Welcome to the Digital Transformation blog

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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.

But what exactly is a digital transformation? The Enterprisers Project define it as:

“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 Strategy that 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.

Landex LMT Committee, April meeting

Landex (Land Based Colleges Aspiring to Excellence) is a subscriber organisation for Colleges and Universities in the UK who deliver significant volumes of education and training in land based occupational areas. Earlier this week I joined the Learning Materials and Technology Committee for their quarterly meeting. It was great to meet up with peers from colleges offering similar curricula.

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The main focus of the meeting was the development of Land based learning online – an online learning resource covering areas including animal management, agriculture, horse management, horticulture, bTB biosecurity and machinery. The platform and resources have been developed by FirstMedia Ltd and AdaptiVLE Ltd, for LANDEX using money from the DfE – Flexible Learning Fund. The learning materials include a large quantity of video content filmed at various locations including, Bridgewater and Taunton College, Askham Bryan College, East Durham College and Myerscough College. This content has been quality assured and is a really excellent resource. Recent work for the project has been around the development of two qualifications:

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The committee also share good practice and we heard a little from James Maltby of Plumstead College on how they have been making effective use of 360°, Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies for teaching, learning and assessment.

There are plans to set up a MS Team site for the group so we can keep in touch between meetings.

Touch screens and digital learning spaces

At the RAU we have plans to improve some of our learning spaces and make them more student-friendly and better equipped for the type of teaching our academics would like to do. We have been exploring the options available and you may have seen our recent post on the Jisc digital classroom .

This week we have set up a rather large (72”) touch screen in the IT Service Desk area. The screen is on loan from Clevertouch and earlier today one of their team, Ashley Helm, gave us a demo of the main functionality.

There is lots to get excited about: from the interactive whiteboard screen which allows you to create varied notes using content from a variety of places (your devices, students’ devices, the cloud, the web), to the use of countless android apps, such as Google Earth.

Ashley Helm demos Clevertouch

Ashley Helm demos Clevertouch

Our academics seemed genuinely impressed and could see the potential of the screen for their teaching, especially some of the the annotation features, the split screen option and the the ability to use and freeze-frame video. The screen can be controlled using the touch screen but also through a remote control and devices if mirroring – so the person leading the teaching doesn’t need to stand at the front at all times. This new generation of touch screen could definitely make for much more innovative teaching approaches (such as using a visualiser and bringing class content up to the screen) and collaborative working among students.

I have also been discussing digital learning spaces on the HELF (Heads of eLearning forum) list and have been pointed in the direction of some useful resources including:

We’re really keen to move towards classrooms that are flexible and inspiring, and that allow our academics and students to fully reach their potential. Thanks to everyone who is helping us with our research.

What do you call a group of Learning Technologists?

Now we are three we’d like to know what we should call ourselves. I asked the question on Twitter.

We had some great suggestions, including some tweets from RAU colleagues:

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I think our favourites so far are:

  1. A pandemonium of learning technologists
  2. A disruption of learning technologists
  3. A spark of learning technologists

Add your suggestions to the Answer Garden!

Digifest 2019: Are you ready for Education 4.0?

Last week’s annual Jisc Digifest was aesthetic and high-tech from the get-go. The opening ‘folded space‘ session brought together artists from across Europe to participate in an impressive synchronised performance of dance and music, all made possible by the Janet Network. Even the conference’s byline ‘shaping education for a hyper-connected world‘ sounds more sci-fi than HE. As opening Key note speaker Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO of the Stemettes, pointed out – the web is 30 years old  now and it’s time for us to get more creative in our thinking!

The opening 'folded space' session

The opening ‘folded space’ session

So what were the core themes?
Creativity

Creativity and the changing skills requirement of our students and staff was prevalent in many presentations and discussions. From the A for Art appearing in STEM (STEAM),  to multidisciplinary learning and rethinking the way we do things. Dave Coplin, CEO of the Envisioners, offered some great observations on this in his day one closing keynote entitled the rise of humans. Dave suggested that we focus on creativity, empathy and accountability. This will allow us to get rid of processes that don’t make sense (ditch the elephant powder), disconnect unless it adds value and use Artificial Intelligence (AI) wisely (see project InnerEye).

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Experiencing life as Natalie, a student in 2029, through the power of VR

Dave reminded us of the wise words of Pablo Picasso: “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” We need to be asking the right questions – and that’s where our creative minds come in. He concluded by pointing out that culture is the single most important attribute for an organisation to get creativity and innovation right. You can have all the technology in the world and it isn’t going to change any outcomes.

