TEF-Talk; putting teaching excellence and teaching technology together

digital woodcut

What is the TEF? All we have so far is Jo Johnson’s Teaching at the Heart of the System speech and a mass of speculation – some of the best being the SEDA thread which Sally Brown has developed into a SWOT analysis.

Yesterday I attended a Building the Teaching Excellence Framework Seminar organised by the University Alliance in the Deans Yard precinct of Westminster Abbey. The event was an open TEF discussion. After four activities, three speeches and a contribution from Charlie Roper (politics student at UWE Bristol) we’d surfaced multiple issues but no firm conclusions other than highlighting the difficulty of defining what teaching excellence might look like.

The TEF idea isn’t new. There are references to a renewed focus on high-quality teaching in the 2011 Higher Education Students at the Heart of the System white paper. The issue is more about defining what ‘quality’ means and constructing any model which fits the eclecticness of the higher education experience. Is quality the same as inspirational? If they are linked then the paper by Katherine Jenson at the Learning and Teaching Institute, University of Huddersfield, might be a good place to start. What is Inspirational Teaching? Working Paper 3

In terms of focusing on teaching quality, I’m reminded of the days of the TQEF. Funding was provided to support learning and teaching which supported national areas of priority. These included widening participation, fair access, retention, employability and encouraging and disseminating good and innovative practice in support of high quality learning and teaching. The last point may be worth revisiting in these TEF-ful times. The TQEF at Lincoln was managed by the Teaching and Learning Development Unit and the legacies from the Teacher Fellow awards which emerged from these funds can still be seen today (link to follow).

I think appropriate choices of pedagogy lie at the heart of a ‘quality’ education. The gap between traditional transmissive modes of delivery and constructivist teaching and learning needs to be narrowed and crossed with appropriate bridges. Like digital scholarship. Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (image below from James Atherton’s Learning and Teaching site is worth consideration. It requires interaction and collaboration with content, teachers and peer groups and can be applied to both online and offline environments.

Conversational Framework

Put staff development, digital pedagogies, scholarship and the internet together and you have a way forward. Activities which encourage students to explore OER and MOOC, staff to transfer lecture content via free software like the new Xerte, and peer review practices across both staff and student experiences all offer ways and means of interaction.

Tell me, teach me, involve me proverbs froom http://www.slideshare.net/jgigante/projectbased-learning

The EDEU Sharing Practice videos have ideas for engagement in particular Valeria Carroll on student led assessment. Rather than treat VLE in isolation we should use them to take a fresh look at how teaching excellence might appear. Make or break: the UK’s digital future report notes that the higher education sector “has not responded to the urgent need for reskilling” and calls for institutions to develop courses to give the students the skills they need. This won’t happen unless staff receive appropriate support to get digital in the first place. Digital graduate attributes need digitally competent teachers. SoTL needs an ‘e’ in the way that e-learning already has one and e-teaching should have one!

My suggestion is teaching excellence can’t happen in isolation from the adoption of appropriate and meaningful teaching technologies.


Woodcut image from http://oldweb.cecm.sfu.ca/personal/tstanway/MKM/thesis.intro3.html
Tell Me, Show Me, Involve me image from http://www.slideshare.net/jgigante/projectbased-learning 


3C’s competence, capabilities…and confidence

UCISA LOGO cmyk_correctPantones

The UCISA Digital Capabilities survey summary recommendations include Creation and embedding of holistic, relevant and creative digital curricula and training opportunities for students and staff.’ Highlighting the need for staff development opportunities is long overdue.

Less than a decade ago UoL hosted diagnostic tests on the VLE and ICT ran workshops on a range of different software packages. Today, anyone wanting support is directed to online help from Microsoft or WordPress or even the more personalised Blackboard support videos.

For a while the myth of the digital natives prevailed.  When Getting Started went institution-wide 5 years ago, it was suggested guidance for using Blackboard was unnecessary as new students could find their way around any online system. Yet recent Getting Started evaluations ask for help with Blackboard – because it’s not Facebook which would probably be the VLE of choice – after all it supports file sharing and chat – what more could anyone want? Yet when it comes to digital confidence, even the relatively unsophisticated Facebook can pose a challenge.

