Get involved with ALT #altc

Originally posted on e-Learning Stuff.

ALT  have issued an open call to get involved with the association.

The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) represents individual and organisational Members from all sectors and parts of the UK. Our Membership includes practitioners, researchers and policy makers with an interest in Learning Technology. Our community grows more diverse as Learning Technology has become recognised as a fundamental part of learning, teaching and assessment.

Our charitable objective is “to advance education through increasing, exploring and disseminating knowledge in the field of Learning Technology for the benefit of the general public”. We have led professionalisation in Learning Technology since 1993.

They are seeking expressions of interest from:

  • all sectors of education and training including schools, vocational education, Higher Education and work-based learning
  • people in research, practitioner, management, technical and policy roles as well as learners who have a special interest in Learning Technology
  • the private and public sectors
  • within and outside the UK (subject to reaching agreement on an effective method of participation).

They are looking for new member of the Editorial Board as well as reviewers for Research in Learning Technology.

There are also vacancies on the main operational committees:

  • Committee for Membership Development – seeking two new members
  • Committee for Further Education and cross-sector engagement – seeking two new members
  • Committee for Communication and Publications – seeking two new members

They are also looking for new editors for the #altc blog editorial team.

There’s also the opportunity to get involved in the 2017 Online Winter Conference. With a focus on the work of Special Interest and Members Groups from across the community, and run over two days, the conference will include live online sessions and other online activities. Visit the 2016 Winter Conference online platform for reference.

We also still have places available on the OER18 conference planning committee. OER18 presents an opportunity for open practitioners, activists, educators and policy makers to come together as a community to reflect on the theme ‘Open to All’. Here is more information about joining the conference planning team for OER18.

You can find more information on any of these opportunities here:

Those interested to get involved can complete this short form: by 25 August 2017.

Online language – Why do we need to teach it?

Originally posted on Inspiring learning.

I’m in a WhatsApp group with the women from my gym class. We are from different age groups and backgrounds, but for us it’s the obvious tool to communicate – quick and easy for a spur of the moment chat.

The language is easy and relaxed, full of written sounds, awww, emojis, kisses xx, huns and babes. I love being part of it, but I’m too scared to make a comment most of the time. If I make a comment it sounds a bit wrong, a bit too formal – like I can’t really do it properly. And if I tried to add in the appropriate huns and emojis I think it would come across as fake because they know me in person. So I am happy to lurk in the group and pick up recipes and put in the odd comment when it’s needed.


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It’s not a question of being a so-called digital native. That theory has been well and truly replaced by White’s visitors and residents. People of all ages travel around in the internet between places which we visit briefly and leave no mark (which is no problem) – and places we reside in, having relationships and developing a presence. My presence in the WhatsApp group barely registers – I’m a visitor and that’s fine. But my presence in Facebook is quite strong – I have a residence there and come back and forth frequently, engaging with friends and family. When I’m there I use my language confidently!

The problem is that visitors can feel excluded from online communities that they might like to move in to, and one of the reasons could be because they don’t have the literacy skills to participate. Literacy happens in a lot of different contexts – families, work, schools, social groups, political or activist movements, hobbies and interests.  Multiple literacies are needed for individuals to thrive in multiple communities and the same is true online. The way we communicate using Twitter might be vastly different from the language we see in Facebook or when using instant messaging, WhatsApp or Snapchat.

I think we need to teach online language as part of literacy and digital literacy courses. More and more people are getting online – by May 2016 nearly 88% of adults in the UK had recently used the internet and only 10.2% had never used the internet (figures from the ONS). But how many of those are put off from the places that they want to visit or spend more time in by inaccessible language and confidence issues?

Let’s have a look at three big areas where people are encouraged to participate and language can be a barrier.

social media a

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Social networking

Because people live not only in geographical communities but in online communities too, social skills can be vital. Whether we are keeping in touch with family or old friends, new acquaintances or colleagues, fellow students or enthusiasts, we usually prefer to fit in with the conventions and practices of the group so that we can feel comfortable and accepted.

Goods and services

Many of our goods and services are now online and UK governments are keen for citizens to access public services using digital means. We teach digital literacy and skills to help people gain experience, wisdom and confidence online and we need to teach language etiquette and social literacy skills as part of this.

 application form

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Most jobs have to be applied for online; we have to build our professional networks, advertise and promote our businesses, research and learn online; we need digital skills in our own jobs and to be able to support others in their work. There are a multitude of ways in which technology supports our employability skills from starting our careers or companies to collaborating with colleagues or keeping up to date with developments in our field.

Debbie Edmondson, Talent Director at Cohesion Recruitment, recently spoke at Jisc’s Digifest about what employers want. You can see her slides from 17 to 29. She said that what they really want is new recruits who can fill in application forms, write appropriate emails, talk on the phone confidently and demonstrate good face to face communication skills. They want people who are literate in online language and linguistic etiquette as well as offline social skills.

So why do we need to teach online language?

Because we want citizens to be included; to participate; to benefit from access to digital services; and to feel empowered to use their voices and express their ideas when it’s the right time and place for them.


