There has always been a buzz around education for me and I started my journey by volunteering at playgroup when my eldest child joined. A primary school gardening club followed and, around then, I decided that I wasn’t interested in my ‘office job’ anymore and started to study with The Open University. I will always be grateful for the chance to study alongside of work and family, an opportunity that eventually bridged the gap between my A Levels and an MSc in Medicinal Chemistry. Consequently, I fell in love with both education and science but could never quite decide which bit of science I preferred, although one of my absolute highlights was a week-long residential at the Astronomical Observatory of Mallorca. Cloud scuppered the chance of observing almost anything I had studied in my Astronomy module but the experience of working with lecturers and students, and using the equipment and techniques, was priceless.
Shortly after completing my degree in Natural Science, I trained to teach secondary science with a physics specialism, and started my career in education. It’s hard to beat the buzz and excitement of a busy classroom but I have also gained a lot from working with individuals in focused support or tutoring roles. Personalised support has allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of individual learning challenges and it is so rewarding to help students make progress – particularly when those, hardened to disappointment, realise that they can achieve. Another highlight during this period was volunteering on a youth programme run by the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. These workshops were collaborations with the local universities and industry experts, and it was wonderful to work outside of the curriculum, guiding teams of students who had chosen to spend their Saturday mornings doing science!
The thrill of practical science attracted me to my most recent role as Senior Science Technician in a small secondary school. Working with subject experts to develop activities to support learning is very rewarding. There is never a one size fits all, regardless of a shared curriculum, experienced teachers know the challenges of their subject and will carefully select activities around their students’ needs. Outside of that though the role demands good chemical knowledge, safe hands, the ability to plan and manage a rapid turnaround of equipment across multiple labs and lessons, and the ability to fudge something that just doesn’t work as it should!
My journey has brought so many rich experiences, and a deep appreciation of educational opportunity. So, here we are. Equipped with a love of learning, a tendency to produce visual guides for everything, a need to be organised and to organise, and a strong desire not to let the digital world move on without me – the RAU has ended up with me as the newest member of their Learning Technology Team. I am very much looking forward to working on projects and excited to get involved with the learning areas.
What is Edupunk? Edupunk could be argued to be an approach to pedagogy that involves a do-it-yourself philosophy whilst embracing a rebellion towards tools used in a wider capacity and a rejection of commercial approaches. It has been referred to as an “…ideology referring to educators and education strategies with a do it yourself (DIY) spirit” (Lam in Wheeler, 2008). The New York Times defined Edupunk as …”an approach to teaching that avoids mainstream tools like PowerPoint and Blackboard, and instead aims to bring the rebellious attitude and D.I.Y. ethos of “70s bands like the Clash to the classroom” (The New York Times, 2008). Perhaps it is the case that “…true Edupunks deride definitions as tools of oppression used by defenders of order and conformity” (Downes, 2008). It is possible to access a series of five YouTube videos entitled EDUPUNK Battle Royale where you can hear Jim explore Edupunk. In ‘EDUPUNK Battle Royale – Part 1’, Jim explored Edupunk as a “metaphor” (Groom in educoz, 2009). Whilst “Metaphors are not just a matter of language…” we could ask what Edupunk really is (Johnson & Lakoff, 1980: p6). Perhaps Edupunk is more, a “meme”, “ideology”, “‘stylistic approach” and a “Zeitgeist moment” (Groom in educoz, 2009). However, we choose to define Edupunk, the term Edupunk has been “…widely discussed in educational-technology circles-with some people excited about it, and others arguing that professors should use tools provided…” (Young, 2009)
The critical question is: what did punk got to do with learning technology?
Wheeler (2013) created a YouTube video to explore Edupunk. He explained that punk has a number of characteristics: loud, subversive and energy, about doing things for yourself. It could be argued that in the same way that the music in the 1970s was in need of revitalisation and was re-energised by punk music, our “tired education system” was brought to life by Edupunk too (Wheeler, 2013). He asks the critical question show is punk relevant to education? He identifies that Edupunk is about being a “self-starter”, and rejecting centralised controlled systems (Wheeler, 2013). It is about embracing the ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ approach in terms of making the most of what you have to create learning experiences. Wheeler draws on Levi-Strauss’ (1962) notion of bricolage as being a way to making the most of what is available to enable the creation of something else from The Savage Mind (1962) Perhaps this is what good educators do without realising (Levi-Strauss, 1962 in Wheeler, 2013). According to Mambrol (2016) the bricoleur is concerned with “mythological narratives” and the conversely the engineer with the “scientific mind” (Mambrol, 2016). To some extent, perhaps Learning Technologists are bricoleurs and digital engineers. We have to work with the tools we have to enhance teaching and learning with technology.
