I was asked to put forward my thoughts on how I thought the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning should be supported where I work. I work in a UK University that has campuses overseas, and which is organised into Schools (Computer Science is in a School with Maths, to form one of the smaller schools). This was my first round brain dump on the matter. It looks like something might come of it, so I’m posting it here asking for comments.
Does any of this look wrong?
Do you/ have you worked in a similar or dissimilar unit and have any suggestions for how well that worked?
What would be the details that need more careful thought?
Get in touch directly by email or use the form below (if the latter let me know if you don’t want your reply publishing).
Why support Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)?
Why would you not? This isn’t about learning technology for its own sake, it’s about enhancing learning and teaching with technology. Unless you deny that technology can in any way enhance teaching and learning, the questions remaining centre on how can technology help and how much is that worth. Advances in technology and in our understanding of how to use it in teaching and learning create a “zone of possibility,” the extent of which and success of how it is exploited depend on the intersection of teacher’s understanding of the technologies being offered and the pedagogies suitable for their subject (Dirkin & Mishra, 2010 [paywalled 🙁 ]).
Current examples of potential enhancement which is largely unsupported (or supported only by ad hoc provision) include
Online exams in computer science
Formative assessment and other formative exercises across the school
Providing resources for students learning off-campus
Supporting the delivery of course material when students won’t attend lectures
Providing course information to students
Location of support: in School, by campus, or central services?
There are clearly some services that apply institution wide (VLE), or need to be supported at each campus (computer labs), however there are dangers to centralising too much. Centralisation creates a division between the support and the people who need it, a division which is reinforced by separation of funding and management lines for the service and the academic provision. This division makes it difficult for those who understand the technology and those who understand the pedagogy of the subject being taught to engage around the problems to be solved. Instead they interact but stay within the remits laid down by their management structures.
There should of course be strong links between the support in my School and others, central support and campus specific support, but an arrangement where these links are prioritised over the link between support for TEL in maths and computing and the provision of teaching and learning in maths and computer science seems wrong.
This is something of a brain dump based on current activity, in no particular order.
Seminar series and other regular meetings to gather and spread new ideas.
Developing resources for off-campus learning (currently we need in CS to provide support materials based on existing courses for a specific programme) these and similar materials could also be used to support students on conventional courses who don’t attend lectures.
Managing tools and systems for formative assessment and other formative experiences, e.g. mathematical and programming practice.
Developing resources and systems for working with partner institutions who deliver courses we accredit, some of which may be applicable to mainstream teaching.
Student course information website: maintenance and updating information, liaison with central student portal.
Online exams, advice on question design and managing workflow from question authoring to test delivery.
Evaluation of innovative teaching (where innovative is defined as something for which we are unsure enough of the benefits for it to be worth evaluating).[*]
Maintain links with development organisations in Learning Technology, e.g. ALT and Jisc and scholarship in areas such as digital pedagogy and open education which underpin technology enhanced learning.
Liaise with central & campus services, e.g. VLE management group
Advise staff in school on use of central facilities e.g. BlackBoard
Liaise with other schools. There is potential to provide some of these services to other schools (or vice versa), assuming financial recompense can be arranged.
[*Note: this raises the question of whether the support should be limited to technology to enhance learning, should address other innovations too.]
This needs to be provided by a core of people with substantial knowledge of learning technology, who might also contribute to other activities in the school. We have a group of three or four people who can do this. It is a little biased to Computer Science and to one campus so there should be thought given to how to bring in other subjects and locations.
We would involve project students and interns provided this was done in such a way as to contribute sustainable enhancement of a service or creation of new resources. For example, we would use of tools such as git so that each student left work that could be picked up by others. As well as supervising project students within the group we could co-supervise with academic staff who had their own ideas for learning-related student projects. This would help keep tight contacts with day-to-day teaching.
Funding and management
This support needs an allocated budget and well controlled project management. Funding for core staff should be long term on a par with commitment to teaching within the School. Management and reporting should be through the Director of Learning and Teaching and the Learning and Teaching Committee with information and discussion at the subject Boards of Studies as appropriate.
