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 screenshot of the Padlet board we used to share our experiences
Just when you thought you could escape the OERxDomains conference, they pull you right back in! This was a post-conference workshop on the topic of ‘bring your own device (BYOD), for learning’. Of course students can, will, and have always used personal devices to enable their learning, and so the focus of this discussion wasn’t on technology itself so much, but on how we can facilitate learning using the ‘Five Cs Framework’ of connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating, and creating. For each of these strands we shared our experiences around the use of specific tools and best practices, contributing them to a shared Padlet board.
Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash
I didn’t realise it at the time of booking, but the Gender Based Violence webinar I joined in October was the first of three. I was able to dip into the second session, but only very briefly as it clashed with teaching commitments. This final session focused on how FE and HE institutions can address GBV strategically, with special consideration on what we can do as staff and students are starting to return to campus following the Covid pandemic.
There were good discussions about the different impact on HE and FE institutions, as FE students don’t tend to attend campus as much or live in halls, and therefore don’t have access to the same level of social and institutional support as HE students; that universities and colleges need to realise and fully embrace the fact that they are not bubbles outside of society, but part of society, and that GBV is something that affects our students and staff, on and off campus; and in making the link between GBV and gender inequality, and how so often we place the burden of emotional labour to address problems on the people who are most affected by them and have the least to give. For evidence, one needs look no further than the makeup of the panel of these sessions and of most Athena Swan boards.
With regards to Covid and lockdown, instances of domestic abuse and gender based violence have increased as people are, or can feel trapped in unsafe domestic situations. Making resources and support available online is well and good of course, but the panel noted that these may not be accessible to people under coercive control, who’s internet access and phone use may be monitored covertly or even overtly.
Whew. Writing this, reflecting on this… it’s depressing and I fell powerless. There are some of those online resources here from the University of Strathclyde: GBV Cards, and a suggestion from the panel was to print out a version of this, the ‘Support for You’ page works, and give to staff and put around campus. There is also the complete Equally Safe in HE Toolkit available here: Equally Safe. The focus is on Scottish resources, as this is a project funded by the Scottish Funding Council.
If you’ll indulge a rare non-work related post (though it is about technology and I did learn a lot, tenuous I know), I recently refurbished a Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP as a little lockdown project.
The whole Covid / lockdown situation hit me pretty hard back in March and April when it began, as I lost pretty much all of my hobbies – gigging, karate, cinema, travels – and then one by one everything fun I had booked in throughout the year, from a big once in a decade holiday, to new tattoo appointments, were all cancelled. Still, I am safe and well, my job is as secure as one can be in this age, and my loved ones are all pretty safe, so overall I’m not doing too bad and I pulled myself together. One of the hobbies which has grown to fill the void has been gaming, especially retro gaming, and my partner and I stumbled into a YouTube hole of people refurbishing Game Boys (this one by Odd Tinkering was the start!) So I thought I would have a little crack at that.
I chose the Advance SP because I wanted one system that would play all Game Boy games, plus I like small things. I was also hoping that the lighted display would be good, though I was mistaken on that. The starting point was a beat-up but functioning unit from eBay that I took apart, cleaned up all of the electronics with isopropyl alcohol, and then put back together in a new shell along with a new battery. I did make things somewhat complicated by deciding on a two-colour design with echoes of the original Game Boy and NES, which meant that I actually had to buy two new shells and, separately, two sets of button to get the red and black. But everything worked! And it was beautiful, until I turned it on and had to deal with the reality of that screen…
The model I purchased was the AGS-001 with a front-lit screen. There is a later model with a backlit screen, the AGS-101, but this only had a limited release in Europe and they go for about 100 quid on eBay, which was more than I wanted to spend (lol). Now, I had a Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, and the original Advance back in the day, and none of those had lighting of any kind, and I don’t recall being particularly unhappy with any of them. But how time and technology move on. That front lit screen is just absolutely unacceptable today. Pale, washed-out, terrible contrast. I wonder at how young Sonya coped!? Furthermore, there were a few blemishes on the screen, micro-scratches and dust motes that had gotten in between laters. So my refurb project ended up having a second, considerably more expensive phase – adding a modern IPS screen.
