk  at my own University of Leeds.

There are also plans to launch several apprenticeships with both staff and students working closely with IBM to develop new skills at the leading (or possibly bleeding) edge of IT development. A key factor in the partnership is the University’s access to IBM’s Watson technology, which IBM describe as ‘Cognitive Computing Systems that understand natural language’. http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/

One of Watson’s main benefits is undertaking large scale real-time data analytics to identify ways to improve operational efficiency in finance, purchasing, facilities management etc. If the University of South Carolina is able to save just 1% on its annual $1.5bn budget, then that is a lot of money that can be reinvested in core business. This also opens up new areas of research opportunity for both staff and students to work with the Watson technology.

Bill then went on to expand on his two core principles, as follows:

Know yourself

  • Why are we doing this?
  • We can’t assume that we have a unified agendas. He could think of at least a dozen potentially competing agenda for wanting to develop a partnership such as the one with IBM that include:

o    Economic development
o    The Leader’s Legacy
o    Getting free stuff from the partner
o    Wanting to improve services
o    The need to save money
o    Minimising or spreading risk associated with IT delivery

  • IT will continue to develop over time
  • It takes a firm commitment from the senior management at the University

o   Partnerships such as this can and most probably will be very disruptive
o   Needs total support from senior leadership team (Finance, HR, Student Education, VC, ProVCs etc.)

  • You need a comms strategy to manage the message that stakeholders are receiving
  • You need to be understanding towards affected employees. You can’t turn you back on staff who have worked at the University for many years and think of them as ‘IBM’s problem’

Things that can go wrong

  • Deals don’t always work out – you need an exit strategy
  • You need to get good at negotiating terms with the private sector with people who do this all day long for IBM
  • You need to recruit new ‘talent’ including people who love to read contracts
  • You are dealing with an organisation that is in this to make a profit and they will do this at your expense if they can get away with it.
  • That’s not a bad thing so long as you manage to negotiate fair terms and the University gets what it wants out of the deal too
  • There will always be ‘cave people’ who are always against everything. Be prepared for scrutiny and criticism.
  • Be prepared for inconvenient truths. You may find some things out about your organisation, staff and even yourself when your partner takes a long hard look at your with their world-class perspective. You may find out that some of your operations are not as world-class as you would like to believe.
  • Some of your customers will resist the new business model

o    Your customer base has to change as well. That can be a hard sell
o    They may not be interested in engaging in new processes “The old ones were just fine thank-you very much.”

  • The timing of introducing a change like this will never be right. You have to accept that it will be inconvenient and disruptive.
  • You must remember to have some fun, be creative and sustain a spirit of adventure.

o    Remember to keep talking about the 10-year strategy, not the 10 day problems.

Know your collaborator

  • They are not a 501C3 (US speak for non-profit organisation)
  • Understand their culture. The University is not going to go corporate and your partner is not going to become an academic institution. You must find your common ground.
  • Your collaborator will bring their very best people “the A-team” to the negotiating table. You have to be aware that the actual delivery may be by the B-team or the C-team. IBM has 435,000 employees worldwide. Not all of them are in the A-team. Make sure you retain the right quality of delivery once the contract has been signed.
  • Who are the champions? What are their strategies? You must understand their agenda.
  • Be prepared to receive help from a lot of different sources (not all of which will be helpful).
  • You need to be prepared to stay the course.

It was a fascinating account of a very ambitious project. I couldn’t help but think that we need to increasingly take a lead from organisations such as the University of South Carolina. There are of course challenges, technical, human and cultural but we shouldn’t let these alone prevent us from taking brave decisions to do the right thing for the future of IT in our institutions of learning and research.

Employability: developing and evidencing graduate attributes

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Day 2 of ePIC Conference, Barcelona, 8-10 June

If Day 1 was about open badges, today’s keyword was employability! Below is a recap on a few of the sessions I found most interesting.

