The RAU have had a partnership arrangement with SDAU for many years and our academics teach on a number of Food and Real Estate Management courses at the University. In normal circumstances our academics, some of who are RAU staff members and others who are external lecturers, would fly out to China and spend several weeks teaching the students in a classroom setting. [You can read more about my 2019 visit to China to teach on the English for Academic Purposes course.] It is great experience for both the students and the academics.
Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU)
As Covid-19 progressed and we headed towards lockdown it became apparent that sending people over to China in June was not going to be possible and we needed a different approach. This realisation came around the same time that we were pivoting all our onsite courses to online and a solution was needed that could be implemented both quickly and with as little resource as possible.
We were already in discussions with the Jisc team regarding TNE provision in relation to a new partnership with another Chinese institution, so we contacted them to ask for guidance and support. Mailing lists also proved invaluable and we began to monitor what other institutions in a similar predicament were doing.
The initial decisions made were:
That a Learning Technologist support person would be required to project manage the delivery as the existing RAU team would not be able to cover the work. An advert went out for someone to fill this role.
That in this particular case content was key and that in order to fulfil our teaching obligation we would need to start collecting content as soon as possible. It was agreed to pre-record this content using Panopto, our existing video content management system and the tool we were already using for lecture delivery. This content would need to be delivered to the students either in class (if they returned to University) or at home.
That this content would need to be complemented with an opportunity for students to interact with the academics delivering the lectures. This could be done using an asynchronous mechanism (such as chat) or some form of online webinar. The solution would clearly need further investigation, possible options were Zoom, WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp), Office365 (Teams).
That various services would need to be tested. Due to the restrictions of the great firewall of China some technologies are known to be blocked (for example YouTube and Facebook) while others are unreliable. The restrictions are a movable feast and can be changed with little notice. Some tools such as WeChat have significant security implications. The Comparitech site monitors the status of sites in China to check if they are blocked.
There were also many other questions including:
How would we work with the SDAU team? What would be the division of labour?
What about assessment? How would it be delivered and marked?
What about training for the academics? This was particularly pertinent for the external academics who didn’t currently have RAU accounts and weren’t familiar with our tools.
How would we translate the onsite timetable to online?
How would teaching be assessed?
Quán lì yǐ fù is a Chinese idiom that means to give something your all. Its literal translation is to “exert all your strength for a goal”. Given the tight timeline for this work we really needed to exert all our remaining strength and start thinking very creatively about routes forward.
In the next post we will talk about the first steps in collecting content and initial investigations in to interactive sessions.
On 2nd June 2020, the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) West Midlands group hosted a free online event using the Zoom platform exploring the ‘The New Normal’.
The New Normal andThe Rise of the Learning Technologists
Why is ‘The New Normal’ important? While the majority of traditional face-to-face delivery has not been possible throughout the pandemic, there has been a shift of focus towards learning technology as a platform for teaching and learning. The ‘Online Pivot’ has been used to describe the process of a rapid movement to online learning often describved as emergency pedagogy’. As a result, Learning Technologists have had a ‘spotlight’ on them in an enhanced capacity as agents of critical digital change. Redefining the old pedagogy and articulating exactly how online pedagogy will work has resulted in a fundamental process of ‘getting the digital ducks in a row’ for many eductional institutions. Often this is not a seamless transition and we have to embrace both inevitable ‘messy’ change and our vulnerabilities.
In March 2019, I presented at the ALT West Midlands event at Warwick University exploring Critical Digital Literacies. My presentation explored the use of Digital Champions.
I used a life size cardboard cut out of Yoda from Star Wars and invited participants to write on hand shaped post it notes and stick them to the Yoda character to explore and share ideas as a collaborative task running throughout my presentation.
A strong theme of providing creative opportunities for reflection began to emerge. One of the outcomes of the event was a collaborative blog published on the ALT website available here to reflect on the core ideas emerging from the event. I created the visuals!
The New Normal: Cloudy with a Chance of Learning Technology?
ALT West Midlands had orginally planned a face-to-face event exploring accessible learning in April 2020 which, like many events, was changed to an online event with a change of focus. The event started with a warm up activity where all participants were invited to share something that they have learned thorughout lockdown. There were a range of presentations and contributions at the event from a range of different institutions. Jess Humphries (@Jess_humphreys) explored the Technology Enhanced Active Learning Festival (TEAL) which took place online here hosted by Warwick University. Daniel Scott (@_Daniel_Scott) shared activities and reflections from Nottingham Trent University. Tim Smale (@Tim_Smale) shared insights into elements of flexible digital education at Keele University. Annie Pendrey (@AnniePendrey) shared an inspirational pedagogic model using the colours of the rainbow as a visual structure to provide support. The rainbow has been a visual icon of the Lockdown. Her article, ‘The Colour of Courage In The Face Of Adversity‘ can be found here. Let’s not be afraid of colour in our practice!
