ALT’s Chief Executive, Dr Maren Deepwell, contributed to the VocTeach FE Symposium – Aggregating High Quality Online Educational Resources for FE organised by the Open University alongside experts including Bob Harrison, Vikki Liogier, Caroline Wright and John Domingue.
The event addressed key issues facing the FE sector:
“The current global pandemic has exposed issues and enforced changes across many sectors of the UK economy and society including within education. Within an extremely short amount of time educational institutions including FE Colleges across the UK have incorporated online teaching into their offerings. Teaching online obviously is very different to teaching face to face. Matching the affordances of internet based technology to sound pedagogy which enhances student learning experiences is not easy.
The Open University’s 50+ years of distance teaching experience has taught us that a key success factor for online education is founded on the use of high quality teaching resources. Clear educational texts, short informative videos and interactive elements such as the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality can dramatically enhance student engagement and improve learning outcomes overall.
Creating high quality online teaching resources requires substantial effort though, typically involving, in addition to subject matter experts, professionals in many areas including video production, webcasting, online pedagogy and web interaction. The sheer cost and the fact that many FE colleges lack the capacity to create a comprehensive library of online teaching resources lead us to the conclusion that supporting teaching material re-use through an accessible aggregation or library would be of great benefit to the sector.
VocTeach FE Symposium kickstarted a broad community around this issue related to supporting the aggregation of high quality learning resources for online FE education. Specifically, bringing together FE educational experts and practitioners, EdTech experts, awarding organisations and other stakeholders to agree next steps.”
Maren Deepwell’s talk focused on AmplifyFe, a project Maren has led for ALT for the past year, working closely with Emma Proctor-Legg and colleagues from the Open University.
AmplifyFE is a new network to connect and amplify communities of practice for digital learning, teaching and assessment in vocational education https://amplifyfe.alt.ac.uk/ , led by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and funded by Ufi – the VocTech Trust.
AmplifyFE launched in October 2020 and already connects hundreds of professionals. The project goal is to establish a successful ‘community of practice’ (CoP) where vocational teaching staff are able to acquire, develop and share the digital, and digital pedagogical skills they need to thrive in vocational education.ALT Communities of Practice Sector Audit Report, July 2020
If you are looking to share news about your work, find experts to collaborate with or learn more about specific subject areas, then the AmplifyFE network can help.
You can also watch a replay of the event here.
Mari Cruz Garcia Vallejo
Exactly a year ago I had written a blog post titled “Learning technologist… and what is next?” that was meant to be the closure and conclusion of the excellent series of blog posts “What makes a learning technologist?” written by Chris Melia for the ALT Blog.
At the time, November 2020, nobody could have predicted the paradigm shift that the Covid-19 pandemic would bring about in the education sector, in particular the HE sector, forcing universities across the globe to evolve so rapidly from a traditional face-to-face instruction to a situation of “remote learning” or “emergency learning” in such short period of time. Learning and Teaching Committees soon realised that they needed to move to more sustainable pedagogical models that combined online learning with elements of blended learning across different educational contexts and that learning technologists were crucial to support those new pedagogical models.
In my initial blog post, I talked about the career stagnation that learning technologists may experience at some point in their professional journeys through different causes (e.g. lack of opportunities of promotion in professional services, several types of glass ceilings, etc.). At that time, I had identified three main progression pathways for learning technologists:
These three progression routes are equally valid 12 months later, the pandemic hasn’t changed much the choices for career progression, albeit this lack of choice was temporarily overshadowed by the “summer of love” for learning technologists that HE institutions around the world initiated in May 2020, when professional profiles that included skills such as “learning design”, “technology enhanced learning”, or “digital learning” were in high demand to help universities deploy the new “hybrid” or “blended learning” pedagogical models that had been designed in response to the pandemic and in preparation of the new academic year.
During the “summer of love”, recruitment agencies in the UK were desperately looking for professionals whose profile could match the job description of a “learning technologist”. Agencies offered contractor appointments with universities which could last between 3 and 6 months in the “early autumn” that followed the summer of love. Those of us who have professional profiles in LinkedIn can remember how persistent the recruitment agents could be offering the flexibility of working remotely from home and a substantial daily rate which makes some professionals reconsider seriously the “contractor route” as an alternative to the perspective of salary freezes, redundancy schemes, hiring freezes and null opportunities of progression into more senior positions.
If you are considering the contractor route, this route has pros and cons. One of the pros used to be its flexibility: contractors can choose the project assignments they work in and, in some cases, the possibility of working remotely either from what you define as “home” or from another country. This was a great advantage because, until the pandemic outbreak, it was unthinkable that learning technologists could work remotely.
