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ALT NE User Group: November 2023

My turn to do the hosting honours today, for the first time since before we had that pesky pandemic. My carefully planned agenda went completely out the window during the first item, but everything still managed to run pretty smoothly, and splurging the boss’s cash on the catering after getting the venue for free was a result, as the food was roundly praised.

We began with institutional updates from attendees. I thought as it was the first meeting of the year a quick round of updates would be good to have. I asked for one slide or five minutes each, got something like 17 slides from one bod, and this half hour item ran to well over an hour. But it was good, and I learned that we are all dealing with the problem of digital skills of staff and trying to make improvements there, and what the Blackboard and Anthology merger has done for AI in Blackboard. Staff now have access to an AI Design Assistant which will create entire course outlines and structures which serves as a great starting point. Middlesbrough College are trialing Microsoft’s Copilot tool in Bing, and have made it available to all staff and students, and Newcastle have seen a big increase in digital exams which are now at 40%.

After the roundup, I had one of my team do a demo of the Clevertouch boards we rolled out last year, then a learning design / content development showcase which provided an opportunity to share examples of best practice. In the afternoon we had a discussion on the role of ALT and where we sit within it, and a tour of Sunderland’s new anatomy suite. We have a new Anatomage table with a number of additional models, including some fine detail scans which have digitised certain features down to 0.1mm.

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The End is Not Nigh


Pecuniam populo antepone

Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of catching a bit of Rishi Sunak’s chat with Elon Musk about the future of AI, and it was dreadful. Absolutely no criticality whatsoever, Sunak just blindly accepted everyone Musk told him. This is something which bothers me so much that over the past few months I sort of accidently wrote 2,500 words on why the robots will not be taking over anytime soon, but instead of publishing it here I sent it on to the ALTC Blog for consideration, and it was published today – you can read it here. I should think of the ALTC Blog more often and try to get more of my ramblings published there, it’s been a while. They even gave me a badge.

Anyway, the short, short version is that no matter how impressive ChatGPT may seem, it’s not doing anything very new or revolutionary, and that particular kind of artificial intelligence has pretty much gone as far as it can. There is absolutely no path from where we are today to general artificial intelligence which can rival or surpass human intelligence. None. Whatsoever. The real threat of AI we should be worried about is how it is being used to displace and make precarious workers in certain industries to further increase the capture of wealth by the top 1%. This is one of the issues which SAG-AFTRA are striking on, specifically the practice of replacing background extras in film and TV with AI generated images. This is the time to be fighting back and supporting campaigns like this, because our politicians are certainty not up to the challenge, even if it does mean you have to wait an extra few months for Dune: Part 2.

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ALT NE User Group: June 2023

A photo of Durham's lightboard in action
Durham University’s Lightboard, a very cool (but smudgy) piece of tech

Hosted by my lovely colleagues at Durham, this ALT North East meeting began with a discussion of the practice of video assessment. I talked through what we do at Sunderland using Canvas and Panopto, covering our best practice advice and talking through the things which can go wrong. The problem of a VLE having multiple tools for recording / storing video was one such headache shared by all of us, no matter what systems we are using.

We then moved on to a discussion about Turnitin, ChatGPT and AI detection, pretty much a standing item now. Dan shared with us a new tool he has come across, which I’m not going to name or share, which uses AI to autocomplete MCQs. A new front has emerged. Some bravery from Northumbria who must be one of the few HEIs to have opted in to Turnitin’s beta checker, and New College Durham are going all in on the benefits of generative writing to help staff manage their workload by, for example, creating lesson plans for them. A couple of interesting experiments to keep an eye on there.

After lunch we had demonstrations of various tools and toys in Durham’s Digital Playground Lab. This included a Lightboard. This is a really cool and simple piece of tech that lets presenters write on a transparent board between them and the camera using UV pens. I came across this a few years ago, before the pandemic I think, but it’s a strange beast. It’s not a commercial system, but open hardware, so anyone can build one for themselves at little cost. Unfortunately at Sunderland, and I suspect at many bureaucracies, this actually makes it a lot harder to get one than just being able to go to a supplier. So it never happened, but at least today I got to see one live.

