Monthly Archives: December 2018

How using empathy can help build better systems and products

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Following on from my earlier posts about convergence, creativity and customer focus, today’s article looks at another of the themes which were prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.
There was still a hint of summer in the air even as the first of the leaves were changing when I found myself in Westminster attending the conference courtesy of UCISA’s annual personal development bursary for those working in the education sector. Sitting writing this in my festive jumper just days before Christmas, September feels like a long time ago.
Given the time of year, in the words of Charles Dickens “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; … when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely”, it is perhaps apt that today’s subject is empathy. It seemed that the concept of empathy was touched upon explicitly or implicitly in every session I attended at the conference.

Empathy in design thinking

Given that the first stage of design thinking is ‘Empathise’ (see below) and one of the other key areas of focus at the conference was customer experience, it is perhaps not a surprise that empathy was discussed frequently and in some depth in this context.

Design thinking is defined by Gartner as a “multidisciplinary process that builds solutions … in a technically feasible, commercially sustainable and emotionally meaningful way”. Activities undertaken, particularly in this first stage, seek to understand the thoughts, emotions and feelings of a customer or user on their journey with an organisation and its digital touchpoints.
In their Digital Customer Journeys workshop, Andrej Gustin (CREA Plus) & Igor Smirnov (NETICA) presented a useful approach and template for capturing these emotions at various touchpoints of the user’s journey to identify focus areas for improvement. At a very high level, the approach can be summarised as follows:
  1. Identify key touchpoints, then for each touchpoint:
  • Understand current process and user experience
  • Identify current customer emotion/feelings
  • Identify desired customer emotion/feelings and experience
  • Prioritise processes for improvement based on a gap analysis of current to desired customer state.
  1. For prioritised processes, brainstorm improvements.
I was particularly interested in this prioritisation of focus area by customer experience, rather than a traditional quantifiable benefit, which I felt demonstrated a real paradigm shift towards customer and user-centric systems design.

Empathy as a skill of the future

Empathy was also discussed from a social perspective, as we explored the human factor in a digital society, where robots, AI and interactions driven by algorithms are fast becoming a part of our everyday lives.
It is undeniable that many jobs formerly carried out by humans are now carried out partially, if not entirely, by machines. This has been increasingly evident in the manufacturing sector with progressively more elements of manufacturing production lines being automated since the 1970s. Footage of a car manufacturing plant in the early 20th century, compared to a modern-day plant illustrate the transition from a busy factory thriving with human workers, to a rather clinical environment where robotic arms move in an eerily human manner to select and assemble components.
However, this automation is not restricted to the manufacturing sector, which has traditionally been an early adopter of automation technologies. The service industry, a sector perhaps traditionally associated with human-delivered customer service, is also automating roles. When I visit a supermarket, I often choose to use the self-scan tills, interacting with (often quite frustrating) AI rather than a human cashier. Where eight members of staff would have processed transactions and exchanged pleasantries with customers ten years ago, one member of staff can supervise the same number of self-service tills, only intervening when the somewhat rudimentary AI (inevitably) reaches its limitations. When shopping online, I am as likely to consult a chatbot or self-service customer support tool as a member of the customer service team.
Thirty years ago such sophisticated technology belonged to the fantasy world of sci-fi movies. It was unthinkable that real-life technology would progress at such a rate to replace jobs with such a key human element to them. Yet with technological advances and the rate of change at an all-time-high the media, researchers and technological commenters are now speculating about the next tranche of job roles to be replaced by robots in the coming years and decades.
So, should we be concerned that we will one day be replaced by robots, rendered redundant by such seductive promises as “a jetliner pilot who never makes a mistake, never gets tired, never shows up to work with a hangover”*?
Meryl Streep once said “the greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy”. Though significant research is being undertaken to develop synthetic empathy in AI, developing facial expression recognition technology and crunching millions of data points to build increasingly intelligent algorithms and so-called learning capabilities, for now it seems that true empathy remains a uniquely human ability. Shortly before the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, The World Economics Forum released their ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’. In his Day 2 opening keynote speech, the IIBA’s Nick De Voil highlighted the top ten key skills trends for today and projections for 2022. It was notable how many ‘soft’ and ‘human’ workplace skills were listed as those which would endure despite predicted technological advancements. These key skills include emotional intelligence, initiative and social influencing, all of which require empathy. This perhaps implies an expectation that our technological advancements will continue to fail to satisfactorily emulate and replace such human abilities; those intrinsic traits of human nature of relating to others, reading non-verbal cues and making ‘human’ decisions.

