becoming a change agent

Jisc Teaching + Learning Experts Working group session


Today I went up to Birmingham to attend (for the first time) to the 34th meeting of this group. The topic today: Developing employability, this project is of course linked to Building digital capability as well as to my own idea of personal learning environment for undergraduate students and it is an extension of this study.

Initial ideas (of the Jisc community) to share are:

  • How can HE engage in developing ways in which students can articulate the skills they learn throughout their degree for their future employability?
  • Students articulating their own development, a self-directed process or self determined, as Lisa Blaschke would prefer to say. Look it up in this link. Here is their community of practice, worth looking at.
  • What does maturity look like in students in relation to their digital skills? This can also be related to the self-determined learning?
  • It should be a learner centre approach where students need to reflect and write about the evidence of their digital skills acquired throughout their university learning
  • Digital technology enhances employability, therefore there is a need to embed digital technology in authentic learning and then reflect and pin out the skills learned.

Some twits

From the digital students project

Themes emerged from the students survey

  • Students need ongoing support: “We need ongoing development” [here is where my idea of a scaffolding structure fits in very nicely 🙂 ]
  • “We expect the same or better services as in school”(this idea comes from a research project lead by David White and Joanna Wild in partnership with Jisc: Incoming Expectation of the Digital Environment Formed at School)
  • “Don’t assume I am digital literate” (again a good point to justify my idea)
  • Having discussions with staff how they can work collaboratively for some digital strategies to move forward to the development of those skills
  • “We expect college to provide what we need”
  • “We expect modern learning resources that are easy to use” (video, podcast, youtube videos)
  • “Consistency across all courses”
  • “We want to work with lecturers” (2nd year learners to co-design the module, use their skills to design the course)
  • “Treat us as going up, we want to contribute”
  • “Ask us what we need” Their voice is feeding into what the college is doing in relations to the digital experience


  • How can colleges undertake evaluations of learners use of tech? How can colleges engage learners in the process?

Southwest College Northern Ireland is an example to look at. They closed their campus for a week so they could train their staff in that week.

Afternoon session

Building digital capability / Developing students digital capability. Sarah Davies

Initial consultation is needed to start the project

Digital capability framework : What it would be like? To what skills am I setting questions to? It is about upscaling the staff digital skills?

What would your pathway be through this triangle?

digital capabilities framework: Functional roles in staff

  • LeadershipRDF Public Engagement lens
  • Administration, operations
  • IT facilities infrastructure
  • Content/knowledge management
  • Research and scholarship
  • Teaching and learning support
  • Staff/educational development
  • Public engagement/communication (Vitae useful material and another useful PDF for public engagement)

Session 2: From prospect to Alumnus challenge. 

Looking at the journey from beginning to end of students.
What are those phases and how is the path through it?
Looking to improve that journey. Where are the problems in that journey?
How to optimise those stages?
Badges that can help with the connection of learning and employability. I think that badges are an interesting topic to look at. Mozilla is doing excellent work not only with open badges but also with what they call Web Literacy and Jisc has done another bit which of course is worth taking a look!

An interesting activity was reading the digital capability framework and their draft definition of the elements of digital capability and see if we had any suggestions

  • ICT proficiency / fluency: Adopt, adapt/develop and use ICT-based environments, devices, applications and services;critically assess benefits/constraints; design and implement ICT solutions; recover from failures; stay up to date with ICT relevant to role; computational thinking(coding; algorithm, etc)
  • Information and data literacy: Find, evaluate, interpret, manage, curate, organise (i.e. through filing, tagging) and share digital information (curate) including open content; collate, manage and analyse digital data including leaner and organisational data; be aware of digital copyright/IP issues; be aware of legal, ethical and security issues.
  • Media literacy: Critically read and creatively produce academic and professional communications in a range of digital media; appreciate relevant aspects of digital design including cadence, purpose, accessibility, impact, modality; understand digital media production as a practice and an industry
  • Networking and digital participation: participate in digital teams and networks for learning, teaching, research, public engagement (Sconul and vitae guidelines for public engagement)professional practice; collaborate effectively using digital tools; appreciate different cultural social and communicational norms online; build and enable digital teams, groups and networks.
  • Digital research and innovation (digital scholarship): Collect and analyse data using digital methods; discover, develop and share new ideas using digital tech; undertake open scholarship; design new research questions and programmes around digital issues/methods; develop digital tools and processes.
  • e-Learning and professional development:  Teach, train, coach and support others to learn, in online and blended spaces, using digital tech as appropriate; use digital means to assess and give feedback; undertake own learning/PD using digital tech as appropriate; design learning courses and activities that make effective education use of digital technologies.
  • Digital reputation and identity management: Project a positive digital identity and manage digital reputation across a range of platforms; collate digital evidence of achievement; support others to manage and project positive digital identities.
  • Digital wellbeing: Look after personal health, safety, relationships and work-life balance in digital settings; promote e-safety and responsible use to others; manage stress, workload and attention/distraction in a digital environment(this is repetitive) consider environmental impacts of digital technologies and activities.

There is a need for me to look at other frameworks (on digital literacy in order to see which fits best for what I am looking at.

