Tag Archives: #digitalcapability

holobox “thrilling” students . . . I have a bad feeling about this . . .⤴

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That clip from Star Wars

I am old enough to be young when the first Star Wars was released. I still remember the excitment of seeing the glitchy hologram images of Princess Leia, then the thrill of seeing her whole message. Wow, in a galaxy far away they knew how to communicate.

And now, as no doubt many of you will have seen in this Guardian article earlier this week, the dream of 3-D has is becoming reality in a university not so far away from me. The holobox technology developed by LA based start up Proto has been making inroads with its holographic box technology for the last couple of years. From the quick search I’ve done, it does look quite impressive and the box idea is a great way to create shadows to increase the 3-D effect. Of course this technology is going to revolutionise “everything”. It’s another future education moment, providing the future of online education, allowing “teachers to connect with unlimited students around the world.”

I think I may have heard this line before, but at least they’re not saying yet this will mean the death of the university. This future is not going to let the lecture die, the future is one to many, mass distribution. We’ll work out the cost, the access to tech/networks later . . .and not bother with that in our promos.

screen grab on image with text "future of onliline learning"

But wait, not only that, the “expert beaming” this box offers also increases engagement. Apparently “the engagement and interaction our holographic display achieves is unprecedented

screen shot of web page with words "expert beaming means more attention"

I couldn’t find any stats to back up how this unprecedented engagement is measured, and I will caveat that with the fact that I didn’t look that hard! But I did pick up that the system uses tech that can distinguish viewers based on age and sex, which as they point out is really handy for personalised advertising, bringing you the “stuff” that’s appropriate to your demographic. So that’s alright then, because there’s no problem with bias in algorithms used in facial recognition. Just pop that into the education offering with a bit of eye tracking and bingo – engagement stats.

The technology can also bring people back from the dead. The Guardian article includes this:

“David Nussbaum, who founded Proto four years ago after working on dead-celebrity holograms, said his company could soon bring some of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers back from the dead.

He said: “Proto has the technology to project an image of Stephen Hawking, or anybody, and make it look like he’s really there. We can hook it up to books, lectures, social media – anything he was attached to, any question, any interaction with him. An AI Stephen Hawking would look like him, sound like him and interact like it was him.

But who controls the interaction? Who is responsible for the curation, the fact checking? How do we teach using this technology allowing students to make sense of the mass of information and make critical judgements? This point was raised in the article too and I was pleased to see this quote included:

Gary Burnett, a professor of digital creativity at Loughborough University, said: “Different immersive technologies and AI are the new forms of literacy. Students need to understand what it means to use those, to be in those worlds, to experience them, to interact … and these are all things they’re going to need for their future careers.”

But the headline was all about the ‘thrill’ that students were experiencing with the box. I do wonder about that ‘thrill’ – and how long it will last. Just now it might be more thrilling to have a guest lecturer appear 3-d like on a box on the wall than a 2-D version on a big screen. But how long will that thrill last? What meaningful engagement will result from the lecture?

Now, I don’t want to knock this technology completely. I can see the potential for 3-d holographic images in education, we’ve been working with developing technology around simulations and improved real time communication for decades now. I can also see the potential for us all to have our own Princess Leia hologram moment. But the hologram technology itself is not our only hope. Like any technology we need to work with educators and students to understand how to use this technology most effectively for learning and to increase our understanding of what effective engagement in education is, and what data really matters to our understanding of that.

In theory it’s great that “experts” can appear (almost) like they are are in the room, anywhere in the world, but who has access to a room that has that technology? What language is being used? Do students know what data the system is accessing from/about them? We need to be mindful of equity, accessibility and the cost of this type of technology. And until the headline lines messages and actual evidence of companies like Proto include more about this I will always have a bad feeling about anything claiming to be the future of education.

Everything, everywhere, all the time: some thoughts on time, space and learning design⤴

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It’s been hard to get back into writing for the blog this year. I’m not sure if it has been what seems to be the increasingly  common feeling of not quite knowing what to say,  everyone else saying it better. or to busy doing other things. It’s probably a combination of all three and of course, the addition of all the noise about ChatGPT. What’s the point of writing anything now . . . well of course there still is,  but that’s a whole other post.

