Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Category: Future Technologies (Page 2 of 2)

Into the unknown – part 1

Just like Elsa being called by unseen voices into an adventure as yet undefined (for those that don’t know, this is a reference to Frozen 2 and Elsa’s new and improved version of Let it go), Digifest 2020 or #digifest20, if you want to track it on social media, opens its doors and I step into the unknown, exciting event hosted by Jisc. Digifest is new to me, but to those that have been before it offers innovation, inspiration and opportunity. 

This two day conference that Jisc organise every year at the Birmingham ICC is a window into the latest ideas that help create and shape fantastic innovations in learning and teaching. 

The conference opened with, what would turn out to be, a controversial keynote from Jonah Stillman (@jonah.stillman on instagram), firstly outlining how the generations were categorised and then with a look into Gen Z and their approach to learning. It was an interesting insight into how Gen Z are not like the Millenials (who started in 1980!) and are being told they are winners and losers, it’s not about the taking part anymore, it’s about the winning. This, he argues, will be a potential hurdle through their learning and into the world of work as they are not able to collaborate (while admitting this was a wide generalisation). 

For me the biggest take away was that you can’t wow Gen Z with technology. They quickly investigate and analyse a tool and quickly decide if it is useful or redundant. Where the older generations would see themselves as technology inept and the problem is with them, the Gen Z learner sees it as a problem with the product and that it either works for them or doesn’t. 

We are all at that point where we have technology or using technology in some way as part of our lives, but for Gen Z there is the expectation it is there. It should be integrated and seamless to their experiences. Jonah Stillman expanded on this with the concept of Weconomists. The simplest example of this is Uber, but it is the shared economy. If you need something there will be someone available that can offer that service. How that fits educationally is going to be the next big sticking point. At worst we have the idea of buying essays, but how can we turn this into a positive? How can the shared economy of learning be expanded? 

For me it fits into the idea that was presented by Rachel Hall (@rachela_hall on Twitter) at the next panel “Changing the world of work in the digital age” and how The Guardian has focused their future on the digital output of their journalists. They have looked at how people access the news depending on the time of the day. Headlines in the morning, just short sharp bite sized pieces of information that people can choose to discover on their commute to work. At lunch a more in depth article that expands on their day while they have a larger chunk of time to be critical of the stories that hold the most interest to them. By the evening they are looking at more lighthearted content that relates to their social experiences and lifestyle. This for me presents one potential solution to the shared economy, where students can share their stories and knowledge. They each process that information differently but if they can help interpret that to their fellow learners they will adapt the material and help reframe learning in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. 

Just from the two opening sessions of this year’s Digifest, I feel inspired to think about my own practice and how as an educator I am trying to predict what is going to be useful for students in their learning. I am now more aware than ever that I am using technology in such a different way to that of the students at the university. The change we are seeing should not be seen as a problem. It should be seen as an opportunity, while we are taking a step into the unknown (just like Elsa!). We can take the challenge and channel our current students desire to learn and look at how we facilitate that desire in a way that may not be comfortable to us. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I will focus on academics who are facing this challenge of a student body that potentially knows more than they do in terms of technology!

All the notes taken at #digifest20 can be found on Twitter @TelPortsmouth

Some comments on “The future of assessment”

The Curriculum Framework Specification document, which provides detailed precepts and guidance for the design, development and review of all new courses at the University, contains UoP’s policy on assessment. The policy’s authors made a conscious choice to call it an Assessment For Learning Policy: the policy advocates assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning. As the policy states, assessment for learning enables a culture in which: 

  • students receive feedback from academics and peers that helps them to improve their work prior to final/summative assessments; 
  • students understand what successful work looks like for each task they are doing; 
  • students become more independent in their learning, taking part in peer and self-assessment; 
  • formative assessment is, where possible, aligned to the module summative assessment, in order to facilitate cyclical feedback opportunities which will clarify expectations and standards for the summative assignment (e.g. the student’s exam or portfolio submission).

As the University considers how to implement its new five-year strategy, however, and how to meet its ambitious vision for 2030, might we need to rethink assessment? Not rethink the approach of assessing for learning, but look again at some of the details of how we assess?

The changing nature of assessment over the coming five-year period happens to be the subject of a recent publication from JISC: The Future of Assessment: Five Principles, Five Targets for 2025. This report, the output of a day-long meeting held in 2019, identifies five key aspects of assessment and the role that technology can play. The report argues that assessment should be (in alphabetical order, not order of importance):

  • Accessible – taking an inclusive approach to assessment is the ethical thing to do, of course, but we now have a legal requirement to meet certain accessibility standards. Digital technology can certainly help with accessibility. Contact DCQE if you would like further advice in this area. 
  • Appropriately automated – it hardly needs to be said that marking and feedback, although crucial elements of the assessment process, is time consuming. Technology can help here, too. Technology can be used to automate the process and, if the assessment has been properly designed, students get the benefit of immediate feedback. Technology might also be used to improve the quality of feedback: in this regard TEL is currently exploring the Edword platform.   
  • Authentic – this is, I believe, a key area for the University to develop. How does it benefit students to make them sit down for three hours and hand write an essay under exam conditions? This doesn’t prepare them for the world beyond university. Surely it’s better to assess students’ ability to work in teams; display their knowledge in a realistic setting; use the digital skills they will undoubtedly need in the workplace?  
  • Continuous – in order to be successful in their chosen careers, our students will need to keep up with changes wrought by technology. So perhaps the most important skill we can teach our students is how to be independent, self-directed learners. An over-reliance on high-stakes, summative exams does not help. Of particular interest to me, in the JISC report, was the mention of using AI to personalise learning and assessment: the technology is not there yet, but it might come in the next few years. 
  • Secure – if we are going to assess a student then we need to know we are assessing the right student! For a long time the focus in HE has been on detecting and deterring plagiarism. Nowadays, though, we also face the threat of essay mills and contract cheating. Once again technology can play a role: data forensics, stylistic analysis tools and online proctoring platforms can help tackle the problem. Such tools are best used, however, in a culture that promotes academic integrity: we should use technology to help promote a sense of academic community rather than to “catch the bad guys”.

