Latest WP Data

The latest data on widening participation have been published by HESA.

The latest statistics show that of all UK domiciled, young, full-time, first degree entrants in 2014/15:

  • 89.8% were from state schools. Two thirds of HE providers had over 90% state schools entrants.
  • 33.0% were from NS-SEC classes 4-7. This proportion varied from 10.0% to 58.3% across HE providers.
  • 11.4% were from low-participation neighbourhoods.

Interestingly when we look at our own university’s performance against WP by digging into the data tables, we see:

  • we recruit 99.3% of our students from state schools or colleges, against a benchmark of 96.1%
  • we recruit 47.6% of our students from SEC classes, 4,5,6 and 7 against a benchmark of 42,2%
  • 23.3% of our students come from low participation neighbourhoods, against a benchamrk of 15.1%

Looking at the raw figures would appear to show that we do a good job in recruiting and supporting WP students.

For me the questions would be though – how could we support these students better? Are there ways in which by knowing the background of our students we could tailor our personal tutoring processes Are there ways in which we need to provide additional study skills support to allow students to maximise success and minimise the chance of failure or withdrawal? Are there ways in which we could help students develop the necessary social and cultural capital during their time at university, to be able to maximise their opportunities when entering employment?

Some of these are easier to solve than others.As we begin to expose better information to personal tutors, we will be able to provide more of teh personalised support necessary. Linking this to a technology based approach that could predict the necessary interventions would be the next step. The most tricky one will be that of developing the cultural capital needed to succeed. This is where know that the advantages that come from a non-WP background play out. We’ve tried to emphasise the need for this in our current Learning and Teaching Strategy. The tricky bit is going to be about the implementation, while not making value judgements about the relative worth of different sets of cultural or social mores.

This last one counts as a wicked problem!



These are the days of miracle and wonder

This year’s New Media Consortium Horizon report for higher education has just been published. Put together by a range of experts from across the word, including our own Dave Parkes, the NMC report tries to indicate the rends in technology that will have an impact on learning and teaching in HE.

The graphic below summarises the contents:


Short-Term Impact Trends: Growing Focus on Measuring Learning

Learning analytics can use the data produced by VLE systems and other interactions, Together with the possible need ot be able to measure learning gain to satisfy potential TEF requirements (in England at Least) mean that we can expect to see greater use of data to inform how well students are learning.

At the same time, this is a cultural shift for the way in which we monitor learning in universities. This week on Spiked-Online, Jim Butcher suggests that:

Data collection feeds off and reinforces diminished trust. Students are not trusted to study, so they need to be watched and prompted. Lecturers are not trusted to teach, so they, too, are watched and judged on their ability to provide a good ‘student experience’.

The reality is somewhere between the technological solutionism that the boosters of various systems would propose, and this stance. The trick is to reognise, as the NMC report does, the need to develop the right ethical framework to deliver an analytics approach. In addition, we should be seeking to measure those things that matter – not just those that can be counted – and to use information that will reduce the burden of bureaucracy and provide genuinely useful information for staff and students

Short-Term Impact Trends:Increasing Use of Blended Learning Designs

The NMC report states that “Blended learning integrates both online and face-to-face modalities to create a cohesive learning experience, providing learners with flexibility and support. These hybrid approaches hold the potential to foster independent learning and collaboration, as well as provide more channels of communication among
students and instructors” and notes that advancing blended learning requires the promotion of scalable innovative course designs.

This one of those areas where blended learning or online learning develops in one of two ways in institutions. Either it is a top down strategic approach, or it is developed from the ground  up by enthusiasts, almost leading to a series of cottage industry approaches.

In both cases however, what we need to capture is are the learning designs that work. Here at Staffs we have developed some very clear models of e-learning and defined approaches to blended learning. We’ll be doign a lot more with these as we move through the implementation of digital capability as our quality enhancement theme.

Medium-Term Impact Trends:Redesigning Learning Spaces

Technology disruption is abougt more than just computers and internet access. If we start to change the way in which we want people to learn, then we also need to change the physical resource too. The NMC report points to examples of changing teaching rooms, with  “acoustic panels and ceiling microphones for the capturing of audio without disruption, and mobile furniture for flexible arrangements” as well as descriptions of the changes to library facilities which move away from stacks containing books and periodical to new kinds of spaces that offer more collaborative and individual study areas.

Like many other universities, we are already working in this area – our two new exemplar classrooms in the Brindley building showcase some cutting edge classroom technology, coupled with flexible furniture arrangements, while our libraries have been reconfigured to provide significantly more space for BYOD working and group or collaborative approaches, while not losing the areas needed for silent private study.

Medium-Term Impact Trends:Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches

From the NMC report –  “A primary goal of higher education is to equip students with the skills they need to be successful in the workforce and to make an impact on the world”. This aligns with our own objectives and the report proposes that to achieve this, there should be a greater move towards project-based learning, challenge based learning, inquiry-based learning, and similar methods to foster more active learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.

Again,  we would argue that in many of our disciplines we already do this – Games Design, Engineering, Media Production and Computing, amongst others, all use approaches that rely on project based activities. Within one of our faculties, there is a major push to transform all modules by using a practice/problem based learning approach.

