Author Archives: howsheilaseesIT

Now we are 2: settling in to working on the outside⤴

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This month marks my 2 year anniversary as and independent digital learning consultant. What with “everything” that has happened over the last year, I’m very glad that I am still here, in every sense, still managing to make a living, and still able to pursue my development as an artist.

I know everyone felt disconnected last year, but not working “in” an institution I did feel a different sense of disconnection from my peers. I felt relieved as I watch/read/listened to colleagues sharing their experiences, the additional workload, that I didn’t have those pressures to deal; as well as a huge sense of guilt about not being able to do more to help. I also had a worry that I wouldn’t have my “how I coped with the pivot” battle scars , so would maybe be seen as irrelevant, and no one would want to employ me post pandemic.

My term of office as Chair of ALT also ended last year, that was in a sense another loss for me. More a loss of structure as ALT provided me with a very regular set of meetings. After 3 years as Chair, it was time for me to go and I was more than happy to pass the baton on as they say.

Of course I had (and continue to have) a whole different set of pressures that any independent business has to deal with. My working life is always going to be precarious, but that’s my choice and I knew that when I gave up my job.

One small thing I was able to do was share some of my feelings via this blog and I was surprised and touched by the number of people who sent me messages thanking me for sharing how I was feeling and experiencing “stuff”. That helped to give me a continued sense of connection and empathy with my PLN, which when you work by yourself has an additional importance. I think we’ve all had feelings of being lost and alone over the past year but when you are “in” an institution it can be hard to talk publicly about what you are experiencing.

Overall though, I have been really lucky in being able to continue to get work that is both interesting and worthwhile. The beginning of the year was quiet, however maybe that’s just a cycle I have to get used to. I’ve also done a number of keynotes which is great, and I think being “on the outside” does provide additional ways to provoke thinking about “stuff”. Over the past year I’ve also been able to work with the wonderful Helen Beetham which has just been a joy.

So I just want to thank everyone who has invited me to speak at their conferences/events over the past year, and everyone who has and continues to employ me (new clients always welcome!), everyone who shares, comments and answers my questions here and on twitter. Your continued support is very much appreciated.

Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

Living and learning in a time of solitude: GMIT #DigitalEd keynote⤴

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Earlier today,I was delighted to give the opening keynote for day 2 of GMIT‘s Digital Education Week. Despite not being able to all meet in person in Galway, it was fantastic to be able join so many people from across Ireland and the UK and be part of the event.

For my talk I wanted to reflect on what we have all experienced in the past year of living and learning through a global pandemic. To use the luxurious position of a keynote to ask some questions about our lived experiences, and what we need to think about going forward. I wanted to reflect on words like isolation, self isolation,solitary, quarantine. These words that are so commonplace now, but pre-pandemic were not really part of our everyday discourse and vocabulary.

What really struck me about the quotes I used at the start of my talk about solitude and being alone (and many others I didn’t use) is how out of time and context they seem right now. In all of them, there is a sense of almost noble sacrifice to solitude. Solitude is necessary for great (artistic) work.  It’s as if they all had to justify the right to be alone, to be solitary to achieve greatness, and an enhance sense of self worth. In our present day context, that seems to me like a very distant, privileged concept from a bygone era.  Enforced solitude is quite a different experience, as we all now know. It’s been hard enough to get out of bed sometimes, never mind reach the great heights of getting dressed!

The realities of living, working and learning from home are bound as much by our physical spaces as our digital ones. I used some of the recent work of Professor Lesley Gourlay to explore this a bit more and talk about the entanglements of our phsyical and digital worlds, and the assemblages we have had to create to “be” at university. Today I thought I might stand to give the talk ( I don’t do much standing these days, do you?) so I created my own assemblage of a lectern using an ironing board, and some boxes. All a bit meta, but actually it work so I might do that again!

my standing desk!

The session was recorded so I will add a link to that when it is available, but in the mean time you can view my slides including feedback from participants here.

And here is a screen shot the wonderful sketch note of the talk by Maia Thomas.

#OERxDomains21: Just what does it means to be open?⤴

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NB – I have added links to the recorded sessions which might not be available until later this week.