Another bespoke system demonstrated was a strip of LED lights around the whiteboard controlled through a web app which allows students to discretely indicate their level of comprehension. We had a short tour of the Playground’s media recording room, watched some video recordings of content created in VR to, for example, show the interaction of the magnetic fields of objects, a demonstration of Visual PDE which is an open source web tool for demonstrating differential equations, and Kaptivo, a system for capturing the content of a whiteboard but not the presenter. You can see the Kaptivo camera in the background of my photo, behind the Lightboard.

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ALT North East User Group: March 2023

Various responses on Padlet showing our thoughts on AI. It's a tad negative.
A screenshot from Padlet showing our thoughts on generative AI. It’s a tad negative.

We’re getting back into a stride now, with the second meeting of the academic year at Teesside. After introductions and updates from each of the core university groups, Malcolm from Durham kicked us off with a conversation about Turnitin and how we all feel about it. From a survey of the room, most of us seem to be using it rather apathetically, or begrudgingly, with a few haters who would love to be able to do away with it, and no-one saying they actively like the service. Very revealing. So why do we all keep on using it? Because we all keep on using it. Turnitin’s database of student papers pulls like a black hole, and it will take a brave institution to quit the service now. Of note was that no-one really objected to the technology itself, especially originality reporting, but rather their corporate disposition and hegemonic business model.

Emma from Teesside then talked about their experience of being an Adobe Creative Campus, which involves making Adobe software available to all staff and students, and embedding it into the curriculum. Unfortunately, Emma and other Teesside colleagues noted the steep learning curve which was a barrier to use, and the fact that content had to sit on Adobe servers and was therefore under their control.

Next up was my partner in crime, Dan, reporting on Sunderland’s various efforts over the years to effectively gather student module feedback. This was a short presentation to stimulate a discussion and share practice. At Newcastle they have stopped all module evaluation, citing research on, for example, how female academics are rated lower than male. This has been replaced with an ‘informal check’ by lectures asking students how the module is going, are you happy, etc. They are being pushed to bring a formal system back due to NSS pressures, but are so far resisting. At Durham they are almost doing the opposite, with a dedicated team in their academic office who administer the process, check impact, and make sure that feedback is followed up on.

Finally after lunch, we had a big chat about that hot-button issue that has taken over our lives, the AI revolution! It was interesting for me to learn how Turnitin became so dominant back in the day (making it available to everyone as a trial, and getting us hooked…), and the parallels which can be drawn with their plans to roll out AI detection in the near future. Unlike their originality product which allows us to see the matches and present this to students as evidence of alleged plagiarism, we were concerned that their AI detection tool would be a black box, leaving wide open the possibility of false accusations of cheating with students having no recourse or defence. I don’t think I can share where I saw this exactly, but apparently Turnitin are saying that the tool has a false positive rate of around 1 in 100. That’s shocking, unbelievable.

No-one in the North East seems to be looking at trying to do silly things like ‘ban’ it, but some people at Durham, a somewhat conservation institution, are using it as a lever to regress to in-person, closed-book examination. Newcastle are implementing declarations in the form of cover sheets, asking students to self-certify if / how they have used AI writing.

There were good observations from colleagues that a) students are consistently way ahead of us, and are already sharing ways of avoiding possible detection on TikTok; and b) that whatever we do in higher education will ultimately be redundant, for as soon as students enter the real world they will use whatever tools are available in industry. Better that we teach students how to use such tools effectively and ethically in a safe environment. As you can see from the Padlet screenshot above, our sentiments on AI and ChatGPT were a tad negative.

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ALT NE User Group: November 2022

Photo of the Owl microphone and camera in action
Stock photo of the Owl mic

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.

