Digital is the convergence of a variety of technologies and social changes that have led to a new way of living our lives. Our students are the epitome of this new digital reality – they create and consume content in a very different way to previous generations.
“The integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers.
Beyond that, it’s a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure.
Digital transformation is not solely about technology. In fact technology is only one part of the puzzle. Digital transformation is about meeting the needs of the new digital consumer – be they staff or student. It involves new understanding and cultural change. For more on this see Paul Boag’s Digital Transformation: The six questions you need to answer.
At the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) we are at the beginning of this transformation process. There is a commitment to develop and a will to act, but so far efforts have not been as co-ordinated as they could be.
However this is about change. We are working on a new digital-focused strategic approach to be integrated in our IT strategy and Learning and Teaching strategy. It will form the backbone of our digital activity and allow progress to be made in a comprehensive and integrated manner.
We want to share our transformation with you and intend to blog about the journey, bumps and all.
In the next in our series of blog posts on delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU) Pip takes over and shares highs and lows from the first week of interactive teaching.
And remember each 10,000 mile journey begins with just 1 step (千里之行，始於足下 Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi.
I started working at RAU in May 2020 and immediately started on the online teaching project at SDAU in June 2020. Early in June it was acknowledged that students would not be able to return to campus and so all pre-recorded content was passed over to the SDAU team, they would take responsibility for delivering it to students. When teaching officially began on 15th June our biggest concern was the interactive sessions.
Interactive sessions using Zoom
We had changed from using WeChat to using Zoom a short time before teaching was planned to go ahead. It was time to ‘deep dive’ into exploring how to use Zoom as a platform on which interactive sessions would take place. Zoom had become used widely as a platform for remote and online learning and working throughout the pandemic. I had heard a great deal about new phrases such as ’Zoom bombing’ (O’Flaherty, 2020). Additionally, there was a great deal of discussion of ‘Zoom fatigue’ (Fosslien & Duffy, 2020). Whilst I had some experience of using Zoom before for example as a platform for delivering presentations using the chat and sharing screen features but I was not a Zoom expert and did not have experience being a ‘host’ so I felt that I needed to rapidly upskill if I was to support our lecturing staff using Zoom.
To support use of Zoom I offered ‘Zoom Drop In’ sessions to our lecturers who wanted to try out some the features before teaching went live. I was committed to exploring what ‘Zoom Literacy’ would be. When you have to teach someone else something, it is a good way of making sure you know how to use to first. I created approximately one hundred meetings so experienced my own version of ‘Pre-Zoom fatigue’. What we discovered during the first week was that it was not possible for the same host with the same account to host simultaneous meetings which prevented some of the interactive sessions from taking place on time or altogether. The error message ’The host has another meeting in progress’ became very familiar. This meant that we rapidly developed a workaround to solve the problems. For example, Chantal and Husna, the other RAU Learning Technologists created meetings. When it became clear that there were just too many parallel sessions required our IT Service Desk created some additional accounts for me to use. As a result, the timetabling process became very complex. Some of the interactive capabilities were restricted as the lecturers were not ‘hosts’. As a result, one of the Lecturers, Deepak Pathak and I decided to test out polling and break rooms in an exploratory longer case study interactive session. The two hour session involved exploring Starbucks. Deepak shared screens to reinforce the correct answers for example showing a Google Map of the location of RAU.
It was positive when the lecturing staff emailed me after their session to reflect on how it went. This helped identify ways to improve what we do for subsequent iterations of online teaching. I dropped into the majority of interactive sessions to see how teachers were using Zoom to engage students for example one of our lecturers, Nicola Cannon used a quiz format effectively.
Later on in the week I set up an online community of practice on Gateway, RAU’s Moodle VLE as part of a forum to share best practice.
“We all belong to communities of practice” (Wenger, 1998, p6)
An additional idea I had was to create a ‘sandbox’ approach on Zoom where all the Lecturers could share ideas of how to create interactive sessions without worrying about making a mistake during a live session.