Joysy John, director of Education at Nesta also discussed the skills gap in her opening keynote for day two. Nesta want to create a broader, fairer and smarter education system that focuses on how can all learners thrive in the future. They have identified the current skills gap that sits alongside recent narrowing of the curriculum. Joysy spent time looking at the new(ish) skills most needed (see the picture below) and asked is our education system teaching these skills?

Joysy John talks about the skills required for future work

Joysy John talks about the skills required for future work

Nesta Education has developed some very useful tools including My kinda future, Get my first job, and the UK skills taxonomy which looks at the digital intensity of jobs. Joysy reiterated the message about removing the distinction between arts/humanities and the more technical and scientific subjects.

Education 4.0

Many of the plenaries and sessions covered the new technologies that make up Education 4.0.

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These range from exciting use of Virtual Reality (see the VR Education work) to data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)  and Machine Learning. However ethics is a big issues and while AI (and other Education 4.0 tools) offers us a multitude of opportunities it still needs to be kept in check. Anne-Marie Imafidon’s point that if “If you don’t intentionally include you accidentally exclude” highlights the need for diversity in testing. And Nesta’s recent blog entitled AI is changing the world, who is changing AI? is really thought provoking. As Dave Coplin put it “the best defence against algorithmic bias is diversity.

The 4.0 technologies were explored in more detail in the over the horizons panel session on the Jisc Horizons report – emerging technologies and the mental health challenge. The session was chaired by Andy McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer, Jisc. The speakers were Sarah Davies, director of education innovation, University of Bristol; Nick Brazil, deputy principal, Gower College; Rachel Hall, university editor, The Guardian and Gwyneth Sweatman, president, NUS Wales. The report looks at “the fourth industrial revolution in which emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres and the impact and change it brings for education“. Audience questions covered areas including the need for National digital vision, costs and funding, and issues around Mental health.

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Over the horizons panel session

One interesting concept covered in the report is ‘streamlining’ – or technology enabling us to get to the information we need much quicker. There is a quote in the report from Phil Richards, chief innovation officer, Jisc that explains:

I see the technology as a human optimisation system, so the meaningful support people get … comes from human beings. It’s that initial referral, realising that the people who need help are those who’re least likely to ask for it when they’re in a dark place, which the technology helps with.

It’s about a partnership between technology and humans. That’s where Chatbots come in. In the future is conversational the University of Bolton demonstrated their bot Ada (named after Ada Lovelace) who is acting as a virtual assistant for staff and students. Bolton began by connecting the chatbot to all key data sets on campus (student records data (tribal), email, curriculum resources, timetabling, qualification, attendance, opening times, finance/bursaries etc.). They are using around 12000 variations of questions and have even tied Ada in to Wolfram alpha.

The end result helps students with general inquiries, curriculum specific queries, employability; and staff with questions like who is on work placement? Which learners have passed? Which learners have falling attendance? All responses are contextualised.  Ada also nudges students with welcome back message, attendance message etc. The system is voice activated (Alexa), and works on app (ios, android) and desktop. There are Central APIs that route info to IBM watson, Wolfram Alpha , campus data.

Bolton are not the only institution delivering on chatbots. In his talk on How you are embracing the change of technological capability, and the needs of the students of the future, not the past? Andrew Proctor, Director of digital services at the University of Staffordshire talked about their own experience of  AI becoming the new UI. Staffordshire have developed Beacon as a way to curate information, offer recommendations, nudge students etc.  To do this they used an Azure bot framework and natural language processing. A partner was brought in to help them deliver Beacon and Azure stack accelerated the process.

Andrew Proctor talks about Beacon

Andrew Proctor talks about Beacon

Digital strategy

With so much going on many institutions have taken to creating and implementing digital strategies. Ross Parry presented the University of Leicester experience to a packed room. Ross has a split role of Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Digital) and professor in the School of museum studies, demonstrating the commitment Leicester has made to digital. Leicester have taken their magic word (‘discovery’) and combined it with a beginners mindset to build their digital strategy. It stands as an cornerstone with other enabling strategies underneath. Ross explained that Digital is about people and value and culture, and a strategy is aspirational, a thing that you create and use. He recommended that institutions worry about digital thinking as much as they worry about the infrastructure to support it.

