The Life and Death of Mozilla Backpack

Unsplash BadgesPhoto by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

I received an email yesterday informing me that Mozilla Backpack will be shutting down, which has been known for some time, with ownership of the Backpack moving to Badgr. There was also an attachment in the email which it said was all of my old badges, along with instructions on how to create a new account in Badgr. There were a number of problems with this. First, not all of the badges I’ve earned over the years were in that zip file, only, I think, ones which were attached to one particular email address. There were also no instructions at all about what to do with this file. In the end I was able to work out how to import these into Badgr, but for around half of them this process failed.

Like all DRM schemes, which is essentially what underlines the validity of digital badges, the whole system is unintuitive and very user unfriendly. One of the claims about digital badges has always been that you would be able to have all of your badges in one place, which was meant to be the Backpack, but this has never been my experience and I have badges scattered all over the place. The only online location where they are all collected together in any form is on this blog, tagged Badge. I want to like digital badges, I always thought they were a good idea, but however well intentioned, it’s always felt like kind of a mess, and it’s not getting any better.

Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2019

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Attended, and more importantly, presented at the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference held this year at Northumbria University. Day 3 of the conference was themed around STEM and the keynote was given by Debbie McVitty, editor of Wonkhe, who talked about the impact the TEF has had on the sector and how to really measure teaching excellence.

A highlight of the day for me was the post-lunch Ignite Sessions which saw 8 presenters speaking for 5 minutes about their work or project. “Pride and Prejudice and technology (that enhances learning)” from Katie Stripe of Imperial College London will stay with me for her unique approach, as will the brave soul who used audience response in an Ignite presentation by asking people to stand or remain sitting in response to questions. Also from Imperial, Drs Tiffany Chiu and Freddie Page presented on their work around what an ideal student looks like which attempts to address the disconnect between how students see themselves and what they want out of their HE experience, and what staff want from, and want to get out of students. And Dr Helen Kaye from The Open University discussed how they are supporting final year psychology students to complete an empirical research project which possess unique challenges for distance learning students.

I also came away with ideas and additions to my reading list. For my own teaching on our PG Cert I’ve been inspired by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr Patrick Thomson to include a session around peer instruction, expanding on what we’ve done around peer assessment. I also want to expand what we have traditionally taught around rubrics and online marking, to include a discussion about the value and role of marking and the different ways it can be done. To my reading list I’ve added Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.

By far the most important thing to happen today however, was that I presented for the first time with my colleague Dr Katrin Jaedicke on the work we have done to convert her statistics for biomedical sciences students course into a full fledged massive online open course (MOOC). It was mostly Katrin’s talk, as it is of course the content that is key, but I was there to contribute to any discussion around the technological and pedagogical considerations in the conversion of the course from a flat web page into a MOOC. I also ran a live quiz at the end of the session, giving people a taste of the MOOC. Katrin had initially wanted to give people a handout of one of the self assessment quizzes, but I suggested doing it live using Poll Everywhere and awarding participants with a digital badge, just like the MOOC students receive, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it all went very well.

Web Accessibility for Leaders

GDS Posters - Link in Post

This was a really good webinar from Jisc and Government Digital Service (GDS) on the new accessibility regulations which are coming into force and which apply to all publicly funded bodies, building on our obligations from the 2010 Equality Act by adding a new, higher, standard for compliance with new levels of monitoring and enforcement. What this is going to mean for learning technologists is that we are likely to have to an increased burden on ensuring that learning systems and their content is compliant with the legislation. At Sunderland, I can see us being tasked with writing the accessibility statement, or statements, for the VLE and our other systems, as the University is far too complex for a universal statement covering all of our websites and apps.

Accessibility statements are the key new requirement, and are quite prescriptive about what they need to contain. They should detail how accessible the system is, what problems there are with it that you have identified, what end users can do to mitigate those or access the content in a different way, and most importantly the statement has to include a plan about what we are going to do to improve the current situation, however good, or bad, that may be.

There is of course some concern about additional workload requirements for us, but I’m fully behind this. It’s all excellent stuff and should drive an improvement on the quality of our learning materials across the board, something which will benefit all students. Jisc are putting together statement templates which HEI’s will be able to use, and GDS, who will be the monitoring body for the legislation, have a huge range of support materials on their site, including some excellent posters.

Winging It

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I’m having one of those periodic feelings that I’ve been neglecting the blog a little, so some updates on what I’ve been up to:

Ramifications of the department restructure in July continue, as the programme leader for our Academic Practice PG Cert – and my informal mentor – decided to leave the institution in December for new pastures. That has meant that I’ve been thrown out of the frying pan a little. I’m no longer the informal module leader on the digital technology module, learning the ropes, it is all mine. Officially. Now. Whether I know what I’m doing or not. I’m slowly coming to realise jus how much of academia is people winging it as best the can. So far it’s going well. Half the taught sessions were done last year, and the first assignment submission is due shortly. I’ve also continued to provide a number of bespoke sessions here and there, including digital skills for Sociology students and WordPress for postgrad researchers.