I shared a Zoom webinar led by Eden Project Communities which was a ‘testpad’ for Zoom practices with Lecturers. I attended and it was great to see one of RAU’s Lecturers participate too. The session involved taking part in a breakout room as a student which was helpful to understand what the Zoom experience is like from the perspective of the student. One of the most helpful activities was a collaborative whiteboard led by host Samantha Evans where we explored games, collaborative activities, Zoom and other tools.
At this point in time we are currently starting the third and final week of teaching. My reflections are concerned with moving towards an evaluation of the project, I’ve recently created a problem-solution spreadsheet where I identified areas of development and potential strategies to overcome the problems.
Throughout the three weeks of teaching, it was intended that assessments would take place every Friday. Accordingly, I tried to develop a workflow for assessment which involved the Lecturers creating the tests with the answers and articulating what invigilation might look like with Bonnie and Lola from SDAU. Early on in the process we found out that 30% of the marks were for attendance. We explored how Zoom can provide attendance monitoring reports and discovered that this was possible. Another challenge we experienced was that during week two of teaching, the Department of Education of Shandong informed SDAU that examinations need to be postponed. As a result, we responded by identifying alternative dates and ways of carrying out assessment.
The SDAU project journey began with one step. We learned a great deal in a short space of time and developed ways to overcome challnges rapidly. I’m looking forward to the next steps. In future, we would like to work with JISC to explore how their transnational expertise can help us improve what we do. We attended a webinar led by UCISA on the topic of Improving online access in China and had a positive meeting with Dr. Esther Wilkinson, Baoyu Wang and Anne Prior from JISC about how we can work together in a constructive capacity. JISC have recently launched a pilot to explore what quality online education looks like for Chinese students (JISC, 2020).
A huge thank you to Marieke Guy, Xianmin Chang, Steve Finch, Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo for their hard work and support to make the project happen.
In the next post we’ll look the final week of teaching delivery and lessons learnt.
By Falling We Learn to Go Safely, Chī yī qiàn, zhǎng yī zhì,吃一堑,长一智
The Chinese proverb Yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn means ‘Every step makes a footprint’. In the second of our blog posts on delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU) we will start to look at how our steady work started to make good progress, and some of the curve balls that were thrown at us. We will cover how the pre-recorded video content was created, our initial interactive session plans using WeChat and then pass the baton on to our new Learning Technologist support.
At the base of Taishan Mountain, Shandong
As explained in the previous post SDAU teaching was to commence in China in June and would last for three weeks. This three weeks would become (to some extent) our pilot project.
In discussions with SDAU it was agreed that the format for a day of module teaching would consist of 3 pre-recorded lectures (approximately 40-45 minutes each) and 1 interactive session. These teaching sessions would follow the existing timetable. At this point it was not know if the students would be back on site or still at home, we also didn’t know if Panopto would work completely…so there were plans and contingency plans, and then further contingency plans! They looked a little like this:
If Panopto works in China:
Setting up an account for the SDAU Sinocampus staff and allowing them to deliver the content from Gateway during lessons
Making the Panopto videos open and sharing the links so the SDAU Sinocampus staff could share in lessons
If Panopto does not work in China:
Delivering the videos through an alternate video service like Stream, or another Webinar service
Downloading the videos and sharing either through Gateway or some other online service (depending on which service works in China)
Downloading the videos and sharing through a file transfer service
Downloading the videos and sharing using old school methods such as CDs, memory sticks etc.
If the students fail to return to campus:
Allowing the students to access the Panopto content themselves using open links
Passing all video content over (either using Panopto or a download service) to the SDAU Sinocampus staff so they could pass on to the students
Sinocampus is an education provider that helps broker our relationship with SDAU.
We weren’t very keen on giving access to our VLE so number 2 looked the favourite at this stage.
As explained in the previous post some of the SDAU lecturers were externals so we began by setting up RAU accounts for them giving them access to our VLE. Our VLE (Moodle) is integrated with our video management system (Panopto). A page was set on Moodle for the SDAU delivery and Panopto folders were created for every module to be delivered. The academics were trained in creating Panopto videos and given advice on content creation e.g. use of language, structure of lectures, folder usage and naming conventions.
Day X – Lecture X – Title of lecture – Initials e.g.