Jisc employability skills-match and data service
Scott Wilson (CETIS) and Simon Whittemore (Jisc) kicked off the morning sessions with an introduction to a new JISC project to develop an online, dynamic employability skills-match and data service. This work is part of the Prospect to Alumnus programme launched this year, the aim of which is to help institutions to merge and make better use of distributed student information to provide a seamless digital student journey, from application to graduation and employment. The skills-match service will be an online platform to enable employers to come together to define and recognise the skills that they’re looking for, using terms familiar and appropriate to them, e.g. what do they mean by empathetic? These would be represented by open badges that students could claim and which would then be awarded on the basis of third party testimonials, evidence or possibly endorsements. So, the curricula for the badges will be set by JISC’s employer consortia partners, but students will in essence issue them to themselves and request evidence or endorsement from a referee, likely in the STAR format. Their service framework puts qualities or attitudes at the core; second to these are capabilities (customer service, leadership etc); the third level is domain-specific skills.

The drivers for the project include the HE sector’s emphasis on the employability agenda and findings from the CBI and McKinsey studies that highlight a European skills gap from education to employment. The research showed that school and college leavers’ attitudes and aptitudes are valued more highly by employers than their qualification. Scott and Simon spoke of the importance of developing T-shaped graduates whose depth of knowledge is equalled by their cross-domain skills and their ability to communicate and work in a multitude of contexts.

T shaped student

The T-Shaped Student. A visual thought bv Bryan Mathers (@BryanMMathers)(CC-BY-ND) inspired by Scott Wilson (CETIS) and Simon Whittemore’s (Jisc) presentation on a Jisc employability skills match service.

 

While the site is addressing one of the key challenges discussed a lot on Day 1 – including the employer voice in education, eportfolios and open badges – some delegates at my table were concerned about a service relying on self-endorsement. Rather than concern about mistrust and abuse of the system, discussions were around how weaker students tend to inflate, while stronger students deflate their skill level. Similarly, participants discussed research findings that female students tend to underrate themselves, so while over-claiming of badges is a risk which could be mitigated by weighing up the value of the evidence and endorsement provided by the student, it might be harder to prevent under-claiming by qualified students. Of course, this issue isn’t unique to this service but it’s an interesting one to keep in mind when considering self-issuing of badges.

Deakin University keynote: Assuring graduate capabilities
Professor Beverley Oliver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Deakin University, Australia, delivered an inspiring keynote on her work to develop and evidence graduate attributes.

Beverley Oliver from Deakin University presenting her keynote, ‘Assuring Graduate Capabilities’

Beverley Oliver from Deakin University presenting her keynote, ‘Assuring Graduate Capabilities’

Despite excited talk of disruptions and revolutions to education by MOOCs, open badges, free, online bite-sized learning etc., Beverley highlights that the grading policy in the new ‘utopia’ is still the same – it is grades-based instead of learning outcomes based. She asks if we are just digitising the broken system or could we reinvent it? When the outcome is simultaneously focused on employability, students become transactional, resulting in gaming the education system rather than learning; CVs are a mix of warranted credentials (degrees etc.), unwarranted claims (I am expert in…etc.), your three best friends (referees!) and your digital footprint.

In order to refocus student incentives from marks and credits to learning outcomes, Deakin have redesigned the curriculum around eight Graduate Learning Outcomes (GLOs): Discipline-specific knowledge, Communication, Digital literacy, Teamwork, Critical thinking, Problem-solving, Self-management, and Global citizenship. These are embedded in modules and courses at a base level but a series of University badges, called Deakin Hallmarks, offer students an opportunity to evidence outstanding achievement in each of the GLOs. The hallmarks exist alongside the degree – evidence can come from studies or beyond university life – and students can only earn each Hallmark once. Beverley stressed that the language of ‘hallmarks’ was intentional; badges are the technology, not the purpose behind them, she says, and so open badges are only discussed at Deakin in reference to how the Hallmarks are issued and stored, not as a concept. She also avoids the term ‘endorsement’, seeing it as having become devalued by the LinkedIn approach – a comment made by many throughout the conference. Beverley made a convincing argument and Deakin’s Hallmark programme is well branded and structured, but one concern I have with rebranding open badges at an institutional level is that I see their universality and transferability as part of their value. If some students aren’t speaking the same language, is there a risk of decreasing the visibility of badges generally and of limiting their likelihood of seeking out and earning badges from other providers?