Dirkin, K., & Mishra, P. (2010). Values, Beliefs, and Perspectives: Teaching Online within the Zone of Possibility Created by Technology Retrieved from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/33974/
Where’s my flying car? I was promised one in countless SF films from Metropolis through to Fifth Element. Well, they exist. Thirty seconds on the search engine of your choice will find you a dozen of so working prototypes (here’s a YouTube video with five).
They have existed for some time. Come to think about it, the driving around on the road bit isn’t really the point. I mean, why would you drive when you could fly. I guess a small helicopter and somewhere to park would do.
So it’s not lack of technology that’s stopping me from flying to work. What’s more of an issue (apart from cost and environmental damage) is that flying is difficult. The slightest problem like an engine stall or bump with another vehicle tends to be fatal. So the reason I don’t fly to work is largely down to me not having learnt how to fly.
The zone of possibility
In 2010 Kathryn Dirkin studied how three professors taught using the same online learning environment, and found that they were very different. Not something that will surprise many people, but the paper (which unfortunately is still behind a paywall) is worth a read for the details of the analysis. What I liked from her conclusions was that how someone teaches online depends on the intersection of their knowledge of the content, beliefs about how it should be taught and understanding technology. She calls this intersection the zone of possibility. As with the flying car the online learning experience we want may already be technologically possible, we just need to learn how to fly it (and consider the cost and effect on the environment).
I have been thinking about Dirkin’s zone of possibility over the last few weeks. How can it be increased? Should it be increased? On the latter, let’s just say that if technology can enhance education, then yes it should (but let’s also be mindful about the costs and impact on the environment).
So how, as a learning technologist, to increase this intersection of content knowledge, pedagogy and understanding of technology? Teachers’ content knowledge I guess is a given, nothing that a learning technologist can do to change that. Also, I have come to the conclusion that pedagogy is off limits. No technology-as-a-Trojan-horse for improving pedagogy, please, that just doesn’t work. It’s not that pedagogic approaches can’t or don’t need to be improved, but conflating that with technology seems counter productive. So that’s left me thinking about teachers’ (and learners’) understanding of technology. Certainly, the other week when I was playing with audio & video codecs and packaging formats that would work with HTML5 (keep repeating H264 and AAC in MPEG-4) I was aware of this. There seems to be three viable approaches: increase digital literacy, tools to simplify the technology and use learning technologists as intermediaries between teachers and technology. I leave it at that because it is not a choice of which, but of how much of each can be applied.
Does technology or pedagogy lead?
In terms of defining the”zone of possibility” I think that it is pretty clear that technology leads. Content knowledge and pedagogy change slowly compared to technology. I think that rate of change is reflected in most teachers understanding of those three factors. I would go as far as to say that it is counterfactual to suggest that our use of technology in HE has been led by anything other than technology. Innovation in educational technology usually involves exploration of new possibilities opened up by technological advances, not other factors. But having acknowledged this, it should also be clear that having explored the possibilities, a sensible choice of what to use when teaching will be based on pedagogy (as well as cost and the effect on the environment).
These are three resources that look like they might be useful in understanding and avoiding gender bias. They caught my attention because I cover some cognitive biases in the Critical Thinking course I teach. I also cover the advantages of having diverse teams working on problems (the latter based on discussion of How Diversity Makes Us Smarter in SciAm). Finally, like any responsible teacher in information systems & computer science I am keen to see more women in my classes.
Iris Bohnet on BBC Radio 4 Today programme 3 January. If you have access via a UK education institution with an ERA licence you can listen to the clip via the BUFVC Box of Broadcasts. Otherwise here’s a quick summary. Bohnet stresses that much gender bias is unconscious, individuals may not be aware that they act in biased ways. Awareness of the issue and diversity training is not enough on its own to ensure fairness. She stresses that organisational practise and procedures are the easiest effective way to remove bias. One example she quotes is that to recruit more male teachers job adverts should not “use adjectives that in our minds stereotypically are associated with women such as compassionate, warm, supportive, caring.” This is not because teachers should not have these attributes or that men cannot be any of these, but because research shows[*] that these attributes are associated with women and may subconsciously deter male applicants.