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An Intersectional Approach to Learning Technology

This was a good session, a workshop facilitated by ALT’s Anti-Racism and Learning Technology special interest group in which the theory of intersectionality was first introduced, utilising Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk, and then we had an open discussion about the issues particular to learning technology and education, and what we can do about it. Our thoughts were collected and curated in a Google Jamboard and I am sharing captured versions of those here – click to embiggen (officially a real word now, according to Merriam-Webster).

Supporting these endeavours, the latest version of ALT’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology is available here.

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Online Learning and Teaching for Neurodiverse Students

My Brain has too Many Tabs Open
If I could only Command+Q my brain sometimes. Photo by That’s Her Business on Unsplash

‘Exploring the Experience of Online Learning and Teaching for Neurodiverse Students’ was an excellent session hosted by ALT East England shining a light on some of the issues with online learning and teaching which particularly affect neurodiverse students. I’m going to do this backwards and talk about the second part of the session first, because it was the first part which was more impactful for me, and that’s what I want to focus on.

The second part was a talk by members of Anglia Ruskin University’s Disability and Dyslexia Service, who discussed the challenges of supporting hardware and software platforms they weren’t necessarily familiar with, and the benefits of online working which offered opportunities for engaging with students at times which better suited them, freed from on-campus, 9-5 hours, and for rapport building by sharing intimacies of home environments. I have personally loved pet-bombing during meetings and nosing at people’s book shelves, though I want to insert a note of caution here that many students are living and studying in far from ideal environments; having a suitable home working / studying environment is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Returning now to the first part of the session, this was a student-led discussion on some of the issues they have faced with online learning, and their thoughts on what we can do as developers and teachers to make things better for all students.

So for example, some students with anxiety or ADHD reported that they had found the structural changes difficult and, in the case of the many changes we’ve had to lockdown restrictions, frustrating. One student commented that all of their activities – studying, eating, leisure – were all now being done in the same small environment, shared with another student, and that was causing a lot of stress. Another student found online lectures harder as they felt more conspicuous asking questions, though on the flip side they also noted that lectures tended to have more availability at other times.

There was an interesting discussion on the use of cameras during online lectures, whether students should have them on or off. This is something I’ve struggled with when teaching, as there is no feedback for me to gauge students’ engagement and comprehension. One student on the panel commented that they have been in online lectures with up to 500 students, and cameras being on was very distracting for them. Another student commented that they preferred cameras on to get some social interaction with their peers, while another who was hard of hearing said that they benefitted from cameras being on for lip-reading.

On assessment, there was general appreciation for the ‘no detriment’ policy they had last academic year when the pandemic began, but this has been removed in the current academic year in favour of universal extensions granted upon request, which one student said was far worse because it extended the time available for them in which to be anxious about their assessments. There was no love for online proctoring software, with some students saying they had difficulty with suitable space for these, and even having to buy their own webcams.

I got a lot out of listening to students like this, but I found myself wondering about how to draw conclusions. On webcams for example, on or off? That, I think, is a decision that needs to be made with each student cohort individually, and in consultation with them – and with their consent! Far easier with cohorts of 30 rather than 300 of course. One good suggestion from the student group was to build in social time to online teaching sessions, either at the beginning or end of sessions where cameras can be on so that students can see each other and say ‘hi’, and then turned off during the taught component to reduce distractions, unless specifically required.

There are institutional things that could change to help students. Proctoring software is a vile product category that is just needs to get the sea. The whole lot of them. In the Sea. There was maybe an argument to be made at the start of lockdown, but people have had over a year to redesign assessments now, so there’s no excuse. And policies around mitigating circumstances and reasonable adjustments need to be made actually reasonable, and not applied across the board as though they were written on stole tablets. There’s core values stuff here. Should we be looking for reasons to fail students, or doing everything possible to help them to pass? I know how I want to spend my time.