What has been occupying a large part of my time is developing the recommendations from the review of approaches to curriculum and learning design that Helen Beetham and I conducted for Jisc last year.  As part of this we have been thinking a lot about the spaces and  places and modes of participation for learning and teaching. 

As part of our thinking and research Helen found what you might now call a “historical document” from the early 2000’s about learning design systems. Coppercore anyone?  It really took my back to those heady days of learning design and Learning Design (IMS spec). We were all a bit obsessed with finding ways to automate and move learners through systems and activities.  James Dalziel used the analogy of orchestration when he talked about being able to (re)use designs in different systems. This was highlighted in the Larnaca Learning Design Declaration. 20 odd years later, it did strike me that maybe that obsession with directing learners through systems was partly down to the quite difficult navigation in ye olde VLEs (and yes, before you say anything that has got a lot better!), and the holy grail of moving seamlessly between systems.  To a large extent that’s pretty much been sorted now – though we have all the fun of data and surveillance capitalism to deal with now. 

We can all access and move around different systems and devices in “relative” ease. The needs of learning design/ student orchestration have evolved. Whilst system access and navigation isn’t perfect, it’s a lot better than it was The review of approaches to curriculum and learning design Helen and I did for Jisc last year highlighted how much learning design frameworks/approaches (including ABC and Carpe Diem) have been embedded and adapted across the sector. There has been a shift of focus from system orchestration to activity design, and now equity, inclusion and accessibility. This was heightened by the experiences of lock down. 

In the analysis of our survey last year, equitable and accessible learning opportunities were highlighted as being key to providing “good learning” over the next 3 years. Also highlighted was the need to develop more shared understandings of the different modes of learning now in place across the sector.

This is what Helen and I have been exploring and developing resources and guidance on. The recent Advance HE Beyond Flexible Learning: Modes of Learning Practice Guide provides a useful overview of the main modes of learning currently in use, and is well worth reviewing. Our thinking very much aligns with these modes. We have also been considering changing notions of time. Perhaps this is where a re-focus of notions of orchestration is needed.

Students now expect some flexibility around their mode of participation. They potentially can access everything, be everywhere all the time. But providing lots of flexible pathways is a challenge. Particularly when you have a finite teaching resource to support multiple pathways. We are all orchestrating our work/lives/study through a variety of digital devices and systems. Even pre pandemic we knew that students weren’t just taking notes in class/lectures. The trick (aka teaching) has always been to design sessions that engage students. But if we have mixed modes of participation how do you do that effectively? And how do we support students to make the most of these potential different modes of participation and still provide and build the communities/social interactions that we know students (and all of us) really missed when all learning was fully online during lock-down?

How we think about how design and use the spaces, places and times for learning and teaching have to evolve. How can we provide the anchoring spaces for our learners in both in real life (on campus) and in online spaces? Access and use of digital resources is increasing and not just because of the rise of the recorded lecture.

We don’t have all the answers but we are working through these issues. As part of that process we have been trying to develop some visuals of students interactions of space, place and time. Students can actually access everything, be everywhere all the time. How can we design meaningful leaning for that?

As part of our thinking I’ve been developing some (relatively simple) visual representations of this. A couple shared below.

Where “are” students in a live lecture on campus?
Where “are” students during their own study time on campus? What are they doing?

If you have any thought/feedback on these, please do let me know in the comments.

ILTA Winter online conference keynote: beyond blended⤴

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Last week Helen Beetham and I were delighted to give the keynote presentation at the ITLA Winter online conference. The conference provided us with a very timely opportunity to share the findings of the review of approaches to curriculum and learning design we completed for Jisc last year, but also some of work we are currently developing with Jisc in response to the findings and recommendations of the review.

Starting from the premise that everything is now blended, we are developing thinking around the different aspects of time, space, place and modes of participation that contemporary HE need to develop in order to support accessible, flexible and equitable learning opportunities for students.

Many thanks to everyone involved in organising the conference for giving us the opportunity to present our work. We really appreciated the engagement from all the participants.

There will be a longer post soon from me around some of our emerging thoughts, but in the meantime you can catch up with our presentation in the recording below.

