Digital Accessibility Events for 2019/20

The Digital Education Office are hosting a series of events focusing on Digital Accessibility. AbilityNet are running four sessions on individual accessibility needs. Speakers will share their lived experience of various conditions and impairments and discuss how these influence the way they access and consume digital content.

They will share their professional experience as Accessibility and Assistive Technology Professionals in supporting Disabled Learners in the context of accessing digital platforms and content.

The sessions will engage participants by developing their understanding of potential pitfalls when creating digital content and will include easy to consume guidance on creating accessible content for all audiences. Additional support videos and guidance will be provided after the events.

With new legislation requiring the University to ensure that all content published on websites, intranets or mobile apps is accessible, these talks offer a chance to learn how to improve the materials and content you create to support students learning.

 

You can find out more and book tickets for the individual sessions via the following links:

Digital Accessibility and Sight Impairment 30th October 2pm – 4pm

Digital Accessibility and Mental Health 13th November 2pm – 4pm

Digital Accessibility and Physical Impairment 4th December 2pm – 4pm

Digital Accessibility and Neurodiversity 15th December 2pm – 4pm

 

 

Writing down my thoughts of ALTc 2019

The ALT Conference this year was held in Edinburgh. It was my first experience of ALTc and I was pretty excited about heading up to Scotland. Getting off the tram in the city centre on the Monday evening with Edinburgh Castle illuminated in lights was pretty amazing 

The conference was held in the University’s McEwan Hall. The building was incredible, as was the auditorium inside. Sat within the hall you couldn’t help but look up at the beautiful windows and artistry that covered the walls. Luckily not too distracting to keep me from listening in on the keynotes talks. 

McEwan Hall

McEwan Hall

The list of workshops and talks over the three days was huge, so I took some great advice from my colleague, and steered away from my usual subjects. I took away a huge amount from these three days in Edinburgh, but I’ll mention the three keys areas that stood out for me. 

Going back to basics

 

A large area for discussion throughout the conference was the idea of taking learning back to basics. Working within the learning technology field, there is often the assumption that we must always look for new and exciting technology that we can filter into our teaching. This can often mean the pedagogical side of the discussion or project can get lost within the technology.  

Jesse Stommel’s keynote also talked about how some tools are ‘problematic to the core’. There were times in the talk where he was quite critical of certain tools we use. However, being critical is not always a bad thing and it leads us on to really think about the tools we are using and decide whether they are beneficial to our students, staff and our own learning. 

It wasn’t however all doom and gloom, and I sat in on several talks that were using technology quite simply, but to great effect. 

Here be Dragons: Dispelling Myths around BYOD Digital Examinations: Claudia Cox 

This was a great short presentation on the use of digital exams at Brunel University. It was good to see a simple approach being taken to an area that could cause quite a lot of disturbance and resistance within a University. They broke down their projects into three areas; infrastructure, technical support, and training. Tackling these challenges in this way allowed the team to put more thought into their projects and focus on their objectives and outcomes. I liked how research even went into how different noises would affect students e.g. keyboard tapping.  Digital exams can seem quite a challenge to take on, and albeit a student who managed to guess a password hours before an exam started, Claudia relayed how smooth and simple the process was, and how the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Under the right circumstances and with the right support, BYOD can allow for students to feel happier and calmer when undertaking exams. 

Creativity through video in Heriot-Watt Online: James Igoe and Mari Cruz Garcia 

A great talk on how video can enhance and improve learning and teaching in an online course. This session looked how simple approaches can be of great value to an online course and allow the students to feel more engaged. The team here were using Lumen5 to create short and snappy videos that they could get out to users in record time. It took a step back from high level video production and focused on getting the information over to the student. 

Another part of this talk I found interesting was their use of lightboard technology. This maybe doesn’t fall quite under the ‘back to basics’ theme but I’ve been informed by a colleague there are certain DIY hacks to create this mirrored effect of presenting on a much simpler level – something I’m keen to try! 

Inside McEwan Hall

Inside McEwan Hall

Working with our students in higher education. 