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OERxDomains Conference: Day 2

Now that I have Day 1 sorted, hopefully it isn’t going to take me as long to write up and publish my notes from Day 2! Again, I am going to attempt to keep this relatively brief, just a few key points from each session I attended, but I was conscious that I ended up writing more and more for each session of Day 1. Recordings of all sessions are available on the YouTube playlist or via the interactive TV Guide.

09:30: Nominal Group Technique for Student Feedback in Pandemic Times | Me!
Highlight of the conference, as voted for by 100% of attendees in my house: my ‘Gasta‘ on adapting NGT for online teaching. A little disappointing that I wasn’t able to present live, but the recording was done in one take, and no editing.

Also 09:30: Digital Fluency In A Public Liberal Arts Institution | Jeff McClurken and Lee Skallerup Bessette
As all of the Gasta sessions were pre-recorded, I was able to watch this one about a project to give all students and staff their own domain name to do with whatever they want (largely), as a way of empowering them to develop digital literacy skills.

09:45: Welcome To Day 2 From The Conference Co-Chairs
I didn’t get any bright ideas this time, thankfully! (First image in my gallery, showing remixed conference badges.)

10:00: Wikipedia In The Classroom In The New Normal | Ewan McAndrew
Ewan talked about two projects involving students and Wikipedia, the first getting them to participate in edit-a-thons updating existing pages, and the second about finding something not already on Wikipedia, researching the topic, and then writing the page themselves. This gave students agency and enabled them to see tangible outcomes of their learning. (Second image in my gallery, a quote from a student on what they got out of the Wikipedia project.)

10:20: Open To Diversity: Inclusive Design Insights From The Australian OER Textbook | Sarah Lambert and Habiba Fadel
The purpose of the Australian Open Textbook Project is to audit and improve the diversity of textbooks and reading lists, noting that ‘open’ cannot just be about being free, but must be representative of the student body and society – and this isn’t just about who is shown in pictures, but whose knowledge is represented.

10:40: Moving Your Language Teaching Online Toolkit | Hélène Pulker
This discussion was on the particular challenges faced by students of modern languages learning online, and presented a toolkit of resources that the Open University has created to help address these issues. The toolkit is a highly practical collection of guides and principles.

11:10: Digital (Un)Tethering | Clare Thomson and Kate Molloy
Throughout the conference I was looking for alternative format sessions wherever possible, and this one did not disappoint. Instead of a presentation or video, we had a guided Twitter chat on the topic of self-care and balancing work and personal life while working and studying from home. You can read the chat on Twitter by checking the hashtags #Untether #OER21 #OERxDomains21. It was eye-opening to realise how much time I am spending in front of different screens, and thinking about how it has impacted my life. Hence the need to #Untether.

11:50: The Adventures Of The Writing Process Digitising The Writing Process | Patricia Dennis
I re-tethered for this session on helping students to develop a process for writing, rather than focusing on the content or finished product which is where the emphasis is usually placed.

13:00: Keynote | Jasmine Roberts
A wonderful, passionate, keynote address from Jasmine who explored how open education ideology has its roots in black feminist liberation and, in particular, the work of Bell Hooks. One of the most powerful things said all conference, was that ‘the time needed to care, or to create OERs, is often not institutionally valued, so we do it ‘off desk’ in our own time’. (Third image in my gallery, a quote from Jasmine: ‘We are teaching students, not content’.)

14:00: The Use And Misuse Of Care | Sundi Richard and Autumm Caines
An introduction to CompelU, a fabulous new online proctoring service to catch-out lying, cheating students in their lies and cheating. But no… this was a discussion on the dangers of certain companies that I won’t name co-opting the language of care to sell anti-student services to institutions. Their blog post on this is well worth a read. (Fourth image in my gallery, a meme on how it is easier to put on a webinar about care, rather than addressing structural failures.)