[*I don’t like my critical thinking students saying broad and vague things like ‘research shows that…’. It’s ok for 3 minute slot on a breakfast news show but I’ll have to do better. I hope the details are somewhere in Iris Bohnet, (2016). What Works: Gender Equality by Design]
This raised a couple of questions in my mind. If gender bias is unconscious, how do you know you do it? And, what can you do about it? That reminded me of two other things I had seen on bias over the last year.
A gender bias calculator for recommendation letters based on the words that might be associated with stereotypically male or female attributes. I came across this via Athene Donald’s blog post Do You Want to be Described as Hard Working? which describes the issue of subconscious bias in letters of reference. I guess this is the flip side of the job advert example given by Bohnet. There is lots of other useful and actionable advice in that blog post, so if you haven’t read it yet do so now.
I teach half a course on Critical Thinking to 3rd year Information Systems students. A colleague takes the first half which covers statistics. I cover how science works including the scientific method, experimental design, how to read a research papers, how to spot dodgy media reports of science and pseudoscience, and reproducibility in science; how to argue, which is mostly how to spot logical fallacies; and a little on cognitive development. One the better things about teaching on this course is that a lot of it is covered by xkcd, and that xkcd is CC licensed. Open Education Resources can be fun.
I’ve been at Heriot-Watt University for many years now but haven’t really had much to do with the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning here. A couple of new projects might change that. Continue reading →
A question: does WordPress have anything like the Long Term Stability branches of Ubuntu?
The Cetis website is based on WordPress, we use it as a blogging platform for our blogs, as a content management system for our publications and as a bit of both for our main site. It’s important to us that our installation (that is the WordPress core plus a variety of plugins, widgets and themes) is stable and secure. To ensure security we should keep all the components updated, which not normally a problem, but occasionally an update of WordPress or one of the plugins causes a problem due an incompatibility or bug. So there is a fair amount of testing involved whenever I do an update on the publications site, and for that reason I tend to do updates periodically rather than as soon as a new version of each component is released.
Last month was fairly typical, I updated to the latest version of WordPress and updated several plugins. Many of the updates were adding new functionality which we don’t really need, but there were also security patches that we do need–you can’t have one without the other. One of the plugins had a new dependency that broke the site, David helped me fix that. Two days later I login and half the plugins want updating again, mostly with fixes to bugs in the new functionality that I didn’t really need.
I understand that there will always be updates required to fix bugs and security issues, but the plethora of updates could be mitigated in the same way that it is for Ubuntu. Every couple of years Ubuntu is released as a Long Term Stability version. For the next few years, no new features are added to this, it lags in functionality behind current version, but important bug fixes and security patches for existing features are back-ported from the current version.
So, my question: is there anything like the concept of LTS in the WordPress ecosystem?
I work in the area commonly known as Learning Technology, or Educational Technology. I don’t have much time for trying to pin down what exactly constitutes “technology” in that context, and certainly none for considerations like “printing is technology, does that count”. But today I bought a book which does quite literally(*) illustrate advances in printing applied to learning.
The book is a reprint of the Oliver Byrne’s The first six books of the elements of Euclid in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters for the greater ease of learners which was first published in 1847. Instead of the conventional referencing of lines, shapes and angle by letters used in geometry text books. So instead of:
Proposition 30: Straight lines parallel to the same straight line are also parallel to one another.
Let each of the straight lines AB and CD be parallel to EF.
I say that AB is also parallel to CD.
Let the straight line GK fall upon them. Since the straight line GK falls on the parallel straight lines AB and EF, therefore the angle AGK equals the angle GHF.
Again, since the straight line GK falls on the parallel straight lines EF and CD, therefore the angle GHF equals the angle GKD.
But the angle AGK was also proved equal to the angle GHF. Therefore the angle AGK also equals the angle GKD, and they are alternate.
Therefore AB is parallel to CD.
Therefore straight lines parallel to the same straight line are also parallel to one another.
