Tag Archives: higher education

What is content management, and how do we support it?

James Cox
Customer Success Analyst – Web CMS
University of Oxford

Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) 2018

This summer, with the aid of the UCISA bursary scheme, I attended the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) in York. This was my first conference since I started working in HE Digital 16 months ago, when I became part of an in-house software development team in the University of Oxford’s central IT services department.
My team built and develops a University-wide platform which comprises two distinct elements: a ‘toolkit’ to build and host websites; and a service, which responds to queries which users have raised, and provides a set of resources for users, such as live demos, documentation, and how-to guides. Ultimately, our team provides a potential solution to anyone in the university who needs to quickly create engaging web content and to make their administration of their website as painless as possible. No small task when you’re serving a highly-devolved organisation containing a wide array of use cases and user needs!

IWMW17 Ruth Mason, Matthew Castle by Kevin Mears is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
I have the reassuringly positive title of Customer Success Analyst, which situates me somewhere between the developers and business analysts – both of whom work with project partners to move the toolkit forward – and our users, who so far in the platform’s short life (the full service became operational two days after I joined the team) have created almost every kind of website a university could expect to host: from individual academic and research group sites to new web presences for academic faculties and museums.
As a customer-facing person in a technical team, I get to see both sides of the software creation and usage coin. And, as someone new to web management in HE and working on a relatively new service, I’d like to know what challenges similarly-positioned professionals are facing. As a result, IWMW seemed like a convivial space where HE Digital folk could share their experiences wrestling with similar considerations, such as supporting the creation of engaging, on-message content within their organisations, and how to make a technical solution like a CMS useful and usable to people whose day-to-day work includes only peripheral technical engagement with systems.
So, what struck me most from my first conference since working in this new sector? Which messages resonated strongest with me? And what lessons have I tried to put into my work in the four months since?

It was my first conference whilst working in HE Digital; what struck me most?

The balance between content-focused talks and ones centring on the technical parts of institutional web management differed to what I anticipated. Although the technical and management side of maintaining web services within HE was touched upon, there was a strong emphasis on content, and how to create it in a way that strengthens an institution’s brand and ultimately establishes a space for an audience to identify with it – as showcased by this promotional video for ETH Zürich, mentioned in a talk by Dave Musson. Reflecting on this during the conference, it seemed that one reason for this balance might be that technical offerings available to universities now often mean turning to SaaS solutions, which bring with them a reduced need for in-house technical expertise – allowing for greater resource allocation to the parts of web management where demand is now greatest: content and user experience.

Which talks did I enjoy and which prompted some lightbulb moments?

Telling the Birkbeck story: How customer journey mapping helped us develop our new approach to web

  • Brand identity through customer journey mapping: I enjoyed the unpacking of customer journey mapping and how it was used to design the UX of Birkbeck’s new website, and how this approach was undertaken as a foundation in promoting the Birkbeck brand: beginning with understanding the brand you have, and importantly “how your brand is no longer what you say it is, but what your users say it is”. This means you better give them a good experience or else you’re going they’re going to tell you about it – most likely through the amplification of social media.

Old school corporate identity: Blackbeard’s brand promise.
Reproduced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pirate_Flag_of_Blackbeard_(Edward_Teach).svg, CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
  • Mapping customer journeys and where the experience can be improved: The mapping process was presented in detail (key events and stages in the journeys; user feelings; touchpoints, friction, opportunities for improvement), which resonated with work that our team is currently going through, working with our administrative division.
  • Guidelines for the design process: Birkbeck adopted five design guidelines: simplify and clear clutter; push content up within the navigation and reduce user steps; connect content and surface related content on every page; flatten navigation hierarchy; don’t be afraid of long pages. Presenting good web design and information architecture practice is central to our team’s work so it’s interesting to see another institution’s take on what principles to follow.

