Welcome to the Digital Transformation blog

Featured

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-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.

Hold Your Digital Horses. Time for an Online Symposium.

The University of East London (UEL) hosted their Learning & Teaching Symposium on Microsoft Teams on Thursday 17th September. A slide from the final keynote delivered by Simon Thomson (@digisim) from the Centre for Innovation in Education exploring the Physical and Digital: Exploring places and spaces for hybrid teaching in a post-lockdown world.

Pivot within a Pivot. Digital Wheel within a Digital Wheel.

Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams have played an important role at RAU, a Zoom with the SDAU project which was the topic of a poster presentation delivered at the event by @digitalrau, Digital Learning Manager and @pipmcdonald, Learning Technologist. The event had different rooms with different themes where presentations were delivered simultaneously. Our room explored Teaching Principles in Practice. We successfully submitted a proposal to the symposium exploring the transnational online pivot relating to the longstanding project the RAU is involved with working with Shandong University in China. The transational pivot was almost like a pivot within a pivot, a digital wheel within a digital wheel.

A Learning & Teaching Symposium: Tech Incognita for Terra Incognita?

As a learning and teaching event, my initial concern was that both our roles and activity were concerned with learning technology and not pedagogy in an explicit capacity. Some Learning technologist roles are more technical and others are more focused on pedagogy. However, the more work I carried out on the project the more I realised the pedagogy was driving the narrative of the project rather than the technology. This was echoed In the Microsoft Teams chat during our poster presentation.

Never Mind the Buzztech. Putting the Learning in Learning Technology.

“When a ‘learner’ sits alone in front of a computer and engages with a text displayed on screen there is more going on than the interaction of that individual with the screen” (Jewitt, 2006: p76). An evaluation form in Microsoft Forms with a range a questions including using Likert scale and ranking was created and emailed to lecturers who taught on the project. The benefit of using Microsoft Forms is that the results are created in real time. One of the questions asked what types of learning took place during the interactive sessions? Lecturers identified that multimodal learning was form of learning that took place the most. Multimodality can be understood whereby “…all modes of communication are attended to as part of meaning making…” (Jewitt, 2006: p3 ). More specifically, multimodality can be seen as “…images, sounds, space, and movement representing and communicating meaning (Kress, 2010, in Miller & McVee). Multimodal approaches to pedagogy are becoming widely used in academia (Jewitt, Bezemer & O’Halloran, 2016). Having explored multimodality in education at the MFL Twitterati conference at the Ashcombe school  in Dorking organised by the Association for Language Learning (ALL) in 2019 and at the Missing Maps mapathon event at University College London (UCL) in 2019 – , I was keen to explore this more. Zoom could be argued to be a platform for “multimodal discourse” (Kress & van Leewen, 2001). It could also be argued that multimodality literacy could potentially help to move across any potential language barriers. Participating in a Zoom meeting is a multimodal experience – “When a ‘learner’ sits alone in front of a computer and engages with a text displayed on screen there is more going on than the interaction of that individual with the screen” (Jewitt, 2006: p76). A further study could be completed to explore the impact of multimodal approaches to learning and teaching.  

The Power of Research Informed Pedagogic Practice

Lecturers wanted to explore how to use the interactive features in Zoom included break out rooms, polling and whiteboard. The technology was a platform for the pedagogy. There is a well-known quotation that ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear’. What about the Learning Technologist?  The truth is Learning Technologists appeared in a radical way particularly during lockdown to facilitate the online pivot.

When asked what approaches Lecturers took in the interactive sessions on Zoom, the majority used the chat function and share screen. What emerged pedagogically was that some teachers wanted to explore more features such as polling, breakout rooms and whiteboard. As a Learning Technologist, this was exciting to support and a model we hope to follow up on the next iteration of the project. Pedagogy driving the narrative of the project and not necessarily the technology was the critical thread we wanted to stress in the presentation.

With respect to how Lecturers engaged with students in interactive sessions, approaches included  team teaching or having more than one lecturer is a Zoom meeting. This seemed like an effective approach for example while one Lecturer presented content, another Lecturer could manage the chat. This approach makes sense particularly in virtue of the fact that over one time with a hundred students were in meetings at any one time.  Successfully engaging with such a large number of students is always challenge. Lecturers’ ideas were impressive, for example, one lecturer was going to do a live auction in Zoom which was a really engaging scenario-based approach.

Two Hats or Two Tribes: A Teacher & A Learning Technologist

From my experience in the role of a Teacher of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), one of the challenges is that few students speak up in transnational contexts. This was also a point that was raised a spart of the research project.  One of the approaches one Lecturer took was to have smaller groups running consecutively where students had to work collaboratively to create a proposal on PowerPoint and each person would have a role assigned to them a bit like De Bono’s thinking hats (De Bono, 2000). We hope to take this model forward. Emergent pedagogies were important for us. We could move towards a model of De Bono’s Digital Thinking Hats. One of the questions we were asked about our research project was about this approach:

My response was to remind everyone that learning is always about relationships and explained how the approach worked in terms of smaller groups helping students to actively contribute. It was also meaningful to feedback to the lecturer who created the approach that the approach he took was shared and successful.