Beverley also discussed the University’s Deakin Digital and Me in a Minute initiatives. Me in a Minute is a great video-creation service that empowers and facilitates students to promote their skills and experience to prospective employers via a one-minute video. The idea is that the video accompanies online applications and CVs (e.g. LinkedIn) to make the student stand out and create a good impression. An underlying purpose is to facilitate students’ self-reflection and articulation of their competencies. Finally, recognising that ‘unbundling’ of education poses a threat to the traditional university model, Deakin have taken the innovative step of creating a subsidiary company, Deakin Digital, to compete against themselves.  Deakin Digital doesn’t deliver any teaching. Rather, it issues credentials for career development on the basis of prior learning or evidence. Credentials are earned at a granular level and recipients could eventually challenge for a Masters degree if they so choose. The model links a new credentialing system to the old one and if successful, it could eventually put the University out of business. It’s early days yet, but it’s a bold investment in an alternative to traditional higher education, by a traditional higher educational institution.

One of the key messages Beverley left us with was to stop calling them ‘soft skills’! They are hard to develop, hard to assess and hard to evidence – sometimes harder than the hard skills – and our language devalues them. Understandably, we were left tripping over our words for the next couple of days!

Developing a conceptual model to guide university ePortfolio implementation
Cathy Buyarski’s (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, IUPUI) presentation made me reflect upon the distinctive types of ePortfolios, e.g. showcase and reflective, and their varied aims. Cathy presented on the need for a conceptual model to guide a university eportfolio implementation and her experience of developing one. IUPUI students are required to produce an electronic personal development plan (ePDP) in their foundation year to be revised and updated throughout their degree, to foster goal creation and a compass for success. The team found that there needed to be a clearer explanation or model for why they were asking students and staff to buy-in to the ePDP and after an extensive literature review, the below model was created. This portfolio is intended as a holistic portfolio that deepens the students’ understanding of themselves. Developing your own education and career plans requires an increasing awareness of one’s self in relation to others; being able to set your own goals as opposed to inheriting those of your parents or authoritative figures; and developing hope, or in other words, understanding the various routes of progression to your goals. Underpinning each of these elements is reflection and building towards a greater understanding of self, meaning and purpose. Cathy points out that the end stage of the portfolio does not say graduation, in order to stress that the portfolio should embody a meaningful college experience instead.

Conceptual model for the IUPUI electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP). Presented by Cathy Buyarski. http://iupui.mcnrc.org/ref-practice/

Conceptual model for the IUPUI electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP). Presented by Cathy Buyarski. http://iupui.mcnrc.org/ref-practice/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europortfolio – the European network of EPortfolio Experts and Practitioners
In the afternoon, Igor Balaban (Open University of Catalonia, Spain) provided an overview of the work of the Europortfolio network (conference sponsors). Europortfolio, the European Network of Eportfolio Experts and Practitioners, is just two years old and is made up of a consortium of interested parties including the UK Centre for Recording Achievement. Europortfolio provide a useful portal for networking and communicating about current eportfolio projects, as well as four core ‘products’ of use to anyone involved in implementing eportfolio programmes:

  •  The ePortfolio Open Badges Maturity Matrix is a working document intended to help organisations reflecting on their integration of eportfolios and/or open badges by providing a means of benchmarking against a maturity blueprint featuring five stages: Aware, Exploring, Developing, Integrating and Transformative
Europortfolio's ePortfolio Implementation Guidelines poster