Empathy in wellbeing

There was also emphasis on remembering that we and our co-workers are not suit-wearing robots. We are humans, with great potential for creativity, innovation, love and resourcefulness, but we are also subject to emotions, feelings, health problems and complicated personal lives.
Oxford Dictionaries succinctly define empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In his exciting Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts session, National Grid’s Charlie Payne introduced the behaviour/attitude cycle (see below) when explaining the importance of being aware of the impact a person can have on others.

He explained that an individual’s attitude is reflected in their behaviour. This behaviour then influences the attitude of others, which in turn influences their behaviour and so on. Whilst this can be used positively, it all too often can have negative consequences on relationships and communication when the individuals involved are not practising Emotional Intelligence (EI).
With the recent societal drive to remove the stigma often traditionally associated with mental health, it was encouraging to find the subject addressed and discussed openly by a number of speakers at the conference.
Craig Rollason, also of National Grid, in his inspiring The BA Bucket List keynote advocated the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in understanding colleagues and stakeholders and the reasons for their behaviour.
Rollason also presented a challenge/support matrix model which he explained can be used to analyse and grow awareness of an individual’s current work and career state. The model indicates that the best environment for career and personal development would be one where an individual is feeling challenged but supported. Rollason was however careful to note that some individuals may be experiencing high challenge and low support in their personal lives and subsequently may be in need of what Rollason coined ‘the duvet zone’ at work (low challenge and high support).
For me this was a rather unexpected example of empathy in such a professional setting, where sometimes there is an expectation of ‘leave your personal life at the door’ and ‘always be professional’. It was a welcome recognition that in reality, as humans, it is not always possible to switch emotions and personal distractions on and off at will, particularly in the modern world where technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time and space.

Empathy as an holistic practice

In summary, my top empathy takeaways were that whilst we can use empathy as a tool to better understand our customers and users to build better systems and products, we can also use it to understand our colleagues and understand their motivations, beliefs, attitudes and the root causes behind these. This enables us to build stronger working relationships, understand how to better interact and deal with our stakeholders and how to care for our colleagues when they need extra support.
We can also exercise empathy towards ourselves, valuing and appreciating our skills, finding our place in the world, respecting and drawing on our experiences and being proud of these. When practising emotional intelligence, self-awareness is also important as we consider how our behaviour and attitude influences that of others.
So, in the words of William S. Preston and Theodore Logan, this festive season and into the new year, “be excellent to each other” (and “party on dudes”)*. A very happy Christmas to you all and your families.

*Ten points if you get the movie references – and some classic 90s movie recommendations for the holidays!
Coming Soon…
In addition to convergence, creativity, customer focus and empathy, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophising
Watch this space in the New Year for the next installment!
This blog was originally published at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-empathy-rachel-drinkwater.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Connecting on virtual reality through the UCISA bursary

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

Six months on from Realities 360 2018, San Jose

This year the UCISA bursary scheme enabled me to attend Realities 360. The conference, only in its second year, attracted an international audience of hundreds of colleagues working in education and interested in augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Having searched for an event closer to the UK, without success, it simply wouldn’t have been possible to attend the conference without UCISA’s support.
At the time of the conference, I was in the early stages of a project exploring the affordances of VR in education. As a distance university, our students at The Open University are geographically dispersed and study asynchronously. This poses us some unique challenges, particularly when introducing new or emergent technologies like VR. At the time, we had undertaken two small scale VR pilots to refine our VR production process. One of these pilots was a presentation practice tool for law students which gave them the opportunity to present virtually and take questions from a virtual audience. This gave students the opportunity to practice applying the law to near real-world problems and receive analytics data to aid their reflection before undertaking the task in person. I soon learned that VR demanded a new approach to design and construction over established media due to its uniquely immersive properties. I’ve used my experience of the conference to learn from other’s practice and refine our production processes. I’m now leading the project at a phase where we need to transition from a discreet R&D project to operating at greater scale.
One of the key takeaways from Realities 360 was to see how others were approaching the design and creation of VR experiences. It helped me to better understand immersion as a new form of narrative. There is a need to consider how users might interact (i.e. the interface being used – not forgetting voice, gesture and haptic interfaces) with virtual objects, as well as how those objects behave, so as to go beyond the affordances of established media.
Sharing my conference experience with my immediate team has led us to consider how we can enhance the design of our VR experiences. There’s a gap in evaluation of VR in education and we’re exploring how analytics might infer where students are becoming more proficient with tasks, and therefore eliminate the need to present them with text-based questions and interrupt their experience.
Learning from the conference has been shared internally at our annual university-wide Learn About Fair. This has enabled us to connect with faculty staff who see the potential for using VR in their discipline. It’s also helped us to attract support from a senior stakeholder!
Last week, my team presented at the ‘Immersive Environments’ event organised by UCISA’s Digital Education Group. This gave us the opportunity to share an output of the project, which is a VR suitability toolkit intended to support the design and creation of pedagogically viable VR.
Undoubtedly, the biggest benefit from the bursary has been the opportunity to connect with, and learn from, colleagues both nationally and internationally. This has given us a forum to share our experience and develop a support network, and learn how others are solving some of the technical challenges and issues of scale associated with producing VR.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

