EdTech futures in the Connected University

Digital technology is bringing huge changes to all industries and sectors, not least higher education. It isn’t the future, it’s the present. This article summarises three recent publications, firstly the annual NMC Horizon report that I’ve previously blogged on here; a talk by Steve Wheeler, the keynote speaker at last years Learning’s and Teaching Conference, and finally a piece by Eric Stoller, who will be delivering a keynote at this year’s conference.

Firstly let’s look at this year’s NMC Horizon report. This is categorised into:

  • Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology AdoptionNMC 2017-1
  • Significant Challenges Impeding Higher Education Technology AdoptionNMC2017-2
  • Important Developments in Technology for Higher EducationNMC2017-3

Usefully NMC have provided a summary of their predictions from previous years, and it’s worth noting that not all of their predictions come to pass; equally some remain on the radar for a number of years. Audrey Watters has previously provided a critique of NMC for those who’d like a different view.

Nonetheless, this is a useful starting point, and we can map our own activities against all of  the 18 trends/challenges/developments, but here I’ll focus on a few.

As we walk around this campus (and many others in the UK), we can see how learning spaces are being transformed to allow different ways of learning to take place.

We have a major focus on improving staff and student digital capabilities, recognising that this will help drive innovation, as well as improve employability prospects of our graduates.

The achievement gap is one I have blogged about previously – this continues to be a difficult multi faceted probelm. Technology will not provide all the answers, but may help level the playing field in some areas.

The possibility of a very different LMS in the future is tantalising. We know that current systems such as BlackBoard and Canvas are very good at managing learners and resources – making sure the right information is provided to the right people at the right time. Changes to the way in which staff and students collaborate through co-creation and sharing could render this form of LMS redundant in future.

Away from the NMC report, Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University presented on what’s hot and what’s not in learning technology. The video is well worth watching.

Steve identifies a huge range of technologies that will likely have an impact: voice controlled interfaces; gestural computing, the Internet of Things (pervasive computing); wearable technologies;artificial intelligence; touch surfaces for multitouch multiusers; wearable tech; virtual presence; immersive tech such as Oculus rift for VR and AR; 3D printers and maker spaces. The list goes on.

Steve identified three key elements for the future:

  • Very social
  • Very personal
  • Very mobile

and this needs to be underpinned with developing digital literacy, particularly when wading through alt-facts and fake news. Our students need to learn how to check the veracity and relevance of materials.

Steve postulates that until the development of the PC or web, everything was teacher centred. Technology allows us to become learner-centred, but have we adjusted enough to being learner led?

This should impact the way in which we assess- education and training must go from recursive to discursive, no longer repeating or regurgitating materials from the teacher, but through a  discursive approach developing problem solving skills etc.

  • The changes are
  • Analogue to digital
  • Closed to open
  • Tehthered to mobile
  • Standardised to personalised
  • Isolated to connected


Finally, a new blog post from Eric Stoller looks at “Student Success, Retention, and Employability – Getting Digital in a High Tech, High Touch Environment”.

Eric identifies that the more engaged a student is during their university experience, the more successful they will be. Digital offers us the opportunity to increase the channels through which we communicate with and engage with our students.

Eric (as well as Steve above, and the NMC report) highlights the importance of digital capability, particularly through the lens of employability. Students need to graduate with the digital skills they will use in the workplace, not just those that they use to complete a university course. Interestingly Eric also highlights the need to teach students about their digital presence and identity.

Finally he refers to the existence of a digital divide (again identified by NMC as digital equity) – “If your university is students first, that means all students”. This a a challenge that focusing on providing the right kit, but more importantly developing the right skills an behaviours means that we can get all staff and students to engage in a connected digital future.

Last year we enjoyed Steve Wheeler’s presentation at our Learning and Teaching Conference – I can’t wait to hear Eric Stoller later this year at the same event.




My Social Media Profile

As a university we are committed to becoming the Connected University, and are making great strides in changing our approach to learning and teaching, to our campus transformation and to the way in which we run the business, all enabled by digital tools and technologies.

On an individual level, we can reasonably expect colleagues to embrace aspects of digital technology to enhance their work, to change the way in which they communicate with each other, with our students and with other stakeholders.