Europortfolio’s ePortfolio Implementation Guidelines poster

  • The Implementation Guidelines aid implementation of ePortfolios. A set of general guidelines is supplemented by separate guidelines for implementation at class or institutional level, as well as issues for consideration by consortia. The guidelines address the exploratory, planning and designing, developing, implementing and testing and sustaining and evaluating stages.
  •  The Competency Framework, another working document, analyses different ePortfolio technologies and functionalities in relation to how they can support competency recognition. First, the document addresses the nature of competencies and difficult issues involved in defining, recognising and accrediting them. Then, it interrogates how ePortfolios and related technologies can aid in this process.
  •   And the latest project, the ePortfolio Self-Development Study Course which Lourdes Guardia (University of Zagreb, Croatia) was on hand to introduce. This self-paced MOOC of sorts comprises seven modules targeted at individuals and institutions implementing or enhancing an ePortfolio. The first iteration, which launched on 15 June, will be time-bound but the resources will remain open for reuse at any stage. There is a heavy focus on OER use, content is available in three languages (English, Spanish and Polish), and the course represents a cross-fertilisation of European projects as it’s hosted on the EMMA: European Multiple MOOC Aggregator platform (still in beta).

The network has local chapters and are always looking to expand, so if you are interested in contributing, visit the collaborations page or contact the network via their website.

Guilty or Not Guilty? The sustained importance and reach of ePortfolios is put on trial

Guilty or Not Guilty: ePortfolios on trial with Serge Ravet and Beverley Oliver.

Guilty or Not Guilty: ePortfolios on trial with Serge Ravet and Beverley Oliver.

 

We finished up the day by putting the ePortfolio on trial, with a judge, jury, prosecution and defence all in attendance! Arguments centred on such questions as “why doesn’t everyone have an ePortfolio?” and “is the ePortfolio dead?”. Serge Ravet (Europortfolio / ADPIOS, France), appearing for the prosecution, was critical of how eportfolios too often represent inauthentic learning. They usually don’t convey the authentic voice of the learner – particularly if they are graded – as students game the system and formulate the voice expected of them by the teacher. Why doesn’t everyone have one? Well, they’re difficult! They take time and only thrive under certain conditions but perhaps, as one ‘witness’ argued, we just haven’t given them enough time. It takes more than a couple of decades for an approach or technology to transform education. Or maybe we are being too insular when we should be thinking more broadly about what an ePortfolio is – is it a tool or a concept? If it’s the latter, isn’t Facebook, Twitter, our whole digital footprint a kind of ePortfolio? That certainly seems to be premise of the MyShowcase and Open Badge Passport platforms I wrote about in Day 1, where the focus is on aggregating one’s content or evidence from across the web and contextualising it to develop a showcase portfolio. I’m not sure we reached a conclusion on the charge (in fact, I’m not 100% clear on what the charge was in the end!), but questioning why we should bother with ePortfolios at all was a thought-provoking end to Day 2.

Key discussion points of the day:
– How do we get employers’ input into open badge design and development?

– Do employers value ePortfolios?

– What is an ePortfolio and are they still relevant?

– Are endorsements without evidence of any value?

 Key projects and resources from today: 

 My ePIC conference Storify: https://storify.com/Roisin_Cassidy/epic-2015-disruptive-technologies-for-transformati

Europortfolio Network: http://www.europortfolio.org/

ePortfolio Self-Development Study Course: http://platform.europeanmoocs.eu/course_eportfolio_self_development_st

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. 2015. Literature Review (for development of an eportfolio conceptual model): http://pdp.uc.iupui.edu/AboutePDP/LiteratureReview.aspx

The full conference programme and session details are available from the ePIC 2015 website.

Epic preparations by a UCISA bursary award winner

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Pre-conference thoughts

Earlier in the year I had discovered the ePIC 2015 conference programme and it grabbed my attention immediately. As a Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor at York St John University, my role includes leading and supporting the institution’s use of our ePortfolio system, Mahara, as well as embedding the considered use of open badges as a new online standard for recognising and verifying formal and informal learning. So, the conference theme – ‘disruptive technologies for transformative learning’ – is directly relevant to my work. It also dovetails with the focus of the UCISA Digital Skills and Development (DSDG) Academic Support Group in supporting students and staff in the effective use of technology for learning, teaching and assessment. As such, it was the conference at the forefront of my mind when UCISA’s bursary scheme was announced, as this provides members with the means to go to an event they would not usually have the opportunity to attend. I was delighted to hear that my bursary application was successful, and I’m looking forward to the great mix of keynotes, presentations and workshops at ePIC 2015 from 8-10 June in Barcelona.