The next critical question is: what does Edupunk still got to do with learning technology now?
Wheeler (2013) also identifies Edupunk as being about rhizomatic learning, personalised education, taking ownership of your own learning and traditional learning identities and relationships can change (Wheeler, 2013). All of these things are still important to Learning Technologists now. It could be argued that Edupunk is fundamentally against techno-capitalism. This is still a challenge. In a blog post in 2008, Wheeler also discusses how Edupunk “stalks” the institution due to social network tools and free platforms (Wheeler, 2008). To some extent, Edupunk is still challenging institutions. “Anarchists take into account that knowledge is produced through situated processes” (Haworth, 2012: p6). How do we want to produce knowledge?. It can be argued that anarchism can divide opinion. It can be perceived as “…a sign of intellectual bankruptcy; by others as a sort of treason, a desertion of the democratic front…by still others as merely poetic nonsense” (Read, 1974: p56 in Suissa, 2006: p1).
Jim Groom (@jimgroom) who is organising the OER Open Education Conference this year is pictured in the image and is credited for creating the notion of Edupunk (Ebner, 2009). He argues that Edupunk has “hit a nerve” and provides us with a critical space to think about “how we think about our learning in terms of our culture” and “brings the logic of culture back into teaching and learning” (Groom in educoz, 2009).
The final critical question is: what does edupunk still got to do with learning technology?
Drawing on Edupunk as an approach to open education can be a constructive foundation on which to base best practice in terms of both working with what we have and sharing what we can. Edupunk is still unequivocally still relevant. Perhaps this could the age of Neo-EduPunkor Post Digital EduPunk? For me, being a Learning Technologist is about being equally critical as enthusiastic about educational technology. Cole (2005) describes the power struggle between the cyberpunk and the megacorporations where “power is imposed by a system of social domination” (Cole, 2005: p259 in Eli, 2017). Edupunk can give us a space to think about open education. It can be exciting to be one of the “…rebellious professors who were interested in deconstructing education from the inside” (Kamenetz, 2011). Is it possible to be a polite techno-anarchist? Jim, if you are reading this, “The fluorescent lighted space of the LMS” could be the title next punk album and I would love to be a part of it (Groom in educoz, 2009).
If you want to find out more about Edupunk, heck out The Edupunks’ Guide by Anya Kamenetz (2011) here and her blog DIY-U here. Kamenetz also has a book with a helpful resource guide for Do-It-Yourself Education (Kamenetz, 2010: p136).
Nørgård, T, T (2021) What comes after the ruin? Speculative design for preferable university futures [Online]. in PaTHES Fall 2021 Thematic Webinar Series on “Foresight, speculative design and preferable higher education futures. September 2021.
After 3 years at the Royal Agricultural University, I will be moving on in the new year and taking up the position of Learning Technologies Production Manager at the University College of Estate Management (UCEM). I’ve had an amazing time at RAU and am really sad to leave my colleagues.
Before I go I’d like to highlight some of the things we (not just me!) have achieved over the last 3 year in the Learning Technology team.
Since November 2017 we have:
Increased the team from one person to four people. You may remember that I gave this presentation at the 2018 ALT conference about growing a learning technology culture in which I reflected on being in a one-person team.
Taken a strategic approach to our Gateway (Moodle) site. This has mainly been through the VLE working group, which comprises of ITS staff, library staff and academics.
Enforced a regular upgrade cycle for Gateway (Moodle). This has involved upgrading the version (- in 2017 we were on version 2.7, we are now on 3.8.3), creating blank templates/pages for modules, creating a Baseline for academic staff to follow, introducing a testing process and following a set timeline.
Improved Gateway’s content and design. The front pages have been redesigned, content has been audited and updated. There is now a Gateway user group to support non-academics with page editing.
Embedded use of the Panopto video management system. Panopto was in place three years ago but was underused by academics. We have trained staff and put in place processes that enabled us to deliver video content for all modules for the blended curriculum. We’ve also carried out a lot of media content creation.
Introduced Mahara ePortfolio.Mahara was another tool that we had but weren’t using. We have trained staff and began using ePortfolios on a number of modules.
