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.

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Online open day

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.

Online open day

  • 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.
  • chatbotLive 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.

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A list of our forthcoming open days is available from the RAU website.

Learning Technology Support person required

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.

A full person specification and details on how to apply are linked to from the RAU jobs page on our website.

If you’d like to know more about what the RAU IT department looks like and gets up to you can see our recent video.

What exactly does the RAU IT Department do?

What exactly does the RAU IT Department do?

Please do apply. We’d love to welcome you to our team!

The distributed work revolution

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

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

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.

tweet

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:

  1. Try and have less catch up meetings and use asynchronous tools like chat to keep in touch.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Our Learning Systems

We have quite a lot of learning systems at the RAU. Probably not as many as some institutions but enough to cause confusion. Here is a short video we’ve made to show our academics how these systems fit together and what they are used for.

RAU_learning_systems_panopto

Vevox and Zoom are not included in the video. This is because Vevox is still in the pilot phase and academics are not aware of it yet. Zoom is more widely used by PAs and academics working on our Catalyst programme but we have yet to introduce it to all other academics.

Enjoy the video!

Introducing Husna

Husna AhmedHello, I am Husna Ahmed and am the new learning technologist working on the Catalyst project along with Chantal Schipper and Madeline Paterson. As the project is halfway through, I will be focusing on the undergraduate programmes that will be starting in the 20/21 academic year.

My background is in Operations Research and IT and I have worked in the industry in various capacities.

training session of an arrest.I joined RAU two weeks ago, having moved here from University of the West of England where I was also a learning technologist and worked in the health and applied sciences faculty. The role was varied, ranging from dealing with professional councils to training clinicians, staff and students with a focus on work-based learning and assessments. I was also involved with police apprenticeships, which got me involved with the Avon and Somerset police force, it was great fun working on some of their training exercises and it was good to see the kind of work they do a bit close up, it makes one appreciate all the effort that goes into that line of work and what they do for the community. The picture shows us filming a training session of an arrest.

Prior to that, I was a digital learning coach at Gloucestershire College for a few years. The role was to support academics in the use of technology for teaching and learning with the emphasis on CPD and coaching. So, most of the time I designed and delivered training sessions on the use of technology to all stakeholders. Pictured below was one of such sessions.

Training session

Training session

Before joining the education sector, I worked for a software company that built systems for the UK pharma industry as the company IT trainer and service analyst. I look forward to working on the Catalyst project and with the wider RAU colleagues. 

Happy Christmas from ITS

Only a few more days and we’ll be shutting up shop for Christmas.

Today we had our annual Christmas pizza lunch combined with a belated Christmas jumper wearing day for Save the children.

Christmas jumper day

Christmas jumper day

Festivities included our raffle and a couple of games of Smart Ass – won by the smart asses!

Pizza lunch

Pizza lunch

Here’s wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and all the best for 2020!

Farewell Aurelie!

We are hugely sad to say that our lovely Learning Technologist Aurelie Soulier will be leaving us at the end of today. Aurelie is taking up a position at Catalyst IT supporting Moodle implementation across the HE sector.

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During her far too brief time at RAU Aurelie has been instrumental in helping us progress many areas of work including:

Not only that she has been a truly great colleague to work with. We are all going to miss her!

Pictures of Aurelie in action

Pictures of Aurelie in action

We wish Aurelie all the best with her new role and hope she keeps in touch. (We know she will – she can’t keep off social media!)

Aurelie's leaving drinks

Aurelie’s leaving drinks

Checking the Tech in China

I have been lucky enough to spend the last couple of weeks teaching at Shandong Agricultural University (SDAU) in Tai’an, China. The RAU have a partnership arrangement with SDAU and our academics teach on a number of courses out there. SDAU is a multi-disciplinary university which covers agriculture, science, engineering, management, economics, humanities, law, medicine and education and has an enrollment of around 30,000 students. It is based in Tai’an, a large city in Shandong province which is known for its mountain – Mount Tai, one of the five most important mountains in China.

SDAU and Tai'an

SDAU and Tai’an

While the main focus of my trip wasn’t technology it is hard to visit China without noticing the role tech is playing in their modern lives.

Here are some observations I made while there:

It’s all about the QR code

QR codes are everywhere. From paying for your products (through WeChat and Alipay), sharing your contact details with strangers,  to using them to find out public information and what type of trees are in the park (botany is often labelled with a QR code!). As this Technode article explains, QR code scanning has gained prominence because it is a “cheaper alternative to traditional payment systems” and China is now leading the way in building the regulatory framework for QR codes.

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Smart phone use is ubiquitous

Phone use has permeated every aspect of people’s lives. They seem to spend even more time on them than we do. It is pretty normal for Chinese (both young and old) to be riding their electric scooters while playing on a gaming app and speaking on the phone at the same time. They have apps for everything and have customised every part of their phone including the digital keyboards (think crazy colours and lots of emojis). As I’ve already mentioned they use their phones to pay for stuff – credit cards just resulted in odd looks.

WeChat is China’s most popular app and is used by absolutely everyone. Some of the main features are messaging, payments, phone management and games. WeChat has been described as a ‘superapp’ as a multitude of mini apps created by external developers can be integrated within the one service.

Learning technology is on the rise

I played Kahoot with my class and they loved it. While the classrooms have a traditional lecture room layout (with fixed seating and teacher at the front) there does seem to be a will to experiment more. With large class sizes technology could make a real difference. 

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Technical innovation is the norm

Everywhere you look there are technical innovations. For example back up cameras projecting on the rear view mirror are fairly standard, drones for delivering orders, ipads are often used for menus, scanners and barcode readers are owned and used by everyone, from street sellers to hi-tech shops.

China is also aiming to be a global leader in AI and is investing huge amounts of money in research. The biggest Chinese search engine (Baidu) recently poached a former Microsoft executive to lead on AI efforts. The west is watching with interest as China takes the lead in many areas. For a good overview see this recent Wired article: From imitation to innovation: How China became a tech superpower.

Visiting the great wall of China

Visiting the great wall of China