Pedagogy, place and pragmatics⤴

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Following on from the report that has just been published on Approaches to Curriculum and Learning Design in the UK HE sector, Helen Beetham and I are exploring some of the key issues that were highlighted through the survey and the interviews we conducted. Central to this are issues around time, space and place. Earlier this week we were able to start to share some of our initial thinking during a workshop at the Jisc Student Experience Experts Meeting.

In the interviews I conducted as part of the project, there was a general consensus that after the first lockdown most organisations were quite keen, even quite ambitious about their future plans for new approaches to learning and teaching. There was a sense of an appetite to embrace some the changes to practice that being forced off campus had brought about. Assessment was a huge part of that.

Rapid changes to assessments had to be introduced, along with rapid changes to assessment regulations. Student care was high on the agenda – a visible sign of that was the no detriment practices that many adopted. Again in the interviews, it was clear that lots of the changes from f2f exams to online submissions of various types including open book, authentic assessments have now been adopted.

In terms of wider curriculum change, it was also clear from the survey responses and interviews that the appetite for changes to other aspects of curriculum design and delivery had been divisively impacted by the UK Governments’ insistence that everyone needed to be back on campus, at lectures and doing “proper” in person exams. Never mind the lessons that had been learnt from students about the benefits of more flexible, accessible and inclusive approaches. Strategic statements were subtly altered to reflect as a pragmatic response to that political driver.

However, back in the real world, we can’t ignore that our understandings and use of the spaces, places (both physical and digital) and times for learning and teaching have been altered by the pandemic experience. Students have been off campus, on campus, off campus, on and off campus for a bit . . . and now on campus. Typical 1st and 2nd year students have had their final years of school turned upside down in the same way.

I think how “be” a student has changed, and that might be one of the reasons there have been so many issues around engagement. Where (and when) you actually need to be isn’t as clear cut as it was in the “before times”.

Going back to assessment, some of the comments student interns on the Irish EDTL project made during one of their webinars really struck me. Including the student who very eloquently shared how being able to take assessments off campus, in a space that was comfortable for them, massively reduced their stress levels; another who felt that the design of some of the online MCQs exams they had taken were “mean” as they didn’t allow you to go back to a question to answer it. That experience was making them want almost long for pen and paper exams. In the panel discussion at the experts meeting, Deborah Longworth from the University of Birmingham shared how some changes to assessment are now having impact on the mental health of students. She described how some students can think that a 72 hour open book exam means that they need to be working on it for 72 hours. Does this mean taking time to develop more scaffolding around time expectations, or is it an “in” to go back to fixed, in person exam that everyone understands the conventions of ?

Whilst terms such hybrid and hyflex are commonly used and, are they really fully understood by both students and staff? Do we really have effective examples of how these approaches work in practice. This is one area Helen and I want to explore from a pedagogical lens.

We are starting with time, and thinking in terms of synchronous and asynchronous. Then considering what types of activities/interactions that work best in these contexts, and then starting to map the spaces and places that students and staff need to be in as these activities are instantiated. In terms of broadening our approaches to learning design, do we need to be more explicit about time, space and place expectations in?

As the cost of living crisis starts to really kick in, what additional changes do we need/ are we making to make to our physical estate to support our students (and staff). Warm areas, areas with kettles? What choices might commuting students have to make about how many times a week they can be on campus?

As we discussed these issues in the meeting, a dose of pragmatism was injected into the conversation. Whilst it is often said that pedagogy should always come before technology, in reality it’s pragmatism, and the contextual constraints that everyone has to work with that really make have “the power”. Pragmatics always win over everything else.

I know I have run many learning design workshops where some really innovative approaches have been planned, only to find out that 2 weeks before the start of term, the plans have been changed because of timetabling issues or more commonly not enough staff resource or time.

As the sector moves forward is it just easier to cope with increases in student numbers, and the staff/studio ratio to just timetable in lectures? Is it just pragmatically more effective not to change workload models and notions of contact time to reflect the shifts in preparation/contact time and presence needed, and stick with the conventions we are all familiar and comfortable with?

Hopefully not, and that’s what we are working on now, to develop resources that can help provide guidance and exemplars of how the sector can, and is, evolving to allow us to think about pedagogy and place and hopefully start to change some of the pragmatics and constraints approaches to learning design, and in turn the student experience, exist in. I know Peter Bryant’s recent post on the “snapback” discusses many of these issues in more depth so is worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.