This book has:
Colour printing of books was not common in 1847, it only became commercially viable after the invention new printing techniques in the C19th and mass production of cheap synthetic dyes, starting with mauvine in 1856, so this can fairly be called advanced technology for its time. Like many uses of technology to enhance learning, when colour printing of text books did become commonplace, it wasn’t used with the same imagination as shown by the pioneers.
* except, of course, that “literally” means according to the written word and this is a book of pictures. #CetisPedantry
Editable files for the What is Schema.org briefing are now available from the Cetis Publications site. The process of enabling editable copies of this publication has leads me to some reflections on the publishing workflow behind it.
We published What is Schema.org? a Cetis briefing paper for LRMI in June, as with most of Cetis’s publications it is covered by a CC Attribution licence so, according to the terms of that licence
You are free to: Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
However, it was published as a pdf, which a colleague of mine says means “pretty damn final”, so you would have found it hard to take advantage of second of those freedoms.
Why was it published only as a pdf and not as a .odt/.docx file like many of Cetis’s other publications? Well, I decided not to run risk the of head injuries and masonry damage that comes with trying to do page layout in OpenOffice or Word, and prepared the pdf using an open source desktop publishing package called scribus. On the whole I’m happy with that. I could have released the scribus files when we published the document, but, firstly we were in a bit of a hurry and I didn’t have time to check that the text file assets had been synched with any in-page edits that had been made in the last round of proofing (I’ve done that now, so here is an archive of the assets and other files you need). I’m aware that not everyone will find scribus to their taste; the original text was created in Google docs, which many people might find a better starting point for making changes to the text (because it is). The Google doc text had got well out of synch with the text in scribus and the final pdf.
So, I have made sure that the Google doc has the same text as the published pdf, and have set the sharing on it so that anyone can see it and can make a copy to edit themselves (here it is). I did consider other possibilities, such as version control repositories e.g. github, but in this case I don’t think I want version control. People will make their own edits to suit their own purposes, I hope. In other words, forking is good, I don’t envisage pulling updates back into the Cetis version too often. I have also made a promise to myself not to start on the page layout for the next briefing (What is LRMI? in case you’re wondering) before the text is fixed, so that the Google doc and Scribus files for that don’t get out of synch.
I’m still not entirely happy with the editability of the images. They were created using Lucidchart. You can get the output as png files through either the google doc or the scribus archive, they’re better than nothing but I suspect that svg versions might be more useful.
Is this worth it? Personally I think so, otherwise I might as well use Creative Commons licences with the No Derivative restriction, which I choose not to. In this case, I know there is interest in creating a version that covers schema.org in RDFa as well as microdata. That would be an update worth publishing through Cetis.
A play-list for Roman History from the In Our Time archives. [Updated 20 June 2017]
I’ve become a bit of an addict of In Our Time since I was alerted to the archives available as podcasts by a tweet from someone, I can’t remember who. In Our Time is a Radio 4 programme where Melvyn Bragg discusses some topic with three academics. Whoever it was who sent that tweet said something along the lines of it possibly being the basis of a University syllabus, which gave me the idea of putting together a playlist for one of the topics I’m interested in: Roman History.
Taken from various sections of the In Our Time archive, the descriptions are edited excerpts of those found on the BBC In Our Time site. The links are more or less chronological in order of Roman history; on left are links to discussions that relate directly to the story of the Roman Empire, on the right are discussions which relate to neighbours of the Empire and ideas that influenced the story.
For the historian Herodotus, the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC) was the defining clash between East and West, and allowed Western values to rise above Eastern.
The Phoenicians People from the Levant who established a trading network across the Mediterranean linking many settlements, including Carthage.
The Etruscan Civilisation Emerging ca.800 BC the Etruscans thrived for the next eight hundred years, extracting and trading copper and developing a sophisticated culture. Eventually the Etruscan civilisation was absorbed into that of Rome.
Alexander the Great
One of the most celebrated military commanders in history. Born into the Macedonian royal family in 356 BC, he gained control of Greece and went on to conquer the Persian Empire, defeating its powerful king, Darius III.
