Questions of the digital literacies oracle

At the learning and teaching experts group meeting last week I asked delegates to think about their digital literacies challenges, and consider what one question they would ask the digital literacies oracle if they had a chance. The results of that activity can be seen in this document. I grouped the issues and questions into four main areas:

Two key things strike me about the questions and challenges: firstly, as you’d expect from this audience, they display a level of maturity in thinking about and supporting the development of digital literacies; and secondly, that there are still many issues and challenges outstanding, which supports the findings of other work Jisc has been carrying out with our community on needs and challenges. I think this is partly at least because digital literacies work at an institutional level is so much about the lived experience and discussing and promoting a shared understanding: despite the best will to build on the work of others, the contextualisation and ‘what it means for us’ is still challenging and takes time. But we also recognise the need to build on the resources I mentioned in my previous post to ensure that we are providing the most appropriate advice, guidance and resources for the community in this area.

New resources to support developing digital literacies

We’ve produced two new online resources on developing digital literacies, based on the recent work of the Jisc-funded programme. The main resource is the Developing digital literacies infokit, which provides both the big strategic picture and some on-the-ground guidance on approaches to work in this area. It offers practical guidance on supporting the development of digital literacies in staff and students in universities and colleges, and links to case studies and workshop resources.

If you just want a overview of the area before you decide whether to dig deeper, our new quick guide to developing students’ digital literacies may be more your thing. It includes plenty of links to more detailed guidance if there are areas you would like to pursue.

The digital student project is taking forward many of the findings of the developing digital literacies programme, so their blog is also a good place to look for updates on this area.

Indian HE and eLearning in India

Someone asked me about Higher Education and Online Learning in India, so I made a couple of infographics to get some background information together in order to start a conversation with colleagues.

The information draws on official Indian Government stats and news articles. I’m sharing them in case anyone else finds them useful.

Page 1 - Indian HE Page 2 - Indian eLearning


[update: just spotted that the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, has called for vast improvements to the Indian HE sector.

"I don’t find any reason why India cannot go back to dominating the higher education scene. We have talent, capacity and dedicated teachers who can inspire and who can rekindle the interests in the minds of students. All these elements have to be properly coordinated and integrated to have a high ranking and occupy our rightful place in academic excellence"

You can read more about that here.]

Employability and social media

A current Jisc Inform article on how students can use social media to help them get a job has reminded me of what a key issue this is. We have seen themes around managing your online identity emerge as enormously important during the life of the Developing Digital Literacies programme, with nearly all projects developing approaches to boost students’ awareness and skills in this area. Part of it is damage limitation – the basics of not putting anything in a public space that you’re going to regret later – but the more interesting part is the positive and proactive aspect of presenting yourself online, and although your LinkedIn profile may be part of that, it can go way beyond that.

Many students today can expect to have portfolio careers rather than a classic graduate job, and for these students it’s particularly important to develop an online presence that reflects their skills, outputs and experience, and that might include slideshows, artwork, designs, blogposts and articles, websites and apps. Different sectors will also have different expectations about the formality and presentation of students’ work.

The University of the Arts London have done extensive work in this area under their mini-project on professional online identities, to support the career aspirations of their students. Other projects which have produced resources in this area include the Digitally Ready project at Reading, WORDLE (which has an online course on developing a professional digital identity – log-in required). The SEEDPoD Digital Literacies Guide from Plymouth University also includes sections on ‘presentation of self’ and ‘digital footprint’.

Increasingly, employers may be seeking graduates who have experience of using social media for ‘campaigns’ of various sorts, or for carrying out surveys or gaining feedback on a service or innovation. Some students may gain experience of this in their personal life, but for others any authentic projects using these tools which can be embedded into the curriculum will be extremely useful. The staff development resources from the digital literacies programme can help with this.

Approaches to supporting change

It’s always nice when lots of things you’re working on come together, and I had a day like that today at the Jisc Learning and Teaching Experts group. Changing the learning landscape, digital literacies, and students as change agents were all on the agenda: all interesting areas in their own right, and particularly so once you start exploring links between them.