So if you have any thoughts on this, or would like to share any examples, please do get in touch, or leave a comment. We want to provide spaces to have these conversations and hopefully provide some resource to help others have them in their contexts.

Approaches to Curriculum and Learning Design across UK HE: report now published and available⤴

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It’s maybe taken a little longer that originally planned, but I was delighted that at the 50th meeting of the Jisc Student Experience Experts Community, the findings of a survey about changing approaches to curriculum and learning design we undertook earlier this summer was published.

Jisc commissioned myself and Helen Beetham to explore how and if the pandemic experience had impact on HE in terms of changing approaches to designing more flexible and open approaches. The report summarizes the key findings from a survey with 155 individual responses from staff across the UK, and a number of more in-depth interviews. It also includes a review of learning design models in use across the sector.

The report provides a snapshot of changes, successes, challenges that respondents highlighted. Many of these will come as no surprise, particularly the need for more time and care for students and staff. The mental health impacts It also highlights the impact of the original Jisc funding for curriculum and learning design programmes. Many of the approaches and models developed through those programmes are now contextualised and embedded in universities across the UK. It also highlighted the open nature of practitioners working. There are lots of openly available learning design resources.

You can read more about the report in this new item and access the full report and podcast we recorded about it here.

There is some excellent work taking place across the sector, but time and resources are still a key challenge. Helen and I are now working with Jisc to follow up on some the key issues raised through the survey – particularly around the implications of changes to use of spaces, places and modes of participation in education. So watch this space for more updates.

A slow decline, or a sign of something else? Where have all the bloggers gone?⤴

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how do you find the time to blog?” is a question I have been asked over and over again by colleagues – even in the pre-pandemic “before times”. I make the time was always my standard reply. Blogging was a habit that I developed slowly and surely. But I did consciously make time for it – both thinking about what to write and then the actually writing. Sometimes that was 10 minutes, sometimes an hour, at most 2. It’s something I have reflected on many times. My blogging habit evolved into something mor for my own development than anything else.

My blog is in a way my professional memory. It was (and still is to an extent) a way for me to share my struggles, get feedback or have the odd rant or three. Since becoming an freelancer, it has evolved again. Whereas I used to try and write a post once a week (and I did used to block out an hour a week to write a blog post) that is harder now. Sometimes I have to wait until I can publish something, sometimes I can’t share direct experience but have to find an appropriate way to share experiences, and I also have another professional outlet where I share a different kind of weekly update.

Now, I know not everyone needs to keep a blog, but I do still think there is merit for those involved in education to find ways to record and reflect on their practice. Pragmatically, just having some kind of record is really useful for all sorts of CPD/ professional recognition purposes. I also really enjoy reading others blog posts. I enjoy a less formal writing style (both as a reader and writer). Reading other reflections on events such as conferences always gives another perspective. I have learnt so much from what others have shared, that I have also wanted to try and give back in a similar way whenever I can.

The ALT-C conference was/is always one of those events that sparked lots of bog posts. Earlier this week when I read the voices of ALT conference round up of posts, it did strike me how few posts there were (at that point). I think there might have been a bit of blip yesterday as a couple of posts, including this one from Lorna Campbell weren’t on the list. Maybe my rose tinted spectacles were imagining things but it did strike me that this list was quite a bit shorter than the last in person conference. (NB Looking again today, the list has got a bit longer).

So I sent a little tweet

https://twitter.com/sheilmcn/status/1574659668177088515

to which Lorna replied

and then Paul responded with what I’m sure many are feeling

and of course, not all reflections happen via blog posts as Lawrie highlighted.

https://twitter.com/Lawrie/status/1574668109792907264

But maybe something has changed, as Leo shared.

both Emma and Rich went back to the time issue

But I think it’s more than just not having the time. If we want to do something we will always find the time. I suspect this lack of time for more active and open sharing is linked to the ongoing impact of the pandemic experience.

I did write a post after ALT-C but like Emma I have so many posts that are half written or half written in my head. In these times of crisis, and dear reader, let’s be honest we are in a living in a time of crisis, climate crisis, a European war, UK govt fiscal “controversy” (being polite with my choice of word there) the list goes on . . . never mind just easing out of 2 years of pandemic restrictions. Knowing what to write just now is really f***ing hard. Keep calm and carry on can seem the best way to survive. I don’t know if I would have the energy, or courage to write anything with a critical perspective if I was still in full time HE employment.

