Digifest 2020: Bears, Holograms and Gen Z

This year’s Digifest transformed the Birmingham ICC into a futuristic looking Blade runner set with Holograms and VR at every corner. I’m not sure we are quite there yet at the RAU but it was still interesting to see. I was there as a community champion but still had time to browse the programme. The opening video was amazing.

AI Hologram presenter

Hearing from Gen Z

Two of this year’s plenaries were delivered by representatives from the Gen Z generation.

Jonah Stillman (co-author of Gen Z Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace) shared some thoughts on the differences between Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012) and Millenials (born between 1980 and 1994). While the talk didn’t go down too well with the audience (Generational talks rarely do, too much generalisation) I found many of Jonah’s observations rang true. Gen Z are realistic, driven, and exist in a state of survival mode (given the state of our environment and economy). They are also the first generation to grow up with digital, making it nearly impossible to dazzle them with technology. Some have begun to refer to them as the ‘phigital’ generation because they don’t differentiate between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both. These traits have significant implications for how we deliver learning and teaching and the boomers in the audience should listen up!

Jonah Stillman presents

Jonah Stillman presents

In her talk entitled ‘The hidden filter’ Hayley Mulenda shared the inspiring story of her struggle with mental health issues: “I found my degree but I lost myself“. Hayley spoke honestly about her, and her friends’ difficulties in navigating the modern world and student life. Her advice was that we be aware of other peoples hidden filters and don’t aim for perfection, aim for progression. She also appealed to educators to be honest and open with their students: “We don’t need more role models we need more real models“. As institutions we need to be directing people to professional help and support and the sector needs to explore how we can ensure early intervention and engage parents and guardians (when possible).

Here’s one I made earlier

I’m always looking out for ideas I can take back to the RAU. This year my favourites were:

  • Catriona Matthews and the team at the University Warwick have been experimenting with delivering academic skills (those important skills you need students to learn that don’t relate directly to their discipline) in innovative ways. They’ve begun to refer to an ongoing induction and have found 20 minute lecture interventions to work really well, especially when the interventions are practical and contextualised. Also the students attend the session because it is tagged on to a core lecture.
  • Worcestershire council shared their SCULPT framework to help staff create accessible resources. An incredibly useful resource and I’ve already linked to it from our VLE.
  • In his talk on Climate Control on the journey to zero waste Jamie E. Smith, executive chairman, C-Learning talked about how we should making sure the right procurement (and other) policies are in place to make sure we make the best environmental choices in our organisations. Jamie’s suggestions included a move to cloud technology, recruitment processes that included assessment of digital skills, strategic workforce development and flexible working. I enjoyed his story on how he removed all the printers from a previous place of employment! Sometimes radical is the only way!
  • The main coffee break conversation topic was (unsurprisingly) Coronavirus. We compared business continuity plans and shared tales of internal Covid-19 committees. The Microsoft stand was busy with people asking how they could rollout Teams in under a week. The Teams webinar series and the Enable Remote Learning Community could prove useful.
  • The AbilityNet session on accessibility came up with some useful tools including Call Scotlandmy computer my way and my study my way. I also love the idea of microkindness (the opposite of microaggression), it’s really just another name for inclusive design
The accessibility panel

The accessibility panel

The closing plenary on day one was delivered by Lindsay Herbert, Author of Digital Transformation. Lindsay introduced us to the idea of the bear in the room – those problem that drain all your time and will rip your organisation apart. This is contrast to the elephant in the room which of course people chose to ignore. You need to get to the heart of these problems and progress and the rub is that you can’t adapt to major change without technology.

Lindsay presents

Lindsay Herbert presents

Lindsay’s key thoughts and examples were:

  • Real transformation starts with a problem worth solving (that aligns to a mission)
    • Danish oil and natural gas applied their experience to wind energy after asking themselves what was their core mission? Selling oil or providing energy for Denmark?
    • Rijksmuseum decided to go down the no tech in galleries route, but images of all their collections are released as highres on their website, copyright free.
  • Real transformation needs lots of people from lots of sources – it will be too big to solve alone
    • Netflix’s mission is entertaining the world, hence original content. They work with independents, they don’t decide on next big thing by analysing past behaviour, they need expertise from a lot of sources.
    • The Guardian don’t put their content behind a paywall, online is their priority and they have a two tier sponsorship model
    • The United nations refugee agency website wouldn’t display on a mobile phone despite most of their clients using a mobile.
  • Real transformation is learned and earned and not purchased – We tend to outsource when there could be a better way.
    • Ecolab made water purification systems but ended up merging the company rather contracting out work.
    • Harvard had a new tool but university policy dictated a minimum of 5 years experience and it might have been easier to hire freelancers. Instead they c changed the hiring policy.

There was a lot of valuable stuff in Lindsay’s talk and I’ve actually ordered her book. My plan is to get the highlighter out, mark it up and leave it on random senior leaders’ desks! She left us inspired by encouraging us to build wide support for the change want:  “You might not have the seniority to go right up the ladder, but you definitely have the influence to go right across.”

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Bett 2020 – Day 3

On Friday the 24th of January, I attended the Bett Show conference. Bett is one of the largest education technology conferences in the world, with over 800 leading companies, 103 EdTech startups and 34,000 attendees [1]. Not only is there a large exhibition of many eLearning technology providers, you can also attend useful seminars hosted by leaders in the field.

Marieke had attended the Bett show as well on Wednesday the 22nd of January; have a read of her blog post here.

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Welcome to the Bett show

Upon arrival to the Bett show, I had a quick orientation walk around of the conference, where I came upon Clevertouch (the provider of the touchscreens RAU is currently rolling out) hosting a session on how to use their touchscreens in creative ways in the classroom and how to use the connectivity options to get students to play an active role in learning.

