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!)
My first in-person conference in two years at the University of Roehampton’s gorgeous campus was a chance to learn about Studiosity’s plans for the future, to network with colleagues at other UK HEIs using Studiosity and compare notes, and pretty randomly, I was able to get a tour of Roehampton’s new library building during lunchtime (it’s lovely).
On those future plans, we’re going to see an enhanced version of the student feedback view in the next couple of months which is going to allow their subject specialists to insert short videos and infographics explaining particular grammatical concepts, issues with spelling, and so on. They are also introducing a new ‘Student Connect’ tool which will help to facilitate peer-to-peer student support. This is currently in beta testing, and two UK universities are part of this evaluation.
The keynote address was by Sir Eric Thomas, who sits on Studiosity’s Academic Advisory Board, and he made a great point that, looking at historical precedents from past plagues, people at the time always think, “this is going to change everything, we can’t go back to how things used to be”, but invariably things do go back to exactly how they were once the threat is over. He speculated that this was because plagues and pandemics leave physical infrastructure unchanged, in contrast to wars, where the physical act of rebuilding allows for societal changes to be literally built in. However, what may be different as we ‘re-build’ after Covid, is that new communication technologies such as Teams and Zoom have come into their own and already effected change in how we live and work. The permanence of these changes is something that lingers in my mind as I contemplate my future.
Good opportunities for informal chats with colleagues at more advanced stages of Studiosity use, and no easy answers to be had in terms of managing use and expectations, and showing causal links between use of the service and student retention and attainment, something I’m in the midst of grappling with now as we approach the end of our pilot.
A second online only event for CanvasCon as the pandemic rumbles on, with two key differences from last year’s event: first of all, this event combined both all of Instructure’s various wares, not just, Canvas, and all regions – the Americas, EMEA, etc. And secondly, it was, to be blunt, a bit rubbish. I’ll get more positive and have nice things to say towards the end of this post, but I’ll proceed in order.
You have to go into events of this nature expecting a deal of corporatisation and marketing nonsense, but last year Instructure managed to get product and company updates to us via the means of a news broadcast style segment which worked well and was entertaining. In contract, this year felt like whatever private equity firm(s) currently own Instructure had sucked all life and soul out of them. The morning keynote was a roundtable discussion between what was effectively eight different marketing people heavily selling technological solutionism. A particular low point was reached when trying to sell the benefits of Canvas for Elementary. Do elementary school children (primary school), really need a VLE? Really?
This was followed by a ‘partner and product hall’ for corporate sponsors of the event to sell their wares, and were divided into platinum, gold and silver tiers depending on how much money they had paid Instructure to be there (I imagine). I engaged with these out of desire to try and get the digital badges and swag that were on offer (damn you psychology!), but there was very little value in the experience. They used a platform called Bizzabo to host these, and like Remo last year, it was awful, though for different reasons. They don’t support Safari, my default browser, the Microsoft session had an animated banner in the background which was completely distracting, and a number of sessions I went into just had no-one there, or, in one case, had people complaining about how the service wasn’t working for them as hosts. I did manage to have a good discussion with folks from PebblePad as I was keen to see what it looks like now and what it can do, as I’m involved in a small project looking for an ePortfolio solution for a midwifery programme that goes beyond what we can accomplish with Mahara.
In our third contrast with last year’s CanvasCon, the afternoon keynote was from will.i.am, and it was a rambling, incoherent mess, though he came dangerously close to making some salient points at times. While LeVar Burton’s keynote last year could be criticised for being a little too generic, it was well-argued and coherent, and more importantly, it was genuinely inspiring and motivational.
The conference was saved by the afternoon partner-led sessions – educators talking about education, and how they’ve used various Instructure tools to help and support them – this is what it should have been all about. I attended five such sessions in the afternoon, three of which were a bust for different reasons, but in a concerted effort to end on a positive note and take something constructive out of the day, I’ll focus on the two that were genuinely good.
“Quick Quality Guide: 10 Take-Home Tips to Make Your Course Sexy” from Florida International University, was a presentation on their top-tips for engaging and accessible course design using a metaphor of ‘sexy / fashionable’. Lots of Universal Design for Learning on show here, including using multiple measures of assessment, and a wide variety of different course materials. They also talked about using a landing page with key information, having a learner support page, and using course structure tools, like the Syllabus tool in Canvas, to aid design and navigation.