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(We included online language and behaviour etiquette in the Essential Skills Wales Digital Literacy learner qualifications. You can read an FE News article from 2015 here for more information, or check out this Pinterest board.)

(If you would like to see some of my favourite examples of creative online language, here’s a link to my Tumblr collection of artefacts, articles and amusing memes )

(You can read sections of the PhD here )

(Have a look at Jisc’s work on digital capability here )



  1. Online language – Journey to a PhD
  2. Online language – What does it look like?
  3. Online language – A new species of language
  4. Online language – How are communities using it?

Coming next:

  1. Online language – Bilingualism
  2. Online language – Somewhere along the line

The post Online language – Why do we need to teach it? appeared first on Inspiring learning.

Rhubarb Strategy

Originally posted on lawrie : converged.

Last week was both dreadful and energising.

On Monday I travelled to Manchester to run, with colleagues, the second residential of the Jisc Digital Leaders course. It felt like a successful course, but we were viewing it through a strange lens; as we did our welcomes on the 23rd May the events of the 22nd were uppermost in our minds.

Albert Square, Tuesday 23rd May 2017

Albert Square, Manchester, Tuesday 23rd May 2017

The feedback from the course has been good, and we are told by delegates that they learn things and take a lot away; but as with all things it is not one direction, and I certainly learn a lot with each run of the course and the resulting engagement we have with people in leadership roles in organisations.

Later in the week I was in Southampton, asked by UCISA if I would take some of what I had learnt about digital, strategy and leadership and share those thoughts at the UCISA Digital Capabilities Conference. Kerry Pinny, who had been through the first run of the Leaders Course, invited me, and gave me the title:

Stop talking about digital, start talking about people!

I moved house last year from Yorkshire to the Midlands, and whilst the house was in mostly excellent shape, the garden had been left to go “natural” for about 2 years.  As we wanted a kitchen garden, and fruit trees we have been spending time this Spring setting the garden to rights, with a lot of help from friends and family. This includes moving several tons of debris and topsoil and building raised beds and a new shed!

At this point during the presentation I put this picture up and asked if anyone in audience knew what was going on it?

As I said earlier, I moved from Yorkshire where I lived on the edge of the Rhubarb Triangle (it’s a real thing!). And some people might expect that in the rhubarb triangle you would see endless fields and sweeping vistas of rhubarb. What you actually see is sheds. And inside the sheds is Rhubarb.

Forced rhubarb plants spend two years out in the fields without being harvested, they absorb energy from the sun and store it in their roots as carbohydrates. In the third November after planting (usually after a frost, which in Yorkshire can be August!) they are replanted in the rhubarb sheds. In the dark and warm they begin to grow, the stored carbohydrate in the roots is transformed into glucose. And it is this process that gives forced rhubarb it’s much sought after sour-sweet flavour. It’s not only that flavour that makes it special, it is more tender than outdoor rhubarb, and the crimson stalks are lean and smooth. Forced rhubarb is a Yorkshire delicacy. Traditionally the rhubarb pickers harvest the stalks by candlelight, as any strong light might cause the growth to stop.

By the end of March the Harvest is over, the root, completely spent and exhausted, is useless and fit only for composting.

I have a rhubarb plant that my Mother-in-Law gave me, it’s planted in a bed in my garden, not hidden in a shed.  I have had it for years and each year it comes again and can be cropped. Some rhubarb plants are reputed to be over 50 years old, and certainly you can expect to get a crop from them for 12 – 15 years.

We have taken around 150 people through the Jisc Digital Leaders Course by now. Some of the people when they first come on it are focused on tools, or they want a to do list. They have been given a task, such as “go write a strategy” and they want the recipe for doing it. They want to know what digital should look like at their organisations. They want to know how to “win at digital”.

When we take a technology centric view of strategy, when we say things we need like our digital strategy, this is what it can look like.


I was privileged to be involved in the Changing Learning Landscape programme (LFHE, Jisc, ALT, NUS, HEA), and as well as having some great lessons learned and some good project interventions in universities we also learned something about how people perceive strategy.

The programme identified there was a barrier – a disconnect between Strategy and Practice.

When senior staff put things like “excellent student experience”, “personalised learning”, “resilience” “we attract students through our teaching vibrancy” in their strategy, many practitioners struggled to interpret them. When you have a huge teaching load, how do you interpret excellent student experience?

It is the same with digital

We hear a lot of rhetoric about digital; and “digital strategy” is a common phrase on the course. And when we discuss what it means with delegates there is a lot of difference. One thing that we have noted is that digital becomes about a thing, something that needs to be done, to be put in place. To be done to people.

There are many benefits to wider use of digital in universities and colleges. But, applying digital in our organisations is about Change at individual level, or organisational, and change means culture.

One delegate to the leadership course had been sent there, and from the beginning asked us, “why am I here? What is the point? GIVE ME A LIST OF THINGS I SHOULD DO”

The course takes delegates through  a process of mapping practice. A way of visualising your own work and behaviours. And it was only here, when she saw the links across her “behaviours” that she started to see what was possible.

visualising behaviours and finding the links

Visualising behaviours and finding the links

The tipping point came when we engaged her in own practice. We worked on what she did, and what she wanted to do.