 

“Trust students. Ask them how they learn and what challenges they face. Believe them” Jesse Stommel 

I’ve always been an advocate for understanding the importance of listening to student’s views, but this was a theme I felt cropped up a lot within the conference. In Jesse Stommel’s keynote he reminded us that we need to trust our students and learn from them. They are the epi-centre of our institutions and should be taken into the equation more when we think about course design and how we want to teach. 

Ollie Bray also talked about this on the final day of the conference; 

“We hear a lot about learning from our students, but less about learning with them. If we want young learners to be creative, we need children and adults working together in co-creative learning teams.   Despite the rhetoric that AI will “solve” education, solving complex problems comes down to people, pedagogy and leadership. 

A few talks I went to really related to this: 

Designing a new digital arts curriculum where technology inspires new stories, new experiences and new realities: Paul Proctor and Jacqueline Butler 

This was an interesting talk looking at co-creating courses across different disciplines for the new School of Digital Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University. As well as speaking about how they wanted to bring academics and practitioners together to collaborate in one bespoke place, they also talked about how they tackled and questioned the different roles that made up their team who were working on the project. Involvement from all areas of the institution was monumental to the success of the task in hand. 

The new curriculum was being created through a series of short developmental ‘curriculum design sprints’, involving students, alumni, staff, external industry partners, international colleagues and partners from the creative, tech and business worlds. Again, a great way to work with our students and a simple approach on keeping objectives compact and achievable. 

How user experience research is shaping the changes to our Virtual Learning Environment: Paul Smyth, Duncan Stephen, Karen Howie 

A quick mention of this talk which I thoroughly enjoyed. The team used feedback from several surveys to highlight the inconsistencies and frustrations that were coming out of the use of VLEs for students. They embarked on a project to make these courses more accessible and relevant. Again, they took a simple approach and focused on six work streams: templates, checklists, training and support, terminology and automation. 

What stood out for me was the involvement of staff as well as students in their project, and how much research and testing went into the development process. They described some of their results as ‘surprising and enlightening’ and went on to discuss how considering different users allowed them to make significant changes to all areas of the VLE, not just the front end. Everyone’s experience was important. 

Edinburgh in the sun

Edinburgh in the sun

#femedtech

 

This was one of my favourite talks, and the FemEdTech team had a positive and enlightening presence throughout the conference. Helen Beetham was a captivating and engaging speaker, and opened my eyes to a subject that I have often thought about, but never knew was so widely talked about. We focused and reflected on four main areas: 

  • Learning technology as a gendered work, looking at how different roles are valued and rewarded. 
  • Learning technology and education opportunity. This looked at the use of digital systems in education in relation to the participation rates and outcomes of women learners. 
  • Feminist pedagogies. 
  • Feminist epistemologies. 

An interesting talk that focused on inclusivity and bringing people together to discuss why or if feminism should hold a perspective with the area of learning technology. This is their twitter account @femedtech if you wanted to find out more. 

ALTc was a great opportunity for me to meet people working in the same area as me and made me aware that there are so many different directions and opportunities to take when thinking about working within learning technology. I still think being a learning technologist at Edinburgh Zoo may be one of the best jobs going. It was a great couple of days and sparked my motivation for putting in a proposal in the future and making more time for research. 

Thanks also to Lorna Campbell for her great write up of the Keynote talks. Reading this made a lot more sense than the notes I took! 

Edinburgh in the rain

Rainy Edinburgh

A few notes from our TurningPoint Lunch and Learn event

Matthew Moss from Turning Technologies was in Bristol on Tuesday to talk to us and a number of academics about TurningPoint. This is a polling software, or student response system (SRS), that we use and manage at the University of Bristol.

As well as taking us through the basics of creating and running a TurningPoint session, and informing us that this is the software used on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’, Matt also spoke to us about some of the uses which are not as widely adopted at the University. These included: 

  • Private messaging between student and teacher
  • The ability to make polled questions anonymous as you run a session
  • Anywhere Polling – this allows you to run a poll while on any website (or other app) 
  • The ability to reserve 10 session IDs to have as your own
  • Conditional branching in polling
  • The use of word clouds
  • Using the TurningPoint app
  • The use of reporting
  • TurningPoint Web
  • Using Hot Spots in TurningPoint Web
  • Question banks
  • Self-paced polling. 

