It sometimes feels like Studiosity has taken over my life over the past couple of years, but it works! And I have the data to prove it. Some analysis recently completed after our first full year of usage showed clear correlation between student success, as measured by progression and outcomes, and engagement with the Studiosity service. I can’t exactly share University data of course, but I was recently interviewed by Studiosity about this work and a news article has now been published on their website about it.
My second CPD session on ChatGPT and AI this week. This was a good one, organised by my colleague Evi at London Campus, it was a facilitated roundtable discussion between colleagues inside the University. There were around 100 attendees, and this time it was the side chat which was going on which was really informative and useful.
Am I implying an equivalence between The Borg and ChatGPT?
There’s no escaping the robots, resistance is futile. ChatGPT has been a gathering storm since the back end of last year, and Sunderland cannot escape the pull. However, we need to learn more about this and related technology in order to be able to be able to provide a thoughtful and measured response to it for our staff and students. To which end, I signed up for this session drawing together senior academics from across UK HE to share thoughts and experience. I have a few more such sessions coming in the next few weeks, so I’ll wait and share my thoughts in a dedicated post when I have the time and space to synthesis them.
Slide showing every nation with a space programme of some kind – it’s a lot!
“Why I got out of bed for class today?” Because if I hadn’t, my boss and my boss’s boss would have taken turns to kill me if I had missed our first annual learning and teaching conference.
Back in those heady days of 2019, when we were all young, innocent and care-free, a couple of good friends of mine bought me a ticket to see Nightwish at the Wembley Arena in December 2020 as a Christmas present. Well, there was some sort of global event or emergency or something which means it didn’t happen. It was rescheduled for the following year, and that didn’t happen either. We never did find out why it was cancelled with less than a week’s notice the second time, but our suspicion is that someone in the band got Covid. So it was rescheduled again, for November 2022, and this time it went ahead, and it was wonderful!
Such was this case with our conference too – planned since 2019, and finally taking place two years later. It was every bit as good as Nightwish I swear. We had some 220 people sign-up from all across the University, and my team were out in force, running sessions on CleverTouch boards and working as marshals, making sure everything went without a hitch, and I did my Studiosity impact presentation in one of the breakout sessions.
The conference began with a student panel discussion, talking about their experience of online study over the pandemic, and later as hybrid learners. The OfS could learn a thing of two from them – students want both. The benefits and social connections of in-person teaching, and the convenience of being able to catch-up with recorded and online sessions in their own time. One astute comment was that “engagement is not the same thing as attendance”, and disengaged students can be every bit as much of a problem in-person as online. Their thoughts on solutions were to mix up teaching methods, and to have interactive and group activities that make students want to be there.
Sessions I attended were from Dr Nicola Roberts on ‘Failing to Progress on a Programme of Study: A Statistical Analysis of Factors Related to Criminology Students’, Dr Helen Williams on ‘The awkwardness of transitioning to Higher Education and the implications for student retention’, and Dr Elizabeth Hidson on ‘SunRAE – the Sunderland Reflective Action in Education Conference, Podcast and e-journal contribution to enhancing international initial teacher training student engagement’.
The day wrapped with a keynote by – somewhat unbelievably – Dr Andrew Aldrin, son of Buzz. I was one, single degree of separation from a man who walked on the moon. Andy, as he insisted on being introduced, is the President of the Aldrin Family Foundation which has a mission to educate people, mainly K12 school aged kids in the US, about space, the moon, Mars, and to inspire people into pursuing space-related careers. As the man said, “Kids love space, and dinosaurs, but they get over dinosaurs.” (It was a good job we didn’t have any palaeontologists in the room.)
I am just about ready to draw a line under H5P, and mark that big two year old Trello card ‘Done, Done’. We have a dedicated WordPress site within the team for creating content, with all H5P content types available, and everything I have tested has embedded into Canvas just fine.
In any case, to wrap this up I have spent some time today teaching myself how to use a half dozen content items that stood out to me as useful, all quiz / interactive elements, apart from the two picture slider (Image Juxtaposition) which is just really cool and useful.
And lo! November 2022 did bring forth the first, proper, ALT North East User Group since The Before Times. Though we did have a catch-up meeting in January to check-in and talk about how the pandemic has affected us all.
I was unable to make any of the management meetings to help organise and set the agenda, and so was duly punished by being putting up first to give me now almost routine talk about how our pilot year with Studiosity has gone.
