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Digital Wellbeing: A guide for staff and students

SamanthaAhern27 March 2020

Tea pot with sugar pot & milk jug

To borrow some words from Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

No doubt, this is very much how the current period feels for many of us. There are some fantastic things happening in local communities and in our sector, but for many of us it is also the worst of times. Some of us are away from home, or our usual support networks, our routine has been disrupted and there is a constant air of uncertainty.

Its ok, to not be ok. More now than ever. We are being asked to increasingly engaged with digital tools and media, some for the firat time, and this can have a massive impact on our wellbeing. So how do we support our wellbeing whilst adapting to new ways of learning and working?

Teaching Continuity

Guidance for staff

One of the recurring themes in the wellbeing literature across all student groups, K-12 and Higher Education, is the importance of being known by their teachers. Students who feel that their teachers know them and their capabilities are less anxious and perform better than those that do not. Being seen.

With many students distributed across the globe, how do we let them know that they are seen? Both in our support for them and in planning our teaching continuity activities.

It is hard to know where your students may and what technologies they will have access to. They may have a laptop, but may also have limited access to a good internet connection. You also need to consider what additional needs your students may have, see our post on Accessibility and Teaching Continuity.

At the same time, you will be working from home, often not at a proper desk and may be looking after others in your household. It’s important to factor in and support your own wellbeing.

Some things to think about:

  • Be kind. To yourselves and your students. Expect to be less productive, there’s a lot going on.
  • What are the key things your students need to know – the key learning objectives and threshold concepts?
  • What is the simplest way of enabling that learning to happen?
    • Talk to Arena and Digital Education colleagues. Check what support is available via the Teaching Continuity pages.
  • Video is great but its exhausting and requires good internet access.
    • Does the session need to be live? Pre-record where you can, its both less stressful and exhausting.
    • Keep videos short.
    • Do you have students that need captions or transcripts?
    • Can you provide the information in an alternative way e.g. a reading or set a research task.
  • Show your students you care – send them an email, arrange virtual office hrs – doesn’t have to be video, could be an advanced forum or chat in Moodle.
  • Don’t try to replicate everything online, it isn’t the same and shouldn’t be.
  • Be clear with your expectations.
    • Remove or hide any unneccessary content on your Moodle course. Some of your students will try do or read everything.
  • Write yourself a schedule, include plenty of breaks and non-screen time.
  • Talk to your colleagues – virtual coffee mornings or meetings, make use of the chat in MS Teams. Why not take part in an #LTHEChat or catch-up on previous chats?

Guidance for students

First, breathe. There’s a lot happening and a lot changing on a daily basis. We understand that you are doing your best in very difficult circumstances. Keep in contact with your friends and loved ones as much as possible, remember we are physically distancing.

We recommended that you regularly check the Contunuing to learn remotely guidance as it is being regularly updated. It provides some basic guidance around how to get started and learn effectively online as your tutors switch to teaching in a digital format.

The student mental health charity Student Minds have produced some additional coronavirus guidance on looking after your mental health.

Please also check the Support for Students FAQs on the UCL Advice for staff and students who may have concerns about the outbreak of coronavirus web page.

There is additional guidance and support available from Students’ Union UCL including FAQs.

Staff wellbeing

Working from home can be difficult. Whether you’re teaching, researching or in an academic-related role things can be difficult and at times isolating. It’s ok to be less productive than usual.

Firstly, check out the Support for Staff FAQs on the UCL Advice for staff and students who may have concerns about the outbreak of coronavirus web page. This is the key information hub.

Review the Remote working – tools and best practice guidance, this is generic guidance for all those working from home. In addition, UCL Workplace Wellbeing have produced some support resources. In addition, SLMS have collated some nice resources for coping with Working in a Crisis.

Childnet International have a range of guidance on digital wellbeing for children and young adults, including a Digital Wellbeing pack for parents. It is increasingly important that we are mindful of everyone’s digital wellbeing at this time. Especially as we are spending increasing amounts of time online. You may also want to review this Jisc blog post Looking after your own, and others’, digital wellbeing .