We hope to run another of these ‘lunch and learn’ sessions in the new year, and would be keen to hear from members of staff who would be happy to talk about the work they are doing with student response systems.

If you would like to find out more, or are interested in getting a licence to use TurningPoint, please contact digital-education@bristol.ac.uk. You can also find out more by going to our website. 

We also have a SRS Yammer Group which you are welcome to join. 

Tiddlywinks of teaching – materials from Playful Learning 19

Chrysanthi and I ran a session at the Playful Learning conference, play testing a game we have developed to help consider issues around accessibility and inclusivity. The title of our session was The Tiddlywinks of Teaching.

A first draft of the materials, all Creative Commons licenced, is now available for anyone who is interested: Tiddlywinks of Teaching materials (zip, 3MB).

We will post more about the game when time allows!

Playful Learning Conference 2019

On the 10th-12th of July I went to the Playful Learning Conference with Suzi Wells, to learn about different approaches to play in adult education and to present our own game.

It was a very lively conference. To the untrained eye, some moments of it looked like a bunch of adults had gone slightly mad and decided to go back to kindergarten to play with balloons and play dough and run around. To a more experienced observer, the attendants were learning about how others use play for learning, and using collaborative, playful ways to:

  • describe the academic writing process

This is our team’s description. The queen bee gives the question. The small bee then goes away to think about it and interpret the question and plans how to answer it. It looks for flowers/ materials to read and then does the research, gathering what it needs to create their work. It then edits it and presents the result in a nice format.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • explore barriers and solutions to being more playful in work and education

According to our team, the most important barriers to play are expectations, limited time and resources. Solutions are to give time and space for playfulness and innovation, change mindsets and normalise play in learning, and get to a point where people trust and believe in it.

 

  • solve the gender pay gap in Higher Education using one of 2 rapidly taught ethical theories.

Our team decided to use the theory of deontology to solve the gender pay gap in HE. There should be an equal amount of men and women in all kinds of posts, an equal amount performing all kinds of tasks, equal opportunities for promotion. For this to work properly, men and women should also do an equal amount of housework, spend an equal amount of time with their children, do an equal amount of emotional labour.

All genders should be included in this absolute equality, including those that do not identify as men or women (percentage arbitrarily chosen and subject to change to appropriately reflect society).

 

Our own session went better than we could have expected. All our room’s tables were full, and people were engaged with playing our game (working title: The Tiddlywinks of Teaching).

Attendants playing our game that helps think about inclusivity and accessibility when designing learning innovations.

 

They seemed to enjoy it and gave us very useful feedback. I would have been happy to keep talking to the participants about it for another hour. Also, I was very pleased to see some admittedly very happy faces when we told them they could take sets of cards with them!

A few things stood out for me at this conference:

  1. The vast majority of playful activities were physical, not digital.
  2. For many people engaging in playful learning, play = creativity. There were many sessions and activities where different creative processes – physical or digital – were used/ suggested to learn either about play itself, or as a tool to engage with different topics.
  3. Escape rooms have become quite popular in the area of playful learning. Their potential to help practice and enhance communication and teamwork skills, as well as to help in team building are easy to see. Their potential to learn domain-specific skills, not so much yet.
  4. Conferences such as this, that allow for more hands on sessions are an amazing way to playtest and get feedback for learning games. I am sure that our own game will greatly improve as a result of our session.

Playful Learning 19: mega games, promoting play, and wellbeing

It’s a week since I returned from my three days in leafy Leicester at the Playful Learning conference. It’s an event I have watched from a distance with envy in previous years, so I was very excited to be able to attend, and to play-test a game Chrysanthi Tseloudi and I developed around accessibility and inclusivity.

