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 External Evaluator's Diary 

CLL 2013-14

CLL 2012-13

CLL 2013-14

28 May 2014 - Fertile Soil

As Changing the Learning Landscape Year 2 progresses, a picture is emerging of a set of preconditions for successful Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), or, to pursue CLL's agrarian metaphor, of the fertiliser which provides a rich soil for innovation to grow. There appears to be a set of elements which need to be in place and, most important of all, there has to be a joined–up approach to combine them effectively.

So what is in our fertilising mixture?

  • A clear strategic vision

Successful TEL implementation requires a shared vision of what the future of learning and teaching looks like in an institution. A shared vision needs to be just that: shared with everyone involved and not just with academic staff, so that the practical as well as the philosophical issues can be properly thought through. Several projects, most notably the one at Liverpool Hope University, are working on a whole-university conversation to develop such a vision.

  • Leadership

Successful TEL leadership needs someone with the power to set priorities and allocate resources but also to provide inspiration and encouragement. This leads on to the next essential:

  • Staff confidence and competence

These are closely intertwined. People need to feel supported and encouraged to try new approaches, to feel confident that the technology won’t let them down. There is often fear of ‘losing face’ in front of students which is a very difficult thing to get over. Some projects are looking at establishing sets of ‘baseline’ competencies to help staff to manage the fear factor.

  • Students as partners

An institutional culture which works with students as partners will be much more receptive to change in teaching approaches than one where a ‘them and us’ culture prevails.

  • Student confidence and competence

Many institutions are recognising that students do not necessarily have the TEL skills they need, or the personal kit. There are CLL projects where students who do have those skills are being appointed as ‘champions’ to support both their peers and also their tutors. Many institutions are developing a holistic approach to digital literacy which goes beyond the use of technology to include higher level critical thinking skills.

  • Robust infrastructure

Last but not least is the provision of a physical infrastructure which is fit for purpose: we've all experienced inflexible teaching spaces where the furniture can't be moved to facilitate students working in groups, or lack of internet connectivity or the prohibition of students using their own devices on internal networks, or the absence of power sockets... You can add your personal favourite horror stories here!

These seem to be the essential ingredients in our fertiliser mix, but as in any recipe, success depends on the way all the ingredients are combined and so often discussions with project leaders and consultants reveal frustrations with institutional structures which prevent this happening.

These include workload allocation models which do not recognise teaching outside the conventional classroom setting and so block the development of distance and blended approaches.

There are also regulatory frameworks which are over prescriptive about forms of assessment and 'rules' (often more custom and practice than actual rules) about who can 'teach' students which prevent learning support staff from taking an active role (if not the lead) in the teaching process.

We need to ask how contractual (and cultural) issues can be addressed to enable staff to teach in new ways and in cross departmental teams.

Equally, we have to address the physical problems: how are the estates and IT teams involved in learning and teaching discussions? How do they get to know about changes to practice so that their strategies reflect new approaches?

Tracking these blocks in the system back almost inevitably demonstrates a lack of joined up thinking and poor communications, which leads me back to the elements underpinning successful TEL initiatives and the continuing metaphor of cultivating a fertile soil in which innovation and student success can flourish.

Professor Patsy Cullen, 28 May 2014

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19 March 2014 - What needs to go right?

Two topics to muse upon this week: a glass half full approach to risk and some reflections on social media.
First, a blast of positivity: sometimes you come across an idea which opens up new possibilities and has the power to completely reframe the way you think. That doesn’t happen very often but a couple of weeks ago at the Leading in the Learning Landscape network meeting, when Kevin Flinn asked us to consider 'what needs to go right' to enable an initiative to succeed, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. Managing risk is now a regular part of any project and the conventional approach is to think of all the likely problems and pitfalls, assess how likely and how potentially damaging they are and devise ways to mitigate them. So far, so simple. However, Kevin's question turns this approach on its head. Rather than think of the negatives, it asks us to consider the positives. What good things need to happen? Who needs to speak to whom? How will this project make things better for, in the case of CLL, students and staff? When you think like this it opens up a whole range of possible and often creative solutions. If conventional risk management strategies take an inward looking, closed in approach, thinking about what needs to go right is a much more open way of thinking and potentially more supportive of innovative ideas.

There’s no escaping social media and there’s a proliferation of sites through which we can keep in touch, keep up to date and exchange every detail of our busy lives. A new (at least to me) arrival is Yammer and CLL now has a Yammer community. I have naturally signed up in a spirit of communication, cooperation and enquiry but it did set me wondering about the plethora of instant 'communication' media and what it's doing to our modes of thinking and interacting. I confess, I am much more of a 'quiet conversation with a nice cup of tea' person than an avid tweeter (or yammerer) and I find social media an often unwelcome distraction. I have concerns about where and how we make space for deep and sustained reflection, complex argument and intellectual engagement. This is particularly important for our students who need to be supported to develop good habits of thought and the ability to concentrate for sustained periods. An anecdote to illustrate this: I was at the theatre the other night and there was a young woman sitting behind me. As the lights came for the interval I heard her say 'that's the longest time I've ever gone without looking at my phone'! (This interminable period lasted about an hour and a half). Maybe this no longer matters, maybe the world has changed so much that all meaningful interaction can be in the form of soundbites and tweets, but I do hope it hasn’t. I’d really miss all those conversations and cups of tea – maybe there’s a gap in the social media market for a ‘slow communication’ site!

