Tag Archives: technology enhanced learning

UK vs. US HE – Blockchain and student engagement

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Elizabeth Ellis
Product Development Manager
Learning Innovation, Learning and Teaching Solutions,
The Open University

Cross-pond impressions from EDUCAUSE 2016

EDUCAUSE 2016 in Anaheim was a really valuable and thought provoking experience, especially as a stranger in a strange land.  I’ve wanted to attend this conference for a long time – having been to ALT C a number of times and attended EDEN, this felt like it would provide me with a trifecta. Because of my role as a product development manager in Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation, I often find myself with a foot in both the technology camp and the pedagogy camp of learning and teaching (I don’t actually think they’re camps – I think they’re symbionts and crucial to students being successful in their higher education careers, but I digress).

I have attended other US-based conferences, and it’s always a bit of a culture shock. The sheer scale of EDUCAUSE was quite unnerving: 8000 colleagues from 1800 institutions across 46 countries. The queue for lunch was terrible.

The conference hashtag provided an invaluable backchannel for discussion and arguments, and is worth a visit (#EDU16). If you would like to see the day by day account of my experience, then do feel free to grab my notes. But this article is more a personal reflection on the three things that stood out for me from EDUCAUSE – where the US Higher Education sector is ahead, where the UK Higher Education sector is ahead, and where we are about level.

Where the US Higher Education sector is ahead

One of the most attended and talked about sessions was on ‘Why the blockchain will revolutionise credentials’. One of the speakers was Chris Jager from Learning Machine. A transcript is available from the link.

It struck me that the presentation and ensuing conversation about blockchain certifications was far more developed than the conversations that have happened locally to me at The Open University, or from what I have gathered in the UK sector. The work that the Knowledge Media Institute at the OU has been doing on blockchain is still in the realms of research and innovation, whereas the HE sector in the US appears to be already beginning to tackle the cultural shifts of implementation. The temperature on blockchain credentials in the sector is still lukewarm in places, with some claiming there is a fear that giving students control of their credentials may undermine those credentials. A more mercenary view is that HEIs are loathe to transition to blockchain certification as there is a market for transcripts and money to be made when students request theirs.

MIT’s Open Standards for Blockchain Certificates are being used, and the advent of interoperable standards represents a shift from idea to reality, and a new infrastructure of trust between students, institutions and employers. This is interesting when compared with criticism of the Open Badges movement, which employers have been fairly sceptical about. UK HEIs have made more use of badges, but predominantly in informal learning spaces or for soft skills.

Blockchain certification could be more compelling within the US HE sector, by virtue of its legacy of for-fee qualifications, and also the high degree of transfer between community, state and private colleges.

In the UK, with the recent advent of tuition fees, the onus has perhaps been less for more mainstream HEIs. However, The Open University has always charged a fee, and is also seeing an increase in student transfers both in and out of the institution. OU students are also more unconventional in routes through education and employment, and blockchain certifications could be a valuable string to the University’s bow.

In an article in the Times Higher Education magazine, Martin Hall points out that blockchain certifications ‘could be an effective way of providing Britain’s Advanced Apprenticeships, for which components of the programme have to be delivered by a number of organisations’. (THE, 28 November 2016)

In The Open University’s Innovating Pedagogy 2016 horizon scan, Blockchain has been identified as High Impact but with a long timescale (4 plus years). The US feels ahead in this particular game.

Full disclosure: I have become borderline obsessed with student engagement, partnership and co-creation this year. I have been co-administering and organising a student consultation and engagement panel, running Hack Days to get students involved in future developments, and generally trying to find ways to not only give our students more direct access to the creation of learning and teaching content and tools, but also to give the Open University’s academic and academic related staff more direct access to students eager to be involved in practical ways.

My colleague David Vince and I published a paper on our work on this in September, outlining our approach to involving students in Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation, referring to the key frameworks that underpin ‘student as partners’ and ‘students as change agents’ in UK HEIs, from Jisc, the Higher Education Academy, and covered in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

‘The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a catalyst to rethink the role of the student in modern Higher Education Institutions. The Higher Education Academy in the selection criteria for the National Teaching Fellowship defined personal excellence as ‘evidence of enhancing and transforming the student learning experience’ (HEA, 2015).

Part of teaching excellence should therefore be the proactive engagement of students in matters relating to their learning experience, beyond assessment outcomes. More recently within the higher education sector, engagement initiatives such as ‘students as partners’ and ‘students as change agents’ have emerged.