Some highlights and useful takeaways:

  • Mega games – Darren Green and Liz Cable ran a Climate Crisis mega game: a simulation of negotiations between countries around reducing carbon emissions. This session was for about 20 people but would have scaled well for much larger numbers. It was fascinating and absorbing. You would need some caution about what lessons students would take away – if you asked me what I learnt I’d have to say: China are key to solving the crisis but impossible to work with (which is obviously down to the way the players interpreted their roles) and I’m too gullible (which sadly is not). Even so, I can see real possibilities for this.
  • Promoting play in HE – I love the sound of the University of Winchester’s festival of play and creativity. At Bristol we have our Learning Games Lunches a few times a year but a festival allows so much more scope to innovate, play test, and to take ideas directly to and from the students.
  • Play for all – There were differing views around whether play had to be voluntary or not, which is obviously an important issue if you are trying to incorporate play within HE, and particularly within the taught curriculum. Reflecting on the kinds of sessions at the conference that worked well for me, and those that didn’t quite, I’m increasingly persuaded that you can only invite people to play and you can’t require them. Maybe providing choice within a set of playful options, so that people retain a sense of ownership or control, would be enough.

I was expecting – hoping I suppose – the conference would introduce me to new game mechanics for use in teaching, and maybe some facilitation ideas. In the end, the more significant focus for me was around wellbeing. It can be too easy to feel invisible and without agency, not part of anything. At Playful Learning everything was very active and collaborative. For three solid days I felt both seen and heard (a phrase which sounds rather corny to my ears but I can’t think of a more accurate one to describe the feeling). Being so connected was hard work at times but a very positive experience.

The idea of play as an indicator of wellbeing was introduced in by Alison James in her keynote. She mentioned that animals who are sick or scared can’t play. I now wonder how much play can promote or amplify wellbeing. Can behaving in a playful way sometimes trick you into being more well? I’m reminded of the work of Clowns Without Borders, taking laughter to children who you might imagine couldn’t benefit.

By the time Friday morning came and it was our turn to present, my feeling was that we were addressing a room of supportive friends. Not people who would never criticise, we got some very useful criticism, but friends all the same. This building of community and connection – both for students and staff – is a key thing that playfulness and games could bring to universities.

(Yellow-team-lego photo shamelessly stolen from @malcolmmurray – but myself and two mysterious strangers (or people whose names I have forgotten) built the thing so I’m hoping that’s ok.)

 

 

I

Digital Examinations Forum

Yesterday I attended the Digital Examinations Forum at the University of Bath which was an extremely useful day.  The event was very well-attended and we had the opportunity to hear from and discuss with colleagues from a range of institutions who are well advanced in the journey of implementing digital examinations.  Mostly for me the day re-emphasised some key points, summarised as follows, with a couple of related photos below:

  1. Have an assessment policy which specifically mentions appropriate use of digital, but emphasise the opportunities digital offers to do assessment differently and better, not just digitising existing practice or restricting yourselves to MCQs.  For example incorporate video into questions, use authentic case studies in digital format,  produce a mini piece of coursework under exam conditions, and there were lots more ideas
  2. Keep developing staff understanding of assessment, ensuring alignment with learning outcomes and activities
  3. Marking online is different to marking on paper. Allow colleagues time, space and support to get used to this.
  4. Standard processes help, but maintain flexibility in the approach – there will be no one tool/approach which meets all requirements
  5. Some things may just not be appropriate to digitise
  6. Educational leadership is needed at all levels to support this change
  7. It costs!  eg building / kitting out space, IT infrastructure (including for BYOD), support eg training for invigilators 

Finally a couple of other items of interest: there was plenty of encouraging feedback about the Inspera platform, and I hadn’t previously come across the work by Martin Bush and Lucia Otoyo from London South Bank on reducing the need for guesswork in multiple choice tests. There are some examples here: https://quizslides.co.uk/home , and a journal article from Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

Astrid Birgitte Eggen from University of Agder on assessment policy

Anja Sisarica from Inspera on the need for flexibility in marking tools

Curriculum theories – notes from reading group

Thanks to Sarah Davies for setting us some fascinating reading!