Next up was Newcastle University and how they have rolled out digital assessment. Interestingly, they made a decision not to implement any kind of online proctoring software over the pandemic, a decision I very much support. They have been using, and are now scaling up, the use of Inspera for in-person exams. This was chosen over others for its ability to save local copies of exams – which it does every 6 seconds – as a contingency against network outage, and which in extreme cases can be retrieved from the computer as an encrypted file and uploaded on the students’ behalf. They are using a bring-your-own-device model, with power supply available for around 10% of the exam room capacity, and a laptop loan scheme available for 5%, which have been sufficient to cover them. For improved convenience, they are now looking at providing portable power banks rather than running extension cables around the room.
Next, my old muckers from Northumbria talked about their digital literacy scheme which sees TEL colleagues mentoring staff on digital technologies, and an expanded IT Place which now features TEL as well as IT staff, supported by a range of asynchronous content with certificates for staff who complete set courses. They are looking at digital badges to replace / complement this moving forwards.
After lunch, Durham talked about their experience of dual-mode teaching, including the use of Owl telepresence devices, as featured in the pic above which I gratuitously pinched from their website (please don’t sue, I have no money). It was an interesting experience, mixed. A conclusion from the learning technologies team was that they were great for meetings and small rooms, but the mics and cameras weren’t up to the job in larger teaching spaces. That didn’t stop their IT department from purchasing them en masse and kitting out every room though! Ah, classic IT.
Finally, we ended with a roundtable discussion on the use of student data. Again, Newcastle I feel are ahead of the curve here in banning the use of predictive analytics outright. Durham talked about their experience of the Blackboard feature which allows automated messages to be sent to students based on performance – they turned it off. They felt it was problematic for student motivation as the messages didn’t provide sufficient (any?) contextual information for students.
I was honoured to be invited to attend the UUK’s Access, Participation and Student Success Conference 2022 by colleagues at Studiosity, to present a case study on why and how we have implemented Studiosity at Sunderland over the past year. This was a variation of my presentation for InstructureCon, with the technical slides de-emphasised and new sections added about how the Studiosity project ties in with our wider personal academic tutoring project and the University’s Student Success Plan 2025. My presentation was well-attended and I got some good questions and feedback, and as an attendee at the conference I got a lot out of the other sessions I was able to attend.
Kaushika Patel, Deputy PVC Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at De Montfort University, presented on closing ethnicity awarding gaps, something which is an issue for us at our London Campus in particular which has a much more diverse student intake. Kaushika’s talk was about what progress has been made since the 2019 UUK and NUS ‘Closing the Gap‘ (PDF, 2Mb) report. My first photo above shows that there has been some progress, with the overall gap decreasing from 13.2% to 8.8%, but there is also a particular issue with 1st class awards, where the attainment gap between BAME and white students is 9.6%. Kaushika made some practical suggestions about what we can do going forwards, including signing up for the Race Equality Charter. I’ve picked that one out as I was disappointed to find that Sunderland was not a member, though I’ve spoken with our EDI lead and been assured it is on the agenda of our BAME staff group.
I also got a lot out of Nathalie Podder’s passionate talk about how the cost of living crisis is affecting students. Nathalie is the Deputy President (Welfare) at Imperial College Union and her presentation was based on consultations with students at Imperial College London. My second two photos show their ‘Findings’ and ‘Government Recommendations’ slides. Among the findings are that 95% of students are concerned about the cost of living crisis, 58% are worried about their ability to pay rent, and 20% about being able to pay utility bills. Their recommendations for the government included starting a new hardship scheme for students, reinstating maintenance grants, raising NHS bursaries and regulating landlords who own student properties.
Today I attended this presentation on research conducted by the Nous Group with Studiosity, on a meta analysis of the effectiveness of Studiosity and a methodology of converting that data into a return on investment figure in cold, hard cash. I’m not sure how confidential this is, so I won’t go into any great detail here, but I expect the report will be on Studiosity’s website in time. I believe this study looked at data from the whole of the one million students who have now used Studiosity.
The screenshot above shows some headline performance measures, including that students who used Studiosity had a 6-16% higher rate of programme retention, got grades that were 15% higher, and 88% reported increased confidence in completing their assignments. I am hoping I will soon be able to put a slide of this nature together showing the performance impact at Sunderland.
The second part of the presentation was on converting this data to a return on investment measure. Assuming that you can show improvements in retention, progression and attainment after adopting Studiosity, there is a big open question on how much weight you can attribute this improvement to Studiosity, and how much is attributable to other factors. Nous presented their ROI calculations based on a number of assumed percentages to address this.
It’s that time of year again, Panda spotting day in the midst of new student chaos at the busiest time of year: InstructureCon! I didn’t spot the panda until late on, during one of the final corporate keynotes which all seemed to have an Indiana Jones / wilderness theme, because education is a journey I believe.