Lincoln EDEU have developed Blackboard Site Standards for September 2015. These will go some way to renewing essential conversations around engagement with VLE. The standards include online submission, having meaningful navigation structures and filenames as well as accessibility – ‘all content (text, images and multimedia) to be in an appropriate format and follow accessibility guidelines.’  Yep – that one was mine! 🙂

Support material will be developed alongside a  series of workshops. EDEU maintains the value of face-to-face contact. Our Digital Educational Developers run Drop-in Sessions twice a week; they can build workshops around programme team or school requirements or answer any of your digital questions. Just get in touch via edeu@Lincoln.ac.uk or http://edeu.lincoln.ac.uk/about-edeu/edeu-staff/

Digital confidence is not only technical support. It’s a behaviour shift which is cognitive as much as kinaesthetic and spatial. VLE have more potential than simply giant electronic notice boards or file repositories – they offer opportunities for connection and collaboration which are rarely utilised. Digital adoption takes time, which is always in short supply, but also demands answers to pedagogical questions around the value of technology for teaching and learning.

For too long a DIY approach has caused confusion about the purpose of VLE. The new required standards offer ideal opportunities to rethink the use of technology for teaching and learning. UCISA are right. We need to create  ‘holistic, relevant and creative digital curricula and training opportunities’ and EDEU are already looking to start discussions with staff who teach and support learning about how best to make these happen.



Points of Power…Student as Producer Conference Day Two

Mike Neary Student as Producer Conference

Conferences highlight the value of shared time and place. Mike Neary opened Day Two of the Student as Producer Conference. Disrupting traditional keynote presentation style, sitting behind a table with a hand written notebook, Mike talked about the layers of Student as Producer.  It’s been three years. In that time, the eloquence of Student as Producer has become refined. There is strength in layers and Student as Producer has multiple levels of engagement. It’s also startlingly simple. Involve students in their education. Invite academics to rethink their teaching. Discover how the relationship between teaching and research can be made less dysfunctional.

The thinking needs to be critical. Critical as political, as well as personal. Political thinking takes time. I’m not sure I’m political enough. Engaging with change isn’t easy. Not because changing practice is difficult – it’s the other,  often invisible, requirements.  Time. Motivation. Confidence. Change is resource heavy. We resist less through dissensus over new practice principles, but the weight of workloads, bureaucracy, administration. We rarely live in isolation and our others might not acknowledge the social and institutional crisis or ways to protect, defend and reinvent the idea of the university as a radical political project.

I’m a pragmatist. I want to make a difference – who wouldn’t – but I’ve stopped trying to change the world. These days I focus on my little part of it, using education to raise awareness of digital divides and social necessity for digitally inclusive practice. I’m not a revolutionary Marxist, but the social impact of the internet drives me to challenge digital discrimination as a road to social justice.

Digital scholarship is a strand of Student as Producer. The University is developing a Digital Education Strategy.  Mike talked about the Reinvention Centre at Warwick; its absence of chairs and tables designed to destabilize expectations of an educational environment. There was no power point. Mike says the teacher is the point of power. Today, an internet connection is the point of power. Re-imagining scholarship for 21st century also requires attention to the digital aspects of education, in particular the parameters of access, exclusion and use. Maybe we’re not talking about this aspect of Student as Producer as much as we could.

Student as Producer and OER: enhancing learning through digital scholarship

With hindsight I should have done a workshop. There were more questions than time to ask them. I halved the session; planning 15 minutes to raise issues and 15 minutes to talk about them. On reflection I should have done a pecha-kucha; a mini presentations of 20 PowerPoint Slides with 20 seconds each to talk about them (6.40 minutes in total). A PK would probably work with Prezi. Once, back in 2009, I saw Prezi used well – but never since. Prezi is a classic example of the technology leading practice. It has potential but too often the effect is sea sickness – not what you want to be remembered for.

