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
Back to the top
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
Back to the top
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.
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.