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TEL Sonya Posts

OERxDomains21 (Almost) Live Blog

Rather than typing notes and taking screenshots throughout the conference and typing up something polished over the next few days (possibly weeks…), I’m going to try live blogging it! This is a very last minute thought I’ve had and it may be terrible. And / or deleted.

Welcome and Orientation

Love the conference programme being styled as a TV guide. Are there going to be people at this conference who don’t get this reference?

Opening Plenary: Joy and Care in Open Education in Times of Pandemic

What has brought me joy over the past year? I have better connections with my team. We have a morning catch-up call at 9:30 to plan the day ahead, and a more informal ‘banter’ meeting at 4 to have all of the office chat that we would be missing out on throughout the day. This culture is going to have to be something we work to keep when we return to campus.

Catherine Stihler taking an early lead in my ‘home office of the conference’ award.

“Technical issues have an emotional impact on people” – Nicholas

Discussing the pros / cons of synchronous and asynchronous teaching – Tutalenui made some great points about how the ability to work asynchronously is a privilege. That there are some people for whom home working / learning has thrust upon them unexpected caring responsibilities. I’m very conscious of this on our student body. With regards to previous comments I’ve made about my team, I recognise the privilege that most of us have in that we don’t have young children / caring responsibilities, which is part of the reason why it has worked well for us.

That there are academics who want to do live Zoom sessions for 3 hours is indeed a problem. It is “adapting” teaching for the pandemic in the worst possible way. My vote is strongly for asynchronous, but it does take time to adapt teaching materials for the new approach. My own sessions have – and I hope my students would agree with this! – considerably improved since the beginning of the pandemic.

Open Reading with Your Eyes Shut: Demystifying Foo-Foo the Snoo

In total and complete honestly, I have chosen this strand because that title haunts me. From Mark Brown at DCU, asking the question of how we keep current with research in our fields. Identifies a problem of ‘drowning in open resources and journals’. Publishes a top 10 list of articles as ranked by his team. Strong focus on open access journals, but commented about the problem of many articles still being behind closed-doors / paywalls. Some authors are responding by publishing their pre-published drafts in open journals. Cautioned wariness of sticking with known / favourite resources as this could result in missing good things.

Contemporary Art and Open Learning

Neil Mulholland discussing the problem of teaching contemporary arts during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic there were very few distance / online learning communities for artists – the field was over-reliant on the studio as a means of socialisation. Responded by creating a new OER collating relevant peer reviewed resources.

Update: Nope!

It is just about 12 noon and I’m calling it on the ‘live blog’ thing! Great idea Sonya, but too much work. Instead of concentrating on the content of the sessions, I’m worrying about formatting issues on this post. Will revert to my classic frantic scribbling of notes which I’ll turn into a couple of posts over the following few days.

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Nominal Group Technique for Student Feedback: Preview


And it only took three takes to be acceptable by my standards

On the 22nd of April I will be "presenting" a short presentation at the OERxDomains conference on adapting nominal group technique for online learning, which I had to do with a cohort of students on my Digital Learning module last year as a result of the pandemic.

"Presenting" in quotation marks because with the conference being online, it was actually pre-recorded this afternoon. The version posted here was the dry run I did myself in the morning to rehearse. I did not think Panopto would pick up the ‘present’ mode of PowerPoint, that’s very amusing, so you can see all my notes and the bits I edited out and changed on the fly. This is fine, because for the live recording, the Streamyard tool they used did exactly the same thing!

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Adiós Google, Hola Microsoft

Milton and his red stapler from Office Space
Ask me to do this again and I set the building on fire

I am a professional of many hats, because of course I am. Aren’t we all? In addition to the Sunderland gig that pays The Man, I look after the IT for a small local human rights organisation. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, pretty much since they got started, and it’s generally quite low-level stuff. A little bit of training, writing help guides, customer support; nothing terribly taxing. I also manage a Moodle VLE for them which is used for all of our internal training, hence all the Moodle Munches I’ve been attending lately. Putting that together was more fun, but still, VLE admin is the bread and butter.

However… early this year the one-man force of nature who effectively runs the show, had the bright idea of migrating from G Suite to Office 365 for their IT infrastructure, and asked me if I could do the science bit – transferring domain ownership and migrating all of the data and email addresses that had been created in Google. The answer was no, but actually yes. Who else was going to do it? I’m no Exchange admin, and I’d never attempted anything like this before, but I did my research and read the guides and set aside a few days when there could be downtime, both for the organisation and for me to be off work, to do the job.