When we look at the amount of content being created, and the amount of communication taking place in just one minute, we can’t avoid being engaged with social media:


(from https://www.domo.com/blog/data-never-sleeps-4-0/) 

At last year’s Learning and Teaching Conference, we asked attendees to make a pledge of what they might do differenlty, based on what they were taking away from the conference. On reviewing these, it was clear that lots of colleagues wanted to dip their toe into the world of social media, or if they were already using such tools, explore and expand further their use.

This short article is a reflection of how I use social media. I’m not suggesting this is the only way, and I’m sure I can identify gaps in my own practice.

As a starting point, it’s worth looking at the work of David White, who proposes that the term “digital native” has had its day, and that we shouldn’t decide on a person’s digital literacy based solely on age, but in terns of how comfortable they are in using technology. White’s model of looking at digital residents vs visitors is a useful starting point for assessing our own digital skills (in addition to the various diagnostic tests we can use).

mgh resident visitor

Through this approach I can map my own own digital profile, which in itself raises a number of questions: where do I live in the digital world? Can I be found? Can I be found in multiple channels? How do I manage a level of authenticity? How do I moderate my voice between different channels and different audiences?

My social media profile then is primarily found in:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Strava
  • Flickr
  • WordPress

Twitter is my most work-related tool, although not everything posted here is work-related. As part of building an authentic voice, it’s important to reveal enough of yourself as a person, your other and commitments, to allow followers to gain a greater insight into you. For example, following a recent accident, the message on Twitter from a nationally known HE commentator was simply “How’s the bike?”.

Through Twitter, I’ve developed a really useful network outside the University, often with people who are influential in the sector, but who I wouldn’t meet otherwise. It means that attending meeting across the country, more often than not, you already know a lot about the people you will be meeting. And last year’s keynote speakers for our L&T conference as well as this year’s came from people I’d got to know through Twitter.

We all know of the danger of social media becoming an echo chamber – it’s good to follow people who you don’t agree with on all things, otherwise we are missing the benefits of academic debate.

Facebook for me is purely social. I do follow feeds from the University and from various schools an departments. My posts here are almost never work related and hopefully the privacy settings are such that I can maintain a more private profile here, which focuses on family, friends and hobbies.

Strava i is totally social – only look at this is you want to know how far and how slowly I ride a bike.

Flickr is for serious photography – quick snaps may appear on Facebook or Strava, anything that require any amount of editing will end up on Flickr.

WordPress is the software that powers many of the world’s blogs. This blog itself is a WordPress installation on the university system. I have a second site  as a backup, and where I can experiment with some additional WordPress tools and integrations. I’ve written before about why I write a blog – it provides a means to communicate in longer form than Twitter, and to provide my personal analysis of changes in the HE sector, both for internal and external consumption

There are a whole load of tools I don’t use – Snapchat and Instagram come to mind immediately. If nothing else, I’m not a great fan of the #artificialhashtag. However, institutionally we do need to be on top of these – these are the tools our students are using.

Finally I’ve mapped a number of other tools – WhatsApp, Skype for Business, FaceTime, FB Messenger – these are my comms channels in addition to my 2 email accounts.

There’s a lot to keep on top of!



Learning and Teaching Conference 2016

Last week we held our annual learning and teaching conference, around the theme of Digital Capability. What a success!

We had more attendees than ever before, and a real buzz around the building, as people moved between keynote lectures, the parallel breakout sessions and the fringe stands.

The day started off with a welcome from our VC, Prof Liz Barnes before our first keynote speaker, Helen Beetham introduced the subject for the day with her talk on “Digital Capability, Beyond Digital Capability”

28My key takeaway from the talk was on the need to develop digital capability to provide a “capacity to thrive” and that students will awlays want what we can uniquely offer, namely:

  • Learning relationships
  • Sense of belonging
  • Security – walled gardens with pathways out
  • Credibility
  • Distinctiveness
  • Specialism
  • Reputation

Following this, our first breakout sessions looked at: Innovative use of technology to enhance teaching; Digital support for student learning; Digital insights to improve learning, and Digital identity and capability. These provided a chance for staff from across the institution to showcase their work, and prompt discussion of how digital tools can be used to improve how we deliver our courses.