The change came when we gave her space to find her own reason for digital.

Having worked across nearly 200 projects, the ones I have seen fail are the ones where we force digital, where we try to  leverage it into practice when we haven’t addressed the culture. Some people may have read about “dead bird projects” in previous posts.

The common thread when we work with project teams, or leaders on the digital leaders courses is that at some point the success comes when we address culture, when we recognise that change doesn’t come by forcing the technology.

When we force new technology, it’s like forced rhubarb.

It tastes good, but the season is short, and the plants are weak and at the end of the period where it is forced there is nothing left, no energy, no way to get it to grow again.

If you want digital change then you need people change – People need to be the centre of the strategy.

Understand what they do, who they are, what they need, what they want.

We need to create space for digital to grow in the mind of the people we work with, then, as the conditions occur, the digital grows in the practice.

Forced rhubarb isn’t sustainable.

Culture is key.

People are key.

Your Digital Strategies need to be the kind of rhubarb that you put in the ground and tend and feed year after year, not the kind that is forced and thrown away at the end of the season.


Rhubarb; year on year


Let’s Go Digital!

Originally posted on Inspiring learning.

It could easily be a mantra for Jisc too, but ‘Let’s Go Digital’ is the key focus of the 2017 CoLRIC events celebrating how libraries are successfully creating a digital culture and are supporting teaching and learning with the digital literacies agenda.

The results of the Mentimeter quiz asking the audience what are the key aspects of digital literacy in their role.

The results of the Mentimeter quiz asking the audience what are the key aspects of digital literacy in their role.

I was lucky enough to have been invited along to their London event at Friends House to share Jisc’s work in this area and had a great day catching up with librarians from across the country and making new friends along the way  (don’t worry if you missed this – CoLRIC is repeating the event at Kirklees College on the 16th June that my colleague, Lis Parcell, is attending).

The aim of my session was not only to flag the work Jisc has produced around digital capability (more on this later), but also to surface many of the fabulous examples that libraries up and down the country are doing to help others use digital more effectively. Many of these examples were showcased during the day and here are some of the highlights (in programme order):-

  • Deb Kellsey Millar gave a passionate talk that championed the learners themselves and their role in working alongside academics to foster an inclusive digital culture. Many may have already come across Deb’s former work at Blackburn College on DigiPals and Learning Wheels, both of which stress a collaborative approach to engaging people with digital.
  • Kate Grigsby, Senior Library Skills Advisor at the University of Sheffield, delivered a comprehensive overview of the Information Skills Resource that provides a plethora of targeted topics designed to empower students with digital. There was a good degree of interaction in Kate’s session too where she had set up padlets to crowdsource examples from the audience (click here to see what tools others are using to support information skills delivery).
  • Jim Temple at Aquinas College gave a nod to Jisc’s digital capability framework in his presentation, but stressed how e-safety and digital identity were threads that ran through their framework as they had a large number of younger learners. Aquinas College had also recently been piloting Jisc’s Student Digital Experience Tracker and had set up eAmbassadors amongst the student cohort to support digital initiatives across the college.

Andrew Eynon, Grŵp Library & Learning Resources Manager, picking up his CoLRIC Award.

  • The CoLRIC Awards also took place during the event and I was pleased to see Andrew Eynon pick up an award, who I’d worked with previously at a library conference. My congratulations to the other CoLRIC Award winners present too – Grazyna Kuczera of Northampton College and Heather Roberts at the City of Liverpool College.
  • Andy Eachus, Digital Learning Manager at Salford City College, closed the event by giving us a whistle-stop tour of the many exciting initiatives currently taking place at Salford, from ensuring digital is embedded into staff workflows and duly celebrated with digital badges, to supporting staff with handy digibytes (small online tutorials to empower staff with a range of digital technologies). Andy even finished off by giving us a flash demo of how they were using augmented reality too!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day and I was really pleased to see so many people benefit from the developing work of Jisc projects and reference the supporting research that goes with them, including Jisc’s digital capability framework, the digital capability profiles and Jisc’s newly published guide Developing Organisational Approaches to Digital Capability.

Well done to CoLRIC and everyone involved on the day for putting on a great event and if you would like to attend the next one at Kirklees College click here.

The post Let’s Go Digital! appeared first on Inspiring learning.

Strategy is multimodal

Originally posted on lawrie : converged.

One of the things I hear working with leaders in organisations is “I need to write the <insert term> strategy” — it doesn’t actually matter which strategy it is, or what flavour of a strategy it is. When you start working at a certain level, you have to start writing strategies, or parts of strategies; and the more senior you get the more of the strategy your are responsible for, until you reach the tipping point when you tell people the vision and ask them to write the strategy.

On Saturday Laura Gogia wrote a post “Facilitating the paradigm shift”, in which she spoke about getting a faculty to think strategically. It’s a great post, and relates how her own journey to a more strategic thinking place happened.

The thing with Laura’s journey is that her thinking was from a place of practice, that led to strategy. But I wonder how many people see the strategic thinking as being the opposite or at least having some dissonance with practice.

