29 November 2013 - Making Progress in the Learning Landscape
This month saw the first of the Changing in the Learning Landscape: Leading in the Learning Landscape Network events, which brought together a group of CLL 12/13 alumni to share good practice, highlight their successes and offer mutual support. Future events will also include those participating in the 13/14 run of CLL but this meeting provided an opportunity to capture some of the learning from year 1 and enable participants to share their stories. The new network is a good example of the CLL’s impact, which by creating a community of practice will enable innovation in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) and Learning and Teaching to be shared among different institutions and bring about improvements in student learning. The plan for the day was to also provoke new ideas and ways of thinking, with three really interesting presentations. Trudi West from Ashridge Business School explained her research into mobile learning in executive education and set out a timeline from the ‘medieval learner’, where information resided in individual copies of books and was very difficult to access, through ‘printing press learners’- easy access to mass produced copies of books but very difficult to search. Through to today’s ‘digital learners’ who have almost universal access to information via highly sophisticated search tools but often lack the skills to use them effectively. The modern availability and ubiquity of information and online resources require learners, whether primary school children or business executives, to develop sophisticated skills of digital literacy. The acquisition of these skills enable ‘mobile learners’ to make sophisticated use of digital resources and this should be a priority for all higher education institutions.
The second input was from a team at City University of London who set out the trials and tribulations, challenges and – at least in part - solutions relating to the strategic implementation of TEL across the institution. This alone would have made for a fascinating session but just as interesting was the format of their presentation, based on a series of blog posts to which we were invited to respond and put forward our own ideas for dealing with the real life scenarios. Finally, and continuing the theme of (extremely) active learning we practised our listening skills in an absorbing and instructive series of exercises from Sally Graham (University of Hertfordshire). One of the aims of the network is to draw on the first cohort to provide mentoring and support for those joining in the second year. In terms of capacity building and sector impact this seems to tick all the boxes as well as creating a sustainable model for CLL learning in the future.
A really useful feature of the day was the use of a market place exercise to match institutional challenges and successes (this was comfortingly low tech, involving post-it notes and flip-chart paper) so for example, those struggling to develop the digital literacy of their staff could link up with the team who were having real results in this area. Happily, there were a number of pairings where one person's difficulty was another's success, including practicalities such as the implementation of e-assessment and the more intangible issues of student engagement. However, it’s clear that some common and persistent challenges remain, mostly centred around the nature of the change processes themselves: how we embed culture change, how we manage expectations and how we maintain the initial impetus and excitement of TEL innovations are complex and difficult problems for many institutions. The other big issue is, perhaps not surprisingly, how to define and how to measure the impact of the changes we put in place. This brings me, rather neatly, to this year’s CLL strategic conversations and the feedback reports I've been reading.
The purpose of the strategic conversation is to identify the most appropriate CLL engagement opportunities for individual institutions, based on their strategic direction, state of play re TEL and visions for the future. From the evidence of the consultants' reports, this is proving to be a highly successful and useful technique and many interesting interventions are being proposed. What seems to be more difficult to identify is what the impact of these interventions is expected to be. It is hard to get a picture of what will be different, of how staff and students will experience their educational environment in the future. I wonder if maybe we need to think differently about impact, that maybe words aren't the best medium and we would do better by employing imagery, photos, drawings, cartoons... or building models. By using such techniques to clarify the vision it might be easier to develop road maps and other tools to get us there and easier to define the evidence we need to gather to 'prove' we've arrived. As I've said before, the Learning Landscape provides a powerful metaphor for the change process and perhaps we should be making even more use of it. The map of our learning landscape still seems largely stuck in the medieval era where large swathes are blank and labelled ‘here be dragons’. We urgently need to design some new ways of exploring it.
Professor Patsy Cullen, 29 November 2013
10 October 2013 - Plus ça change?
Autumn is here and Year 2 of CLL is underway. Strategic conversations are being held with higher education providers to set the terms of their engagement with this second year, when the focus is on high level change and impact. There is a much stronger role for students as full partners in university agenda-setting for TEL, with NUS holding a series of events aimed at helping students to become fully involved in change processes. All participating institutions are being asked to define what 'impact' will mean for them: how will things be different for students, staff and the institution as a whole as a result of the initiatives set in train through CLL? We think it is important that impacts are defined locally because of the diversity of English higher education and the needs of students. I shall be looking at the consultants' reports produced after each conversation and analysing the proposed impacts to see if there are any patterns to be found.