It was not an easy one – very stressful – but after a couple of days the job was done, and it was a good ‘un. The hardest part was on the Google side, they make it so difficult for admins to manage accounts. For all the generic email address I had to effectively hack into them with password resets, then set 2 factor authentication and ‘app passwords’ which were needed for Microsoft to access the data. For the sadistic amongst you, the basic guide I followed was this one, but supplemented with many more to resolve specific issues.

On the Microsoft end it was wonderful, and it is so much easier to manage accounts now. We have far more accounts than we were allowed in G Suite, so now every one of our volunteers and members have individual accounts with access to Outlook, Teams, and the full Office suite online. I’m no fan of Microsoft (or any of the Big Five, tbh), but I have to give credit where it’s due, and they are good for this kind of thing.

It was certainly an experience, I learned a great deal, and I’m proud to have pulled it off so successfully. But I am never doing this again. Never!

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Moodle Munch: Feb. 2021


The February Moodle Munch recording. How do they get these up so fast!?

This month’s Moodle Munch had sessions on Universal Design for Learning and use of Office 365 within Moodle.

First up, Suzanne Stone and Ann Marie Farrell from DCU discussed how they went about creating a toolkit for creating Moodle course sites that were built with UDL considerations in mind. They were joined by an academic colleague who shared their reflections on using the toolkit. They had gone from using Moodle as a file store designed to meet their needs as a teacher, to one which put students’ needs first. This included, for example, redesigning content that previously would have been a PowerPoint upload, to an online interactive learning activity using the ‘Book’ tool in Moodle. That ‘using Moodle as a file store’ comment is a very familiar problem!

As an aside, and I’m not quite sure where this came from, someone posted a link in the chat to LibreTexts, an online resource for open source textbooks. It’s very American, but that’s understandable when the US has a huge problem with massively expensive textbooks students are expected to purchase on top of their already huge university fees. I’ve had a wee quick nose through their philosophy section and it seems pretty good. Bookmarked and shared.

Back on topic, the second session today was from Edel Gavan of MSLETB who talked about their Office 365 Moodle integration. Their Teams integration looks better than ours, as it can create a Team for each Moodle course which means that students get Teams meetings added to their Outlook calendars automatically, and they can easily create recurring appointments for, for example, weekly classes. To be fair, I think our systems could do that, but there are features we don’t have enabled by our IT. Edel also showed a ‘Block’ of Microsoft tools in Moodle which has been made available via a plugin to add those. One technical point of note regarding those was that each Microsoft service needs to be configured separately.

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Teaching, Learning and Assessment in a Digital World

100 years of learning theories showing the learner as the active agent
The learner must be the active agent in the learning process

This was Bob Harrison’s inaugural lecture as a Visiting Professor at the University of Wolverhampton. Bob has been in education for over 50 years, and I have known his name in Ed Tech circles for a long time.

His talk was on the dangers of over-emphasising the power of technology as a solution to the problem of online and distance education, and the need to continually relearn the lessons that successful learning, no matter whatever physical distances may be involved, needs to be driven by the learner as the active agent in the learning process, supported by well-designed content delivered by caring and competent teachers. And if I’ve mangled Bob’s thesis in this summary, you can read it more eloquently in his own words in this article, Why there is nothing remote about online learning, published last year. And for an example of how you can’t magically improve online learning just by throwing money and technology at the issue, Wired’s article on the ‘LA iPad debacle’ is a good read.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bob’s lecture, and his dismantling of technological solutionism, neoliberalism in education, and his barely checked scorn for the Department for Education and their fixation on remote teaching.

The screenshot which I grabbed to illustrate this post shows a continuation of the theme of learners as the active agents of learning in the most influential learning theories spanning the past century.

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CELT Team Away Day and Insights

Insights into CELT
Insights Into CELT: Shocker, we’re all introverts

Has there ever been such a phrase as to warm and inspire the hearts of man* as ‘virtual team away day’? Thanks Covid, the gift that keeps on giving.

In the morning we planned our plans for world domination, which all went according to plan. After lunch we had a presentation on Insights Discovery which we had all been asked to complete the week before. Last time around it was a Belbin exercise, because the boss didn’t like Insights, but we have a new boss now who doesn’t like Belbin, and who swears by Insights. So we did Insights. I find them all much of a muchness, and don’t put a lot of stock into them. But then I’m a reflective person with a strong internal locus of identity, so I feel like I know myself very well, and there was nothing in my Insights profile that was shocking, or indeed which had changed much since the last time I did one. Other people in the team did get a lot from it though, they found it interesting at least. I guess it was nice to see all the team profiles together, and though I’ve said ‘we’re all introverts’, we do have a new member of the team who came out all fiery red.