Connected curriculum chapter 1 (notes from Chris Adams)

The connected curriculum is a piece of work by Dilly Fung from UCL. It is an explicit attempt to outline how departments in research-intensive universities can develop excellent teaching by integrating their research into it; the ‘connected’ part of the title is the link between research and teaching. At it’s heart is the idea that the predominant mode of learning for undergraduates should be active enquiry, but that rather than students discovering for themselves things which are well-established, they should be discovering things at the boundaries of what is known, just like researchers do.

It has six strands:

  • Students connect with researchers and with the institution’s research. Or, in other words, the research work of he department is explicitly built into the curriculum
  • A throughline of research activity is built into each programme. Properly design the curriculum so that research strands run though it, and it builds stepwise on what has come before.
  • Students make connections across subjects and out to the world. Interdisciplinarity! Real world relevance.
  • Students connect academic learning with workplace learning. Not only should we be teaching them transferable skills for a world of rapid technological change, but we need to tell them that too.
  • Students learn to produce outputs – assessments directed at an audience. Don’t just test them with exams
  • Students connect with each other, across phases and with alumni. This will create a sense of community and belonging.

This last point is then expanded upon. Fung posits that the curriculum is not just a list of what should be learned, but is the whole experience as lived by the student. Viewing the curriculum as a narrow set of learning outcomes does not product the kind of people that society needs, but is a consequence of the audit culture that pervades higher education nowadays. Not all audit is bad – the days when ‘academic freedom’ gave people tenure and the freedom to teach terribly and not do any research are disappearing, and peer-review is an integral part of the university system – but in order to address complex global challenges we need a values based curriculum ‘defined as the development of new understandings and practices, through dialogue and human relationships, which make an impact for good in the world.’

I liked it sufficiently to buy the whole book. It addresses a lot of issues that I see in my own department – the separation of research from teaching, and the over-reliance on exams, and the lack of community, for example.

Connected curriculum chapter 2 (notes from Suzi Wells)

As mentioned in chapter 1, the core proposition is that the curriculum should be ‘research-based’ – ie most student learning “should reflect the kinds of active, critical and analytic enquiry undertaken by researchers”.

Fung gives a this useful definition of what that means in practice. Students should:

  • Generate new knowledge through data gathering and analysis
  • Disseminate their findings
  • Refine their understanding through feedback on the dissemination

All of it seems fairly uncontroversial in theory and tends to reflect current practice, or at least what we aspire to in current practice. There’s some discussion of the differences in what research means to different disciplines, and how that filters through into assessment of students, and potentially some useful studies on just how effective this all is.

Fung mentions the Boyer Commission (US 1998) and its proposed academic bill of rights, including (for research intensive institutions): “expectation of and opportunity for work with talented senior researchers to help and guide the student’s efforts”. Given increasing student numbers, this is possibly a less realistic expectation to meaningfully meet than it once was.

There’s some useful discussion about what is needed to make research-based-teaching work.

I was particularly interested in the idea that providing opportunity for this form of learning isn’t everything. Socio-economic factors mean that students may have differing beliefs about their own agency. Fung cites Baxter-Magdola (2004) on the importance of students having ‘self-authorship’ which includes ‘belief in oneself as possessing the capacity to create new knowledge’ and ‘the ability to play a part within knowledge-building communities’. You can’t assume all students arrive with the same level of this, and this will affect their ability to participate.

This part of the chapter also talks about the importance of not just sending students off “into the unknown to fend for themselves” – imagine a forest of ivory towers – but to give them support & structure. Activities need to be framed within human interactions (including peer support).

Towards the end there is a nod to it being anglo-centric – African and Asian educational philosophy and practice may be different – but little detail is given.

How Emotion Matters in Four Key Relationships in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education” (notes from Roger Gardner)

This is a 2016 article by Kathleen Quinlan, who is now Director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education and Reader in Higher Education at University of Kent, but was working at Oxford when this was written.