“Why Microlearning is Real Learning” by Dr Peter Thomas of HaileyburyX was another excellent session discussing the benefits of micro learning – content chunked into 2-5 minute sessions, and 15 minutes at most, as a way to reduce extraneous cognitive load, replicate real-world environments where people often have to learn tasks very quickly, and exploit attention grabbing mechanisms like Twitter and TikTok do so successfully, but for good intent!
All of the session recordings, including the other 85 peer / partner breakout sessions I couldn’t attend, are available to watch online here. Colleagues inform me that they attended some good sessions too, on the coming improved Teams integrations with Canvas for example, so maybe I was just a little unlucky in what I chose to attend. We’re all in agreement that you can probably skip the keynotes though!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
CanvasCon had to go online this year due to the pandemic, but the (very small) silver lining, is that it meant I got to attend. Some things worked very well in the new format, others not so much, but the content of the sessions was very high. I attended all of the keynote addresses from both Instructure and the guest speakers, a handful of the partner sessions, and a number of HE admin and Faculty led sessions which were presented by colleagues at institutions using Canvas.
The day began with a keynote and welcome address from Instructure which was the standard corporate fare of how well they are doing and how great Canvas is, but one slide really stood out for me (first screenshot above), on how they have managed capacity during the pivot to online learning. To paraphrase, all usage records have been broken, but not Canvas. Can confirm: we’ve had no significant outages or degradation of service at Sunderland. Interestingly they saw this coming in February when the impact of the pandemic was starting to be felt in Asia, and took pre-emptive action before lockdowns were implemented in the US and Europe.
‘Education makes you dangerous’ is a quote I’ll remember from LeVar Burton, the first guest keynote speaker who talked about his passion for education, storytelling, and his work with Reading Rainbow. Another nugget which struck a chord was the ‘right to define your own destiny’. It was a good speech, invigorating, a reminder of the purpose of education and why I have chosen this career.
Instructure’s Chief Product Officer, Mitch Benson, gave a presentation on their focus on innovation, and how they are going to continue to respond and adapt to the changing needs institutions have as a result of the pandemic, such as integrating more options for online tutoring and pastoral care. This segment was delivered as a newscast, and I have to say they absolutely nailed it. This could have been really cringy, but the mix of content and professionalism of the delivery was spot on. Bonus points for the panda co-host.
I then attended a couple of user-led sessions in the HE Admin conference strand. First, on how instructors are really using Canvas by Bob Edmison at Virginia Tech, who developed a ‘depth of use’ metric of data points indicating how, and how well, staff are using the VLE. I say VLE, because they started this work prior to migrating to Canvas from Sakai, and the metric was designed to be platform agnostic. It was a really interesting talk which will feed into the VLE usage standards project which is ongoing at Sunderland. The second session was Jim Federico at Microsoft who talked about how they are working with Instructure to build deeper integrations with Microsoft products, particularly Teams. It was a little hush-hush, I’m not sure how much I can say about this, but what they showed looked really good, and I’m looking forward to seeing these features rolled out over the coming year. Jim win’s my Pun of the Conference award for including a photo in his presentation of ‘On-Lawn Learning’.
I also jumped into some of the partner sessions which replaced the usual conference stalls where partner companies can showcase their wares. One good one I looked at was Qwickly which allows tutors to make batch changes to things like announcements and adjusting assignment settings. The partner sessions were delivered on a platform called Remo which attempts to replicate the boardroom style aesthetic of conferences. You can see this in one of my screenshots which I’ve posted above. I get what they are trying to do with this, but for me it absolutely did not work. I found it artificial and annoying. Rooms which had a presentation had an unnecessarily small thumbnail for it at the top where a stage would be, and the table metaphor was awful. To interact with anyone, you had to join a table and then you could only chat with people at that table. But it’s so artificial, and then it didn’t even work within its own context, as you can see in the screenshot, despite the ‘tables’ having six ‘chairs’, I couldn’t join a table with an open spot because it was actually limited to 5 for some reason. I have a feeling a lot of people shared my experience, as there was little interaction or evidence of any significant use in any of the rooms I entered, and I quickly lost interest in trying to engage with them.
That was it for me on the live day of the conference, as I wasn’t able to engage with any sessions running in the afternoon as, despite my boss instructing us to treat this like we were going away to a conference and keep our calendars free for it, people still put meetings in for me that I couldn’t decline, so that was something else that didn’t work. Not a failing of the conference itself, but of culture. I note it because it is something to be aware of when planning or attending online conferences. The flip side success is that Instructure recorded all of the presentations, so I was able to watch a few more things that I had missed out on in the following days.