Understanding invisible labour: University of Greenwich

  • Think about the cost of the ‘invisible’ work: A huge amount of time is lost during task switching. A Microsoft study of one of its development teams and the effect of task switching found an average increase in the time to complete a task of 226%. Think about the process a user has to undertake to complete a task using the system you support. How many steps are there? How many times does the user encounter ambiguities or increases in cognitive load, where they need to make a decision which could result in an error being made? How likely is a support request going to be raised under these circumstances? Can a change to something within the service remove this problem for the user and reduce the support load?
  • Learn the art of nudging: some users won’t jump; you need to give them a gentle push. Make tutorials (good documentation, videos, how-to docs) so users can easily engage with the system you are supporting but they need to operate. Turn it into a user experience exercise – ‘how would I have wanted to learn about that?’
  • Manage how users interact with your system: provide the basic config options and hide the rest. There is often a lot of advanced functionality in CMSs – features the average content editor isn’t likely to need. Keeping them all on display is at best confusing for users who will never need these features and at worst can result in the web-equivalent of ‘Leeroy Jenkins’, i.e. an editor clicking on the option which makes a major adverse change to the site – our team learnt that this is a thing last week, when a new content editor unfamiliar with the editing options deleted their organisation’s homepage. As a result, we’re going to make a change to prevent homepages from being deleted.
HE Digital is a small community and IWMW does an amazing job of bringing together web management professionals into a supportive community to share experiences and lessons learned. Head over to the IWMW website to see some videos of the plenary talks this year.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

“We are really important to the future of education”

Marieke Guy
Learning Technologist
Royal Agricultural University

ALTC 2018

Last month, courtesy of being awarded a UCISA bursary, I travelled up to Manchester (the city of 100,000 students) for the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018. While it was my first ALTC, it was actually the 25th in the series and there was considerable reflection on changes to the learning technologist role and in learning technology itself.  In my posts about ALTC, I want to share some of the noticeable themes and my favourite moments.
The ALTC 2018 committee team launch the conference

I am woman

This year saw three inspiring women providing the ALTC plenaries, unfortunately, unusual enough an occurrence that it warrants comment. On day 1 Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, gave a sociological unpacking of educational technology and explored the idea that context matters and learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum. Tessie suggested that the time is right for us to deconstruct learning technology and consider how we want to put the pieces back together. Learning technologies have (in the US) emerged as administrative units but would they benefit from being a unique academic discipline? She shared the example of the born digital programmes she has led on where “edtech is not just a set of tools but a philosophy about how we think about things” – offering opportunities to the non-traditional student.
On day 2 Amber Thomas, Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick, gave a wonderful talk considering ‘Twenty years on the edge’. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.  Way too much good stuff to write about here but the main take away was a pat on the back for those of us working with learning technology in HE.
ALT’s 25 year anniversary playing card pack
Things aren’t easy – not only do we suffer from impostor syndrome when we do well but there is also a misapprehension that innovation is isolated to the commercial sector and that governments and agencies are blockers of change. Amber pointed out some of our collective work, from 3.5 million spent on MOOCs, to great collaborative projects and organisations including Ferl, Jisc and EU projects. However, change in universities requires patience and it is important that we listen to the mainstream, after all digital is really about people. We need to be ethical, respectful and useful, for we are “really important to the future of education”.
Dr Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT, gave the last plenary of the conference ‘Beyond advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology?’. She brought together the conference themes, a good dose of ethics (“equality is everyone’s responsibility”) and empowerment pants.
Amber Thomas presents her twenty years on the edge
She considered the difficulties learning technologists face in being both advocate and critic in a “risky business” where things often go wrong. Perhaps we need to get better at sharing our failings. Maren concluded with a personal reflection that “EdTech is a field of practice, not a discipline”. You can read Maren’s recent post on the state of Education Technology in HE on WonkHE.