Professor Patsy Cullen, 19 March 2014

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25 February 2014 - Getting inside the curriculum

In previous blogs I’ve been writing about impact, which is the principal focus of this year’s evaluation activity. This month I want to think about how we go about getting impact: the processes, activities and behaviours that lie behind successful change initiatives. I’ve recently interviewed leaders of CLL projects in seven institutions and tried to identify some of the 'success factors' to see what we can learn and transfer between institutions. I’ve also analysed about fifty five consultant Strategic Consultation reports. It is important to note that the impact and experience of CLL are highly localised to individual institutions: each institution is using the opportunities provided to implement TEL in a way that suits their particular culture. Nonetheless, we can probably make some generalisations: for example, research intensive universities have certain factors in common as do small specialist institutions and these contextual factors do have an effect on how TEL is introduced and used. From my analysis four areas are emerging as key to successful change to teaching practice in all kinds of institutions, independent of size, mission or culture:

1. ‘Hygiene factors’: these are the things that are needed for a successful change programme to emerge:

  • Robust and pervasive infrastructure development: this includes flexible spaces, sufficient power sockets, accessible wifi, simple network connections and well-designed online systems which link together
  • Management systems which support changes in practice: for example workload allocation models which account for a variety of ways of teaching outside classroom boundaries

2. Effective leadership:

  • People who get things done and create a ‘can do’ culture
  • Structures which work horizontally as well as vertically
  • Devolved decision making, resource allocation and clear accountability
  • Clear communication involving different stakeholders, including (and especially) students

3. Vision:

  • Being able to answer the questions ‘Why are we doing this? What will be better?’
  • Analysis of return on investment which is holistic, not just financial
  • A clear case for benefits to individuals and groups. What effect comes from freeing academics from their desks by giving them tablet computers with access to everything they need for teaching, communication, admin and research? How does this effect behaviour?

4. Embedding:

  • 'Getting inside the curriculum'

I think that this last factor is crucial for long term sustainability of CLL’s impact. The curriculum is the engine which drives learning and teaching and is central to the student experience. If we get TEL into its core it will be successful and may even act as the turbo charge for all these elements. If it's just an added extra it may be used at first but after the novelty wears off it will be discarded and things will revert to how they were before.

Professor Patsy Cullen, 25 February 2014

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19 March 2014 - January explorations: Creative disruption, student engagement & real change

The new year brings a new round of activity for CLL; specifically, starting to build on the strategic conversations which are now almost complete. I have been working on the analysis of the consultants' follow up reports and what is really striking is the apparent power of the conversations to spark new ideas and new thinking. Far from being a conclusion to an institution’s strategic planning for Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), resulting in a neat summary of interventions and activities which could be delivered under the CLL umbrella, the conversations have often had a creatively disruptive effect, leading to a degree of uncertainty about the way forward: as one of the consultants expressed it: “Exploring is important, you don't know what might happen, [its an] iterative process, open ended”.

The process itself seems to have been most effective where different groups (particularly students) from across an institution have met to air what mattered to them in the areas of teaching, learning and their associated resources. However, student engagement in the process was variable: a mix of programme representatives, sabbatical officers and “those who were available on the day”, but their involvement provided essential feedback on strategic development. For example, some student’s fed back about student–critical issues such as the basic elements and infrastructure to support technology use not in place. The variability of student engagement probably means that strategic conversations are a good indicator of where institutions are at generally with student engagement - and some are evidently much better at it than others. In many cases, this was the first time different groupings of staff and student had met together and so, not surprisingly, 'breaking out of the silos' is high on the agenda of many CLL participants. Conversation agendas varied: some institutions used the strategic conversation as part of a planned Learning and Teaching with Technology event, while others were guided by the consultant and the agenda set out by CLL. Whichever approach was taken, it seems that the result was often a fertile discussion leading to fresh thoughts and ideas about TEL. Partly because of this new thinking, it has taken longer than expected to determine the precise nature of the work to be undertaken in the next phase of CLL.

The available activities are a Strategic Leadership in Partnership (SLiP) programme and tailored TEL project support from specialist consultants. The first SLiP event takes place at the end of January. Most of the 60 institutions are likely to take up the offer of consultancy support and, although the precise nature of their projects is still to be determined, analysis of the follow-up forms shows that their emphasis is likely to be primarily on pedagogy, technology or staff development. Obviously there's a substantial degree of overlap between the three but each reflects the overarching strategic driver in each institution. The most frequently mentioned topics of interest are on-line learning, e-assessment and digital literacy of both staff and students, which now need to be developed into project briefs. In addition, impact and sustainability are two highly important issues for CLL overall so the project consultants will be working with institutional teams not just on the delivery of specific outcomes but asking vital questions such ‘what will be different’ and ‘how will the initiative be embedded’ beyond the life of the project? It’s an exciting moment: many institutions are now poised to effect real change which will benefit learners and their teachers.

