DIVERSE: A new JISC-funded project

I’m pleased to report that this week, Dr. John Murray and I were awarded one of JISC’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Grants. As usual, you can read the full bid to JISC on Google Docs. Very roughly, it’s a study of what happens when Social Bookmarking and Learning Analytics meets Student as Producer. I think it’s going to be a really interesting project, and I’m looking forward to working with John, the Principle Investigator, and two of his students.

This project will undertake a cross-departmental study of the use of ‘resource clouds’ for subject research, peer-review and validation of materials. It will build on DIVERSE, a tool for crowd-sourcing relevant subject resources, to determine student understanding of lecture and assignment topics. Through an analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, it will examine why students favour particular resources, determine how reading lists can be more effectively created and provide case studies of how students can contribute to lecture design.

This programme of funding requires a different application process, using a template and interview format. I think this is to improve the efficiency of bidding and judging, although in my case I spent more time on this bid and then preparing for the interview than any previous application! I quite enjoyed it and the online interview afforded me a bit more confidence than sitting face to face in a room as I was able to refer to written notes a lot more than if were I in right in front of the panel.

While talking to the interview panel I realised that I am in a fortunate position to be working in the Centre for Educational Research and Development, which leads the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy (Student as Producer), as well as sharing the responsibility for technology for research, teaching and learning with the Library and ICT department. It’s these close working relationships with all the right people and the great support and enthusiasm we have from the Vice Chancellor’s Office, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, Head of ICT and the University Librarian, that allows me to talk with confidence about undertaking and sustaining our work.

As you’ll see from the full grant application, development of the DIVERSE tool was funded internally by the Student as Producer project under our Fund for Educational Development. I’m happy to say that DIVERSE will be the first project that our new group provides support for as we intend to do for many other projects. We’ll be ensuring that John and his students are able to integrate the DIVERSE tool into our CWD+Nucleus+OAuth framework over the summer in time for the new academic year.

This is exactly the model that I hope we can keep repeating: students and staff with good ideas around the use of technology for education (it doesn’t have to be software development!)  bid internally for a small amount of funding where required and, if successful, then we provide the appropriate institution-wide advocacy and support (technical integration, training, joint research, etc.). If such projects are also able to attract external funding, it suggests we’re doing the right thing.

Technology for education: A new group

I offer this as one response to my previous post. Much more needs to be done to ‘reverse imagineer’ EdTech, but this will be my practical focus for the foreseeable future and the nexus of where theory is put into practice, where pedagogy meets technología: “The processes and practices of doing things, understanding things and developing knowledge”? (Selwyn 2011, p7)

A new group

In January, I wrote about how I had written a paper for the university about the role of technology in the context of Student as Producer. The paper included a recommendation that a new team be convened to “further the research, development and support of technology” at the university. January feels like a long time ago now, and I wanted to write about what’s been happening since then, because it’s all good :-)

Following my presentation of the original paper to the Teaching and Learning Committee, I was asked to provide more detail on what the proposed team would do and a justification for the budget I had outlined. Both papers were written on behalf of and with the co-operation of, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, the University Librarian, the Prof. of Education, the Head of ICT and the Vice President of Academic Affairs in the Student Union. The second paper went back to the T&L Committee and, following their approval, then went to the university’s Executive Board in early April.

I began the paper by outlining what the team is for:

The team will consolidate and extend the existing collaborative work taking place between Centre for Educational Research and Development, The Library and ICT Services1 and invite staff and students from across the university to join the team. The team will offer incentives to staff and students who wish to contribute to the rapid innovation of appropriate technology for education at the university, through work-experience, research bursaries and internal and external applications for funding. Through our experience of the Fund for Educational Development (FED) and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Scheme (UROS) funds, we know this is an effective method of engaging staff and students in research and development. A core principle of the team will be that students and staff have much to learn from each other and that students as producers can be agents of change in the use of technology for education.

I then went on to argue:

The Student as Producer project is anticipated to take between 3-5 years to fully embed across the university. During this time, significant changes will occur in the technologies we use. In just the last five years, we have seen the rise of web applications such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0 in general. Aside from such applications, networked infrastructure has developed considerably, with access to broadband now widespread and the use of smart phones and netbooks rapidly increasing. For a student at the University of Lincoln in 2011, high-speed networks are now ubiquitous across the city campuses and such networks themselves are now the ‘learning landscape’, in which the university is but one part.