Beetastic Manchester
More to follow on the noticeable themes and favourite moments at ALTC.
This blog first appeared in the ‘Digital Transformation at RAU’ blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Communicating with brains in survival mode

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

An early contender for my favourite talk of UX Week 2018, which I attended courtesy of a UCISA bursary, was Laura E. Hall’s on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond: Lessons from Escape Room Games’.
I’m a huge fan of online puzzle and room escape games, and loved hearing about Laura’s work designing real-world ones.
For starters there were so many crossovers between escape room game design and web design: the need to manage users’ cognitive load, minimise stressors, and communicate story or message, and the importance of accessibility.
Further, I’m writing this during University of Glasgow’s registration and enrolment period: one of the most stressful and most digital-centric times of the year for students. If we could apply Laura’s ideas on how to communicate with the brain when it’s in survival mode, maybe we could smooth this out…
I highly recommend watching the whole of Laura’s 34 mins talk below, or for just the ‘survival mode’ chunk start at 15 mins in.

Phew

All this just from 1 talk and 1 workshop?! More soon…in the meantime, you can watch many of the other talks at the official conference recap.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

A new way to build personas

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I was lucky enough to attend UX Week 2018 in San Francisco.
The best thing about going to conferences is meeting and learning from lots of lovely people who are trying to do the same things I try do to. UX Week surrounded me with hundreds of such lovelies, from all over the world, for 4 full-on days of talks, workshops and social events. It was big, bright and — in the best possible way — exhausting!
The other best thing about going to conferences is picking up new ideas and methods I can apply in my work. UX Week certainly lived up to its fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’.  I took so many notes that I’m going to have split up my write up across several blog posts.
I’ll start with the ideas that lodged themselves the deepest; the ones my jetlagged brain still churns through at 3am.

Ditch the demographics: segment users by thinking style

For prospective applicants, instead of: ‘Lower GPO’ / ‘Higher GPO’ / ‘Older Student’ / ‘Low-Income’, Indi proposed: ‘Passionate About The Topic’ / ‘Means To An End’ / ‘Looking Forward To The University Experience’ / ‘Exploring Paths’.
Indi Young proposed this new way of building personas in her workshop Paying Better Attention to the Problem.
The idea stuck with me because I’ve really struggled with persona-building. Also because, marvellously, one of her slides covered the thinking styles of university applicants, making it instantly relatable.
During the University of Glasgow UX project, I don’t think it ever occurred to us to categorise our users as anything other than students at different levels of study, and staff in different job families. But when it came to assembling our ‘Digital Life’ interview findings into personas, we found it almost impossible to generalise within these broad categories.
Worse than that, in hindsight I see that personas based on these categories wouldn’t actually help me! I produce internally-facing content for our current students and staff, much of it quite technical. When I’m rewriting, for example, the instructions for connecting to campus wifi, how can I consider the need of First Year UGs vs. Final Year, PGRs vs. Professional Services Staff? They all just need to get connected!
But what about the needs of ‘Help, This Is My First Smartphone’ vs. ‘I Got This, Just Tell Me The Settings’? Now there are two groups I can work for 😃.
I’ve made up these thinking styles, but I fully intend to go back through the interviews we’ve done so far (you know, when I’ve got a spare month…) to identify our users’ real ones.

More tips for demographic-free persona building

  • No photos: Sophie Dennis has observed “One client used a photo of a young blonde-haired woman. That persona would get dismissed as ‘The Blonde.’”
  • Use gender-neutral names, or no names at all, and write bios in the first person
  • Phrase the thinking styles so that users would be happy to identify with them
  • Understand that one person can switch between multiple thinking styles depending on the circumstances.

