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.
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.
Attended, and more importantly, presented at the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference held this year at Northumbria University. Day 3 of the conference was themed around STEM and the keynote was given by Debbie McVitty, editor of Wonkhe, who talked about the impact the TEF has had on the sector and how to really measure teaching excellence.
A highlight of the day for me was the post-lunch Ignite Sessions which saw 8 presenters speaking for 5 minutes about their work or project. “Pride and Prejudice and technology (that enhances learning)” from Katie Stripe of Imperial College London will stay with me for her unique approach, as will the brave soul who used audience response in an Ignite presentation by asking people to stand or remain sitting in response to questions. Also from Imperial, Drs Tiffany Chiu and Freddie Page presented on their work around what an ideal student looks like which attempts to address the disconnect between how students see themselves and what they want out of their HE experience, and what staff want from, and want to get out of students. And Dr Helen Kaye from The Open University discussed how they are supporting final year psychology students to complete an empirical research project which possess unique challenges for distance learning students.
I also came away with ideas and additions to my reading list. For my own teaching on our PG Cert I’ve been inspired by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr Patrick Thomson to include a session around peer instruction, expanding on what we’ve done around peer assessment. I also want to expand what we have traditionally taught around rubrics and online marking, to include a discussion about the value and role of marking and the different ways it can be done. To my reading list I’ve added Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.
By far the most important thing to happen today however, was that I presented for the first time with my colleague Dr Katrin Jaedicke on the work we have done to convert her statistics for biomedical sciences students course into a full fledged massive online open course (MOOC). It was mostly Katrin’s talk, as it is of course the content that is key, but I was there to contribute to any discussion around the technological and pedagogical considerations in the conversion of the course from a flat web page into a MOOC. I also ran a live quiz at the end of the session, giving people a taste of the MOOC. Katrin had initially wanted to give people a handout of one of the self assessment quizzes, but I suggested doing it live using Poll Everywhere and awarding participants with a digital badge, just like the MOOC students receive, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it all went very well.
In a first, I didn’t just attend the meeting this time round, I hosted it at one of the University’s nicer enterprise suites at Hope Street Xchange. Working with Graeme and Julie who are the North East’s key contacts with ALT, I took care of the practicalities – venue, IT, parking, lunch – while they organised the agenda and speakers.
In the morning we had presentations from our regional Turnitin account manager who presented on their new Authorship Investigate tool which is designed to help detect instances of contract cheating, followed by a presentation and discussion from Jisc on changes to the EU’s Accessibility Regulations which we as an institution will need to respond to over the next year.
In the afternoon representatives from each institution attending gave a short presentation or talk about what interesting projects we have going on. I talked about using Trello with the team to better organise our workload, and the rollout of Panopto across the University which is now in full swing.
I’m pleased to be able to say it all went very well, with only one minor lunch hiccup which was quickly resolved. Hopefully this will be something we can do on a regular basis going forward.
Second day of Canvas fun, my first CanvasCon. Alas not the global one they had in Colorado this year. It was still huge. 650 attendees from 300 institutions across Europe, up from only 35 institutions four years ago.
The day began with a corporate keynote where they talked about the success of Canvas and what new things are coming – a Canvas Commons preview tool, yay! There was an overriding theme of small, incremental changes from the ground up, mirroring the agile development method behind the Canvas product itself.
The afternoon keynote by Alex Beard focused on pedagogy rather than technology, as he talked about innovate ways in which students learn across the globe such as the MIT Media Lab where students are given a huge amount of freedom to construct their own learning. One of the freebies that Instructure were giving away was a copy of his new book, Natural Born Learners, which I’ve already skimmed.
In between the keynotes were a diverse range of breakout sessions and the ones I attended were a mixed bag, some interesting insights about how Canvas is being deployed and lessons learned from some institutions, but some of the other sessions I didn’t get a lot from.
And of course then there was the networking, with time available in between sessions, at lunch and a cocktail reception at the end of the day to meet people and chat about their experiences.