Ross Parry on Digital capability as a strategic priority

Ross Parry on Digital capability as a strategic priority

The Leicester #digitalcampus strategy is underpinned by 20-30 live projects, it has a supporting model – an animated picture of buildings. This could even be seen as cute and gimicky mnemonic. To deliver the strategy Ross has worked in partnership with the Leicester director of IT – Liz Bailey, the duo have worked together on the three cores areas: new  integration, new interface, new interaction. The new interaction refers to work to make their student records system talk to their VLE, something that has involved rebuilding things from the ground up (they have made good use of Top hat to do this). Migration of data and information was carried out by students as part of the ‘big build’ and everything has been supported by great visuals and infograms and a steer from senior management.

In his talk Andrew Proctor also shared many of their Education 4.0  approaches to strategy: more learner centric, more choice (hyper-personalisation), diverse consumption models, traditional byte sized degrees, subscription based, outcome based. He talked of “building things to change” – recognising the fast moving world we are in and being agile at all times.

And finally MS Office 365 and a little bit of Google

In the University of Central Lancashire session ‘DigiReady: preparing learners for a digital workplace‘ we heard from Andrew Sprake, lecturer in physical education; Neesha Ridley, senior lecturer in midwifery; and Chris Melia , senior learning technologist.

Chris Melia talking about Jisc digital insights survey and why they've started using Microsoft teams

Chris Melia talking about Jisc digital insights survey and why they’ve started using Microsoft teams

The team have brought in a Digital skills programme that relies heavily on Microsoft Teams and Microsoft educator community training and Microsoft office certification. Their Digital transformation at scale event 17 April UCLAN would definitely be good to attend and I’d like to hear more about Use One note for digital portfolio. Lots of institutions are turning to Microsoft for training , accreditation and certification.

The closing keynote was delivered Head of Google Education, Liz Sprout. After some audience App sharing (try it – share your favourite app with a random stranger) she spent time explaining the difference between Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (thank goodness – I was too embarrassed to ask). Machine learning comprises of supervised learning, unsupervised learning (discovering patterns) and reinforcement learning. It is now possible due to the amount of data, the speed of processing data, minaturisation, reduced power consumption and improved cooling systems. And ML powers most of what Google does: search, gmail, photos, translation, YouTube, chrome, maps…

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Liz introduced us to many of the great Google tools out there. Some of  the best for education are:

  • Google arts and culture allows you to take a 360 tour of many famous sites and landmarks. You can jump from the CERN hadron collider, to the Great barrier reef and round most famous galleries. Like Google maps but much more exciting. However if you want to get really out of this world try Google sky.
  • I’m sure you are familiar with Google Scholar but have you seen Google books – the world’s most comprehensive index of full-text books.
  • There are an increasing array of translation tools available from Google. Google translate is the obvious one but could try the Google translate app (for OS or android) and use your camera for instant text translation.
  • Interested in our changing times then Google trendsNgram viewerZeitgeist and Google Correlate will let you look at our changing search patterns. Google public dataalso helps you find interesting data sets to work with.
  • If you are feeling very adventurous there is Google Expeditions which allows you to use Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) in your lessons.
Liz Sprout from Google

Liz Sprout from Google

Naturally these themes are shaped by the sessions I attended and my own personal interests. There was a lot more on the digital campus, digital capability, data ethics, student wellbeing, accessibility and multimedia that I haven’t even touched on.

Luckily Jisc do a good job of videoing and collating their content – so here is everything I missed.

Once again Digifest is invaluable for those working in technology in Higher Education. It always inspired – now to find a way to create more hours in the day!

RAU eChamps

Today we launched the call for our RAU eChamps.

eChamps are student digital champions. They will input into RAU IT decision making and help to develop digital skills among students and staff. We hope to initially recruit two eChamps who will be in post for the pilot phase – from after Easter to the end of the academic. All being well we will then renew the posts for next academic year.

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The eChamps will be busy, working approximately 5 hours a week. While in post they will meet regularly (approximately once a month) to discuss IT and digital challenges at RAU and to consider issues that will be covered at the IT and digital strategy group. They will also work on a set of identified projects in collaboration with academic staff. These projects will be actual issues that require attention, so for example increasing awareness among staff and students of a new digital tool.

Ideas  include:

  • Increasing uptake of myRAU
  • Increasing use of RAU resource lists
  • Improving Gateway
  • Working on new tools such as the RAU eportfolio tool Mahara
  • Running workshops on digital literacy areas: eSafety, digital etiquette, email etc.
  • Experimenting with Office 365 tools
  • Creating videos about student life
  • Using the 360 camera to create an interactive tour of the university
  • Creating learning content (videos, images, reports)
  • Consideration of online assessment and feedback – what works, what doesn’t
  • Coming up with ideas for IT or digital tools to support learning and teaching
  • Promotion of online resources available at RAU
  • Pedagogic research activity
eChamp poster - design from Canva

eChamp poster – design from Canva (free images)

Students are invited to apply for the eChamps roles using the form on the eChamps Gateway page (https://gateway.rau.ac.uk/echamps). There will then be a interview selection process.

