How the dinosaur got his nose!

I hadn’t gotten excited about 3D printing. It’s great, love the idea, understand how artists can use it, or engineers can build prototypes etc, but I hadn’t got that excited. That changed for me when I met a project in which Jisc is a partner from the British Geological Society at the Jisc Digifest in Birmingham.

As a child I was (and still am) fascinated by geology and palaeontology (fossils). I was at the project stand and I recognised many of the fossils that they had on display. And I was excited. A colleague came over and I immediately launched into some of my favourite stories about the history of palaeontology. One of those stories is about Gideon Mantell, he was the first person to find the fossils of the iguanodon. In fact he found a large amount of the skeleton – but no skull. So, when it came to drawing what he thought it would look like, he placed one particular bit, that was hornlike, on the dinosaur’s nose, not unlike a rhinoceros.

Mantell's Iguanodon Sketch

Mantell’s Iguanodon Sketch

However, Mantell’s sketch did have the dinosaur much more like modern idea of a dinosaur, as a supple creature and not as the great lumbering beast that some Victorians imagined them as. In fact Richard Owen later created life size replicas of dinosaurs for the Great Exhibition (1851), and they are still in place in Crystal Palace park (below). You can just make out that there is a ‘horn’ on the models.

Model Iguanodons at Crystal Palace

Model Iguanodons at Crystal Palace

Back to the present day, and a few days after the conference, I received a small package in the post. When I opened it I found this:

Iguanodon Fossil

Iguanodon Fossil

This is the ‘Dinosaur’s Nose’ a rare and fragile thing, something I can handle, and hold much as Mantell and Owen must have. I can understand how when they were trying to piece together the clues about what this creature must have looked like they mistook this for a horn. I can hold it, close my eyes and use my sense of touch to try and augment my sight in understanding what the object is.

But it wasn’t stone, it was plastic. A disposable learning object. Louise from the project hearing how excited I was about the Dinosaur’s nose, had gone back to the project and printed off one and sent it to me. I can honestly say I was thrilled.

And if I was thrilled about it just as an object, what would students make of it. The idea that students of palaeontology being able to handle ‘one of a kind’ fossils, or fossils that are very fragile is compelling, and adds something to the learning.

This is an area that is developing rapidly, the idea that we can use technology to augment the physical with the ‘disposable’. The project is at it is, for me, truly inspiring, and I hope that it continues to develop and grow.

And by the way, it’s not a horn. But that’s something for the reader to find out more about – the downloadable file for this ‘printed’ fossil and 3D picture can be found here.

Flipped classroom, or just flippin’ technology? Where are we now with technology, student experience and organisational change?

Jisc have been working in collaboration with key partners in the Higher Education sector to support the technology enhanced learning aspirations of a variety of institutions through a HEFCE funded initiative – Changing the Learning Landscape.

The model of support is based on conversations with key staff in institutions and followed up with targeted interventions. During the conversations a set of key themes emerged and we ran a session at the recent Digifest to discuss these themes and gain feedback from delegates (using voting pads) as to whether these themes reflected the experience of their own universities and colleges.

You can watch the half-hour session starting at approximately 1hr27minutes on the video.

Lawrie Phipps and Sarah Davies presenting at Jisc Digifest

Strategic approaches to Technology Enhanced Learning

How technology in learning is deployed in institutions ranges dramatically, from pockets of enthusiasts, individuals developing small bespoke systems or at the other end of the spectrum, large off the shelf vendor systems. In most of the institutions that we worked in it was apparent that Senior Leadership teams were aware of many pockets of innovation and worked to support them strategically. We asked delegates with regard to impact in your institution, what is having the biggest positive impact on the use of Technology Enhanced Learning? A bottom up approach, strategic leadership or a combination. 65% of the delegates reported that in their institutions a combination of strategic leadership and enthusiasts from the bottom up were having a positive impact. How to best combine the two is emerging as a key theme for senior leaders.

