Digital and society – true love or an unhealthy obsession?

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

Reflections from a bursary winner

In his book ‘The Rise of the Humans’, Dave Coplin  expounds that technology is neither good, nor bad. It is simply an amplifier of whatever we, as society and individuals, choose to use it for.

The media however certainly seem keen on amplifying the negative aspects of our relationship with technology, with often rather sensationalist reports of children as young as seven ‘sexting’ , a mental health “epidemic” in young people being directly attributed to social media usage, a decrease in the age and an increase in the severity of reported loneliness  an increase in divorces attributed to gaming addiction and claims of reducing memory and attention spans in young people and adults alike. Indeed it’s not just the media reporting these bad news stories. Numerous academics and researchers have produced literature reinforcing this rhetoric. I myself spent six months researching the impacts of digital technology and devices on ‘millennial’ learners and their ability to learn and retain information for my Master’s degree. Whilst my findings were not as negatively polarised as those of writers such as Nicholas Carr, Sherry Truckle and Susan Greenfield, I did conclude that there could be significant impacts on individuals and wider society if we fail to exercise caution, control and discipline when using digital technologies and if we fail to pass these skills onto new generations.
I feel I must defend myself a little at this point. I’m not anti-technology or anti-digital. I work in the field of IT, I have a passion for digital technology and I love the convenience of my digital devices and streaming services. I fully-support Coplin’s theory – it is our adoption and attitude towards and use of digital technology that is causing issues in society, not technology itself.
Positive applications of technology can save lives, help us to protect the planet, bring people together and introduce all manner of convenience and efficiency into our working, social and family lives. I don’t believe that we’re creating a new generation of zombie-like device-users incapable of building real life human relationships or employing critical thought. I have met twelve year olds that have astounded me with their common sense, intelligence, curiosity and yes, technical capabilities. The student who gave the opening and closing speech for Coplin’s lecture at Warwick School could have stood in front of any corporate board room and held his own.
I genuinely believe that today’s young people have as much talent, promise and potential as any other generation but that the technological advancements and the amount of information readily available to them, literally at their fingertips, gives them both advantages and disadvantages. Indeed Pew Research Centre concluded their in-depth 2012 research study into the future of technology with the somewhat inconclusively titled report “Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives“.
In my research, the evidence suggested that those who are able to efficiently use social media and other technologies and practice ‘multi-tasking’ when it is appropriate to do so, stand to do well in today’s digital society and workplaces. However, it is also apparent that if left unchecked and unmanaged, the issues we are seeing in society could continue and increase in prevelance and severity, creating negative knock-on impacts and detracting from the positive impacts.

I attended a talk by Adam Thilthorpe of the BCS at Business Analysis Europe 2018 in September courtesy of a UCISA bursary, in which he discussed what he termed the ‘unintended impacts’ of technology – those negative impacts discussed above. He raised the question of where the responsibility lies in pre-empting, identifying and mitigating against such impacts. When companies develop their media and communications platforms, I think we can fairly safely assume that they are not doing so with the intention that 11-year-olds will use them to send ‘sexts’; this is an unintended impact of the technology they have created. On the other hand, there are organisations who may exploit anxieties such as fear of missing out (FOMO), self-esteem issues and device addiction to market and sell products and services.
This raises a number of questions. Who should – or could – be responsible for identifying, pre-empting and mitigating against unintended and/or potentially unethical impacts of emerging technologies? Is it the responsibility of technology companies? Businesses? The Government? Educational Establishments? Parents? Individuals? Pressure groups? All of the above? And how do we begin to pre-empt such impacts when we are dealing with new, disruptive, previously-unseen technologies being released into an ever-changing society?
As a society we are experiencing an unprecedented rate of technological change. We are innovating incredibly quickly and have adopted digital technologies readily and intrinsically into our everyday lives. However, our legislation, regulation, educational systems and social and cultural norms are still changing at the same rate; comparatively slowly. It seems that we have been somewhat blindsided and as such have possibly not put in place measures to enable digital technologies to always be adopted and integrated into people’s lives in a productive, safe and useful manner. At the same time, we are so enamoured with our digital devices and applications and the convenience and opportunities that they bring, that we may not be pausing to consider the unintended and long-term impacts and effects of them.
In her 1979 book ‘Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love’, Dorothy Tennov coined the phrase ‘Limerence’, which she defined as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.” It’s that period of a relationship where your brain is producing a heady cocktail of Dopamine and Oxytocin and the object of your attention becomes your sole focus. It’s the stage where strange habits, bad behaviours and the wider impacts of focusing on one person to the exclusion of all else seem insignificant. That wonderful phase where their window-rattling snores seem adorable and your friends barely see you for six months.
It seems that as a society we are in a state of limerence with technology. We overlook the wider impacts, the bad habits, the potential problems, the metaphorical duvet-stealing, because we are hooked on those little hits of dopamine and oxytocin that are released every time we get a ‘like’ on a photo on Facebook or a connection request on LinkedIn – the exact same checmicals that are released during the limerance stage of a relationship. Indeed neuro-economist Adam Penenburg’s research centres on drawing parallels between the chemicals released when using social media and those released when falling in love. Interestingly, just like with limerence, there are also elements of addictive behaviour displayed when using digital platforms such as social media. Indeed Smartphone and gaming addiction are now recognised as distinct social issues with 73% of the 2016 OFCOM report’s 16-24 respondents professing to be ‘hooked’ on the device they use most to go online and ‘gaming disorder’ being recognised as a mental health condition by the World Health Organisation.
The question this raises is what happens when we fall out of limerence with digital technology? When we come down from that heady chemical rush, will we still be in love and will the relationship still be sustainable?
The media spotlight on some of the social issues in recent years and the acknowledgement by health organisations of some of the health impacts of unhealthy technology suggests that we’re starting to edge out of limerence and into the stark reality of our ongoing relationship with digital technology. Perhaps we’re starting to want to reconnect with our old friends ‘Walk in the Countryside’ and ‘Conversations around the Dinner Table’ who we dropped in favour of the alluring blue glow of our smartphone screens in the late 2000s. Perhaps we’re starting to assert our independence a little, creating screen-free times, rather than being slaves to our devices 24/7. Perhaps we are thinking about how we can strike a balance between our online and offline lives.
As Stephanie Sarkis states: “Time heals the intense pleasure (and suffering) of limerence… in a long-term relationship, it’s when things start getting real.” It’s safe to say that this is a long-term relationship, a multi-generational one in fact. That’s why it’s so important that, as with any relationship, we work out what we want from it, how we can manage and balance it and how to ensure that it is a long, beneficial, happy and healthy partnership for everyone involved.
This article first appeared on Rachel’s blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Bursary helps winner gain Erasmus funding and secure a new role