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey for her help in scoping this programme based on her experience of running the iChamps at the University of Southampton.

Talis Resource List Data

Earlier today we had a visit from Tim Hodson and David Renfree, both from Talis Aspire. Talis Aspire is the software we use for RAU Reading Lists – you can read more about our journey in implementing the service. Tim and David spent some time with us looking at how we can make best use of the data you can get out of the system.

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Tim started off by asking us to think about:

  • What are the narratives? (For academics, students and the library)
  • How do these fit within institutional reporting workflows?
  • Who needs to hear the narrative?
  • What data would help tell the story of that narrative
Tim Hodson eliciting what questions we have that data could answer

Tim Hodson eliciting what questions we have that data could answer

We then spent time looking at the main data reporting mechanisms:

Google analytics

Google analytics

The data from these systems can all be exported and there is a way to establish a primary key within most tables – which means it’s possible to link tables and get some very useful and granular insights.

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Later in the morning things took a technical turn and we ended up talking about connecting data tables and potential data development work. Something for us to think about in the future.

Some of the most useful takeaways for the day for me were:

  • The urls of customised reports are unique and therefore bookmarkable – so you can create a personal list of your favourite reports
  • There is some new filters on reports that will let you do things like find out all the books on lists that aren’t in the library – really useful
  • There are lots of batch actions that can run on report outputs – like publishing lists with unpublished changes

Talis are now developing a set of APIs that allow developers to get data from within Talis products and present it in various places. We’d like to automate our hierarchy upload process at some point so we will be keeping an eye on these. We also have our list rollover to look forward to!

Virtually the Governing Council

This morning’s RAU governing council meeting was a little different from usual.

The chair, the Rt Hon Michael Jack CBE, was unable to attend and presided over the meeting from the comfort of his own home. He was able to do so using standard video conferencing equipment and some support from fellow council members.

Governors at the meeting with the Rt Hon Michael Jack CBE shown on the front screen

Governors at the meeting with the Rt Hon Michael Jack CBE shown on the front screen

The meeting went extremely well with only one minor instance of video freeze and audio lag. Luckily the lunch time sandwiches weren’t virtual!

The equipment used was:

  • Short Throw Projector
  • Portable Projector Screen
  • Laptop
  • Logitech Conferencing Kit (Webcam & Microphone/Speaker console)
  • GoToMeeting conferencing software

Many thanks to Leigh Miller, one of our Service Desk Analysts, who set the kit up for us.

We’ve got the kit!

Earlier this week Helen Hyde from Hyde media joined us on campus to help us test out our new media kit. The kit has been purchased primarily to help us create video content for the catalyst programme. We are taking a mobile journalism (#mojo) approach and using phones for all filming.

Helen demonstrates our tripod and rig

Helen demonstrates our tripod and rig

Helen’s top  set up suggestions were:

  • Use a tripod for the majority of filming, gimbals are for movement and emotion
  • When you put your tripod up start from the bottom first
  • Keep your lapel mic facing down – this avoids capturing all minor sounds
  • Get your phone set up right: make sure it isn’t on silent, don’t lock in portrait mode and do put it in airplane mode
  • Make sure your phone lens it at the top when recording
  • Lighting uses a triangle – the camera, the person being filmed and the light

Our new kit comprises of:

  • Neewer Metal Smartphone Video Rig
  • RØDE SC6L 3.5 mm iOS Interface – Black
  • Neewer Professional Camera Bag Loop Backpack
  • Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum Tripod with Hybrid Head, Black
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M20X Professional Headphones
  • LaCie Copilot 2000GB Portable External Hard Drive and Backup On Set Solution (BOSS)
  • RØDE VMML Me-L Directional Microphone for iOS Devices – Black RØDE Camera and Audio VideoMic with Rycote Lyre Mount Rode VideoMicro Compact On Camera
  • Microphone
  • BOYA BY-M1 3.5mm Lavalier Condenser Microphone
  • Anker PowerCore 20100 Power bank
  • Aputure AL-M9 Amaran Lighting Up Pint-Sized LED Fill Light Mini Video Light
  • Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod with Handgrip for Compact System Cameras
  • Zhiyun Smooth-Q 3-Axis Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer for Smartphone
  • Neewer Smartphone Rig Filmmaker Grip Tripod Mount with Cold Shoe Mount
  • Neewer Handheld Stabilizer Multi-use Ergonomic Hand Shape Grip
  • Neewer 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector
  • Neewer Background Support System with Three 6x 9ft/1.8×2.8M Backdrop Lighting Kit
Microphone set up

Microphone set up

We will be using new kit over the next few months and experimenting with editing and multimedia techniques.