The Sound of Learning Technology – Setting up a Radio Station in Five Minutes
I presented a series of reflections on setting up a pop up radio station experiment throughout the Lockdown and beyond. The presentation title was ‘Lock, taking Stock, and Pandemic Pedagogies: reflections on creating a pop-up radio station during lockdown and beyond‘.
Metaphors can really help us to understand what we do in HE (Badley & Van Brummelen, 2012). I explored the pivot as a metaphor for the move to online learning, suggested that a compass may be an alternative metaphor to view the pedagogic shift, identified potential emerging ‘pandemagogies‘, shared reflections on creating content and case studies of using radio, discussed how the language we use to talk about learning technology as a direct result of the Lockdown has changed, and finally shared the tools I used ot create the radion station itself – Zeno as the hosting platform, Adobe Audition for editing and FreeSFX to access royalty free sound clips. Pivot FM can be accessed here.
A Pivot within a Pivot. A Wheel within a Wheel:Whose ‘Normal’ is it Anyway?
There are a range of perspectives on the online pivot and pedagogic integrity. Who decides? Some of the questions and feedback after the presentation were both positive and helpful. One of the questions concerned how to develop the Radio Station further, potentially exploring the vidcast format. On reflection, a potential creative route would be to explore multimodal podcasts or ‘modcasts’ using a range of different modes to engage an audience. Ultimately, the one of the core arguments of my presentation was the importance to embed creative opportunities in the work of Learning Technologists. After the presentations, there was an ‘open mic’ opportunity where participants can share what is happening in their own institutions.
It was great to have support from our Learning Technology team. Thanks to @digitalrau, @husnaahmed and @chantalschipperrau. The ALT Midlands group were really helpful and supportive. I would encourage anyone thinking about presenting to give it go. Thanks to John Couperthwaite (@johncoup), Lynne Taylorson (@Realtimeedu), Kerry Pinny (@KerryPinny), and Jess Humphries (@jess_humphries) for organising the event.
Partial recording only: the recording includes talks from Daniel, Pip, Tim, and Annie. Password: 9A%?Brf7
Unfortunately we weren’t able to run any events but as a team we did attend many of the interesting webinars that took place, including the all-day event run by the Government Digital Service. One of their sessions was on ‘How to avoid common accessibility statement fails’ and considered the public sector accessibility statements that need to be online by September this year in order to comply with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. The event provided a final check list for the VLE statement that we have been working on.
The statement is one of many measures we are taking to ensure we comply with the digital accessibility regulations. This summer we plan to have a comprehensive training programme for our academics and accessibility will be one of the core areas we cover. We will also be promoting the great accessibility tools that we already have as an institution (SensusAccess, Read&Write, Office 365 tools, MindGenius). Currently we are carrying out a lot of work looking at our pre-recorded video captioning, this will be using Panopto Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and other captioning services. There is a lot going on!
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.
The other day Jisc posted a little video taken at Digifest 2020. The video featured Steven Hope, Head of Independent Learning at Leeds City College, Esam Baboukhan, Microsoft Learning Consultant and I chatting about communities. It was the result of a 20 minute session that we took part in as part of the Jisc community champions 2020 activities. You can watch the video here or from the tweet below.
Today I was interviewed by Hannah Tennant from Jisc for an article they are writing on communities. I waffled a lot (as I do) but I think one thing that crystallised for me was how communities have helped us during the Coronavirus period.
The main ways are:
Filtering out the noise – there was so much information flying around as we pivoted our courses online but communities helped separate the wheat from the chaff.
Collating and organising resources – communities and individuals took all this information and organised it. I saw lots of collated lists with explanations on why these resources were useful.
Sharing best practice – communities have helped us share best practice and come up with consensus as to how we, as the online learning/learning tech sector, should act.
Sanity check – for those working in smaller organisations it is often difficult to know if you are on the right track. Communities offer reassurance and allow you to have confidence in your actions.
Advocating – communities are a little like mission groups in that they advocate on your behalf to senior management. Being able to cite suggested approaches from an established community makes your case.
Image from the Planning for the end of lockdown online webinar. Attendees were asked to indicate where on the line they were in starting to prepare for September delivery. How reassuring to see others were also far from ready.
So thanks to some of the communities that have helped so much during this busy time:
Jisc – They’ve put on lots of events and surgery sessions, created a Coronavirus page, set up a useful Coronavirus Team site and the Jiscmail groups keep us all going.