Lunchtime saw us run a fringe event for the first time – a chance to talk to university suppliers such as BlackBoard, lynda.com, and to some of our support teams.

Explorw-2016-038 Explorw-2016-035 Explorw-2016-032

The keynote after lunch was by Steve Wheeler, on Learning in the Age of Remix


Steve challenged us about how digital tools change the way we teach, how physical and digital spaces are blurring in a hyper-connected world, how technology is not a silver bullet – it should be used wisely or not at all, and most importanty reminded us th it’s a fabulous time to be an academic.

Following further breakout sessions, we returned for final plenary and Q&A session


So what next?

Some great feedback has already appeared across social media using the hashtag #StaffsLT16

If you attended, you’ll be asked to complete a qualtrics survey

All of the presentations are now available on our conference blog here. Videos of the keynote presentations will be available as soon they have gone through post-production and editing

All attendees were asked to fill in a pledge card asking, what will you do differently? We’ll be sending these back to you in due course as a reminder, and also so that we can provide the development and support you need.

We’re already looking at what we can do to improve the conference expereicne further,  and how we start to  plan next year’s event.

We’ll be building our digital strategy to help all our staff and students get the most out of the technology we have to make us the Connected University – this conference was just the starting point – it’s going to be an exciting year!


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.






Is UK HE lagging behind the global race?

This year’s annual survey of Vice-chancellors and report by PA Consulting has just been published – and for colleagues at Staffordshire, it’s always good to read the work of Mike Boxall, who presented his ideas on Oligarchs, Innovators and Zombies at our Leadership Conference last year.

This year’s report, “Lagging behind: are UK universities falling behind in the global innovation race”  takes a different approach – and looks at innovation in HE, and which developments in teaching and learning are seen as important.


So, our VCs think that the UK is lagging behind in every major area of innovation, and propose the following as the reasons for this:

  1. deep seated conservatism of university cultures
  2. constraints of inflexible organisational structures
  3. fragmented and tentative nature of change initiatives
  4. perceived lack of incentives for innovation
  5. improved confidence in resilience of sector
  6. widely held views that current models of HE provision and participation will remain the same for years to come

Even before reading the conclusions of the report – this seems worrying. Senior university leaders think that UK HE is lagging behind global competitors, in an increasingly globalised market, and propose a series of reasons that could explain this. Maybe I misread the memo, but remind me, who is able to lead changes to culture, organisational structures and change initiatives?

The report identifies the paradox between a residing belief that the main university experience in 15 years time will still be the full time 3 year undergraduate degree. Arranged against this are the promoters of “disruption”, led by Clay Christenson and his various acolytes (Sir Michael Barber, Sebastien Thrun et al who believe that “education is broken”).

Somewhere between these two extremes however is where change will actually happen. PA identify 7 themes that they believe will transform HE globally (for more on technology changes, its worth looking at the work of Educause and the NMC Horizon Report).


From the survey, the three themes identified as essential to survival were :

  • technology to transform learning
  • integration with working practice
  • student data analytics

Essential to maintaining competitiveness were;

  • student data analytics
  • integration with working practice
  • curriculum reforms

Technology to transform learning is a given. All of our students arrive at the university with a high level of digital capability.. First year 18 year olds do not remember a life without fast internet, with Google and Wikipedia on hand to provide information. Other students who come from employers will already be used to technology as a key part of their lives. We need to get better at recognising and uderstanding the digital skills of our students, how they differ from our own, and which digital capabilities we need to develop in both staff and students. Walking around with an iPad does not make you a digital native or resident, but realising how you can use it to create, curate and communicate learning is a start.

Data analytics is seem to be crucial for both survival as well as competiveness, which is interesting since use of student data analytics is still limited within the sector, with 2/3 of VCs surveyed saying they had made little or no progress in this area. So far we might have developed plenty of data on students who apply to us through UCAS and universities have developed plenty of market intelligence to drive recruitment, but analytics will mean more information on the performance, attendance and engagement of students. This nascent “big data” approach will potentially provide really useful information to all levels of staff in the organisation, and there are plenty of companies wanting to sell these technologies to the HE sector. Time to beware the snake oil salesmen.