After the corporate shenanigans, Simone Giertz delivered the opening guest keynote which I enjoyed and had been looking forward to as an existing fan of her YouTube. She talked about the value of problem solving and searching for unique or different solutions to problems, such as her unique rollable jigsaw table. Simone also talked about how important it is, in STEM specifically but it applies in all areas, of visibility of people that children can project themselves onto as part of their development.
This was followed by Sidharth Oberoi, Instructure’s VP of International Strategy, giving the more hands-on business keynote on Instructure’s vision of the future of education. Very heavy on alternative teaching methods and hybrid learning, so he’s definitely going to be on the Office for Students’s naughty list. He also talked a lot about the need and value of micro-credentials, something that would be a bit of a theme of the conference, and I’ll share my thoughts on that at the end.
After the morning keynotes we had time to build our own experience by sampling a range of pre-recorded on-demand sessions from the community, of which clearly the greatest and best of all time was yours truly on Sunderland’s experience of integrating Studiosity into Canvas.
The sessions which I actually attended were I’ll Have to Say ‘I Love You’ in a Survey” by Ben McGrae and Will Moindrot at the University of Liverpool which covered their experience of developing and analysing a survey after transitioning to Canvas.
Impact by Instructure Updates was another update on an Instructure purchase, this time Eesysoft. This is another one I feel close to as I spent a lot of time at Northumbria cosying up to Eesysoft as they were very interested in its possibilities, just not enough to actually spent money on it. Impact looks very much like I remember, giving administrators the ability to provide context-aware help throughout the VLE. The big difference now of course is that it’s a Canvas exclusive product, whereas Eesysoft had integrations available for all the major VLEs.
The final on-demand session I attended was Canvas LMS Updates for Higher Education by Jewel Pearson and Whitney Pesek which was very useful for seeing the features and enhancements which are around the corner. I’m particularly looking forward to the Comment Library in SpeedGrader, which offers similar functionality to Turnitin’s QuickMarks and which our academics have been after since day one with Canvas. I’m not entirely sure that integrating emojis in submission comments is necessary, but if you’re going to do it, at least having a feature to set your preferred skin tone universally is a nice touch. The fancy touches to assignment submission, such as a progress tracker, also look nice.
The closing keynote by Matin Bean was another I was looking forward to, as Martin was the vice-chancellor of the OU during my time with them. His talk focused on predictions for the future of education – the growth of micro-credentials, the increasing involvement of business and competition from non-traditional learning providers, and the use of different types of teaching methods, e.g. more hybrid learning (someone else with no fans at the OfS then.) Martin also talked about what, in his experience, employers are looking for in graduates – namely, ‘grit’, or determination.
Finally, Adam Grant in the closing keynote talked about how Instructure can help educators to avoid burning out, and the growth of people learning from non-traditional means such as YouTube and podcasts. This is very true; only the day before I taught myself how to re-silicone seal my bathroom on YouTube (outcome: it looks fantastic!).
As I mentioned above, a theme of the conference was micro-credentials, something which came up over and over again in the corporate talk, and was echoed in Martin Bean’s keynote. I first wrote about badges in 2014, and while I think the concept is grand, in the 8 years since I haven’t seen any significant real-world demand, it still feels like a solution in search of a problem. This is perhaps evident in the re-branding from ‘open badges’ to ‘micro-credentials’. I also remain concerned about long term viability, having lost half my badges in the migration from Mozilla’s Backpack to Badgr. And what is going to happen to Badgr now that Instructure have purchased the lead developer of the standard? They are already offering certain functionality – pathways – as something additional to the base standard, only available in Canvas. Sidharth talked about decentralisation, student control, and learner’s owning their educational journey and results, but who controls the “wallets?” Canvas Credentials, the purchase of Eesysoft, and the corporate talk from today don’t point towards student control and decentralisation to me, but rather to Instucture’s increasing control and consolidation of the educational vertical stack.
I’ve attended InstructureCon, or CanvasCon as it once was, pretty much every year since Sunderland went over to Canvas in 2017, and I’ve always wanted to present but didn’t feel like I had a good enough topic. This year I’m proud to announce that I will be presenting on our experience of implementing Studiosity through Canvas over the past year, supported by my spiritual other half at our London Campus, Evi.
Our presentation is attached below, and I’m sure our actual presentation will be available online after the conference. Alas, it is a recorded one, much as I would have liked the University to send me off to Barcelona to present in person. (Damn you, Dan!)