14:20: Open Pedagogies In A Pandemic: Educator Perceptions And Experiences In Diverse Contexts | Leigh-Anne Perryman and Rebecca Ferguson
A theme which emerged from the conference for me was that ‘open’ doesn’t always mean ‘good’. An example from this talk was a case where students were asked to work collaboratively to produce an open textbook, but this was anxiety inducing for some students, and there were worries about the process damaging students’ esteem if their work was rejected. To mitigate these risks you can use universal design for learning which has a principle of providing students with multiple means of engagement. (Fifth image in my gallery, a quote on the dangers of online anonymity.)

14:40: Lessons From The Frontline: Challenges And Strategies For Inspiring A Shift From Surveillance To Open Practices | Emily Carlisle-Johnston
Another talk on the dangers of surveillance software which made the points that this removes students’ autonomy, and burdens staff with extra work. Specifically, in using something like online proctoring, you may ‘solve’ the problem of academic staff not having to redesign traditional essay-style exams, at the expense of labour and cost which is transferred to the technical support teams who must procure, implement and maintain these systems.

15:15: The Joys Of Open Collaboration, Stories From The GO-GN Picture Book Team | Chrissi Nerantzi, Hélène Pulker, Paola Corti, Verena Roberts, Penny Bentley, Gino Fransman, Bryan Mathers and Ody Frank
A presentation on the work of The Global Open Graduate Network (GO-GN), which is building a global community of researchers in open education. In the example presented, a group of educators collaboratively created a picture book story about open education during the pandemic.

15:35: Community And Care In The Open: The CUNY Graduate Center’s TLC During The Pandemic | Luke Waltzer and Laurie Hurson
How the CUNY Graduate Center helped to support staff and students of the New York based university cope with the switch to online learning during the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. They were well-placed to do so, having built an open infrastructure, the CUNY Academic Commons, which enabled them to share their archive of online teaching content.

15:55: Trent Online: Trent Extend mOOC Spring 2021 | Christian Metaxas, Kristine Weglarz, Terry Greene and Stephanie Park
A discussion about the pending launch of the Ontario Extend mOOC which is intended to be a place for educators to learn without fear of failure, where we will be able to ‘mess up’ and play while dropping the knowledgeable front we put on for students. However, another important take-away from this session was that ‘Ontario is better than British Columbia’. I… don’t know why, but what the heck? I liked these folks and am happy to get on this bandwagon with them.

16:25: Exploring The Web Monetisation Standard As A Solution For Sustainability In The Creation Of Open Educational Resources | Erica Hargreave, Lori Yearwood and Kevin Ribble
This presentation was about the Web Monetization Standard which offers people an alternative way of being compensated for making content freely available that doesn’t rely on advertisement, affiliate links, freemium models, or paywalls.

16:45: Open Source Technologies For Instructional Design: Hands-On Experience In Teacher Education With H5P | Benjamin Eugster
A couple of case studies of content which had been created with the H5P content authoring tool. Something else I’m taking from this session though, is the concept of explicit and implicit learning objectives.

17:05: Let It Break Or Be Broken: Care, Moral Stress, And The University | Brenna Clarke Gray
This was an excellent talk on how care is being used (abused) to paper over the cracks of institutional failures, the result of neo-liberal models which are extractional by nature – and design. This causes moral injury or stress to those of us providing care, and it should not be on us to repair that damage, but on institutions to change their structural models. I highly recommend the article ‘Moral injury and the COVID-19 pandemic: reframing what it is, who it affects and how care leaders can manage it’ by Suzanne Shale to explore this topic further.