Working with employers and accreditation of work experience are approaches that will be readily recognised in the sector by newer universities, although maybe more of  a challenge to understand by the more established residents in the marketplace. An increase in working like this will inevitably mean a greater shift from the traditional three year degree though – which does conflict with the view that this will remain the dominant form of HE.

PA conclude their report with:

The challenge for UK universities is not a failure to recognise the needs and opportunities for innovation, nor is it a lack of evidence for successful innovations elsewhere. Rather it stems from the profound difficulty of innovating in inherently conservative organisations that are still doing reasonably well from their old ways of working. Most universities can point to examples of innovative initiatives in their curriculum, pedagogies and student experiences, but these are almost all localised within the organisation and tentative in their scale and commitment. Meanwhile the core ‘business-as-usual’ of most institutions remains much
as it has been for many years, with diminishing relevance and value to changing student needs and expectations.

In summary, for me this report presents a distillation of key trends, but also a range of frustrations – if we can recognise what the limits are to innovation, then we need to find ways of fixing them and removing the barriers to development.

Technology is  going to be key to future developments, in learning, in analytics and in measuring the performance of an organisation, which reinforces the need for an increase in digital capability at all levels in a university organisation, as well as having a clear technology vision and strand to any operating plan.



Emerging Technology Trends in HE

This year’s NMC Horizon report on higher education has just been published. This is a collaboration between The New Media Consortium  and The Educause
Learning Initiative. Our own Dave Parkes is a contributor.

Trends that affect technology adoption in HE are identified, along with challenges to adoption and important developments. the developments are identified with suggested times to adoption.


Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education
Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

> Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
> Flipped Classroom

These two are worth commenting on  – as we are developing new specifications for classrooms across the institution, then clearly we recognise that our students will increasingly be bringing their own technology to class. And when they get there, then they will be expecting to be putting that technology to good use in constructing their learning, not in passively listening to lectures. For that they’ll bring their own technology too, but mainly as a distraction and to engage in other parts of their life.

As the report states, proponent of BYOD cite:

personal mobile device use as a way for students to engage with learning material more effectively; they have instant access to more resources to gain a better understanding of the subjects at hand.202 The BYOD movement is enabling students to learn using the technology with which they are already familiar


However the downside is the danger of reinforcing a “digital divide” and so institutions need to be aware of ensuring all students are able to engage with learning.

Flipping the classroom has been talked abut for many years, and in some subjects, such as design, engineering, computer programming and games design, then this approach has been used for a long time. The support fro the flipped approach is documented as:

Beyond watching recorded video lectures, other technologies such as e-books with collaborative annotation and discussion software enable instructors to be more in tune with their students’ learning patterns. By reviewing the comments and questions that students pose online, instructors can better prepare for class and address particularly challenging ideas. The learning environment transforms into a dynamic and more social space where students can participate in critiques or work through problems in teams

The two trends expected to have an impact in the next year are particularly relevant to SU, as we roll out our new Problem and Practice Based Learning approaches in one of our faculties, at the same time as we are reviewing our technology enhanced learning offer, our teaching room specification and our information provision.

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

> Makerspaces
> Wearable Technology

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

> Adaptive Learning Technologies
> The Internet of Things

Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in Higher Education

Of as much interest as the potential technologies that will be used, are the challenges to adoption. Some of these remain the same from previous years of the report.

Solvable Challenges: Those that we understand and know how to solve
> Blending Formal and Informal Learning
> Improving Digital Literacy

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive
> Personalizing Learning
> Teaching Complex Thinking

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address
> Competing Models of Education
> Rewarding Teaching

Inevitably people will focus on the problems that are solvable – and the two cited can be linked. The blend of formal and informal learning arises when social media is used effectively, and when we learn to recognise and accredit learning that takes places outside of the usual recognised formal systems. Our approach to volunteering and recognition of work based learning support this. While improving digital literacy is cited as a problem we know how to solve. I’m not quite so sanguine – while staff and students are willing to use technology for many aspects of their lives, and to do so with no instruction, when it comes to using it for education, then sometimes it all seems too difficult. As well as ensuring that we provide opportunities for staff and students to develop digital literacy or fluency, we also need to make sure that our systems are as easy to use as products we use in everyday life.