In the interim, I have been 'reading around the subject', a technique well known to students as a useful (at least in the Humanities) excuse to go wherever the fancy takes you. Last weekend I was at the Ilkley Literature Festival, and was drawn to a session by Tom Standage (Digital Editor of The Economist) called 'Social media from the Romans to the internet' - an irresistible title and fully justified: the photo he showed of a rather tatty looking iPad was, in fact, a Roman wax tablet! Standage’s thesis is that social networking has been a deep human need throughout history, manifested through whatever technologies are available. To quote the Festival Guide: ‘Wall posts in Rome were written on actual walls. Coffee houses, the chat rooms of the seventeenth century, were frowned on for distracting people from their work’. Eight postal deliveries a day in the nineteenth century made ‘snail-mail’ a viable alternative to email and in the seventeenth century, pamphlets were the blogs of their day, giving expression to dissenting ideas. Wherever you look throughout history, independent voices have found the means to share their views. This should provide reassurance to those who worry that the unregulated nature and lack of ‘authority’ of crowd sourced information and opinion accessed by students via social media is something new and a threat to ‘proper’ modes of learning. Or maybe it is a ‘threat’, but one that CLL aims to turn into an opportunity for HEIs to involve students as partners in their learning, to engage them in the management and organisation of their learning and to value sharing and collaboration. I hope that similar impact will feature among those proposed by individual institutions this year.
Professor Patsy Cullen, 10 October 2013
As year one of Changing the Learning Landscape comes to an end, I’ve been thinking about the difference it has made to those taking part and to the way things happen in their various institutions. What everyone really wants to see is beneficial change for students, both in providing a better managed and more supportive experience and in helping them to learn more successfully. But what does this mean in practice and how do we know it is happening? Students have high expectations of higher education which, as NSS scores demonstrate, are often not realised. Things like single points of access to integrated university systems (only one password to remember!), reliable and campus-wide Wi-Fi, on-line submission and marking of assessments, lecture capture and the ability to connect your smart phone or tablet to the institutional network are not yet universally available.
When considering what constitutes ‘impact’, having these services in place might be a useful indicator and this certainly came up frequently in my conversations with the leaders of learning and teaching taking part in the Strategic Change Programme. I asked all my interviewees about their expectations of the impact of digital technologies on students and what it would look like and they responded with comments such as: “students receive faster and more effective feedback” and “can manage their student life through efficient and effective integrated on-line systems”. They also want to see greater engagement in collaborative and social learning, all of which, it is hoped, will lead to “improved satisfaction, retention and employability”.
These outcomes are all, on the surface, quite practical: granted, innovation in the learning environment is unlikely to take place without investment in technological infrastructure and well-designed systems and processes but these are not the only pre-conditions necessary for change. I think that one of CLL’s major achievements this year has been the recognition that achieving successful change, and observable impact, is as much about people as it is about technology. From all three strands of the programme participants talk about the importance of cultural change, including the need to develop ‘increased confidence’, ‘more positive attitudes’ and ‘greater flexibility’ among staff in relation to technology-enhanced learning. There were some useful insights into how change processes might be managed, for example: “change can’t be top down, needs to engage discipline areas one by one, a more fragmented approach. I’ll go about change in a different way”, and “I thought there was a ’big secret’ but turns out there’s no one simple answer. I’m doing lots of little things – more valuable.” Several people re-iterated this idea of achieving more through taking “small steps” and that this approach could help to address the “cold hand of fear” that many experience in the face of “apocalyptic” visions of the demise of universities because of the rise of MOOCs and other massive technologies. CLL is helping to make the challenges manageable and encouraging participants to feel that they are ‘going somewhere, not running away’.