In the final keynote of the #OERxDomains21 conference, Rajiv Jhangiani asked what does it mean to be open?  After 2 days of sharing, caring, questioning, laughing, at times crying, it was timely reminder that “open” is a multifaceted concept and the practice(s) of open education manifests itself in many ways, and is deeply contextual.  Open educational practice, is as Catherine Cronin so beautifully put it back in 2017a constantly negotiated process.”

As with all conferences (and all other delegates) I had to negotiate and navigate my way through the conference programme and online spaces over the 2 days. I have to confess that at the conference committee meetings when Jim Groom was explaining the broadcast concept of the conference, I didn’t quite get it. But I had faith that it would all be OK.  I just didn’t realise how OK it would actually turn out to be. 

Online conferences are different from face to face, it is harder to connect, to get that “conference buzz”.  I thought ALT did an amazing job last year in extremely rapidly pulling  together the online version of OER20. However this year, the conference platforms were at another level. The combination of Streamyard, Youtube, and Dischord worked  really well. I’m sure I missed a lot of the functionality of Dischord, but I managed! And I did get a real sense of live, hallway chats.

So congratulations to the Reclaim team and ALT for realising an almost seemless online  experience.  I have never chaired a session with an online “producer” before. Having someone dealing with countdowns, pulling in questions from the youtube chat was amazing. I have to say I kind of never want to not have one again!  The way that the “backstage” area for all presentations worked was amazing, and I’m sure some will be share in more detail elsewhere.

Of course any conference is not just about the location. What makes any conference work is its community. It’s what we,  the people,  do in the spaces (online or physical) that makes the difference. People not technology make conferences work. I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a core OER community and quite a bit of crossover between it and the Domains community.  The community aspect of the conference is one of the reasons I keep paying to go to OER conferences. It’s a vital part of my CPD – I don’t have any office buddies to talk to everyday. As we all know, open isn’t free and this is one dose of openness I am more than willing to pay to support. It’s a bit like an extended family reunion.  But we can’t let ourselves become a complacent, clique. We always need to ensure we are welcoming new people to the fold.

This year, there was a very necessary and needed focus on care. It’s been quite a year. People are tired, and need the support that a conference can provide such as sharing different approaches to open pedagogies of care, of social justice.  Brenna Clarke Gray talked about the “tricky truth about care” and the way (institutional) structures are actually indifferent. Where are the structural changes to institutional systems that are truly based on care?  Weekly wellness emails don’t really cut it and don’t deal with the moral stress that so many staff are dealing with.  Developing resilience is a sign of institutional, structural failure not personal failure. I really can’t recommend watching the recording of Brenna’s session enough.

Of course structural change is hard,  but if we can’t take the time to change things now after a global pandemic then when can we? I do have a sense that in HE  we are moving into a future that is being driven by narratives that aren’t based on the contextual realities of learning and teaching right now but more on neoliberal views ofwhat education should be and rosy tinted views of “getting back normal.”

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of phrases like Education 4.0 but I was intrigued by a session called University V is alive! Now open to the cruel and the dead, from Eamon Costello and Prajakta Girme. After finishing day 1 with the marvelous remixed and bingo infused keynote from Laura Gibbs, this was a stark contrast.  Whilst Laura shared a wonderful set of student created stories, Eamon and Prajakta  used a speculative fiction approach to present an unsettling, dystopian view of the open day for  University V,  34 years from now. Kudos to Eammon for his delivery, use of music and mix of visual artefacts and effects to create an unsettling start to day 2. We began to understand how every entrant to University V was indeed a number related to all family numbers and their behaviours that related to points, and value. There were intriguing clues as to who Professor A might be, how she(?) had changed her name to get “to the top”. As Eammon pointed out in the the Q&A the truth is really stranger than fiction, and we don’t have to go to far to discover what others might think only happens in fiction is actually happening in real life.