A final comment on the wicked challenges.  Rewarding teaching is in there again. In a year when the UK has just had the results of the Research Excellence Framework, ,when promotion to professorships are based on research (in fact if not in policy), then we still have some way to goo to provide reward and recognition for anything that is not research based.

One final point – Stephen Downes has taken a look at the report – he criticises the NMC methodology:

We can observe the following trends:

Last-minute predictions of things that already happened open content, ebooks, mobile

Fad-hopping: MOOCs, makerspace, flipped class

One major successful prediction: notably, learning analytics

Failed prediction: gamification, augmented reality, gesture-based

So what does it tell us about the methodology? Mostly, that it sways in the breeze. It’s strongly influenced by the popular press and marketing campaigns. It’s not based on a deep knowledge significant technology developments, but rather focuses on surface-level chatter and opinion. And that is why I think NMC should be obligated to re-examine its methodology.

All valid – but I think one benefit of the NMC report is that provides a starting point for discussions in institutions on how we might prepare for educational futures.

The Learning Curve: Education and Skills for Life

A new publication from Pearson and written by The Economist Intelligence Unit is reported in the Times Higher.

Although it is not just about higher education, there are some useful points to draw out from it as ther report “seeks to distil some of the major lessons on the links between education and skill development, retention and use”.

Skills for the success in the 21st Century are identified, as shown in the diagram below.


From a higher education perspective, it is worthwhile questioning if we are developing and delivering programmes of study that enable our students to develop these skills to an enhanced level. Most universities these days have statements on graduate skills and attributes – how closely do these match?

A key point from the report however, is that people need to keep practising and developing these skills: lack of use leads to atrophy.

From the Times Higher article:

“Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, told Times Higher Education that in the 21st century “it’s clear that however great your first degree is, you’re going to have to keep learning”.

Because there is so little certainty about what the jobs of the future will involve, universities must train graduates with the right “attitudes and attributes” to keep learning for life, he said, noting that this was something the “best” higher education already did.

Universities should focus on this when trying to improve employability, he added, rather than on “preparation for a specific job”.”

An interesting item in the list of essential skills is “digital literacy”. This is an area that we will be doing more work on the next year at Staffordshire University, and not just with our studentts, but staff as well. Linking this to the idea of learning for life (above), then many  mightsee online education and MOOCs as a way of supporting that continuous learning and redevelopment. Interestingly the report states:

“One question is whether technology, which is becoming increasingly entrenched in the modern learning environment, can be used to encourage low-skilled adults to pursue further education. In the last couple of years many of the world’s top universities have launched massive open online courses (MOOCs), broadening access to high-quality educational resources. But a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania found that 83% of its MOOC participants already had a post-secondary degree – far higher than international averages. Broadening access through technology, then, appears to be not enough. A culture of learning and understanding the value of bettering oneself needs to be fostered at an earlier stage in life before new technologies can start to have a real impact on lifelong learning.”

Fascinating, when Pearson’s report last year on “An Avalanche is Coming” suggested that MOOCs were about to sweep away traditional university education!



The University Steve Jobs would have built?

I’m shamelessly ripping off the title, from a piece on forbes.com by Carmine Gallo, author of “The Apple Experience, secrets to building insanely great customer loyalty”.

apple exp


(from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Apple-Experience-Building-Insanely-Customer-ebook/dp/B007FP98HY/)

Gallo writes in his short article about work he did with Walnut Hill Medical Centre in Dallas, and this was what grabbed my attention:

“Enhancing the patient experience has now become an increasingly important goal for virtually all the hospitals in the country. They are all waking up to the fact that the quality of their customer experience will impact their bottom line,” according to Dr. Rich Guerra at Walnut Hill.

Replace patient with student, and hospital with university, then this applies to us too. This is not to say that universities also have to worry about other relationships, such as with research collaborators, funding councils, central and local government and other stakeholders, but for a teaching led institution like ours, then we know that student experience (and importantly success) is critical to us.