Digital Literacies

The student experience is at the centre of the work we have been doing in the CLL programme, and we have found that one of the areas that institutions are particularly interested in developing further is digital literacies of their students. Perhaps due to the SEDA-organised strand of digital literacies workshops in the first year of CLL, and the work of the Jisc Developing Digital Literacies programme, we’re seeing a deeper level of understanding of the topic in conversations with institutions this year, and there are some quite sophisticated initiatives developing around a holistic approach to digital literacies for staff and students, integrating with continuing professional development processes. Of the delegates in the session, 72% said that developing digital literacies was something their institution was either working on now or was on their agenda for the next academic year. 24% indicated that they had just completed a piece of institutional work in this area.

Technology changing the game

The rapid change in technology over the last 10 years has had an impact on practice. During the session we discussed how digital resources were supporting enquiry based learning, how social media was allowing interaction outside of traditional boundaries such as the classroom and how work-based learning had changed as communication becomes easier between the workplace and the college or university. Thinking through how major technology changes might fundamentally alter what we get up to inside and outside the classroom – and with whom – is on the radar of leaders in learning and teaching, and we asked if delegates were doing this now, next academic year, if they had just reviewed the area or if it wasn’t a priority. 92% of delegates reported that impacts on practice of big shifts in technology were a consideration now or next academic year, suggesting that the sector is moving on from just adding technology to what we do

Red Herrings

We shifted gear in the middle of the presentation and asked delegates to consider what the big technology red herrings had been recently. There was a little discussion around MOOCs and Mobile, as we saw some knee-jerk reactions to particularly the hype around the former in last year’s discussions, but this year institutions seem to have had time to review the hype and pick out the key implications for their own mission. Generally delegates seemed to feel that the sector is in a place where we were quite reflective about technology and in a place where they knew how to spot and use technology appropriately. The conversations with institutions have been useful in highlighting areas in which technology which students are asking for is available, but isn’t used, enabling them to investigate this and ensure appropriate support is in place.

Strategic thinking

The Higher Education Sector has gone through several iterations of how it treats technology, including the approaches we take and the language we use (which sometimes drives the approach). For several years we thought about e-learning strategies; these mostly reflected the rise of the virtual learning environment and associated systems, eventually many of these strategies were subsumed into wider learning and teaching strategies and spoke of good practice in their use. Recently institutions have begun looking at wider technology enhanced learning strategies, these focus on the student experience and reference digital literacy, employability and in some cases innovation with technology. Asking the delegates if they were looking at developing a wider TEL strategy 82% reported that they were either doing it now, or it was on their agenda for the next academic year, with a further 13% reporting they had just reviewed the strategy. Most indicated that this reflected a particular spike of strategy change at the moment, not just ongoing churn and review.

Technology Change

The final question of the afternoon was around technology change. We talked about the VLE, e-portfolios, the rise of tablets and mobile. We were unpicking if people were reviewing what technology they deployed – whether that was changing the systems, installing new, or removing them. This is an area that perhaps warrants a closer look in the future – 25% of the delegates said that they had just reviewed some internal learning technology system, with a further 66% looking at them now or in the next academic year.

Closing remarks from the session

The session focused on the speakers’ personal observations during conversations with institutions, and neither these or the audience response to them is intended to be taken as reliable data. The audience response system was used because a chance to interact with the lecturer in this way is something that students often ask for, and gave the e audience a feel for what their peers around them were also going through. However, we were struck by how strongly the themes we identified appeared to resonate, particularly in the following areas:

  • The number of people looking at Digital Literacy in a strategic way
  • The monitoring of the next big technology game changer
  • The emphasis on TEL strategies that incorporate wider issues
  • The way institutions are reviewing how and what learning technology is deployed

Reflecting on conversations with students, VLEs and the elephant in the classroom

I know there’s been a lot researched and written on this subject, here I’m reflecting and using the anecdotal evidence gathered over a few months work where I’ve been very privileged to have had the opportunity to have conversations with around 200 students from 11 institutions. Most of these conversations have come about through the Changing Learning Landscape Programme, a partnership between the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, Jisc, the HE Academy and the NUS. Through a series of discussions in Universities and Colleges where myself and others have been able to go in and speak to senior managers (PVC’s, Directors of TEL and e-learning, Directors of IT etc) and also with lecturers and importantly students we have gathered a lot of information about how technology features in the student experience .