Zoom, Boom & Bloom

Both student and lecturer feedback was similar about not having a personal connection in a face to face setting, there was evidence of valuable personalised touches to pedagogy. The phrase I used in the presentation was that it was not the ‘ghost ion the zoom machine’. For example, one of Lecturers showed the students her garden and environment during an interactive session. Students of Agriculture as a curriculum area would find this helpful in real time. Additionally, a Lecturer allowed students to talk with her son who was a student studying Mining Engineering and they shared a valuable discussion on sustainability. Even given the contextual restraints of the transnational online pivot, unplanned valuable pedagogic moments can still take place. It is not just Zoom, doom and gloom, but rather Zoom, Boom and Bloom! Bloom’s taxonomy has been revised to include digital skills (McNulty, 2020). Perhaps a specific taxonomy could be created for Zoom or video meeting-based platforms.

Back to the Future, Feedback & Feedforward

The first keynote of the symposium was delivered by Dr. Naomi Winstone (@DocWinstone) from University of Surrey exploring moving feedback forwards in higher education. She showed a word cloud about how people feel about feedback and talked about embracing vulnerability in feedback scenarios:

The idea of feedback was also relevant to our research project. We wanted to explore the extent to which peer review of the interactive sessions would be helpful:

We also received some positive feedback from our poster presentation from one of the session Chairs, Ella Mitchell (@meatyloafy) on Twitter:

The Power of Blogging, Reflection and Digital Transformation

At RAU we have a digital transformation blog as a platform for reflection. One of the interesting parts of this project was the reflective blogs posts created by Marieke, myself and Bonnie and Lola from Sinocampus in China. Reflective blogs are useful tool particularly in a case study to dig deep and immerse in the complexities. The blog series can be accessed here. When working in a collaborative capacity with transnational patterns, it felt important to invite our colleagues, Bonnie and Lola form Sincocampus in China to reflect too.

The Dissolution of face-to-face learning. You have reached the end of education. Stuck between a digital rock and a digital hard place?

Lecturers are used to traditional face-to-face settings and one lecturer made reference to how they checked students faces for understanding in the online questionnaire. As Simon Thompson (@digisim) said in the final keynote, “We hold face to face very dear” (Thompson, 2020). Notwithstanding, the Lecturers’ ability to adapt content and deliver was impressive. In the final keynote of the Learning & Teaching symposium, Simon Thompson (@digisim) said “we have all had to learn new skills in digital space. [It’s about]…digital need not digital skills” (Thompson, 2020).  The need to adapt was undeniable. Perhaps we can change the saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’ to ‘when the lecturers are ready the learning technologist will appear’.

Thoroughly Modern Technology. Unpacking the logistics of Online Learning

Other presentations were both relevant and helpful. For example, it was interesting to hear how David Murray, Dr Caroline McGlynn and Khadija Ahmed from the University of East London (UEL) had introduced welcome slides as a simple yet highly effective way to engage students and overcome what they called what they called ‘unexpected barriers’ to online learning and teaching. The Salsa music was an effective way to engage students.

Going, Growing & Knowing?

In conclusion, we hope to explore working with China within the JISC international community, we are keen to unpack how digital accessibility will have an impact on how we plan the delivery of next part of the project, more specifically with respect to captions. We hope to contribute to the #ChinaHE20 online event by University of Manchester exploring how to work with uncertainty – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/china-and-higher-education-navigating-uncertain-futures-tickets-112516945212. A key idea that resonated with me in relation to this project was that “We don’t just go through projects, we GROW through projects”. The opportunity to participate in this symposium in this capacity as a research informed model has undoubtedly helped us with this growth process. Pivots aside, let’s keep growing together.

It is possible to access the poster on Slideshare here.

Bibliography

De Bono, E (2000) Six Thinking Hats (Penguin: London)

Guy, M & McDonald, P (2020) The Transational Online Pivot: A Case Study Exploring Online Delivery in ChinaIn: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Jewitt, C (2006) Technology, Literacy, Learning: A Multimodal Apprach (Oxon & New York: Routeldge)

Jewitt, C, Bezemer, J & O’Halloran, K (2016) Introducing Multimodality (Oxon & New York: Routledge)

Kress, G & van Leewen, T (2001) Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication (London: Arnold; New York, Oxford University Press)

University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September.

McNulty, N (2020) Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Cape Town: HH Books)

Miller, S, M & McVee, M, B () Multimodal Composing: The Essential 21st Century Literacy in Multimodal Composing in Classrooms Learning and Teaching for the Digital World (Routledge: London and New York). pp1-13

Murray, D, McGlynn, C & Ahmed, Khadija (2020) The logistics of online learning. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Thomson, S (2020) Exploring places and spaces for hybrid teaching in a post-lockdown world. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Winstone, N (2020) Moving feedback forwards in higher education. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

 

Me, Myself, and My MIEE – A Microsft Education Journey

It is Monday morning at 9am (or perhaps a bit before). You open your emails for the first time of the day.

Me, Myself, and My MIEE

Receiving this email from Microsoft really did brighten up a Learning Technologist’s day. It was the ‘digital iceberg’ of a great deal of work underneath.

My congratulations email

Marieke Guy (@digitalrau) our Digital Learning Manager and Pip McDonald, Learning Technologist-Support both successfully achieved the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) for 2020-2021. At RAU, we use a variety of Microsoft tools. Like many institutions, one of the most used tools is Microsoft Teams to communicate, message and carry out meetings, particularly during lockdown. When I joined RAU, I shared my experience of being a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) for 2019-2020 with the Learning technology team, and created a document to explain the application process and to highlight the main benefits of taking part.