A change in approach to educational technology projects for a bursary winner

Matt Goral
Educational Technologist
City, University of London

Media and Learning 2018 Conference – Leuven

It’s been several months since I attended the Media and Learning conference in Leuven, courtesy of a UCISA bursary. Whilst I was very inspired by the cutting edge projects with 360 video and interactive video, and would love to do something similar, it was the less visible threads that I noticed running through the discussions that had the biggest impact on me and the projects that I’ve been involved with since I came back from the conference.

Pre-production and handover

The importance of pre-production and planning were mentioned by a lot of people during the conference, but in a rather understated way I felt. It was acknowledged as something that we all know is important and should be done, but something which is rarely the focus of presentations. Lots of sharing of successes, sometimes of failures or obstacles, but almost never any detailed discussion of the planning stage, what documentation is important, how to ensure pedagogical effectives at the point of delivery.
I recently completed a large project that resulted in about an hour of footage and took over three months to finish. The direction and scope changed a few times, there were technical problems and decisions which we couldn’t anticipate, illness and holidays meant people were unavailable and dates slipped, etc. Normal project stuff. Without planning we would have struggled a lot of course, and location scouting, shooting cut-aways, sharing of interview questions beforehand was essential. However, it was only when some project members got ill I realised a lot of the editing, design and implementation decisions, were not written down anywhere and made handover impossible. I have made recommendations to our Project Office for such fail-safes to be included during pre-production on critical projects, so that in case of project members being unavailable, someone with similar skills could pick up the project.

Presence and presentation

The other idea I still think about months after the conference is the fact that presentation is a skill and that some people are more “watchable” than others. It seems obvious but has some implications which changed the way I approach video shoots.
The most important consideration is that not every video needs to have the presenter visible if they are not comfortable with appearing on screen. Screencasts, animations, podcasts, etc., are all great options if it is not possible to have the expert appear in person. Furthermore, studio setups with lots of hot lights, hanging microphones and multiple people can intimidate people. The results whilst maybe having perfect light, will be found lacking. Lots of people who ask for video, imagine themselves talking to camera from a teleprompter both of which are hard things to do and require lots of practice, not realising that a much simpler approach could be potentially more effective.
Keeping this in mind, I started to make decisions about how to approach projects by thinking about the subject matter and the skills and personality of the participant first, rather than pushing for best quality every time. It also made me behave differently when filming, where I try to make the person feel as comfortable as possible at the expense of ideal setup. The results have been very positive so far with people being pleasantly surprised by the experience even if they were dreading it to begin with.
Those two ideas have greatly influenced the way I approach projects nowadays. Whilst seeing finished projects and innovative ideas has been inspiring, often it is difficult to implement projects we’ve seen at conferences immediately. There isn’t always someone who would be interested in using 360 video in their module, for example, and pushing for it can lead to the medium not fitting the message and using new tech for the sake of it. For me the most valuable aspect of this conference were the ideas about planning and setup, rather than specific tech. In the future I will be looking out for similar threads.
Thanks again to UCISA for not only making it possible for me to keep developing my practice, but also as a result of attending the event, my conference reflections are being fed into a review of video and multimedia at City.
My blogs from the conference as a whole can be found here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

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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