Sarah Ames
Library Learning Services Support Officer
University of Edinburgh

Digital Humanities Congress 2018 – UCISA report

I was fortunate to be funded by UCISA to attend DHC2018 in Sheffield this year – the UK’s biennial digital humanities conference, which draws together a range of researchers, cultural heritage professionals and IT support workers.

Why DHC2018?

With the increasing use of computational methods in academic studies, research and teaching requires new modes of IT and library support, as well as new approaches to dealing with data: traditional divisions between technical services and libraries are conflated, leading to new ways of working and new areas to support.
I wanted to attend this conference to find out more about digital humanities research currently underway, and to learn about the new technologies, methods and approaches that characterise the field. The event provided an opportunity to hear from researchers and students working in this field to learn about their needs, as well as the chance to learn from other IT and library professionals, to share ideas, solutions and current best practice. Furthermore, I wanted to further understand the collaborative nature of digital humanities work, and how it could provide opportunities for Edinburgh’s converged library and IT services (‘Information Services Group’).

Professional development

The huge range of papers presented at the conference – from vast, collaborative research projects, to smaller individual studies – and the range of methods and technologies used by researchers, reiterated the many challenges and opportunities of this area for libraries and IT support.
The conference has inspired me to learn more about many of the tools and technologies being used, and to consider uses for these within the library, and as such has been a brilliant CPD opportunity – as it has helped me to identify even more CPD opportunities! Talking to people at DHC2018 highlighted other conferences in this area that I’d like to attend, and papers using programming languages such as Python and discussing issues cleaning large datasets have encouraged me to revisit and further my understanding of these topics. Furthermore, the event enabled me to meet other library and information professionals, including from Oxford and the British Library, and to discuss the similar challenges we all face, as well as to gain a greater understanding of researchers’ needs when accessing and using library and IT resources.

Sharing the experience

As well as testing my succinctness with tweeting from the event, UCISA encouraged me to blog about the event, which proved to be a really useful experience as this provided a useful opportunity to reflect on the main topics of the conference and sort through the wide range of topics presented.
Despite the variety of studies, a number of key themes emerged within the papers presented and discussions afterwards, enabling me to apply the topics at the conference directly back to work and discussions currently underway in the Library at Edinburgh University about how digital scholarship should be supported and considering potential uses of our new Digital Scholarship Centre.
Furthermore, the event has inspired a group of us from Edinburgh University to apply for and secure Erasmus funding to visit library ‘labs’ setups in the Netherlands (library labs are spaces – physical or digital, or both – which encourage and support the innovative use of library digital collections), to learn even more about how we can support the types of digital humanities research presented at DHC2018. And, as of 2019, I’ll be starting a new job working in digital scholarship and libraries: this has been a brilliant opportunity to learn more about the field and its challenges.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Sweet Phone Chicago – innovation and disruption at mLearn 2018

Dominic Pates
Senior Education Technologist
City, University of London

Reflections on the 17th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning

Opening keynote: on innovation and disruption

The keynotes for mLearn 2018, which I was able to attend courtesy of a USICA bursary, were given by Drs Tom Jandris, Helen Crompton and Rob Power (IAmLearn President). Jandris gave the opening address, on innovation, disruption and mobile technologies, inviting delegates to make his presentation more of a conversation than a monologue. Crompton spoke on integrating mobile devices into teaching and learning, packing her keynote with useful considerations and frameworks. Power closed proceedings with a call to action, pointing out that the technology was already sufficiently advanced to be transformative in education, and suggesting that now was the time to fully harness the affordances of mobile devices in teaching and learning.

Opening keynote by Dr Tom Jandris

Opening keynote by Dr Tom Jandris

Jandris had been in teaching for over 50 years and recalled having seen enormous changes in educational technologies during that time, suggesting that the technology had finally caught up with the theory. Citing Clayton Christenson, he deconstructed the term ‘disruptive innovation’, pointing out that the idea of disrupting something is to break it apart, and that innovation means to make something new where it previously didn’t exist. He spoke extensively about differentiation in teaching, and what mobile brought to this, suggesting that ‘mobile learning’s greatest gift is differentiated instruction’. Proposing that gifted learners tend to fall through the cracks right across the educational spectrum, he quoted Jesse Jackson, who supposedly once stated that ‘In this country, we educate like we slop the hogs’. Equating industrial era educational practices with feeding pigs was quite the rich metaphor!
He listed nine ways that he considered mobile as disrupting learning, as follows: 1) personalisation, 2) transformed environments, 3) adaptive environments, 4) accelerated, 5) relevant, 6) real-time assessment, 7) convenient, 8) engaging, and 9) connected. Jandris also talked about pioneers as those that follow in the tracks of the real innovators, suggesting that it was better get in second with new initiatives, in order to allow someone else to make the mistakes first. This certainly chimed with me – while there can be a degree of kudos with being first through the door with something new, it can also be highly risky and it’s rare to get the credit for doing so. It is also demonstrated by Apple’s lateness to smartphone development only to go on to dominate the technology category, as outlined in my ‘Towards Wireless Collaboration’ blog. Learning from others’ mistakes can be a helpful path towards affecting meaningful and sustainable change.
His keynote ended with the suggestion that mobile learning accelerates ‘everything’, and imagined an example of a TED Talks audience watching a newly published video, with an AI-driven interface that reacted to the interactions that emerged around the video and then developed learning materials in response to those interactions. In an event likely packed with enthusiasts, he sounded a helpful word of caution too. Given that ‘mobile learning natives’ (as he called them) get most of their learning through connected devices, he suggested that it was important to consider the distance that personalised learning in a digital format can create between learners and their instructors. He also cited the impact that mobile learning has on the ‘tangibles’ of learning, from the touch of paper to the presence of instructors. This is something that, in my experience, can apply to many digital technologies when applied to teaching. The loss of tangibles following a move to more digital approaches to teaching is really quite hard to quantify, much less explain by those feeling the loss.