Empathy = listening

Indi also went into great and fascinating detail on the concepts of cognitive bias, empathy, separating the problem space from the solution space, and how a UX designer should aim to be “woke”:
  • Try not to fall prey to cognitive bias
  • Recognise what systemic bias is
  • Aim for more goals than only ROI
  • Avoid using demographics to refer to a user
  • Be aware that your own culture is one of many.
More on UX Week to follow.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

The 2018 Business Analysis Europe Conference – a plan is formed

Rachel Drinkwater
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University

Creating a well-rounded agenda

Earlier this year I was granted a bursary by UCISA to attend the IRM Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, which is to be held in Westminster, London on the 24th-26th September 2018. Having worked as a business analyst for the last fifteen years, this conference has naturally been on my radar as a ‘must do’, but the cost has been prohibitive, so I’m delighted and excited to be able to finally attend.
One of the conditions of my bursary is that I will disseminate my learning from the conference to others in the education sector. Taking this further I’m hoping to combine the knowledge and ideas that I gain from the conference with those I have from my own experience to create a blog series, instructional vlogs and infographics to share with my network both in education and wider industry.  In addition to this, I intend to devise a session to present at upcoming conferences.
I’ve pre-selected my conference sessions and rather than focusing on one of the five streams (‘BA Careers’, ‘Techniques’, ‘People’, Innovation’ and ‘The BA Conference Through the Years’), I’ve instead aimed to create a well-rounded agenda for the three days I will be attending.
Day 1 will start with a practical and energetic-sounding full-morning session on ‘Gamestorming’  (I’m hoping there will be plenty of coffee to facilitate this!). I’m intrigued by the Gamestorming concept and how it differs from the workshop facilitation and requirements elicitation techniques which form what I consider to be one of my core skill sets. Even if it transpires to be the same practice rebadged, I’m expecting to learn some new techniques that I can bring straight back into the office and perhaps include in the public speaking skills workshops that I am delivering at the moment.
My afternoon is set to keep the hands-on approach, looking at ‘Digital Customer Journeys’. As one of my personal areas of interest is digital transformation and strategy, my agenda inevitably has a little bias towards those sessions addressing new ways of working in and the challenges posed by our digitally-focused society.
As if to illustrate that point, I’m starting Day 2 with the ‘The Digital BA’ session within the ‘BA Careers’ workstream. A question that is raised time and again on BA forums and in industry at the moment is ‘What does the digital world mean to us and our practice as Business Analysts?’ I am hoping that the discussions within this session will go some way to uncovering the answer. In fact I’m feeling a blog article coming on with that exact title! The remainder of my day is split between some core BA sessions within the ‘Techniques’ and ‘Innovation’ workstreams; investigating how to approach projects where there are no clear requirements  and managing difficult agile projects and some intriguing-sounding neuro linguistic programming sessions.
My choices for Day 3 kick off with a session within the ‘BA Careers’ workstream led by fellow education Business Analysts, Ed O’Regan and Suzi Jobe, from Nottingham Trent University, entitled ‘From Analyst to Strategist’. As I have progressed from business analyst to senior business analyst in my career, I’ve found that involvement in strategic work is forming an ever-increasing part of my role and it is certainly the direction in which I’m aiming to take my career. In addition to this, at Coventry University we are moving the Business Analysis team towards being a more strategic function and as such I’m keen to hear other organisations’ experiences of this approach. This links quite nicely with the following ‘Innovation’ session in which we will look at ‘Emerging Technology and the BA of the Future’.
To conclude my choices for the conference, I will be attending the very exciting-sounding ‘Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts – Reflections on Dealing with Difficult People in Dangerous Situations’ delivered by former Police Officer, Charlie Payne. Whilst it’s unlikely that I’ll ever encounter a Breaking Bad-style scenario in the office, conflict does happen and I’m hoping to learn some skills and techniques to defuse and handle such occurrences.
Amidst this action-packed agenda, there are some excellent keynote speakers, a number of networking opportunities and of course the obligatory first night drinks reception. I wholly expect to be catching the train home on Wednesday evening exhausted, but brimming with ideas and inspiration, that I will be distilling into some interesting and informative materials to share with you all. Watch this space and follow me on Twitter at @REDrinkwater to read about what I’ve found out and my thoughts and theories on the content from the three days.
This blog post first appeared on: https://racheldrinkwater.com/the-2018-business-analysis-europe-conference-a-plan-is-formed/
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Developing ideas in pedagogical transparency for staff and students

