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!
Moodle Munches return for the new semester, with two sessions around gamification today from staff at Dublin City University.
Lisa Donaldson began with a presentation about her experience of developing a virtual escape room for staff CPD, and how it was built using the tools in Moodle and H5P. The narrative around the escape room was the hardest part to develop, and they came up with two that were used. The first was about being an academic the night before teaching begins, and you haven’t got anything prepared! (A bit on the nose this one…) And the second scenario was, you are trapped in a dungeon and can’t escape until you have developed your own escape room scenario for teaching. Clues were placed on the screen via interactive objects, as shown in the screenshot above, which linked to documents with puzzles, and leader boards were used as a way of introducing a competitive element, with top scorers going into a prize draw.
The second presentation from Mark Glynn was about gamification more generally, and how various standard features in Moodle can be used, such as leader boards, conditional access, and activity completion reports. On leader boards, there was a reflection on the fact that not all staff find these motivating, particularly older groups. A possible mitigating factor suggested by someone in the comments was to restrict this to only the top 3 or 5 people.
A recording of the presentation can be found here, and the full Moodle Munch archive I’ve just discovered is online here.
Example of how disability can be permanent, temporary, or situational
An excellent session on empathy and inclusion in accessibility by Craig Abbott, Head of Accessibility at DWP Digital. Excellent because of the various ways in which Craig conceptualised disability, and I am shamelessly going to lift and adapt many of these points into our own teaching around accessibility in CELT.
On disability itself, Craig made an important distinction between disability and impairment. Someone who uses a wheelchair for example, is not ipso facto disabled, their mobility is merely impaired; they are disabled by societal failures. They may, for example, live in an accessible home and have a car that has been adapted, but once they get to the local shops they are disabled by the stairs going up to the newsagents with no ramp available.
In an example from tech, consider red / green colour blindness – the most common form of colour blindness, yet we in tech do like to have our red / amber / green traffic light status symbols. (The solution is to not convey information by colour alone.)
Another great thing I’m taking from this session is that disability and impairment are situational. I am not currently disabled, but there’s a good change I will be as I get older. Prevalence of disability rises with age, from 8% of the population in childhood to 46% of adults at state pension age. A broken arm, an ear infection or laryngitis are all things that could happen that would render me impaired or disabled for a period of time. If for no other reason, you should embed accessibility into your work because it could happen to you too!
In practical terms, Craig pointed us to both the DWP’s Accessibility Manual and Worcestershire County Council’s SCULPT Framework – Structure (use headings and styles), Colour and contrast, Use of images, Links, Plain English, and Tables.
The subject of romanticism gives me a dubious excuse to use share one of my favourite paintings, Caspar David Friedrich’s The Abbey in the Oakwood
I’m taking liberties with the title of this post, because the session as advertised was ‘The Role of the Arts and Humanities in Effective Online and Blended Learning Design’ which is admittedly more descriptive, but also rather unwieldy. This ALT CPD session was a presentation and talk by Dr Neil Hughes, University of Nottingham, and the title ‘Romantic Online Course Design’, invokes the romantic movement of the 19th century.
The talk was an argument in defence of the arts and humanities in the face of the ongoing cuts and attacks by our current government, and how pedagogies from humanities teaching can improve online and blended learning provision. There was much here on the value of multiple means of representation, one of the pillars of universal design for learning, and I particularly enjoyed the advice on how students can be encouraged to use online learning tools available in the VLE such as discussion boards by providing scaffolding, using inclusive and intimate language such as the ‘we’ and ‘us’ pronouns, and emphasising the unique attributes of these spaces as private and non-commodified spaces in an online world where everything seems to be monetised now.
The Paradox Plug! Sure you can click on the image, but it don’t do nothin’
Fire safety awareness training time again. A useful refresher, but the content hasn’t changed, and any new learning was constructed from the training’s test unit which consisted of a mix of questions that were either patently obvious or about things that weren’t covered in the training. While that latter group could have been infuriating, I found it the most useful because they made me have to think and work out the correct answer logically. I passed, first time, 90%.
The other thing I “enjoy” about these mandatory online training courses is critiquing the quality of the content and platform. And how we would have done it better. Consider the image I’ve screen-shotted here: “Click image to make it safer”. Well, you can’t. The image isn’t interactive. In fact there is no interactivity in the training at all, despite being referenced like this in many slides; it was just a text-only presentation with next and previous buttons. 4/10.
This chap is definitely up to no good. Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash
Largely with my charity hat on, I went along to this online event about cyber security for small charities run by the NCC Group.
Very worthwhile session, covering everything from password recommendations to phishing attack methodology to the importance of backup processes. There was nothing particularly revelatory, but it was all packaged up very nicely, and has given me the basis for a structure that I’ll be able to apply to a session I’ll run for our volunteers.
This post is also giving me the opportunity to plug have i been pwned? again, a link I share as widely and often as possible because it is excellent. Pop your email address in here and the site will tell you if it has shown up in any known hacks or data breaches. And if it has, change your damn password for that service, and use a different password for everything! The golden rule.
Screenshot of some support resources from the presentation (in text below)
Attended this awareness-raising session from the University’s EDI network on student sex work. The session covered the four main legal models of sex work, and I was surprised to learn that the UK employs the ‘best’ model, full decriminalisation. Alas, we criminalise literally everything around sex work making it all but impossible, and dangerous. Why students engage in sex work, and this one only depressed rather than surprised me, with half the responses being on the theme of avoiding debt, paying student fees, etc. Neoliberalism strikes again! And finally, most usefully, what universities can do to help students involved in sex work, and signposts to further sources of support. I took a screenshot of those, but to make it easier (and accessible), here they are:
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.
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.
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.)