ALT Annual Survey Results 2015

ALT has published the report and data from their second annual survey which can be dowloaded here. Interesting reading as they now have comparative data from last year’s survey so you can see the trends and changes.

No signs of the monolithic VLE going anywhere just yet, and interest in the field of data and learning analytics is continuing to grow. I was a little surprised to see open badges so far down the list, but as a colleague in another department said to me a few days ago, employers don’t know what they are or how to value them, and as a consequence students just aren’t interested.

Where’ve You Been?

I say, it’s been a little quiet on here over the past few months, hasn’t it? It has been a frightfully busy time for me! At work the start of the new academic year brought with it the usual amount of chaos and mayhem, and outside of work I have been moving home while desperately trying to do something, anything, with my dissertation! I’ve just popped in some posts about things I’ve done recently, but there has been plenty more I could have written about.

Clearning was, alas, a bit of a bust in the end. The core team were just so good, and so efficient that they left me with very little to do, and so I ended up just spending the afternoon doing general enquiry chats. Still, it was a nice break and I’m good to go next year.

I did some good work for the newly rebranded School of Law using Storyline to record some introductory videos to smarten up some of their programme spaces, and got access to a professional recording studio to record voiceover for the Anti-Bribery Act training module I have been building, a project which is now back in the hands of our Legal and Governance department for approval. They initialled asked for this to be ready for October. 2014. It’s still ongoing.

In early September we, as a team, were able to elbow our way into a number of faculty and department conferences to provide a crash course on changes to SunSpace, i.e. the new template and the Turnitin LTI, which was extremely successful. In one session we probably hit more people than all of the Technology Bytes sessions we ran last year. Those aren’t happening again this year; instead of planned sessions we are holding generic drop-in surgeries with colleagues in Academic Development in the hope that those will be better attended. Other teaching I have delivered has included some sessions to front-line Library staff on new things in SunSpace and, just a couple of weeks ago, some sessions to students on creating posters in PowerPoint to display their research proposals at a showcase event taking place in early December.

Also at the start of the new year the University went live with a new electronic attendance monitoring system that required all students to be issued with a new ID card, a mammoth operation for which I volunteered a few shifts.

At the beginning of October we had a conference call with colleagues at Texas Christian University, something we have to do because we are the only university in the UK trying to use LearningStudio as a VLE, only to discover that they are now well along the road in migrating to a new VLE and ending their relationship with Pearson. I probably shouldn’t say any more on this topic, but I can slip in a cheeky link to this article and let you read between the lines about what it means…

End of October was appraisal season and as well as my own I was invited to sit in and contribute to the team’s appraisals as per last year. Any moment now I will start on my middle-managers training course, which was supposed to happen this year, but it has been completely re-written and is now a fully accredited PG Cert which works out really well for me. Also approved in principle is my doing the PG Cert in Education next year.

Finally, last week I attended a consultation event from our VC where she discussed the plans and the direction of travel she wants to set for the next five years and her thoughts on the recently published Green Paper. One of her big themes or ideas was on cultivating an ongoing relationship with students after graduation to keep their skills current.

Technology Bytes, Semester 2

Our second series of Technology Bytes has just completed. This time, with the benefit of more time to plan and a longer semester, we ran twelve sessions from February to July at roughly fortnightly intervals. The programme of sessions were as follows:

  1. Student Engagement in SunSpace
  2. Engaging Distance Learning Students
  3. Collaborative Learning Material Development and Deployment
  4. Online Assignment Submission, Marking and Feedback
  5. Using Self-Reflection to Improve Student Engagement and Outcomes
  6. Increase Student Collaboration Using Discussion Tools
  7. Improve Feedback for Students by Using Audio and Video
  8. Use Video to Enrich Your Learning Materials
  9. Smart Use of SMART Boards in Your Lectures
  10. Death by PowerPoint? How to Keep Your Students Awake in Lectures
  11. Teaching and Learning on the Move
  12. Preparing Your SunSpace Sites for 2015/16

The big difference from last time round was a change in focus from ‘the tool’ to some problem we could help resolve. This worked better and is more apparent for some than others. I found writing succinct titles with this goal in mind difficult, but it was better achieved in the accompanying descriptions and in our advertisements. Another change was the explicit focus on one thing only per session, though again I tried to theme this around pedagogy or some problem we could help with rather than a specific system.

