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How technological change is shaped by people

Karl Luke
Business Change Officer, University IT
Cardiff University

ALTC 2018 conference reflections

Thanks to the UCISA 2018 bursary scheme, I recently attended the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018 in Manchester.
This post shares some themes and highlights from the conference, together with emerging ideas I am keen to take forward at Cardiff University.

Technological change is… inevitable

A common topic throughout the three day conference concerned technological transformation and how change is managed by organisations, divisions and individuals. In the keynote address on Day Two, Amber Thomas (Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick) fascinatingly reflected on her personal and professional experiences of using educational technologies over the past two decades. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.
Amber highlighted that throughout history there have been many examples of disruptive technologies and offered parallels to some initiatives involving education (use of virtual learning environments, lecture capture). However, as Amber stressed, change takes time and is not about the technology, but the people. This chimes with my experiences as Business Change Officer at Cardiff University and reinforces the importance that Learning Technologists, and others involved in implementing learning technologies, need to carefully prepare and manage the “people side of change”.
Related to the topic of change management, Jessica Gramp and Tim Neumann offered a captivating insight into how UCL developed, implemented and reinforced an e-learning strategy. Their presentation is available here and highlights some key areas that need to be considered for successful adoption of a change. In supporting a change, the presentation stresses the importance of communities of practice. Intriguingly, UCL have established a Teaching Administrator (TA) Network, whose membership include staff who make a significant contribution to the student experience. The presentation highlighted many helpful change management strategies and I have obtained lots of ideas which I am keen to explore at Cardiff University.

Lecture recording is a popular topic

During the conference I presented on my experiences of working in partnership with students to research how lecture recordings are used by learners.  I have previously written about this subject here and my ALT-C presentation can be viewed here.

The area of lecture capture appears to be a current institutional priority for many UK HE institutions. During the conference I also attended five separate sessions devoted to the subject of lecture recording and capturing educational activities. These included:
Many of the themes arising from the sessions have been documented in Martin Weller’s excellent blog post here. However, any discussions around lecture recording cannot escape the obvious questioning around pedagogical value and possible negative effects on physical attendance. It is therefore essential that those involved in the implementation of technologies, such as lecture capture, maintain critical engagement with emergent case studies and original research. There were plenty of rich case studies presented in the ALT-C sessions and some compelling research which advances discussions. For example, Stuart Phillipson presented data from Manchester University which demonstrates no correlation between the introduction of lecture capture provision and actual occupancy of teaching rooms (using data on room occupancy between 2007 and 2016). You can watch Stuart’s talk here and read more here.
However, lecture recording is a contested area. As Tressie MacMillan Cottom’s keynote from Day One proclaimed, “context matters”. The arena of educational technologies is messy, and Tressie reminded us technological tools are non-neutral; they are socially shaped and negotiated by a range of actors and interests “both in their construction and procurement and in their realization and use in practice” (Selwyn & Facer 2013 p.10). As such, technologies should also be considered in a social, political and commercial light. Moreover, both the domains of “education” and “technology” are intrinsically linked with the social, cultural, economic and political aspects of society.
In the case of lecture recording, context does indeed “matter”. Melissa Highton discussed how recent employment and political issues have manifested itself within the implementation and adoption of widespread lecture recording. Learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum and we have a responsibility to critically unpack the assumptions embodied in technologies and their use.

Reflections on the role of a Learning Technologist

The event was full of insightful sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the opportunities to network with professionals involved in using technologies to enhance teaching and learning. There are emerging opportunities for collaborations with other institutions on the subject of lecture recordings, arising from my involvement at the conference. In particular, it was great to connect with fellow UCISA bursary recipient, Marieke Guy. Marieke has written a great reflection of the conference here.
I also have left reflecting on my professional role as both a Change Officer and Learning Technologist. Technology should be viewed in terms of the “process and practices” that unpin the availability and affordances of devices, systems, software etc. Technologies can be the impetus for transformative change; helping human endeavour, agency and progress human activity. Technology should be used to enable us to explore otherwise impossible tasks, or do them more efficiently, however this is not always the case in practice. As mentioned, it is important those involved in implementing or supporting the adoption of learning technologies consider the human side of change.
Moreover, we occupy a unique position within institutions whereby we are not easily pigeon-holed. I could easily relate to Amber Thomas’ reflections that Learning Technologists suffer from imposter syndrome and we operate across many overlapping divisions. However, as Amber argues, we are increasingly occupying roles where we have to balance priorities between embedding technological practices which not only offer pedagogical value, but also offer scalability, sustainability, institutional benefits, and align to strategies and polices.