Day 1 – Lecture 1 – Food supply chain – MG
For the first three weeks of teaching there were approximately 200 videos required so managing this process involved some very big spreadsheets!
Examples of pre-recorded content in Panopto
Interactive sessions and WeChat
Once we had started the ball rolling on content creation the focus began to move to how these interactive sessions would work. Ideally they would be led by the academics and offer opportunities for students to work together as a class and in groups. Chinese class sizes are large and the small-group element was important in ensuring all students would get their turn to discuss topics. Initial investigations and trawls of mailing lists suggested that while there were many webinar solutions that might fit the bill (for example Zoom was working well and had been used for some of our meetings with China) there was only one service that could be guaranteed to work in China – WeChat. Other services such as Zoom were currently working but there was no guarantee long term.
WeChat is (according to Wikipedia) a “Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by Tencent. It was first released in 2011, and became one of the world’s largest standalone mobile apps in 2018, with over 1 billion monthly active users”. It has video and chat features and has been used by SDAU and RAU to organise groups and to engage with students. I used it while out in China to communicate with classroom monitors and other people. However while it is well-used and loved in China there are some security concerns predominantly about around its use of data. Many of our academics have used WeChat while out in China but in late 2019 our ITS department sent out an email setting out some concerns:
There is no end-to-end encryption making traffic vulnerable to being intercepted and viewed
The Chinese Government actively monitor WeChat traffic to gather information
Once WeChat is installed on a device, it can be used as a remote listening device
WeChat can also be used to gather other data stored on devices, such as emails, documents, photos and videos
WeChat Pay is frequently used as a means for attempting credit card fraud
Clearly in an ideal world we would not recommend WeChat but on occasions it is the only practical method for communications with China. ITS were taking a number of steps to help mitigate the risks of using WeChat which included only using temporary RAU-supplied mobile phone to access it and insisting that academics must not use this phone to access RAU emails. These suggestions had not really been put into action before but meant in practice that if we were going to recommend WeChat for the interactive sessions we would need to provide SDAU lecturers with an RAU phone each with WeChat on it. These might be regarded by some as ‘burner phones’ in that they would serve one purpose and would be separated from user data. Our Service Desk purchased 15 android phones for us to use. Due to Covid-19 getting hold of the phones and the sim cards wasn’t easy and it took a few weeks for their delivery – which left us with very little set up and testing time. Once they arrived each phone was given a Gmail account and set up with nothing but the WeChat app on. The plan was to start testing how the interactive sessions would work once we had a couple of phones up and running.
However setting up the accounts proved to be more difficult than initially anticipated. In order to set up a new WeChat account it needs to be verified by an existing user. The criteria here was for someone who had registered over 6 months ago, uses WeChat pay and hadn’t registered another user in the last month. There was also a very short time period after the account was ready to go (with a numeric code and QR code) that the registered user could verify in. Numerous attempts by many of our SDAU colleagues resulted in failure and with only a couple of weeks till the first delivery date we decided to abandon our WeChat plans.
Discussions with SDAU Sinocampus staff also highlighted a few issues that may have caused problems later down the line. WeChat can be used for sending text and voice messages, files and pictures. Hundreds of people can chat in a Wechat group by text messages but it only supports nine people at most for voice and video calls, and the function of polling is not available.
Getting the band together
By now we had appointed our new Learning Technologist support person – Pip McDonald. Pip has done an amazing job of taking this project forward and will be writing the next posts in this series.
Our first Zoom call with Bonnie and Lola
Not long after Pip’s appointment we had a Zoom call with the SDAU Sinocampus staff on the ground – Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo. Bonnie and Lola have also been incredible throughout this project.
During this time we began to understand the SDAU systems that were being used a little better.
VooV meeting – A webinar system similar to Zoom
Rain class – A teaching tool that is available as a WeChat app
In our next post Pip will take the baton and look at our new approach to interactive sessions, assessment plans, attendance monitoring, teacher observation and the lead up to the first week of teaching.
Jisc have done a stellar job of not only supporting the FE and HE digital learning community but also highlighting the real benefits of communities during the last couple of months dealing with Covid-19.