In spite of these changes attendance remained poorer than I would like and around half way through I modified our advertisements to make people aware that they could also use these sessions to ask us about any related matters. A barrier we face, and one that is difficult to resolve, is that our academics are quite tightly time constrained through the use of a workload planning system that doesn’t allow a lot of free time to attend extraneous activities. Nevertheless there were particularly popular sessions – ‘Death by PowerPoint’ had to be run twice. (One of the sessions I taught, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it!) Finally, on the back of Technology Bytes, we delivered a number of sessions down at London Campus which were very well received.

Feedback has been very positive overall and outweighs, I think, the relatively poor attendance. As I keep having to remind the team, even sessions that run with only one person can have a huge impact as they propagate what they have learned to their students and colleagues. Informally, I have had many people tell me that the team is now more visible and they are more aware of the work we do thanks in part to these sessions. For all of these reasons I would very much like to keep them going next year, though with changes. One idea I am working on with Academic Development is joint drop-in surgeries, not just the two of us but also including other services such as the Library.

WaLTS Highlights 2014/15

walts_highlights

For the University Library’s SMT meeting this morning I was asked to deliver a short 30 minute talk about the work and accomplishments of the team over the past year, and to look forward to what is coming for us next year. Notes and thoughts which I started putting together yesterday morning morphed into the presentation below which was very well received. Indeed, I ended up talking for around an hour thanks to a really good Q&A session. Many people at the meeting have asked to either disseminate this presentation to their colleagues or for me to attend other meetings to deliver this again. That’s a very satisfying feeling, a job well done. Following this reception I have gone on to publish the presentation on our website and on a ‘Show and Tell’ module on SunSpace that we use for this kind of thing.

http://solar.sunderland.ac.uk/solar/file/901ea087-0f89-40b5-95e4-b85d2168430a/1/story.html

The Terrible Itch That Can’t be Scratched

It’s been a while since my last post, first of the new year actually (so Happy New Year folks!) so I thought I would post something quickly on what I’ve been up to.

The reason for the lack of blogging is simply because I haven’t actually finished anything! I’ve done plenty of work, but for various reasons nothing is in a state where I can declare it to be done. Frightfully frustrating for someone with a little OCD.

One thing I did finish was a training event which I delivered for Careers, on Prezi, which I really enjoyed and I received some really nice feedback from them. I’ve also acquired a Thunderbolt to HDMI adaptor to get the Oculus Rift hooked up to one of our Macs, but haven’t had time to get it set up yet. I have nearly completed two Storyline presentations, a very comprehensive learning unit on the Bribery Act which will be the largest and richest piece of learning material I will have produced to date, and another short video for Careers. Both of these are with their respective project owners at the moment for approval and feedback. Prep work for the second semester of Technology Bytes is well under way, but again not quite finished yet due to a room booking problem, and finally I have had a very productive meeting with an academic today about developing a progress bar widget to use in course sites, similar to what Future Learn have. It will be tricker for us to implement as it will need to be dynamic to accommodate changes to course materials as time goes on, but not an insurmountable challenge.

Technology Bytes, Semester 1

Back in late September / early October I was asked by a colleague in our Academic Development Unit to develop a series of sessions on learning technology to plug into their CPD plan, the result was Technology Bytes! Six sessions running every week starting in late October covering:

  • SunSpace and ClassLive
  • Solar (Equella) and Articulate Storyline
  • Turnitin and Prezi
  • ePortfolio (Mahara) and Thing Link
  • Streaming Service (Helix Media Library) and PowToon
  • SMART Boards and Audio / Video Feedback and Marking

My intention had been for each session to briefly demonstrate one of the University’s core learning technology tools alongside something new, funky and maybe even just a little bit sexy, then to have a discussion on what has been demonstrated and an open Q&A. Once the sessions were going however, I quickly learned that our academic community were expecting more formal planned training which went into depth on each topic.

