Freshly rolled out, our HR’s new online appraisee training module that I created for them in Storyline. We’re developing a good relationship with HR and more work of this kind is on the cards. Storyline is also picking up throughout the university, though Faculties are tending to purchase their own copies for one or two interested people to do the development themselves. The next big one I should be working on after we get through the new semester busy period is for HIV awareness.
Attended a symposium for people working in participatory arts, organised by the university with attendees from ArtWorks-U, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, ArtWorks Alliance and many independent artists. It was an enlightening day and I met lots of interesting people, with discussions around challenges facing the arts and how participatory practice can interface with university research, and presentations on current good practice and reflections on the Asunder Project.
However, the main reason for my attendance was that I was facilitating one of the afternoon sessions: ‘New approaches to teaching resources’, a live demonstration of some of the content which is being developed in collaboration between the department and WaLTS for the ArtWorks MOOC. The MOOC platform will not be ready for some time yet, so what was demonstrated was a sample unit which I build out on SunSpace. This included a number of videos produced ourselves, some video and written case studies for discussion, a main presentation which I converted to Storyline, a couple of Google forms to get gather participant’s experience and reflections on the mini MOOC and a short sample assignment asking people to give their definition of participatory arts.
After some issues getting people logged on with the guest accounts, it went pretty smoothly. I deliberately kept the structure simple and the use of tools to a minimum to eliminate the need to give any kind of training on how to use SunSpace, and feedback was generally positive and useful.
Having been issued with a couple of badges for completing the Learn Moodle MOOC, I was a bit confused when I logged into my Mozilla Backpack and found it a little light. I searched through my blog and sure enough I found my badge collection for the ocTEL course in 2014 was missing.
Took a little sleuthing to work out what’s going wrong. My Mozilla Backpack / Persona account was created with my old Northumbria email address, and later I added the Sunderland address. Some of my badges are associated with one email address, the rest with the other.
After working this out it did come back to me that when I moved to Sunderland I tried to change the email address associated with my account and when I did all my badges disappeared. They are permanently associated with my Northumbria account, and I don’t seem to have any way to change this. I got lucky back then in that my Northumbria account hadn’t been deleted yet and I was able to get access back for a day to retrieve my Persona account. If anything happens to my Persona account now and I need to reset the password, I don’t think I can. Nor do I seem to be able to move the badges associated with my Northumbria email address to my Sunderland one. And if when I log in to Persona I select the Northumbria email address I can’t even see the badges associated with the Sunderland one, or vice versa. What a complete and utter mess. The point of the Backpack was to have all of your badges in one place, and it fails. The only single authoritative list of all my badges anywhere online is this blog which is manually maintained. The point of Persona is… well… frankly I don’t know. I think Mozilla were trying to replace the username / password paradigm but it seems to have gained zero traction outside of Mozilla’s ecosystem and I wouldn’t trust it for a second given the dire state of my account. Or accounts, as it may be.
UPDATE: After writing this I actually did some research and discovered that Mozilla are shutting down Persona as it has failed in their objectives. No idea what’s going to happen to my Backpack or how I will log in after November. Maybe a change to some other authentication method will let me sort this all out.
So I completed the Learn Moodle MOOC, got my badges and certificate, and learned a lot more about Moodle from an instructors point of view, having previously only used it as a student. It’s big. It’s monolithic. Reminded me very much of Blackboard in that it tries to do everything, be all things to all people, and in so doing it is perhaps over complicated and not as easy to use as I would have liked. I fear the staff development that may be required if we chose Moodle as our next VLE. On the other hand, it’s used by over 50% of HEIs in the UK so there’s a very good chance that many of our staff will have used it before, and the rest have probably used Blackboard so should find it easy enough to transition.
I liked the default text box editor initially, Atto, I loved it for the ‘Accessibility Checker’ feature, but as I used it more I found that it had similar problems to other VTBE’s – doing weird random things like inserting line breaks or additional space when they’re nothing there, in either visual or HTML edit modes. I also ran into a lot of niggly browser issues using a fairly default instance of Safari. The Learn Moodle mobile app was a little dated, but functioned very well, except for Big Blue Button integration which was lacking and which many of us on the course gripped about.
Other things I liked: the prompt / ability to assign a license when you upload a file; checkboxes to show metadata like size and filetype; the repositories look like they could do the job of replacing EQUELLA for us; ability to add files to a repository by emailing them to yourself; progress tick boxes for students; the ability to allow people to rate content items; the Glossary tool with highlighting function; and the very comprehensive reporting tools will be well received.
All in all, a good course, well worth doing, and there is no question that Moodle is a vast improvement over LearningStudio and would be welcomed by our academic community if it’s chosen in our VLE review.