She writes that while historically there has been less focus on Bloom’s affective domain than the cognitive, recently interest in the relation of emotions to learning has been growing although it is still under-researched. The article comes out of a review of the existing literature and conversations with teachers at the National University of Singapore in August 2014.

The paper focusses on four relationships: students with the subject matter, teachers, their peers and what she calls “their developing selves”. For each section Quinlan includes a summary of implications for teaching practice, which provide some very useful suggestions, ranging from simple things such as encouraging students to introduce each other when starting activities to help foster peer relationships, to advocating further research and exploration into when it is appropriate and educationally beneficial for teachers to express emotions and when not.

Quinlan says “discussions about intangibles such as emotions and relationships are often sidelined”, but it now seems essential to prioritise this if we are to support student wellbeing, and this paper provides some helpful prompts and suggestions for reflection and developing our practice.  If you are short of time I recommend looking at the bullet point “implications for practice”.

What is “significant learning”? (notes from Chrysanthi Tseloudi)

In this piece, Dr. Fink talks about the Taxonomy of Significant Learning; a taxonomy that refers to new kinds of learning that go beyond the cognitive learning that Bloom’s taxonomy addresses. The taxonomy of significant learning – where significant learning occurs when there is a lasting change in the learner that is important in their life – is not hierarchical, but relational and interactive. It includes six categories of learning:

Foundational knowledge: the ability to remember and understand specific information as well as ideas and perspectives, providing the basis for other kinds of learning.

Application: learning to engage in a new kind of action (intellectual, physical, social, etc) and develop skills that allow the learner to act on other kinds of learning, making them useful.

Intergration: learning to see, understand, and make new connections between different things, people, ideas, realms of ideas or realms of life. This gives learners new (especially intellectual) power.

Human Dimension: learning about the human significance of things they are learning – understanding something about themselves or others, getting a new vision of who they want to become, understanding the social implications of things they have learned or how to better interact with others.

Caring: developing new feelings, interests, values and/ or caring more about something that before; caring about something feeds the learner’s energy to learn about it and make it a part of their lives.

Learning how to learn: learning about the learning process; how to learn more efficiently, how to learn about a specific method or in a specific way, which enables the learner to keep on learning in the future with increasing effectiveness.

The author notes that each kind of learning is related to the others and achieving one kind helps achieve the others. The more kinds of learning involved, the more significant is the learning that occurs – with the most significant kind being the one that encompasses all six categories of the taxonomy.

Education Principles: Designing learning and assessment in the digital age (notes from Naomi Beckett)

This short paper is part of a guide written by Jisc. It covers what Education Principles are and why they are such a vital characteristic of any strategy. Coming from someone unspecialised in this area it was an interesting read to understand how principles can bring staff together to engage and develop different education strategies. The guide talks about how principles can ‘provide a common language, and reference point for evaluating change’.

The paper talks about having a benchmark in which everyone can check their progress. I like this idea. So often projects become too big and the ideas and values are lost on what was first decided as a team. Having a set of principles is a way to bring everything back together and is a useful way to enable a wide variety of staff to engage with each other. The guide mentions how having these principles means there is a ‘common agreement on what is fundamentally important.’

Having these principles developed at the beginning of a project puts the important ideas and values into motion and is a place to look back to when problems arise. Principles should be action oriented, and not state the obvious. Developing them in this way allows for a range of staff members to bring in different ideas and think about how they want to communicate their own message.

I also followed up by reading ‘Why use assessment and feedback principles?’ from Strathclyde’s Re-Engineering Assessment Practices (REAP) project.

Suggested reading

Deep linking for External users

A couple of years ago I created a simple tool to generate Deep Links into specific content areas of Blackboard courses or organisations. This works well for the majority of our Blackboard users who authenticate via Single Sign On.

Unfortunately this tool falls down when links are accessed by users with an ‘External’ account, typically students and staff outside of the university who need access to a course but do not have University accounts. Some work I’m currently supporting requires an easy way to signpost both UoB and External users from a website into related areas of a Blackboard course, so I’ve updated the tool to create an External User variant:

External Users Blackboard Deep Link Tool.