Gallo has three parts to his book: inspiring your internal customer; serving your external customer and setting the stage. There’s something in all of these that could be of value to a university embarking on significant change and campus developments.

In the article, Gallo refers to 7 principles from the “Steve Jobs playbook”:

  • Look outside your industry for inspiration.
  • Start with the right vision.
  • Hire people with an aptitude for service.
  • Greet customers with a warm welcome.
  • Train every employee to deliver steps of service every time.
  • Design spaces to make people feel better.
  • Leverage mobile technology.

Would it really be that difficult to apply this to a university setting? After all hospitals and universities have many similarities – we transform lives; we employ a lot of clever people; we employ large numbers of service and back office staff to make the place work; we want our clients (I’m not going to write customers) to succeed and have a good experience.

Look outside your industry for inspiration

So often universities look to each other to decide what to do next, hence a set of research , learning and teaching and student experience strategies that are interchangeable between institutions. Could we identify better examples of managing student experience in the tourism industry or healthcare sector?

Start with the right vision

This must be a no-brainer, but having a simple vision that everyone can sign up to is the starting point of getting your staff, your internal customer, onto the right page. Our VC’s blog last week, talking about importance of league tables, is an example of this.

Hire people with an aptitude for service

We know we need to employ staff with these skills in our services, but do we consider it enough when recruiting academic staff? As well as wanting to recruit great academics, we need to make sure that they are able to deliver the right educational experience to students.

Greet customers with a warm welcome

Yes, I know this is right out of the Apple Store manual, but again, why wouldn’t we do this? I have to say that at Open Days and at moving in weekend, we are actually really good at this.

Train every employee to deliver steps of service every time

Again, a bit retail orientated, but if we are recruiting to offer good service to create a good student experience, are we doing enough to make sure everyone knows what it is they need to do?

Design spaces to make people feel better.

Ok,  for us it won;t be “feel better”, but it will be “learn better”. As we enter a period of deciding what our campus should look like mean there is an opportunity for a discussion on building the kind of spaces that support learning.And my view is that this does not mean more lecture theatres. The open space in Brindley seems to have a lot of learning going on whenever I am in there, and we need to learn, again from other industries, what might be the best way of shaping and using our space.

Leverage Mobile Technology

I’ve written before, in my blog post about digifest14, on how the future of digital is going to be huge, and that it’s about more than having an iPad.Linking to the point above about spaces through, we need to consider how we will use technology, and importantly be able to react and use new technologies, to support learning. This isn’t about minor changes such as having BlackBoard Mobile, this is about all of us being able to use technology to deliver education in a different way

So, some initial thoughts, based on one article and a quick skim through Gallo’s book. There is a danger of being sucked into the Apple fanboy view of the world, worshipping at the altar of Jobs, but there are soem good ideas in this that I will return to in my next installment of “We can be better than this”.




Charlie is my darling

A guest post by Dr Peter Jones, Head of the School of Psychology, Sports and Exercise at Staffordshire Univeristy

I am a big fan of 30 credits modules.  They allow me to move away from the learn, cram and exam of 15 credits, allow me to take my students on a comprehensive journey of the subject area and gives students time and space to really engulf themselves in the subject matter, get into the literature, explain the mechanisms and get to grips with the subject.

The trouble with my 30 credit modules is that after while students get a little jaded.  So I like to mix it up.  Share the module with someone else.  Bring in guest lecturers and subject specialists.  But this is not enough.  I have a need.  A need for technology.

I’ve engaged in technology enhanced learning (TEL) for about 14 years.  My first institution developed its own VLE and had a HEA funded CELT (Centre for Learning and Teaching) so I am a complete convert to technology.

Don’t get me wrong I realise that TEL is not the panacea to all my L&T problems.  Indeed when I first used it took a lot of time for little return.  However, a lot of technology can be time saving, beneficial for academics and provides another offer for my students learning experience.