My presentation suggested Boyer’s strands of scholarship; Discovery, Application, Teaching and Integration now required a layer of digital literacies – only then can we talk about digital scholarship – one of the strands of Student as Producer.  I showed how Embedding OER Practice http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk had created the time and space to talk digital, share digital practice, create enthusiasm for creative commons, for the reuse and repurposing of content, and now the project is over, how I’m trying to preserve some of the energy and enthusiasm for digital ways of working with TELEDA – the new Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age short course 30 M Level CATS – delivered and assessed entirely online.

Maybe my ending should have been my beginning (apologies TS Eliot); the challenge of student use of technology, in particular social media and mobile devices in seminars and lectures. I always try to fit too much in – but there is too much to talk about.

students using mobiles to photograph a presentation rather than taking notes      social media icons

GS5 – another PhD milestone…

Milestone marker

My first GS5 progress report represents another PhD milestone. This doctoral research looks at embedding digital scholarship into teacher education programmes. The rationale is the increase in virtual learning environments across the sector in the past decade and the drive towards flexible work-based modes of online learning within higher education at the present time.  Academic and professional service staff have historically been unsupported in developing digital ways of working yet attention to digital scholarship, and having individual confidence and competence with digital literacies, is essential if virtual environments are to support quality teaching and learning experiences.

The PhD page of this blog contains my reflective journal since changing supervisors earlier this year. I have found the process of blogging an essential motivator and opportunity to record my background reading. On the advice of my supervisor, this literature has broadened to include the social impact of technology over the past century, not only from an academic perspective but also how technology has been represented within art, fiction and film. I have found this process useful not only in contextualizing the development of the internet and world wide web but also in understanding human responses to technology, in particular the roots of resistance in areas where technology is challenging traditional practices such as education.

I am currently looking at the literature on digital scholarship in order to better locate its role within the university and identify the effect it has on teaching and learning. My methodology has shifted from a qualitative approach through open ended questionnaires and interviews with staff to an action research approach. This will use my tutoring practice on my 30 credit M Level CATS module, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA-PG) which is delivered and assessed entirely online. The module aims to support digital scholarship and literacies through giving staff the experience of being an online student exploring the different element of virtual education including pedagogical approaches to learning online, resources, communication, collaboration, assessment and feedback. The module is currently being piloted with a group of critical friends with plans to recruit from internal staff twice a year from September 2013.

The nature of working in digital environments involves ongoing CPD in order to keep up to date with changes in internet based tools and media. This module is offered as part of the university’s portfolio of teacher education programmes and will need to be inherently organic with the capacity for adapting to external digital changes as well as student/tutor evaluations. Bryman (1989) says change is seen as a useful way of learning how something works and as TELEDA has multiple theoretical and practical levels, it has the potential to be a useful subject for an action research methodology. Denscombe describes Action Research as being essentially involved with practical issues and arising from activity in the ‘real’ world (Denscombe: 125) so action researchers focus on ‘aspects of their practice as they engage in that practice’ (Denscombe: 128) Integral to the module is a stress on critical reflection and the application of the course principles to individual practice. Both tutors and participants are encouraged to adopt and share professional self-development through critical self-analysis (Schon 1982) and as tutor plus action researcher I would be well placed to enhance the reflective process through research techniques. I believe this situates action research as a methodology particularly well suited for my practice-based doctoral research. I will continue to develop this as a viable methodology during the rest of this academic year, looking at how best to involve course students/staff in the action/reflection cycle, evaluating the influences of action, and disseminating and sustaining ideas and actions in the light of these evaluations.

Bryman, A. (4th edition 2012) Social Research Methods OUP Oxford.

Denscombe, M. (4th edition 2012) The Good Research Guide: For Small-scale Social research projects. Open University Press.

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action, Basic Books.

Milestone image from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/66925 

‘VLEs are being used as a tool for social control by post industrial capitalism’. Discuss.