The main disadvantage of the contractor route is the uncertainty of generating a sustainable income as it relies on fixed-term projects. Hourly rates and daily rates offered to contractors must be higher than the ones usually paid if you are working as an employee of a university as those rate should include costs such as: contributions to the universities superannuation scheme (USS) or any other private pension scheme, paid annual leave, sick pay and national insurance contributions.
Likewise, be careful if you decide to work remotely from another country as you may be liable to pay taxes there if you stay longer than 180 days. Also the UK will not longer be an EU country from the 1st January 2021 and The Withdrawal Agreement has not clarified yet if double taxation agreements with EU countries will still apply.
If you are considering the contractor route, how much higher your rate should be in comparison with what you are paid as a university employee?
Although there is not rule of thumb for calculating a fair professional rate, my advice would be:
As a contractor you would need to set up your own limited company -there is plenty of information about this in Internet- or you could be employed by umbrella companies to work on temporary contract assignments in HE institutions. If you plan to be a contractor for a long time, it makes sense to start your own limited company. As a contractor working remotely off campus, the IR35 legislation should not apply to you, which would represent a significant tax release. The term IR35 refers to the two sets of tax legislation that are designed to combat tax avoidance by contractors, as well as the firms hiring them, who can be seen by the HRMC as “disguised employees”. The IR35 legislation applies to contractors that, according to the employability test of the HRMC, are in reality employees in disguise that are using the limited company to pay less taxes. So, make sure that you familiarise yourself with the employability test.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also increased the career opportunities for learning technologists in the commercial sector. In addition to the existing providers of online content and digital platforms, such as MOOC and online education providers, new start-up companies are jumping into the niche market of digital content. As an example, the start-up Odilo, that aims to be “the Netflix of education”, experienced a significant increase of staff and turnover during the lockdown.
The spring lockdown was also the wake-up call to speed up the digitalisation for all economic sectors, from banking to manufacturing, which also involved adapting their training needs to digital means and platforms. The private sector is now demanding learning designers, technologists and digital educators who can develop content and learning platforms to train their employees online.
With regard to the routes of stepping into management or changing to the academic route, in my original post I wondered how far learning technologists were able to travel physically since, at that time, it was unthinkable to work off campus and stepping into management positions or academic contracts were very limited in the HE sector. The possibility of working from home, with no foreseeable date to come back to physical campuses, have made professionals to apply for job opportunities in universities or institutions that are beyond any reasonable commuting distance, for example, in another geographic region or even in another country. As medical authorities are stating that it could take up to two years to come back to the “old normal”, it seems that we will keep working “remotely” for a while. However, for those who are applying to job opportunities located in institutions far away from a reasonable commuting distance , it is important to highlight that, unless the job contract specifically supports working from a different physical setting on a permanent basis- which involves undertaking specific health and safety risk assessments- those who have accepted a job opportunity in another geographic region will be asked, at some point, to relocate to that region. This relocation may affect family life as well as emotional and social needs.
The impact of covid-19 in UK higher education institutions in terms of enrolments and economic downturn has been widely reported: London Economics estimated a total decline in tuition fees and teaching income across the sector of £2.472 billion for the academic year 2020-2021, being the average loss in income per higher education institution of approximately £20 million. This income decline has brought about that many British universities are going through redundancy schemes -some of them expected to be compulsory- with an estimated total of 63,000 job losses across the sector.
The profession of learning technologist is being regarded, so far, as “essential” for the deployment of the responsive blended or hybrid teaching models that have emerged as a result of the pandemic; learning technologists, as many other professionals responsible for supporting staff and students through the “blend”, have been excluded -so far- from any “red-cycling” redundancy schemes. However, our profession will also be affected by the predicted impoverishment of the working conditions in UK universities that will follow the covid-19 economic aftermath.
In this respect, it is particularly concerning that some UK universities are advertising positions of senior learning technologists or digital learning managers in a grade 7 within the HERA (Higher Education Role Analysis) scale, a tool used to analyse and rank job roles used in UK HE institutions. It is, likewise, concerning that more than 80% of the position advertised as “learning technologists” by British universities since March 2020 were fixed-term contracts.
There is not a clear successful route when it comes to further career progression for a learning technologist and the future looks very uncertain. When choosing your next move, you really need to explore your motivation and interests on the long term as well as the pros and cons of each progression route.
The question that only you can answer is: what do you really want to do and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Please share your thoughts and comments.
Kate: The UK Higher Education sector has been through a period of intense transformation at a rapid pace in response to the necessary changes required by the pandemic (JISC, 2020). Interestingly for me, this coincided with my maternity leave. I left work in August 2019 to a way of working which appeared relatively fixed and returned in early June to a completely transformed landscape.