In my conversations I wanted to unpick how student used the Virtual Learning Environment and other institutional technology. Almost all students said they used it on a regular basis, valued it and saw it as a trusted source for everything to do with their learning and associated activities at University. So that’s ok, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

Get the institutional technology right and add in a driver (an assessment or resource that the students must use to get a grade) and there is no doubt that students will use it. This was verified in my conversations. Dig a little deeper, “do you use the VLE (or other technology) to discuss the course, arrange groupwork, work with peers?” “yes… …if its assessed.”   The conversations at this point almost always turned to the elephant in the classroom – Facebook.

Do you friend your lecturers? – mostly the answer is no.

Is there a course/module page or group? mostly the answer is yes (you don’t have to friend anyone to join).

But in addition to this a lot of the students also were regularly setting up their own groups and pages at both micro (a small group of students on a specific task) and macro (sometimes a group across several cohorts). This is not news to most people who work in education!

But what comes next? Facebook is unlikely to change its business model in the short term so students will most likely continue to use it. A lot of staff are recognising this and whilst still using the VLE they are also decamping to where the students are.

This raises three issues for me.

Firstly, what does this mean for the VLE and its future development? There is a lot written on the cost benefit analysis of having a VLE and there are many models for how to deploy and maintain one. After talking to my (limited) sample of students, most of them treat the VLE as a information store, a reference point and where necessary, and driven to, they use it for all of the admin functions of a course such as submission of assignments. If this is the case, should we redesign it with that in mind?

The second issue is a question about what would happen if we cede control to students. Allow students to self organise the course materials and structure according to their preferences. Yes, we would have to build in safeguards, and makes some elements compulsory to include, but why not allow them to control their own virtual learning environment in the same way as they can control their own personal physical learning environment? They might still mostly use Facebook etc, but if they are self-organising the chances are that there will be more joining up of the activities and spaces. Is anyone willing? Will someone make students the system admin?

The final issue, building on the conversations and the previous two points, is the VLE actually about learning? The anecdotal evidence from the student conversations that I have been having is that is less about learning, and more about access to reliable resources and information, and the main issues that they raise in conversation are about how that plethora of information is presented to them. Should the VLE become an extension of the library, and would that approach, with an emphasis on resource discovery and curation better serve students and their learning?

New Jisc, new job titles, new ways of working and an extra role

Jisc has been going through changes; new staff, structures and ways of working have all had an impact on the way we feel and behave. It’s been really easy to feel negative about some changes. For me personally the sense of losing the team that we have, Organisations and User Technologies, even though we were a disparate group has been hard. Then there was the announcement that we were no longer going to do programmes, as a programme manager that was really a bit of a shock.

But the structure and the way we are going to work is starting to clarify. We recently had letters telling us that rather than Programme Managers there would be a new role called Co-design Manager. I have an idea of what co-design is, it’s similar to work we did when designing projects in partnership with HEIs in the Users and Innovation Programme. And I still have the word manager in my job title – I guess that means that under the new structure I’ll be working with institutions to design interventions that meet their needs. There is some information about the co-design approach here, and more information will be coming out soon.

Beyond that Sarah Davies and I are working up a project under the co-design principles to work with institutions around the digital student experience, and using the approach that we developed with our experiences on the Changing Learning Landscape programme (Jointly with the LFHE).

In addition Jisc have allowed me to take on a part-time role as the Yorkshire, Humberside and North East Regional Coordinator for the Leadership Foundation. This is only 18 days per year, but it means I’ll be talking and working with University Management Teams about their needs and aspirations, bringing an obvious synergy with my work at Jisc.