I get protective about Blackboard. As a system administrator and advocate of the potential for VLE to cross boundaries of time and distance, I’m easily irritated with comments like ‘VLEs are being used as a tool for social control by post industrial capitalism’. I was given this blog post  Zombies, Technology and Capitalism http://digitalscholar.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/zombies-technology-capitalism/ in a phd supervision meeting; I guess to see my response. Here it is.

Grounds for the statement? It seems VLEs ‘…replace face-t0-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching….have rapidly spread across the sector (virally?) without being explicitly demanded by either teachers or students….the embedded pedagogy of these VLEs is restrictive and they offer a level of social control and conformity not possible with more traditional teaching practices’.

Mmmm….quite an indictment of my role as Learning and Teaching Coordinator, supporting staff to make effective use of technology to support their students. The author is writing a book chapter for an interdisciplinary anthology Zombies in the Academy: living death in higher education. http://zombieacademy.wordpress.com/cfp/ which seeks to offer ‘critical accounts of the contemporary university as a living dead culture.’ So, extending the referential signifier of a cultural trope into a previously unused location? Or alternatively, finding a new way to package and sell a product?

I hope our chapter doesn’t fall into a lazy F2F good/ online bad dualism.’ writes the author in reply to a comment supporting VLEs.

Me too. I hope the language of technological determinism is used to praise as well as condemn.  I hope it recognises the problem is less about how VLEs weren’t ‘explicitly demanded by either teachers or students’ and more about how we were simply expected to know how to use them. From the start, priority was given to embedding the systems. The poor practice, which gets dragged out repeatedly, derives as much from insufficient access to specialist learning-technology resources, and support for the shift from f2f to digital pedagogy, as any desire to impose social control and conformity.

We need to be reminded of potential affordances alongside over-publicised failings. People are quick to criticise and slow to praise. Focusing on the ‘level of managerial control afforded by VLEs over F2F’ is to miss their opportunities for flexible and distance learning, widening participation, crossing boundaries of time and distance, sharing practice and creating networks for knowledge collaboration and exchange. The blame is unfair. Saying the VLE replaces ‘face-to-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching’ is to criticise the daily reality of thousands of academic and professional service staff across the sector, making the best of the tools in their hands to enhance learning opportunities for their students. Effective online learning is a specialism yet staff are expected to  demonstrate competence regardless of their own subject expertise. There are answers such as embedding digital scholarship into teacher education programmes, offering small amounts of development funding for digital enhancement, treating digital literacies as equal to text literacy and numeracy. What doesn’t help is to replicate and reinforce the same old tired arguments.  Alignment with zombie culture is neither clever nor witty; it’s discourteous and unkind.


Here are some useful reminders of how it all began.

Flying not flapping: a strategic framework for e-learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions by Gilly Salmon (2005) http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/mediazoo/media/Flying%20not%20flapping.pdf

Implementing a learning technology strategy: top–down strategy meets bottom–up culture by Bernard Lisewski (2004)  http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/coaction/index.php/rlt/article/viewFile/11250/12943


Open for business!

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age banner

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is a short course (30 M Level CATS) delivered and assessed entirely online (12 weeks teaching/12 weeks eportfolio construction).  This course is an output from the 12 month HEA/JISC funded project ‘Embedding OER Practice’ at the University of Lincoln http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk. OER (Open Educational Resources) are teaching materials made freely available under a Creative Commons licence http://creativecommons.org.  OER are stored in repositories e.g. JORUM at http://www.jorum.ac.uk/ and MERLOT at http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm Open courses are called MOOC, Massive Open Online Courses, and leading platforms are Coursera at https://www.coursera.org who offer free courses on Arts, Sciences, Humanities, Maths and Stats and other subjects.  MOOC platforms include Udacity at https://www.udacity.com/ and the Open University Open Learn site at http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

MOOCing is an excellent way to explore a variety of online learning designs and collaborations. Like OER, MOOC raise important questions of authenticity and certification as well as the future direction of higher education in a digital age. A comprehensive understanding of the open education movement, and a scholarly approach to the development of teaching practice in open and online contexts, are integral to T and L in a Digital Age, which also looks at online learning design, online communication, assessment and feedback and digital scholarship and literacies with assessment by eportfolio.