This came starkly to mind during Jasmine Robert’s powerful keynote. Jasmine’s honesty about her own trauma in the context of the reality of the the Derek Chauvin murder trial was a stark reminder of structures of oppression and who still controls the dominant media narratives. It’s not a huge jump at all to see Professor A as a person from a black, ethnic minority background who has manage to game and play the system to get to the top and protect her/him/they? (because we don’t really know Prof A’s gender) anonymity. The narrative of University V might be very different if it were written using non global north images and based on an alternative historical perspective.

Social justice was a critical theme across the conference, and both Jasmine and Rajiv highlighted it in their keynotes. Both stressed the need for us to let the under-represented voices be included, to support open pedagogies rooted in care and love. Part of that care is to recognise that not everything can or should be open. We need to create safe spaces for our students to have critical conversations, to help them develop their own voices, introduce them to a range of sources – not just “the white men”, and then give them the choice of where, how and when they want to put themselves in the open (as Laura’s keynote illustrated).

As ever it’s so hard to condense a conference experience into a blog post. From the opening plenary discussion keynote, where all the speakers rooted the conference in our current reality, OER x Domains 21 was, for me a very timely and necessary experience. Timely as it’s a year into the pandemic and teaching remotely, necessary as we all need to have space to get together, to share our stories, to learn from each other, to show our support and care for each other in a different space.

For me the overriding sense was of community, of care, of open humaneness (thank you Tutaleni Asino) of focusing on what really matters “we are teaching students not content” as Jasmine Roberts reminded us ; we are not humans “doing”, we are humans “being” said Glasgow College Student President Nicolas Garcia, in the opening plenary keynote . We might still be figuring out just how we can “be” in these still unsettling times, but open education, social justice and care are all great navigation points for this journey.

Many thanks to all the co-chairs, the organising committee, ALT and Reclaim staff , keynotes, presenters and participants alike for creating another great conference. Yes, collectively we all indeed did “do it again”. And it’s not over yet! There are workshops next week so do check them out. I’m delighted to be part of one around the potential future for BYOD4L. Wendy Taleo and Sarah Honeychurch invited everyone to contribute to an open zine in their Collective Hope short recording session. So here’s a little montage of some of my visual highlights.

Gasta time again #GastaGoesGlobal⤴

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Earlier this week I once again joined a great set of speakers (Maha Balil, Leigh Graves-Wolf, Martin Weller, Mark Brown & Frank Rennie) to almost a year to the day, take part in Gastas Goes Global 2. The brain child of Tom Farrelly, Gasta sessions are basically a set of short (5 minute) presentations, with lots of audience participation counting speakers in and cutting them off if they exceed the time limit. You can read more here.

This year the online organisation and facilitation really moved up a notch (tho’ it was pretty impressive last year too). So many thanks to everyone involved in the set up, streaming and feedback of the event. Having a 5 minute time visible on screen was both useful and slightly panic inducing. Particularly when it got to a minute and you still had about another 5 minutes of “stuff” to say!

Another addition this year is an open book to accompany the event. All the speakers have been asked to submit an article based on their presentations. I’m glad of the opportunity to do that as I did have to cut out quite a bit of what I had planned to say. More of that in another post!

In Tom’s introduction he said that one year on, this was a chance to reflect, to review and most importantly share experiences of the past year. One point I wanted to make, but I don’t think I got over as well as I’d hoped is that although it felt like everything changed last year, it also feels like nothing actually changed either. . The oil tanker of education (particularly higher education) is still traveling on the same, well worn route. There hasn’t (as yet) been widespread changes to core curriculum, to our “scheduling” of teaching, to notions of what “being” a student is now. But maybe I just haven’t seen them yet. The disruption of lockdown hasn’t really invoked any radical changes to the overall structures of our education systems. But, again maybe that’s just my interpretation, so please contradict me and challenge me, dear reader.

One element I that I know I did rush through was the importance of community. That has been so important for everyone in and outwith education. The Gasta itself is/was/ such a fabulous example of community action, generosity of spirit, of expertise, of time, of kindness, of care, of good humour and most importantly sharing. For me it was another energising experience. From the focus of care from Maha, to the wonderful poetry to help soothe the soul from Leigh, to the unexpected analogies with Jaws from Martin, all the speakers brought a wealth of stimulating thoughts to the session.