Now how do I get the boss to agree to send me to the next one in Long Beach in July?
Isn’t it nice that the University are letting me get out and about again? In London for two days for the UK HE User Group today and CanvasCon Europe tomorrow.
Today was really useful. Around 40 of us from all over the country at St George’s Medical School in Tooting sharing our experience as Canvas users. In the morning we had a demonstration of anonymous and moderating marking from colleagues who are currently piloting it with positive results, though they noted that they have found a limited number of ways to circumvent the anonymisation. However, as they are all quite obscure and difficult they remain confident in the tool and are rolling it our further. It will be interesting to see how Instructure’s offering here compares with Turnitin’s pending anonymous and moderated marking tool.
Also in the morning we had some group discussions on different ways of using Canvas for assessment and feedback to stimulate discussion and share ideas and best practice.
In the afternoon we were joined by representatives from Instructure who gave us updates on their developments and allowed us to grill them quite freely. This is always an excellent opportunity to use our collective influence to nudge Canvas in a direction which helps to address the needs of the UK sector. The anonymous and moderated marking tool for example, is something that was proposed by, and has been driven by this group.
Instructure provided us with a progress report on our Top 10 priority development list from last year, as shown in the photo above, which shows ‘Non-Scoring Rubrics’ and ‘Analytics to include Mobile App Usage’ as complete, and most of the others in the design or development stages. Finally, we voted on the new Top 10 list for 2018-19. From a long list of suggestions collated prior to the User Group, each person at the group was allowed to vote for three issues, and I voted for QuickMark style functionality in SpeedGrader, improved Group functionality, and the ability to set Notifications by course. All things which I’m being pressed for by our academic community at Sunderland.
Attended Turnitin’s annual conference which this year was largely devoted to the issue of contract cheating, students paying other people to write essays on their behalf. A problem which has been growing for some time, but which came to the fore in 2014 with the MyMaster scandal in Australia. They also had demonstrations of an imminent anonymous and moderated marking tool which looked great, and a new Code Similarity project which is a development of MOSS for checking computer code for similarity.
The new product they have to help with contract cheating is called Authorship Investigation and aims to try and detect cheating by comparing work submitted by a given student over a period of time, analysing such things as word and punctuation usage, richness of vocabulary, and document metadata – looking for obvious things such as an unusual author or editing time. The hands-on demonstration was quite good, especially for software still in beta and not due for release until next year. A number of us at the demonstration raised the same type of concerns though. For example, when I’m writing work I create a new document for every draft, and therefore the final file that I actually submit would show a same day creation date and very little editing time, both things that would be flagged up by Authorship Investigation as suspicious.
Also demonstrated was just how easy it is to get assignments from essay mills, and how predatory they are. A funny anecdote was about someone who was researching contract cheating. They started an online chat with someone from an essay mill site, who then proceeded to offer their services to write the paper for them!
This is a hard problem Turnitin are trying to solve, much harder than identifying blocks of text which have been copied and pasted from elsewhere, and most of us at the demonstration were a little skeptical about their approach. Of course, Turnitin is a technology company and they have devised a technological solution (to sell), when a better solution is arguably a pedagogic one, designing out the ability for students to outsource assessment work by moving away from essays and using approaches such as face-to-face presentations. Knowing your students and their work personally is also likely to be better than relying on algorithms, but of course this is much easier with smaller cohorts.
There was also very little discussion about the context of this, and what has caused the issue to arise. In most of the West we have commodified tertiary education, turning it into just another product that’s available for anyone who can afford it, so is it any wonder that those with the means take the next step? Nevertheless, this is the world we find ourselves in and essay mills aren’t going to go away. Calls to legislate against them, as worthy as that may be, will have the same problems as trying to prohibit any online content in that it can only apply to UK based companies, and while technological solutions may help in the short term, they are no panacea as methods to circumvent them will soon appear in what is an ever escalating arms race.