Professor Patsy Cullen, 27 June 2013
31 May 2013 - Projects and possibilities
The first of the CLL consultancy projects have now been completed and I've been talking to five of the project leaders about their experiences. It was no surprise that time has been an issue for everyone: although it’s not so much a problem of finding time to do the project as the logistics of getting the right people together. This seems to be such a difficult thing to achieve that one of the most positive features of the consultancy strand is seen as the opportunity to meet people from across the institution. Respondents often talked about the project ‘breaking down walls’ and saw this as a major achievement. Of course, the individual projects all had specific aims, such as: implementing new assessment systems or VLEs; revising new learning and teaching or Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) strategies; and setting up new ways of engaging with students. However, many of these aims turned out not to be realistic in the short term. The project leaders recognised this and greatly valued the consultants' support in reframing what was achievable in the time available. This support had also been crucial in getting things off the ground: as one project leader said, “We wouldn't have started this without CLL and the project to kick-start it”. The consultants were valued not only for their expertise and knowledge of what's going on in the sector but also for their ability to provide a catalyst for change. The value of having an external voice to help institutions reflect on what they do, and how they might do it differently, came through very clearly. One thing was slightly disappointing, that often despite everyone’s best efforts, students seemed to have been less involved in these projects than intended. There seem to be a number of reasons for this, including the ability of Student Union’s to provide someone with appropriate skills and knowledge and, occasionally, a lack of understanding on behalf of a project team that this was an area where student input was relevant.
My interviewees are only a small group but they were remarkably consistent in their responses. They recognised that they had a limited awareness of sector wide developments and of the interesting things going on in other places - including in their own institutions. They also stated that there needs to be wider discussion and dissemination of imaginative ways to involve students in projects They also remarked that institutions are organised in vertical structures which do not make cross-cutting initiatives easy to manage. Most don’t expect to see the impact their projects will have on students until further down the line, as a result of changing the way staff operate, for example by re-thinking assessment strategies in the wake of on-line systems or by making changes to their Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) and CPD programmes in order to make TEL more prominent.
I will add the expected impacts from the strand two projects to those I have already collected from feedback from the other strands. By asking people in the sector what impact would look like to them I am hoping to draw up a profile of what an institution using TEL and digital technology in really innovative and effective ways would look like and how it would affect the experience of students.
I gained a real insight into how innovative teaching can radically change the student learning experience from the strand three academic development event on the use of social media in the humanities, where a team from University of Southampton gave a tour de force demonstration of innovative applications of collaborative online tools in archaeology which had us gasping (especially Chronozoom, mapping ‘the whole of time’) and tweeting like mad on #cll1213. Southampton’s employment of digital champions is also an interesting and transferable model of what can be achieved in partnership with students. However, while it is tempting to describe the 'cool' apps and to be a bit dazzled by them, there were some interesting responses from some of my fellow participants which may help us to understand what underpins some of the reluctance to using digital technologies. They agreed that these apps were exciting and intriguing, they could see ways of integrating them into their own practice and the technology itself wasn't a problem. What concerned them were issues around authority, control and evidence. They were used foro reflection, making a case on the best available evidence, testing out different versions, editing and re-editing a final version.
This academic culture is now at odds with the instant world of social media: the online world is about immediacy, the instant response, fluidity and impermanence, you can try out different identities and different stances: none of this sits well with a culture of academic rigour. There is a cultural divide between the real and the virtual worlds and we need to recognise it and look at ways in which our 'old' values (in my very unscientific sample of fellow participants, the younger ones - of whom there were many - were far less concerned about this, if at all) can be mapped onto the digital environment.
Professor Patsy Cullen, May 2013
2 May 2013 - People, messiness and metaphor
People, messiness and metaphor
This diary is a bit late, but I wanted to include my experience of the second professional development event, held in Leeds recently, where some 60 people took part in sessions relating to embedding digital literacies and strategies for change. A wide range of roles were represented with people from different disciplines and a fair number of learning and technology support staff, as well as what we might call “traditional” developers. We were kept busy throughout, were made to think and left with much to reflect on, and we had fun!. My own thoughts about the day are clustered around three themes: people, messiness, and metaphor.
People: the key message from the day (and not for the first time) was that ‘it's NOT about the technology, it’s about the people’. However, I do wonder if this is turning into a bit of a cliché that might stop us fully understanding the complexity of the interface between the two. If you haven’t experienced the technology and don’t know what it can do, then you are unlikely to be very enthusiastic about it. Experiencing new technology can spark new ideas. There was a great example yesterday when people on my table used Padlet for the first time during Lawrie Phipps’ session. They were impressed by its effectiveness in capturing group ideas and creating a visual representation on screen: “We can really use this!” was their response. We mustn’t lose sight of the ‘whizzy’ things which can stretch our imaginations.