It’s quite niche, but I thought I’d share it in case it’s of use to University staff.

OU Innovating Pedagogy 2019 – notes from reading group

All read sections of the OU Innovating Pedagogies 2019 report

Learning with Robots (read by Naomi Beckett)

This short piece talked about how Robots are now being used for educational purposes and which ones are being used. The article talked a lot about how Robots can be used in a way that enhances learning by learning things themselves. Learners can teach something to the Robots as a process of showing they have accomplished a new skill and in turn the Robot is gaining new information.

The article also talked about how Robots can enable a passive approach to teaching. Robots won’t raise their voice or show (real) emotions in a session. Having this calm approach to teaching, it is argued, will now allow students to learn in a calmer environment. It also discusses how having a Robot as a learning tool may excite or motivate learners too. Although it only briefly mentions how a Robot would souly conduct a class full of students.

There were some aspects of the article that did make some sense on how Robots could aid learning, but these ideas didn’t go into much depth. It was discussed how Robots could talk in several languages so could be able to converse comfortably with a wider range of students. It also talked about how Robots could act as mediators to students, being able to check in, or provide advice at any time of the day. They could conduct the routine tasks and issues, freeing up teacher’s time so they can spend it with their learners.

As mentioned in the article ‘many people have an inherent distrust of advancing technologies.’ There are several questions to ask on how much a Robot is integrated into a learning environment, and when does it become too much. But there are a number of interesting points in the article about how Robots are making small steps to aid and enhance learning.

Reading this section got me thinking about the AV1 Robot. A robot created by NoIsolation. They created a robot to ‘reduce loneliness and social isolation through warm technology’. AVI was a Robot created for children who are too ill to go to school. The robot sits in the class and the child at home can connect through it. Using an app, the children can take part in the classroom. They can raise their hand to answer questions, talk to nearby students, ask questions, and just listen if they want to. A great use of technology to keep students engaged with their learning and classmates.

Decolonising learning (read by Sarah Davies)

This section was not about decolonising the curriculum – itself an important area for Bristol – but rather reflecting on how digital environments, tools and activities can be used in ways which invert power relationships and cultural and educational capital of the dominant culture, and support colonised or marginalised populations in education, sense-making and cultural development which is meaningful to them. It notes that decolonisation requires systematic unsettling change.

The article reminds us that we need to acknowledge the ways in which digital presence can contribute to colonisation – so digital environments created by a dominant culture may not create spaces for the kind of discussions, activities and issues which are meaningful to those of other cultures. It suggests that MOOCs can often be a form of digital colonisation – people from all over the world learn from massive courses produced in just a few countries.

In contrast, digital decolonisation considers how to support colonised, under-represented, uprooted or otherwise marginalised people with technology in order to:

  • connect them with a shared history,
  • support a critical perspective on their present,
  • provide tools for them to shape their futures.

But how to use the technology must be decided by the people themselves.

Critical pedagogies – in which students are expressly encouraged to question and challenge power structures, authority and the status quo – provide frameworks for the academic success of diverse students – eg by seeking to provide a way of maintaining their cultural integrity while achieving academic success, or to sustain the cultural competence of their community while gaining access to the dominant cultural competence.

Digital storytelling is an example of a pedagogical tool that can be used for decolonising purposes – empowering students to tell their own stories, turning a critical lens on settler colonialism, capturing stories of indigenous or marginalised people taking action on issues, critiques of colonial nations.

Two final messages from this article which resonated for me were that success in or after HE for some groups of students may be at odds with notions of success in the dominant society (as captured in things like Graduate Outcomes); and that education needs to be reimagined as an activity that serves the needs of local communities – though what that means for Bristol and the local, national and international communities it exists within, I’m not sure.

Virtual studios (read by Suzi Wells)

I found this a useful exercise in thinking about what a studio is and what it is for – and how much of that might be reimagined online. Studios are described in the report as collaborative, creative, social, communal spaces. They contain creative artefacts (sketches, models, objects). Learning in studios is by doing and is often peer-supported with tutors facilitating and guiding rather than instructing.