Throughout 2019 and in the role of a Learning Technology Project Manager working in London, I made the most of the opportunities and events Microsoft and others including Google for Education conference, a TeachMeet event at Google Digital Academy, various events at Twitter and Facebook for Education event. It is possible to say that I intentionally sought a form of ‘EdTech Tourism’ or a working ‘EdTech holiday’. For example, I visited the Microsoft Reactor for the Augmented Reality Meetup to explore a range of mixed reality approaches. One of the participants attended in a virtual presence capacity which was exciting on a tablet on wheels. Reactors are community spaces for learning and meeting (Microsoft, 2020)

t Microsoft headquarters in the Paddington office
A visit to Microsft Reactor, London 2018

Additionally, I also went to Microsoft headquarters in the Paddington office in London to a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) event in June 2019. The event included a spotlight component where Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) shared their journey, explored new updates, discussed Minecraft, Flipgrid, artificial intelligence (AI) and we explored using Teams as a digital learning environment (DLE).

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) event at Microsoft HQ in Paddington, Londopn in June 2019.

I visited Dell headquarters where Nicola Meek from Microsoft Education (@MeekNicola) presented on how to use Immersive Reader. Watch a video about the Immersive Reader here.

Meeting Nicola Meek
A selfie with the inspiration Nicola Meek (@MeekNicola) from Microsoft at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge at the LearnED Roadshow in February 2019

What does it mean to read in an immersive capacity? How is immersive reading different from traditional reading? I was inspired by her presentation and the powerful capabilities of the tool in terms of making me really reflect on the impact of working towards digital accessibility. In the Dyslexia Awareness Part 1 Module 4 Inclusive Classroom, a headteacher, Josh Clark was interviewed. He said “Everything we do for a dyslexic learner, benefits all learners…hurts no one helps everyone and can be transformative…”. For me, this really opened my mind how technology could be sued a transformative capacity for every learner. This really made me think. Check out the course here.

Josh Clark
Inpsiring words from Josh Clark, Head of School, The Schenck School, Atlanta, USA

As a result of this, I went on to present to teachers on how to use this tool in the MFL Twitterati conference organised by the Association for Language Learning (ALL) at the Ashcombe school in Dorking in April 2019 exploring multimodal approaches to teaching and learning a language. Check out the hashtag #MFLTwitterati on Twitter to find out more and follow @joedale and @helenMyers to explore technology enhanced language learning (TELL).

At the LearnED event organised by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) at Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge University, there was a live demonstration classroom where students used OneNote in a collaborative capacity to explore fake news. Callum (@Callum_MSFT) from Microsoft demonstrated the Microsoft Translate mobile phone application.

Microsoft Education Roadshow
LearnEd Roadshow at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge

I participated in the Microsoft Education Roadshow organised by Hackney Learning Trust in June 2018 which took place in the Tomlinson Centre in London. A teacher led the sessions and we used surface books. One of the most interesting takeaways was how to use Paint 3D and Windows mixed reality. I am sure that a 3D dinosaur was and exciting addition to any 21st century classroom.

Microsoft Education Roadshow
Microsoft Education Roadshow at the Tomlinson Centre, London in June 2018

At the Office 365 Microsoft Training Academy organised and delivered by CTS, I was introduced to the Microsoft Educator Centre (MEC). The MEC is an online platform providing free resources, professional development opportunities and learning pathways. It is possible to redeem a code to earn digital badges. We also explored Whiteboard as a tool for real time collaboration.

Office 365 Microsoft Training Academy
Office 365 Microsoft Training Academy at Microsoft HQ in Paddington in London in December 2018

As a result of the ‘EdTech Tourism’ learning technology working holiday approach, I also discovered the how to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE), the first step in the Microsoft Education journey. In order to achieve Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE), joining the Microsoft Educator Centre (MEC) and completing 2 hours of learning are required. In order to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), a self-nomination form is required involving the creation of a 2-minute video or Sway that demonstrates how you integrate technology into teaching and learning answering four key questions. Find out more about the self-nomination process here.  I successfully submitted my first application in June 2019.

MIEE
My MIEE Application

Throughout lockdown, Microsoft Education offered option weekly support meetings which was very helpful in addition the monthly calls with guest speakers and we explored new updates which took place on Teams for example with Merge Cube, Wakelet and Flipgrid.

Merge cube
Tweeting about new developments from the MIEE monthly call
Wakelet
Getting excited about Wakelet and Flipgrid news from the MIEE monthly call

One of the highlights of the MIEE journey was the UK MIEE End of Year Celebration for 2020. In addition to hearing from Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Education at Microsoft (@AnthonySalcito), the Microsoft Education team sent a party pack with an iced brownie. It is possible to have your ‘digital cakes’ and eat them!

Have your digital cakes and eat them?

What is being an MIEE really about? For me, it is not about perfection, it is about being passionate about learning. Most meaningful discussions about learning technology are just about learning.  My passion for both learning and technology was consolidated by the MIEE experience. It is wonderful to find a community who genuinely celebrates this. Check out the video exploring making connections here. “Microsoft supports a thriving community of educators who are working together to change students’ lives and build a better world. The Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) program (Microsoft, 2020).

Congratulations to the new MIEEs 20-21.