The next presentation of Learn Moodle will begin on the 2nd of January 2017 if you missed out this time: https://learn.moodle.net
The Learn Moodle MOOC is running again. A four week free open course which teaches you everything you ever wanted to know about Moodle (possibly). It started on August 7th, so it’s still in week 1 and the perfect time to join.
I missed this last year, discovered it too late, and it’s thanks to a colleague here who spotted it in time for this year.
Over the past couple of years our Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing has been very busy redeveloping their buildings and kitting them out with all the latest and greatest facilities and technologies, things like an almost exact replica of a hospital ward, complete with Sim People, and high definition cameras and screens in every room. Remember the Immersive Interactive room I wrote about? They’re getting one of those put in as we speak.
Something else they’ve purchased is VEO, a video annotation tool that lets you tag videos either live, using their iPad app, or in a browser for videos recorded on other devices and uploaded to their system. There are two scenarios the Faculty has in mind for this tool, having students use it themselves for their own learning by, for example, analysing each other’s performance at a given task, looking for strengths and areas that need improving, and to assist academics doing OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations), or even replace the paper forms altogether, if it works well.
VEO is a fairly new tool, a spin-off from a development at Newcastle University, but it is now being used by a number of universities. Being local we benefited from having one of the people who developed the tool on site with us to explain the background, why it was developed, how it can be used and how we can administer it and help academics to make full use of it. It has a lot of potential, and also with it being a local start-up we have a great opportunity to work closely with VEO and contribute to their product development.
A webinar demonstration of The University of Nottingham’s eAssessment solution, Rogō, created in-house and published under the GPL open source license. Rogō was developed in response to their dissatisfaction with commercial quiz tools and has evolved into a mature and comprehensive solution with support for over a dozen question types and different kinds of presentation, including self-assessment, summative and survey.
We were all pretty impressed with Rogō and, pending the outcome of our VLE review, it is something that we will look at again if we find ourselves in need of a separate quiz tool.
Being open source software, anyone who is interested can download Rogō from Nottingham’s dedicated website and install it onto their own LAMP server.
This session began with a reflective exercise on how you have changed since the start of the course and what you have learned which we then shared in small groups. For me, I’ve learned to be comfortable with the idea that leading is a skill that has to be learned and practiced just like any other, and therefore that it is something which can be developed and improved upon. More practically I’ve learned the value in finding solutions collaboratively, as a team, leading them to solutions rather than providing them.
For example, a little while ago I asked the team if they could clear out the backlog of emails in the team mail account, twice, and it didn’t happen. On the third occasion, using things I had learned on the coaching sessions of this course, I asked them how we could clear out the backlog, from which we agreed an approach, a time to do it was set aside, and this time it was done. On another occasion I used the presence of a work experience student to prompt one of my team into completing some administration tasks on one of our systems. I had in mind that that they would teach the work experience student to do the task, but actually, in thinking about how to do it, they ended up doing it themselves. Some long outstanding tasks were completed in a very short time and our work experience student was freed up for other tasks, a win for all. In our group discussion on this exercise I was pleasantly surprised to have fed back to me that my team has notably improved since I joined, that the office is a more pleasant and positive environment, and that the team are more visible and approachable.
The second part of the morning was built around Patrick Lencioni’s concept of the five dysfunctions of a team. This was introduced via a group exercise in which we were asked to work in pairs and come up with the five most important ingredients for success. My partner and I answered:
- A shared goal or objective to work towards;
- Impact – a clearly defined point to the objective that will deliver improvements;
- A contribution from everyone on the team;
- Best use of the strengths of everyone on the team;
- Time and commitment to meet the objective.
Wrapped around this we also mentioned the need for trust and respect, but Rob wouldn’t allow that! There is a correct answer to this exercise according to Lencioni, a reversal of his five dysfunctions:
- Willingness to embrace conflict;
- A focus on results.
The need for a leader to be trusted by their team and to be seen to be following through on what they have said they will do, is, I think, the most important thing that I’m going to take away from this exercise. I have a couple of difficult outstanding jobs to benefit the team that have been mentally parked for a while, I now realise that these need to be picked up and resolved soon.
In the afternoon we were tasked with three more reflective exercises relating to self-development. The first was about concentration, asking when we feel ‘most present’ and ‘most distracted’ at work. For me, I am most present when creating something, a presentation or a web page for example, that uses my technical and creative skills but pushes me a little further than I’ve gone before, so slightly outside of my comfort zone. When I’m most distracted it’s due to competing demands on my attention, having to juggle tasks or being distracted by phones, notifications or office bustle.