Valuable lessons from our visitors

This week we had some visitors to campus to help us with our digital plans.

ABL, ABW and sensemaking

Professor Ale Armellini, Dean of Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton, came to talk to members of the IT Services team about the recent activities at Northampton. Northampton have consolidated a number of their campuses and moved the vast majority of staff and students to their new Waterside campus. This process has not just about rethinking physical space, it has involved a rethinking of the way they work and teach (‘Waterside ready‘). Academic staff have redesigned their courses using a new Active Blended Learning approach and staff are now working in an Activity-based working way.

Ale talks to the ITS team about developments at Northampton

Ale talks to the ITS team about developments at Northampton

Ale explained that a course follows an ABL methodology if it:​

  • Is taught through student-centred activities to develop knowledge and understanding, independent learning & digital fluency. ​
  • Has a core, collaborative face-to-face component, explicitly linked to learning activity outside the classroom. ​
  • Helps to develop autonomy, Changemaker attributes and employability skills.

The approach offers a new way of looking at dimensions in ‘the blend’ in blended learning. The most important aspects are pre-session exposure to content and sense-making activities.

Ale’s insights were incredibly helpful for our plans for our Catalyst blended learning courses and at the Cultural Heritage Initiative. We spent some time talking about working with Barco and the classroom set up they have at Northampton.

You can see a version of Ale’s slides from last year’s Digifest.

Video, assessment and feedback

Later on in the week Jennie White gave an excellent presentation to our academics on ‘Using video to improve student learning and support assessment and feedback’.

Jennie is a Senior Lecturer and Marketing Programme Coordinator for the BA Marketing, BSc Digital Marketing, MSc Digital Marketing at the University of Chichester. She is a passionate advocate of the use of video to facilitate the learning experience and an award-winning lecturer. She gained 4 awards whilst at Bournemouth University for making an outstanding contribution to student learning, with online seminar delivery, online lectures via video and MP3, interactive discussion boards and research support. Jennie was awarded Lecturer of the Year by the UCSU, 2017, and the Innovation in Teaching award 2018. Jennie shared her experience of using Panopto in teaching and gave some really great tips:

  • Create micro-lectures – bite sized (10 minute) chunks of content
  • Explain the rubric – videos on how you will be assessing
  • Dissertation support – videoing dissertation supervision meetings
  • Flipped classroom – sharing a prerecorded version of the lecture and checking which students have watched it, those that haven’t can’t attend!
  • Pencasts – videoing chalk and talk using paint or other tools, or even just drawing on paper
  • Marking – videoing yourself marking

Our academics were genuinely excited by the session and there are already signs of increased Panopto use.

Jennie presents to our academics. The session was recorded and will be available through Panopto.

Jennie presents to our academics. The session was recorded and will be available through Panopto.

Huge thanks to both our visitors, it is always great to catch up with people just as excited about learning technology as us!

Surveytastic…

NSS

This week has seen the launch of the National Student Survey (NSS) at RAU. The NSS “gathers opinions from students about their time in higher education, asking them to provide honest feedback on what it has been like to study on their course at their university/college“. There are 27 questions relating to eight aspects of the student experience and the survey is for students in their last year of study. The NSS is run by Ipsos MORI.

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SSS and Survey checker

Internally we are giving students who aren’t eligible for the NSS the opportunity to complete our own version of the survey called the Student Satisfaction Survey (SSS). The survey has been created in Jisc’s Online Surveys. – which we are increasingly using for student surveys.

Survey-checker

Student are often unsure on which survey they should fill in. To help point them in the right direction we have created and internal survey checker. The checker is available from Gateway (our VLE) and through myRAU. Big thanks to Danny in IT for his work on this.

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Supporting materials

To support the surveys we also have a page on Gateway with information about the various surveys we run throughout the year. This page contains general You Said, We Did  information, also up on our display screens. There is also a generic email address for survey queries.

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Fingers crossed for a good response rate!