Professor Patsy Cullen, 29 January 2014

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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

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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

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CLL 2012-13

27 June 2013 - Thinking about impact

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

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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

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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

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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 =)

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21 February 2013 - Of interactive tables and Google glasses

I've spent the last day and a half at the first event for the teams taking part in the Strategic Implementation Programmes. Fifteen institutions from across the sector were represented by groups of between three and five people, all with plans - at varying stages of development- for initiatives aimed to bring about change in learning and teaching and the student experience. Students are vital team members and it was great to meet such seriously impressive young people, whose knowledge of technology and political nous are second to none.

I was there primarily to observe the process and to talk to participants about their experiences of
Changing the Learning landscape but I really enjoyed the presentations about the digital environment. I love a new piece of kit and now really,  really want an interactive table as demonstrated by the scarily savvy six year-olds in the video showed to us by Steve Ingle as part of his presentation on ‘Future students’. Seeing the ways in which today's youngsters are already ‘digital residents ‘(a very useful concept introduced to us by another presenter, Dave White) and how they seamlessly integrate mobile technologies into their social and educational lives, made us all think about how ready - or not - our institutions are to accommodate the next generation. Basic stuff, such as campus wide wireless connectivity, the ability to connect multiple personal devices to institutional networks and simple, user-friendly interfaces, isn't yet universally available, but is taken for granted by these youngsters.

Our presenters may have wowed us with techie gizmos (and sign me up for the Google glasses please) but, more importantly, they got us to think about our own digital identities and whether we were online 'residents' or ‘visitors’. We mapped our use of technology to create a personal model of how we negotiate our social and working lives in a digital environment. My own map probably reflected my age! I use my smartphone all the time, but not very imaginatively. It’s email mostly, especially for work, then I actually talk or text – how out-moded is that? But things may be about to change, as the dynamic experience of responding to the presentations in real time using Twitter has gone a long way to persuading me to use my gadgets to their full capabilities. Seeing how online interactive techniques can enable large groups to share and build knowledge and learning was inspiring. I learnt too about Storify and the amazing analytics that can be generated - well, they are nearly as exciting as googling 'otters and Benedict Cumberbatch' (there’s' ten minutes of my life I'll never get back!)

I was impressed by the enthusiasm of all at the event and also the way the facilitators managed the collapse of the hotel’s wifi connection just as we started a live link with Canada. Plan B went smoothly into operation, demonstrating that these things do happen however experienced you are, and that coping strategies must be essential tools in everyone’s teaching skills kit.


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

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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

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 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 ‘critical friend’ – part of the team shaping the initiative but also keeping an eye on the processes and interactions between all those involved. I was appointed in October and it’s now January, so you’ll be thinking, what have I been doing?  These first weeks have really been about planning, logistics and – importantly – getting to know those involved. CLL brings together people from a group of organisations which, despite their common focus on higher education, more normally work in parallel (or in competition) rather than in co-operation and collaboration. We’ve had a lot of meetings and it does now feel as though we are reaching a common understanding.  True to the spirit of CLL we’re using technology as well as meeting face-to-face. We’ve had a couple of teleconferences and in the last two weeks have run webinars for consultants delivering expert advice using Elluminate.  I’ve been carrying out interviews by phone and Skype. Even more in the spirit of technology the gremlins have ensured that microphones and webcams (well, my webcam at least) have gone on the blink at crucial moments, but the Dunkirk spirit has come to the fore and we’ve battled on regardless. Such technical hiccups are annoying but learning to work through them is vital and important in addressing the fear factor which stops people making the fullest use of learning technology.


We’ve now got to the exciting stage where the first cohorts of participants on the CLL Strategic Change programme and the consultancy projects have been decided and indeed the first module of CLL Strategic Change programme has already taken place. I’ve really enjoyed reading all the applications and getting a picture of the current state of digital engagement in English HEIs and their priorities for development. Participants come from across the sector (although we could do with more small and specialist institutions) and tend to be fairly new to their job roles. Most of their institutions have pockets of innovation in online learning but these have been developed in isolation. I liked the comment of one of my interviewees who described such innovations as being “like fireworks, fizzing up with a lot of show but then dying away”.


I have selected a number of people to shadow throughout the programme, and have almost completed the first set of conversations with module 1 participants. These have been quite fascinating as all have said that they have changed some aspect of their thinking following the first Strategic Change module. Participant also said that Professor Shirley Alexander’s presentation on her work at Sydney University certainly had the ‘wow’ factor I am sure the organisers hoped to achieve. I shall use these conversations, together with the applications and feedback survey to establish a baseline of knowledge and understanding at the start of CLL Strategy Change programme which can be used for comparison with the end of the year position.


More on this and other aspects of CLL in a few weeks. 


Professor Patsy Cullen, 7 January 2013


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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. 

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CLL External Evaluator

Professor Patsy Cullen

Professor Patsy Cullen

CLL External Evaluator

T: 020 3468 4827

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