Replacing screens with IPS panels, or adding a backlight to the original DMG and Pocket models is very common in the community, but it does require a bit more work and expense. First of all the panels are typically about £60-70, then you need to make some hacks to the inside of the new plastic shells to make room for the larger components, and finally there is often some soldering work required too. In the case of the Advance SP, this is optional to add a brightness control to the panel, but of course that would be very nice. These are all things I didn’t want to do, least of all because I haven’t soldered anything since high school. Luckily for me, my most wonderful partner not only has mad soldering skillz, but a Dremel that made modding the shell so much easier. Once installed and reassembled for the second time it was gorgeous. The final step was adding a dodgy flash cart which lets me load any and all ROMS my heart desires – legally obtained of course, *cough, cough*. I was worried about battery life – that IPS and flash cart are big power draws, but I have stress tested it and got about 5 hours of life which is comparable to my 3DS.
And finally, my eBay purchase came with four games that I didn’t really care about, except for the mysterious Pokemon Green cartridge, a game that wasn’t released outside of Japan. A rare import? A dodgy cart? I was curious, but that along with two of the other four games didn’t work upon arrival, so it was back out with the screwdrivers and the trusty bottle of IPA. A little bit of scrubbing later and all of the carts came back to life. The inside of that Pokemon Green cartridge was a mess, cheaply put together and with no Nintendo or official branding anywhere, so definitely a fake. Playing the game revealed it to be a ROM dump of Pokemon Blue, with the word ‘blue’ on the title screen replaced with ‘green’. Nevertheless, it works. A very successful wee project all in all, even though it did end up being a tad pricey!
A shoutout to RetroSix and ZedLabz who between them supplied all of the new bits and bobs I needed, I can highly recommend them both.
Anyone who makes us use iTrent should be hung, drawn and quartered
After nine months of home working, the University has decided to mock me by making me do my display screen equipment training again. It even had a self-assessment section at the end which it made me complete on the basis of the equipment in the office I haven’t set foot in since March. As an act of rebellion I completed this training sprawled on the sofa with a laptop precariously balanced on my torso with a hot cup of tea to hand. This training stole 36 minutes of my life that could have been spent prepping for teaching next week, or playing Zelda.
I know, it’s serious and I shouldn’t be mocking it, but I’ve done this training so many times! And I’ll be honest, I did learn something new today – static electric shocks can be an indicator of low humidity. I got a question wrong for skimming over this in the training. I’m not sure I need to know this, but the factoid is now firmly embedded in my brain.
I guess I can look forward to my fire safety eLearning sometime soon now, and being thoroughly rebuked for not having multiple types of fire extinguisher in my apartment.
Ooh, exciting times! I say exciting, but I think the correct emotion is apprehension. This was a short, self-paced eLearning package which the University has put together now that many staff will be returning to the office. The content was fine, largely about the measures they are taking to ensure social distancing is possible, especially in shared working environments such as labs. What troubled me about it was what was lacking, specifically the non-existence of anything pertaining to getting to and from campus.
This, like much of the material that has been circulating internally around the return to campus, has an unstated premise that people drive to work. I have seen many comms about parking arrangements, for example, not a single thing about public transport. There’s an argument to be made that the University isn’t responsible for its employees outside of the campus, its immediate area of control, but it would be a brave argument to make! I’ve fed this back to the Powers That Be, but nothing has come of it.
And since I’m veering wildly off-topic here I’m going to stick with it… this type of online learning which we are occasionally asked to complete always bothers me because I spend half my time spotting errors of formatting and bad design, and thinking about how we could have put this together better! But alas, we have our work cut out for us with academic content and support. Which despite all of this we’ll be continuing to deliver from home for the foreseeable future, barring special events.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency, my service are recruiting for an entire new team of instructional designers. 11 posts in all, five instructional designers, five graduate interns for content development, and one co-ordinator to run the new team. The jobs are fixed term for 6 months, and the closing date for applications is the May 7th. (Working remotely from home of course…)
I came home today with an iMac and half of my office in the back of a car. Officially the University is talking about being shut down till after Easter, but I can’t see us being back for a couple of months. COVID-19 has hit home, and not just at work, I now have a friend who’s brother has it and is in a bad way. We live in scary times.
But, this is a work blog, so, work… I’m fortunate to have as secure a job as one can find these days, and educational institutions are arguably one of the best placed sectors of society able to work from a distance. We’ve been preparing for this possibility for the past couple of weeks, running daily workshops on the available tools to teach via online and distance learning, that means mostly Panopto and BigBlueButton in our case. I feel like my job has changed quite considerably. There’s a lot of new work we’re having to do very suddenly to get our systems and staff ready, and a lot of the things I had scheduled have had to be cancelled or indefinitely delayed. I’m also having to prepare for the possibility of finishing out the current round of teaching on the PG Cert online.