Bibliography

British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) LearnEd Roadshow (Online) Available at:  https://www.besa.org.uk/events/learned-roadshow-2/ [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsoft Education (2018) Make Lifelong connections in the Microsoft Educator Community. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PC0xb-7OoN4&feature=emb_logo [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsoft Education (2019) What is the Immersive Reader? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHJJCLV-DNg [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsft (2020) Microsoft Microsoft Educator Centre (MEC) (Online) Available at: https://education.microsoft.com/en-us [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsoft (2020) Join the new class of Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts. Educationblog.Microsoft.com. Education Blog. [blog] May 6. Available at: https://educationblog.microsoft.com/en-us/2020/05/join-the-new-class-of-microsoft-innovative-educator-experts/ [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsoft (2019) Dyslexia Awareness Part 1 Module 4 Inclusive Classroom (Online) Available at: https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/course/30a7b5e8/overview [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsoft (2020) Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Programs – MIE Expert (Online) Available at: https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/resource/1703c312 [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Microsoft Reactor (2020) Reactor (Online) Available at: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/reactor/ [Accessed: 3rd September 2020]

Association of Language Learning (ALL) Association of Language Learning (ALL) (Online) Available at: https://www.all-languages.org.uk/ [Accessed: 4th September 2020]

When a Learning Technologist became a DJ – For One Night Only

micThe Association of Learning Technology (ALT) organise an annual conference to celebrate and share practice in how technology enhances learning. In 2019, the conference was held at the University of Edinburgh. A range of poster presentations, workshops and keynotes were delivered. You can see a summary here from our Digital Learning Manager Marieke Guy. One of the unique modes of presentations was the GASTA presentation chaired by Tom Farrelly, a Social Science Lecturer at the Institute of Technology in Tralee.  I co-presented a GASTA talk to launch the ALT Mentions and TEL TALE audio drama podcasts. A GASTA talk is a short 5 minute talk with a countdown in Irish. Tom was interviewed on the podcast and talked about GASTA on episode 8. Find out more about Tom on Twitter – @TomFarrelly. Originally, the conference for 2020 was due to take place at the Imperial College in London. However, due to the pandemic, the conference made the pivot to an online summer summit using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra platform. The theme was Learning Technology in a time of crisis, care and complexity which many learning technologists can relate to. There were some relevant topics from trauma-informed pedagogy to feminist approaches. Keynotes were delivered by Bonnie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Educational Studies at University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) (@bonstewart) Dave Cormier, University of Windsor in Ontario (@davecormier) and Charlotte Webb from University of the Arts London (UAL) (@otheragent) , in addition to the journalist, author and broadcaster Angela Saini. The summit included a range of online events for example a virtual café for conference attendees here – https://altc.alt.ac.uk/summit2020/cafe/, and a series of asynchronous events.

summit

As part of the social programme for the summit, a number of pre-summit activities took place. Music has been a crucial way for people to connect during the lockdown. We saw people in Italy singing form their balconies (BBC, 2020). It was about finding alternative ways to express and connect. Music also played an important role in the summit.  For example, there was a KareOERke session where conference participants could sing a song in Zoom with engaging virtual backgrounds and costumes in both an induvial and group capacity. OER stands for Open educational resources (OER). Music has been argued to play an important role in helping people during lockdown (Loughborough University, 2020).

kara

Radio stations have been argued to have played a fundamental role during a crisis (Radiocentre, 2020). One of the most exciting events was the ALT Summer Summit Radio Show on the 25th August 2020 as a pre-summit session and an after show party on the 27th August hosted by The Thursday Night Show – https://www.thethursdaynightshow.com/ and ALT Members. Dominic Pates, a Senior Educational Technologist (Relationship Lead) London City University organised ALT members who hosted a 30-minute show each. Having been involved with podcasting and a pop-up radio station experiment called Pivot FM before, online see previous blog post, moving to presenting live was a new challenge.

dj

The Thursday Night Show is an internet radio Collective with weekly internet radio show with a range of DJs playing a mix of music genres. The is a mobile phone application for IOS here – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/thethursdaynightshow/id1441356423.

thursday

Live chat takes place alongside the live show with a community. We organised changeovers, gave feedback and checked microphone levels live in the chat:

thursday2

The Thursday Night Show has recently been on the on BBC News highlighting the importance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhAsjcBjtsg&feature=youtu.be. There is also a Zoom room alongside the live show so you can dance along to your favourite tunes. We carried out a technical setup involving connecting to the Icecast server and tested the connection supporting each other using an ALT Radio Folks WhatsApp group. Mixxx – https://www.mixxx.org/, Adobe Audition and royalty free sound effects DJ were used.

mix

First up was Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Provost at Athabasca University in Canada (@ammienoot). I was second up. Dominik Lukes Dominik has a account Digital Learning Technologist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford (@techczech), and Thomas Buckley, Digital Learning Manager at University of the West of Bristol (UWE) (@bigbadbuckley) and additional sets by regular DJs on The Thursday Night Show and a London themed set by Dominic Pates.

My idea was to use the opportunity for a radio show to ask learning technologists to request a song that got them through lockdown and to provide a short explanation of how the song links to learning technology – ‘Quarantunes’. Marieke Guy, the Digital Learning Manager at RAU selected ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ by Daft Punk and said: 

At times we Learning Technologists have felt like robots on overdrive. We’ve been creating, supporting, listening, guiding, fixing and generally making things work. At times it has felt like being part of an assembly line but we have created some great things and are keeping students learning. This Daft Punk song makes me smile. The lyrics feel like an instruction from up above: “work it harder, make it better, do it faster, make us stronger”. It also ends with the warning “our work is never done” – things can always be improved and perfected (through technology). But despite this it is still upbeat and I love electronic music!”

Husna Ahmed, a Learning Technologist at the RAU requested ‘With a Little Help from my Friend’s, the classic song by the Beatles. She said:

The song sums up how we work in our learning technology bubble, as we learn form one another and support each other all the time”.