Crompton’s frameworks

Second keynote, with Dr Helen Crompton

Second keynote, with Dr Helen Crompton

Crompton’s keynote was loaded with useful tools and frameworks for effective integration of mobile devices into education. She opened with her take on the unique affordances of mobile computing that differentiates them from tethered technologies, suggesting that they are contingent, situated, authentic, personalised, and context-aware. She reminded the audience present of the value of the TPACK and SAMR frameworks, as well as a few of her own too – her mlearning integration framework and mlearning integration ecological framework, and a set of co-developed ISTE Standards.
The TPACK (Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) framework looks at the complex interplay between three primary forms of knowledge, and can be a way to think about effectively integrating technologies into learning environments. SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) is a model for determining the impact that introducing a technology can have on learning, looking at both enhancement and transformation. Both of these tools can be used for educator development and learning design purposes, and can be used as complements to each other or as standalone tools.

Image of TPACK model (Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge)

TPACK model

 

Crompton’s own mlearning integration framework comprises four main categories: beliefs (what beliefs does the educator hold toward technology?), resources (what physical and mental resources does the teacher have at their disposal?), methods (what teaching methods are chosen for class type or personal choice?) and purpose (what is the technology being used for and can other non-technologies be used instead?). Although these are listed separately, she suggests that they are highly interconnected. The mlearning integration ecological framework is based on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Framework for Human Development, which shows how the development of a child is mediated by various systems. Her version puts the educator at the centre, with concentric circles to represent how different systems determine how that educator integrates technology into their teaching. Both of these frameworks can be useful for institutions looking to better integrate mobile learning into their educational offers, with useful insights into the educator perspective.
Finally, the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards are a framework for implementing digital strategies in education to positively impact learning, teaching and leading. They have been designed to work with models such as TPACK, and are often affiliated with educational approaches like blended learning or the flipped classroom. Each standard is accompanied by a series of indicators, and seem to be applicable across the educational spectrum. In signposting these particular models and educational approaches, Crompton gave enough rich source material for those looking to better support the integration of mobile devices into teaching and learning to last several years.

A closing call to action

The future is already here…’ Power claimed, stating that ‘we have everything in our pockets to do what we want already’ as he opened his closing keynote. His talk centred around where he saw mobile learning should be going next, and how to get there. Citing Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory that breaks technology consumers down into five distinct categories (Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards), he pointed out that critical mass for acceptance of a new technology is reached within the Early Majority category and that there are big challenges for getting to critical mass for mobile learning.

Dr Rob Power and the Diffusion of Innovation categories, from the mLearn2018 closing keynote

Dr Rob Power and the Diffusion of Innovation categories

Key amongst these challenges, Power felt, were educators abilities, confidence and pedagogical knowledge in making more effective use of mobile devices in teaching and learning. ‘Early adopters must share more what they’re doing’, he went on, adding that ‘we need to share more stories of how it can work’. This included sharing failures as well as successes. Referencing Crompton’s address on the previous day, he suggested it was important to move beyond the substitution stage (of the SAMR framework) in order to fully use mobile technologies for transforming teaching. I felt that addressing the mobile learning paradox is another one of these challenges.
Power acknowledged other constraints and challenges that he saw as holding educators back from harnessing the affordances of mobile technologies in teaching. Highest amongst these is that teachers across the educational spectrum simply have far too much to do besides teaching, with ever-increasing administrative burdens. There was a need to both target the policy makers and to gather more large-scale qualitative evidence that mobile learning works. He also addressed practises like the banning of laptops in class (see my previous post for more on this), suggesting that it was far more effective for supporting learning to use tech in class and be ‘on task’ with it rather than either banning it outright or allowing a free-for-all. Power concluded that there was plenty of social rhetoric about digital citizenship, but this counts for little without more or better usage.
These three keynotes provided much food for thought. The next post wraps up the mLearn review, with reflections on some of the other sessions and a little more on the visit to Chicago.
This blog first appeared at the Learning at City blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Sweet Phone Chicago – mLearn 2018

Dominic Pates
Senior Education Technologist
City, University of London

Reflections on the 17th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning

Back on unfamiliar ground

Chicago skyscrapers, seen from the train tracks

Chicago skyscrapers, seen from the train tracks

What are you doing in the United States?’ asked the border guard at O’Hare International, after I’d passed through some initial electronic checks. ‘I’m here for a conference…’ I offered, continuing with ‘…on mobile learning’ when prompted for more information. The border guard softened his tone and started telling me about his wife delivering English lessons to students in China, via her smartphone. Evidently a technological development that a man like him was somewhat taken aback by. And with that exchange, I was back into the United States for the first time in 25 years and all set for a mobile-phone-driven adventure, and the next stage of my wireless collaboration quest. The path for getting there had been laid courtesy of a very generous bursary from UCISA, a fund that allows members to travel to an event that they would not usually have the opportunity to travel to. These reviews of the conference are therefore for the benefit of the UCISA community as much as for the Learning at City readership and my own reflections.