General guidance

5 ways to wellbeing: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give

Taken from: https://whatworkswellbeing.org/about-wellbeing/how-to-improve-wellbeing/

At this time its important to remember that we are actually being asked to physically distance ourselves from colleagues and loved ones, not socially distance. Remain socially connected is essential to our wellbeing and will help reduce and sense of loneliness or isolation.

The first thing is to limit your exposure to the news. Only check the news once or twice a day for key updates, any more than this is unneccessary and may only increase any anxiety.

Secondly, take a break from your smart device. Put it in a box for an hour. Go do something else: read a book, do some colouring, if you have one go out into the garden. This will help reduce the sensory and cognitive overload.

Thirdly, if you are fit and healthy and its permitted, get outside. Exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block can work wonders to enhance your mood.

Fourth, check out the Blurt foundation’s resources, inparticular the Coronavirus Helpful Hub.

Fifth, the NHS Every Mind Matters website now has 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus.

UCL has published a range of guidance aimed at both staff and students to support you during this time:

References

  • Dickens, C. (1859). A Tale Of Two Cities By Charles Dickens. With Illustrations By H. K. Browne. London: Chapman and Hall.
  • “Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities”. (2017), IPPR, 4 September, available at: https://ippr.org/research/publications/not-by-degrees (accessed 6 September 2017).
  • O’keeffe, P. (2013), “A Sense of Belonging: Improving Student Retention”, College Student Journal, Vol. 47 No. 4, pp. 605–613.
  • “PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students' Well-Being”. (2017), , Text, , available at: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/pisa-2015-results-volume-iii_9789264273856-en (accessed 13 November 2019).
  • https://whatworkswellbeing.org/about-wellbeing/how-to-improve-wellbeing/

 

Games and Learning

SamanthaAhern23 March 2020

Pac-Man

Image by Eric Perlin from Pixabay

I recently attended an Educational Technology Masterclass organised by the Moorfields Education Hub about Graduate Skills and Game-Based Learning presented by Dr Matthew Barr from the University of Glasgow.

During the session Dr Barr spoke about research he had undertaken on the use of commercial video games to develop graduate skills, in particular:

  • communication,
  • adapatability
  • and resourcefulness.

In order for the students to persist with the games, the games selected needed to meet the following criteria:

  1. provide a variable feedback system,
  2. enables less experiences students to get something out of the game whilst they develop skills,
  3. and failure needs to have a cost, even though games give us a safe place to fail.

For the study, the students taking part participated in 14hours of total game play across 8 different games. The game playing took place in a specially equipped room. The games used in the study were specifically chosen and played in ways designed to require effective communication, adaptability and resourcefulness.

More information is available in the following papers:

The game play enabled students to develop both tacit and articulated knowledge, but also facilitaed the act of becoming re: graduate attributes.

This session had me thinking about my own practice. I have always used games (usually boardgames or puzzles, sometimes online games) or playful / experiential learning experiences when introducing or explaining concepts. I have also had the opportunity to test a breakout box experience designed by colleagues for their students. The premise of a breakout box experience is that there are a number of locked boxes that you need to unlock. To do this the students need to use what they have been learning to help untangle the clues that will help them unlock the boxes. This is designed to encourage teamwork and critical thinking.

Why should we use games and ‘play’ in higher education?

There are three dimensions of learning: knowing, making and playing.  Play can be defined as trial and error with no fear of failure, we do not neccesarily know what is going to happen, the outcome, but that is of little interest. It is the process of playing that is important, not the result as it may be unexpected or  something thst cannot easily be measured but is learning that affects your personal development. We can tap into this with games.