ALT – They have produced some great reports and their weekly newsletter is essential.
AdvanceHE – Lots of very well though out guidance and support.
DigiLearn – A great Teams based community with lots of fantastic practical webinars.
HELF – Discussions on the Heads of eLearning Forum (HeLF) list are incredibly useful at a strategy level.
UCISA – In particular the Digital Capabilities Group and the Digital Education Group.
Twitter – Always useful.
OER communities – too many to mention but sharing is most definitely caring.
As part of online teaching our academics are facilitating more and more online seminar sessions. These are mainly using Teams, but some sessions use Zoom. We have been sharing what works well and what doesn’t and here are some of the tips so far.
Before the session
Prepare – have a plan in your head, even if you don’t share it with students. Decide when exactly things are going to happen e.g. when will you run a poll.
Create teaching notes or add notes to PowerPoint slides.
Have a clear goal for the session e.g. “we are going to come up with 3 recommendations for Defra on xxxx”.
At the start of the session
Arrive reasonably early to give yourself time to deal with any issues.
Warm up activity e.g. getting people to write in the chat where they are located, or scribble on a Whiteboard their favourite snack.
Informal chat – start with an informal catch up but then announce the official start of the session.
Technology – Run through the buttons with students at the first session, suggest they mute mic and turn off video if lots of them.
Video recording – be clear on if the session is being recorded, explain who it will be available to and how people will get hold of the recording.
Assign roles – ask one student to take notes, one to check the chat, one to keep an eye on timings etc.
Questions – decide how you are going to deal with these. Should people raise their hand, should they ask in the chat, should they wait till the end of a talk? Should questions be prefixed with a Q so you can easily pick them up?
Provide clear expectations for students e.g. you should set yourself a target to write 2 chat comments and make 1 audio comment.
During the session
Share something – could be slides or notes, gives students something to look at and comment on.
Break time – Get everyone to stand up and touch their toes half-way through!!
Chat – Encourage people to use it.
Group activities – people go off, start their own Team meeting and then come back and share feedback.
Timer – time different activities e.g. we are going to talk about A for 10 minutes, then talk about B for 10 minutes, we then will decide on C
Polls (use Whiteboard, use forms, use Polly, use Polleverywhere or another free tool).
Questions in chat – add in questions to the chat and get students to comment on them.
Land Based Learning Online – A collection of online courses that students can register for complete in collaboration with Landex Colleges and Universities. Some complement face-to-face courses and students can be registered by their institution. Others allow self-enrollment.
PDF library – 130 Landex PDF packs converted into online learning.
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.
Unfortunately due to the current situation we have had to postpone our Vevox pilot. Vevox is a live polling app that supports real-time audience engagement. We went through a procurement process at the end of last year and were really impressed by the ability to integrate Vevox with PowePoint and our Moodle VLE. It would have been a great tool in the box for our online delivery, but timings have got the better of us. We hope to restart things in the new academic year.
In the meantime the Vevox community have been really welcoming and invited us to their Vevox arms virtual pub quiz. The quiz was run in Zoom but used the Vevox app to deliver a series of questions, from straight multiple choice questions to numeric scales and word clouds.
The setting for the quiz was the Vevox Arms and the quiz master, Peter Eyre Managing Director for Vevox, kept us entertained with jokes and tales of Vevox life. There were also some interesting warm up questions like ‘what do you miss most now you are isolated?’ – it won’t be long till the hairdresser beats the pub!
Vevox is clearly a very friendly company and we are really looking forward to getting our pilot set up and ready to go!
Just a few short weeks ago we were exploring ideas on how we would change some of our learning spaces into more versatile spaces that would allow more student led collaborations and still work well for didactic teaching methods.
We wanted to gain insight into the pedagogical areas/ concerns that were key drivers in the project as well as what other changes they needed to make to maximise the use of the spaces, basically learn from their hindsight before we embarked on our own project.
We visited UWE first and had the chance of viewing spaces on two of their campuses, namely Glenside and Frenchay. Both had completely different feel in the spaces and quite rightly they were set up for different delivery approaches.
We started off at Glenside campus; which in a lot of respect is like our RAU campus, steeped in history and mishmash of old and new. The main building was a Bristol mental asylum back in 1844 and over the years it has been a war hospital and now an educational setting. The campus has health and applied sciences degrees only being taught there which is evident with the different types of simulation suites dotted around the campus.
We were shown a few rooms and the ideas that led to the design or choice of furniture. The pictures below show their first ever learning space that they redesigned to be a more collaborative teaching space. It was novel at the time and the approach was not driven by pedagogy as such at the initial stage. They had a vendor and showed them the space and the design brief was open- “What can be done with the space that will maximise the floor space and not have tables and chairs in a row?”