Academic poster shrinkwrapped to a suitcase, in a motel.

Still life on a Chicago motel floor

I was heading to the 17th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (hereafter mLearn), where I’d managed to also get myself onto the event line-up with my first poster presentation. Aside from presenting, I was driven to find out more about how mobile devices are being used in teaching and learning, particularly in HE.
In the run-up to the event, it was a race against the clock to get everything completed on time, which also meant some rapid upskilling in both Adobe InDesign and Premiere Pro. The next challenge after that was figuring out how to take the printed poster with me in such a way that it wouldn’t get damaged. After multiple alternative considerations, it turns out you can shrink wrap these things to your suitcase. So that is just what I did.
The US felt very much like terra incognita at first, having been away from it for so long. The airport was clearly showing its age, but friendly faces welcomed me back onto American soil and I began to feel a little more settled. With a little help from Google’s Search app, I managed to get myself onto a Chicago Transport Authority train and out to Oak Park, the outer suburb where I was staying. As I’d been led to expect, it was bitterly cold on the streets of Chicago, made all the more evident by the faint flurries of snow that the sidewalks were dusted with. I checked into my motel, got my bearings, settled down for a big plate of food nearby, then slept for almost ten hours – much needed after the intensive preparations beforehand.

A conference on mobile learning

mLearn describes itself as the ‘leading international conference on mobile and contextual learning’, and is organised by the International Association for Mobile Learning (IAMLearn). Having previously been hosted as far apart as Australia, South Africa and Finland, in 2018 it was the turn of the United States to host an event.
mLearn is not the only event of its kind. Hamilton, Ontario, welcomed the 12th International Conference on Interactive Mobile Communication, Technologies and Learning in 2018. The 14th International Conference Mobile Learning also happened last year, in Lisbon, Portugal, an event seemingly organised by the International Association for the Development of the Information Society (IADIS). UNESCO runs Mobile Learning Week annually in Paris, as the UN’s flagship ICT in education conference, an event dedicated to using mobile devices to accelerate learning for all, and with a particular focus on development issues. mLearn appeared to have the longest pedigree as a specialist conference dedicated to mobile learning, however. It turned out that I’d cited items from their previous conference proceedings in the Compass piece linked to in a previous post. I was also drawn to visiting a conference in North America, plus the date of the conference coincided nicely with my own timings.
For a gathering dubbed as a world conference, mLearn was surprisingly smaller than I’d anticipated, with 13 people in the initial workshops and only about 25 overall for most of the event. Part of this was reflective of the fact that IAMLearn was trying to build up some capacity in North America and of course that Chicago in November is a very cold place to be. It was also perhaps indicative of the struggle a relatively niche academic event can face in keeping going, particularly having been doing so for this long.

Conference freebie - a 3D-printed robot phone holder, plus iPhone 6s

Conference freebie – a 3D-printed robot phone holder

It did actually mean though that I was able to have a really quality experience, see almost all of the sessions, get to know people well, and go deep into the themes. It also meant that the event was able to deliver a nice attention to detail. A 3D-printed robot phone holder was given free to delegates. Delegates were encouraged to go into Chicago and learn more about the city for small group workshop activities that ran as a strand throughout the event. Early on, a meet-and-greet was arranged at a restaurant on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center Building, affording spectacular night time views across the city whilst getting to know other delegates. I was also able contribute to the AGM, through voting on new positions within the organisation and contribute to the discussion on sustaining and growing the organisation.
The next post covers the three keynote talks by Drs Tom Jandris, Helen Crompton and Rob Power.
This blog first appeared at the Learning at City blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Ooh digital is a place on earth

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Explaining user experience design with metaphors from construction

In November I shared some more UX Week takeaways in a talk at UCISA’s CISG-PCMG18 conference. It was UCISA’s bursary scheme that got me to San Francisco in the first place so it was great to meet the people behind it, along with 300 corporate information systems people and project/change management people from unis around the UK. Here’s the video of my 10min talk, and I’ve expanded on it a little in the write-up below.
My first recorded talk! Is this really my accent?

Inspiration

At UX Week I learned that designers love to do things in threes. By sheer coincidence, my talk was inspired by three things:
  1. The theme of CISG-PCMG18: Building Foundations for the Future
  2. My new favourite motto from UX Week: Build the Right Thing & Build the Thing Right
  3. The University of Glasgow’s ongoing campus development.
Maybe being surrounded by cranes, hoardings and the excitement of big building sites every day has made me hyper-aware of the metaphors from construction that show up again and again at UX and tech conferences: people talk about blueprints, foundations, scaffolds, platforms, information architecture​…
What if we fully commit to the analogy and think of our systems and services as literal places​? How might that help us design them in user-centred ways?​
At UX Week, three speakers went deep on this.

1. Digital as…public places

In his talk Living in Information (watch video)​, Jorge Arango looked at the broad, open digital systems intended for wide ranges of users — in HE that would include our Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), intranets and informational websites​ — and the places where people interact such as forums and chat services.
“These digital systems are more than products or tools…in many ways, they function like places: information environments that create contexts that change the way we think, act and interact…” — Jorge Arango
…so much so that we can directly apply architectural concepts.
Jorge originally trained as an architect then went into IT, and for many years was Director of the Information Architecture Institute​.
He highlighted three concepts:
  • Structure = design to support people’s existing mental models
    First we need to uncover and understand those mental models through exploratory research​ such as user interviews.
  • Systems = the key focus of design
    Architects don’t just design buildings for their own sake: they design whole environments for people to use. User journey mapping can help us recognise that our place forms part of the larger system of our University. This technique also shows us how the places we’re designing link with others in the local and wider information environment.
  • Sustainability = don’t pollute the information env​ironment
    We must consciously design content to avoid building in biases; avoid duplicating information​; and be careful not to damage useful concepts by using in inappropriate ways​.
Jorge’s example of the latter: “Breaking news” used to mean ‘Everyone needs to know this right now!!’ But now #Breaking is broken.
#Breaking is broken