I never cancelled a class again after I adopted technology, as I always had something in hand electronically to cover absence.  For those complex lectures which were full of mechanisms, graphs and formulae I’d Adobe’s my sessions so students could go back and watch then again.  Podcasting was great for the session outlined the details of the assessment or feeding from the assessment, so even absent students were not disadvantaged and attainment was improved

For all coursework assignment students were required to post any questions they had on assignment on a discussion board for all to see.  The academic duly responded and this ensured a level playing field and avoided the sending numerous similar answers to numerous similar questions sent by my numerous similar students.  Exam revision sessions were more effective by students sharing potential exam questions and answers using group Wikis and improved attainment.

The reason I, and all my team, could do this and embraced it, was because we had a Charlie.  Charlie was a learning technologist with tattooed (full sleeve) arms with an in-depth knowledge of a) football b) Barcelona and c) Learning and Teaching.  He could provide me (and my team) with a whole spectrum of technology enhanced learning software embedded within Blackboard.  More importantly I could go to him and he would have a technology offer for me.  He had a laptops overflowing with new software which he could prescribe like a digital physician.  I could take away and experiment with and return to him for forensic investigation.

Three times a year Charlie ran bespoke staff development session for my academic, he guided the technophobes towards the digital light and he helped us reinvent our teaching.  Charlie was my darling.  Without him our teaching would have been jaded and average, our NSS scores for the four L&T questions would not have achieved 100% satisfaction each.

I think everyone needs a Charlie.

Hacking the University

Student as Producer

“Hacking the University” was the title of a talk I went to at #digifest14, by Joss Winn of University of Lincoln, which covered among other things the idea of “Student as Producer”, originally envisaged for Lincoln by Mike Neary. This came out of an HEA funded project, but has now become the Learning and Teaching Plan for the university – concise, simple and understandable.

Joss talked about the role of a university and reflected on how in the 19th century, research and teaching were combined together, but that since then the two had drifted apart, and n some cases a forced binary divide created.

With the new teaching and learning plan, all new validations had to show how the idea of student as producer was being embedded. This was therefore happening slowly, rather than as a big bang approach, but it was suggested that the ideas were clealry manifest in the curriculum. This was then a low burn approach but Joss suggested there was a lot of lots of senior engagement through conferences etc. The fact that Lincoln were given lot of publicity through HEA also mean that they were being watched which gave everyone encouragement to keep going.

So what did this have to do with hacking the university? Well simply put, this was a new set of ideas that gained traction and had impact across the institution. The question is how far this can be taken, and whether there are other ways of challenging and changing a university.

Can we hack our university?

In any large organisation, it’s easy for innovation to be stifled, or worse, for it to become a paper exercise where success is measured in the production of a paper for academic board or senate, a policy document, or a set of guidelines (actually this list could go on and on).

Is there another way of creating and supporting a drive for innovation, such as the skunkworks idea? A place where innovators, creative thinkers can be brought together free from the constraints of discipline?


So here’s three ideas which sort of link to what we say we are doing in our various strategies, but might be another way of seeing some output and impact more quickly.

1.  As previously written in these pages, the digital future is going to be so much bigger than the digital past. But how does a university address this issue? Is it something to have a locus in an IT services department? In an education development unit? In a business planning and forecasting group? How do we harness the existing knowledge and horizon scanning within a set of constraints that do not reflect what the future will hold? I’m going to be working with a couple of key people to identify some kind of digital manifesto for us

2.  Working with the students as producers idea, we also need to encourage further the idea of teachers as producers. Academic staff who are research active in the traditional way can easily publish. In a teaching led organisation though, we need to consider a broader range of scholarship and outputs. We’ve gone some way towards this but can we make another step change?

Everyone has 22 days of self managed scholarly activity,and we are working to  make sure we see outputs from this. One way we could support people could be to use our university blogging tools more creatively, in the way that the LSE do. We could create easy forums for staff to present and share their ideas.

3.  And finally. Well,  I’m not sharing my final idea for hacking the university, but here’s a challenge. If we want to encourage student co-production of learning, and encourage staff scholarly outputs, then we in management and leadership roles could set  a different example.

I write this blog and talk at external events, so my challenge is this – for everyone on my weekly email list to produce a guest article for this blog. 500 words on a topic relating to HE policy, digital futures, university developments – it should be easy!