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Event overview: “Mapping unbundling in the HE terrain: South Africa and the UK”

JoannaStroud14 November 2019

In this seminar, hosted by the UCL Knowledge Lab Learning Technologies Unit, Dr Bronwen Swinnerton presented outputs from the UnbundledHE project: “The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape”, a cross-institutional study conducted by the University of Cape Town and University of Leeds.

The project considers the intersection of marketisation, unbundling, and digital technology and its effects on educational inequalities in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The following blog post summarises some of the issues surrounding the concept of educational unbundling and the project’s report into the current state of unbundled provision in both countries.

Marketisation

Recent years have seen a growth in demand for HE internationally but this has occurred alongside global economic shocks, such as the 2007 recession. The economic downturn has seen greater pressure placed on universities to report on the impact of central government funding streams and a resurgence of debates surrounding education as a public versus private good. This debate has tended to foreground the benefits of higher education to private individuals and consequently prompted a shift towards funding by the individual, leading to increases in fees and application of exogenous market principles to the HE environment. Such pressures have led HEIs to look to generate third stream revenue and reach new or alternative markets to fill funding gaps.

Digital technology

Digital technology is now ubiquitous in everyday life and HE, with all universities making use of technology in teaching and learning to some extent. Alongside the need to reach new audiences many have also begun to engage with online education, which has seen dramatic growth since the introduction of MOOCs. These courses have been in great demand from non-traditional audiences, such as adult professionals, with platform providers and university partners now pivoting toward the use of short online courses to deliver CPD and widening access initiatives, enhance teaching quality, and promote ‘massification’ or scalable learning opportunities. It is agreed that while universities can undoubtedly reach more prospective learners with online education it is no longer a ‘second best’ or indeed cheaper delivery method.

Unbundling

Unbundling is explained by McCowan (2017) as being either ‘disaggregation’, where what was sold together is now sold separately, e.g. tracks from an album, or ‘no frills’, a basic version of a product, e.g. budget airlines. There now exists a definitive application to HE, with the project defining unbundling as a disaggregation of educational provision, e.g. degree programmes, into component parts, e.g. modules, for delivery by and to multiple stakeholders. This is often achieved using digital approaches, and is manifesting itself through alternative digital credentials, or microcredentials, often delivered via what were MOOC platforms.

Rationale for offering unbundled educational opportunities can be multifarious and their production and delivery at odds with existing or longstanding institutional processes. The approach is typically: 

  • Internal, whereby HEIs choose how and when to break apart existing provision and offer content to learners directly;
  • In collaboration with service or platform providers, in which an HEI procures services to support specific stages of the course lifecycle;
  • By working with online programme management companies (OPMs), frequently with full service or white-labelled delivery and revenue share arrangements.

The unbundling landscape in SA and the UK

Dr Swinnerton highlighted key findings from the project, including the outcomes of interviews with policy makers, HE leaders, edtech developers, and private company CEOs. Mapping information (delivered via kumu.io software) was drawn from publicly available data, such as university, private company, and online and distance education websites, press releases, and other media. 

Interactive mapping of the HE landscape in SA and the UK demonstrated HEIs, suppliers, and OPMs and the relationships between them across provision of unbundled online education. The maps could be filtered according to league table strata, and what was immediately apparent across both contexts was disparity in coverage, with partnership opportunities broadly unavailable to lower-ranked institutions. Private companies in this space, notably OPMs, chiefly target elite institutions with established brands to drive profit-making business models. This was particularly clear in SA, with historically disadvantaged universities having little to no opportunity to engage in the online education space with support from private sector organisations, and with the suggestion that this had the potential to propagate stark inequalities already inherent within the SA HE system. Similar issues were present in the UK context, but with acknowledgement that educational inequalities and the digital divide are not quite so strong outside the context of online delivery.

See also

Dr Bronwen J Swinnerton, Senior Research Fellow in Digital Education at the University of Leeds

McCowan, T. 2017. Higher education, unbundling, and the end of the university as we know it. Oxford Review of Education 43(6); pp.733-748.

Swinnerton, B , Ivancheva, M, Coop, T et al. (6 more authors). 2018. The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape. Preliminary findings from fieldwork in South Africa. In: Bajić, M, Dohn, NB, de Laat, M, Jandrić, P and Ryberg, T, (eds.) Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018. Networked Learning 2018, 14-16 May 2018, Zagreb, Croatia; pp. 218-226.