The conference’s two primary strands, open badges and ePortfolios for learning and assessment, offer exciting – and in the case of open badges, emerging and innovative – opportunities to address one of the key UCISA strategic challenges of developing staff and students’ digital literacies. It’s also a chance for me to gather an international perspective on two core areas of my work. The conference is aligned with a host of high-profile sponsors and partners including Open Badge Factory, Open Badge Passport (Sponsors), and Badge Alliance and Open Education Europa (Partners) and will see the launch of the Open Badge Passport. A series of workshops will outline the vision for the Passport and seek delegates’ input into how this open source project might successfully reinvent the ePortfolio to take account and advantage of the full opportunities offered by open badges, whilst facilitating the trust which is the currency of badges. We’ll also have a chance to examine the design principles for building an open badges programme and explore the disparate badge types and the growing variety of avenues for issuing, earning and ‘consuming’ badges. This is of particular interest to me as my University looks to build on small-scale pilot initiatives towards more University-wide projects.

Amongst the other sessions I’m looking forward to are:

  •  A review of the lessons learned by Amod Jayant Lele and Gillian Pierce of Boston University when adopting ePortfolios for assessment on a large campus, and their observations on the pedagogical benefits of ePortfolios beyond initial assessment-focused purposes. (Adopting ePortfolios on a large university campus: program assessment and beyond. Amod Jayant Lele and Gillian Pierce, Boston University)
  • A keynote from DisasterReady.org on how the Humanitarian workforce sector is embracing the value of ePortfolios for developing and recognising the skills of a very global and mobile workforce, and how the technology is aiding the professionalisation of their particular sector (The pivotal role of educational technologies in human capital development. Atish Gonsalves, DisasterReady.org; Dominique Giguère and Don Presant, MSF Canada)
  • A report on an ongoing collaborative project at Buckinghamshire New University to explore the value of social media based ePortoflios created using student selected tools, and to review the impact of such an approach on students’ engagement with employers, alumni and other industrial connections. (Social Media ePortfolio for employability: a student- led approach. Barbara Anne Nicolls and Kath Dunn, Buckinghamshire New University)

I will be tweeting throughout the conference, so follow me @Roisin_Cassidy for updates, or watch out for my posts on the UCISA and York St John TEL Team blogs for fuller reports.

The full conference programme and session details are available from the ePIC 2015 website.

Jisc Digital student event

I attended the Jisc digital student data collection and analysis workshop in London on the Wednesday 29th April. It was raining. I was directed to a brightly lit room, mostly due to the large windows with bare white walls. The room was furnished with six large tables, littered with Jisc information, and chairs stationed around them. At 10am it was filled with HE staff from all over the UK. I sat down next to two lovely ladies, one from The Open University and the other from Glasgow Caledonian University.

The day started with Sarah Knight talking about the #digitalstudent project and how Jisc were at phase 3, where they had already consulted with 500 staff and students from HE and 300 staff and 220 learners from further education about students expectations and experiences of technology. The remainder of the day was spent in a facilitated workshop.

We were told that ideas were needed from the sector and that there was no such thing as a bad idea. The day was not going to be laid back. We were going to have to work for our lunch, and work we did. It was filled with analogies, what ifs and concepts.

We were presented with the seven challenges in enhancing the digital student experience, taken from the Jisc strategic approach guide. Then came the Analogy exercise. We were asked us to think of commercial systems that could work well within the HE sector to enhance the student experience. There were many examples as we were encouraged to write as many as we could. One person suggested financial risk planning. The key attributes were profiling customers about their perception towards risk. They suggested that it could be used to profile students’ perceptions towards technology.