The big one was the second guest keynote from Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy. This took the form of an interview which was a nice break, another example of doing something different from the usual format which worked well. Sal talked about how he founded and grew Khan Academy, from teaching maths skills to his immediate family, to 110 million users today. I enjoyed seeing Sal’s humanity, and humility; the extent of his sci-fi book collection which you could see behind him, and the need for a human touch was a theme that came up throughout the interview, and a key factor he attributes to the success of the Academy.
I also watched a few more end-user led sessions, including from Kona Jones on ‘Designing for Kindness’ in which the theme was something that goes that little bit beyond accessibility, to making content which induces students to learn by being helpful, friendly, and well-structured. It wasn’t so much the ‘tips and tricks’ that I got from this session, as I was pleased to note we’re pretty much doing everything that Kona recommended, but the emphasis on why. Checking the quality of your captions, for example, is not a chore we should do for the sake of legislative compliance, but an act of kindness towards students who may need to use them. That did resonate, and will inform how I deliver accessibility staff development in future. Finally, I watched the ‘Owning Your Data’ session from a couple of the techies at Instructure which talked about changes and improvements to the Canvas Data Portal and related planned changes to simplify the database structure.
Finally, finally, my coveted Bookcase of the Conference Award! If there is one big positive that has come of pandemic home working, it’s getting to nose at people’s bookcases. And judge them. Both LeVar Burton and Sal Khan gave their keynotes in front of some impressive collections, but they both lose points for having haphazard stacks. LeVar’s collection appears the more elegant and classy, very important considerations, but ruined by a TV right in the middle of them! For shame. Therefore, the award must go to Sal Khan and his impressive sci-fi. Well done Sal, and well done Instructure for managing to deliver an engaging and useful online conference which had some genuinely innovative ideas and experiments.
Participated in ALT’s online winter conference this year, joining five sessions over the two days:
Embodying Leadership as a Learning Technologist, Evan Dickerson
Allowing Art and Design students to choose their type of session, Jennifer Dettmer
MoodleNet: Federated, resource-centric social networking for educators, Doug Belshaw
A Review of Privacy and Edtech Tools, Gavin Henrick
Learning Design Bootcamp, Catherine Turton
The introduction and preview of MoodleNet was very informative and quite exciting. I was expecting a Mastodon clone, but instead it looks like it’s going to be more of a next generation open education repository. It looked very similar to Canvas Commons, but of course Moodle based and will be able to plug in to other LMSs, including Canvas. Using ActivityPub, it should also be possible to talk to and share resources with other ActivityPub based federated networks such as Mastodon and PeerTube.
I also very much enjoyed the talk with Gavin Henrick about the ethics of having students use freemium online learning tools that, like almost everything on the web now, gather personal data to be sold directly or indirectly to advertisers. One of the tools he introduced us to was Request Map Generator, which will test any website you throw at it and produce a map showing the outgoing connections from that site. Out of curiosity and in the interests of fairness I ran my blog through it and you can see the results above. I use the Shareaholic plugin to add the social media sharing buttons to my content, so I was expecting a lot of connections going out to them, and having embedded a few YouTube videos into some posts there is also a connection out to many, many Google sites, including a huge blob to their DoubleClick ad network.
The web has for a long time now been a compromise between freedom of access, quality, convenience and privacy, driven by the advertising business model. Do I get the balance right on my sites? You’ll never see an ad on here – I run WordPress on my own server – but I do include the sharing buttons because I want people to be able to easily share out my content. I stripped Google analytics off the site a couple of years ago, it didn’t add any great value, but I have taken to embedding videos from YouTube for educational and entertainment value because I as conscious of my blog being very text heavy.
Attended the ALT North East User Group today at Newcastle University. This meeting was themed around accessibility which was suggested after Jisc’s talk at our last meeting and the dawning realisation about how much work this could have on learning technology departments.
All attending institutions gave an update on what we are doing to ensure that we meet our obligations, ranging from panicked nothing to creating fully custom eLearning packages for delivering maths learning resources digitally and online – that from Newcastle University who have developed a solution using a combination of open source packages including MathJax and Pandoc. East Durham College’s virtual reality sensory rooms to support students on the autistic spectrum with overstimulation was really impressive. One of the things they’re using is SafeSpace Easy Access, a freemium Cardboard compatible virtual reality app.
Another highlight of the day came from an external guest from Blackboard who demonstrated Ally working in Canvas. Ally is a tool that can not only check course content for accessibility issues – not just web content, but materials including Word, PDF and PowerPoint files – but automatically convert that content into a range of different formats to meet different access needs. For example, it can perform optical character recognition (OCR) on PDF files which are scanned images, turning them into text, and convert text to speech.