The five principles identified by the JISC working group seem to me to be realistic and practical. They are also, if I’m being honest, slightly unambitious. I think mixed-reality technology, for example, opens up many opportunities to develop assessment for learning. But perhaps that is more for a 2030 vision than a 2025 strategy.   

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AR/VR in Education

In July 2019 I attended the TED Global Conference in Edinburgh. One of the most exciting talks at the conference included a live demonstration of volumetric video – a technological development that will surely change the nature of cinematic storytelling, sports viewing, and much else besides. The technology also has huge potential in education: one can imagine using it for field trips and virtual lectures. That educational potential, however, is unlikely to be realised in the short-to-medium term: most universities don’t have the skills, equipment or financial resources to build these immersive environments. But what universities can do – and increasingly are doing – is to investigate the educational potential of established augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology.

In early September 2019 the ALT mailing list was bombarded with “me too” responses to a post explaining how pockets of interest in AR/VR were spread across a particular institution and that it would be good to be able to somehow share that practice. UoP represents one of those “me too” responses. We know of people across the University who are exploring the potential of AR/VR for learning and for skills development. It would be great if we could bring those pockets of expertise together, in order to share tips and tricks and experience. In the first instance, a group of us from TEL and Sports Science have met to discuss this – and we hope to develop a definite proposal for how this might work over the next few weeks. Watch out for news of this. In the meantime, if you have an interest in the educational aspects of AR/VR (or volumetric video) – please drop us a line. 

Image Credit: Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

5G – Are we ready?

I watched a very interesting documentary from Panorama the other day, called ‘Can we trust Huawei?’, which explored 5G and the Chinese tech-giant Huawei. Our government are currently in talks with Huawei and will soon decide if the company will be allowed to build our next generation mobile network that will transform the way we live.

So what is 5G and what does it mean to us?

5G is the next generation of mobile technology. It is envisaged to bring a ‘Network Society’ which will provide an unlimited access to data and information at anytime, anywhere by anyone and anything. 5G is expected not only to interconnect people but to also interconnect and control machines and devices too, and in this way will take on a much larger role than previous generations of mobile technology.

5G is different to previous generations in the following ways . . .

  • 1G – was about the analogue phone which allowed us to make calls to one another.
  • 2G – allowed us to send sms messages and use voice recording.
  • 3G – the promise of a smartphone, allowed us to access video broadband services.
  • 4G – (since 2009) allowed us to do all of the first 3 things but much faster.
  • 5G – will not just change how we use our mobiles but how we connect our devices to the internet. The improved capacity and speed of the network will signal ‘Internet of Things’ (loT) trends, such as connected cars, smart cities and loT in the home and office.

In the Panorama documentary, Dr Stephanie Hare, Technology Consultant, describes 5G as ‘like going from Earth to Mars, it’s not a faster world, it’s a different world. It is going to be a world where we are connected, machines will be talking to each other and talking to you’.

At the moment we instruct and control our machines and devices, however 5G will mean the way we communicate with machines and how they communicate with us and each other will completely change. ‘We will be able to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human to computer interaction’ ( – everything will have a unique identifier (UIDs)

How will this affect us in our everyday lives?

To achieve 5G, the idea is that more and more antennas will be attached to lamp posts, buildings and pretty much everywhere you can think of. This will help us and machines/devices to talk to each other and make our lives easier then we probably can’t quite imagine yet.

One of the examples in the documentary mentioned that your fridge would be able to tell you when you run out of groceries and then it could re-order them for you via a self-driving truck! It sounds good to me, as a busy working mum of two I’m always looking for easier, more convenient ways to do things around the house so 5G surely will make everyday chores a thing of the past, right? Or should we be concerned? Does this mean judgement day is upon us and machines will take over the world?

Moral panic and Huawei

Huawei claim to be 18 months ahead technologically of any other 5G manufacturer. Whoever supplies 5G to the UK will be everywhere, so is this a cause for concern especially if we do choose Huawei who are hugely controversial? The US calls Huawei the enemy and claim that China will use 5G for cyber spying and want the UK to ban using the company.

The other concern is when it comes to warfare, future warfare will more than likely be cyber, unlike traditional warfare when we think of armies in the past. With the idea of 5G highly embedded in our infrastructures, the fear is that the whole country’s systems could be taken down at one flick of the switch leading to a cyber attack.

Therefore should we embrace 5G or fear it?

To summarise, as with all new technologies there are fears, fears of the unknown and how life will be changed from what we are used to, to something we can’t quite understand or imagine yet. However, technology also brings development and opportunity, ways to better society and our everyday lives. All technologies bring with them their own risk and these will need to be managed, however the use of 5G could also lead to an exciting transformation of the world that we are all used to. I’m interested to see the role it will play within HE – how do you think 5G will have an impact on education?

If you missed the documentary  ‘Can we trust Huawei?’ – I would recommend catching up with it on BBC iPlayer.

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