We had a noisy break as everyone was chatting to each other. Then the next exercise quickly followed: What ifs. We were given large block of Postit notes to write down our wish lists such as What if … we had a permanent student led (CAN) R&D unit run by student research interns or work placements or What if … we bought Facebook and used it for learning and What if… we could personalised every individuals approach to teaching or learning and enable them to work in their own preferred way. By the end of the session those lovely white walls, were no longer white but filled with our ideas on coloured bits of sticky paper.

Wall

 

 

 

 

 

The day did not end there. We had fun drawing each other with our left hand, for light relief, before the meat of the exercises was served to us. We had to take the What ifs and develop them into concepts propositions. Two from each table were presented to the room and then stuck up on the wall, where everyone was invited to vote on the concepts. I looked out the window and the rain had stopped. After a summary of the day, the facilitators thanked us for our contributions and closed the workshop. It was an enjoyable day that went as quickly as the rain.

Footnote: Initial outcomes from the day are available on the Jisc website

Lorraine Barclay
IT Systems Trainer
St George’s University of London
UCISA-DSDG USG Committee member

Getting past “the computer says no”

Linda Davidson highlighted in her presentation at UCISA14 that IT continues to have a very negative image. There are many reasons for this but we have all had the “The computer says no” experience where IT is blamed for a lack of information or for the inability to respond to a question. It is a response borne of poor processes and is symptomatic of an uninterested and disengaged support service. The impact of the negative image is such that the services’ customers are also disengaged – they don’t even bother to ask the question as they expect a negative answer – but also it is often applied to all IT services.

Confidence in the reliability of the service underpins any efforts to build good customer relations. It is vital, therefore, to get the core services right to ensure that the service is regarded as a trusted partner and in order to be in a position of influence with key stakeholders and decision makers. All members of staff have a role to play – it is important for staff to be consistent in delivering the services message, becoming respected within their spheres of influence and to engage with the department’s customers.

The Service Desk is often the first port of call. It was encouraging, therefore, to hear Sally Bogg quote from the HE Service Desk Benchmarking report that professional standards are being adopted widely for service desk operation. As one delegate pointed out, “Service operation where is users get value from IT – get it wrong, people will think IT is rubbish”. However, many institutions are at the start of the journey; the absence of formal service catalogues and service level agreements are key indicators that the processes that underpin those standards are some way from maturity. Continued investment and continual improvement is needed to ensure that the people and processes continue to deliver quality service.

It isn’t just about changing one aspect of a service – the whole department needs to reflect the service and have a strong customer ethos. This may require a shift in attitude amongst some staff who may be set in their ways and views. Changing culture, as Chris Day observed, is never an easy journey but is necessarily the first step to improving customer service. All members of the department need to be able to engage with your customers – particularly as they may offer less formal routes to key stakeholders.

Where there is more formal contact, it is important to ensure that the individuals involved understand the needs of the customers they are talking to. That way, trust and credibility will be built. This was seen as a particular issue when talking to researchers and some have sought to address this by employing staff with a research background specifically to talk to researchers. There were, however, few examples of such a specialist role – in many instances account management is tacked on to some jobs as an afterthought or in some cases is not acknowledged at all.

It is important to remember that all staff in IT service departments are essentially account managers. They each have their own sphere of influence, through formal and informal contacts and so all have the potential to influence customers and key stakeholders in the university. They need to deliver the services message and there needs to be consistency across the piece. The difficult part is getting them all to recognise their account management role and so play their part in IT services being a valued and trusted partner so that the computer says “yes”.

Reproduced from Peter Tinson’s blog

David Watson’s Ten Commandments for HE

I do like David Watson’s …

HE: the Ten Commandments

• Strive to tell the truth.

• Take care in establishing the truth.

• Be fair.

• Always be ready to explain.

• Do no harm.

• Keep your promises.

• Respect your colleagues, and especially your opponents.

• Sustain the community.

• Guard your treasure.

• Never be satisfied.