* And women. And enbies. I see you, in all your valid glory.

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Digital Equality Awareness and Impact on Practice

Seven Elements of Digital Literacy
The seven elements of digital literacies, according to Jisc

Maybe it’s the humanities background biasing me here, but all the best training I attend always seems to be deeply interdisciplinary by nature. Sure, the core of this session was about digital equality and things like the different between digital literacy and digital competence, but it really grabbed me when we got into discussion on the nature of poverty, and why and how gender and racial biases get baked into artificial intelligence algorithms.

The ‘Seven Elements of Digital Literacy’ diagram above is taken from Jisc’s Developing Digital Literacies guide, and breaks down digital literacy into media literacy, communications and collaboration, career and identity management, ICT literacy, learning skills, digital scholarship, and information literacy.

Another great resource from this session I am absolutely going to steal for my own work (by which of course I mean appropriate cite), is the Good Things Foundation, Digital Nation UK 2020 infographic which provides research findings in a striking visual format full of data points showing the digital divide.

Finally, some relevant recommended reading. From the session itself, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which I read last year and highly recommend, even if trans and non-binary people are seemingly non-existence, never mind just invisible. And one I threw into the conversation, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing, by Mar Hicks.

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Moodle Munch: Jan. 2021


The January Moodle Munch recording

Welcome to 2021, folks! Let’s hope it’s going to be a better year for all.

Today marked the return of Moodle Munch, with two presentations as always. Mark Glynn from Dublin City University began by discussing some tools and techniques they are using to add some gamification to online modules to improve student engagement. First, the use of formative and summative quizzes, but not just quizzes, the pedagogy around their use, emphasising the opt-in nature of the summative component and giving students the ‘freedom to fail’. Mark presented some interesting research showing both strong positive student feedback and improved pass marks on the formative assessment component with the group of students who had engaged with the summative quizzes. As it should be, but it’s nice to see such strong evidence! Mark then showed us the Level Up Plus plugin for Moodle which can be used to add gamification elements to module spaces, such as progress bars and leaderboards.

The second presentation was from Nic Earle at the University of Gloucestershire who demonstrated the custom electronic marking and assessment system they have developed for managing student assessments, and how it integrates with their Moodle and student records system. They switched over to this system in 2017 wholesale, and again Nic was able to show very positive results demonstrating increased use of the VLE (even before the pandemic), and improved NSS scores.

As always, the presentations were recorded and I have embedded the YouTube above this post.

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Gender Based Violence: Tackling GBV in Strategy

A Helping Hand
Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

I didn’t realise it at the time of booking, but the Gender Based Violence webinar I joined in October was the first of three. I was able to dip into the second session, but only very briefly as it clashed with teaching commitments. This final session focused on how FE and HE institutions can address GBV strategically, with special consideration on what we can do as staff and students are starting to return to campus following the Covid pandemic.

There were good discussions about the different impact on HE and FE institutions, as FE students don’t tend to attend campus as much or live in halls, and therefore don’t have access to the same level of social and institutional support as HE students; that universities and colleges need to realise and fully embrace the fact that they are not bubbles outside of society, but part of society, and that GBV is something that affects our students and staff, on and off campus; and in making the link between GBV and gender inequality, and how so often we place the burden of emotional labour to address problems on the people who are most affected by them and have the least to give. For evidence, one needs look no further than the makeup of the panel of these sessions and of most Athena Swan boards.

With regards to Covid and lockdown, instances of domestic abuse and gender based violence have increased as people are, or can feel trapped in unsafe domestic situations. Making resources and support available online is well and good of course, but the panel noted that these may not be accessible to people under coercive control, who’s internet access and phone use may be monitored covertly or even overtly.

Whew. Writing this, reflecting on this… it’s depressing and I fell powerless. There are some of those online resources here from the University of Strathclyde: GBV Cards, and a suggestion from the panel was to print out a version of this, the ‘Support for You’ page works, and give to staff and put around campus. There is also the complete Equally Safe in HE Toolkit available here: Equally Safe. The focus is on Scottish resources, as this is a project funded by the Scottish Funding Council.

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