Moved mid-module feedback surveys online. Also supported the NSS and internal Student Satisfaction Survey.
Found out what our staff and student think using the Jisc Digital insights survey. The survey has run for the last three years.
Improved digital accessibility at the RAU. Through creation of the digital accessibility group, writing a VLE accessibility statement, automation of caption creation on Panopto, supporting various accessibility tools including Browsealoud and TextHelp.
Implemented Talis Aspire reading lists. This system now supports all our book purchasing and module resources lists.
Improved our publications repository offering. The RAU are a member of the GuildHE CREST site. The site has been improved and processes established to support the submission of publications to the repository and the next REF.
Implemented myday mobile and desktop app. The myRAU app is now available to all students.
Procured Vevox as the new Student Response system.Vevox will be fully implemented in the new year.
Project managed the Office 365 implementation. Elements of this, such as Teams, have been expedited due to the need for online delivery. Other elements such as the Intranet remain outstanding. This has been, and continues to be, a significant piece of work.
Participated in the Landex Learning Materials and Technology committee. This has allowed us to use H5P content from the land Based Learning Online site on our VLE.
Assisted curriculum development. Through participation on programme design groups, involvement in validation panels, leading on module design and design jams.
Delivered analytics and statistics. For the VLE, student reporting and annual statistics reports.
As the sun rises on this new dawn for higher education it is illuminating new digital models of learning and teaching, while at the same time casting a shadow of darkness across some traditional, increasingly old fashioned, ways of working.
David Maguire Interim principal and vice-chancellor, University of Dundee Chair, learning and teaching reimagined
The report finds the biggest challenges facing our sector to be:
Embed digital at the heart of university culture – Leadership and vision are essential for transformation as digital becomes a central feature of learning and teaching.
Invest in the short term but with a long-term strategic view – Most university learning and teaching infrastructures need significant upgrades to support the expansion of online learning and teaching. As this is a rapidly maturing field, careful long-term planning is needed to ensure investment is strategic.
Explore new economic models for high-quality blended learning at scale – Scaling up high-quality blended learning and teaching takes considerable time and investment. If the shift is to be sustainable, affordable and widespread, work is needed on the economics that will allow transformation.
Embrace blended learning in curriculum redesign – Focusing on learning design, with student involvement, will ensure that it achieves high-quality outcomes and makes a difference by shaping fully accessible and inclusive learning.
Expand the digital skills and confidence of students and staff – Significant and rapid progress has been made in improving the digital capabilities of students, staff and leaders but there is much more to be done, and increasing all-round digital confidence remains a priority.
Communicate the benefits of blended learning – We have evidenced a significant increase in the acceptance of digital learning and teaching but further attention is required to understand and meet shifting perceptions, both within and beyond the sector.
Strengthen the response to digital poverty – The digital divide was brought into sharp relief in 2020 with students’ differing levels of digital access. This remains a priority concern for all groups and additional resources are needed to level up opportunities.
We are facing many of these at the RAU. It has been a huge cultural shift to move online and there is still considerable work to be done in bringing the whole institution with us.
In order to counteract these challenges the report makes a series of recommendations. These make a good basis for any future planning.
Universities to use their strategic and structural planning processes to effect the digital transformation of learning and teaching, ensuring that sponsorship is provided by governing bodies and executive teams.
Universities to review their strategic investment in digital learning and teaching.
Universities to make investment plans to mitigate the heightened cyber security risks that arise from greater dependence on digital technologies.
Universities to think radically about the scale and scope of their learning and teaching activities, prioritising blended learning approaches wherever possible.
Universities to accelerate the adoption of blended learning, with close involvement of students in all aspects from design to delivery.
Universities to ensure inclusivity and accessibility are integral considerations in curriculum redesign.
Universities to ensure their professional development plans include digital training, peer support mechanisms and reward and recognition incentives to encourage upskilling.
Universities and sector organisations to establish research to remain in step with the changing digital preferences and expectations of prospective higher education students.
Universities, government and funders to provide additional funding or means to reduce digital poverty as a barrier to students accessing higher education.
There is a recording of the accompanying launch webinar which features VCs from Edinburgh, Aston, Falmouth and Sheffield Hallam, the CEO of AdvanceHE, director of policy at UUK and others.
Thanks again to Jisc for the report and accompanying materials.
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
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
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.