There is a strong argument for shifting away from the idea of ‘educational technology’ to address technology straight on, recognising that any technology can support and enhance the research, teaching and learning process, and that the use of these technologies increasingly lies outside the institution’s control. We would argue that it is not the university’s role to compete with or determine the use of any technology but rather support access to technology in the broadest terms. This can be achieved through incremental improvements to infrastructure (e.g. network capacity and ease of use), supporting staff and students (e.g. training, workshops, courses) and personalising and integrating the services we do provide so that staff and students have a useful and enjoyable experience of technology at the university and understand how it fits within their wider networks. In particular, we should consider whether Blackboard can be better enhanced through mobile applications and the integration of other popular services such as Facebook. It is a key technology for the support of teaching and learning and if extended through the work of the proposed team, could be a platform for innovation. All of this work should be informed by a broad understanding of the social roles of technology and the objective of producing critical, digitally literate staff and students.

I presented a list of risks that I thought would present themselves if we didn’t take this approach:

  1. Poor co-ordination: Poorly co-ordinated investment in technology to support strategic objectives, resulting in competing interests in limited resources.
  2. Disjuncture: Growing disjuncture between student expectations and institutional provision of technology and support.
  3. Inertia: No locus for technological experimentation and innovation.
  4. Unattractive to potential post-graduates and staff: Technological provision compares poorly to other institutions, putting off new staff and post-graduates.
  5. Loss of income stream: Under-investment in ‘seeding’ projects that may attract external income.
  6. Business As Usual: During a period of significant change in Higher Education, our progressive T&L Strategy is hindered by poorly co-ordinated technological development.
  7. Student as Consumer: Technology remains something ‘provided’ by the university, rather than produced and informed by its staff and students.

Finally, I provided more detail about the costs. After taking into account existing budgets available to us and anticipated external research income, the total I asked for was £22K/yr to pay for an additional 12-month Intern position and a contribution to the staff and student bursaries we want to make available.  This was approved.

I was pleased with the outcome as it means that our current work is being recognised as well as the strategic direction we wish to go in. In terms of resourcing, we will have at least one more full-time (Intern) post and hold a £20K annual budget which will be used to provide grants and bursaries to staff and students, pay for hardware and software as needed and pay for participants to go to conferences to discuss their work and learn from the EdTech community at large. This doesn’t include any external income that we hope to generate. The nature of our applications for research grants is unlikely to change other than we hope to have more capacity in the future including both students and academic staff as active contributors to the development, implementation and support of technology for education at the university.

Team? Group? Network? Place?

The core members of the group (i.e. CERD/ICT/Library) met for an afternoon last week to discuss the roadmap for getting everything in place for the new academic year. We began by discussing the remit of the group (as detailed in the two committee papers), which is principally to serve the objectives of Student as Producer, the de facto teaching and learning strategy of the university. We spent a while discussing the nature of the group; that is, whether it was a team, a network, a group or even a place. In the first committee paper I wrote, I described it as “a flexible, cross-departmental team of staff and student peers”, but have since come to refer to it as a ‘group’, as ‘team’ does not reflect the nature of how we intend to work, nor the relationships we hope to build among participants, nor is a ‘team’ inclusive enough. I’d like to think that we’ll develop a network of interested staff and students and even attract interest and collaboration from outside the university, but I think it’s too early to call what we’re doing a network, although we are networked and working on the Net.  We’ve given ourselves a couple of weeks to come up with name but whatever we call it, we agreed that in principle we’d govern the group by consensus among us. Ideally, though not always in practice, the Net can help us create flatter structures of governance, so we’ll try to shape the way we work around this ideal.  My role will be to co-ordinate the work of the group by consensus.

UPDATE: We decided upon LNCD as the name for our group. It’s a recursive acronym: LNCD’s Not a Central Development group.

All participants will be encouraged to write about their work in the context of Student as Producer, building on the progressive pedagogical framework that is being implemented at the university, theorising their work critically and reflexively. We’ll support this approach, too, building a reading list for people wanting to think critically about EdTech and an occasional seminar series where we’ll discuss our ideas critically, reflexively and collegially.