2. Digital as…homes

Focussing in on the more personal places like homepages, dashboards and portals, visual designer Claudio Guglieri discussed HOME: Our everyday relationships with digital.
“For a vast group of people, home is no longer a physical space…many of us find comfort in digital environments.” — Claudio Guglieri
At the time, this quote immediately made me think of our youngest students, the so-called digital natives. For many, University is a massive life change, perhaps their first time away from home. You can imagine how the only bit of continuity they can rely on for comfort might be the familiar platforms they brought with them on their phones and laptops.
This idea applies much more widely too: our research for UofG UX showed that students and staff of all ages default to digital for connection and communication, entertainment, travel, shopping and to access support.
To this we’re adding a heap of new digital homes, so it’s important to consider how ours compare to the commercial places people go to for everything else. If they could choose, would they choose to use our system? But they can’t choose — we have a captive audience — so let’s put lots of care and respect into the homes we build for our students and colleagues, with the help of another set of three concepts:
  • Repetition = acknowledge that homes are for regular, repeated use
    Optimise for speed and don’t waste people’s time; kill pointless splash screens; automate out annoying repetition.
  • Evolution = minimise the impact of behavioural changes
    Claudio referenced a brilliant article by service designer Christina Wodtke: Users don’t hate change, they hate you. Change is inevitable but don’t just barge in and rearrange furniture: communicate carefully to avoid nasty surprises.
  • Ownership = reinforce people’s perception of control
    Localise, personalise and allow people to customise (but also set good defaults). And don’t get between intention and action: Claudio talked about poorly placed ads interrupting tasks but the same advice applies to comms: a message is only effective in the right context and when it offers value relevant to a person’s needs at time they see it.
To help defeat our assumptions and inform our decisions, the most helpful pointer is contextual inquiry: we must observe people’s actual behaviour in their digital homes.
We might think “Surely everyone knows how to find lecture slides in the VLE, it’s as easy as drinking a glass of water…” Claudio Guglieri won gif-of-the-week.

3. Digital as…escape rooms

The third type of place comes from Laura E Hall’s talk Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond. Laura is a game designer, famous for her real-world escape rooms, where you get locked in with a group of pals and have to solve puzzles and decipher clues to escape before the time runs out.
“A good puzzle tells you how to solve it, inherent in its design.” — Laura E Hall
Our digital escape rooms include registration and enrolment, online coursework submission, expenses, uploading results — anything where our captive audience has to complete a complex task to a deadline…all of which adds up to STRESS!
Laura talked about cognitive overload and ‘deep focus’, where people can’t see the wood for the trees.
There’s a key difference though: Laura aims to design IN the right level of stress to make game challenging and fun, while we want to design the stress OUT. Fortunately there are 3 handy concepts we can apply:
  • Simplify the process
    This is where UX merges with service design. Does the process really need to be this complex? Can we remove or automate any steps?
  • Simplify the interaction
    Through careful content design, represent the process as simply as possible, providing exactly what people need to complete their task and nothing more. See gov.uk for 100s of excellent examples.
  • Make it intuitive
    It’s always a good idea to apply usability heuristics but in our digital escape rooms more so than ever. Consistency, validation and error prevention and recovery are essential, as is maintaining the match between our system and real world by using the same language our users use.
And of course multiple rounds of usability testing and tweaking are essential to help our students and staff escape with confidence.
Image from Room Escape Artist’s review of the Edison Escape Room in SF. Laura called it one of the best in the world so a group of us went on the free evening in UX Week: it was SPECTACULAR 😀

4?! Digital as…boundaries and junctions

Time to break the rule of threes — gasp! This one’s not even from UX Week.
At UX Scotland in June, Kevin Richardson — a UX consultant with a background in cognitive psychology — gave a fascinating workshop on UX and the Spaces in Between. He explained how UX design can make the most difference at points of interface, highlighting three areas of tension in the ‘interaction ecosystem’:
  • Where an application meets a business process, especially legacy processes. ‘But we’ve always done it this way’ is no excuse for a poor user experience.
  • Where a person has to pass information between two systems: for goodness sake automate it!
  • Where a system meets the real world: why do students have to queue up for a print-out, which they then scan and email to their bank or council?

And finally…

The last quote goes to Mike Monteiro, the cantankerous UX evangelist, who sadly I didn’t manage to meet in SF.
“They don’t let just anybody walk in off the street and design a building.” — Mike Monteiro, speaking on the Voice of Design podcast
The same is true in digital: people want their places designed by professionals.
Whether we think of ourselves as architects, home-builders, game designers, city planners or just the IT crowd, every decision we make — or choose not to make — has an impact on the university experience for our students and colleagues, whatever type of place we’re building.
This blog first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
A copy of Kat’s slides from CISG-PCMG18 is available here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

How using empathy can help build better systems and products

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Following on from my earlier posts about convergence, creativity and customer focus, today’s article looks at another of the themes which were prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.
There was still a hint of summer in the air even as the first of the leaves were changing when I found myself in Westminster attending the conference courtesy of UCISA’s annual personal development bursary for those working in the education sector. Sitting writing this in my festive jumper just days before Christmas, September feels like a long time ago.
Given the time of year, in the words of Charles Dickens “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; … when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely”, it is perhaps apt that today’s subject is empathy. It seemed that the concept of empathy was touched upon explicitly or implicitly in every session I attended at the conference.

Empathy in design thinking

Given that the first stage of design thinking is ‘Empathise’ (see below) and one of the other key areas of focus at the conference was customer experience, it is perhaps not a surprise that empathy was discussed frequently and in some depth in this context.

