By Mira Vogel, on 23 June 2015
Originally comprising project fundholders from the E-Learning Programme and now more open, Jisc convenes the Learning and Teaching Experts Group three times a year. This meeting – the 35th – had sessions on the student experience, leadership, and students as partners, all with a digital focus.
Helen Beetham introduced a new NUS benchmarking tool for the student digital experience (not yet released, but see their existing benchmarking tools), and further work on a digital capabilities framework for staff. Each table critiqued one of eleven areas of the tool, and contributed ideas to a twelfth on ‘Digital Wellbeing’.
There followed a series of shorter presentations including two senior managers describing their respective institution’s digital strategy and approach to supporting digital leadership, along with staff at Reading College who presented on their use of Google, their ethos of ‘pass it on’ for digital know-how, and how staff can indicate that they are happy to be observed (by hanging a green or red coat hanger on the door of their teaching room – paradoxically and unsurprisingly the green one was redundant because everybody got the message and used it). In case anybody remained unconvinced that there is any urgency to this, Neil Witt (another senior participant) tweeted a recent House of Lords report, Make or Break. The UK’s Digital Future [pdf]. He thinks that for institutions to build digital capabilities will require an HR strategy.
During lunch I talked with Ron Mitchell about Xerte the open source suite for authoring interactive digital content, and made a note to ask for a pilot installation. I failed to find the roof garden (consulting the floor guide later, it’s close to the bottom of the building) and fretted about a very large fish in a very small tank on reception. Then came a session on cultures of partnership with a panel of students and student-facing roles. Like the previous session, this was full of tantalising ideas like staff being able to choose a student or staff colleague to observe their teaching, and Dan Derricot from Lincoln University starting to think of student engagement as a ladder where the course evaluation form is lower than, say, creating new opportunities. Partnership culture depends on visibility; at first staff need to take a lot of initiative but as students see other students’ work, they are more likely to step forward with ideas of their own. Eric Stoller tweeted this interesting-looking paper theorising student involvement. Jisc has a network of Change Agents and (separately) there is a new journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change with a call for papers.
Finally the members showcase. I attended Lina Petrakieva’s session on assessing students’ digital stories at Glasgow Caledonian. They had to deliberate about similar things to us, namely whether to require the students to use a common platform (they did) and whether to change the assessment criteria in recognition of the new modes of expression (they did). I caught the end of a talk from the Lisette Toetenel at the Open University about setting up a network to share designs for learning.
Participants used the Twitter hashtag #JiscExperts15 mostly to amplify the event but with a few conversations sparking – including this one on helping champions and when James Kieft (a runner up for last year’s Learning Technologist of the Year) from Reading College dropped the bombshell / reminded us that they’d turned off their Moodle in 2014 and moved to Google applications. This set quite a few people off – not for reasons of rent-seeking and fear of change though I’m sure we all need to check for that, but business models, orientation, and the risk of abruptly-retired services. It also gave other people a frisson of liberation). I should reassure (?) at this point that there are no plans to turn off UCL Moodle. Then somebody asked what the purpose of learning technologists would be in the VLEless future but the session ended before another round of “What is a learning technologist today?” could get underway. Sometimes I think of these (what we’re currently calling) digital education professional services roles as midwife, sometimes I think of them as more specialised educational design roles in waiting until the ‘digital’ becomes more taken-for-granted. As long as education isn’t served up pre-programmed or decided centrally, the roles are likely to endure in some evolving form.
Thanks to Jisc and all contributors for a stimulating day.