The second exercise was about reflecting on where you were in life ten years ago, how you have developed since, and where you are going to be in ten years’ time. That was an enlightening one that made me think. Ten years ago I was a very different person, still trying to find a sense of self, lacking confidence and self-esteem, and still in the very early days of a nascent IT career. Ten years from now seems a very long way away, but well before then I’m going to need to decide on my next career move, whether I go into senior management or cross the academic divide. A doctorate is a distinct possibility having done so well with my master’s dissertation. Alternatively, I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano but never had time, and to master a martial art. Both of which are objectives in progress.
The final exercise was designed to tie in self-reflection on personal development with that of team development by asking us to think about when we have felt most a part of a team, and most separate from a team. For me, the former was when I was in LTech at Northumbria University. There I felt particularly embedded within the team. We all had a common goal and knew what our purpose was, and we were led by a strong, very intelligent and knowledgeable leader who trusted us to get our work done. I can now see that he was using a devolved, coaching style with us. I won’t name the team where I didn’t fit. It was a team I didn’t chose to join, but was forced into by command from management who didn’t understand my skills and experience. Very much a square peg / round hole situation. I didn’t stay. Although I got on well with my other team members, I had no faith in the management of the department. Like research has shown, it was my managers and the poisonous organisational culture that I left, not the job.
Participated in a conference call with the learning technologies team at one of the few UK institutions using D2L’s Brightspace as their VLE. The video on our call wasn’t working so we didn’t get to see the system in action which was a disappointment, but we did run through a list of pre-prepared questions to assess their experience and gauge their thoughts about the system.
This included their VLE review process which led to the adoption of Brightspace, and subsequent migration from the in-house system they were using previously. Overall, their experience with the platform and it’s evolution has been largely positive, with the biggest criticism being reserved for the somewhat dated user interface. This, however, is due for a major upgrade this coming summer and the new version, Daylight, will bring in a fully responsive design. They were happy to endorse the product and the company to us and are of the opinion that they would stay with D2L if they were facing a review themselves.
Today’s session was delivered by an external consultancy, Dawn Parkin Solutions, who, at the last minute and because of the university’s pending staff restructure, added the related concept of courageous conversations into the programme. Running throughout the session as a theme was a pending, difficult conversation we had been asked to think about beforehand so that we could develop a strategy for conducting that conversation as a result of the day’s work. Relating to my project attached to the course, I had in mind a meeting between myself, one of the associate directors of the service and the head of a department about making accessibility improvements to online learning materials.
The session began with an exploration of leadership styles and the factors which can influence the effectiveness of a collaborative or courageous conversation, such as the need to share power and trust people outside of your area to make the right decisions about it, the need for openness and honesty, and the transference of emotion – that is, letting go of any preconceived emotions or expectations you have about someone before starting a conversation lest it pre-judge the outcome. We also discussed the limitations of such conversations, when you need hold back some information for political reasons for example, or when having a conversation with someone you have management responsibility for. In such cases courageous conversations may be more appropriate.
A suggested starting point for such conversations, in a performance review scenario, was to ask something along the lines of ‘how do you think you add value?’ Followed up with questions to tease out what evidence they were basing their self-assessment on if the response doesn’t fit with your own perceptions of how they are performing.
In the afternoon we discussed Hershey and Blanchard’s sources of power, namely:
- Personal Referent (a charismatic, confident leader who inspires others to follow them);
And how to analysis your own sources of power and that of the people you will be having a collaborative conversation with. For example, in the conversation I have been planning I have Information, Expert and, to an extent, Reward power, whereas the associate director has Legitimate, Coercive and Connection power.
Finally we discussed the differences between push and pull influencing styles and the relative effectiveness of each. This discussion was based on a pre-sessional activity in which we were asked to rate our response to a number of statements from one to five depending on how accurately the statement relates to our actions. For the Pull style my score was 53 out of 72, and for Push 45 out of 72. In both cases this indicates a ‘tendency to use the style’. Our discussion focused on the fact that there is a time and place for both techniques and when to use each. Push styles are, for example, most effective when used for proposing solutions and giving information, but can also be used to attack or ignore others which are self-evidently ineffective. Pull styles are more effective for listening, questioning and building solutions collaboratively, and ineffective when used to avoid a problem. We were introduced to some research that has shown that for maximum effectiveness only one style should be used in any given conversation as there can be a cancelling out effect if you try and use both together.
For post session reading we were given an article which argued for the effectiveness of collaborative leadership styles and which identified six attributes of collaborative leadership:
- Collective Decision Making;
- Quick Thinking;
- Building Relationships;
- Handling Conflict.