In August 2019 I expect our experiences as Learning Technologists at Manchester Met were consistent with those of colleagues in other institutions across the UK. We had pockets of excellent, integrated TEL use and courses where we could confidently claim were taking a blended approach to delivery. However, much of our virtual Learning environment (Moodle) was used as a place to store and share files and provide some extra resources around the predominantly face-to-face teaching that was being delivered. Research tells us that this was a similar picture across many HEIs (Jisc, 2020, Williamson et al, 2020).
We take a “hub and spoke” approach to TEL support at Manchester Met. Each TELA is aligned and physically located in a faculty, but being centrally funded we are also responsible for supporting institutionally led projects where TEL is a focus. Historically our work has been predominantly at a faculty level, with each TELA providing focused support and development sessions within the faculties. Each TELA provided in person drop-in slots and were available for ad-hoc support requests via phone, email and in-person, at desk support. We are a relatively small team of nine TELAs supporting approximately 1600 academic members of staff.How did we respond?
Leanne: Back in March, there were so many unknowns and we needed to act quickly to address the huge increase in demand that we faced. We also had to navigate our own changes in working practice, moving from being physically based on campus to working from home. To deal with this we decided to work together and bring in a range of support options for academics, to allow them the flexibility of support that they needed as they adjusted to their own new ways of working.
One of the first things we did was log all support requests using our service management software. This was difficult, as it added an extra step, but it allowed us to offer consistent support as we could easily pass tickets to other members of our own team, as well as other teams who supported us during the period of increased demand. For example, a Digital Education Support team was created to pick up the queries that were of a technical, rather than a pedagogical nature. They were particularly helpful when it came to the introduction of Microsoft Teams, which allowed a consistent and integrated approach to offering online remote live sessions across the institution.
One of the most valued aspects of our support prior to the pandemic was our drop-ins, which enabled academics to come and speak to us about an issue they were facing, without needing to book. We wanted to replicate that online, but having academics arrive unannounced (potentially at the same time!) would have been difficult to manage. We implemented an online bookable drop-in service, which has been well received. We make sure we have a range of times available, often with same-day availability, so academics receive the timely support that they need.
As well as the large shift to online teaching and the introduction of new technologies, the institution made the decision to move to a block delivery model, to allow flexibility to respond to the rapidly changing situation. The combinations of these changes meant that there was a large demand for training on a whole range of topics. We delivered over 200 sessions for which we had over 2000 sign ups, something that would have been extremely difficult to do in our pre-pandemic way of working.
At a time of rapid change, getting accurate and timely communications to academics was vital. To help with this, we engaged with Digital Education Champions, who were based within faculties. They shared key information with their peers, as well as providing valuable feedback about issues they were facing, which could then be addressed via the central training sessions.Where next?
Kate: We firmly believe, as do many UK HEIs (JISC, 2020), that this pandemic has fundamentally altered our approach to teaching and learning within Manchester Met and we will not be returning entirely to the pre-pandemic modes of delivery or working. However, we need to proceed carefully to ensure that what remains from, as Willamson et al (2020:108) phrased it, our “emergency remote education”, is beneficial to both students and staff and that we as a TEL team are in a strong place to be able to provide staff with the development and support that they need to be successful and confident.
The pace of change has been staggering and overwhelming at times for everyone involved, as things are beginning to bed in, we will take this opportunity now to step back and conduct a series of different research projects. Our colleagues in the University Teaching Academy are investigating staff attitudes towards block teaching and we will be delivering the JISC Digital Insights Survey to staff to give them an opportunity to reflect on the support provided, opportunities they have identified and areas of concern. We’ll be reflecting on the staff perspective of our pandemic response in conjunction with our analysis of our Internal Student Survey, which has given our students vital space to express their thoughts and feelings around the huge changes they have seen to their University experiences, and give us insights on what they would like to see more of and what hasn’t worked so well for them. What has changed for you?
We will be continuing to adopt many of the changes to our working practices that have emerged from the pandemic and have shared our one thing to keep on this Flipgrid. We invite you to contribute with your own changes that you will be keeping.References:
Jisc. (2020). Learning and teaching reimagined A new dawn for higher education? Available at: https://repository.jisc.ac.uk/8150/1/learning-and-teaching-reimagined-a-new-dawn-for-higher-education.pdf
Williamson, B., Eynon, R., & Potter, J. (2020). Pandemic politics, pedagogies and practices: digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency. In Learning, Media and Technology (Vol. 45, Issue 2, pp. 107–114). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2020.1761641
In the UK, there are over 2 million people with sight loss, with 360,000 registered as blind or partially sighted. Approximately 25% of those with partial sight loss are employed, this decreases to 10% for those who are blind. There is therefore a pressing need to enable blind and visually impaired people to gain better access to the job market. Evidence has shown that people who are visually impaired can seek employment if the professional tools they use have appropriate accessibility. These adaptations help visually impaired individuals to access vocational learning and employability opportunities.