Music became an important part of the lockdown experience. It has been argued that listening to music during lockdown while working from home can have a positive impact (Flach, 2020). My ‘quarantune’ which was ‘In My House’ by The Cornshed Sisters (@Cornsheds). As I said during the show, the song is a lockdown classic! The experience of both being in a house and working from home during lockdown was a reality for many learning technologists and particularly for my role at RAU operating in a remote capacity. We also sang this song in the Pop Choir led by members of The Cornshed Sisters which took place online on the Zoom meeting platform throughout lockdown. Radio has its own language and literacy. For example, I also created some audio ‘stings’ or “short musical phrases” to be used to personalise the content and put an ALT stamp on the radio show (Audionetwork, 2020).

Ultimately, the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) online summer summit proved that it is still possible to engage people in an online capacity. I asked myself how the experience of DJ-ing live helped me to become a better Learning Technologist. Being a live DJ involved preparing music, reflecting on how to create an engaging show, learning how to use new software and tools, working as part of a team, communicating effectively, learning from others, solving problems quickly and making mistakes and learning from them. These are all activities that effective Learning Technologists do on a daily basis. Pedagogically, using audio in learning and teaching can improve the digital student experience in a variety of ways. Students could create their own radio stations and podcasts. A lot of the DJ software is free  which helps to make wokring with audio more accessible. My radio journey has just begun. When I lived and wokred in London, I visited Abbey Road Studios in May 2018 and hoped that I could get back into the studio again.

micThe Association of Learning Technology (ALT) organise an annual conference to celebrate and share practice in how technology enhances learning. In 2019, the conference was held at the University of Edinburgh. A range of poster presentations, workshops and keynotes were delivered. You can see a summary here from our Digital Learning Manager Marieke Guy. One of the unique modes of presentations was the GASTA presentation chaired by Tom Farrelly, a Social Science Lecturer at the Institute of Technology in Tralee.  I co-presented a GASTA talk to launch the ALT Mentions and TEL TALE audio drama podcasts. A GASTA talk is a short 5 minute talk with a countdown in Irish. Tom was interviewed on the podcast and talked about GASTA on episode 8 – https://altmentions.podbean.com/e/ep8-getting-the-word-out-there-with-gasta-tom-farrelly-part-2/. Find out more about Tom on Twitter – @TomFarrelly. Originally, the conference for 2020 was due to take place at the Imperial College in London. However, due to the pandemic, the conference made the pivot to an online summer summit using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra platform. The theme was Learning Technology in a time of crisis, care and complexity which many learning technologists can relate to. There were some relevant topics from trauma-informed pedagogy to feminist approaches. Keynotes were delivered by Bonnie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Educational Studies at University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) (@bonstewart) Dave Cormier, University of Windsor in Ontario (@davecormier) and Charlotte Webb from University of the Arts London (UAL) (@otheragent) , in addition to the journalist, author and broadcaster Angela Saini. The summit included a range of online events for example a virtual café for conference attendees here – https://altc.alt.ac.uk/summit2020/cafe/, and a series of asynchronous events.

summit

As part of the social programme for the summit, a number of pre-summit activities took place. Music has been a crucial way for people to connect during the lockdown. We saw people in Italy singing form their balconies (BBC, 2020). It was about finding alternative ways to express and connect. Music also played an important role in the summit.  For example, there was a KareOERke session where conference participants could sing a song in Zoom with engaging virtual backgrounds and costumes in both an induvial and group capacity. OER stands for Open educational resources (OER). Music has been argued to play an important role in helping people during lockdown (Loughborough University, 2020).

kara

Radio stations have been argued to have played a fundamental role during a crisis (Radiocentre, 2020). One of the most exciting events was the ALT Summer Summit Radio Show on the 25th August 2020 as a pre-summit session and an after show party on the 27th August hosted by The Thursday Night Show – https://www.thethursdaynightshow.com/ and ALT Members. Dominic Pates, a Senior Educational Technologist (Relationship Lead) London City University organised ALT members who hosted a 30-minute show each. Having been involved with podcasting and a pop-up radio station experiment called Pivot FM before, online see previous blog post, moving to presenting live was a new challenge.

dj

The Thursday Night Show is an internet radio Collective with weekly internet radio show with a range of DJs playing a mix of music genres. The is a mobile phone application for IOS here – https://apps.apple.com/us/app/thethursdaynightshow/id1441356423.

thursday

Live chat takes place alongside the live show with a community. We organised changeovers, gave feedback and checked microphone levels live in the chat:

thursday2

The Thursday Night Show has recently been on the on BBC News highlighting the importance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhAsjcBjtsg&feature=youtu.be. There is also a Zoom room alongside the live show so you can dance along to your favourite tunes. We carried out a technical setup involving connecting to the Icecast server and tested the connection supporting each other using an ALT Radio Folks WhatsApp group. Mixxx – https://www.mixxx.org/, Adobe Audition and royalty free sound effects DJ were used.

mix

First up was Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Provost at Athabasca University in Canada (@ammienoot). I was second up. Dominik Lukes Dominik has a account Digital Learning Technologist at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford (@techczech), and Thomas Buckley, Digital Learning Manager at University of the West of Bristol (UWE) (@bigbadbuckley) and additional sets by regular DJs on The Thursday Night Show and a London themed set by Dominic Pates.