At the start of my talk I said I was tired, but on reflection, I think weary is a more accurate word to use in my context. I’m weary of lockdown, of restrictions, of missing places and people. I’m also wary of what might actually be ahead. There is some hope, but we are not over “all this” yet.

So many thanks to Tom and all team for putting on such a great event.

Here’s a link to my slides, and yes they are the same ones I used last year, which I felt was appropriate, as I’m still wondering “so what now?”

One year on, and have we learnt anything?⤴

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Today, March 23rd marks one year since the UK went into lock-down. My memory of that day last year is a bit hazy, it was expected but still quite unbelievable. I remember walking incredulously past long queues of cars waiting to get free food from the well know fast food outlet nearby. I remember the slightly surreal feeling of locking the door and wondering who/when would be able to cross over it again. I hoped that it would indeed “all be over by Easter”, but part of me knew that it wouldn’t. I didn’t expect to still be in lock down this Easter.

So much has changed, but so little has too. The most shocking aspect to this whole year is the tragic number of deaths. Over 126,000 in the UK – and it’s still increasing. I remember the shock I felt about a year ago when some scientists were saying 50,00 would be a good outcome for the UK. In retrospect it would have.

Almost a year earlier I had already made the move to home working so I was lucky to have my working space all sorted, and work to do. Seeing and hearing colleagues and friends struggle with home working, home schooling, lock-down life has at times been heartbreaking, at times heart warming.

Today, tho, I am drawn back to this quote I spotted last year. Over the past year I have worried about our obsession with “getting back to normal” – particularly in education. So today I am really considering what part of “normal’ I want to get back to, and what I will be forced to!

Guest post for #OERxDomains21 : Being in the OER x Domains Space⤴

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As part of the build up to the OERxDomains21 conference next week, members of the conference committee have been writing a series of guest blog posts. My post has just been published and you can read it over on the conference blog here.

In the post I share some of my thoughts about time and conferences. Why it’s hard to find time to “conference” (particularly during lock-down), why it’s important to find the time to “conference” and a little secret about some of my best times at conferences.

Would taking a raft approach help us think about the transition back to campus?⤴

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Photo by Tomasz Urbaszek on Unsplash

As we enter March this year, it is hard to believe that it’s almost been a year since we went into lockdown. Although we start this March with a bit more optimism particularly around vaccines, despite what many people want to think, “this” isn’t over yet. Over the weekend Auckland went back into a 7 day lock down.

I think this should sent a warning to us here in the UK. We have been no where near as successful as New Zealand in containing the spread of COVID-19. Yes, we are doing really well in terms of vaccine roll out, but that’s not a cure, there is still a lot of research to be gathered around the longer term impacts of the vaccines, their longevity and actual impact on transmission and suppression. Despite what many want to think, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of lockdowns.

As we prepare to move out of the highest levels of lockdown, schools here in Scotland have already started their phased return, and think about moving back on campus, the natural temptation is to plan for more face to face teaching, for that return to “normal”, to the spaces and places we’ve all missed for the last year. To bring our communities of learning back together in the “real” world.

However, I think it might be an idea to consider how to deal with short, sharp lockdowns and taking a what I’m calling a RAFT (rapid and flexible teaching scenarios) approach to design.

There is something in my head about a life raft metaphor too with this. Online learning has provided lots of learning life-rafts but there is the overwhelming desire to get back on to dry land. But as the lockdown in New Zealand (and there have been similar ones in other cities/countries) has shown we might have more shorter, local, lockdowns to come. So how can we deal with that?

Well maybe by simply by asking: could this activity/assessment/module be completed if we had to go back into lockdown at short notice? Are all the resources available online? Have I got at least 4 weeks teaching prepared in advance? Do students have clear signposting and support around what they are expected to do and where they should do it? Have I got established communication channels to let students know of any changes at short notice? Not rocket science, and a lot of this is already in place, so it would be tragic to loose what has been learned over the last year and just go back to “normal”. Let’s move forward with truly blended, flexible approaches.