Design thinking is defined by Gartner as a “multidisciplinary process that builds solutions … in a technically feasible, commercially sustainable and emotionally meaningful way”. Activities undertaken, particularly in this first stage, seek to understand the thoughts, emotions and feelings of a customer or user on their journey with an organisation and its digital touchpoints.
In their Digital Customer Journeys workshop, Andrej Gustin (CREA Plus) & Igor Smirnov (NETICA) presented a useful approach and template for capturing these emotions at various touchpoints of the user’s journey to identify focus areas for improvement. At a very high level, the approach can be summarised as follows:
  1. Identify key touchpoints, then for each touchpoint:
  • Understand current process and user experience
  • Identify current customer emotion/feelings
  • Identify desired customer emotion/feelings and experience
  • Prioritise processes for improvement based on a gap analysis of current to desired customer state.
  1. For prioritised processes, brainstorm improvements.
I was particularly interested in this prioritisation of focus area by customer experience, rather than a traditional quantifiable benefit, which I felt demonstrated a real paradigm shift towards customer and user-centric systems design.

Empathy as a skill of the future

Empathy was also discussed from a social perspective, as we explored the human factor in a digital society, where robots, AI and interactions driven by algorithms are fast becoming a part of our everyday lives.
It is undeniable that many jobs formerly carried out by humans are now carried out partially, if not entirely, by machines. This has been increasingly evident in the manufacturing sector with progressively more elements of manufacturing production lines being automated since the 1970s. Footage of a car manufacturing plant in the early 20th century, compared to a modern-day plant illustrate the transition from a busy factory thriving with human workers, to a rather clinical environment where robotic arms move in an eerily human manner to select and assemble components.
However, this automation is not restricted to the manufacturing sector, which has traditionally been an early adopter of automation technologies. The service industry, a sector perhaps traditionally associated with human-delivered customer service, is also automating roles. When I visit a supermarket, I often choose to use the self-scan tills, interacting with (often quite frustrating) AI rather than a human cashier. Where eight members of staff would have processed transactions and exchanged pleasantries with customers ten years ago, one member of staff can supervise the same number of self-service tills, only intervening when the somewhat rudimentary AI (inevitably) reaches its limitations. When shopping online, I am as likely to consult a chatbot or self-service customer support tool as a member of the customer service team.
Thirty years ago such sophisticated technology belonged to the fantasy world of sci-fi movies. It was unthinkable that real-life technology would progress at such a rate to replace jobs with such a key human element to them. Yet with technological advances and the rate of change at an all-time-high the media, researchers and technological commenters are now speculating about the next tranche of job roles to be replaced by robots in the coming years and decades.
So, should we be concerned that we will one day be replaced by robots, rendered redundant by such seductive promises as “a jetliner pilot who never makes a mistake, never gets tired, never shows up to work with a hangover”*?
Meryl Streep once said “the greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy”. Though significant research is being undertaken to develop synthetic empathy in AI, developing facial expression recognition technology and crunching millions of data points to build increasingly intelligent algorithms and so-called learning capabilities, for now it seems that true empathy remains a uniquely human ability. Shortly before the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, The World Economics Forum released their ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’. In his Day 2 opening keynote speech, the IIBA’s Nick De Voil highlighted the top ten key skills trends for today and projections for 2022. It was notable how many ‘soft’ and ‘human’ workplace skills were listed as those which would endure despite predicted technological advancements. These key skills include emotional intelligence, initiative and social influencing, all of which require empathy. This perhaps implies an expectation that our technological advancements will continue to fail to satisfactorily emulate and replace such human abilities; those intrinsic traits of human nature of relating to others, reading non-verbal cues and making ‘human’ decisions.

Empathy in wellbeing

There was also emphasis on remembering that we and our co-workers are not suit-wearing robots. We are humans, with great potential for creativity, innovation, love and resourcefulness, but we are also subject to emotions, feelings, health problems and complicated personal lives.
Oxford Dictionaries succinctly define empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In his exciting Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts session, National Grid’s Charlie Payne introduced the behaviour/attitude cycle (see below) when explaining the importance of being aware of the impact a person can have on others.

He explained that an individual’s attitude is reflected in their behaviour. This behaviour then influences the attitude of others, which in turn influences their behaviour and so on. Whilst this can be used positively, it all too often can have negative consequences on relationships and communication when the individuals involved are not practising Emotional Intelligence (EI).
With the recent societal drive to remove the stigma often traditionally associated with mental health, it was encouraging to find the subject addressed and discussed openly by a number of speakers at the conference.
Craig Rollason, also of National Grid, in his inspiring The BA Bucket List keynote advocated the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in understanding colleagues and stakeholders and the reasons for their behaviour.
Rollason also presented a challenge/support matrix model which he explained can be used to analyse and grow awareness of an individual’s current work and career state. The model indicates that the best environment for career and personal development would be one where an individual is feeling challenged but supported. Rollason was however careful to note that some individuals may be experiencing high challenge and low support in their personal lives and subsequently may be in need of what Rollason coined ‘the duvet zone’ at work (low challenge and high support).
For me this was a rather unexpected example of empathy in such a professional setting, where sometimes there is an expectation of ‘leave your personal life at the door’ and ‘always be professional’. It was a welcome recognition that in reality, as humans, it is not always possible to switch emotions and personal distractions on and off at will, particularly in the modern world where technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time and space.

Empathy as an holistic practice

In summary, my top empathy takeaways were that whilst we can use empathy as a tool to better understand our customers and users to build better systems and products, we can also use it to understand our colleagues and understand their motivations, beliefs, attitudes and the root causes behind these. This enables us to build stronger working relationships, understand how to better interact and deal with our stakeholders and how to care for our colleagues when they need extra support.
We can also exercise empathy towards ourselves, valuing and appreciating our skills, finding our place in the world, respecting and drawing on our experiences and being proud of these. When practising emotional intelligence, self-awareness is also important as we consider how our behaviour and attitude influences that of others.
So, in the words of William S. Preston and Theodore Logan, this festive season and into the new year, “be excellent to each other” (and “party on dudes”)*. A very happy Christmas to you all and your families.