Road map and tools

We will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. Over the summer, we’ve got a timetable of work that we plan to do to ensure we’ve got a clearly defined identity and the tools in place to support the nature of our work. By the end of September, we’ll have a website that offers clear information on what we do, what we’re working on, how to get involved and the ways we can support staff and students at the university. The site will allow you to review all aspects of our projects as well as propose new projects which can be voted up and down according to staff and students’ priority. There will be an application form for you to apply for funding from us and a number of ways for you discuss your ideas on and offline. We’ll be continuing our current provision of staff training, but will be looking to re-develop the sessions into short courses that are useful to both staff and students. The 2009 Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report recommended that

The time would seem to be right seriously and systematically to begin the process of renegotiating the relationship between tutor and student to bring about a situation where each recognises and values the other’s expertise and capability and works together to capitalise on it. This implies drawing students into the development of approaches to teaching and learning. [Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, p.9]

This is very much what Student as Producer is aiming to do through embedding research-engaged teaching and learning across the curricula and the approach we plan to take around support and training for the use of technology in teaching and learning. We’ll be working with the Student Union and the Principle Teacher Fellows across the university to identify ways that students and their tutors can be encouraged to support each other and we welcome the input and collaboration of anyone who wishes to adopt and advocate this approach. We’ll be designing some posters, flyers and business cards over the summer so that people around the university know who we are and how to get in touch in time for Fresher’s Week.

For the Geeks, you might be interested to know that we’ve decided upon a set of tools for managing our work online in a distributed environment where most of us work in different parts of the university campuses. We’ll have a dedicated virtual Linux box (as well as our usual development servers) and the main website will be run on WordPress using our own custom CWD theme. We’ll be migrating all of our code to Git Hub very soon and we’ll be using Pivotal Tracker to manage our development tasks in an agile and open way. We’ll be using our existing combination of Get Satisfaction and Zen Desk to manage peer-to-peer user support and bug reports and we’ll also be looking at alternatives such as User Voice and the Open Source Q&A tool to provide a way for you to suggest and vote for project ideas. Notably, through the use of their APIs, most of these tools integrate well, so that we can create tasks in Pivotal Tracker from bug reports made with Zen Desk and associate those tasks with commits on Git Hub. We’ll be using Twitter just as we always do, and we’ll be using Google Groups for longer discussions around each project (as well as regularly meeting face-to-face, of course). For projects that don’t involve writing code (which we certainly welcome), we’ll be looking at tools that assist with resource development and document control, such as digress.it, MediaWiki, Git Hub, Google Docs, EPrints and Jorum, depending on the nature of the project. We won’t be prescriptive with the tools we adopt, using whatever is appropriate, but with an emphasis on those that offer decent APIs, data portability and good usability. Proprietary software lacking APIs and with poor usability (we can all think of a few) won’t get much of a look in. Finally, through RSS and widgets, we’ll be presenting a coherent picture of each project on the main website.

There’s quite a bit to do but we know how to do it.  If you’ve got any suggestions (a name would be useful!), ideas or even want to join us, for the time-being, leave a comment here and we’ll get back to you. Thanks.

  1. Since writing this, I’ve listed examples of our existing work in a recent blog post. You can add JISCPress and ChemistryFM, this WordPress platform and our e-portfolio system to that list, too. []

Dougald Hine to speak about ‘Technology, Institutions and Education’

Dougald Hine, co-founder of The School of Everything, has been invited by the Centre for Educational Research and Development to talk about his experience in setting up and running The School of Everything. He will be speaking at 3pm on October 13th, MB1010.

The School of Everything is an award winning ‘free school’ for the 21st century, using the Internet to connect people who want to teach with people who want to learn. It’s aim is to allow people to design their own education. In 2010, School of Everything was chosen by Becta and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as its new platform for adult informal learning in the UK.

Douglad will be speaking informally about how the School of Everything came about and how he sees it connecting to the wider relationship between technology, institutions and education.

I am particularly interested in talk to Dougald about our idea for a Social Science Centre and hope that we can learn from his efforts to engage people in creating their own education. On a different note, I’m also interested in talking to him about his work on The Dark Mountain Project and the role of education in crafting new stories for the future.

Students becoming more than students

Not a post about my own work but that of my colleague, Mike Neary, who leads the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), where I work. When I first joined the University of Lincoln, Mike asked me to contribute to a book chapter he was writing on the Student as Producer (read it here). More recently, Student as Producer has become a major university project, funded by the HEA. The project aims to

…establish research-engaged teaching and learning as an institutional priority at the University of Lincoln, making it the dominant paradigm for all aspects of curriculum design and delivery, and the central pedagogical principle that informs other aspects of the University’s strategic planning.