Messiness: there were some excellent points made about the ‘messiness’ of the world of higher education and the need to recognise that our attempts to organise it in pursuit of change would often be frustrated. So often change processes are depicted in nicely linear diagrams which do not fully address the reality of getting from where you are to where you want to be. Several sessions looked at alternative ways of looking at and conceptualising change which don’t assume that everything can (or should) be controlled. Susannah Quinsee’s highly participative, and highly enjoyable, final session had us role playing an implementation project which was going off the rails. If I tell you it involved stickers, postcards and Susannah’s holiday photos you will get a flavour. (Go to #cll1213 for the immediate reactions)
This session used a powerful metaphor, that of a holiday, (going on holiday, packing stuff you don't need, keeping the memories alive afterwards and the feeling that “We spent all this money and what have we got to show for it!”) to make a serious point and throughout the day I was struck by the power of the metaphors used in this initiative. The visual metaphor of Changing the Learning Landscape has struck a chord and enabled a whole raft of ingenious ideas to germinate. Yesterday’s presenters developed the concept to talk about the “nutritious environments” needed to allow digital technologies to flourish; when ‘a thousand flowers bloom, how do you find a path through the flowers?’. The Digitalis project at the University of Leeds used Gareth Morgan’s 1997 model of a Spider Plant and 'organisational bumblebees’ who cross-fertilise their colleagues with new ideas, to develop a process of digital storytelling which enables students to capture and reflect on ‘ephemeral practice in performance’.
It was a rich and fascinating day and I’ll end with a couple of interesting facts: more people there had their own iPads than had their own offices, and, out of the three kinds of biscuit on offer, by the afternoon only the Viennese whirls were left!
Professor Patsy Cullen, 1 May 2013
28 March 2013 - What's really bothering HE?
I’ve been struck this week by some interesting contrasts – and I’m not talking about the thick snow lying on the daffodils. This month saw the start of the CPD strand of CLL and feedback has been very positive, especially for the first event in the professional development stream held at the University of Exeter where the new technology enhanced learning spaces got rave responses on twitter. The whole programme is now fully booked which is great news.
Given the excitement among participants around the latest manifestations of the digital world, I was expecting a strong focus on innovative applications of digital media in the bids for the second round of consultancy. However, if my analysis of the sixty plus submissions from across the sector is to be believed, institutions concerns actually lie elsewhere. Thirty-five bids have been successful and will each receive up to six days consultancy to support a project related to CLL’s major themes. If we assume that institutions would want to bid for support for areas which were of most pressing concern then it appears it is not actually the new technology itself that's their highest priority. The real challenge facing institutions is how to engage staff and develop their capacity to use technology in pedagogically appropriate ways. Several bids refer to the gap between staff capabilities and student expectations and the difficulties they face in supporting staff to change their attitudes and behaviours. “Staff do not know what they do not know” is one of the perceptive points put forward. Several bids are planning to implement innovative ways of addressing the problem such as giving students a mentoring role in getting staff up to speed. This addresses the skills gap but more difficult is staff reluctance to engage with technology in the first place and I really liked this quote from another successful project: “What is missing is the ‘glue’ between the technical systems and the ‘soft’ systems.” Exactly!
The bids identify a number of reasons for staff lack of engagement, which most commonly seems to stem from a lack of understanding about how technology can aid student learning. This is a pedagogical issue and ties in very nicely with the focus of the CPD programme. Perhaps understanding and improving the ‘glue’ might be a priority for any future iteration of CLL. Another interesting theme to emerge from my reading of the bids is the importance of the National Student Survey as a driver of change, particularly in relation to the nine bids for help with implementing improved systems of feedback (of which six were successful). One of the most interesting of the successful bids will examine the IPR and legal issues around digital media; including student generated content and Open Educational Resources. A huge investment has been made in creating OERs but uptake has been disappointing, they seem to be a good example of an answer looking for a question! I wonder if one of the reasons is that the digital environment and e-learning have moved on since the OERs were produced. The digital environment is now far less concerned with published content and much more about user generated content and activity rather than static websites. Maybe in this highly dynamic environment all those content heavy OERs are less relevant than was hoped?