One idea I came to in the discussion is that the EDdynamic.SpLace E-DynamicSpace with no frame
needs to serve as a “reflective space” for students to articulate the skills they are learning in the process of designing, developing and implementing their PLE. It can be a reflective space to -amongst other things- pin down the skills learned, the higher order thinking involved in each task, etc. Maybe through my work I could refine those definitions and say more about them once I have collected and analysed the empirical evidence. Then I hopefully will now better what a strong framework can be in order to pin down what does it mean to be digital literate.

It appears again and again –> Emergence as a property of the network I will look at. (I see the PLE in itself as a network, the classroom is also a network and the PLE’s interacting with each other sharing, collaborating, creating knowledge is another network. This needs deep theoretical thinking)

Jisc came with 7 challenges in enhancing the digital experience of students:

  1. Take a strategy whole-institution approach to developing the student digital experience
  2. Deliver a relevant digital curriculum
  3. Prepare and support students and staff to study and work successfully with digital technologies
  4. Develop coherent policies for “bring your own” device, service and data.
  5. Deliver a robust flexible digital environment
  6. Deliver an inclusive student experience
  7. Engage in dialogue with students and empower them to develop their digital environment (this is what my project is about)

It is in 2+7 that I am interested. I think that skills are learned best when they are embedded in an every day activity and that students ought to be empowered and heard as I believe they have an enormous potential as designers of their digital environment.

Following the link from the tweet many examples of effective practice can be found

The slideshare from Helen Beetham: ‘how can we meet the needs of digital students’

Here the link to the Jisc project with links and theoretical sources for developing digital literacies.

To summarise the event here is the storify told by Sarah Knight.

At the end for me it is all about connecting the dots and, so I draw my dots…

Follow the link to the slides and presentations of the event for more details on the different topics

Deep vs suface approach to learning

The idea of this activity is to understand what does deep learning means and what are the kind activities and assessment that the teacher needs to create so that deep learning can happen.
In order to study this aspect of the learning experience there are some resources to read:

  • The Higher Education Academy guide
  • This blog post
  • The National Education Association blog
  • Conceptions of learning and knowledge in HE: relationships with study behavior and influences of learning environments (Noel J. Entwistle and Elizabeth Peterson, 2005)
  • Some files I have been reading are available this link to my box
  • Steven Johnson’s Ted Talk: Where does good ideas come from?

Normally I adopt a deep and strategic approach to learning. Meaning with deep that I seek for meaning by relating ideas, using evidence and monitoring my learning so I can improve if needed and, with strategic I use Entwistles’ ideas meaning that it is an integral personal understanding. Achieving through organised and self-regulated effort guided by self-determination.

My experience with deep and surface learning

I usually want to go the bottom of things and understand the origins of ideas, from where they come and to what they relate in the bigger picture. I try to construct meaning all the time looking for connections among prior knowledge and the new one. The more connections I found the deeper and stronger the knowledge and the broader the range to where I can apply this knowledge. I think I have a big connected network of knowledge units that feed each other. I try, through my learning, to connect the majority of nodes in my knowledge network that I can, making it a strong and relevant network for my job and life in general.
I am not after grades. I do even read many things and take many online courses for the sake of learning and I am not interested in any certificate or accomplishment. Although I think this is not entirely right as in our society other people will ask me for evidence of my knowledge and I need to have those grades or certificate at hand to show them when necessary.

When the topic is not of my interest I try to think how relevant it is to what I am interested in and so I decide if I will go deep in that particular topic. If it is not so relevant I do the readings but more than reading I scan and see how that can answer the questions and then I move on.

In this course I adopt the two approaches in different moments. For example if my time is very limited and I do know the content I do not go very deep in the answers because time is gold at the moment but when I confront myself with new content that is relevant and totally new for me, i.e. unit 3, I will stop and go deeper in order to be able to connect this unit to my overall work in the university and my own research.

There must be a relevance to my practical work which is normally close connected to my intellectual interest. Therefore I have to say that most of the times I adopt a deep approach to learning.

Deep vs deeper learning

 It is very rare that I learn with a surface approach, it is against my nature. So I have chosen deep vs deeper and both experiences in mathematics.

As you know I am a math teacher so I studied math education as my undergraduate degree. There I had a math teacher that taught us integrals. He gave us the algorithm to calculate the integrals and voilá he gave us 234 exercises for homework. I did them all but I just followed the rules he gave us. It was quite easy and at that time I was so busy (I had already my 3 children, house, husband, dog and all the rest of a very active family life) that I did not care about not understanding the essence of it. I did wonder why we didn’t see any theorems but again no time to go deeper. 15 years later (2014) I became interested in the history of math, so I started to research in the origins of calculus. I had to give a workshop in a summer university in Denmark, so I new the only way to do a good workshop is having a deep understanding of the subject. So I went deeper!! I struggled so much, I read and read and looked at many different sources of knowledge. I saw videos, I heard podcast, I read original sources, secondary sources. I did a lot of exercises, I did a time line with the important stepping stones of the development of the calculus, I assisted to talks. I did not leave my house for a week just studying. I wrote an email to my supervisor one day really desperate and he send me from the Netherlands via post a chapter of a book but also an attachment with an exercised I did not understand, already resolved and explained and suddenly, the light came to me smile I got it!!! I understood the whole threat of reasoning I was after (Descartes and his discovery of analytic geometry as one of the stepping stones for Calculus to move forward and develop). It was really intense for me. I did not any thing different for almost a week. I know one should change, go out, forget, etc but I couldn’t, I was so into my learning desperate finding connections, links to my prior knowledge that I couldn’t leave nothing aside. When all the bits and pieces of discrete knowledge strarted to become part of a continuum I felt inside my head how all suddenly was making sense and many of the problems became clear to me.