Computer networking is a promising area for employment for visually impaired people because command line software, which is text-only, is widely used; this software is already accessible through assistive technology such as screen readers. The Open Networking Lab Accessibility project, which is funded by the UfI VocTech Trust, allows visually impaired people to acquire basic computer networking skills through the use of accessible network simulation software. In order to achieve this, we have extended the PT Anywhere network simulation tool to offer an accessible interface for visually impaired learners. We have collaborated with visually impaired users, members of the broader disability community, and accessibility specialists, in order to identify user requirements and test the new software developments.
The following video summarises our main challenges and goals:
PT Anywhere offers a network simulation environment via a web interface that can be accessed from any web browser or as a widget inside an interactive eBook. PT Anywhere is based on the Packet Tracer network simulator for Windows and Linux developed by Cisco. Rather than replicate Packet Tracer’s functionality in a web application, PT Anywhere is offering its basic functionality from a minimalistic interface that can be adapted to different learning contexts and purposes. PT Anywhere has been jointly developed by the Open University and Cisco in the context of the projects FORGE and Open Networking Lab.
We adopted the following process for developing the accessible version of PT Anywhere, focusing on improving the experience for visually impaired users:
First, we ran the front-end code through a variety of accessibility checkers to ensure that, where possible, all HTML rendered in a structured and fully annotated manner.
This included improving the text mark-up, element structure and page layout to ensure good semantics, which is important for screen readers.
We tidied the language used, by shortening alt texts to give a clearer description and reducing overly long text to allow screen readers to give a concise reading.
We improved the UI controls, adding correct aria attributes to all rendered elements.
We implemented tab indexing through all the HTML elements to ensure correct order for keyboard navigation.
Most importantly, we created a fully HTML rendered representation of the application.
The original PT Anywhere application displayed the network simulator inside a Canvas element, which allowed a user to interact with the drawn elements using their mouse to drag, edit and add new devices. This sole canvas element was not suitable for the accessible version as the elements inside may not be read by a screen reader and cannot easily be targeted by keyboard navigation.
Once communication was received from the backend, the plugin would send the instructions to both the canvas and HTML element, so they could both update at the same time. This has allowed us to have two side by side networks, one rendered visually and one rendered in plain text synchronised to the same underlying Packet Tracer instance. This new HTML element would also go through the initial accessibility checks to ensure it meets the same standards as the rest of the site.
We tested this accessible version with instructors from the Cisco Networking Academy and accessibility experts, who provided their feedback about their user experience, as well as some bug reports. Having addressed this feedback and bug reports, we have released the accessible version of PT Anywhere that can be accessed here or by visiting the interactive learning activities of our OpenLearn course.
The following video demonstrates the accessible version of PT Anywhere:
The Open Networking Lab Accessibility project team:
Karen Kearn (Project Leader)
Andrew Smith (Co-lead and Cisco liaison)
Alexander Mikroyannidis (Software development manager)
Chris Sanders (Software developer)
Jon Rosewell (Educational designer)
Helen Donelan (Educational evaluator)
Francisco Iniesto (Accessibility expert)
Nuno Guarda (Cisco UK & Ireland CSR/Cisco NetAcad representative)
David King (Project Manager)
James McDonald and Edel Gallagher
Over the last 10-12 months the way we work, learn, absorb information and communicate has changed significantly. New technologies and models have been introduced to tackle the challenges surrounding online learning and new teams and jobs have been created to help reduce the stress that comes with how we now learn and retain information. In 2020, Dublin City University (DCU) established a new Digital Learning Design Unit (DLDU); a team tasked with supporting lecturers to transition to a new way of working, and to help address the challenges of pivoting online.
‘Pleased to meet you’…’Oh, sorry you are on mute’, might be a common phrase uttered during this pandemic, synonymous with people unmuting microphones and grappling with video-conferencing settings. In the case of DCU’s Digital Learning Design Unit’s members, the ‘Pleased to meet you’ was just as important as the unmuting, as we are a team of 10 dedicated learning professionals who were brought together and tasked with supporting lecturers in the university to design and deliver meaningful hybrid learning experiences to students.
The terms ‘rapid’ and ‘ninja’ were used frequently in our initial weeks as a team, and we had to get our hands dirty, testing technologies and learning about programme content in a very short timeframe. In a sense, this gave us freedom to try things rapidly, and what emerged was a series of Learning Design Sprints which could be used with lecturers to support them to design, create and deliver online learning.