17:40: Keynote | Rajiv Jhangiani
The final keynote speaker began with an impassioned advocacy for openness and why he was drawn to it as a concept – because of the limitless and unknown opportunities for future collaborations. However, Rajiv also posed many difficult questions on the limitations of openness. Consider consent, for example. On Our Backs was a queer, feminist magazine published between 1984 and 2006, which gained some notoriety in 2015/16 when the copyright owner digitised and openly released the entire archive online. Could the writers and models who participated in a niche 80s magazine with a limited audience have given any meaningful consent to their work being available to literally the entire world? Without autonomy, you don’t have any choice in making things open or closed. The archive has since been removed. (Sixth image in my gallery, a quote from a model who was featured in On Our Backs after learning that her photos were now online.)

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OERxDomains Conference: Day 1

As I sat down to get comfortable and begin the OERxDomains conference I had the flash of inspiration to ‘live blog‘ the conference instead of hastily scribbling notes that I would type up and organise later. I thought this was a great idea! And would solve my bad habit of writing about things long after they happen and egregiously lying about the date when it comes to publishing on my blog. I managed to keep it up for a couple of hours, but it was completely unsustainable. Two reasons, firstly because the conference was absolutely jam-packed there was little room to catch-up, and secondly because I don’t have it in me to be content with rough notes and found myself obsessing over formatting issues rather than concentrating on the content of sessions.

So here we are, over a month later, and I’m just now getting round to publishing my notes. Because of the huge amount of content, I’m going to try and limit myself to just a sentence or two to recap what I took from each session I attended.

In keeping with the spirit of a conference on open education resources, all sessions recordings are now freely available at either the YouTube page or, better, you can use the excellent TV guide style programme for Day 1 or Day 2.

09:50: Welcome From The Conference Co-Chairs | Jim Groom, Lauren Hanks, Joe Wilson, Lou Mycroft and Louise Drumm
During which I had my ill-fated live blogging epiphany.

10:00: Opening Plenary: Joy And Care In Open Education In Times Of Pandemic | Catherine Stihler, Nicolas Garcia, Tutaleni Asino and Orna Farrell
There were a few highlights from the opening plenary – a reflective question on what has brought joy over the past year, the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous teaching (and the privilege of being able to choose, or not!), and a fabulous observation from Nicolas that ‘Technical issues have an emotional impact on people.’

11:00: Open Reading With Your Eyes Shut: Demystifying Foo-Foo The Snoo | Mark Brown
A session title that will haunt me. Mark was discussing the problem of curating open resources and journals, and attempts to address this by publishing an annual Top 10 list of articles curated by his team at DCU. Also noted the problem of articles about open education being published behind paywalls(!).

11:20: Contemporary Art And Open Learning | Neil Mulholland
Discussed the problem of teaching contemporary arts during the pandemic and the lack of distance / online learning communities for artists – responded by creating a new OER collating relevant peer reviewed resources.

11:40: Encouraging Learner Agency Through Self-Mapped Learning Pathways | Matt Crosslin
Presented a case study on implementing self-mapped learning pathways (SMLP), which seeks to blend traditional instructor-led pathways with learners’ self-directed pathways.

12:10: Familiar Faces And Shared Goals: Evaluating The Impact Of An Open Community During The Covid-19 Pandemic | Kate Molloy
Talked about the timely Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities (EDTL) project that began in 2019 and the impact the pandemic had upon them – changed focus, added resources relating to Covid specifically, and making all resources openly available. (First image in my gallery, showing the 4 pillars of the project.)

12:30: Links Between Open Education And DEI – Findings From A Latin American Study | Carina Bossu and Viviane Vladimirschi
Posed the problem of the prevalence of English language OER that doesn’t meet the needs and realities of the global south, and asked what we can do to improve the situation. Suggestions included funding for translation services, and linking with networks such as GO-GN.

12:50: Careful Practice: Extending A Framework For Valuing Care In The Open | Caroline Sinkinson and Merinda Mclure
An interactive session on the Care in the Open Framework, which utilised a shared Google doc and Answer Garden to explore the value of care as a moral imperative for society, and how it cannot be limited to private, domestic spheres. Therefore, it must be a consideration in the classroom. (Second image in my gallery, with a sketchnote depicting attributes of care.)