At Jisc at the moment it would be unfair to say that it is business as usual, but in many ways, if you remove the idea of programmes and look at the new models of working more directly with partners and institutions, then actually I think I may enjoy it more than having large portfolios of institutionally owned projects, giving me a chance to work more directly with staff in the sector and seeing impact first hand. There’s still a lot of uncertainty, but from my perspective the vision is clearing, and I can see how I’ll be working. So watch this space, and keep an eye the Jisc website for opportunities to work with me and my new (old) colleagues in our new roles.

Presentation: Digital behaviours and their impact

This blog post supports the presentation at Imperial College, 14th November 2013. The conference is organised by Panopto, a software company that provides lecture recording. I agreed to speak about some of the things that we have elicited from working with students in the Changing Learning Landscape Programme, the Visitor and Residents project and the Jisc Digital Literacy Programme.

Whilst I draw heavily on the experiences of students during the session and present some of their views on technology use, and particularly lecture capture, I will also be asking questions of the participants. For example, what are the implications if lecture capture is everywhere, and records everything?

Update: During the event today the fine chaps over at @creativeconnec ‘sektched’ the event, the image is below*

visual sketch of event

*although I’d like to point out I’m not that grey, have more hair and my nose isn’t that sharp!

During the presentation I make reference to the various web-based resources below.

Workshop for the AUA@OU Professional development programme

This week saw me at the Open University contributing to the AUA professional development programme. They’ve already been looking at Professionalism, Careers and Personal Branding, they invited me to come in and share some thoughts and lead a discussion around what social media might add, in terms of both risk and reward.For the benefit of the workshop participants the slides are embedded below.

The session was structured around personal experiences, and sharing our own preferences and prejudices. In most of these types of workshops I ask what social media people are using. It was a bit of a surprise for me that almost all of the participants were using Twitter, as well as a lot of other tools.

It was nice to be in room with people who used linked-in very effectively, and who shared my opinion with regards to endorsements. And to clarify, yes my brother really did endorse me for public speaking, we hadn’t spoken in over a year, and he’s never seen me speak publicly!

It was a really enjoyable day for me, with the exception of the OU’s understanding of vegetarian. Some of the tweets reveal the content and discussion, and I’ve had a few comments and questions by email which I’ll post as comments later if the person asking agrees.

Helen Cooke ‏@cookiehj1
Personal vs professional? Visitor vs resident? #auaatou

Sam Dick Sam Dick ‏@sam_d
What does my network look like and what does it say about me? #auaatOU

Sam Dick Sam Dick ‏@sam_d
Important to contextualise your LinkedIn profile if using it professionally #auaatOU

Helen Cooke Helen Cooke ‏@cookiehj1
Glad I’m not the only one fed up with LinkedIn endorsements! #auaatOU

Julie Gowen Julie Gowen ‏@j_gowen
Have just googled myself and found out I have a namesake who is a psychologist living in San Antonia #auaatOU

Sam Dick Sam Dick ‏@sam_d
Have just ‘Googled’ myself – as part of a workshop you understand! #auaatOU

Embedding and Anchoring Change

Today I ran a session to support projects working on the Changing Learning Landscape Programme. This was very much designed by Glyn Jones, and the examples drawn from the work I’ve done working with the LTSN (now HEA), TechDis and JISC.

The session was designed to support the embedding of a specified change. This embedding can be identified when the new practices that you are seeking to introduce are accepted and demonstrated by a majority of those who need to do so.

In order to embed a new practice in your organisation you need to enable a change in the components of the culture that impact upon the new behaviour(s) required of individuals.

Changing Learning Landscape: Strategy and Change #CLL1213

This morning I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the “Influencing Strategy and change processes to enable the embedding of digital literacies” event in London.

My slides are below, and at the bottom are some of the tweets from during the presentation drawing out some key points. I would also like to thank the Jisc e-learning Team, especially Sarah Davies, Dave White and all of the people in the CLL programme, all of whom provided the knowledge and content for the presentation.