Students as partners is characterised by active student engagement and collaboration ‘[…] in which all involved – students, academics, professional services staff, senior managers, students’ unions and so on – are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together. Partnership is essentially a process of engagement, not a product. It is a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself.’ (Healey et al., 2014)

Students as change agents sees students being actively involved in the change process. In 2015, Jisc launched the ‘Change Agents’ Network’ which is a ‘highly active community of staff and students working in partnership to support curriculum enhancement and innovation’. (Jisc, 2015)’

In two sessions during the conference where I would have expected a robust argument for the involvement of students in the design and implementation of educational technology, there was no mention from presenters, and even the floor seemed largely truculent about the idea when it was brought up.

Design Thinking Process: Edtech Adoption’, an otherwise useful session from Edsurge, didn’t refer at all to the importance of testing new tools and technologies with students in implementation, much less involve them during ideation.

It was a similar experience in the ‘Trends Spanning Education’ session, despite having a great quote – ‘Democratisation of education innovation, it’s starting to happen with people rather than to people’ – people in this sense appeared to be academic and institutional staff rather than students.

Several comments that emerged during out of conference conversations and the Twitter backchannel featured the kneejerk reaction of students not knowing what they need, a conversation that has evolved now in the UK to understanding the balance between need, want and institutional responsibility towards them.

Some US colleagues talked about consultancy processes that include students, but there does not appear yet to be the drive to formalise student partnership as an approach. The emphasis is on institutional collaboration and partnership for student success, rather than partnership in the sense of student engagement as co-creators and co-owners of their learning experiences.

Where the UK and US Higher Education sectors are about level

Almost as soon as I hit the pre-meetings and the Twitter backchannel at EDUCAUSE the term NGDLE started to permeate. Not a new term, certainly, but Next Generation Digital Learning Environments as a concept suddenly seemed to be everywhere. And then I returned home and almost immediately fell in with an online consultation activity being coordinated by Lawrie Phipps, senior co-design manager at Jisc, using a combination of Twitter and blogs, on what NGDLEs and by extension co-creation could mean for the future of learning and teaching.

It also corresponds closely with my work, which is focused heavily on digital learning environments, as well as student engagement in learning and teaching tools and platforms development.

The UK and US higher education sectors appear to be level on this concept, as the discussion moves further way from current vendors and current platforms and tools, and more towards the use of technology in its purest sense for the furthering of learning and teaching, and how students are both key users and contributors in that space.

The key questions for me around this important and innovative concept are:

  • What does next generation mean for online and distance education, and what does it require of it?
  • How can NGDLEs be a vehicle for the best parts of online and distance education: the open web, co-creation, student engagement, technology, and digital capability?
  • What does student success look like in a NGDLE?
  • What do NGDLEs signify about innovation in online education?
  • How is the Teaching Excellence Framework creating a space for NGDLEs and how is it restricting it?

None of which I have any answers for yet, but I’m enjoying the conversation, and it’s allowing me the space to stop and consider the opinions of colleagues, the layering of experiences over my own, and generally the ongoing realisation of that best part of attending conferences: being part of a community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A version of this blog post originally appeared on the Learning Innovation blog

Benefits of receiving a UCISA bursary

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Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London

 

 

I attended the EUNIS Congress 2015, and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment (EMA), from 9-12 June 2015. Both the events were hosted by Abertay University, Dundee. My attendance at the aforementioned events was made possible by the UCISA bursary scheme. This report details the benefits that receiving a UCISA bursary had to my professional development, to my institution, and potentially to the HE IT community.

The conference and associated workshop have contributed greatly to my professional development. They have provided me with valuable insights into current and emerging trends in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), as well as approaches to research in TEL. With the fast-changing world of technology, and my workload over the last few months, it has been hard for me to keep on top of the latest developments in TEL. In view of this, the conference provided me the time and opportunity to catch up. With a recent move to online coursework submission and feedback at my institution, and an increased emphasis on providing students with formative assessment opportunities through technology, the EMA workshop was particularly useful for comparing, evaluating, and informing my institutions’ approaches and practice.

The highlight of the event was the fact that it was pan-European, with delegates from over 20 EU countries. Therefore, I was provided a rare glimpse into the European TEL landscape. I also received some useful tips on taking notes electronically, and on travelling to conferences. Additionally, although I have been supporting academics in using Twitter in their teaching practice, it was the first time that I had used Twitter myself at a conference. I have realised that it is a great way to not only keep up with other concurrent sessions and the audience response, but also to remain in touch with fellow delegates – the Twitter handle is the new business card. I met some great people, and feel that I am better placed to identify partners for funding bids and future collaboration on TEL projects.