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Clevertouch’s session on using their screens in the classroom

After the Clevertouch session, I made my way to the HE/FE theatre for a talk by Simon Kay from South Gloucestershire and Stroud Colleges, who spoke about how they have successfully rolled out MS Teams across their campuses and the creative ways in which they are using MS Teams for teaching & learning, as well as communication.

As RAU is currently in the process of rolling out MS Office (which Teams is a part of), it was very useful to see how they went about designing their platform and providing support and training for their students and staff.

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Simon Kay explaining how they launched their MS Teams platform amongst the students and staff

Straight after the session by Simon Kay, I remained in the HE/FE theatre for a talk on Smart campuses and how Universities in the USA are using technology to improve:

  • student learning, for example being able to check from anywhere on the campus which study spaces have computers available
  • student on campus living, for example being able to check on your phone whether there’s equipment available in the gym or what’s available for lunch
  • sustainability and cost reduction, for example lighting that turns on and off automatically
  • security, for example unlocking doors with your badge, CCTV and even an AI system that can identify the sound and location of gunfire and trigger a response plan accordingly
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Richard Nedwich explaining the different elements of a Smart campus and how they link together via cloud technologies

The next seminar I attended was by Abi James of AbilityNet, who explained what accessibility means and what public bodies (including Universities) need to do to adhere to new accessibility regulations. Part of this is ensuring that your websites and VLE’s are easy to use by people with a range of SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities). Abi went on to explain how you can test and improve your webpages for this purpose and spoke about what writing a mandatory accessibility statement entails.

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Abi James explaining the principles of Accessibility

After a little break, I had a walk around the exhibition. It was very interesting to see the diverse range of eLearning tools that are available and what they are used for. Some of the tools on display included:

  • Software, such as VLE’s, e-learning tools, apps, communication platforms, student registration tools, learning management solutions etc.
  • Learning materials, such as e-books, publishers and learning programmes
  • Hardware, such as learning robots, virtual reality kits, touch screens, interactive projectors and other devices
  • Furniture for creating smart classrooms and huddle spaces, as well as laptop/tablet safes

There was also a large section of the exhibition dedicated to a “Global Showcase” where people from different countries such as Norway, Korea, Saudi Arabia and France showed how they use technology for teaching and learning. In addition, there was a strong focus on SEND and student wellbeing, with Friday being dubbed “SEND Friday”.

As my last seminar of the day, I attended “Unified communication via the Cloud”, where Scott Somenthal spoke about how Universities can use “the Cloud” to connect different communication tools, after which it was time to make the trek back to Cirencester.

During the Bett show, I have gained many new insights and ideas, which are now to be digested and used in the RAU LT team’s work.

Shiny new tools

We are introducing a couple of new digital tools for the start of the new academic year. Note that all tools still need to be set up, tested and piloted.

Sim Venture Evolution

We already use Sim Venture Classic on some of our business modules but will now be adding in Evolution for our blended and distance learning students. Evolution is a business strategy simulation that is highly aligned with pedagogic approaches and subject-based learning. We have already written about our recent Evolution training day.

SimVenture-Evolution-JPeg-image-HighRes

Zoom

ZoomZoom is a video conferencing and webinar tool.

We will be using it primarily on our Catalyst programmes but also hope to run some other webinars relevant to prospective students or industry partners.

We will be integrating Zoom with Gateway (our VLE) and Panopto to support sign on and storage.

Browsealoud

Browsealoud is an additional tool from texthelp who make Read&Write. We are considering adding it to the portfolio – no definite decision yet.

It is a plug in that we will be adding to Gateway to help users with accessibility and productivity. It allows users have web pages read to them and converted to MP3 files.

Browsealoud

So what new tools is your Learning Tech team introducing? Do share!

Supporting Mental Health and Wellbeing

Happy New year!

January is definitely the time of year for boosting your mental health and wellbeing. At the RAU we’ve been improving our support services, both offline and online. Some of our activities include:

  • Revamps of a number of our Gateway (moodle) pages including the ones for Student support; Dyslexia and Disability support; Assertive technology and our Big Yellow Button FAQ service

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personal

The support we provide to students is an area the RAU pride ourselves on. We will continue to improve our online services in this area.

Accessibility, VLES and web sites

Last week we had our first cross-institutional meeting looking at the new European Union (EU) Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications and its implications for the RAU. The regulations came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018 and state that websites or mobile apps must be made ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’.

At there meeting there were staff representatives from marketing, digital, IT, the Catalyst programme, student engagement and disability support.

A little background information:

  • RAU has a very high number of dyslexic students (around 250 dyslexic students, or 20-25% of the student body)
  • There is a main page on the website that deals with this area, internally there are several VLE pages that cover disability support and assistive technology
  • There is a generic email address available – dyslexia.disability@rau.ac.uk 
  • IT support a significant number of accessibility tools including: Read&write, Sensus access, Dragon, mind mapping tools

The group agreed a number of actions and areas for consideration and will be meeting again early next year to share our progress.

Jisc online briefing

We also sent (virtually) a few people along to the Jisc online briefing on New regulations, new risks which took place earlier today. There were 209 attendees so definitely a hot topic area!

jisc

The briefing began with some polls that suggested that on the whole the HE sector is beginning to get ready for the regulation but isn’t there yet. It then went on to explore the main recommendations:

  • To make your VLE and website perceivable, operable, understandable and robust
  • To publish a model accessibility statement on your website that details what content is not accessible and the alternatives provided (a model is provided). It should give a single point of contact for problems.

There will be future work to create a Further/Higher Education (FHE) Digital Accessibility Working Group. Questions on the regulations can be sent to the Accessibility regulations Jisc mail group.