On the other side of my job I’m working on formalising exactly what work we can do for academics in terms of developing their content which will comprise of a new set of Service Standards for Learning Materials Development, a low-key project management system for organising the team’s workload similar to what we used to have when we had access to Jira, and a dashboard for reporting what we’ve done. That’s something we definitely need more of, we do a lot of good work that doesn’t get shouted about enough. I’m also pushing for hardware and software updates. We’re still on Storyline 2 which is getting on a bit, and an upgrade to 3 should be fairly straightforward to get through, and I would like to run a pilot of Adapt or Evolve.

I’ve been working with our Medical School again to source and integrate a series of anatomy and physiology eLearning content units developed by an external company into a number of our Canvas modules. I made an interactive world map in ThingLink to showcase country health profiles written by students for an assessment on a sociology module which will build up over the next few years (above). I was down at our London Campus again in October to help with the selection and recruitment of a new VLE support officer there who then visited us in December for a few days training with myself and the team here. Finally, getting outside of strictly work, I’ve reached the denouement of my social media alienation. On the 31st of December, to go into the new year fresh, I deleted Twitter and Facebook from all of my devices, consigning my accounts to the same dark cupboard where LinkedIn and Google+ lurk, still in existence but wilfully ignored.

To Do: Take Over the World

Some very interesting and productive conversations this afternoon about my future. Last year, as part of the PG Cert AP, I taught on some sessions of the technology module, EDPM08, for experience. This year, responsibility for teaching of this module will come under full responsibility of the CELT, my team, so I’m going to be doing a lot more with it – teaching all of the sessions and acting as the de facto module leader. I won’t officially be the module leader as I don’t have experience of this, and there is a certain amount of paperwork and process which I’m not familiar with. So for this year the official module leader will be the programme leader, but they will be teaching me everything I need to know so that I can take over full responsibility next year. Exciting!

I also had a discussion about what I’m going to do next for my own professional development. Since confirmation that I passed the PG Cert AP a few weeks ago I actually stopped being a student for the first time in a decade. It’s a tad disconcerting. (Shh! Don’t tell the NUS, I still have 18 months left on my card!) The next logical step for me, in my mind, is Senior Fellow of the HEA, and based on the conversation I’m now happy and confident that I would be able to get this.

PG Cert AP: Day 10

Another split day, wearing my student hat in the morning for the core module, and in the afternoon teaching part of the digital technology module, this time with the added pressure of being formally assessed as part of one of the assessments for the core module. It does get rather circular.

The morning session was excellent, far and away the most useful couple of hours I’ve ever spent on assessment. A guest lecturer facilitated an extended and iterative exercise using the seemingly simple task of defining a biscuit as a metaphor for the problems of assessment marking. First we each had to write a definition of a biscuit in 180 characters or less, the length of a Tweet, then the room was split into two groups and each group had to agree a common definition. Then the fun part, a plate of ‘biscuits’ was given to each group and we were tasked with marking them against our definition, placing each within a four point rubric of ‘biscuity’, replicating the undergraduate degree classification system. I was expecting trouble with the Jaffa Cakes, but the viciousness and racism which came about as a result of the shortbread finger took my by surprise. Alas, we were forbidden from removing the more contentious ‘biscuits’ from the equation by eating them.

The afternoon session for EDPM08 covered digital communication and virtual reality technologies and tools. It was this part that was delivered by myself and I was given an hour. I spent the first 30 minutes going through a short presentation I created about the use of virtual, augmented and mixed reality systems in higher education which I based on the microsite I wrote, followed by another 30 minutes or so in which people were able to have a go with some hardware and software which the module leader and I supplied – phone based VR headsets using some VR and AR apps I had found which showcased educational uses such as Anatomyou VR.

There was a bit of pressure on me this time, as my teaching was being formally observed in accordance with university practices and as a requirement for part of one of the assessments in the core module. I felt nervous, feeling that I stumbled over my words a bit more often than I would have liked, and I completely forgot to talk about Google Glass during the AR section, but my observer thought I did fine. I was commended on subject knowledge and use of cultural references to make the presentation interesting, and given good advice which I will be able to use in the future. At one point I did go ‘off script’ and tried to open an external link which took some time to load – I should have been ready with that or else not tried it. I was also advised to end the session with an optional task that people could do afterwards to help embed their learning – a good point, and something I have done in the past.