So, maybe just being with people at conference is enough for this year. But I hope that people like Leo, Emma and Paul do find time to write. Because if some of us don’t continue to reflect on what is happening, share openly with each other, then we will forget what we have done, and more importantly why we have (or have not) done it.

During the ALT conference there were a number of occasions where discussions focused on the negative narratives particularly around online education that have been perpetuated over the past 2 years, and the need for counter narratives. If we don’t continue to share our narratives, and more importantly recognise the need for and make the time for reflection then it will just get harder and harder ever find that time again. The myth of ” I have no time” will have truly won.

Reviewing curriculum and learning design podcast⤴

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What with all the excitement of the recent ALT-C conference, I totally forgot to share the link to the Jisc Beyond the Technology podcast where Helen Beethman and I chatted with Sarah Knight about our recent review into curriculum and learning design in the UK HE sector. Apologies, dear reader, if you have seen the tweet already!

A report sharing details of the survey, interviews and desk review we undertook will be published in October but the podcast gives an overview into the key findings and some of the areas we feel need more research.

You can listen to the podcast from this link.

screen shot of beyond the technology podcast logo

Turning up the learning design heat – LDCIN meeting, recordings presentations⤴

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This week saw the welcome return of a meeting of the LD-CIN (Learning Design Cross Institutional Network) hosted by Jim Harris, University of Northampton. This informal group of practitioners involved in the support of learning design started quite a few years ago, I remember attending a few meetings in those rose tinted pre-COVID days. I had planned to attend face to face, but given the extreme weather conditions I decided that travel via London wasn’t really a great idea! Despite the record breaking heat, quite a few people did manage to travel to Northampton in person.

One of the benefits of the pandemic experience is that we now can easily have hybrid events and accommodate late changes of plans. Even when the tech doesn’t quite go to plan, it is amazing what can be done with a mobile phone until tech support arrives. Those of us online also appreciated seeing the alternative air conditioning uses of leaf blowers for in person delegates.

Alongside Sarah Knight, I was delighted to present some of the high level findings from the recent Jisc survey on approaches to Curriculum and Learning Design in UK HE. We are still working through the data, and preparing final shareable outputs, but it was a great opportunity to share some of our findings with the group. The whole day was full of sharing of excellent practice in supporting learning design from across the sector.

Recordings of the sessions are all now available here, our session is named Part 2 in the playlist (direct link here.) You can also access a padlet board with all the presentations (including ours) alongside additional resources and a rather good playlist if you are looking for some new summer tunes, including this video from me which I’m going to share here because it’s too good not to!

Time for a digital go slow? Just what are we doing with ed tech?⤴

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This is one of these posts I have to start with a caveat that I actually don’t really know what I am trying to say, so it will probably be a bit incoherent (well, a bit more incoherent than normal!)

Last week I attended the ALT Scotland annual meeting. The meeting was always planned as a hybrid event, and with the national rail strike this week, a few more people took advantage of that option. I did go in person as it was in Glasgow, so I had a low carbon travel footprint. I was originally going write something about the event -which was great – thanks to the organisation of the group co-chairs Joe Wilson and Louise Jones. You can see more about the event here.

It was great to be at a face to face event. Like everyone else I have missed being with people over the past 2 years. Over that time I have also got used to, and benefited from the flexibility and convenience of online meetings/conferences/events. But face to face is always best isn’t it? Well yes and no. During and after the event, I couldn’t help thinking about these words from the University of Edinburgh Manifesto for online teaching:

Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit. Online can be the privileged mode.

I don’t have access to EduRoam so didn’t try to connect to wifi. I was a wee bit late (another online meeting) and so when I got there I just wanted to listen/engage with speakers and people in the room. I didn’t join the zoom room. It turned out that most of the speakers were actually online, and being able to see the chat message notifications ping up on the “big screen” I was aware of missing out on quite a lot.

Now, I know I could have joined the online space too, but I did feel that would have been too much cognitive load for me aka I couldn’t be a**** to scroll through my email, find the link and join – after all I was in the room! So that got me thinking about hybrid teaching (which we did have a good discussion about in the room once the “official” meeting had ended), and just where and what screens should be showing – a screen with a chat window might be more useful than a camera on a person.