Underlying the practical ambitions of the project are a number of theoretical ideas, which draw from critical social theory. Recently, Mike has written about these in his paper, Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde and another book chapter, Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life, authored with Andy Hagyard, who also works in CERD.

Pedagogy of Excess looks to the world-wide social protests of 1968, in which students played a central role, for inspiration for the notion of research-engaged teaching. Grounded in critical social theory and based on historical material that deals with the events in Paris, Pedagogy of Excess describes 1968 as a moment when the students became more than students, and acted as revealers of a general crisis by demystifying the process of research. The students did this by engaging in various forms of theoretical and practical activity that took them beyond the normal limits of what is meant by higher education. It is the notion of students becoming more than students through a radical process of revelation that provide the basis for our concept of Pedagogy of Excess. At the end of the chapter we discuss Pedagogy of Excess in relation to other critical pedagogies, and set out a curriculum based on the principles of pedagogical excess.1

Both the journal article and book chapter focus on a radical re-conceptualisation of what it means to teach and learn. I found them really stimulating and I hope you do, too.

  1. Download pre-print of book chapter here []

Open Education and Sustainability

I’ve just given a 15 minute presentation as part of a session on ‘sustainable practice in OER‘. My slides are below. I’ve presented as one of a number of speakers on this subject before, discussing the more obvious ideas around sustainability that have arisen from leading the ChemistryFM project. I didn’t really go over them again today, preferring to think about sustainability in the wider social context and beyond the specific outcomes of our project.

A few ideas that we, in the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), are working on and leading at the University of Lincoln, are included in the slides below, but I’d like to highlight them here so you don’t miss (or dismiss) them based on the outline in my presentation.

The main message about sustainability that I tried to push across in the presentation is that for OER and Open Education in general to be sustainable, we need sustainable societies and a sustainable planet. These are, arguably, not sustainable in their current form, so how can Open Education both contribute to sustainability in general and therefore become sustainable in itself as a paradigm of education?

Following Prof. Mike Neary’s lead in my department, I suggested that the ideas of ‘student as producer’, ‘pedagogy of excess’ and ‘teaching in public’ are attempts to not only change education at the university so that it is sustainable (among having other positive attributes), but can also be usefully adopted by advocates of open education and help develop a wider framework of sustainability for the ‘revolutionary’ changes in education which proponents of Open Education keep referring to.

Under those three headings, I have highlighted a couple of other ideas worth engaging with by ‘open educators’. They are ‘mass intellectuality’ and ‘commonism’, both of which have been developed in the area of political critical theory. The best thing to do if you’re interested in these terms, is to follow the links in the presentation, some of which I also include below.

There’s no certainty that any of this will achieve our goals of sustainability, but personally I am satisfied that it is a practical and intellectually rigorous direction to pursue with all the critical energy I can manage.

On ‘Student as Producer’ see the book chapter that Mike and I wrote and read about how this is starting to be developed as a core principle and practice at the University of Lincoln.

On ‘Pedagogy of Excess’, Mike and Andy Hagyard, who also works here in CERD, have a book chapter due out in September. If you want to read a draft, I’m sure they will oblige, so please do ask.

On ‘Teaching in Public’, I have a few notes from a presentation, and we have just got the go ahead from the publisher, Continuum, to write a book on this subject, which all members of CERD are contributing to. I will be writing about Teaching in Public in the context of open education, thinking about Burawoy’s statement that “students are a teacher’s first public”.

On ‘mass intellectuality’, we write about it in the Student as Producer chapter (see above), but are drawing on a history of this terms’ development in political critical theory. Most sources seem to lead back to Negri and Hardt, which draws on the work of autonomism, which has developed Marx’s ideas around the ‘general intellect’. I would strongly recommend Dyer-Witheford’s book, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, for a good discussion on both the ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’, especially how it might relate to open education. We drew on this book for our book chapter.

On ‘commonism’, again, see this article by Nick Dyer-witheford, where he attempts to elaborate the idea. I think that those who are advocates of ‘the commons’ and P2P might like the ideas that are developing around ‘commonism’.

Finally, here are today’s slides:

These days are full

I am conscious that it’s been almost a month since I last wrote here but that is largely due to my work on other projects, websites and blogs.  Here’s an overview of some of the work I’m currently involved in. If you’re working on similar projects or want to discuss or collaborate on any of this, do get in touch.