In our short time together, we feel we have bonded well as a team, considering we have not met each other in real life. This is thanks to the use of collaborative technologies, such as Google Suite, particularly Hangouts, and Zoom, the web conferencing tool of choice for the University. A model Loop course was created, where team members could contribute resources. This was also used as a resource for lecturers to model best practice and support the development of their hybrid courses on Loop.
As team members had different skill sets, a focus on sharing and collaboration quickly emerged, from people asking ‘for a hand’ through hangouts to more structured peer-delivered training sessions. DLDU’s coordinator, Dr. Orna Farrell ensured that there was a collegial, supportive environment for team members, and the introduction of a weekly Reading Circle gave space for team members to discuss various literature and resources, as well as catch up with each other.
Created in the height of the pandemic, we are approaching our fifth month together as a team, we all work remotely and not one of us has met the other physically. So far we have worked with over 170 members of DCU’s academic staff and have enhanced 160 Moodle course pages. We have learned to utilise a range of technologies to collaborate, which aid our work with academic staff. These technologies range from Zoom, Google Apps, H5P activities to Moodle tools, such as quizzes and Moodle Books.
Moving completely online for the semester has been a challenge, not just for our team, but lecturers in particular. The biggest challenge of this process has been upskilling academic staff around our university in order to effectively support and engage students who are used to learning on campus. This challenge was made particularly difficult by lecturers’ varying levels of comfort with technology, so creating a process which accommodated all types of backgrounds and learning abilities was a challenge and one that took a significant amount of time to get right.
Thankfully we eventually did get it right, we created a collaborative process which entails four, two hour sessions over a two-day sprint which dedicates time for academic staff to explore and learn the pedagogical and technological approaches to effectively engage with hybrid learning. The sprints focused on hands-on tailored profession learning in a small group environment.
The DLDU’s agile design methodology focuses on enhancing the student learning experience and is anchored around three core pillars:
• DCU’s Hybrid Learning Policy
• ABC Learning Design Framework
• Universal Design for Learning
Simultaneously, a separate team would rapidly enhance the academic’s Loop page in order to bring it to life. We have created 20 rapid enhancements which focus on user experience, clear communication, and clean design which bring a page to life.
While upskilling academic staff on these tools, we also created our own Youtube channel for other members of staff who perhaps hadn’t the time for these sprint sessions and these videos consisted of quick wins to really change the dynamic of a loop page that they could do at their own pace in their own time, which has had a real positive impact and enabled us to reach the far corners of the DCU campus.
Our initial Design Sprint approach was created to meet the urgent need for support for the transition to hybrid learning in September. Since October, we have broadened our support offerings based on feedback from faculty and created a richer menu of support offerings, range from individual design consultations to constructive module reviews leading to enhancement plans and to support for the design, development and delivery of new modules or programmes.
To conclude, many people are feeling the pinch of remote working and learning during a tough time for all. We were created with a purpose to ease the difficult transition online for the DCU community. While we have only scratched the surface, we have eased the pressure on many who were quite worried about the challenge ahead of online learning. While as a team, we communicate through a screen, the team has a shared purpose, to support lecturers, and ultimately students. Although we haven’t met, we are driven to support each other to deliver on that purpose.
To find out more about us click here: https://www.dcu.ie/nidl/digital-learning-design-unit
Follow us on Twitter: @DCU_DLDU
Since my last report to you in September, things have again moved on significantly for our community and ALT. Everyone continues to work at an incredible pace in this academic year under the continued shadow of the pandemic. Learning Technology has very much moved to be at the heart of organisations and this brings both challenges and opportunities for our Members.
Like many of you, I am looking forward to a bit of a break at the end of the year, and with that in mind, I’d like to encourage and invite you all to come and join us for a Learning Technologist of the Year Awards Ceremony like no other:
This year, at 4.30pm on Wednesday, 16th December, President of ALT, David White, will announce this year’s winners in the research project, team and individual award categories – and we will also be making a special award to every and all Learning Technologists as a token of recognition for the extraordinary effort that we have made this year. We hope to come together as a community, to acknowledge the scale of the challenges we have faced in 2020 and to have a moment of celebration!
In a year when so many of us have had to work in isolation and without much support, I invite you to join in and raise a cup or a glass with us!
The Ceremony is open to all and free to attend. Register for your free place now.
Launching the ALT Annual Survey 2020: Capturing sector response to the COVID pandemic
ALT’s Annual Survey has now been run since 2014 with a number of the core questions remaining unchanged providing a unique insight into how Learning Technology is used across sectors as well as identifying emerging trends in current and future practice. Given the exceptional circumstances under which our Members have been working in response to the COVID pandemic, we are using this year’s survey to capture how the sector has adapted and also help inform ALT’s priorities to support our community in 2021/22. The survey is open for responses now at https://go.alt.ac.uk/ALTSurvey2020 and will close on 18 December 2020.