Amber Thomas ALT-C presentation available at: https://youtu.be/XOPkC311rvY
Finally, there was also personal celebration as I was awarded my CMALT certificate during the conference. If you want to know more about CMALT please read this post.

For further insights into the content of the conference search of #altc on Twitter
Reference
Selwyn, N., & Facer, K. (Eds.) (2013) The politics of education and technology: Conflicts, controversies, and connections Palgrave Macmillan
This blog first appeared in the Cardiff University Learning Technology blog
This blog is also available in Welsh: Myfyrdodau ynghylch Cynhadledd ALTc 2018

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What’s the reality with Virtual Reality?

David Vince
Senior Product Development Manager, Learning and Teaching Innovation
The Open University

Realities 360

As a senior product development manager in the Learning Innovation team at the Open University, my role is to work with colleagues to enhance teaching and learning through developing new products (i.e. tools and platforms) and supporting processes.
Earlier this year, I received a UCISA bursary enabling me to attend Realities 360. It bills itself as a hands-on event for early adopters and learning technologists to investigate first-hand Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and other simulations for learning which fall under the umbrella term of Extended Reality (XR).

What’s the reality with Virtual Reality?

Here are my reflections from Realities 360:
  1. What’s the problem VR can solve?
VR technology is still emergent. So, how do we use this new technology to do something existing tools, tech and media, don’t already enable without risk of being accused of ‘technology drive’ (as opposed to ‘pedagogy driven’) solutions? My personal take is that neither are desirable and, in fact, they need to be mutually supportive which leads nicely on to the following…
  1. Human-centred design
Find your problem. Opt for a user centric approach. IDEO have a design kit to get you started developing empathy with users and gain better insights into their needs/context. If your product has value to your users, they’re more likely to adopt it.
  1. Start small, pilot, evaluate and (re)iterate
It’s easy to be critical of emergent technologies. Best practice hasn’t emerged so we’re all learning: start small, learn and then (re)iterate.
  1. ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’
This is something that has been said within our team but something Linas Mockus and Joseph Scott, Instructional Designers at Penn State World Campus, Penn State’s online campus, pointed out twice in their presentation entitled ‘Is online education ready for VR and 360 video’. Linas and Joseph are and plan to make their research findings public. In the meantime, you might want to take a look at the news pages of Penn State’s website.
Higher education has been slow to adopt VR but there seemed to be plenty of like-minded colleagues from higher education in this session. At present, AR/VR simulation conferences seem to have a bias towards the training sector but there’s an obvious need for mechanisms for educators to share practice and learn from each other.
  1. xAPI might be your new best friend
VR experiences generate a lot of data as they’re computer mediated. Some of this is structured data, such as responses to in-experience questions however, there’s also unstructured data, such as what users are looking at, determining the meaning of their responses (e.g. sentiment analysis) etc. The ‘x’ in xAPI is short for “experience,” and gives a deeper level of behavioural insight taking things that aren’t structured and giving them structure, e.g. by recording who did what, what was done, what it was done to (i.e. an object) and a host of contextual data.
xAPI is well worth considering to get a better insight into what your learners are doing and gauge that learning has taken place by designing in activities/tasks that you set out to monitor. This will improve the experience and reduce reliance on those in-experience questions which I’ve seen lots of over the past few days.
Thanks UCISA for the bursary enabling me to attend Realities 360. During my time here, I’ve met colleagues travelling from as far away as South Africa who, like me, haven’t found conferences closer to home that fit the bill.
This blog first appeared on the Open University, Learning Innovation blog
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.