After my workshop, I felt the ontological transformation I went through!!  I really changed inside, it was such a nice feeling. This moment of AJA, UNDERSTANDING, THE PENNY FALLING, its for me one of my favorites. So I guess that is why I avoid surface learning

Students engagement history

Activity 1.4: Students engagement history. Main events.

The video is quite dynamic and I think it is a good synthesis of what have happened in relation to this topic of students’ engagement.

More than naming them, as I do think it is clear in the video and writing them down wont be of much value for me, what I think is relevant to mention is, in my view, the shift from the idea of the ‘corps’ in the Greek era where the driver was to recognise the quality and reputation of the teachers to then shift to “defend” students rights. Two very different drivers. Although in Padua the situation of the majority of students as foreigners is what triggers the movement. The idea is that they need to take care by themselves of their rights, they need protection I guess. Then students start demonstrating against social issues like the Vietnam war or the massacre of Tiananmen amongst others. When the fees are introduced the philosophy is completely different and students are seen as ‘clients’ that are paying for a service and that turned the attention to a different aspect which is the quality of the experience of students at the university and how can they be part of that experience in a productive way. Which is what started in 2005 until now.

Activity 1.3: Redefining the relationship between student+universtiy

This activity is intended to compare and critique the 3 models of students, the consumer model, the co-producer and the one that puts the student at the centre of a community of practice.
In my view the first 2 models have inherent flaws in how students are supposed to play their role and they do not explain fully what is happening in HE. If we see students as consumers of a service and therefore we explain what is happening in HE we are missing some aspects in the explanation or we are adjudicating to the model to many issues. Questions like this came to my head while reading: What happens with students who have studied all their life in a private school and for them paying for education is nothing new for them? What if their parents are paying for the fees and haven’t even asked them selves about this issue? What if they are considering that they are paying for the expertise and experience of their teachers and for being in a safe place to learn? This approach of students as consumers as the only explanation makes not much sense to me. Definitely education should not be treated as a market place and should not be seen as a service empty of value and humanity. And yes I agree students who see them selves as consumers of a service for which they are paying are missing a big part of the university experience.
I agree with some of the critiques exposed by McCulloch. I do agree that the model of student as consumer de-emphasises to much her/his role as a learner, it takes away her/his responsibility of doing the hard work to learn and in a sense it seems like the money you are paying will easy the struggle learners have to go through in order to transform and grow intellectually. But I do not think it means automatically that students will not have a deep learning experience. The idea of “satisfaction” as a core aspect in the learning experience is awful. There is a limit to this and I do agree that there is a responsibility in teachers to engage and motivate students but it is not about making of the lecture a circus. If one reads about how boring or un-understandable the lectures of brilliant thinkers were, i.e. Newton, Einstein or John Nash but how motivating it must have been to have the chance to listen to them. Learning is not only about having fun it is about reflecting, struggling, rethinking one self in the process. It is far from being measurable in a satisfaction survey.
In order to find some solutions to this problematic model, McCulloch proposes a different one, the student as co-producer but not without some difficulties and inconvenience. The student as co-producer is meant to be partner in the production of knowledge, therefore they are given some responsibility in the work. They are also involved in the community at a collective level. In that sense they should be brought into the decision-making process, involve them in the curriculum as well as give them control of some parts of their learning environment. This is one of the strong points in this model from my perspective. Not so sure about the curriculum bit as maybe students do not have the knowledge nor the expertise to plan or design a curriculum but maybe they could be part of the discussion and think together in how to assess the course maybe. The learning environment is for me one of the key points to exploit in this model of student. This model is enriched and improved by Coffield who developed the idea of community of practice where learning is seen more as an inductive process, a process of becoming active and engage participants of a community interacting not only with teachers but also with fellow students. The goal in this approach is building and being part of a community of practice, learning is becoming a participant, students are apprentice and teachers are expert mentors, knowledge is an aspect of practice and knowing is belonging and participating. Very much what happens with academics in their field. It is very much about belonging to the community and working hard in the pursuit of new knowledge that could enhance the understanding of the field and create new applications. Learning is seen as an ever evolving organic process. In this view students have power but in order to exercise it they need to engage and commit participating proactively in their community of practice.
To conclude my reflection in relation to the idea of redefining the relationship between students and their universities the model to follow is the one where students are part of a community of practice with all the responsibilities it entails and taking the commitment seriously transforming in a proactive manner the areas of their concern. Adding to the community and enhancing the university experience.