My idea was to use the opportunity for a radio show to ask learning technologists to request a song that got them through lockdown and to provide a short explanation of how the song links to learning technology – ‘Quarantunes’. Marieke Guy, the Digital Learning Manager at RAU selected ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ by Daft Punk and said: 

At times we Learning Technologists have felt like robots on overdrive. We’ve been creating, supporting, listening, guiding, fixing and generally making things work. At times it has felt like being part of an assembly line but we have created some great things and are keeping students learning. This Daft Punk song makes me smile. The lyrics feel like an instruction from up above: “work it harder, make it better, do it faster, make us stronger”. It also ends with the warning “our work is never done” – things can always be improved and perfected (through technology). But despite this it is still upbeat and I love electronic music!”

Husna Ahmed, a Learning Technologist at the RAU requested ‘With a Little Help from my Friend’s, the classic song by the Beatles. She said:

The song sums up how we work in our learning technology bubble, as we learn form one another and support each other all the time”.

The song received a positive reaction on Twitter.

With a little Help from my Friends

Music became an important part of the lockdown experience. It has been argued that listening to music during lockdown while working from home can have a positive impact (Flach, 2020). My ‘quarantune’ which was ‘In My House’ by The Cornshed Sisters (@Cornsheds). As I said during the show, the song is a lockdown classic! The experience of both being in a house and working from home during lockdown was a reality for many learning technologists and particularly for my role at RAU operating in a remote capacity. We also sang this song in the Pop Choir led by members of The Cornshed Sisters which took place online on the Zoom meeting platform throughout lockdown. Radio has its own language and literacy. For example, I also created some audio ‘stings’ or “short musical phrases” to be used to personalise the content and put an ALT stamp on the radio show (Audionetwork, 2020). It felt important to curate a show that would be relevant to the listeners, who were working with learning technology so I included the Windows Song which was well received.

Tweet

Ultimately, the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) online summer summit proved that it is still possible to engage people in an online capacity. I asked myself how the experience of DJ-ing live helped me to become a better Learning Technologist. Being a live DJ involved preparing music, reflecting on how to create an engaging show, learning how to use new software and tools, working as part of a team, communicating effectively, learning from others, solving problems quickly and making mistakes and learning from them. These are all activities that effective Learning Technologists do on a daily basis. Pedagogically, using audio in learning and teaching can improve the digital student experience in a variety of ways. Students could create their own radio stations and podcasts. A lot of the DJ software is free which really helps to make working with audio more accessible. My radio journey has just begun. When I lived and wokred in London, I visited Abbey Road Studios in May 2018 and hoped that I could get back into the studio again.

Abbey Road

The Abbey Road Institute identified a list of free music tools to help people create music during lockdown here. One of my favourite tools was the Minimoog Model D Synthesizer IOS mobile application.

MoogTaking part in an online radio project enabled me to create music and content from a home studio. In future, I hope to create further shows and support other educators to work effectively with audio in their pedagogical contexts. What types of stories can we tell with music and radio? The pandemic has been an opportunity to explore different ways of engaging and connecting with people. Radio is a creative way to do this. If necessity is the mother of invention, then radio was the Learning Technologist of innovation.

You can listen to the show here.

Explore some of the tweets from the summit by following the hashtags: #altc and #altcsummit. Check out the Wakelet collection for the summit here.

Listen to The Thursday Night Show here.

A big thank you to Dominic Pates for his support and to the Association of Learning technologists (ALT) for the opportunity to contribute to the online summer summit.

Bibliography

Freesound Download List

Downloaded on August 24th, 2020

Module design on the Catalyst project

Background

2½ years ago the RAU, in collaboration with UCEM and CCRI, started on the development of four new postgraduate and undergraduate programmes in what’s called the “Catalyst project”. The new programmes are designed to stimulate and support enhanced leadership in the land management and agri-food sectors, especially suited to the post-Brexit era that meets the unprecedented combination of challenges posed by the rapidly changing political, economic and natural environments.

The first stage of the Catalyst project was to write the programme and module specifications. The programmes have been created in conjunction with CCRI and RAU’s industry partners, including the National Trust, Waitrose and National Farmers’ Union, to carefully tailor the programmes to meet skills gaps and respond to changes in industry trends.

Once the specifications were in place, the Learning technology team worked on developing processes for the pedagogical and technical design and development of the programmes and modules.

 

Development of processes

Prior to starting module development we worked with UCEM, who specialise in online education, to develop processes for the design of our modules, taking best practices in pedagogy and online learning into account. Extensive research and conversations with other education organisations has gone into the development of module templates, design processes and academic training.

 

Postgraduate programmes development process

During the second stage of the Catalyst project, we developed two online postgraduate programmes: MBA Innovation in Sustainable Food and Agriculture and MSc Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy.

We designed a 12-week module design process, with “on-time” training sessions to support the academics in their design and development. This process has been adapted from UCEM’s module development processes and works in stages.

This process uses UCEM’s model named “Student Outcome Led Design (SOLD)”; meaning that the final assessment is designed first, focusing on assessing the module learning outcomes, and the module is designed to develop the skills the students need to complete the assessment.

To kick off the design and development of the modules, the Learning technology team hosts a “Start-up day”, a day-long workshop consisting of multiple stages:

  1. Introductory training in module design, accessibility, design processes, online learning tools.
  2. Module conversations based on question cards designed to stimulate the thought process and familiarisation with the module
  3. Assessment design based on the module’s learning outcomes
  4. Planning “themes” based on the learning outcomes and final assessment
  5. Planning formative assessments – working towards the final assessment
  6. Planning weekly “learning points” i.e. what will the students learn this week?