There are also digital badges available if people complete all the activities in an area.
I wrote and performed the TEL TALE immersive audio drama exploring the inner thoughts of Learning Technologis.. Check out epsiode 1 Blend it Like Beckham.
During Lockdown I presented at the PressEd2020 conference which takes place on Twitter exploring the use of WordPress, Education, Pedagogy and Research. Presentations invove a series of curated and time bound tweets. The presentation explored digital accessibility on WordPress. The Twitter ‘Moment’ can be found here – Close Encounters of the Accessible Kind.
On 22nd April the RAU had its first undergraduate online open day. The day was co-ordinated by marketing and combined a number of different elements.
Pre-recorded online introduction videos – From our Vice-chancellor and key academics. Many of the academic videos introducing our schools and programmes were delivered in Panopto.
Live Q&A/Chat sessions – These Zoom webinar sessions were for different academic subject areas but also covered support services (Admissions, student finance, bursaries; Accommodation, student support services and careers; Student life; International students). Sessions were facilitated by marketing but also included key staff and student union representatives.
Email follow ups – Attendees could follow up the sessions with provate conversations by sending in emails to key staff.
Chatbot – We have an RAU chatbot who can answer general questions about courses and other areas.
Other videos and support materials – A selection of other videos and web pages cover areas including a day in the life of a student, a virtual campus tour, social life at the RAU, bursaries, admissions and Coronavirus.
A list of our forthcoming open days is available from the RAU website.
We have now advertised for a Learning Technology support person to help us deliver high quality learning materials to our students. As those working in online learning will be aware, this is an incredibly busy time and there are a multitude of opportunities for those enthusiastic about technology and how it can support learning and teaching.
This is a 1-year fixed term post. Applicants can work remotely but may be required to attend meetings in Cirencester (when restrictions are lifted). The post is for an immediate start and applicants will be interviewed on an ongoing basis until the
position is filled. The interview will take place online.
These difficult times have resulted in a mass exodus from our work places and an exponential increase in home working. Prior to the outbreak Office for National Statistics data shows that only 8.7 million have ever worked from home in their current job, this is less than 30% of the workforce. The OFS fortnightly survey indicates that since the outbreak 46% of businesses have said that they have encouraged their staff to work from home in line with the government’s guidelines
For many this has been an abrupt and initially unwanted experience. As Matt Mullenweg, chief executive of WordPress and Tumble puts it in this Guardian article: “This is not how I envisioned the distributed work revolution taking hold”.
But for me it has felt a little like a flash back. I spent 8 years as a remote worker working and learned to love its quirks and embrace its benefits.
Ramblings of a Remote worker
My change in situation happened back in 2007 when looking after my young children whilst commuting to work became difficult and time consuming. The research department I was working in at the University of Bath was pretty forward thinking place and allowed me to start working from home provided I came on to site for important meetings. This approach meant that as a department we could recruit the best from round the country. I ended taking on a support role for our remote workers – at the time the biggest challenge was making sure that off site workers were not disadvantaged in relation to onsite workers – and it was at this point that my line manager recommended I start writing a blog to share my experiences. My blog was called Ramblings of a Remote Worker and by the time I closed it down in 2015 I had published 378 posts, which included 59 guest posts, had 914 comments and been linked to by over 2 thousand websites.
A tag cloud of the topics covered on my Remote worker blog
Even early on the blog took on a life of its own and I ended up being seen as a small-scale expert on the trials and tribulations of remote working (you can see my related presentations and publications, my Pinterest board, and my Slideshare). I’m not sure I was an expert just that not many people were blogging about it at the time. In 2009 I was lucky enough to win the remote worker of the year award and came home with a new laptop and a ticket for a weekend away at Cleveden house.
After leaving the University of Bath I moved to working for an completely distributed organisation. When I started at Open Knowledge (now Open Knowledge Foundation) we had a co-working hub office in London,. This was physical location at which to meet up, financial pressures at the time meant we stopped using it. Open Knowledge had hubs of people in particular locations (London, Cambridge, Berlin) but we comprised of employees from all around the world. This brought new challenges: how do you work remotely globally? What about time differences? Cultural differences? We would all meet each other twice a year for a week of intense face-to-face time. For many of us who had chosen to work as a part of a distributed team this physical experience was useful but also incredibly draining – you get good at working a certain way.