Sent from my iPad =)
I spoke to many people at the event and everyone seemed to be genuinely enthused both by what they were learning from the presentations and from the conversations round the tables. It’s a cliché but networking is one of the great joys of events like this. People also appreciated the space to meet up with their institutional teams away from the pressures of the daily routine. Personally, I got some great ideas for alternative ways of presenting qualitative data, moving away from my usual narrative approach to something more visual, and am enthused to make better use of Twitter. I’ve also gathered some great feedback from participants which I'll be using in my evaluation. It was two days very well spent
Professor Patsy Cullen, 29 January 2013
29 January 2013 - Making time for TEL
Changing the Learning Landscape is now well and truly underway with people involved from across the higher education sector. At the moment I’m focusing on the consultancy offer, and talking to both the project leaders and the consultants who will be supporting them. It's a much more focused approach, obviously, than in the Strategic Change Programme as each project has clearly defined outcomes. There’s an interesting range of topics being explored by the institutions taking part, including developing digital communities, moving to on-line assessment, establishing a vision and road map forTechnology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) and enhancing staff digital literacies. The consultants’ approaches are equally varied; they are facilitating workshops, communicating through skype meetings and webinars, and setting up online systems for project management such as Google doc. Often this is the project team's first experience of working in this way and offers them the opportunity to practice with the consultants and then to model the new approaches within their institutions. I’ll be writing a report synthesising experience and expectations when I’ve completed all the interviews.
One theme that keeps recurring in all my conversations with CLL participants across all its strands is that of time and the lack of it. (Although as there are still 24 hours in each day, it’s more about the most effective ways of spending them.) It seems so often that too much time is spent on what one person described as 'keeping the wheels turning’ - regardless of whether the turning of the wheels actually results in any forward progress! Time constraints were also evident in responses to the invitations to join the programme statements such as 'not enough notice', 'diary booked up until next year' were frequent reasons for people being unable to take part even though they really wanted to. It must be a concern that even where development of digital technology is seen as very important, the perception is that there isn't time to do it. How do we make HEIs more flexible and responsive? How do we turn strategy into action? What do we stop doing in order to do new things? What kind of new thinking is needed? For example, another interviewee talked about the barriers caused by inflexible measures of staff workload, such as 'class contact hours', which don't reflect new approaches to learning and teaching. Module 2 of the Strategic Change Programme recently took place in Salford and it will be fascinating to see if any of these issues are on the radar. I will be tracking the occurrence of the 'no time’ theme in my future conversations.
Professor Patsy Cullen, 29 January 2013
7 January 2013 - Welcome
Welcome to the first of what will be a regular update of what is happening on the Changing the Learning Landscape (CLL) programme, seen from my perspective, that of the external evaluator. In fact, I prefer to see my role as that of ‘c
We’ve now got to the exciting stage where the first cohorts of participants on the CLL Strategic Change programme and the
I have selected a number of people to shadow throughout the programme, and have almost
More on this and other aspects of CLL in a few weeks.
Professor Patsy Cullen, 7 January 2013
Professor Patsy Cullen is the external evaluator of Changing the Learning Landscape. This is a series of obversational comments as the programme and its activities has got underway.
CLL External Evaluator
T: 020 3468 4827
I am an independent consultant working in the higher education, library, archive, museum and heritage sectors. I am a member of The National Trust Learning and Engagement Panel, and on the Board of the Open College of the Arts. I support Heritage Lottery Fund projects as an Expert Mentor and I am also an HEA Associate. Until its demise I was on the Board of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and have recently carried out projects on Governance for the Leadership Foundation and on the NTFS for the HEA.
For the past year I have been working with CLL to investigate and inform its processes and outcomes and I m looking forward to being involved in its second year. In addition, in April 2013 I became a Principal Fellow of the Higher education academy and am now working with a number of universities to support their implementation of the UKPSF.
From 2000 – 2007 I was Director of Learning and Teaching, York St John University where I set up the Fountains Learning Centre and led the C4C (Collaborating for Creativity) CETL. Before then I was Head of Learning Resources and Curator of the National Arts Education Archive at Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds. I ran a professional Masters programme for Librarians at what is now Leeds Met and have also designed and delivered a range of short courses overseas for the British Council. I was co- founder and Chair of Commanet: the community archives network from 2000 – 2008, setting up and supporting over 300 digital archives in the UK and developing the successful Community Memories scheme for Canada’s Department of National Heritage.
I am an Emeritus Professor of Learning Innovation at York St John University.
In my spare time I paint, am learning Italian and I work as a volunteer at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.