Long-Term Impact Trends:Advancing Cultures of Innovation

To achieve some of the necessary changes, NMC propose changes in the way that institutions themselves work, and for the first impact trend look at how the ways of thinking used by a startup company could be used in an HEI context:

Like startups, institutions are becoming structured in ways that allow them to constantly evolve, reflecting and pushing the boundaries of the global marketplace. This includes deviating from hierarchical decision-making processes to promote collaborative strategies and incorporate student voices.

The contemporary workforce calls for employees that are agile, adaptable, and inventive and universities and colleges are increasingly revamping their existing programs and creating new ones to nurture these key skills. In the US alone, the number of formal
entrepreneurial courses in higher education has grown exponentially over the past two decades with nearly 25% of today’s college students aspiring to be entrepreneurs.

This why we focus on enterprise-led thinking and entrepreneurship in our own Staffordhsire Graduate definitions, and more importantly, why we will be revising these as part of our redeveloped Learning and Teaching Strategy.

Long-Term Impact Trends:Rethinking How Institutions Work

Inevitably, technology will change the way in which institutions themselves operate. Examples given in the NMC report include the following wide range of possible changes:

  • the need to make students more work-savvy
  • curricula that encourage students to work with peers from different
    disciplinary backgrounds on innovative solutions to complex problems.
  • new paradigms centered on online learning
  • exploring alternate methods of delivery and credentialing
  • adopting the “Education-as-a- Service” (EaaS) model, a delivery system that unbundles the components of higher education, giving students the option to pay for only the courses they want and need (this last one is not that dissimilar from the idea of the Amazon University in another recent blog piece

Without trying to guess what the future for any given institution might be – and it will change depending on mission, existing or planned student base etc – the message should be that any university that might want to move away from a traditional 3 year degree model will need to look closely at how it might deliver  courses differently, as well as how it would need to design itself internally and the way in which it operates to allow this to happen.

Wicked Challenges

As well as the key trends, NMC identity a series of problems, ranging from easily solved to wicked. They can be see in the diagram above. Previously, a wicked challenge identified was the recognition and reward  of teaching and learning. This is now replaced by balancing connected and unconnected lives, and keeping education relevant.

Balancing connected and unconnected lives means that we must make any connections between staff and students relevant and transformative – there is little point in using technology if it does not deliver a further transformation.

Keeping education relevant is key from an employability perspective – we know very well that employers note a lack of skills in graduates, but also that the skills gap itself not well defined. However in this blog, I have frequently argued that a degree is not just training for employment but should provide a broader transformative experience. NMC identity that the wicked problem is in reconciling the multiple demand of higher education, both as the transformative experience and in the provision of skills:

“In this climate, national and institutional leaders are challenged to devise new systems that combine the best of both worlds, offering learners a collegiate experience that prepares them for a meaningful life of work, production,and thoughtful inquiry.”

Technology Trends

Finally NMC identify 6 technology trends that they believe will have impact:

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
  • Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Year

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • Makerspaces

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Affective Computing
  • Robotics

Since we have a Leaning and Teaching Conference this summer which will be focused on Digital Capability, I’m looking forward to hearing from our own colleagues (as well as two external speakers) how we are already engaging with some of these new technologies in our learning and teaching.

In conclusion, the NMC report provides a great starting point for thinking about how we want to use technology in a University. Crucially they don’t eulogise just about the tech, but ask us to focus on what the actual trends are, and what the challenges are, and how hard they are to solve. Any digital transformation has to take this into account, and not just focus on the shiny baubles of new technology. The real gains will come from when we understand how to use technology as well as changing our organisational thinking,  to then transform the way in which we work and the way in which our students learn.






Disruption – again……

In a piece on, titled “How Amazon could destroy college as we know it”, Alexander Holt speculates on how Amazon could move into the business of HE. It’s based on an imagined speech by Jeff Bezos in 2030, reflecting on what Amazon has achieved. It’s based on imagination, but supported by references to actual achievements by Amazon. As with all service provision that has previously been primarily state or public funded, we know full well that venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs see that HE is ripe for “disruption” and that technology will play a key part in this solutionism.

Holt envisions Amazon developing their already developed classroom used to support their staff, together with “badging” of competences to create mastery of tracks such as logistics. The next step proposed is that of the Amazon University to support internal staff development. So far, so similar to plenty of other in-house training or development schemes. The next imagined step is the interesting one – what if Amazon opened up these classroom, badges and courses to anyone? What if they offered access to Prime customers at no extra cost, to be able to study for a qualification and to keep them locked into the Amazon customer experience?

At a time when the MOOC-boosters have gone a little quiet (remember the heady days of 2012?), then maybe looking at those companies such as Amazon, or Google, (even Facebook) with their “closed garden” view of the internet, and their sheer dominance over the provision of web services, and maybe we can see the latest potential disruptor of higher education.

A couple of years ago I took a few MOOCs, one of which was on disruptive technologies. As a final assessment, I wrote a paper (essay in UK terminology) on how technology would disrupt HE. At a time when we are looking at the possible outcomes of a Green Paper review that was fixated on ideas of teaching excellence, but focusing entirely on metrics of students who have been full time undergraduates, then maybe we need to look again at how technology might (or might not) change higher education. At the time I argued that MOOCs wouldn’t be the game-changer that was being suggested at the time. However, we need to find a better use of technology that will be the key in helping to change HE, provided that it is used in a way to reduce gaps in inequality of access to learning, not to increase them, and  to enhance the learning experience of students in meaningful way. A blog post from 2014 revisited these ideas.

If you want to read the original essay, then a copy of it can be supplied!