Digital Learning in the pandemic and beyond – embracing a bit of radical uncertainty⤴

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This week I was delighted to have been invited to give a vision talk to start the Digital Learning in the Pandemic and Beyond half day conference organised by TechPathWays London and ALT. Over the morning there were a series of great presentations from Techpathways around the work they are doing with schools, from Jane Secker and Chris Morrisson about copyright and online learning, and Alistair McNaught about accessibility.

I used embracing radical uncertainty as a hook for my talk. Over the past 11 months we have all lived through huge changes in how we live, work and interact with each other. In terms of education, there has been a massive shift in delivery, which has put a spotlight on the increasing digital and socio-economic divide in our society. In the UK we take universal access to education as a given, however if you don’t have access to suitable devices and more importantly can’t pay for the data needed, then you can’t access education in an equitable way. As we move forward with schools opening up, we have to learn from what has happened, and not forget that divide. Despite what politicians say, I suspect that there may be other lock downs, perhaps more local and shorter, but if that does happen we need to be ready and able for equitable, flexible learning.

With all that has happened over the past year, if this isn’t the time to be thinking about radical change to education then I don’t know when is. Our children and young people deserve more than “catch up”. They don’t need to be constantly reminded of how much they have missed. They need to be given the opportunity to be part of the discussions about what we all experienced over the last year. They need to see that education is something that is done with them, not to them. We need to be having some radical, open discussions about what is really needed to move forward to ensure that our students can be part the radical solutions needed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the even more pressing issues of climate change.

My slides are below and as soon as the recording is available I’ll add the link here too.

Keeping it on the DL Vlog – guest appearance⤴

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Keeping it on the DL Vlog

Last month I was delighted to be invited to be a guest on the Sysdoc Digital Learning Vlog. We had a great discussion covering serious games, investment in tech, learning in lockdown, AI and bias and lots of other things.

Thanks Sarah (for inviting me) , Spencer and Jade for letting me ramble on and on . . . .



Hope in a time of radical uncertainty⤴

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I’m doing a short keynote/vision talk next week at the Digital Learning in the Pandemic and Beyond half day conference. The event has a focus on “looking at the practicalities, possibilities and potential pitfalls of online learning”, and has a great line of speakers looking at blended learning, copyright and accessibility.

I’m giving the opening talk and I think it is even more challenging right now to come up with something visionary, yet realistic given our current context. Just going to a conference is a wholly different contextual digital and material experience than from a year ago. We have gone through a radical change not just in education but across all aspects of our lives. I was struck by a quote in an article I read last week about not giving up hope taken from a 2014 paper on Climate Change,

the context for hope is radical uncertainty” (McKinnon, 2014)

There is no doubt we have lived and continue to live in states of uncertainty. When schools/colleges/universities will fully open is just one of our current “known unknowns” – we have dates but nothing is certain.

We have experienced a radical change in the delivery of education. Arguably this might not have quite as much an impact on radically changing our education system for the future in the calls to “get back to normal” , but it has raised wider societal questions around the cost of data, equitable access to online learning, and the the limits of mobile devices for learning and teaching.

In an attempt to get a bit of community feedback before the event I put out a tweet yesterday asking people to share what if anything they had done since lockdown that they felt was radical in their teaching and learning. Thanks to everyone who responded.

From changes in access such as ports being opened so it was much easier to move in an out of institutional spaces, to making mix tapes for students to listen to as they explore resources, to creating OERs with students, to making more videos for students, to exploring with different design spaces, to getting access to more commerial courses, to choose your own adventure assignments, to using more creative pedagogies it was a very small slice of lots and lots of changes that could be having quite radical impacts on learning and teaching. I’ve collated all the responses into a wakelet shared below, but if you want to share something then please do leave a comment.

Now I am aware that some may not think of any of these as being “radical” but radical change can often be incremental starting with self awareness and having the agency to change the way you do things and look at the world. As we move forward I do think it is going to be really important to have some extended conversations between students, staff, management, government and our wider communities about what we really need to develop in order to develop our education systems to deal with the more uncertainty in equitable, open and accessible ways. And that is the kind of radical hope we all need in these uncertain times.