ALT’s Research in Learning Technology Journal welcomes three new Editors
We are delighted to welcome new Editors to the Editorial Team for Research in Learning Technology. Led by Editor-in-Chief, Lesley Diack, the open call for expressions of interest and subsequent recruitment and selection process has led to the following appointments: Tunde Varga-Atkins, Louise Drumm and James Brunton will join the Editorial Team as Editors alongside Lesley Diack, Liz Bennett, Michael Flavin, Sarah Honeychurch, Simon Thomson, and Gail Wilson. You can find more information about the Editorial Team here.
After many years of making a big impact as a senior member of staff, Martin will be leaving ALT in January 2021 to move onto new adventures as an intrepid edtech explorer, true to his influential blog’s byline. We feel fortunate that we have had Martin work with us and inspire us, particularly during this year of crisis. So we, the staff and Trustees of ALT, are already making preparations to say thank you. If you would like to contribute to Martin’s virtual leaving card (read: spreadsheet), please contribute them via this Google form . We are also planning a farewell karaoke special for the end of January, so get ready to practice your #TunesForHawksey.
ALT responds to Digital teaching and learning during the coronavirus pandemic: Call for evidence
I would like to thank you, as Members, for the great input submitted to this consultation. Our response is focused on the case studies and input provided by ALT Members. Many of ALT’s Member Institutions have also submitted individual responses. Read more here.
We continue to support Members with a full programme of events and activities planned, including:
On a final festive note, I am delighted to say that in response to popular requests, we have now made some of ALT’s visuals (created for us by the wonderful Bryan Mathers) available on face masks, t-shirts, mugs and other items to help celebrate Learning Technologists even more widely. Have a look at our #altc festive shop at https://www.contrado.co.uk/stores/alt-shop and note that 20% of all proceeds go to ALT’s scholarship fund for free conference places.
Dr Maren Deepwell
It has been a tough start to the term for teachers and students across the country. There aren’t many educators who would describe the transition to remote learning during a pandemic as ‘easy’. But while it is easy to lament the past (we all do it), Rapidmooc believes it is essential to stay positive and continue to move forward, seeking ways to improve our education online.
The University of Oxford, The ESCP Business School and The Université Claude Bernard Lyon have all sought to improve their online education, and this blog post offers four simple ways that they succeeded by using video and Rapidmooc’s all-in-one recording studios.
Put your content first
In less than a year, educators have rapidly moved away from everything they know and transferred all of their learning material onto digital platforms. While this is impressive and we should all be proud of our ability to evolve. Unfortunately, it has encouraged us to formulate new content quickly, without pausing to consider if we even think it’s any good. Technology hasn’t made this transition easy either, in some cases forcing teachers to put their learning material on the back burner while they gauge the best way to present it. Rapidmooc believes it is crucial to focus on the content at hand, taking the time to consider what is going to engage students while they are at home. To produce effective learning content, educators must focus on demonstrating their passion and expertise in a topic, rather than worrying about the technology around them. The ESCP Business School are a great example of educators who are choosing to put their content first:
“Rapidmooc makes shooting and production smooth, effortless and fun […] helping lecturers, admin staff and students build their confidence. The more innovative among them finally have a way to bring their most ambitious projects to life. Rapidmooc removes barriers and brings out the digital spirit that lies in all of us.” (Claire Bertrand, Digital Innovation Officer at ESCP)
The Rapidmooc studio quickly removed the burden on educators and students at ESCP to become video production experts and instead allowed them to concentrate on producing content that they can be proud of (see figure 1).
Use body language
During a lecture or seminar, teachers present learning material while standing up, using their whole body to communicate. Body language helps to engross audiences and tends to get lost in remote learning. Stepping back from the camera and using your entire body to present learning material engages students more than you might think. In their book, The Classroom X-Factor (2011), Garner and White claim that “gesture and body language” are two of the most critical factors that help to create meaningful and immersive learning experiences. This is demonstrated in the video learning content produced by the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in Oxford, who use their Rapidmooc studio to teach their students whilst not only standing up, but standing in front of their learning material, using a green-screen (see figure 2). This creates engaging content that shows the students the presentation and the teacher in one shot. So, stand up and use body language to talk to your students, because as you can see, it is one of the closest ways to reproducing the classroom environment.