Brandon Davies
Junior Audio-Visual Technician
City, University of London

Spotlight on Digital Capabilities, June 2018

When I applied for the UCISA bursary scheme, I immediately identified “Spotlight on Digital Capabilities”, as an ideal conference for what I feel is a most urgent and interesting point of contention within the higher education system today. The potential and ambition within the realm of future teaching-enhancing techniques is intense, and the conference further embodied this.
In my blog, I’m going to focus on two talks from the conference, with which I most connected. I will then expand that consolidation of information into my own thoughts on digital pedagogical applications.

Certification for IT training: options and approaches – Gareth Johns

The talk by Gareth Johns on options and approaches for IT training was eye opening.  The options presented brought together a vital mix of ingredients essential to constructing a sustainable system for engagement, efficiency and certification validity.
The MOS Course (Microsoft Office Specialist) is an official course run and certified by Microsoft themselves.  Using this as a benchmark for digital capabilities is a fantastic way to give staff and students a goal that is not just useful for working within the university, but an incredibly useful skill as a whole. Having a highly recognized qualification as the goal, helps add to staff and students’ employability skills for their career, as well as increasing the efficiency with which digital technology is used, and furthers the transition into modern teaching spaces.

Employability as a result of proficiency

As an Audio-Visual technician myself, the vastly increasing use of digital technology within teaching spaces, can be bewildering for staff and students.  However, these spaces have the potential to provide an increasingly communicative, inclusive and engaging form of teaching. Simply setting the MOS course as a goal is not enough.  At Cardiff Metropolitan University, Gareth has implemented interactive pages on Moodle, in which a more bespoke and broken down version of the course lessons can be taught. This, as well as regular seminars, creates a far more friendly environment and approach for learning the necessary skills required for passing MOS. Using real spreadsheets that staff and students interact with, helps bring home how useful these skills can be in day to day life. This contextualisation, as well as additional practice software such as G-Metrix, creates the infrastructure necessary for an intuitive and accessible course.

Developing a holistic institutional approach to digital capabilities development – Karen Barton

Karen’s talk opened my mind to a totally different approach to digital capabilities development, an holistic approach. Rather conveniently from my alma mater (University of Hertfordshire), Karen immediately separated herself from other approaches by viewing the situation from a larger perspective.
This picture from her slide perfectly demonstrates the side effects of a non-centralised approach to providing answers. With too many parties providing their own solutions, the result can be an overcrowded and inefficient environment.

 

 

Having a specific investigative objective from senior management, as one would expect, seems to have gone a long way in progressing Karen’s work. The use of a pilot programme as a result of the extensive resources allocated, is a great way to slowly refine the scheme before being finalised.
Five other universities have signed up to Hertfordshire’s pilot, a collaboration benefiting everybody. At Hertfordshire, the total redesign of the VLE has given the team there an opportunity to apply different pedagogical practices into the most commonly used software around the university. This has provided an exceptional opportunity to increase the accessibility and efficiency of the scheme. Such long-term integration of digital capability approaches, enables an accretion of infrastructure to the point where the very fabric of being a part of the university exposes you to the certification course and its requirements. Many different speakers from a variety of universities pointed out the use of Lynda.com and Karen was no exception. I’d recommended my university (City, University of London) consider the use of Lynda. I’ve used Lynda for personal development in the past and can speak only highly of it.
Here are a few ideas I have for increasing the success rate and enthusiasm for an IT certification scheme.