Alternative presentation delivered by UCT’s Sukaina Walji at WCOL19 with an increased focus on OPM relationships. “Degrees of (un)ease: Emerging relationships between OPMs and University Stakeholders in an unbundling landscape”

Check your Moodle course with Ally’s course accessibility report

EliotHoving13 November 2019

Blackboard Ally now includes a course accessibility report for every UCL Moodle course.

The course report shows you:

  • a course accessibility score,
  • a summary of the different types of content on your course, and
  • a list of all the issues identified on your course, including an “easy to fix” summary and a “low scoring content” summary.

Decorative image showing Ally's course report

To view Ally’s report on your course, tutors or course admins simply go to their Moodle course and click Accessibility report under the Navigation block. You can also run the report in the Administration block by clicking Reports and then Accessibility report.

Ally helps you prioritise work and track your progress:

The report allows staff to work through a series of files with low accessibility scores or focus on a single issue that may appear in multiple files.

From the report, staff can view “easy to fix” issues, such as documents that are more easily editable (PowerPoints and Word Documents). Ally considers adding alternative descriptions to images as “easy to fix” because you can add alternative descriptions directly using Ally without the need to download, edit and upload the file. This is a nice time-saver but writing alternative descriptions can be challenging, for advice see our guide on Visuals and use of colour.

The Ally course report will also update over time to allow staff to track their progress.

Ally also flags HTML content on your Moodle course:

HTML content refers to content that is written into Moodle such as text added to a Moodle section, page, book, or label through Moodle’s text editor. Ally can help identify text with insufficient colour contrast and unused formatting that can arise when Moodle content is copied and pasted from Word. However, fixing HTML issues can be challenging so, for now, we suggest staff focus on Ally’s guidance on their documents.

If you have any questions, please see the Blackboard Ally UCL wiki or get in touch with digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

Reviewing our digital learning environment – get involved!

SteveRowett7 November 2019

Earlier this year, I celebrated a decade at UCL.

Just as I joined, there was another new recruit to UCL – Moodle. This open source virtual learning environment had recently replaced WebCT which we used before, and my initial task was to support the migration of 300 courses from one to the other. Since then we’ve regularly upgraded Moodle and added new facilities such as Turnitin, Lecturecast and Blackboard Collaborate into it. It now has 7000 live courses and is used by nearly every teacher and student at UCL.

We also have other services – from voting handsets to portfolios. And we also know that there’s lots of other web-based services that people use.

Time flies by, and after ten years we think it’s right to ask if this environment is right for us? Does it need to change? Are we making the most of what we’ve got? Is there something better we should be doing instead?

To help us answer these, Digital Education has been listening and learning. We’ve started the process by conducting detailed interviews with 10 staff and 13 students about how they teach and learn. These have raised issues from our spaces and technologies, to our culture and organisation. It’s a rich source of viewpoints, and reflects the diversity and breadth of UCL’s education and people.

We’d like to share some of these findings with you, and give you an opportunity to contribute and prioritise our future developments. To do this, we have arranged four Town Hall meetings:

  • Wednesday 27 November 3-4pm, Cruciform LT2;
  • Tuesday 3 December, 10-11am, Cruciform LT1;
  • Monday 16 December, 12-1pm, Medical Sciences AV Hill Lecture Theatre;
  • Wednesday 8 January 2020, 3-4pm, Cruciform LT2.

There’s no need to book – just turn up to any that you wish to attend. The events are aimed at teaching staff but students and other staff are welcome too.

Any questions, please contact Steve Rowett in Digital Education.

Inspiration software to be discontinued

Michele CFarmer5 November 2019

SUBJECT: Inspiration Software, Inc. Closure Notice
For over 36 years Inspiration Software, Inc has been in the business of creating,supporting and selling software tools to advance thinking and  learning skills for learners of all ages.
Over the last few years, the market and technologies needed to serve our
customers have shifted tremendously.

After extensive consideration and with regret, we have decided to stop selling our products and close Inspiration Software. Therefore, as of 25th November, we will no longer be fulfilling orders.

We have notified Student Finance England of our plans to close Inspiration Software and are working with them to ensure there is an orderly exit from the DSA sector for Inspiration 9.

We do have some good news for our customers as our DSA products will continue to be supported and sold by other companies.

• Inspiration® Maps and Kidspiration® Maps will now be a part of
Diagramming Apps, LLC. Inspiration Maps is now a DSA approved product.