See the full video on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/CebmOxford/status/1128975902191308805
Create an active online network
Remote working has left students feeling somewhat detached from their education. Not only are they missing their face-to-face lessons, but their university experience isn’t quite the same without that five-minute conversation in the corridor after a lesson, the leisurely walk with friends between lectures, and the option to simply to drop in and see a teacher when they are struggling with their work. Therefore, it is imperative to keep feeding your students content and support throughout the week, in an attempt to emulate the human connection that they have grown accustomed to. This could be a quick hello over email or encouraging discussion on the university communication platform. But, most importantly, Rapidmooc believes educators should take advantage of video as a medium to maintain personal contact. The University of Oxford has used the Rapidmooc Pro Studio to communicate with their students at scale since 2018. Not only have they used the studio to create engaging video tutorials, but they have also created videos that present students with their feedback, as well as offering constant updates about their course. The shift to video as a dominant form of communication helped to sustain the university’s active online network, which supports the learning community at the university.
Have a read of the University of Oxford case study here:
Create COVID-friendly environments
Although staying safe is incredibly important, it can also be incredibly tricky when attempting to create professional-quality learning material to distribute at scale. Working from home under strict social distancing guidelines makes it almost impossible to record quality video content, which is why so many are opting to use their laptops and phone cameras to record or live stream lessons. However, this tends to produce low-quality education that does not always effectively engage students. The Université Claude Bernard Lyon was one of the first to solve this issue by using Rapidmooc’s COVID-friendly solution. Educators at the university in France can now create valuable video learning material both at home and on campus using the Rapidmooc Go, a portable all-in-one studio that permits one person to record a video without technical assistance. This enables teachers to comfortably produce professional-quality learning content while staying safe. For example, the university records live lectures as they happen, which offers those who cannot attend the opportunity to sit on the front row! (See figures 3 and 4).
These simple steps can solve some of the main challenges faced while teaching online with video and engaging your students remotely this year. So Rapidmooc encourages you to prioritise your content, stand up and use body language while teaching, offer a constant flow of communication online for your students, and most importantly, stay safe.
Finally, everyone at Rapidmooc sends all of ALT’s readers our warmest wishes. We hope you are all staying strong during these difficult times.
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White, J. and Gardner, J. (2011) The Classroom X-Factor. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.
James Stix, University of Edinburgh
The World Economic Forum released an article on the 22nd October 2020 whose title neatly summarised one of the most galvanised processes of the year across the world’s markets. The title, ‘Global workforce offered new skills by world-leading tech’ is an eye-catching sentiment towards the slithers of silver lining in a year whose front cover is otherwise probably most reminiscent of this:
Behind the drive from tech companies to reskill the workforce, is the continued growth global leaders have experienced – Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook all saw an increase in revenue over the first half of 2020, year-on-year. The language tech companies are thriving from – code – is in itself rooted in computational thinking. The more you learn about computational thinking and engage in it, the more you can feel sucked into a secret world that makes up so much of the fabric underlying our modern reality. Computational thinking has enabled too many inventions and discoveries to count here, but when it comes to education, courses that require some degree of computational thinking are no longer exclusive to engineering and computer science students in higher education.
Knowing how to think in terms of the different thought processes used in computer science to solve problems is of accelerating relevance across education. A basic knowledge of coding is now a requirement beyond the conventionally computing-heavy fields, as well as for students in secondary, primary, and even early childhood education. Learning computational thinking thus becomes crucial not only for engineers and computer scientists, but also for students in domains outside STEM like in History and Business. An essential part of computational thinking courses is a basic understanding of programming and, given how difficult it can be to provide a consistent experience across different devices and operating systems, programming courses often have required a technical setup to ensure that all students are running the same development environment. This can be a high barrier to entry for less technical students, teachers, and even institutions lacking proper information technology support. To lower this barrier, computational notebooks have been proposed as a way to minimize the amount of technical setup needed to provide a homogeneous programming environment.
Computational notebooks are online tools that combine resources (such as text or images), executable code, and both textual and graphical outputs. Initially, they were used mainly by data scientists for sharing and keeping track of data exploration as well as for reproducing knowledge and research. While their popularity has exploded in recent years, most prominently through the use of platforms like Jupyter notebooks, an open-source web application to create and share these notebooks, solutions like Jupyter often require technical infrastructure and lack support for rich educational experiences that integrate discussion, active feedback, and learning analytics. It can also feel like a whole new world for those migrating quickly from the Earth of last year to the Jupyter of this one. It has therefore become essential that the tools employed in introductory courses do not discourage students from continuing studies that reinforce computational thinking skills, especially given how important these skills are and will increasingly be into the future.