How often do we hear “think strategically” or “be more strategic”?

Leaders need to be able to think about strategy in a “meta” way, as Laura describes it and they need to think about strategy as practice. For leaders, especially the ones that we are working with in the higher and further education sectors, strategy is both thinking and doing.

Some of this is at the centre of the Jisc Digital Leaders course. The time we spend over the four days of the course is about leaders having enough information to be able to think through and develop strategies around digital. It is also, and crucially, setting leaders up to be in a place where they can situate their own digital practices as a model for their staff and peers.

“Being strategic” means practicing strategy as well as thinking strategically. Effective strategy is multimodal, and effective leaders ground their thoughts in a reflective approach to their practice, and the practices within their organisation.


Our new Community of Practice sets sail

Originally posted on Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog.

CoP launch 3 CoP launch 1

More than 90 digital capability specialists and enthusiasts came together for the launch of our Community of Practice at the University of Aston last week.

Delegates heard from Sarah Knight about the resources Jisc has developed for the community, including the new Developing organisational approaches to digital capability online guide launched last week. But this was very much a working meeting, with the focus on sharing ideas and developing things together. In a rapidly emerging field, strategies need to be kept in development, and resources produced in an agile way. So a lot of the day was given over to workshop sessions where we mapped the landscape and planned next steps

I gave an overview of where we are in the UK, and how we got here (including some international perspective). Then we heard a pair of inspiring organisational case studies from John Hill of the University of Derby, and Richard Fullylove of Coleg y Cymoedd. John described an integrated approach to staff and student development, incorporating the Jisc framework and profiles, and self-assessment tools. Richard showed how the use of infographics is helping to get the message across in his college, along with 30 full hours of CPD provision for staff.

You can access the Periscope recordings from these sessions here and also review a Storify of reactions on Twitter.

Next we split into groups to paper-prototype four ‘toolkits’ for embedding digital capabilities. CoP launch 2You can find our ideas and resources on these four Padlets:

After lunch, Gillian Fielding gave a summary overview of the findings of the 2017 UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey. You can access the Periscope recording here.

Then it was back to groupwork, with groups working in parallel on the same three issues this time – barriers and drivers to digital capability development, and available resources. A write-up from the activity is available here and will be further analysed in the coming days to decide on priorities.

CoP launch 4At a final panel, representatives were put on the spot with challenging questions such as ‘what makes for a digitally capable organisation?’ and ‘what is the one thing an organisation needs to get right?’. Luckily the day had lent us all inspiration and ideas.

You can find a periscope recording of the plenary panel session here.

The findings of our Mentimeter polling are also an important resource for thinking about where we go next.

  1. What one thing should the community do? (Open question)
  2. Which activities would you prioritise for the community? (Closed question based on results of 1.)

To join the Building Digital Capability community of practice visit Follow #digitalcapability on Twitter and for more information on the Building digital capability project email

FE and Skills Coalition Meeting – The Apprenticeship Journey in a Digital Age

Originally posted on Jisc Innovation in Further Education and Skills.

On the 10th May over 50 representatives from further education and skills across the UK attended the Jisc hosted FE and Skills coalition meeting in London. The theme of the meeting was the apprenticeship journey in a digital age. The aims of the meeting were to explore how we can embed technology throughout apprenticeship design, delivery and assessment and to hear from participants on their experiences of using technology in support of apprenticeships.

With apprenticeships going through a period of great change with government targets to deliver 3 million new starts by 2020, and a move from provider-led frameworks to the delivery of new employer-led standards. Many providers are now seeing technology as core to their delivery model if they are to be cost-effective.

All the slides from the meeting will be available here and you can access the Storify summary of the day

Highlights from meeting include:

The meeting began with an overview of how Jisc is supporting colleges and skills providers with their use of technology and highlighted the new resources available to support organisations develop their digital environment. New resources include:
Online guide on developing organisational approaches to developing digital capability
Briefing paper on developing organisational approaches to developing digital capability
The evolution of FELTAG: a glimpse at effective practice in UK further education and skills
• Enhancing the digital experience for skills learners online guide
• Area review toolkits available here

Joe Wilson sharing his views on apprenticeship landscape

Joe Wilson sharing his views on apprenticeship landscape

We heard from Joe Wilson, @joecar, on his views around the current apprenticeship landscape and the challenges facing colleges and providers with the anticipated changes.

Apprenticeship toolkit from Jisc

Apprenticeship toolkit from Jisc

Lisa Gray updated the group on the work Jisc has been conducting in relation to how technology can support the design, delivery and assessment of apprenticeships. Jisc is developing guidance to providers moving to these new models of delivery, and Lisa provided an overview of work to date. The guidance available is based on a roadmap of effective practice from the preparatory stages through delivery of training to end-point assessment and highlights the key role of technology throughout. Read Lisa’s blog post about the project and you can access the apprenticeship toolkit here. We would welcome your views and feedback on this resource and please contact Lisa Gray ( for more information.