The Learning Lab

I recently wrote a brief summary of the work I’ve been doing under the ‘Learning Lab’ banner, since I started my work as Technology Officer in the Centre for Educational Research and Development. WordPressMU occupied a large chunk of my summer, though I feel I have a good understanding of it now and can relax a little while supporting staff and students who wish to use it. It will soon be moving to the new, permanent home of http://blogs.lincoln.ac.uk

One of the unexpected outcomes of working on WordPressMU was the realisation that not only training but a different model of support is key to sustaining and improving the use of blogs and other Web 2.0 tools.  I’m keen to advocate and support the user-to-user support model that most open source and social web services develop rather than the traditional user-to-professional, ‘Help Desk’ model that exists for much of the software provided by the university. Models of user support are not something I’ve taken much of an interest in until recently, but the reality is that I alone am unable to support the growing adoption of WordPressMU at the university and I need to encourage staff and students to help themselves wherever possible.

Having said that, with colleagues in the Library and Research Office, I’m also planning to offer regular staff training sessions on the use of Web 2.0 tools in education and I’m visiting classes to give one hour introductions to WordPress, which is a good opportunity to work with and learn from both students and staff. In addition to this, I’m contributing towards the revision of policy documents which ensure that these new tools are used effectively and appropriately.

Lincoln Academic Commons

This is something I’m developing to promote and support the various initiatives at the university which provide Open Access to our research, teaching and learning. I started working for the university on a JISC-funded project to develop an institutional repository, having been working as an Archivist and Project Manager of a Digital Asset Management system in my previous job. Then, a few months ago, I heard about the difficulties people in the Lincoln Business School were having trying to establish a series of ‘Occasional Working Papers’ (OWPS) using existing portal software provided by the university. At the same time, I was looking at the Open Journal System for publishing Open Access journals, so I suggested that we set up the OWPS using OJS. Seeing what a great piece of software OJS is, I then suggested we use it for NEO, a planned journal of student research which we intend to launch in the Spring. Finally (and this is where it gets really interesting for me), Mike Neary, Dean of Teaching and Learning and Head of the Centre for Educational Research and Development, is advocating a more critical engagement with the debates about the marketisation of higher education through teaching practice. He’s calling this critical engagement, ‘Teaching in Public’, which encompasses the idea of an Academic Commons.

Professor Neary argues the uncertainty over the university’s mission requires the notion of ‘the public’ to be reconceptualized, so as to remake the university as an academic project that confronts the negative consequences of academic capitalism, and the commodification of everyday life. He will present Karl Marx’s concept of the ‘general intellect’ as an idea through which the university might be remade.

I contributed to a book chapter Mike has recently written which elaborates on this in more detail. You can read more about that on a previous blog post.

Access Grid

A project I’ve been leading for some months now is the installation of an Access Grid node at the university. We were fortunate in being approached by the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) several months ago who offered to fund the installation of an AG node at the university to support their staff who work at the university and provide a facility that is otherwise missing in Lincolnshire. It’s been a really interesting and useful project for me as I learned about how the university undertakes a tendering exercise and I’ve been able to work with colleagues from across the university.  The node should be available to use sometime in January. The Access Grid project is yet another technology-based initiative at the university which further improves our research infrastructure and supports collaboration and the wider exchange of ideas among colleagues worldwide.

Anytime, Anywhere Computing

This is a new project that brings together three, originally separate proposals, that the ICT department and CERD were proposing to take forward. It covers:

  1. ubiquitous wireless networking
  2. so called ‘thin client’ technology as an alternative to desktop PCs and the management of software applications and resources
  3. access via user-owned devices, such as low-cost and increasingly popular ‘netbook’ hardware

We’re just starting to look at how we might offer the same user experience and services on our wireless network as we provide on our wired network. Currently the wireless network only offers Internet access. At the same time, we’re interested in evaluating new virtualisation technologies for the desktop. The ICT department are concluding a server consolidation project which is virtualising much of our server infrastructure. This brings many benefits and allows the ICT department to provide a more flexible service to users.  Our new study will look at whether similar virtualisation technology can bring benefits to desktop users, too. The third part of this project is based on a proposal I made a few months ago to evaluate the user experience and support issues that the new generation of ‘netbooks‘ introduces. Smaller screens, Linux operating systems, an emphasis on web-based applications and the rapid adoption of these low-cost devices often aimed at the education sector, require a better understanding of the impact of this technology and the influence it may have on driving students to use more and more web-based applications.

Are you working on similar initiatives? If so, please leave a comment and share your experiences.