*Ten points if you get the movie references – and some classic 90s movie recommendations for the holidays!
Coming Soon…
In addition to convergence, creativity, customer focus and empathy, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophising
Watch this space in the New Year for the next installment!
This blog was originally published at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-empathy-rachel-drinkwater.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Connecting on virtual reality through the UCISA bursary

David Vince
Senior Product Development Manager, Learning and Teaching Innovation
The Open University

Six months on from Realities 360 2018, San Jose

This year the UCISA bursary scheme enabled me to attend Realities 360. The conference, only in its second year, attracted an international audience of hundreds of colleagues working in education and interested in augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Having searched for an event closer to the UK, without success, it simply wouldn’t have been possible to attend the conference without UCISA’s support.
At the time of the conference, I was in the early stages of a project exploring the affordances of VR in education. As a distance university, our students at The Open University are geographically dispersed and study asynchronously. This poses us some unique challenges, particularly when introducing new or emergent technologies like VR. At the time, we had undertaken two small scale VR pilots to refine our VR production process. One of these pilots was a presentation practice tool for law students which gave them the opportunity to present virtually and take questions from a virtual audience. This gave students the opportunity to practice applying the law to near real-world problems and receive analytics data to aid their reflection before undertaking the task in person. I soon learned that VR demanded a new approach to design and construction over established media due to its uniquely immersive properties. I’ve used my experience of the conference to learn from other’s practice and refine our production processes. I’m now leading the project at a phase where we need to transition from a discreet R&D project to operating at greater scale.
One of the key takeaways from Realities 360 was to see how others were approaching the design and creation of VR experiences. It helped me to better understand immersion as a new form of narrative. There is a need to consider how users might interact (i.e. the interface being used – not forgetting voice, gesture and haptic interfaces) with virtual objects, as well as how those objects behave, so as to go beyond the affordances of established media.
Sharing my conference experience with my immediate team has led us to consider how we can enhance the design of our VR experiences. There’s a gap in evaluation of VR in education and we’re exploring how analytics might infer where students are becoming more proficient with tasks, and therefore eliminate the need to present them with text-based questions and interrupt their experience.
Learning from the conference has been shared internally at our annual university-wide Learn About Fair. This has enabled us to connect with faculty staff who see the potential for using VR in their discipline. It’s also helped us to attract support from a senior stakeholder!
Last week, my team presented at the ‘Immersive Environments’ event organised by UCISA’s Digital Education Group. This gave us the opportunity to share an output of the project, which is a VR suitability toolkit intended to support the design and creation of pedagogically viable VR.
Undoubtedly, the biggest benefit from the bursary has been the opportunity to connect with, and learn from, colleagues both nationally and internationally. This has given us a forum to share our experience and develop a support network, and learn how others are solving some of the technical challenges and issues of scale associated with producing VR.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

A change in approach to educational technology projects for a bursary winner

Matt Goral
Educational Technologist
City, University of London

Media and Learning 2018 Conference – Leuven

It’s been several months since I attended the Media and Learning conference in Leuven, courtesy of a UCISA bursary. Whilst I was very inspired by the cutting edge projects with 360 video and interactive video, and would love to do something similar, it was the less visible threads that I noticed running through the discussions that had the biggest impact on me and the projects that I’ve been involved with since I came back from the conference.

Pre-production and handover

The importance of pre-production and planning were mentioned by a lot of people during the conference, but in a rather understated way I felt. It was acknowledged as something that we all know is important and should be done, but something which is rarely the focus of presentations. Lots of sharing of successes, sometimes of failures or obstacles, but almost never any detailed discussion of the planning stage, what documentation is important, how to ensure pedagogical effectives at the point of delivery.
I recently completed a large project that resulted in about an hour of footage and took over three months to finish. The direction and scope changed a few times, there were technical problems and decisions which we couldn’t anticipate, illness and holidays meant people were unavailable and dates slipped, etc. Normal project stuff. Without planning we would have struggled a lot of course, and location scouting, shooting cut-aways, sharing of interview questions beforehand was essential. However, it was only when some project members got ill I realised a lot of the editing, design and implementation decisions, were not written down anywhere and made handover impossible. I have made recommendations to our Project Office for such fail-safes to be included during pre-production on critical projects, so that in case of project members being unavailable, someone with similar skills could pick up the project.

Presence and presentation

The other idea I still think about months after the conference is the fact that presentation is a skill and that some people are more “watchable” than others. It seems obvious but has some implications which changed the way I approach video shoots.
The most important consideration is that not every video needs to have the presenter visible if they are not comfortable with appearing on screen. Screencasts, animations, podcasts, etc., are all great options if it is not possible to have the expert appear in person. Furthermore, studio setups with lots of hot lights, hanging microphones and multiple people can intimidate people. The results whilst maybe having perfect light, will be found lacking. Lots of people who ask for video, imagine themselves talking to camera from a teleprompter both of which are hard things to do and require lots of practice, not realising that a much simpler approach could be potentially more effective.
Keeping this in mind, I started to make decisions about how to approach projects by thinking about the subject matter and the skills and personality of the participant first, rather than pushing for best quality every time. It also made me behave differently when filming, where I try to make the person feel as comfortable as possible at the expense of ideal setup. The results have been very positive so far with people being pleasantly surprised by the experience even if they were dreading it to begin with.
Those two ideas have greatly influenced the way I approach projects nowadays. Whilst seeing finished projects and innovative ideas has been inspiring, often it is difficult to implement projects we’ve seen at conferences immediately. There isn’t always someone who would be interested in using 360 video in their module, for example, and pushing for it can lead to the medium not fitting the message and using new tech for the sake of it. For me the most valuable aspect of this conference were the ideas about planning and setup, rather than specific tech. In the future I will be looking out for similar threads.
Thanks again to UCISA for not only making it possible for me to keep developing my practice, but also as a result of attending the event, my conference reflections are being fed into a review of video and multimedia at City.
My blogs from the conference as a whole can be found here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

How technological change is shaped by people

Karl Luke
Business Change Officer, University IT
Cardiff University

ALTC 2018 conference reflections

Thanks to the UCISA 2018 bursary scheme, I recently attended the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018 in Manchester.
This post shares some themes and highlights from the conference, together with emerging ideas I am keen to take forward at Cardiff University.