Working from home changed the way I worked. It turned me in to an open practitioner, someone who knows how to build community and work collaboratively. These things don’t come easy when you are far away from people and initially there is a tendency to over compensate and be a little needy. After a while you find your rhythm and settle on a balance of getting work done and networking with others.
Me back in 2009 as a remote worker
Why Covid-19 is causing home working fatigue
At the RAU most have risen to the remote working challenge and our IT department (from Service desk and systems analysts, to business analysts and us the Learning techs) have done a impressive job of supporting people. Our one-year Office 365 implementation plan has been squashed in to three weeks and staff are living and breathing tools they hadn’t even heard of a month ago.
Since I closed my blog in 2015 the world has moved on. The tools have changed (it is all Zoom and MS Teams right now), hardware has improved (I now have three screens!) and modern culture has shifted ( vlogging, streaming services, phygital experiences, mobile as default – see my recent post on Digifest and Gen Z). However some of the challenges remain the same.
While we are struggling though people are getting incredibly tired. This Twitter thread unpicks some of the reasons why online calls are so draining. Of course we musn’t forget that this exhaustion is exacerbated by our global stress level.
This drain is something that our academics will want to keep in mind for when they start online teaching. Despite their love of Facetime and mobile apps most students have not had to learn like this before.
My suggestions for us as an institution going forward are that we:
Try and have less catch up meetings and use asynchronous tools like chat to keep in touch.
Turn off video on calls. When training people my advice is that if you want to you can turn video on at the start at the call and wave at people, this can be particularly useful if you don’t know people, after that it isn’t needed. In fact with the broadband issues that most of us are facing it is preferable to not have video on.
Only attend meetings we really need to be at, for example if we are key in the decision making, or are taking minutes. People can share updates so we feel informed but there is nothing worse then sitting there for an hour having to listen to other people talk and not participating. Some communication forums (like an all-staff meeting) might be the exception, and of course there are regulatory reasons why some people must attend but the general rule is if I am surplus to requirements then set me free.
Are clear on the purpose of a meeting or catch up. If a meeting is informal then keep it informal and don’t make people attend unless they want to. There is definitely room for water cooler spaces and we need to build these in but at the moment people are so paranoid that people can’t see them working that they are actually making it difficult for themselves to work.
When your staff work from home you become an output driven organisation, rather than one where people clock watch. It is a big mindset shift and requires trust from employers and commitment from staff.
Missing each other
People often asked me why I ended up returning to a physical workplace after so long of working at home. The tipping point for me was reading an article (and I apologise for not being able to find the source) that said that once you had worked at home for 10 years you became institutionalised, or actually the opposite of institutionalised, in that you couldn’t return to the constraints of onsite working. I started to worry that this was true and I would spend the rest of my days without a ‘work home’. The time seemed right to move back to a physical location, my children were getting older and my home working set up had changed (my parents had moved in with us and so there were a lot more day-to-day distractions).
There are two main reasons I often cite for why I moved back. The first is the blurred boundaries between work and home – I became fed up with them. I would be hanging the washing out in my lunch break and finishing projects at midnight. I craved some clear lines between the work me and the home me. People used to joke about the concept of ‘working from home’, the air quote implying that people who work from home are skiving. I’ve never worked as hard as I did when I was a remote worker. It galvanized me. When you work from home you can’t hide behind office hours. It is like the difference between measuring physical attendance and engagement. I think many of those who viewed working from home as easy will be laughing on the other side of their faces now. Good home workers are dedicated, efficient and motivated. They are effectively ‘work grown ups’.
The second reason for why I moved back is the Christmas party. After a few Christmas parties on Google hangouts you start to yearn for a face-to-face party. Today people laugh at my enthusiasm for the Christmas party, but you always appreciate things more when you’ve been without. I’m sure now people will understand what I mean. As Keir Starmer said in his labour party leader acceptance speech on Saturday “Coronavirus has brought normal life to a halt. Our cities, our towns and our villages are silent, our roads deserted. Public life has all but come to a standstill and we’re missing each other.” I missed people then. And we all miss people now.
Remote working is a little like riding a bike. I feel that I have managed to get back on pretty quickly. The last few weeks have brought on a real sense of déjà vu and it has been interesting, and at times difficult, to watch people go through the learning experience of remote working that I recognise so well. The challenges aren’t always easy but our staff are doing a grand job and I think the skills they are learning (both digital and cultural) will really enhance our institution and create an empathetic and dedicated work force.