I ran a session on the approaches to supporting change we’ve taken in the Changing the Learning Landscape programme, and some key ideas in change management more generally for delegates to consider and discuss. (See my slides.) Pulling this together was a chance for me to reflect on how the ‘textbook’ picture of change management relates to the messy reality of working in universities and colleges. Based on the many change management lessons from our projects over the years, the concepts and processes identified are indeed the key ones, but in the wild they operate in mixtures of different proportions, especially where change is driven bottom-up or middle-out, rather than the neater top-down model starting with strategic vision. Particularly in these middle-out situations, projects in the Developing Digital Literacies programme have had to be more opportunistic – keeping all the principles and processes that drive change in mind, but where for example there is no current possibility of movement on the strategic front, just keeping this area warm until a change of leadership or direction may suddenly enable a leap forward in this area. Conversely, of course, changes at the top can also make it more difficult to embed and anchor changes which were previously going well.

The consultancy I’ve done with institutions for CLL has emphasised for me the importance of communication and bringing key stakeholders together in any change process, even if this may initially make the task in hand seem more complex. All completely common sense and at the heart of everything on change management, but sometimes difficult to make yourself do if you’re already busy and under pressure. Although most institutions have everything they need to make a change in-house, there seems to be a catalyst effect of having someone external coming in to facilitate, advise, and crucially bring knowledge of what other institutions are doing. That knowledge is something we in Jisc are very fortunate to be rich in, having funded many programmes of e-learning projects in universities and colleges round the country. Core to our philosophy has been the sharing of the learning from projects with the wider sector, and this background of sharable longitudinal and up-to-date technological and change management lessons from institutions has been what has made our involvement in the Changing the Learning Landscape programme so rewarding.

The students as change agents theme has been very important to both recent Jisc programmes and to the Changing the Learning Landscape programme (see a previous blog post for more on this.) In the discussions during the students as change agents session, which followed my change management session, delegates asked me where the student change agent work fitted within the change management models I’d presented. I see it as part of a change management approach which views students as full partners in their education, therefore the principles of effective two-way communication throughout the process, and of working with all groups affected to understand better their current practices, needs and views, obviously apply. Students can be champions for new practices, they can be change managers to keep the change moving in their areas of influence and feed back emerging issues. Some concern was expressed that sometimes the student voice can drown out the professional judgement of staff, but from the examples I’ve seen, where students work as real partners alongside academic and professional service staff, each develops an understanding of each other’s needs, motivations and constraints, and respect for the knowledge and skills that each one brings to the party, rather than one voice triumphing. The Student Change Agent Network should be able to capture these examples of approaches that have worked and help people wondering how to take the first steps in this direction.

For more on change management, see the excellent resources from Jisc InfoNet – there’s lots there on the principles and big picture thinking, and on practical techniques to take work forward in the various areas.

Assessment standard stimulates 250m investment

Assessment takes up a significant part of an academics time, particularly at this time of year. Over the past seven years Jisc has invested heavily in technologies to reduce the assessment burden on tutors and institutions. One area of investment has been to support the Innovation Support Centre, CETIS, to help lead on the development of an assessment standard, the IMS Question and Test Interoperability QTI v2.1 specification. The QTI specification enables assessment questions to be transferred in a standard way between assessment systems.

Writing multiple choice questions for online tests is a time consuming process for academic tutors, and only since QTI v2.1 have these questions been transferable, presenting significant time savings in terms of the rekeying of questions when transferring to new systems, and ensuring academics aren’t ‘locked-in’ to using one system for their assessments. Using a standard format for online questions and tests can be particularly significant for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects in first and second year exams, meaning that subject areas can establish and share questions across institutions and create large scale item bank, that can be reused in subjects like maths, physics, chemistry and engineering – saving time across the sector as academic colleagues can share questions with others.

So what has been the impact of this investment, and how is QTI v2.1 being used to support efficiencies of scale with assessment practice?

This is a good time to reflect – we are now seeing significant global investment in tools that implement the QTI v2.1 specification. Developments in the Netherlands, Germany, France, South Korea, the USA and UK suggest that this is a key time for the specification, a time where significant investment is now being placed in systems that have at their heart QTI v2.1. From the move of all online school exams to the QTI v2.1 specification in the Netherlands, to two projects of $160-170 million each in the USA looking to overhaul the whole assessment infrastructure in schools, we can see a real step change in practice occurring. On a smaller, but none-the-less important scale, Jisc have sponsored a range of activity, most recently two projects as part of the Assessment and Feedback programme, aiming to reality check the specification, including placing QTI materials in the hands of the teachers and learners, via editing tools such as Uniqurate and playback tools such as QTIworks.