The Start-up day is hosted with around 6-7 module leads and two Learning technologists in a room to allow for easy sharing of ideas and experiences.

startup day

After the start-up day, the academics go and speak to colleagues, library etc. to gather ideas and resources for their module, prior to a 1-1 design & planning session with a Learning technologist to flesh out the content further into learning activities and to write an action plan for development. This module design is written out into a templated sheet for a Quality review meeting with the programme lead, an additional academic with an interest in the subject and where possible one of our external partners. This meeting is an open discussion to discuss the module design prior to its development.

Once the module design has gone through the Quality review, the module lead, contributors and the Learning technologists develop the online learning activities over the next 10 weeks. The Learning technology team provides academics with templated sheets to write their content in, so it’s ready to be turned into online learning activities and consistent with other modules on the programme. These templates have clear instructions for the academics and links to short training pages. During the whole process, each module has a lead Learning technologist the academics are able to contact when they get stuck, need guidance or would like to brainstorm ideas for an activity. The learning technologists will also create the activities on the VLE.

The full design templates document consists of five steps:

  1. Learning outcomes and questions to think about
  2. Summative assessment(s)
  3. Themes: plan topics and put them in a logical order
  4. Learning points and activities: what will the students learn each week? What activities can be created for the students to learn that and how can they check their learning?
  5. Full activities: write out the content and gather resources and media, to be provided to a Learning technologist using a templated sheet.

During week 7 of the development stage, the Learning technology team hosts an informal “Show & Tell session”, where the module leads get to show off what they’ve done so far and share ideas with other academics going through the process.

Show and tell

In the final week of development, the Quality review team for the module comes together again to discuss the final result.

This process has been repeated twice to develop all modules on the post-graduate Catalyst programmes within an academic year. These programmes have now successfully run for their first year and the programme team has received great feedback from the students.

 

Adapting the process to development of new Undergraduate Catalyst programmes

The third stage of the Catalyst project consists of developing two Undergraduate programmes: BSc Rural Entrepreneurship and Enterprise and BSc Environment, Food and Society. These programmes are more campus-based and focus on innovative teaching methods as well as a proportion of online learning.

For this stage, we used the previous processes and adapted them based on lessons learned, as well as redesigning the templates to work for campus-based teaching. Additionally, we combined our previous processes with UCL’s ABC Learning design methods.

To adapt to the Covid-19 situation, we’ve had to scrap our Start-up days and are now using an online version of UCEM’s Design jam model on a module-by-module basis. For each module, we schedule in an initial three-hour Design jam with two Learning technologists, the module lead and one or two academics with an interest in the subject. As we are all currently working from home, we are using MS Teams and Sharepoint to facilitate the Design Jams: we use a Teams call to be able to discuss and share ideas as a group, while we all have a synchronously updated Word template opened up on Sharepoint to write out the ideas we have for the module design.

The Design Jam consists of a few stages:

  1. Introduction to the process by a Learning technologist
  2. Module basics: Learning outcomes and questions to think about before designing your module
    Module basics
  3. Writing the summative assessment task(s)
  4. Learning overview: weekly topics, learning points (what will the students learn this week) and opportunities to check student learning. Academics are asked to highlight the relevant learning outcomes for each week.
  5. Learning design: the activities, media and resources to be used or created for each week. Activities are designed within four to five weekly stages: Online introduction, Online lecture, Online activities, Face-to-face seminar and Online knowledge check (optional). UCL’s ABC learning design method is used at this stage to provide an even balance of activity types: Acquisition, Collaboration, Discussion, Investigation, Practice and Production.
    ABC
  6. Action planning: an action register is created for the development of the module.

After the Design jam, the academics have some time to discuss their ideas with colleagues, library etc. The module lead, collaborators and Learning technologists work according to the action plan to develop their content. The programme team regularly comes together to check progress and quality of each module.

These programmes will run starting from September ’20.

 

The future

Over the last two years, academics and Learning technologists have learned a lot about online teaching & learning and learning design. A lot of the lessons we have learned during the project have been heavily used during the pivot to online for all RAU programmes when the Covid lockdown started.

Academics who have taken part in the Catalyst project are already using what they’ve learned and the design processes for the modules they run on other programmes. We plan on further expanding the use of the processes to all new and old RAU programmes.

Dēng gāo bì zì: Delivering online teaching in China

In the fourth blog post in our series on the delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU), Bonnie and Lola from Sinocampus are taking the baton and sharing their perceptions and reflections about our online teaching delivery experience.

Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sinocampus

Bonnie Wang (left) and Lola Huo (right) from Sinocampus

Due to the influence of the epidemic, not only our lecturers, but also the students cannot return to campus. All the students in SDAU have had to study and take the online classes at home. After discussion, the format of 3 pre-recorded lectures and 1 interactive session per day for each module was set.

Pre-recorded Lectures

For the pre-recorded lectures, Marieke and Pip opened the permissions on the Panopto videos and shared the lectures’ links to us so that we could download the videos. As we have mentioned in the previous post, attendance accounts for 30% of the marks. In order to urge students acquire the knowledge better, make students study as if they were in the classroom settings, and record their attendance, we decided to play the pre-recorded lectures for students in the form of normal classes with 45 mins of each. At first, we would like to use Zoom to play the lectures. However, it was found out that Zoom has suspended all new user registration in China. After searching and discussion, we finally found VooV meeting to deliver the lectures instead of Zoom. VooV meeting is free to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak to help people stay connected while working remotely. It supports up to 300 participants and offers secure, reliable, convenient and cloud-based HD conferencing services so we can host video meetings freely. But it cannot directly play web videos because the sound will be distorted. Luckily, after further study of this software, we found later that the videos downloaded to the computers could be played well with no worry of affected sound. Furthermore, unlike Zoom, VooV meeting cannot provide attendance monitoring reports to us. Thus we had to check the participants one by one by ourselves and keep an eye on them when they were listening to the lectures. At the end of the day, we would organize all the video links for different lectures and send them to the students for review. Besides this, we also reminded them not to spread the Panopto videos outside.