Don’t Fall Behind in the Digital Age

Marketing Ideas:
  • Giving a focus on the employability aspect of the course is vital; certification within digital capabilities is hugely beneficial in the modern job market. Indicate the need to stay ahead in the digital age and not fall behind, reinforce the accreditation from Microsoft. The opportunities for lecturers to save on valuable teaching time by becoming increasingly proficient with digital technology within the classroom, is an additional marketing focus.

Increase your chances of a higher salary!

  • Holding a prize within the course for exceptional students and staff could also be hugely beneficial to providing additional incentives.

Conclusions

Homogenising the wide variety of ideas and approaches from the conference is not an easy task.  However, what I’ve mentioned goes a long way to solidifying my own approach to a task requiring a great deal of re-wiring across higher education as a whole, which has no easy solution.
I’d like to thank all the speakers from the conference and UCISA for giving me the opportunity through the bursary scheme to attend. I hope to share my findings with staff at City, University of London, and encourage conversation on an incredibly interesting and complex subject.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

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.

What does the digital age mean for teaching and learning?

Alice Gallagher
Senior Product Development Manager
The Open University

OEB 2017: Highlights and reflections

The talks and sessions I attended at OEB 2017, courtesy of a UCISA bursary, were hugely varied, and offered the opportunity to engage with different perspectives to my own. This can be fascinating and enlightening, but also challenging. There were talks that really struck a chord, and others that jarred for me. It can be difficult to reflect back on the latter, to try to understand where that disconnection comes from.
In these blogs, I’ve grouped my thoughts into the keynotes on the first day, some of the highlights, and lowlights, of the rest of the conference and my critical reflections.

Keynotes

Aleks Krotoski – The Tales they are A’Changin

Aleks is a familiar media figure and gave a very engaging and entertaining talk about the nature of storytelling and how it has changed. She moved though subject areas as varied as the Bible, Star Wars and My Little Pony! Essentially, the point she was making (I think), was that stories used to be guarded by gatekeepers, but the rise of the digital age has moved us to the extreme of fanon (fans creating new stories which then become part of the mainstream/canon). This made me think about the shift in power, and the democratisation of the Internet. However, how do you apply that to a learning context? Collaboration and co-design are wonderful democratising concepts in teaching and learning, but isn’t there always the role of a teacher in some capacity? Even if you move away from the traditional ‘imparting of wisdom’ teacher/student dynamic.
One message that came through loud and clear for me was that uncertainty can lead to reinvention. A central theme of the conference and a positive opening message.

Follow-up session (Aleks Krotoski)

I attended a follow-up discussion session with Aleks, which focused on how we might apply storytelling in our own professions. Although I went into the session thinking about how I might be able to use storytelling techniques in developing learning materials for students, it soon became clear to me in the session that the real story I needed to tell was to my academic colleagues. I work in learning innovation, and one of the biggest challenges of my role is explaining what the future of digital learning might be like. By making digital learning the subject of my story, I could use storytelling structural devices to get across my message.
Where was the world before we started?
What is going to change? What are your goals?
Raising the stakes (engagement)
Main event (answers question)
Resolution (world as it is now) – share truth in specifics
Until recently, I couldn’t see how I could use this kind of storytelling in my work. Sometimes you have to conform to familiar language to persuade people to listen, and sometimes you need to break the mould to be heard. It feels like the moment to break the mould might be around the corner. I have been keeping this storytelling structure in my back pocket for just that moment!

Abigail Trafford – Longevity learning technology

Abigail gave a fascinating talk about learning in later life. This is not an unfamiliar notion to me. At the Open University we traditionally cater for students in all walks of life. However, what I hadn’t really considered were the different needs of older people in preparing for the future. Abigail talked about the emergence of adolescence, and its role in helping young people prepare for adult life. As life expectancy increases we are seeing a new stage of life appear. That new stage comes after the tasks of adulthood are complete, but before old age. New, healthy decades in the middle of life that people need help in transitioning into. How can we help them develop new skills, prepare for their next career? How can we innovate in part-time, flexible study to cater for the needs of this age group?
I have recently been involved in some research with students into learning behaviours. One of the outcomes of this work is the dispelling of the notion of ‘digital natives’. Digital capability when it comes to learning seems to have no correlation to age. We looked at behaviours around digital preference and technological self-efficacy, and found a pattern in the behaviours of those new to HE and those with more experience, has nothing to do with age. The more we understand about students’ capabilities and needs, and the less we stereotype, the more we can innovate and help everyone fulfil their potential, at whatever stage of life they are.