Romulus and Remus
According to tradition, the twins were abandoned by their parents as babies, but were saved by a she-wolf who found and nursed them. Romulus killed his brother after a vicious quarrel, and went on to found a city, which was named after him.
Res publica, 500-50BC
The Roman Republic
The rise and eventual downfall of the Roman Republic which survived for 500 years.
Hannibal The Carthaginian general who led an entire army, complete with elephants, across the Alps in order to attack the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War which unfolded between 218 and 202 BC.
Carthage’s Destruction Carthage and its destruction by the Romans in the 2nd Century BC, was a pivotal moment in world history that left Rome as the supreme power in the Mediterranean.
Judas Maccabeus Born in the second century BC, Judas led his followers, the Maccabees, in a rebellion against the Seleucid Empire, which was attempting to impose the Greek culture and religion on the Jews
Strabo’s Geographica Written by a Greek scholar living in Rome, the Geographica is an ambitious attempt to describe the entire world known to the Romans and Greeks at that time.
Spartacus Slave revolts in the 1st century BC, especially the Roman gladiator and rebel leader Spartacus.
Cleopatra The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. She was lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Julius Caesar Assassinated as he entered the Roman senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Caesar was an inspirational general who conquered much of Europe. He was a ruthless and canny politician who became dictator of Rome, and wrote The Gallic Wars, one of the most admired and studied works of Latin literature.
The Augustan Age
A golden age of literature with Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphosis among its treasures. But they were forged amidst creeping tyranny and the demands of literary propaganda.
Greek and Roman Love Poetry
Greek and Roman love poetry, from the Greek poet Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos, to the love-hate poems of the Roman writer Catullus.
Roman Satire Much of Roman culture was a development of their rich inheritance from the Greeks. But satire was a form the Romans could claim to have invented.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Ovid and explore the theme of metamorphosis from the transformation of Narcissus to the bug of Kafka’s story, and beyond.
The Aeneid Virgil’s Aeneid was the great epic poem that formed a founding narrative of Rome, written in Augustus’ reign at the start of the Imperial era and has been called an apologia for Roman domination; it has also been called the greatest work of literature ever written.
Vitruvius and De Architectura
Written almost exactly two thousand years ago, Vitruvius’ work is a ten-volume treatise on engineering and architecture, the only surviving work on the subject from the ancient world.
Seneca the Younger One of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic.
St Paul Paul’s impact on Christianity is vast. Crucially, Paul is responsible for changing Christianity from a Jewish reform movement into a separate and universal religion.
Josephus Born Joseph son of Matthias, in Jerusalem, in 37AD, he fought the Romans in Galilee in the First Jewish-Roman War. He was captured by Vespasian’s troops and became a Roman citizen, later describing the siege and fall of Jerusalem.
Pliny’s Natural History
Some time in the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, an enormous reference work which attempted to bring together knowledge on every subject under the sun.
Pliny the Younger
A prominent lawyer in Rome in the first century AD, Pliny later became governor of the province of Bithynia, on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey. Throughout his career he was a prolific letter-writer, sharing his thoughts with great contemporaries including the historian Tacitus, and asking the advice of the Emperor Trajan.
Agrippina the Younger
One of the most notorious and influential of the Roman empresses in the 1st century AD, Agrippina was the sister of the Emperor Caligula, a wife of the Emperor Claudius and mother of the Emperor Nero. Through careful political manoeuvres, she acquired a dominant position for herself in Rome.
Tacitus and the Decadence of Rome Roman historian Tacitus chronicled some of Rome’s most notorious emperors, including Nero and Caligula, and whose portrayal of Roman decadence influences the way we see Rome today.
The Greek historians who studied and recorded the Celts’ way of life deemed them to be one of the four great Barbarian peoples of the world. Perched on the North Western fringe were the British who shared many of the religious, artistic and social customs of their European neighbours.
One backwater of the Empire noted for its wretched climate, gloomy atmosphere and uncouth inhabitants.
The Druids Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain.
Boudica In 60AD, Boudica led an army of tribesmen and sacked Camulodunum, modern day Colchester, before marching on London. She came close to driving the Roman Imperial power out of Britain before she was finally defeated.