Nick Poyner, Real Apprenticeship Company presented on how technology supports their delivery

Nick Poyner, Real Apprenticeship Company presented on how technology supports their delivery

We heard from Nick Poyner, from the Real Apprenticeship Company, on how they are making effective use of technology to support the delivery of their apprenticeships. Nick’s slides will be made available from the events page and you can read more about their work here

The Education and Training Foundation have a programme of support for providers and colleges delivering apprenticeships and Alison Morris and Dawn Buzzard presented to the group on what support and training opportunities are available.

Dawn Buzzard presenting on ETF support programme for apprenticeships

Dawn Buzzard presenting on ETF support programme for apprenticeships

In addition, Ufi run the Blended Learning Essentials course and are developing a new course aimed specifically at supporting staff delivering apprenticeships and the role of technology. For further information visit

To end the day Rob Bristow and Sarah Dunne ran an activity on developing user stories to capture user requirements, to feed into the developments on the Jisc digital apprenticeship work. You can view the user stories here.

Thank you to all those who contributed to the event and for the rich discussion. The next meeting of the group is on 11th October. You can join the mailing list for this group by visiting FELTAGIMPLEMENTATIONGROUP and continue the discussions on Twitter using #FELTAG

Online language – How are communities using it?

Originally posted on Inspiring learning.

So we have a new species of language – neither written nor spoken but with elements of both.

New protocols, changing spellings, new words and phrases, emojis and icons, memes and gifs – new and evolving ways to express ourselves. Our evolving online language is creative, challenging, exciting and sometimes baffling. And like any language it is used in different ways by different communities, groups and individuals. Often it is used as a badge of identity. Like clothes, cars, hobbies and accessories, language can make up part of who we are and how we present ourselves.

language communities

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Different communities use language in different ways. I got really interested in the work of Penny Eckert a few years ago when I discovered her linguistic studies of the Jocks, Burnouts and Geeks in high schools in America. You can get more of a flavour of her work in this later paper on adolescent language. My lightbulb moment happened when Penny described the three groups of young people distinguishing themselves from each other by clothes, accessories, behaviour and language

Slang often originates with young people, multicultural communities, armed forces, political movements and so on, and becomes assimilated into mainstream language, only to be replaced by the next generation of alternative language! Think of the multitude of words from a range of past cultures which sound perfectly ordinary to us now – youth words like cool, wicked, like; rhyming slang like butcher’s, porky, barnet, raspberry; military terms like doolally, lousy, snapshot, scrounger; criminal underworld terms like chum, rumble or knock off.

In fact we can often identify an online community by the way the language looks. Think of the Twitter community for example. We see a piece of text under 140 characters long, it has a #hashtag perhaps – the name of the poster is preceded by @name. They may mention other community members with @names, and a tweet will often contain a shortened link and an image or a video or gif. If you are in the process of learning how to use Twitter for professional practice, this is an excellent guide.

snap 1 snap 2

Mother and son conversation – Snapchat

You can also identify a snapchat message by the way it looks – it will have an image and a text box over the image, often containing words and emoticons. You can employ filters over the images and draw on it too. One of the interesting things about this is that the images are part of a real time conversation, not special records of special times. The messages disappear within a few seconds of being opened or they can be added to a shared group story which lasts for 24 hours. It’s a tool for now – no comments and no likes… There’s a good article here if you want to know more.

There are lots of communication apps and social media sites that are identifiable by the way the language looks and feels, but I’ll describe just one more.

FB 1

Facebook users will recognise the layout of this status and comment. The first comment includes a profile photo and the poster’s name is blue highlighted so we can click on them and visit their profile page. Under the comment there is a time stamp and blue highlighted ‘like’ and ‘comment’ for friends to interact. (There are more interaction choices on Facebook now.) We can see that three people have liked it, and one has commented. The commenter’s profile picture is also shown and we can click on their name which is also blue highlighted. There is space to write your comment too.

It’s possible to identify communities such as Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr and many others by the use of particular words and phrases, and some communities will even mock others about their use of language! Imgur has a handy glossary so that new arrivals can find their way around the site, translate the acronyms and understand the in jokes. Users have also come up with their own glossaries like this one which are designed to make newcomers feel more welcome.

If you are looking to become part of an online community, lurking is a good way to get used to its language protocols and behaviours. I have been lurking around some communities for so long now, it’s embarrassing… I don’t know if I will ever make a comment on Imgur, even though the community comes across as loyal, comradely and welcoming to newcomers. But one wrong move – posting a selfie, promoting a product, using Tumblr language, reposting too soon, plagiarism – and the wrath of the community is upon you.

We should legitimise and support various communities’ development of language as we move through time, but we also have to be aware of the dangers of extremism and the existence of malign communities that also use a sense of identity to draw vulnerable people in. Use of language can be a warning sign in some cases that a person is identifying with a community that might cause us concern.

Language use is part of the identity of communities – you can be included or excluded depending on your understanding and use of language and behaviour, and people have to be able to learn the language etiquette that will enable them to be a part of the community they want to belong to. Online language evolution enriches all our languages and it helps our communities to thrive.