Susannah Quinsee @squinsee
Engaging senior staff in digital literacies = vital for making change happen
Neil Ford @neiljohnford… JISC Design Studio#cll1213

Rachel Temple @RJ_Temple

#cll1213 drivers for institutional change. Senior management buy in is key

Rich Goodman @Bulgenen

RT @Lizzipops: Every subject has digital element- how support and embed in curriculum is key #cll1213

Mick Norman @mickelous

“Tools are just tools” @Lawrie #cll1213

Rachel Temple @RJ_Temple

Focus on the learning rather than e- learning or m- learning. But the technology must work as well #cll1213

Ella Mitchell @meatyloafy

technology is a tool….. true, let’s not.forget the people, practises and why we need the technology ;) #cll1213

Eleni Zazani @EleniZazani

#cll1213 #Librarians are very good at it. I’m not biased I’m just quoting @Lawrie

Ella Mitchell @meatyloafy

does social backgrounds of students and their demographics…… have more of an impact on students experience of technology!? #cll1213

Elizabeth Cleaver @ECleaver

#cll1213 do we need to move on from digital natives discourse to thinking about digital wisdom?…

sue thompson @susiestraw

Resources on DL The Design Studio / digital literacy @Lawrie#CLL1213

Keynote @ University of Bath Learning and Teaching conference

Dave White and I gave a keynote entitled Academic Credibility Online at the University of Bath Learning and Teaching conference last week. It was a good opportunity to test the ideas around the Individual as Institution idea and also explore their relationship with the Visitor – Resident model / framework.


Individual as Institution

Changing natures

Access to a ready means of publishing, social media is being used by a cohort of academics and academic related staff that can be identified and recognised through the  online promotion and increased visibility of their work; and importantly interaction and collaboration with others. This kind of activity has lead to success, with individuals receiving funding, gaining book contracts and, through being recognised as an expert, being cited in breaking news articles, which leads to greater exposure and impact of their work.

Practice in educational institutions has long been influenced by many external factors, policy and political change, technology and economics.  Recently the in-vogue phrase, ‘digital’ as been used to differentiate the impact of computers (including mobile phones and tablets etc) and the connectedness afforded by wide-scale wifi and internet access from non-technology based practice.  However, many individuals have already gone beyond that tech-focused distinction. To them digital is already invisible, new media are conceived of not in terms of the ‘digital’, but in terms of affordance. They see these tools as an artist would see the brush and canvas, they are there to be used to create and articulate an image held by the user.

Individual as Institution

This post-digital paradigm recognises that ‘digital’ sits beneath practice, and for all intents and purposes is transparent, it is the affordances of digital in this environment rise to the surface and is exploited by individuals. Social media is littered with academic shrapnel, blogs and tweets from individuals that show how they are thinking and developing their research, this gets distilled down into other pieces, linked across platforms creating new networks and sometimes new knowledge. As the individual’s portfolio grows, so does their network of collaborators and their audience. In the past, the individual may have had strong associations with an organisation, institution or even research group. Now, as a direct result of the opportunities brought about through the web and social media, the post-digital nature of these relationships may change, becoming more fluid, agile and allowing for ad hoc relationships to develop and fade as required for the task at hand.

What this means for Institutions?

Image courtesy of

As more academic and academic related staff adopt the ‘individual as institution’ approach, institutions must reflect on their response.  Readers familiar with Twitter may be familiar with the phrase “The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the views of my employer”.  This is an often cited phrase designed as a response to risk averse “social media policies”, which have the effect of further distancing the individual and individual thought from host institutions.

Image courtesy of

Post-digital institutions may be characterised by their recognition that technology can be a vehicle to express motivation and practice. Understanding that individuals are chaotic, responding to small changes that may drive them in different directions and lead to new knowledge, learning and outcomes. Rather than setting strategic directions and objectives for technology practice (in either research or teaching) it is important to recognise that the practice is linked to behaviour, and that practices become the foci for investment of resource and energy.

Where academic practice is now played out on an increasingly digital canvas, organisations need to recognise when individuals are becoming institutions and work to support them, providing an environment that allows them to thrive. Strategic plans, objectives and directions will only succeed if they are flexible enough to accommodate the emerging technology and practices that are being exploited by these individuals.