Gee (2014) talks about the “Game/Affinity Paradigm” (GAP), what is required for this is a well-designed and well mentored problem-solving space. This can be provided by games. An example of this is the game ‘Portal’ and the online community built around the game.  The game itself is not about learning Physics, however players need to develop and apply an understanding of the physics of the game to solve a number of problems and be successful in the game. A tacit, embodied understanding, but neccesarily and articulated knowledge of physics. However, the tacit embodied understanding can give situated meaning to articulated knowledge, developing / enhancing understanding Games as a media are affective, providing a much richer interaction with the content and ideas presented in the game(s) compared to other media, allowing the player(s) explore and discover things about themselves and the world around them. This can be a very powerful learning tool, opening up richer reflection and critical analysis opportunities. This illustrated in the examples below of games-based learning.

Applications of Game-Based Learning

During the talk Dr Barr also provided a number of examples of where video games were being used as part of regular teaching, with many more discussed in Chapter 6 of his recent book Graduate Skills and Game-Based Learning. These included:

  • Kurt Squire’s use of ‘Civilization III’ as the basis for a module on world history. Students developed conceptual understandings of history, geography and world politics, but also questioned the interpretation of these in both the game and their own understanding.
  • Sherry Jones’ use of the mobile game ‘Fallout Shelter’ to teach moral philosophy at Colorado Technical University. In particular ideas around egoism and surveillance.
  • Steve Connelly’s use of ‘Cities: Skylines’ in the teaching of sustainable development at the University of Sheffield. In addition to using the game to model considerations such as the economics and the environment, students were encouraged to critically reflect on assumptions made by the game and what was missing e.g. social concerns re: sustainable development.
  • Tom Boylston’s use of ‘The Long Day of Young Peng’ to elicit empathy amongst Social Anthropology students at the University of Edinburgh. Students became more confident in their understanding of the course material and associated reading as a result of interacting with the text-based game.

References:

Barr, M. (2019). Graduate skills and game-based learning : Using video games for employability in higher education / Matthew Barr. (Digital education and learning).

Etchells, P. (2019). Lost in a Good Game: Why we play video games and what they can do for us. London, UK: Icon Books.

Gee, J 2014, Games, passion, and “higher” education. in Postsecondary Play: The Role of Games and Social Media in Higher Education. Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 171-189.

Koster, R. (2005). A theory of fun for game design / by Raph Koster. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press.

Squire, K. D. (2004). Replaying history: Learning world history through playing “Civilization III” (Order No. 3152836). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305195950). Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/docview/305195950?accountid=14511

Thomas, Brown, & Brown, John Seely. (2011). A new culture of learning : Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change / Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. United States]: [CreateSpace].

THE Journal article: Breakout! Gaming to Learn

Wired article: Meet Fallout’s philosophers who are obsessed with the game’s intense political feuds

Developing your Digital Pedagogy

SamanthaAhern6 March 2020

Much has been written about the need to develop students’ graduate attributes and employability skills, in particular students’ digital capability.

In order for us to develop digitally capable students, we first need to be digital pedagogues. For us to be able to identify, use and select or de-select appropriate technologies that support and are truly a part of our pedagogy, we need first to develop our own digital capabilities as educators.

The European Union have done a lot of work on digital capability/competency frameworks, and have produced a framework specifically for educators – Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu). This is much more targeted than the Jisc Digital Capability framework.

EU DigCompEdu Areas

Image source: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcompedu

In addition, a range of open access professional development materials have been produced for Higher Education directly linked to the DigCompEdu framework. In particular, FutureTeacher 3.0 and EduHack.

Future Teacher 3.0

This is an Erasmus+ funded project that had collaborators from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. The project produced three main tools linked to the DigCompEdu framework predominantly aimed at developing the digital competencies of those delivering or supporting teacher and learning in the UK and Europe.

These tools are:

  • Digital Thermometer
    • A self-assessment questionnaire
  • Digital Compass
    • Analysis of current compentencies based upon Digital Thermometer responses and a recommended development pathway.
  • Digital Journey
    • A series of 10 online modules for teachers who use little ICT in their lessons and 10 modules for already experienced teachers.

The online module content does not map directly to UCL specific technologies but still covers all the key content.

In the video below from a Digital Education Showcase meeting I outline why I particularly like the DigCompEdu framework and provide some more information about Future Teacher 3.0 and played Jisc’s video about their Digital Capability Framework.