(If you would like to see some of my favourite examples of creative online language, here’s a link to my Tumblr collection of artefacts, articles and amusing memes )

(You can read sections of the PhD here )

(Have a look at Jisc’s work on digital capability here )


  1. Online language – Journey to a PhD
  2. Online language – What does it look like?
  3. Online language – A new species of language

Coming next:

  1. Online language – Why do we need to teach it?
  2. Online language – Bilingualism
  3. Online language – Somewhere along the line



The post Online language – How are communities using it? appeared first on Inspiring learning.

Trends Unpacked (Part 3): Technical Challenges and Learning Analytics

Originally posted on Effective Learning Analytics.

This is a guest post from Lindsay Pineda, Senior Implementation Consultant and Amanda Mason, Senior Business Analyst, Unicon, Inc.

How are you approaching a learning analytics implementation at your institution? Is the impression that it is mostly a technical implementation? Or is it mostly an organizational/cultural one? As we discuss in this installment of the “Trends Unpacked” series, it is actually both and it is important that your institution believes this as well.

Amanda Mason, a Senior Business Analyst with Unicon, has extensive experience in recognizing technological challenges related to systems integration, investigating technical requirements, and strategic analysis. All of these skills have been a vital piece of connecting the technical side of a learning analytics implementation to the organizational one. You can read more about Amanda’s experience in her bio at the end of this article.

In the past few “Trends Unpacked” articles, the focus has been mainly on the organizational challenges, observations, and recommendations. In this third installment, Amanda and I are going to focus on the first three aspects of technical challenges and trends:

  • Demonstration of sufficient learning analytics knowledge
  • Institutional infrastructure
  • Data management

In future posts, we will cover the remaining technical challenges and trends.

Demonstration of Sufficient Learning Analytics Knowledge

As highlighted in the article “Learning Analytics Adoption and Implementation Trends: Identifying Organizational and Technical Patterns,” some of the challenges and trends we observed were related to demonstrating sufficient learning analytics knowledge:

  • Many individuals within technical departments expressed concern about their collective learning analytics knowledge. Most felt they had some knowledge; however, much of it had been focused on institutional analytics.
  • The bulk of the time spent on education about learning analytics was experienced within the technical departments themselves.

The following examples illustrate the types of learning analytics knowledge challenges most often expressed at the institutions:

  • What do we do with the data? – This was a common theme and expressed by many at the institutions we visited; at one particular institution we were told, “How is this different than what we already do? We already have loads of data, we just don’t do anything with it.” This is a consistent statement among institutions. Most do have loads of data they have been collecting for decades, but that is not the difficulty. The difficulty lies in where the data is located. We found that data is located in several different systems, departments, and often stored within the minds of tenured individuals who are sought out to advise in specific situations. Some viewed this robust wealth of data as a positive thing because there was so much information being captured about students. However, the fact remains that a lot of data does not equal a lot of knowledge about how to use it. As one institution pointed out, “There is the perception that having loads of data as a good thing, but we’re not sure if it’s at all useful or valuable.”
  • We need a systematic way to collect data – At other institutions, we experienced concern from a technical group of individuals who voiced frustration regarding the sheer volume of data collected. They expressed that it is difficult to determine how to collect the right data in the right format for the right practices, from all of the varying systems they currently have in place. This same group advised us, “We need to be very clear about the data we collect currently and how this is different than what we are going to collect in the future. There needs to be a structure in place to systematically collect data moving forward.”

Institutions shared some ideas regarding potential solutions and recommendations that they feel would be beneficial:

  • Define a clear purpose for data collection – Institutions recognized the need to use data to help inform effective delivery of a positive student experience. One institution told us, “We need to do something with the data. We can’t just let it sit there.” Questions need to be asked in regards to several individuals and departments to determine where priorities lie for data collection. Having a clear idea of what data should be collected and for what purpose is imperative. This ensures the processes and policies will reflect the goals of the institution as it pertains to learning analytics. As another institution communicated, “We have a good sense, at an institutional level, of what data is needed, but we need to determine where the priorities lie at the learner level and what power there is in that data.”
  • Define the data points for collection – Most institutions have policies and procedures according to government requirements, but few have actual definitions of data points according to their specific usage on campus. For example, at one institution, “student engagement” meant how many times a student logged into their Learning Management System (LMS). At another institution, this meant how many times a student physically showed up to the classroom. It is paramount that data points such as student engagement, retention, completion rates, and employability are well defined at the start of the initiative. Asking questions, brainstorming with others from different disciplines, and taking the time to define the specific data points that will be collected can benefit the collaborative development of clearly defined policies and processes moving forward.

Institutional Infrastructure

Many of the institutions we visited already had a data warehouse, but it housed limited integrated data from only one or two systems, for example, the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), LMS, and Student Information System (SIS). All of the institutions still had many “manual processes” (e.g. collecting attendance manually on Excel spreadsheets) that were not being captured or housed in a collective place. Additionally, the institutions expressed an interest and a desire to have collective information housed in one place that was easily accessible (e.g. a “one source of truth” concept).