When we were leaving the room, a colleague from the college mentioned that the camera on the front of the “big screen” could track eye movements of people in the room, provide staff with data on engagement.

OMFG was the reaction from myself and a few others. Ethics? Data processing? Proxies for engagment – don’t know about you but some of my best thinking has been done when my eyes are closed and/or not staring at a screen. So I was going to write something about that but then I had forgotten about an University of Edinburgh seminar I had signed up for with Neil Selwyn titled digital education in times of climate crisis.

Now I am not even going to attempt to summarise Neil’s presentation, it was recorded and I’ll add the link here when it is available. Neil was very up front about the session being more of a provocation and an opportunity for him to present some “things” he has been thinking about in relation to the climate crisis and ed tech.

Although I am aware of the inequalities around technology and the digital divide, I probably have a bias towards a positive view of the benefits of technology in education. That’s not to say I am not critical of technology use, far from it. As Neil’s presentation unfolded, I did become acutely aware of how little I really consider the environmental impact of my use of technology.

As Neil pointed out, ed tech is actually based on excessive use, an always on culture with limitless data and storage. The irony of listening to that on my super-fast home broadband on my laptop, whilst checking my mobile phone notifications via my “very good mobile data” contract was not lost on my and I was once again so thankful for all the privileges I have. I also had that nagging voice in the back of my head about really needing to find time to work out the costs of getting solar panels on my roof.

Of course over the pandemic the issues of digital inequality and wider social inequalities came into stark view. Yet, the answers from ‘big tech’ don’t really seem to be addressing these issues. That pandemic amnesia (that ability to forget everything that as happened over the past 2 and half years) seems to be setting in again. Being back on campus will solve everything . . .

We can pay lip service to increasing, flexibility and accessibility through tech. Cameras in the classrooms will allow us all to be together. They can even automagically follow “the teacher” as they move around the room. But is that actually what anyone – staff or students need? What pedagogical principles is that supporting? How much energy is that using? Particularly if cameras are also tracking and sending to systems to process potentially vast amounts of data that as well as being ethically questionable might not actually be of any practical use to anyone.

Over the past year there does seem to have been a rush to buy lots of tech and refit learning spaces without that much consideration of how it can actually be used effectively and what its ROI will actually be. It is all to easy to be guilty of succumbing to the big tech promise of shiny, new solutions that cost us more and are ultimately causing us to use more energy (mainly from fossil fuels) that are killing the planet.

So what can we do? Neil used the lens of eco-justice to explore notions of decoupling technology form economic growth. Perhaps we need more “voluntary simplicity” with an accompanying focus on community, conviviality and care – a form of “digital de-growth”.

Of course, this is really challenging. How can we shake ourselves out of our comfortable complacency? If my current digital networks and connection opportunities were taken away, I would be bereft and probably unemployed. I have found online spaces full of positive conviviality and community. Can/could I find a digital equivalent to the slow cooking movement? An approach that would allow me to keep the most important elements of my digital needs whilst at the same time balancing my environmental impact? (Must, must check out those solar panels . . .)

How can we be “realistic but resistant” to ever more ed tech consumption? Neil suggested that perhaps one starting point was to think what might be ed techs version of the bicycle – is it the Raspberry Pi? Do we just need to be thinking smaller, less “shiny”, and be more connected with coding and making? My former colleague Christine Sinclair commented that maybe we all need a “cradle to grave” environmental impact assessment to help us make informed decisions.

Maybe . . . One throwaway comment Neil made was that he always encourages cameras off in online sessions. A small way to reduce energy consumption. That got me thinking of that scary, eye tracking camera – maybe we should just switch them all off too or at the very least have a conversation with our students about them and let them decide.

Recording of ATU DigitalEd Conference Keynote⤴

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Recordings from all the keynotes from the recent ATU DigitalEd conference, and many of the sessions are now available online . The talks from my fellow keynotes, Sue Beckingham, Phillip Dawson, Tony Bates and Meg Benke are all worth taking some time to watch.

Many thanks again to all the team at ATU for putting on such an informative and enjoyable conference and for sharing the resources with the wider community.