A picture of pre-recored lectures delivered by VooV Meeting

A picture of pre-recored lectures delivered by VooV Meeting

Interactive Sessions

The interactive sessions were conducted via Zoom using the RAU account. All the students loved this part very much since they could communicate with the lecturers directly and discuss questions they didn’t understand with teachers. One problem we encountered was that some meetings were conflicted at the beginning because there were two or three interactive sessions for different courses at the same time normally. But as we mentioned, the same host cannot host two or more meetings simultaneously with the same account. Thanks to Pip, this problem has been solved perfectly. We also took part in the interactive sessions with the lecturers and students and followed through. Once any problem happened, we contacted the corresponding people immediately.

A picture of interactive sessions on Zoom

A picture of interactive sessions on Zoom

After three whole weeks of teaching and learning, we asked for teaching observations from our students on their lecturers. It is apparent that the students generally think highly of teachers and the online teaching.

Student Joy said excitedly that every academic year’s foreign teacher curriculum is his most anticipated part, and this year is no exception. He didn’t expect to receive such high-quality teaching from foreign teachers even under the influence of the epidemic. When we asked his reflections about the online teaching, he added that:

Everyone’s enthusiasm for learning has not been reduced even if we are online. We could see the fast rolling barrage in each session. The interactive session not only stimulates my interest and determination to participate in the discussion, but also makes me feel the sense of responsibility and deep concern of foreign teachers across the ocean.

Student Mike also said,

The two ways of online teaching — pre-recorded lectures and interactive sessions — complement each other, providing students with a good learning atmosphere, improving our learning enthusiasm and promoting our autonomous learning ability.

Almost all the students who were interviewed stated that they are really looking forward to the next meeting of foreign teachers! We think the high evaluations of students should be contributed to the efforts all the staff working on this project have taken. However, we knew that we still need to keep working in the future. Thus we will make best use of the advantages and bypass the disadvantages to better improve the teaching quality, promote the projects and strengthen the cooperation.

The stone tablet of Dēng gāo bì zì at the foot of Mount Tai

The stone tablet of Dēng gāo bì zì at the foot of Mount Tai

Dēng gāo bì zì (登高必自) is a stone tablet at the foot of Mount Tai and also the motto of SDAU, representing that climbing must start from a low place. We believe this is just our first step and we would climb higher and do better in the future.

Summer skills 2020

In the next week or so we will be launching our Summer skills sessions 2020. These ‘sessions’ have been designed to support our academics with delivery of the RAU blended curriculum for the next academic year.

The sessions are an online Moodle course that cover three main areas:

  • Academic staff induction
  • Preparing for the next academic year
  • Taking it to the next level

study skills

Academic staff induction is recommended for new staff or staff who want to ensure their skills are up to date. It covers:

  • Library and resource management skills including copyright and open access
  • VLE skills including Gateway and Turnitin
  • Panopto skills (beginner) including an introduction to Panopto
  • An overview of RAU Learning and teaching systems

Preparing for the next academic year is recommended for all academic staff. It supports our new blended learning curriculum and covers:

  • VLE skills including updating module pages
  • Digital accessibility skills
  • Panopto skills (intermediate) including Panopo captioning
  • Online teaching skills including best practice tips, self-directed learning and basic quizzes
  • Onsite seminar skills including bringing in people from online to seminars

Taking it to the next level is recommended for academic staff who want to build on existing skills. It covers:

  • Online activity skills including Moodle quizzes advanced level
  • Panopto skills (advance) including adding quizzes
  • ePortfolio skills including editing Mahara
  • H5P skills

The course content is predominately made up of short captioned videos, though there are also quizzes, online activities and links to existing good practice on other course pages.

The course has activity completion activated and academics can mark off the content they have covered when completed. They can follow their progress in the completion progress bar.

completion

There are also digital badges available if people complete all the activities in an area.

badges

Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi: Delivering online teaching in China

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.

IMG_9810

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.

Assessment

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

Bibliography

Yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn: Delivering online teaching in China

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

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:

  1. Setting up an account for the SDAU Sinocampus staff and allowing them to deliver the content from Gateway during lessons
  2. 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:

  1. Delivering the videos through an alternate video service like Stream, or another Webinar service
  2. Downloading the videos and sharing either through Gateway or some other online service (depending on which service works in China)
  3. Downloading the videos and sharing through a file transfer service
  4. Downloading the videos and sharing using old school methods such as CDs, memory sticks etc.

If the students fail to return to campus:

  1. Allowing the students to access the Panopto content themselves using open links
  2. 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.

Pre-recorded content

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

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

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.

At RAU the academic leads on the project are Xianmin Chang and Steve Finch.

SDAU Systems

During this time we began to understand the SDAU systems that were being used a little better.

These include:

  • 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.

Communities: Support through sharing

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.

Their website now features an article entitled Communities shining through COVID-19 which features some quotes from e-learning people including yours truly! Communities also featured very heavily in their most recent Jisc Inform. And you might be able to catch me at the start of this great video on the importance of communities (22 seconds in).

 

The communities idea stems from our Jisc community champions work at Digifest earlier this year.

Sometimes it is tricky to look outward when you are so busy, but for me it is what has kept us all going.

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