EduHack

This is also an Erasmus+ project, it is run by Politecnico di Torino (Italy), Universidad Internacional de La Rioja – UNIR (Spain), Coventry University (UK), Knowledge Innovation Centre (Malta) and ATiT (Belgium).

This project combines an online programme with EduHackathons where teaching professionals will learn how to produce digitally-supported learning experiences and will have the opportunity to experiment with creative models and approaches to teaching and learning, with a focus on fostering collaborative learning and student engagement.

Institutions are required to register to participate and in doing so run the EduHackathon event in the way prescribed.

However, you can access the EduHack online course without registering as an institution. You can register as an individual if you want to obtain a certificate of learning. The course has 4 main topic atreas, these are:

  • Digital Resources,
  • Teaching,
  • Assessment
  • and Empowering Learners.

Like the Future Teacher 3.0 materials, these are based upon the DigCompEdu framework.

Digital Education and Digital Skills Development

In addition to the generic resources described above, a wide range of training is provided by Digital Education. This includes UCL specific training on the teaching and learning tools that we support such as Moodle, LectureCast and Reflect. A wide range of online guidance is also available via the E-learning wiki. Full details of the E-learning training available for staff are available on the ISD website.

Digital Skills Development provide a training programme that can be accessed by all staff covering popular tools and software available on Desktop@UCL and Desktop@UCLAnywhere. For details of upcoming training please see the recent blog post Develop your digital skills this academic year – new dates released

Online resources to help support teaching continuity

As we are unable to deliver face-to-face sessions to support colleagues with the transition to online delivery of their courses we are provding a range of additional support:

Additional Resources

The Coursera hosted Mooc Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology  from the University of London and Bloomsbury Learning Exchange is a 3 week course.

Each week focuses on a particular topic:

1. Using multimedia for teaching and learning
2. Encouraging student collaboration
3. Formative assessment and feedback

Seeking inspiration?

However, if you are looking for ideas on how to move towards or increase the use of e-learning tools in your teaching you might wish to review the ABC learning design process. In particular, review the learning type cards as these suggest digital approaches to learning.

There are also a number of case studies on the Teaching and Learning portal that discuss how a range of tools have been used by colleagues across the institution. Examples include:

 

Reflect’s Hall of Mirrors

SamanthaAhern31 January 2020

Reflect is UCL’s educational blogging service. It is a WordPress-based platform, hosted by CampusPress. Although Reflect is the educational blogging service, it can be utilised in a number of different ways by both staff and students for teaching and learning purposes. The flexibility of the WordPress platform enable Reflect sites to be structured in any of the following ways, as both individual and class sites:

  • As a traditional blog
  • As a website built from a number of static pages
  • As a website built from a number of static pages with an incorporated public or private blog

In addition these sites can be public, private or accessible to a selected group of users.

Why use Reflect for teaching and learning?

Reflect can be used to support all six dimensions of the Connected Curriculum:Connected Curriculum framework diagram

  1. Students connect with researchers and with the institution’s research.
  2. A through-line of research activity is built into each programme.
  3. Students make connections across subjects and out to the world.
  4. Students connect academic learning with skills for the workplaces.
  5. Students learn to produce outputs – assessments directed at an audience.
  6. Students connect with each other, across phases and with alumni.

 

Reflect could be incorporated into teaching and learning, including assessment in the following ways.

Traditional blogs could be used to:

Example activity: Connected Curriculum Dimension:
Reflect on readings throughout a module or course 1, 2, 4
Maintain a reflective journal e.g. of teaching practice experience 2, 3, 4
Maintain a lab notebook or project journal 1, 2, 4
Produce a short form essay linking learning to current affairs 1, 3, 4

Websites could be used to:

Example activity: Connected Curriculum Dimension:
Co-produce a website on a set topic for a specified audience 1, 3, 4
Produce a showcase portfolio of work 4
Produce an open resource for specified audience 3, 4, 5
Facilitating a citizen science project 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Websites with blogs could be used to:

Example activity: Connected Curriculum Dimension:
Create an evidence portfolio for professional practice and  maintain a reflective journal 1, 2, 3,  4, 5
Create a website to share research project outcomes and maintain a project journal / notebook 1, 2, 4, 5

For a discussion on the use of UCL Reflect for the creation of portfolios, please see: Creating digital portfolios

How is Reflect being used for teaching and learning?