 

Pasi Sahlberg – Myths and facts about the future of schooling

I really enjoyed Pasi’s talk. He is clearly a very skilled teacher and was able to entertain, inform and educate a huge room full of delegates very skilfully. His talk focused in on the OECD study of the education policies of different countries. From his Finnish perspective, he commented on the features of successful and not-so-successful education policies. As you might have guessed, Finland has been coming out on top! It was fascinating to compare the features of the education policies of Finland and England. Practical and research evidence shows the approach of Finland and others like it works better, not just in academic performance, but also health and well-being.
Finland England
Cooperation Competition (between schools)
Risk-taking and creativity Standardisation
Professionalism De-professionalisation of teaching
Trust-based responsibility Test-based accountability
Equitable public education for all Market-based privatisation
My reflections on this talk were perhaps more personal than the others. I have one child at school and another about to start. My daughter has just taken her first SATS, aged seven. I distinctly dislike the approach to education forced on schools in England: the testing, the focus on mental arithmetic and spelling. Although I support their schoolwork, at home we focus on creativity, problem-solving, reading for fun, emotional intelligence. I was so pleased to hear I was not alone in this approach, and to keep going, despite ‘traditional values’ government policies.
Videos of the conference can be found here including the Keynote presentations.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

I love it when a plan comes together – working on the UCISA IT Comms Toolkit

Anna Mathews
Head of Policy and Projects
UCISA

 

 

The UCISA IT Comms toolkit – a resource for higher and further education institutions

As the project lead, Sarah Peace, Head of Desktop and Printing Services at the University of York explains, “The aim of this Toolkit is to provide the UCISA community with a resource that anyone involved in IT communications can use. Whether you have an embedded communications team, a central university team or it’s everyone’s responsibility, there’s always room for improvement, and we hope that even someone who has worked in comms for several years can learn from this resource.”

The Toolkit www.ucisa.ac.uk/ITcomms is split into four sections: why communicate?, how to communicate, when to communicate and who to communicate to. But perhaps the most valuable part of the Toolkit is the resources section – a repository of graphics, templates, strategies and videos that colleagues in higher and further education are invited to explore and repurpose, or as Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services at Leeds Beckett University has it, please do “pinch with pride”.

There are quite a few things that I have really enjoyed about this project, to the extent that process may have become more significant to me than the final output. This is because:

  • before we commenced drafting we talked – and I mean really talked – about comms and who is doing good work on this in the sector, horror stories of when we haven’t communicated well ourselves, and everything in between;
  • I’ve seen at first hand the motivating effect of involving younger colleagues in a UCISA activity (for example, recent graduates seeing what roles they might progress into, through talking to more experienced members of the project team);
  • I’ve had the opportunity to work with graphic and web designers from one of UK’s most creative universities (thank you, University of the Arts London);
  • we used what at times seemed like every collaborative tool going to envisage, draft and hang a product together from scratch in a few short months, and kept the energy going (thank you, Sarah) with a crack team from all over the country most of whom are captured in this short, informal video.

We’ll continue to add to the Toolkit throughout the year, so that we have examples from as many different mission types and comms functions as possible. Therefore, if you have anything that you are able to publicly share please send it to me for potential inclusion. We are happy to have duplicates for examples that are already there, and we are also looking for comms materials and documents for IT projects, and with business change.

What do you like, what do we need more of and what are we missing? Please drop me a line at execsec@ucisa.ac.uk or leave a comment below.