Hadrian’s Wall Built in about 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian, its construction must have entailed huge cost and labour. However, the Romans abandoned it within twenty years, deciding to build the Antonine Wall further north instead.
The Cult of Mithras A mystery religion that existed in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD.
Ptolemy and Ancient Astronomy In the 2nd Century AD Ptolemy proposed that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and explained all the observed motions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars with a system of uniform circular motions which he referred to as ‘epicycles’.
Decline and Fall, Byzantium
The Roman Empire’s Decline and Fall
How far is the growth of Christianity implicated in the destruction of the great culture of Rome? How critical were the bawdy incursions of the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and the Vandals to the fall of the Roman Empire?
Born in around 240 AD, Zenobia was Empress of the Palmyrene Empire in the Middle East. A highly educated, intelligent and militarily accomplished leader, she led a rebellion against the Roman Empire and conquered Egypt before being finally defeated by the Emperor Aurelian.
The Sassanid Empire
Founded around 226 AD, in Persia, the Sassanian Empire lasted over 400 years as a grand imperial rival to Rome. This super-power traded goods from Constantinople to Beijing, handed regular defeats to the Roman army and only fell to the Islamic conquests of the 7th century.
The idea that God is a single entity, but one known in three distinct forms – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – has been a central belief for most Christians since the earliest years of the religion. The doctrine was often controversial in the early years of the Church, until clarified by the Council of Nicaea in the late 4th century.
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed which established the Divinity of Christ, written to counter the 4th Century Arian heresy
The Pelagian Controversy In the late 4th century a British monk, Pelagius, travelled to Rome where he preached a Christian doctrine which many regarded as heretical: that mankind was not inherently depraved.
In 453 with the Barbarians at the gate, through the gate and sacking the city of Rome “the wide arch of the ranged empire” finally began to fall…Or did it? In AD 395 the Emperor Theodosius had divided the vast Roman Empire between his two sons.How did the East survive when the West fell, were they really Romans and why do we know so little about one of the most successful and long lived Empires ever to straddle the globe?
Justinian’s Legal Code
The ideas brought together under Justinian I, Byzantine emperor in the 6th century AD, which were rediscovered in Western Europe in the Middle Ages and became very influential in the development of laws in many European nations and elsewhere.
The Arab Conquests
In 632 the prophet Muhammad died and left behind the nascent religion of Islam among a few tribes in the Arabian Desert. Within 100 years Arab armies controlled territory from Northern Spain to Southern Iran and Islamic ideas had begun to profoundly refashion the societies they touched.
The Abbasid Caliphs
From the mid eighth to the tenth century the Abbasid Caliphs headed a Muslim empire that extended from Tunisia through Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and Persia to Uzbekistan and the frontiers of India.
In 711 a small army of North African Berbers invaded Spain and established an Iberian Islamic culture that would last for over 700 years
The Battle of Tours
In 732 a large Arab army invaded Gaul from northern Spain, and travelled as far north as Poitiers. There they were defeated by Charles Martel, whose Frankish and Burgundian forces repelled the invaders.
The Carolingian Renaissance In 800 AD on Christmas Day in Rome, Pope Leo III proclaimed Charlemagne Emperor, the first of the Holy Roman Emperors. A Frankish King who held more territory in Western Europe than any man since the Roman Emperor, Charlemagne’s lands extended from the Atlantic to Vienna and from Northern Germany to Rome.
Third Crusade When Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, seized Jerusalem back in 1187 Pope Gregory VIII issued a Papal Bull for restoring the Holy City to Christian Rule.
Constantinople Siege and Fall When Sultan Mehmet the Second rode into the city of Constantinople on a white horse in 1453, it marked the end of a thousand years of the Byzantine Empire.
Rome and European Civilization
Melvyn Bragg assesses the role Rome has played in European civilization. Rome has meant Republicanism, as well as Imperialism; it has stood for Pax Romana and also for the machinery of war, it is an eternally pagan city that still beats as the Catholic Heart of the Christian Church.