For the University Library’s SMT meeting this morning I was asked to deliver a short 30 minute talk about the work and accomplishments of the team over the past year, and to look forward to what is coming for us next year. Notes and thoughts which I started putting together yesterday morning morphed into the presentation below which was very well received. Indeed, I ended up talking for around an hour thanks to a really good Q&A session. Many people at the meeting have asked to either disseminate this presentation to their colleagues or for me to attend other meetings to deliver this again. That’s a very satisfying feeling, a job well done. Following this reception I have gone on to publish the presentation on our website and on a ‘Show and Tell’ module on SunSpace that we use for this kind of thing.
Attended a webinar which demonstrated new and improved features of EQUELLA 6.4 and provisional plans for the next major release, version 7. It was useful as we are a few versions behind. Some notable new things include the gallery view for items tagged as images or videos, additional options for administrators to control number of attachments allowed per item and, in the case of images, the ability to restrict the size of images (dimensions, not file size), new MIME type restrictions, and myriad improvements to the way search, sorting and filtering works.
Also demonstrated was the new ‘Push to LMS’ feature and improvements to LTI integrations making it easier to configure EQUELLA integration into Blackboard and Moodle. When we asked if these features were going to be developed for LearningStudio we were told that there were no plans for this due to lack of demand. I find it more than a touch worrying that one part of Pearson is providing better support for Pearson’s competitors than their own LMS platform. What are we to conclude about Pearson’s commitment to LearningStudio from this?
Created a video-based presentation for new students which runs through all of the key features of SunSpace and includes a short surprise MCQ at the end to try and help reinforce their learning. Initially this was at the request of an academic who wanted something like this for some non-standard modules he has starting now, but it has wider potential so I made it generic to all SunSpace modules and then integrated it into the new module template we’ve been building for academic year 2015/16. It’s probably not complete yet, a voiceover on each slide would be nice for example, but it’s now in a state that’s good to go!
Adding to our range of Quick Start guides I have written a new one on Learning Analytics and the tools we have available. I will be following this up shortly with one which goes into more detail on Enterprise Reporting, covering the standard reports which are available and how people can get viewer accounts from the team.
I watched the recording of the Pearson webinar which demonstrated the new Course Dashboard this morning, the imminent replacement of the Social Learning Module Home page. I would like to say that I was excited and impressed, but the truth is that it has filled me with trepidation. I understand that the Social Learning Module Home (SLMH from now on as that is far too long a name for anything) was problematic when it was first rolled out, but I have fortunately missed that and most courses at Sunderland are, in my anecdotal experience, using SLMH in preference to the classic course home page (which looks very dated and basic now), and it works well and looks reasonably nice.
This new version however, seems like a step back. It’s blocky, it’s not a responsive design so who knows how well it’s going to look across resolutions, the widgets seem to be using iframes which is something that the SLMH uses in places with disastrous results on mobile devices, and the person who gave the webinar could not tell us what the results of their mobile testing were. A big point they are selling the new dashboard on is the ability to customise it, but I have learned from the webinar today that this is rather disingenuous, as it can only be customised from the Admin Pages for the entire institution (or possibly node / term level, but that’s not much better), so there is no user customisation which is what I expected from their marketing and what has been available in Blackboard for many years now. The Course Checklist feature is also no where to be found. This is a really nice little tool which lets students see the whole schedule of the course at a glance, but it is only available on the classic course home. When I have queried why it was not available in SLMH I was told that it was a bug and to wait for the new dashboard, and now today I’ve found out that this is not the case, that the feature is gone and that the best I can hope for is that similar functionality might be implemented in a calendar view at some unknown time in the future. The interface of the new dashboard is not customisable either. The colour scheme (blue, white and grey), like the new Threaded Discussion tool, cannot be changed to match Sunderland’s branding, and other attributes like the font and font-weight are also fixed. Very disappointing.
Of course, being a software-as-a-service solution we will have no choice but to implement the new dashboard at some point, and probably sooner rather than later in spite of my reservations as there is no development being done on either of the older course homes which means no bug fixes. I can only hope that many of these issues are ironed out before general release, as my thoughts were echoed by participants on the chat many of whom are, or will be piloting the new dashboard.
The attached screenshots show the Classic course home, basic and dated, but it does have the oh-so-useful Module Checklist; and the much better SLMH which includes the Chat and recent activity widget and an Upcoming widget. I haven’t included a screenshot of the new version as the only place I have seen it to date is in these private webinars.
A short update from the Director and Assistant Directors of SLS on how we are progressing towards meeting our targets as a service which, as we are nearing the end of the three year service plan, has largely become a statement of fact. This was followed by group workshops where we discussed some examples of how we are meeting our shared behaviours: Teamwork, Customer Satisfaction, Continuous Improvement, Customer Focus and Information Sharing.
I recently stumbled upon Sheila MacNeil’s blog post asking for thoughts on what characteristics distinguish a Learning Technologist for a new #EdTechBook, by way of a discussion on the ALT Members Mailing List, and thought that I would share my own experience.