Technological change is… inevitable

A common topic throughout the three day conference concerned technological transformation and how change is managed by organisations, divisions and individuals. In the keynote address on Day Two, Amber Thomas (Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick) fascinatingly reflected on her personal and professional experiences of using educational technologies over the past two decades. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.
Amber highlighted that throughout history there have been many examples of disruptive technologies and offered parallels to some initiatives involving education (use of virtual learning environments, lecture capture). However, as Amber stressed, change takes time and is not about the technology, but the people. This chimes with my experiences as Business Change Officer at Cardiff University and reinforces the importance that Learning Technologists, and others involved in implementing learning technologies, need to carefully prepare and manage the “people side of change”.
Related to the topic of change management, Jessica Gramp and Tim Neumann offered a captivating insight into how UCL developed, implemented and reinforced an e-learning strategy. Their presentation is available here and highlights some key areas that need to be considered for successful adoption of a change. In supporting a change, the presentation stresses the importance of communities of practice. Intriguingly, UCL have established a Teaching Administrator (TA) Network, whose membership include staff who make a significant contribution to the student experience. The presentation highlighted many helpful change management strategies and I have obtained lots of ideas which I am keen to explore at Cardiff University.

Lecture recording is a popular topic

During the conference I presented on my experiences of working in partnership with students to research how lecture recordings are used by learners.  I have previously written about this subject here and my ALT-C presentation can be viewed here.

The area of lecture capture appears to be a current institutional priority for many UK HE institutions. During the conference I also attended five separate sessions devoted to the subject of lecture recording and capturing educational activities. These included:
Many of the themes arising from the sessions have been documented in Martin Weller’s excellent blog post here. However, any discussions around lecture recording cannot escape the obvious questioning around pedagogical value and possible negative effects on physical attendance. It is therefore essential that those involved in the implementation of technologies, such as lecture capture, maintain critical engagement with emergent case studies and original research. There were plenty of rich case studies presented in the ALT-C sessions and some compelling research which advances discussions. For example, Stuart Phillipson presented data from Manchester University which demonstrates no correlation between the introduction of lecture capture provision and actual occupancy of teaching rooms (using data on room occupancy between 2007 and 2016). You can watch Stuart’s talk here and read more here.
However, lecture recording is a contested area. As Tressie MacMillan Cottom’s keynote from Day One proclaimed, “context matters”. The arena of educational technologies is messy, and Tressie reminded us technological tools are non-neutral; they are socially shaped and negotiated by a range of actors and interests “both in their construction and procurement and in their realization and use in practice” (Selwyn & Facer 2013 p.10). As such, technologies should also be considered in a social, political and commercial light. Moreover, both the domains of “education” and “technology” are intrinsically linked with the social, cultural, economic and political aspects of society.
In the case of lecture recording, context does indeed “matter”. Melissa Highton discussed how recent employment and political issues have manifested itself within the implementation and adoption of widespread lecture recording. Learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum and we have a responsibility to critically unpack the assumptions embodied in technologies and their use.

Reflections on the role of a Learning Technologist

The event was full of insightful sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the opportunities to network with professionals involved in using technologies to enhance teaching and learning. There are emerging opportunities for collaborations with other institutions on the subject of lecture recordings, arising from my involvement at the conference. In particular, it was great to connect with fellow UCISA bursary recipient, Marieke Guy. Marieke has written a great reflection of the conference here.
I also have left reflecting on my professional role as both a Change Officer and Learning Technologist. Technology should be viewed in terms of the “process and practices” that unpin the availability and affordances of devices, systems, software etc. Technologies can be the impetus for transformative change; helping human endeavour, agency and progress human activity. Technology should be used to enable us to explore otherwise impossible tasks, or do them more efficiently, however this is not always the case in practice. As mentioned, it is important those involved in implementing or supporting the adoption of learning technologies consider the human side of change.
Moreover, we occupy a unique position within institutions whereby we are not easily pigeon-holed. I could easily relate to Amber Thomas’ reflections that Learning Technologists suffer from imposter syndrome and we operate across many overlapping divisions. However, as Amber argues, we are increasingly occupying roles where we have to balance priorities between embedding technological practices which not only offer pedagogical value, but also offer scalability, sustainability, institutional benefits, and align to strategies and polices.

Amber Thomas ALT-C presentation available at: https://youtu.be/XOPkC311rvY
Finally, there was also personal celebration as I was awarded my CMALT certificate during the conference. If you want to know more about CMALT please read this post.

For further insights into the content of the conference search of #altc on Twitter
Reference
Selwyn, N., & Facer, K. (Eds.) (2013) The politics of education and technology: Conflicts, controversies, and connections Palgrave Macmillan
This blog first appeared in the Cardiff University Learning Technology blog
This blog is also available in Welsh: Myfyrdodau ynghylch Cynhadledd ALTc 2018

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Making a difference in education beyond technology at DigPedLab 2018

Marcus Elliott
Digital Practice Adviser
Nottingham Trent University

 

 

Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018

In July 2018, I travelled out to the USA with the generous funding of UCISA to attend the Digital Pedagogy Lab 2018 (DPL18). This blog post will be some of my reflections about what I took part in, learned, and applied.

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