The RAU have had a partnership arrangement with SDAU for many years and our academics teach on a number of Food and Real Estate Management courses at the University. In normal circumstances our academics, some of who are RAU staff members and others who are external lecturers, would fly out to China and spend several weeks teaching the students in a classroom setting. [You can read more about my 2019 visit to China to teach on the English for Academic Purposes course.] It is great experience for both the students and the academics.
Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU)
As Covid-19 progressed and we headed towards lockdown it became apparent that sending people over to China in June was not going to be possible and we needed a different approach. This realisation came around the same time that we were pivoting all our onsite courses to online and a solution was needed that could be implemented both quickly and with as little resource as possible.
We were already in discussions with the Jisc team regarding TNE provision in relation to a new partnership with another Chinese institution, so we contacted them to ask for guidance and support. Mailing lists also proved invaluable and we began to monitor what other institutions in a similar predicament were doing.
The initial decisions made were:
That a Learning Technologist support person would be required to project manage the delivery as the existing RAU team would not be able to cover the work. An advert went out for someone to fill this role.
That in this particular case content was key and that in order to fulfil our teaching obligation we would need to start collecting content as soon as possible. It was agreed to pre-record this content using Panopto, our existing video content management system and the tool we were already using for lecture delivery. This content would need to be delivered to the students either in class (if they returned to University) or at home.
That this content would need to be complemented with an opportunity for students to interact with the academics delivering the lectures. This could be done using an asynchronous mechanism (such as chat) or some form of online webinar. The solution would clearly need further investigation, possible options were Zoom, WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp), Office365 (Teams).
That various services would need to be tested. Due to the restrictions of the great firewall of China some technologies are known to be blocked (for example YouTube and Facebook) while others are unreliable. The restrictions are a movable feast and can be changed with little notice. Some tools such as WeChat have significant security implications. The Comparitech site monitors the status of sites in China to check if they are blocked.
There were also many other questions including:
How would we work with the SDAU team? What would be the division of labour?
What about assessment? How would it be delivered and marked?
What about training for the academics? This was particularly pertinent for the external academics who didn’t currently have RAU accounts and weren’t familiar with our tools.
How would we translate the onsite timetable to online?
How would teaching be assessed?
Quán lì yǐ fù is a Chinese idiom that means to give something your all. Its literal translation is to “exert all your strength for a goal”. Given the tight timeline for this work we really needed to exert all our remaining strength and start thinking very creatively about routes forward.
In the next post we will talk about the first steps in collecting content and initial investigations in to interactive sessions.
On 2nd June 2020, the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) West Midlands group hosted a free online event using the Zoom platform exploring the ‘The New Normal’.
The New Normal andThe Rise of the Learning Technologists
Why is ‘The New Normal’ important? While the majority of traditional face-to-face delivery has not been possible throughout the pandemic, there has been a shift of focus towards learning technology as a platform for teaching and learning. The ‘Online Pivot’ has been used to describe the process of a rapid movement to online learning often describved as emergency pedagogy’. As a result, Learning Technologists have had a ‘spotlight’ on them in an enhanced capacity as agents of critical digital change. Redefining the old pedagogy and articulating exactly how online pedagogy will work has resulted in a fundamental process of ‘getting the digital ducks in a row’ for many eductional institutions. Often this is not a seamless transition and we have to embrace both inevitable ‘messy’ change and our vulnerabilities.
In March 2019, I presented at the ALT West Midlands event at Warwick University exploring Critical Digital Literacies. My presentation explored the use of Digital Champions.
I used a life size cardboard cut out of Yoda from Star Wars and invited participants to write on hand shaped post it notes and stick them to the Yoda character to explore and share ideas as a collaborative task running throughout my presentation.
A strong theme of providing creative opportunities for reflection began to emerge. One of the outcomes of the event was a collaborative blog published on the ALT website available here to reflect on the core ideas emerging from the event. I created the visuals!
The New Normal: Cloudy with a Chance of Learning Technology?