I wrote four blogs for the UICSA website detailing my account of and reflections on the conference and workshop. The process of writing blogs was very useful, as it prompted me to reflect on what I have learnt and gained. The blogs were disseminated by UCISA through Twitter and the UCISA JISC mailing list, and also through the EUNIS website. I hope that the blog posts were found useful by those who read them. The blogs were also shared with members of my faculty’s education committee. I also shared some of the e-learning and learning design tools that I came across at the conference and workshop with my faculty through a monthly newsletter on TEL, and with colleagues in a central university department related to academic development.

The conference hosted a wide range of suppliers and service providers of e-learning services. These included learning management systems, lecture capture, assessment and feedback tools, and plagiarism detection tools. My institution was carrying out a review of its learning technology provision at the time, and, being a member of the learning technology review group, the conference and exhibition provided timely insights in current technologies and trends.

 

Technology in Higher Education – best practice, skills and the student offer

Earlier this year, I attended the Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar on best practice of using technology in higher education and for future employment. The forum has members from both Houses of Parliament as well as representatives from universities and colleges. This short half-day seminar included 5 minute presentations from a number of speakers with time for questions.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

One of the discussions, chaired by Baroness Morgan of Huyton, centred on the effective use of a social networking in teaching and highlighted the successful use of Facebook for new students. I think the important factor was the use of a student as one of the administrators looking after the closed group and videos made by students for students. This partnership proved invaluable – Professor Peter Strike, Vice Chancellor of University of Cumbria, said conversations were encouraged, in contrast to staff preaching to students, and this approach improved engagement. Another project discussed by Dr Laura Ritchie from the University of Chichester identified the use of informal learning spaces using social networks as a platform for collaboration and learning. She likened students’ experience with technology as tea and toast – they are exposed to it on a daily basis but the question is do they know how to use it effectively?

Digital tattoo

Awareness of personal content shared online was discussed at length in the questions and comments from the floor and is still a factor that could affect a student’s employability if they are sharing images and conversations with the world that are not appropriate for future employers to view. Whose responsibilty is it for students to be aware of what they share online? Currently posts cannot be removed permanently and there is concern the social networking sites have access to personal data even after it has been deleted by the user. Dr Richard Harvey, University of East Anglia said a colleague had suggested to him the use of Twitter should be taught and found this comment outrageous. I think students may not require being taught how to use Twitter but many will need guidance on how to use it effectively and the consequences of not. Mark Kerrigan pointed out that the different levels of digital capabilities will mean that some students will need to spend time learning a new technology before they can engage with their study. The amount of time students spend mastering a new technology before studying the subject they were at university to learn can vary greatly.

MOOCs vs Face-to face

MOOCs seems to still be a buzz-word between HE professionals and the media with mixed opinions. MOOCs were suggested as a good approach for new students to measure their engagement before attending university to identify who does not engage and will need extra help. Face-to-face teaching is still recognised as a preferred approach by some students, as confirmed by Lawrie Phipps from Jisc. MOOCs have caused some heartache to staff when students have used the forum inappropriately. Michael Kerrison’s example of a student using the MOOC forum as a platform to air their own personal views of the US consititutional law was interesting. I think it can be tricky giving students free reign and terms of use should be put in place. But is this restricting their artistic licence?

Summary

Peter Tinson, UCISA’s Executive Director, mentioned the digital capabilities survey deployed by UCISA digital capabilities sub group identified the wide range of support provided for staff and students across the sector. I think there is a plethora of experience to be shared between practitioners. I am not sold on the idea that students can be taught digital skills per se but agree with findings from the survey – digital skills should be embedded within existing curriculum without being labelled as learning technology. It is important that the use of technology is just as important as how to use the tool itself and the impact of the web in everyday life, learning and the workplace. York St John University is currently auditing the digital skills training offered to staff and students and I am looking forward to a Digital Capabilities Framework being put in place to streamline the provision of digital skills teaching. I hope this will help improve the students’ experience and provide a good choice of what is on offer from the university as a whole in contrast to being provided from separate departments. I think adaptability and willingness to learn new things should be encouraged in this ever-changing digital world.

For the twitter conversation go to:
https://storify.com/NodWebb/technology-in-higher-education-best-practice-skill


About Annette Webb
Edited westminster

I have been an IT Trainer at York St John University since 2005 and am a Fellow of the HEA. I support staff and students at all levels on digital systems. I have recently completed a Masters degree and benefited from the experience of being a student in the 21st century. I have a keen interest in helping staff and students to use technology effectively.
This post was written by Annette Webb, Academic Technologies Trainer, York St John University and a member of the UCISA Digital Capabilities Group