For more information, see my colleague Wilbert Kraan’s original blog post on the topic, and the CETIS briefing paper on QTI V2.1. For an outline of how the outputs of the QTI-DI and Uniqurate projects work, see the post by RSC Scotland.

Lisa Gray

A personal take on digital literacies

I spend lots of time thinking and talking about digital literacies for work, but a couple of things that happened yesterday in my personal life really made me stop and think about the emotional responses which technology-enhanced communication can provoke.

Firstly I had one of those weird moments when you hear a story about ‘one family…’ on the local grapevine and realise it’s you. We live in North Bristol’s nappy valley, and the population density of families with young children means there are great local facilities, but enormous pressure on local schools. So despite living less than 300 metres away from it, we failed to get a place for my daughter at my local school. This fact had got passed around, including to someone who hadn’t realised that we no longer lived in our old house, which was right opposite the school. She was then telling people about the case of this family who lived right there and didn’t get a place… I initially found this quite amusing, until I realised that a popular local blogger had then put this up on her facebook page, and lots of other people had happily weighed in with their opinions, including that we must have put down the wrong school, were silly not to appeal, etc. Now this really bothered me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why – probably mostly because unlike spoken gossip, there’s a lasting record of it which allowed me to read every word – and I ended up feeling like my online identity was somehow compromised, even though we weren’t named.

Those of you who’ve heard me talk about digital literacy will know that I often use my mother-in-law in Slovenia as an example to show how personal motivation and need (in her case, to see her grandchildren) can overcome a lack of prior digital knowledge or skills. Having never touched a computer before last year, she now likes to skype video chat with the kids three or four times a week. Due to the aforementioned population density issue, our broadband is totally rubbish, especially the upload rate, so recently she hasn’t been able to see or hear us properly. The outrage and annoyance this has caused – including a reluctance to just go back to using the phone – has reminded me of how quickly the use of digital technologies which are felt to deliver really key benefits can go from being perceived as an add-on to an entitlement.

A word that came up a lot at a recent institutional workshop on digital literacies was ‘resilient’, in terms of staff and student attributes, not just the technology itself. I do think that’s an important part of digital literacies – although obviously staff and students should expect appropriate online behaviour of each other, and reliable service from the technology, there’s a need to be able to take the rough with the smooth, accept the setbacks and look for work-arounds or ways to resolve the situation, rather than downing tools and giving up. How as institutions we develop that resilience in our students and staff is a key question, and one which has implications for employability as well as digital literacies.

Students as change agents

I’ve had a few opportunities over the last week or so to hear about some of the great work that institutions are doing with students as change agents. At our Digital literacies: changing student practices webinar last week, we heard about the work that Exeter, Oxford Brookes and Greenwich have been doing with their students, or rather the work that their students have been doing with them! Between them, they’re working with students at all stages from first years to postgraduates, having put processes and structures in place to enable the students to work as co-researchers, content creators, mentors (to staff and students) and educators, though events such as workshops. It’s also a theme that came up at the Jisc assessment and feedback programme meeting last week, through the work at Bath Spa and Winchester and Queen’s University, Belfast. Students as co-researchers is a particularly strong theme in those projects, with the students showing a strong interest in knowing what goes on inside the ‘black box’ of assessment, and helping to suggest innovative ways of working to meet the pedagogical and practical needs of students while understanding the constraints faced by staff.

I heard more yesterday from the students involved in the digital literacies and iPads projects at Greenwich, as part of a wider meeting on digital literacy and employability. Both staff and students described the student involvement in the projects as a win:win situation, as the projects and institution benefited so much from the student involvement, and the students who took part – and their peers who they interviewed and represented – also gained significant experience which is highly likely to boost their employability. I was most struck by a comment made by one of the students: that her involvement in the interdisciplinary research group has encouraged her to do things that she never imagined she’d be able to do. That for me seems to get to the core of what education should be about – enabling students to imagine – and then develop the skills and knowledge to enact – new ways of working that in this case benefit themselves, other students, and the wider institutional community.

A student change agent network has emerged from the work we’ve been doing with the digital literacies and assessment and feedback projects, and aims to offer a community for students working in this sort of role to share experiences, and for projects to share resources to help other institutions take up similar approaches in their own context. The community site is still developing, but can be seen at, and is open for students and staff to join the community. From the discussion in our webinar and on twitter afterwards, there is a lot of interest in this ‘change agent’ role, however weird the term initially sounds (I’ve embarrassingly become so familiar with it I’ve forgotten how it sounded all very James Bond when I first heard it.) There is also concern that the students involved should be properly prepared for and supported in their role, and that the recruitment of students to these sort of positions should be fair and transparent. These are themes that are being tackled by the network, along with the question of how and whether this activity should be accredited.