Effectiveness within virtual environments derives from experience of learning online. Education Technologies have been around for over a decade but adoption only comes from applying the tools to practice. Too often technologies are promoted without first hand experience and this course is designed to offer that experience in a supportive, collegial style.

The pilot begins on 4 March with no cost to UL staff. If you are interested in joining the pilot, or would like further information, please contact Sue Watling, swatling@lincoln.ac.uk  

Where enthusiasm can be a disguise….

FutureLearn Ltd is the brand name for the twelve UK universities getting together with the The Open University to provide free online learning opportunities – now commonly referred to as MOOCs. The MOOC twelve are BirminghamBristolCardiffEast AngliaExeterKing’s College London, LancasterLeeds,  SouthamptonSt Andrews and Warwick. It’s early days with little information about business models or other structural essentials but FutureLearn Ltd will be majority owned by the OU who are providing initial funding and technology. With their long standing experience in delivering education at a distance, the OU are in a good position to make this happen and exert influence over the processes of design and delivery of materials. UK universities in online launch to challenge US from the BBC tells us courses will be offered on the FutureLearn online platform next year with the twelve universities being responsible for their own content, quality, accreditation and cost of courses. Cost? Not truly open then?  The article goes on to say there will also be social networking-style communities for students and materials will be designed for portable devices, such as iPads or mobile phones.

All of this represents a huge shift from traditional HE with massive implications for curriculum design, content production, teacher education, learning development and ICT support. Not to say this shift isn’t already happening, but those universities taking the lead will be those who already have already taken steps to ensure support is in place. Online distance education is so much more than filming a 50 minute lecture and uploading a powerpoint presentation. It requires a different approach to constructing content and social networking-style communities don’t just happen, they require shaping and supporting if they are to have relevant form and function. If open education is to work it needs appropriate support and resources around digital scholarship and digital literacies. MOOCs are the word of the moment and care needs to be taken so initial enthusiasm for the affordances of online learning are not disguising some of the potential problems underneath.

Digital scholarship – shifting emphasis from tools to users

The ongoing VLE Options Appraisal is a useful opportunity to look at the wider issues around virtual learning environments.  VLEs have come a long way since Dearing* but in terms of keeping up with wider developments on the internet, in particular the move to openness and connectivity, they can sometimes look a little out of date.

Open academic practice and the rise in content management systems are examples of formidable challenges to the VLE. Compare a locked down password protected environment to contemporary social media and you’ll soon find support for the VLE critics who say it is a staff driven content store, low on genuine pedagogical interaction and pretty ugly too.

So has the VLE failed? No, I don’t think so. It might never be the number one choice of personal learning environment but it has untapped potential. Rather than be critical of the tool, it may be worth investing more in research not only on the way it is – and could be – used within  the institution, but exactly what staff need to get started – as well as to get innovative.

Over the past decade a giddy variety of technologies have been personalised for education. Their mix is both widening and deepening the gap between active users and those who are less confident with online practices.  Innovation tends to be led by those with digital thought patterns who sometimes find it hard to conceive of worlds where paper and pen are preferred.  The word learning needs to be added to technologist. Learning technology describes roles which can bridge the gaps between technical support and pedagogical design for teaching and learning in a digital age.  Outputs from the JISC Digital Literacies  programme will be useful but how broadly they’ll be disseminated to those who have yet to move beyond uploading content and horizontal browsing remains to be seen.

Unless we shift from the tool to the user then the full potential of any VLE cannot be realised.  The VLE Options Appraisal is an opportunity to look beyond decisions based on the cost of the technology towards how best the university can resource the use of the technology. Digital scholarship in 21st century should include confidence with utilising the affordances of ANY virtual learning environment. To do this will inevitably improve the quality of use of those learning tools which are institutionally supported and maintained.

* Report of the National Committee on Inquiry into Higher Education  (1997) https://bei.leeds.ac.uk/Partners/NCIHE/

Keep up to date at the 2012 VLE Strategy blog http://vlestrategy.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/