• Inspiration 9 IE customers can continue to find curriculum, customer service and tech support through TechEd Marketing at inspiration@techedmarketing.com or 01672 560387.

A dedicated Inspiration 9 support website for users will be launched in November.

For the foreseeable future, existing users of Inspiration 9 for Windows will be able to continue to use it as normal in their studies.

Inspiration 9 for Mac users are likely to face issues if they choose to upgrade their current operating system to Catalina, which doesn’t support 32-bit applications.

If you have any further questions on this matter, please do not hesitate to reach out to Reeza Awoodun (reeza@inspiration.com).

We thank you all for your support in recommending Inspiration 9 over these past years.
Yours sincerely
Mona Westhaver
President & Co-founder
www.inspiration.com

UCLeXtend platform migration

JoannaStroud25 October 2019

In recent months staff from Digital Education have been engaged in a project to migrate the public-facing short courses platform, UCLeXtend, to a new hosting provider. As part of this process the platform will be upgraded to a version of Moodle that offers several GDPR compliant features in addition to an updated interface.

A change of theme

As part of the migration we are also taking the opportunity to refresh the platform’s aesthetic, or ‘theme’, which in recent years has required continued investment to remain functional. This change will mean that the platform’s existing courses look different, although underlying functionality will remain the same and the content and activities present will not be changed. Course layouts will bear greater similarity to the internal UCL Moodle platform and course teams will have more choice over how their courses are structured and presented. 

The new site theme’s primary differences are as follows.

At site level

  • The UCLeXtend homepage will be refreshed with a change in colours and imagery, in addition to separate buttons for UCL and non-UCL logins (see work-in-progress screenshot below); 
  • Upon login, learners and staff will be presented with a dashboard of their courses. This dashboard can be controlled by individual users, giving the opportunity to highlight recently visited courses and ‘favourite’ or hide courses.

Screenshot of updated UCLeXtend homepage, with photograph of UCL Portico in background and log in buttons visible

At course level

  • Section navigation will move from the top of the page to the left-hand side. The left-hand navigation panel can be expanded or collapsed by the user; 
  • There will be greater control over the layout of each course with course formats; 
  • Courses can feature an illustrative image that is presented on both the course dashboard and as a background upon entry (see work-in-progress screenshot below).

Screenshot of new course layout with expanded and collapsed navigation bar shown

Key information

The migration is anticipated to be completed in the week commencing 18th November 2019 (updated: 13/11). A notice will be applied to the front page of the platform as to the precise date and time and it should be unavailable for a few hours at most. Teams with live courses during this period will be contacted separately with further information about how to manage the transition.

If you have any questions please get in touch with the Digital Education team at extend@ucl.ac.uk.

Improving the accessibility of Moodle content with Blackboard Ally

EliotHoving11 September 2019

Blackboard Ally Logo

UCL has acquired a new technology called Blackboard Ally to help improve the accessibility of content within Moodle, in line with UK legislation.

Ally runs within Moodle to provide alternative file formats for students and accessibility guidance for staff.

It will be launched prior to the start of term on Wednesday 18th September.

Alternative formats on demand

Ally uses machine algorithms to convert common file types to alternative formats with no extra effort required from staff. For example, a staff member can upload their lecture slides as a PowerPoint file to Moodle, and Ally will subsequently and automatically offer students the option to download the file in its original format or a range of alternative formats including audio (mp3), PDF, ePub for eReaders, or Braille reader format.

Alternative formats are essential for certain students and provide advantages to all students. Ally’s alternative formats allow for multi-sensory learning which can have benefits to educational outcomes and well-being. For example, at universities already using Ally, students have converted lecture slides to audio for listening to during their commute and to help them revise.

However, alternative formats will only be as accessible as the original source file. You should therefore always ensure you follow best practice when creating your content.

Helping staff identify where accessibility improvements can be made

Ally also provides staff with an accessibility score and guidance on common files within Moodle including PDF, PowerPoint and Word documents.  This includes files already present within Moodle and new files as they are uploaded. The accessibility score and guidance are available to staff but not students. Using Ally and Digital Education’s guidance on creating accessible content, staff will be able to identify and improve the accessibility of their teaching resources.

You can learn more about Ally by visiting the UCL staff guide on Blackboard Ally and by watching Blackboard’s video below:

Students can be directed towards UCL student guide on Blackboard Ally.

Keep an eye on the Digital Education blog for updates.

If you have any questions relating to Ally, or you would like a demonstration for your Department, please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.