ALT West Midlands had orginally planned a face-to-face event exploring accessible learning in April 2020 which, like many events, was changed to an online event with a change of focus. The event started with a warm up activity where all participants were invited to share something that they have learned thorughout lockdown. There were a range of presentations and contributions at the event from a range of different institutions. Jess Humphries (@Jess_humphreys) explored the Technology Enhanced Active Learning Festival (TEAL) which took place online here hosted by Warwick University. Daniel Scott (@_Daniel_Scott) shared activities and reflections from Nottingham Trent University. Tim Smale (@Tim_Smale) shared insights into elements of flexible digital education at Keele University. Annie Pendrey (@AnniePendrey) shared an inspirational pedagogic model using the colours of the rainbow as a visual structure to provide support. The rainbow has been a visual icon of the Lockdown. Her article, ‘The Colour of Courage In The Face Of Adversity‘ can be found here. Let’s not be afraid of colour in our practice!
The Sound of Learning Technology – Setting up a Radio Station in Five Minutes
I presented a series of reflections on setting up a pop up radio station experiment throughout the Lockdown and beyond. The presentation title was ‘Lock, taking Stock, and Pandemic Pedagogies: reflections on creating a pop-up radio station during lockdown and beyond‘.
Metaphors can really help us to understand what we do in HE (Badley & Van Brummelen, 2012). I explored the pivot as a metaphor for the move to online learning, suggested that a compass may be an alternative metaphor to view the pedagogic shift, identified potential emerging ‘pandemagogies‘, shared reflections on creating content and case studies of using radio, discussed how the language we use to talk about learning technology as a direct result of the Lockdown has changed, and finally shared the tools I used ot create the radion station itself – Zeno as the hosting platform, Adobe Audition for editing and FreeSFX to access royalty free sound clips. Pivot FM can be accessed here.
A Pivot within a Pivot. A Wheel within a Wheel:Whose ‘Normal’ is it Anyway?
There are a range of perspectives on the online pivot and pedagogic integrity. Who decides? Some of the questions and feedback after the presentation were both positive and helpful. One of the questions concerned how to develop the Radio Station further, potentially exploring the vidcast format. On reflection, a potential creative route would be to explore multimodal podcasts or ‘modcasts’ using a range of different modes to engage an audience. Ultimately, the one of the core arguments of my presentation was the importance to embed creative opportunities in the work of Learning Technologists. After the presentations, there was an ‘open mic’ opportunity where participants can share what is happening in their own institutions.
It was great to have support from our Learning Technology team. Thanks to @digitalrau, @husnaahmed and @chantalschipperrau. The ALT Midlands group were really helpful and supportive. I would encourage anyone thinking about presenting to give it go. Thanks to John Couperthwaite (@johncoup), Lynne Taylorson (@Realtimeedu), Kerry Pinny (@KerryPinny), and Jess Humphries (@jess_humphries) for organising the event.
Partial recording only: the recording includes talks from Daniel, Pip, Tim, and Annie. Password: 9A%?Brf7
Unfortunately we weren’t able to run any events but as a team we did attend many of the interesting webinars that took place, including the all-day event run by the Government Digital Service. One of their sessions was on ‘How to avoid common accessibility statement fails’ and considered the public sector accessibility statements that need to be online by September this year in order to comply with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. The event provided a final check list for the VLE statement that we have been working on.
The statement is one of many measures we are taking to ensure we comply with the digital accessibility regulations. This summer we plan to have a comprehensive training programme for our academics and accessibility will be one of the core areas we cover. We will also be promoting the great accessibility tools that we already have as an institution (SensusAccess, Read&Write, Office 365 tools, MindGenius). Currently we are carrying out a lot of work looking at our pre-recorded video captioning, this will be using Panopto Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and other captioning services. There is a lot going on!
I wrote and performed the TEL TALE immersive audio drama exploring the inner thoughts of Learning Technologis.. Check out epsiode 1 Blend it Like Beckham.
During Lockdown I presented at the PressEd2020 conference which takes place on Twitter exploring the use of WordPress, Education, Pedagogy and Research. Presentations invove a series of curated and time bound tweets. The presentation explored digital accessibility on WordPress. The Twitter ‘Moment’ can be found here – Close Encounters of the Accessible Kind.