14:00: Interactive Courseware To Connect Discussion To Course Material: So What? | Matt Smith, Tinne De Laet and Howard Scott
An exploration of Nextbook, an interactive textbook that allows students to write questions which staff can respond to, to give just one example. An attempt at getting away from the VLE paradigm of ‘a tool for this’ and ‘a tool for that’, providing a more integrated experience. (Third image in my gallery, showing a sample Nextbook page with inline discussion.)

14:40: Open Education, Data Analytics, And The Future Of Knowledge Infrastructure | Nicole Allen
This was an excellent talk on the problem of institutions attempting to buy solutions to technological problems, which are really sociological problems, and the vulture-like companies who are more than ready and willing to provide ‘easy’ solutions in the form of subscription models for textbooks(!), online proctoring software, learner analytics, and what they are doing with the data they are gathering. This included an example of a US textbook company selling data to ICE, the notorious US agency for enforcing immigration. (Fourth image in my gallery, because while I came for the conference, I stayed for the awesome bookcases in people’s homes!)

15:15: Openlab – Open Infrastructure In Action At CUNY | Charlie Edwards, Jody Rosen and Christopher Stein
Because ‘we don’t break up with students at the end of the semester’, CUNY have been running Commons in a Box for the past 10 years, a WordPress / BuddyPress system which provides continued student and alumni access to content.

15:50: Reflecting On Market Vs Commons Rhetoric: Care And The Professor’s Dilemma | Jim Luke
Another interesting talk, this one on how metaphors shape how we think, and specifically how higher education has been driven by the market and hierarchical thinking for the past 40 years. Jim left us with the thought that the question we should be asking ourselves is ‘Does it improve people’s lives?’, not, ‘Does it generate money?’. (Fifth image in my gallery, depicting some alternative metaphors for education such as ‘weaving a story’.)

16:20: Harmonising National Copyright Exceptions To Build A Global Body Of Open Educational Resources With The Code Of Best Practices In Fair Use For OER | Will Cross, Meredith Jacob, Peter Jaszi and Prue Adler
Possible winner of longest session title. This was a positive and reassuring discussion on copyright, in particular fair use rights. They noted that the method of linking out to copyrighted material may seem the legally safer option, but it creates unnecessary barriers for students accessing resources.

17:00: Crystallizing An Academic: Domains For Open Thinking | Helen DeWaard
Helen discussed the process of blogging and what she has gotten out of sharing the messiness inherent in the production of a PhD thesis – a refreshing take when we typically only get to see the finished, polished results! She talked about writing as a way of crystallising her learning, which struck a chord because that’s largely why I write my blog. (Sixth image in my gallery, an example of how Helen uses writing to crystallise her thoughts.)

17:30: 25 Years Of Ed Tech: Giving Voice and Conversation To The Community Or That Open Resource Sure Has Legs! | Clint Lalonde, Laura Pasquini and Martin Weller
This was the ‘most alternative’ session format today, a live chat on Discord while Clint was recording a podcast episode for the series 25 Years of EdTech, based on Martin Wheeler’s book of the same name. This type of remixing of the book has been made possible because Martin chose to publish it under a Creative Commons license.

18:00: Day 1 Keynote | Laura Gibbs
At 6 PM, after a day absolutely full to the brim, we came to the first keynote address! Laura discussed her experiences as an educator over the past 20 years using a randomised slide deck for prompts – a really interesting, not to mention brave approach! Laura teaches on various humanities online courses for the University of Oklahoma, with particular interests in mythology and folklore. Her talk was passionate and inspiring. She discussed how, teaching online courses only, she never gets to meet her students in person, but feels connected to them via the blogs and websites she has them create. Laura also, wonderfully, talked about how and why she has never used a VLE, and never given a student a grade! Much of Laura’s own work, including a teaching guide exploring her methods, can be found on her website: Drabbles.

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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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