Since its launch Digital Education have sought to work with colleagues from across the institution to support the use of Reflect for teaching and learning, enhancing their digital pedagogy toolkit and the student experience.

To date, two events have been held to showcase the use of Reflect and to facilitate knowledge exchange between colleagues who are currently using and would like to use Reflect.

The first event organised by colleagues in the Arena Centre for research-based education, the Showcase Portfolio event, was held in the North Cloisters on 28 May 2019. The aim of this event was to provide students and staff with an opportunity to see examples of how blogging can be used for educational, professional and personal purposes.

This event was preceeding by a blog post and a case study where colleagues shared how they were using Reflect with their students:

The second event, Teaching and Learning with Reflect, was held in the Christopher Ingold Building on 12 December 2019. At this event staff shared their experiences of using Reflect for teaching and learning with their respective cohorts.

For a  write-up of the event please see: Tutor’s experience of using UCL Reflect with students

More information about UCL Reflect, including FAQs, can be found in the Reflect Blogging Resource Centre. In addition, you may wish to join the Reflect User Group on Microsoft Teams. In this team, colleagues across the institution share news, experiences and related readings to the use of UCL Reflect.

 

 

 

 

Creating digital portfolios

SamanthaAhern7 November 2019

In the last few years I have used a number of online tools to create digital portfolios as part of my continuing professional development, both HEA Fellowship and Associate CMALT.

For these portfolios I have used both MyPortfolio (Mahara)  and Reflect (WordPress).

Both do the job well, but there are differences in the development process and how you approach the development of the portfolio. You are welcome to view the portfolio I created for HEA Fellowship, original MyPortfolio pages and/or Reflect portfolio.

MyPortfolio

MyPortfolio is UCL’s version of Mahara, an eportfolio development tool. Portfolios are created via pages that are linked together as collections.

When you create your pages you have control over the structural layout. You choose from the inbuilt layout options, or you can create your own by selecting the number of rows, then the number of columns for each row and the page width percentage allocated to each column.

MyPortfolio page layout options

MyPortfolio page layout options

This gives you almost total control of the positioning of objects on the page. Any type of object can be added to any of the ‘content boxes’ you have created.

MyPortfolio page showing different content types

MyPortfolio page showing different content types

 

However, you are limited with regards to the look and feel of the pages. You can select from a number of Skins, but these only change the surrounds of the main content. You cannot change the background colour of the background boxes themselves.

MyPortfolio page with Skin

MyPortfolio page with Skin

MyPortfolio page without Skin

MyPortfolio page without Skin

 

 

 

 

 

You do however, have quite granular control over who can view your pages and collections. By default, only you can view your pages. This is good while developing your portfolio if you’re not keen on anyone seeing your work in progress. When you are ready to share your work, you can decide who you want to share with and for how long, a set time period or indefinitely.

MyPortfolio sharing options

MyPortfolio sharing options

There are also advanced options where you can modify the settings relating to comments and copying of your pages.

MyPortfolio advanced options - Sharing

MyPortfolio advanced options – Sharing

Reflect

Reflect is UCL’s blogging service for staff and students. Its primary use is for teaching and learning purposes. It is a WordPress platform provided by CampusPress. For this reason it is not possible to use the WordPress app with Reflect sites.

First and foremost WordPress is a blogging a platform, and this makes it a great tool for reflection and journalling. However, for creating portfolios it is best to make use of pages. You can set a page, as the main first page of your Reflect site giving it the appearance of a website as opposed to a blog.

In WordPress, appearance and layout is determined by the Theme that you have chosen, and will apply to all of your site. You cannot have different themes for different sections. It is therefore imperative that you choose an appropriate them for your site. Think carefully about what you are trying to achieve and the type of content (e.g. text, images and video) that you wish to include.