The following examples illustrate the types of institutional infrastructure challenges most often expressed at the institutions:

  • Data gaps and limited data availability – We were informed, at several institutions, that the readiness assessment process was the first time some staff had investigated the data the institution currently collects. In preparation for the onsite visits, many began to identify gaps in data or take notice of the limited amount of data available for use with learning analytics technology. One institution told us, “Not having certain data hasn’t been a problem in the past because it hasn’t been required for use.” This seemed to be a shared theme among the institutions visited. Another institution illustrated a specific example of missing or limited data related to library information, “We’ve noticed there are quite a few bits of data the library doesn’t capture. And the information it does collect often can’t be shared due to privacy policies.” These types of situations were common and certainly a point of frustration for many institutions.
  • Data ownership concerns – We found that several departments within an institution collect data, but they do not own the information itself. The institution, as a collective body, often officially owns the data, but does so without a clear gatekeeper for access to that data. This can pose the problem of who should own the data collected and how one gains access to the information for learning analytics purposes. One institution articulated to us, “There is no clear data ownership within the institution. We are unclear on who decides what data is used and collected and what isn’t. There is nothing systematic about the way we approach data.”

Institutions shared with us some ideas regarding potential solutions and recommendations that they feel would be beneficial:

  • “Single source of truth” – This can be both a technical and organizational solution. Institutions expressed that having one place to go for most, if not all, data collected would be the most effective way to mitigate the questions surrounding data collection processes and data ownership. One institution advised, “We only have ‘single points in time’ for data right now, like the VLE activity. What we need is a more dynamic view with more systems included and housed in one place to access it.” The solution could be a centralized data warehouse or Learning Records Warehouse (LRW) that is linked to several systems for data collection. For institutions, having one place to go to get the information needed saves time, energy, and effort. An individual at one institution said, “The University has never had a holistic viewpoint on what data is needed and collected over time. This would be hugely beneficial for everyone if we found a way to do this.”

Data Management

Individuals at the institutions collectively expressed their frustration regarding inconsistent data management practices and policies; we found that all institutions were using data, but for many different purposes. However, not all of the processes were in sync with each other. Most individuals within the institutions were not aware of which data other departments were using and for what purpose.

The institutions we visited were generally compliant with the UK’s Data Protection laws and policies; however, each department appeared to have their own interpretation of those laws and policies. They also expressed a desire to have a unified way of managing data that was implemented across the entire institution.

The following examples illustrate the types of data management challenges most often expressed at the institutions with whom we spoke:

  • “Lack of confidence” when it comes to data collection policies – Several institutions communicated a lack of confidence in the data that was currently being collected. This includes whether or not the data was of good quality for a learning analytics initiative purpose. There was also communicated concern regarding the lack of unified policies to help guide the collection of data itself. We heard several discussions around issues such as not having a universal policy for VLE/ LMS usage, attendance policies being unclear, and data not being collected uniformly across departments. Individuals within a large group at one institution had no awareness of what role each held within the university and how their job duties affected each other. They were unclear about how the data they needed impacted and overlapped with each role as well. One individual at that institution stated, “We have a vast array of ways we collect data at the moment and so many issues around that. We are seeing missing data, needs for data which is not currently gathered, attendance data that varies across programs and we have no idea if the data that actually is available is any good.”
  • Data protection and privacy policy confusion – An individual at one institution told us, “We have so many different policies and procedures for every department and program across the university right now. I have no idea how we are going to control that moving forward.” We found the same to be true across other institutions we visited. Most had policies and procedures regarding data protection and privacy, but they felt things were inconsistently enforced and poorly executed. Another individual voiced, “We need to be really clear about what data the institution is using and why we are using it. How in depth does it need to be? And what is the risk of doing it versus not doing it? We just have no idea right now.”

Institutions shared some ideas with us regarding potential solutions and recommendations that they feel would be beneficial:

  • “It is important to determine how data is captured and that it is standardized” – This is a direct quote from one member of an Information Technology (IT) group at an institution. This person advised that they discuss their frustrations regularly about this topic. They informed us that the bottom line for them was to have “controls about confidentiality levels, data that is captured and how it is used need to be determined upfront. This needs to be done the same way for everyone as well; not just IT.” Standardizing the practice of what data will be collected, who will gather it, and for what purpose it will be used in the initial stages of a learning analytics initiative will help outline the process for future iterations. This will allow for a smooth transfer of responsibility and help determine if any resources should leave the institution.
  • Establish a searchable “policy bank” – The individuals within one institution’s technical group shared that “having a searchable ‘policy bank’ would greatly cut down on the confusion about where a policy is and how to follow it.” This particular institution expressed that training new staff about the policies and procedures to be followed was difficult. This was due to the vast number of policies that existed and the fact that no one executed those policies in the same way. Another institution we visited had spent a significant amount of time and effort to develop a very clear outline for a policy regarding student consent. This included what “consent” meant to that institution, who can give consent to whom, and when consent is required. After all of this effort, there was still nowhere to refer to the policy for someone who was being newly on-boarded. As it was pointed out to us, “This is not an efficient, or even practical way, to house policies. If we can’t find it and it’s not readily available to everyone, how can we make sure we are adhering to it?” Establishing a centralized, searchable policy bank or storage hub significantly benefits institutions.