Initiatives have started to emerge from education institutions and the private sector to provide supportive platforms to learn coding and provide opportunities in the workforce. Microsoft launched a global skills initiative to teach coding to 25 million people across the world by the end of 2020; Google is increasing its work with online learning providers; Apple continues its ‘Everyone Can Code’ programme with resources for teachers, students and coding materials. Educational institutions are also stepping up to the challenge, with computational notebook platforms such as Noteable from University of Edinburgh’s centre for digital expertise EDINA, to provide cloud-based environments for teachers to set coursework and assignments and for students to learn remotely and asynchronously.
A multitude of challenges lie on the path to ensure this generation of students is skilled to become the next generation of leaders and workers, including addressing strong stereotype threats that can hinder learning in computer science, where female students are still widely underrepresented, or providing the backend server infrastructure to execute code and manage users, while directing students to cloud-based solutions such as Google’s Colaboratory risks violating privacy and legal regulations (e.g., GDPR). However, the winds of change are strong and, if you are looking for the positive challenges in the way of a more inclusive, informed and productive world, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel to the world of Jupyter.
Dr Shonagh Douglas, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University
Edward Pollock, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group, Robert Gordon University
Distracting the Distracted
Many of us (sorry colleagues!) have been guilty of the odd bit of multitasking during online meetings or training and I expect many students are similar. This makes it very easy to drift off (even more sorry colleagues) from the discussion in hand. Incorporating different and varied activities can help focus attention. Zoom offers several options, many of which are transferable to other platforms.
One of Zoom’s superior features is the ability for students to screen share within breakout rooms leading to many learning opportunities. Asking each group to produce something, such as a PowerPoint slide/presentation or a poster, can really encourages participation and focus. Depending on cohort size, each group can be asked to share the final product and, if appropriate, a quick poll to identify the best one can add a competitive element.
Most will be aware of the poll function (set up in advance for smooth operation) on Zoom and these can be useful for a quick bit of activity. These are effective but relatively basic and screen sharing a specialised online quiz platform, such as Kahoot or Mentimeter (both of which have free options), can give more advanced features. A further quick alternative to a poll can be asking for an emoji which somehow often get a good response and can actually be quite enlightening – ‘can you put in an emoji to demonstrate how you feel about….’ In Zoom students will most likely have to type these but experience shows they are apt at coming up with quite a range.
The annotation features can also be a useful addition to teaching through allowing students to circle/highlight key aspects – for example, when discussing a question, say screen shared through word, asking students to underline key criteria has been effective. You could also consider adding a blank slide in PowerPoint with a question at the top so students can annotate and fill in the blanks or add text to the page. The page can get messy so you might need to move text boxes around – but this has worked really well for sharing ideas.
Virtual games, screen shared, have provided further successes at encouraging activity, particularly with smaller groups. A dice game, where students roll a virtual dice and have to talk about one of 6 pre-determined options depending on the number they role. Virtual Connect Four has also been successful where students are divided into two groups and have to answer a question each on a topic – if they get a question right they get to place a counter on a virtual connect 4 board and play against the other team. The first team to have four in a row is the winner.
Using Zoom for Tutorials – A Handy Workaround
When presented with a large-scale teaching module with numerous online tutorial groups each week, motivation to find a solution to setting up multiple meetings each week was high. A neat work around this is to set up one meeting which lasts 24 hours and recurs daily. You can select for the host to be present before meeting starts if you do not want it being used in between. You need to reset after around 7 weeks, once maximum time is hit. An additional plus of this is that polls do not need to be set up for each class, each week, which saves a bit of admin time.
If you need to record a session and are screen sharing, remember firstly to check the box in your settings to record screenshare and secondly, remember that it will record what you can see. If you leave one or two student faces in the corner this will be recorded – click these away so you only see the screenshare (such as the PowerPoint slides) or your face and the screenshare. Also, if you have breakout rooms in operation it will continue to record the main room so if you use this chance to eat your lunch or have a chat to a colleague, better to pause the recording!
Final Tips and Tricks
Music on arrival – this one made a big difference! Sharing your screen with computer audio on (make sure its copyright free) and playing some background music when people log in – it builds the energy, avoids the awkward silence when people are connecting and lets people check their sound without lots of ‘is the sound working?’ ‘can you hear me?
Eye contact: Remember where your camera is. We are so used to making eye contact with lots of different students in the room. If you do this in Zoom the students will all just see you looking in lots of random directions and not at them. If you are talking though slides, try and have these placed just below your camera for more natural eye contact.
Break activities – a timer on the screen and a daily riddle or similar adds some fun while waiting but being unable chat with each other.
As an alternative to a virtual hands up, for feedback after a discussion you could use ‘Wheel of Names,’ or something similar, through screen share to randomly select someone. This add a bit of excitement and avoids having to pick on someone if you have reluctant participants.