At present there are over 400 themes available for Reflect. For most sites I would recommend selecting one of themes identified as Accessibility Ready, this will help more users access your content.

Screenshot of Reflect dashboard showing Theme selection options.

Theme selection optionsaccess your content.

However, for portfolios I recommend choosing one of the Portfolio themes and one that best matches the mix of content you expect to include. Themes can easily be changed, so you may need to experiment with a few to find a good match.

Once you have chosen your theme, make use of the menu builder and pages to create the structure for your portfolio. You can group content using parent and child pages.

Pages can be saved as Drafts whilst they are still in development, however they need to be published before they can be added to the menu.

By default Reflect does not have the granularity of access control that MyPortfolio has. However, if you activate the “User Specific Content” plugin you can specify who can see what pages. Otherwise, your site is private or public.

Employability and Connected Curriculum

Both MyPortfolio and Reflect are great tools for Connected Curriculum activities where students are required to create content for an external audience. However, if you are looking to enhance students’ employability skills, I recommend the use of Reflect as WordPress is used widely. In 2015, 25% of all websites used WordPress (https://w3techs.com/) and its market share has continued to grow and is currently used for 84% of all Japanese websites.

 

 

Digital Accessibility – from Directive to DNA

SamanthaAhern22 July 2019

I have been very excited by the flurry of activity that has been triggered by The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (2018)   across my own and other institutions. These regulations haven’t really introduced anything new, much of it is covered by existing equalities legislation, but it has shifted the focus. Previously, we could be reactive and in our laziest moments rely on those that needed adjustments to request them. Now, we are required to be proactive. To create content that is accessible by design and follows Universal Design for Learning principles around designing for POUR (i.e., so content is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust). Aligning with the social model of disability: people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.

Tweet by Danielle Johnstone describing some of the Lego activity outcomes.Many colleagues I meet are concerned about what the regulation means in terms of workload, what is required of them and how they become compliant. A range of guidance and support is being delivered to help raise awareness and develop the required skills. But, fundamentally there needs to be a mind shift.

Although there are deadlines associated with the regulations, I would argue that digital accessibility is not a compliance challenge but a cultural shift. A move from directive or requirement to part of our institutional DNA.

In a workshop I co-hosted with my colleague Leo Havemann, a participant described Digital Accessibility as being akin to Escher’s staircase, and I believe that they are correct. We will never not need to consider accessibility as part of our learning and content designs, and it may at times be impossible to be 100% accessible to everyone. However, it doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t become part of our day-to-day practice. The recently launched Student Health and Wellbeing Strategy echoes this with Action 1D: Make key concepts related to disability awareness, inclusive learning, health and wellbeing an integral part of relevant professional services staff and Personal Tutor training. Incorporate these concepts into curriculum development, design and governance.

So, how do we make accessibility part of our everyday? The aim of the aforementioned workshop was to crowd-source ideas on how to create the cultural shift, but also to identify what we can do now to help affect our institutional cultures.

Screenshot of tweet by Kris Rogers showing workshop Lego modelFor creating a cultural shift, key themes were to obtain buy-in from senior leadership teams and to embed digital accessibility in induction, training and promotion/development requirements. Making it part of the institutional language and ways of working for all. There was an acknowledgement that we needed to be honest with colleagues that it would require additional effort and different ways of thinking and doing. However, this would reduce over time as a result of skills development, cultural shift and tools to help. There should also be a bottom-up approach facilitated by peer evaluation and creating a network of champions within and across institutions.

With regard to what we can do now, 15% solution, a key theme was walking the talk – demonstrating good practice through our own behaviours and leading the way for others to follow. Training and support were also key themes, as were demonstrating good practice and cultivating empathy.

There may well be dragons to face along the way, but they are worth facing for the creation of a more inclusive and equitable institution.

If you would like to run the workshop at your institution, the materials are available under CC BY-SA 4.0 license: DirectiveToDNA-AccessibilityWorkshop

The materials are also available via OpenEd@UCL.