Throughout our visits, we found a common, prevalent misconception that an initiative such as learning analytics is either a technical or an organizational solution. It is both and needs to be addressed concurrently. Technical challenges are very real and prevalent; however, they only focus on those particular challenges and can lead to the fallacy that a learning analytics solution is a “silver bullet” or “magic cure.” Our message to institutions based on our experience is there is no “fix-all” solution that will resolve the entirety of systematic challenges an institution retains. Learning analytics technology is a tool designed to help provide a richer student experience. It is not meant to be the solution. It is meant to be a part of the solution.

Please be on the lookout for another article coming later this month regarding the quantifiable findings from the readiness assessments conducted and highlighted in the article, “Learning Analytics Adoption and Implementation Trends: Identifying Organizational and Technical Patterns.”

Here’s to continuous growth and improvement!

Useful Reading:

Trends Unpacked (Part 2): Four Things Senior Leaders Need to Know About Their Role in a Learning Analytics Initiative

Originally posted on Effective Learning Analytics.

Lindsay PinedaThis is a guest post from Lindsay Pineda, senior implementation consultant for Unicon.

One of the most common questions I get during onsite readiness assessment visits is, “What can I do, as a leader, to support learning analytics across my institution?” While working with varying institutions, I observed several key ways in which senior leaders such as deans, department heads, and vice chancellors can support the progress of a learning analytics initiative.

  1. Information Sharing: The first aspect to consider when engaging early on with an initiative is spreading the word; sharing the true and clear information about the initiative within the institution. As leaders, others look to you to help guide the overall strategic direction and vision. This doesn’t mean one leader alone within the institution can or should lead a larger scale initiative like learning analytics. The institutional leader cannot be the only one sharing information with other departments or creating a collective strategy; it has to be trickled down throughout the rest of the leadership team. For example, senior management needs to feed it to Deans, Deans to Associate Deans, Associate Deans to Department Chairs, etc. Creating this sort of information dissemination creates a strong foundation for building the initiative. It is not always easy to control the interpretation of messaging as it spreads across campus, but ensuring your delivery of the true, correct message helps dampen the potential gossip surrounding it. Information sharing also empowers those who work under leadership to continue to share the message across departments. Increased information sharing about the true message is always for the better.
  2. Expectation Setting: This next step is one that I found many leaders perform to help properly prepare staff for a larger initiative such as learning analytics. Even if you feel you have expressed support of the initiative in other ways, actually setting expectations to begin the work makes all the difference. For example, setting an expectation during budget meetings that resources will be allocated to this new initiative for a particular duration is an excellent way to express support. Setting this expectation also upholds the importance of the initiative’s priority. Vocal expression of support, followed by the action of creating expectations around what work will be required, is compulsory for the staff to believe that the initiative is a priority and will happen.
  3. Consistent Messaging: Once information is shared, transparency about the message is created and expectations are set. It is then helpful for leaders to provide consistent messaging to their staff. Message consistency serves to reiterate the true and correct message that has been established. In my observations, I found that some leaders were happy to support an initiative when speaking about it originally, but the message of support seemed to wane as time went on. This could be due to changes in leadership priorities. Consistent messaging regarding support can be difficult when there are many different priorities grasping your time, efforts, and approvals. However, an initial statement of commitment, backed up with consistent messaging throughout the project, demonstrates a connected, involved, and dedicated innovator. Keeping the focus pointed in the right direction lets everyone involved know that this is still important and a priority. These are likely things you already do on a daily basis. Holding true to your word goes a long way to those who are watching and taking cues from your guidance. Share your conviction.
  4. Collaborative Thinking: Every learning analytics initiative grows and changes over time, as it should. Continuing to involve staff, colleagues, and even students along the way is fundamental. Welcoming new ideas and new takes on the current processes and implementation plans are all dynamic ways to lead the changes within your institution. If you want to change something, you have to do it, show it, and lead it. This needs to be done at every opportunity. Your students, your staff, and your colleagues are all watching and will, ultimately, see and do the same. Allow others to feed their passion, curiosity, and enthusiasm into the next steps; collaborative thinking is contagious.

One of the best things we can do in higher education (HE) is to learn from each other. Most senior leaders are attempting to do what is best for those they lead, for their institution, and collectively across HE. This article is just a reminder to continue on with those efforts.

Here’s to continuous growth and improvement!

Useful Reading:

Lindsay Pineda is currently a Senior Implementation Consultant for Unicon and has a rich background in learning/predictive analytics. In her previous position, she focused on helping to develop, implement, and execute a proprietary predictive modeling technology that has proven to be successful in predicting student course persistence on a week-to-week basis. Lindsay has immersed herself in learning/predictive analytics research, practical applications, and implementation. Since coming to Unicon, she has been working with institutions to provide Learning Analytics solutions, both technical and nontechnical, and has had a focus on visiting institutions onsite to provide Readiness Assessments. She helps institutions work through issues of change management, resourcing, challenges, and concerns relating to the adoption of Learning Analytics.