The other day Jisc posted a little video taken at Digifest 2020. The video featured Steven Hope, Head of Independent Learning at Leeds City College, Esam Baboukhan, Microsoft Learning Consultant and I chatting about communities. It was the result of a 20 minute session that we took part in as part of the Jisc community champions 2020 activities. You can watch the video here or from the tweet below.
Today I was interviewed by Hannah Tennant from Jisc for an article they are writing on communities. I waffled a lot (as I do) but I think one thing that crystallised for me was how communities have helped us during the Coronavirus period.
The main ways are:
Filtering out the noise – there was so much information flying around as we pivoted our courses online but communities helped separate the wheat from the chaff.
Collating and organising resources – communities and individuals took all this information and organised it. I saw lots of collated lists with explanations on why these resources were useful.
Sharing best practice – communities have helped us share best practice and come up with consensus as to how we, as the online learning/learning tech sector, should act.
Sanity check – for those working in smaller organisations it is often difficult to know if you are on the right track. Communities offer reassurance and allow you to have confidence in your actions.
Advocating – communities are a little like mission groups in that they advocate on your behalf to senior management. Being able to cite suggested approaches from an established community makes your case.
Image from the Planning for the end of lockdown online webinar. Attendees were asked to indicate where on the line they were in starting to prepare for September delivery. How reassuring to see others were also far from ready.
So thanks to some of the communities that have helped so much during this busy time:
Jisc – They’ve put on lots of events and surgery sessions, created a Coronavirus page, set up a useful Coronavirus Team site and the Jiscmail groups keep us all going.
ALT – They have produced some great reports and their weekly newsletter is essential.
AdvanceHE – Lots of very well though out guidance and support.
DigiLearn – A great Teams based community with lots of fantastic practical webinars.
HELF – Discussions on the Heads of eLearning Forum (HeLF) list are incredibly useful at a strategy level.
UCISA – In particular the Digital Capabilities Group and the Digital Education Group.
Twitter – Always useful.
OER communities – too many to mention but sharing is most definitely caring.
As part of online teaching our academics are facilitating more and more online seminar sessions. We have been sharing what works well and what doesn’t and here are some of the tips so far.
Before the session
Prepare – have a plan in your head, even if you don’t share it with students.Decide when exactly things are going to happen e.g. when will you run a poll.
Create teaching notes or add notes to PowerPoint slides.
Have a clear goal for the session e.g. “we are going to come up with 3 recommendations for Defra on xxxx”.
At the start of the session
Arrive reasonably early to give yourself time to deal with any issues.
Warm up activity e.g. getting people to write in the chat where they are located, or scribble on a Whiteboard their favourite snack.
Informal chat – start with an informal catch up but then announce the official start of the session.
Technology – Run through the buttons with students at the first session, suggest they mute mic and turn off video if lots of them.
Video recording – be clear on if the session is being recorded, explain who it will be available to and how people will get hold of the recording.
Assign roles – ask one student to take notes, one to check the chat, one to keep an eye on timings etc.
Questions – decide how you are going to deal with these. Should people raise their hand, should they ask in the chat, should they wait till the end of a talk? Should questions be prefixed with a Q so you can easily pick them up?
Provide clear expectations for students e.g. you should set yourself a target to write 2 chat comments and make 1 audio comment.
During the session
Share something – could be slides or notes, gives students something to look at and comment on.
Break time – Get everyone to stand up and touch their toes half-way through!!
Chat – Encourage people to use it.
Group activities – people go off, start their own Team meeting and then come back and share feedback.
Timer – time different activities e.g. we are going to talk about A for 10 minutes, then talk about B for 10 minutes, we then will decide on C
Polls (use Whiteboard, use forms, use Polly, use Polleverywhere or another free tool).
Questions in chat – add in questions to the chat and get students to comment on them.
Land Based Learning Online – A collection of online courses that students can register for complete in collaboration with Landex Colleges and Universities. Some complement face-to-face courses and students can be registered by their institution. Others allow self-enrollment.
PDF library – 130 Landex PDF packs converted into online learning.