‘Learning Technologist’ is indeed a broad brush which covers people from different backgrounds and bringing different philosophies, experience and perspective with them, part of what I think makes it such an exciting and rewarding field in which to work. My own background is from IT support which I pursued due to an easy affinity with technology, the enjoyment I get from fixing things which are broken or finding ways to improve things, and because of a general desire to help people. But of course there comes a time when a wish to move your career on means you have to specialise in an area, and I was fortunate to stumble into the Learning Technologies team (LTech) at Northumbria University in order to provide second line customer support for people using the University’s learning technology systems, principally Blackboard. From there my role expanded to encompass, to a greater or lesser extent, systems development, learning materials content development and staff development covering both the ‘which button to push’ instructional element as well as pedagogic considerations such as ‘why you might want to push that particular button in order to make your learning materials more engaging’ and to help with that side of things I was supported to gain CMALT accreditation and fortunate enough to work with some really quite wonderful academics on the team who taught me a great deal.
My role now at Sunderland involves a great deal of project management and contributing to learning development policies and strategies, and finding ways to implement those. Everyone on the team has ‘Learning Technologist’ in the job title and most of us have at least one of CMALT, PGCE or HEA Membership, but in spite of this I find that many academics still think of us a ‘techies’ not realising that we have such teachings skills and pedagogic experience. I recall attending a training event some time ago, principally for academics, where, after introducing myself as a Learning Technologist, one of the other attendees was delighted and asked if I could fix the Wi-Fi on her laptop! (I was happy to help of course, and it did give me the opportunity to have a chat with her and talk about the ways in which I could really help her.)
Many of my colleagues have come from similar technical / IT backgrounds, but there are other common ‘types’ who come under the umbrella of ‘learning technologists’:
- Academics with an interest in learning technology or who research in the field to improve their own teaching. I find that many such people may not work in an LT department themselves, but in Faculties where they work with us as advisors, champions and ambassadors.
- Academic advisors, similar to the above, but based in the LT team with responsibility for providing in-depth academic support and pedagogic guidance.
- Content developers who perhaps start their careers as graphic or web designers but come to specialise in learning material content production.
- Systems developers, the real über-techies who manage the learning technology platforms and servers.
- Trainers who come to specialise in learning technology systems.
- And finally managers and project managers who may have progressed from any of these backgrounds.
The common thread bringing all of the people together under the umbrella of ‘Learning Technologist’ is a thorough specialist knowledge of the core LT systems where they work (the VLE, the ePortfolio, etc.), along with external tools such as iTunes, Google Drive or WordPress, combined with at least some knowledge and experience of how they can best be used to provide a solution to some teaching and learning need.
The whole conversation in response to Sheila’s questions has been interesting, but I particularly liked some of things which Amber had to say. I especially liked the neologism ‘para-academic’. In the past I have often described myself to people who don’t know what I do as being a bridge between technology and the academics who want to use technology in their teaching but don’t necessarily have the skills to do some themselves, but I may use ‘para-academic’ to start the conversation now. I also liked that comment that ‘Universities are multi-professional places and learning technologists, in all their flavours, have a rightful place at the table.’ A sentiment with which I can wholly concur as I have often felt, and seen colleagues feel, somewhat reticent about their own skills in the company of academics.
A webinar provided by Sebastian Bailey, co-founder of Mind Gym. The webinar began with the assertion that in traditional learning new practice only ‘sticks’ for around 15-20% of people, with the majority trying the new practice, or parts of it, for a little while before falling back into old habits and ways of thinking and working. The six tricks are all designed around the concept of reducing cognitive load, making it easier for what you are trying to teach to sink in.
1. Build belief in the early stages of change
Five stages of change were identified: Persisting > Contemplating > Preparing > Acting > Maintaining. Studies were then presented that showed that when people were given time to contemplate why the change was required or desirable the success rate was significantly increased.
2. Create emotional arousal
Demonstrated how learning retention and performance improves when someone is under positive stress, e.g. by making people do an exercise which is outside of their comfort zone. Care has to be taken to get the balance right, as too much stress leads to anxiety and reduced performance. To be successful with this approach you need to both sell the need and the positive consequences while providing people with concrete steps they can take immediate action on.
3. Use stories over facts
Demonstrated that retention is significantly improved if you use an emotional story rather than facts and figures. Cited a case study on how to get people to donate to charity, with one group being given facts and figures about poverty, the second group the story of an individual who was affected by poverty. The second group were shown to retain more information and donated more money.
4. Use written, shared, implementation intentions
Encourage learners to reflect on their goals and add implementation intentions such as ‘I am going to update my CV on such-and-such a date’, preferably phrased as ‘if-then’ statements which reinforces that there is a fall-back position. Finally, encourage learners to share their intentions, while noting that the act of sharing is not itself a significant step to completing the goal or task.
5. Set specific ‘missions’ built into the workflow
Demonstrated that people can only spot a limited number of changes in a given scenario, and to help them improve on this give specific cues and prompts, set specific missions or tasks in the workflow, and encourage mindfulness.
6. Prime the right mindset by providing tools
Showed that people’s behaviour adapts to match that of those around them and that you can take advantage of this by priming people into believing that they are better learners. In an example IQ test three groups were given the same test, with the second and third groups being primed to ‘think like professors’ and professors’s assistants respectively. Both groups scored higher than the control, with those who were told to think like professors scoring 15% higher.