Here are our very own Head of ITS Alun Dawes and Learning Technologist Chantal Schipper watching a presentation delivered by the health and applied science faculty Digital Learning Manager Tom Buckley.
Being the first space to be converted, adoption was mixed and took a bit of time. Training was provided to staff on how best to use the space and even a chart on how to use the rooms was used to spark ideas for the users when they booked the rooms beyond the initial training sessions. This is still in use today.
Frenchay was our next stop on the tour. It is the biggest campus and we saw spaces in three faculties: health and applied sciences, business and law and mathematics. We got Senior Learning Technologist Glenn Duckworth who drove the project for the business and law spaces to present how they started and how the learning spaces went through different iterations; each offering a learning curve that would feed into the next. The pictures below are the TEAL rooms (Technology Enhanced Active Learning).
These designs were driven by pedagogic needs around student led learning, enhanced learning through collaboration and flexibility of teaching. Lot of consultations were done with the academics in order to titrate these needs. The final output were these TEAL rooms that have 6-seat bays which have about 6 in a room with extra seating at the front. The set up uses Kramer to allow staff and students to wireless project their content to the class via the screens in the room. Power supply for student devices were integrated into the tables and are well sought after by the students.
The bay- layout allows for fluid sessions as the academic can move around and engage with groups easily. These are now well used, very popular and frequently booked for teaching by staff. Due to the uptake they are now looking to increase the number of TEAL rooms on the campus. Feedback from students is that they like the rooms because it means any research-based task can be done in the same space as there is power, connectivity and the available screens to share content with their peers easily for discussions.
We then looked at quiet study rooms which have similar design concept in the library that are used by students for small group work. They had room booking displays so users can clearly see when they can use the space.
The rooms in the Mathematics department had similar arrangement but simpler solution with regards to how the PCs, screens were set up in the bays. What was transformative was the informal learning space outside the classes that transports one’s mind to want to learn. The spaces were set in a cool, contemporary and informal design. Using booths, tables and benches with some breakout spaces that were set up for hydration and taking breaks. This meant students could be there and do some pre-session learning before their classes and even thereafter, as they had most of what they would need in one place. I didn’t get a clean shot because it was heavily used and lots of students were about.
We ended the day with our Catalyst project presentation delivered by Chantal to the learning technology team at HAS.
Our next plans were to visit the University of Gloucestershire; we had everything coordinated; who to meet, which campus to visit and so on, then COVID19 hit the UK and all the lockdown measures were swiftly implemented.
We didn’t let this veer us off course. Our contacts at the university were so kind to host an online meeting to give us the insights of their project, how it all started and how it has transformed the spaces and usage across three campuses.
The meeting was chaired by the Strategic Academic Project Manager Dr Nic Earle. The key set of objectives for them were to provide spaces that would give opportunities for more enhanced learning, provide flexible technologies and decentralise the rooms. These were some of the images from that meeting.
From the images and discussions, we saw that each space had its unique set of design features that was suited for the space and how it would be used optimally. The changes are visibly dramatic as well as the change in how they are being used today.
What we took away from all this
Having this opportunity to see what has been done by other HEIs, showed we had a lot in common with regards to the design objectives
1.We all wanted to have learning spaces that would allow for fast transition from broadcast style set up into group discussion or student led work.
2. We all want flexible technologies that would allow for the academics to be able to push content around the rooms and be able to move fluidly to engage with the students on a deeper level
3.We wanted the learning to be deeper, active and engaging.
4.We all wanted spaces that would not hinder the learning process but rather encourage it in any way possible
What came out of this that we will consider, moving forward are
1.Power supply for student devices need to be integrated significantly in the rooms. This would allow the students ample time to commit to tasks and not be distracted by moving away to charge devices. Trunking around the room has been the most successful way of getting power into these rooms with minimal cost
2.Ventilation and lighting are critical to the ambience of the room and promote well being. Poor lighting could cause visual distress if there are reflections on projector screens or make the visual not clear if the lights are too bright. The advice we got was to use dimmers.
3.Flexible furniture are always sought after in consultation with staff but are seldom used in different configurations of the classrooms, using bays were preferred in the long run.
4.A lot of training for staff is required for the AV equipment and how they can use that in different teaching scenarios.
With the impact of COVID-19, no one is sure of how the learning environment and indeed the learning itself will be in the future.
So watch this space as we will continue on our learning spaces project and pivot our direction of travel to whatever the future holds; we will see the end of COVID-19 and thank you to our University of the West of England and University of Gloucestershire contacts for all their input.