The report describes virtual studios as being focused on digital artefacts. “Virtual studios are all about online exchange of ideas, rapid feedback from tutors and peers, checks on progress against learning outcomes, and collaboration”

The first benefit of virtual studios given is scale: a studio can be for 100s of learners. This left me wondering if this is in conflict with the idea of studios as a community.

Virtual studios are also described as “hubs”, an idea I would have liked to explore further. I wanted to know how a hub is different from a community. What are we trying to achieve when we make something hub-like? I suppose a hub is a place which provides a starting point or a loose join between disparate activities or organisations. It’s not just a community, but has other communities floating around it.

Virtual studios can be a way to give more people (fully open even) access to experts and facilities. Example given was the (oft cited, so fairly unique?) ds106 Digital Storytelling.

Areas to explore further:

  • Could e-portfolios benefit from being grounded in something more virtual-studio-like (how much are they doing that already)?
  • How big can a virtual studio be before it loses the community feeling? Is there a way to scale community?

Place Based Learning (read by Michael Marcinkowski)

While the article on place based learning only provided a surface view of the approach, I found it very interesting in two distinct ways.

First, it focused on place based learning as not being solely the province of lessons conducted in the field, away from the classroom. What was highlighted in the article was the way that place based learning could just as easily take place in the classroom with students studying their local communities or local histories from their desks. Whether in the classroom or the field, the focus is on how students are able to make robust connections between their personal situation and their learning.

This kind of connection between the learner and their local community provides the foundation for the second point of interest in the article: that place-based learning can easily incorporate aspects of critical pedagogy. As students explore their local communities, they can both explore critical issues facing the community and build on their own experiences in order to support their learning. One example that was noted was having students explore the function of public transportation networks in their community, looking at questions of availability, accommodation, and planning.

An important development in place based learning has been the rise in the ubiquity of smartphones and other location-aware devices. By tapping into GPS and other forms of location networks, it becomes possible to develop applications that allow learners to dynamically access information about their surroundings. The article mentions one project that allows language learners to access vocabulary specific to the locations in which it is used, for instance, having transit based vocabulary guides triggered near bus stops. The idea is that such systems allow for the in-situ acquisition of vocabulary in a way which is both useful in the moment and that reinforces learning.

There are already a number of good examples of place based learning that have been developed out of the University of Bristol, including the Bristol Futures Course which encourages students to explore and engage with the wider city of Bristol and the Romantic Bristol smartphone app which highlights places of historic and literary importance around the city.

Particularly as the University begins to confront its legacy of involvement with the slave trade, there look to be a number of ways in which place based education can continue to be fostered among the University community.

Roots of Empathy (read by Chrysanthi Tseloudi)

This section describes a classroom programme that aims to teach children empathy, so they can have healthy and constructive social interactions.

In this programme, children between 5-13 years old get visits in their school class every 3 weeks from a local baby, their parent and a Roots of Empathy instructor. The children observe how the baby and its feelings develop and its interactions with the parent. With the guidance of the instructor, the children learn about infant development and identify the baby’s feelings, their own and those of others; they then reflect on them, describe and explain them. There are opportunities for discussion and other activities, including the children recording songs for their baby and reflecting on what they would like the baby’s future to be like. The curriculum is broken down into themes, which are then broken down further into age ranges. While the activities focus on feelings, some use knowledge and skills from school subjects, e.g. mathematics. Research on the programme has shown positive results in decreasing aggression and increasing positive social behaviours.

It was interesting to read about this approach. Something that stood out for me was that while the learners identifying their own feelings is mentioned, it is not obvious if this is an explicit aim of this programme. That made me wonder whether it is assumed that a person that is able to identify others’ feelings is definitely able to identify their own (in which case this programme addresses this skill implicitly), whether it is assumed that the children are able to do this already or whether knowing one’s own feelings is not considered an important skill in healthy social interactions. I also wondered how children that have significant difficulties identifying their own or others’ feelings fare in this programme and if/ how they are further supported.