Now, as I am busy planning the second series to run throughout semester 2, this is a key lesson which I am taking on board and will stick to one system or tool in each session, but will be including a dedicated session on external presentation tools which will cover Storyline, Prezi, PowToon and Thing Link together, and another new one dedicated to mobile apps. Audio and video feedback and marking I want to expand out to a session on its own as there is a great deal of potential here to enhance the student experience and some of the work I have seen where this has been used has had fantastic results.

A further improvement which I will be making is to re-word the titles and descriptions to bring the pedagogy to the fore, rather than the tool itself, in an attempt to reach more people and increase participation in the sessions.

I am reliably informed that the programme as a whole has been very well received by ‘higher-ups’ and that they feature prominently in all of the new Faculty development plans, with strong encouragement for staff to attend. Very encouraging.

A Response to ‘What is a Learning Technologist?’

I recently stumbled upon Sheila MacNeil’s blog post asking for thoughts on what characteristics distinguish a Learning Technologist for a new #EdTechBook, by way of a discussion on the ALT Members Mailing List, and thought that I would share my own experience.

‘Learning Technologist’ is indeed a broad brush which covers people from different backgrounds and bringing different philosophies, experience and perspective with them, part of what I think makes it such an exciting and rewarding field in which to work. My own background is from IT support which I pursued due to an easy affinity with technology, the enjoyment I get from fixing things which are broken or finding ways to improve things, and because of a general desire to help people. But of course there comes a time when a wish to move your career on means you have to specialise in an area, and I was fortunate to stumble into the Learning Technologies team (LTech) at Northumbria University in order to provide second line customer support for people using the University’s learning technology systems, principally Blackboard. From there my role expanded to encompass, to a greater or lesser extent, systems development, learning materials content development and staff development covering both the ‘which button to push’ instructional element as well as pedagogic considerations such as ‘why you might want to push that particular button in order to make your learning materials more engaging’ and to help with that side of things I was supported to gain CMALT accreditation and fortunate enough to work with some really quite wonderful academics on the team who taught me a great deal.

My role now at Sunderland involves a great deal of project management and contributing to learning development policies and strategies, and finding ways to implement those. Everyone on the team has ‘Learning Technologist’ in the job title and most of us have at least one of CMALT, PGCE or HEA Membership, but in spite of this I find that many academics still think of us a ‘techies’ not realising that we have such teachings skills and pedagogic experience. I recall attending a training event some time ago, principally for academics, where, after introducing myself as a Learning Technologist, one of the other attendees was delighted and asked if I could fix the Wi-Fi on her laptop! (I was happy to help of course, and it did give me the opportunity to have a chat with her and talk about the ways in which I could really help her.)

Many of my colleagues have come from similar technical / IT backgrounds, but there are other common ‘types’ who come under the umbrella of ‘learning technologists’:

  • Academics with an interest in learning technology or who research in the field to improve their own teaching. I find that many such people may not work in an LT department themselves, but in Faculties where they work with us as advisors, champions and ambassadors.
  • Academic advisors, similar to the above, but based in the LT team with responsibility for providing in-depth academic support and pedagogic guidance.
  • Content developers who perhaps start their careers as graphic or web designers but come to specialise in learning material content production.
  • Systems developers, the real ├╝ber-techies who manage the learning technology platforms and servers.
  • Trainers who come to specialise in learning technology systems.
  • And finally managers and project managers who may have progressed from any of these backgrounds.

The common thread bringing all of the people together under the umbrella of ‘Learning Technologist’ is a thorough specialist knowledge of the core LT systems where they work (the VLE, the ePortfolio, etc.), along with external tools such as iTunes, Google Drive or WordPress, combined with at least some knowledge and experience of how they can best be used to provide a solution to some teaching and learning need.

The whole conversation in response to Sheila’s questions has been interesting, but I particularly liked some of things which Amber had to say. I especially liked the neologism ‘para-academic’. In the past I have often described myself to people who don’t know what I do as being a bridge between technology and the academics who want to use technology in their teaching but don’t necessarily have the skills to do some themselves, but I may use ‘para-academic’ to start the conversation now. I also liked that comment that ‘Universities are multi-professional places and learning technologists, in all their flavours, have a rightful place at the table.’ A sentiment with which I can wholly concur as I have often felt, and seen colleagues feel, somewhat reticent about their own skills in the company of academics.