Student engagement is also a strong theme in our Changing the Learning Landscape partnership work, and the NUS have produced a useful planning document and guidance notes for anyone wishing to think through how students will be engaged in any new initiative: Involving Students in Change.

Previous Jisc-funded work in this area has been collated in the Design Studio.

Collaborating on textual analysis with eMargin

Sometimes in Jisc you come across incredibly useful tools that do one thing really well. So much so that you wonder how you managed to do without it!

The eMargin tool, funded by Jisc and developed by a team at Birmingham City University led by Andrew Kehoe is a simple, user-friendly way to share and manage annotations on any text. It’s perfect for critiques of papers (especially policy papers in my world), deep analysis of research publications, giving feedback on written work, looking at the structure of poetry or prose… the possibilities are endless.

After a simple sign-in you can use the web version: uploading, pasting, or grabbing text from the web and saving the resultant text plus annotations for others to work with. The code is on sourceforge so you can feel free to host your own implementation whereever you like.

The additional (benefits realisation) work done over the past year, allows – via IMS LTI – full integration with your institutional VLE. So rather than having to set up groups and sign-in at the application itself, you can just use what you have already done on your VLE. This feature, and the beautiful simplicity of the tool itself, has led to a whole range of departments and faculties (from all over the world, and from far beyond the initial project setting of English Literature).

For all the hyperbole and hysteria in educational technology, most of the best tools are developed by small, in-house units attached to institutions. What really shines through with eMargin is that it meets a clear need, and it is designed around the practices and expectations of learners and educators.

But go and have a play!

UKOER – don’t stop believing!

It’s all been happening on the OER front recently, with a number of events and materials continuing the amazing work kicked off by the Jisc/Academy UKOER programme.

First up, Lou McGill, Allison Littlejohn and I delivered a webinar for Open Education Week discussing some of the findings of the OER Evaluation and Synthesis project. This has been running for three years in parallel with the main programme, developing and using an evaluation framework to capture what projects have been learning and research has been telling us.

(and was that the mighty LanguageBox sneaking a webinar in there too? Recording to follow, we hope)

You can read more at the Evaluation and Synthesis wiki – this is still a “live” site being added to almost daily, as is the UKOER infokit. Unlike the former, the infokit is deliberately aimed at offering practical advice on the practice of working with OER. Lou McGill deserves plaudits for her sterling work on keeping both of these amazing resources up to date. She’s also found time (how *does* she manage it?) to put together a guide to the growing body of terminology that has grown up around OER and related practice.

The same week saw the JISC CETIS conference in Birmingham, with a superb breakout session on OER and sustainability. Both Lorna Campbell and Phil Barker have blogged their impressions of the session, which featured presentations from a number of key people involved or associated with UKOER. Even ex-JISCer Amber Thomas came along!

CETIS and Amber have also (at last!) been able to release their book, “Into the Wild”, which includes reflections on summaries on the key technological trends of the three years of the programme. You can download it as an .epub, via Kindle, you can even buy it as a proper book with a pretty cover.

It would be the perfect reading material (to prepare for a load of really interesting CETIS-related sessions) on your journey to OER13 if you are one of the more than 200 delegates gathering in Nottingham for this now-annual conference. Jisc and Jorum are proud to be headline sponsors, but the conference is largely self-financing and features an enviable range of speakers. Sessions will be recorded, and you can follow along on twitter using the #oer13 tag or @oer13 account.

And the Welsh are coming too! – with interest from the Welsh Assembly, and task forces and working groups a-plenty around the place, Jisc Regional Support Centre Wales are offering a programme of webinars on open education over the next couple of months.

The Jorum team, never ones to be left behind, have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes… updating and adding functionality to the UK’s OER repository. These changes will make it easier for everyone to find, use and deposit materials.

Not bad for a programme that finished in October 2012, eh? And there is much more to come. UKOER is a neat demonstration of the way in which the effects of programmes continue long after the funding is gone.

And watch out for even more ukoer excitement next week!

You can connect with the community via the OER-DISCUSS mailing list or via the #ukoer hashtag on twitter. To keep up with the latest news you could also follow the @UKOER account.










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