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Ed tech must reads: Column #35

First published in Campus Morning Mail 17th May 2022

14 Equity consideration for Ed Tech from Campus Technology

The process of introducing a new education technology to an institution can be lengthy, needing to balance pedagogical benefits with technological suitability and pragmatic requirements. While care is taken to consider bigger picture needs like accessibility, other factors that speak to the question of ‘what does this tool say about our institutional values’ don’t always get their due. This article from Reed Dickson offers a thought provoking list of questions for implementers to ask about fairness in the selection of tools for learning and teaching.

Strange research plagiarism from Twitter

One of my doctoral supervisors tweeted this story on the weekend about her finding a recent publication of hers about AI and human learning with a different title and authors (but the same volume of the same journal) sitting on ResearchGate. She shares screenshots of the two front pages and bewildered discussion ensues about what these (fake) people are actually trying to achieve.

Digital transformation and why it can’t be done without learning technologists from AmmieNoot

Anne-Marie Scott is the Deputy Provost of Athabasca University (Canada) and always has some entertaining thoughts about technology enhanced learning and teaching. In this post, she discusses how large-scale digital change happens in institutions and the ways that IT departments often put their own spin on things. She proposes a greater role in this work for learning technologists – experienced professionals (like me) who act as bridges between teaching and technology.

Pyscript- Python in HTML from TikTok

This is perhaps nerdy even for this column but I am aware that the programming language Python is often favoured in Higher Ed for its ease of use. A significant development in this language is the recent release of Pyscript, which for the first time allows coders to run Python in web browsers. This punchy tiktok video explains how.

Clancy@stackoverflow from Simon Terry I’ve been a sucker for bush poetry ever since my grade 4 teacher Mr Harris used to regale us with tales from Banjo and Henry on warm afternoons. So it was probably inevitable that I would have to share this updated version of Clancy of the Overflow – ‘Clancy’s gone Web3 coding’ (Thanks for finding this Wendy T)

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CMM Education Technologist

Ed Tech must reads – Column 8

First published in Campus Morning Mail 5th October 2021

Go8 unis challenge anti-plagiarism software merger from Financial Review

While ‘text-matching’ or ‘similarity checking’ are probably more accurate terms for what tools like Turnitin and Ouriginal (formerly Urkund) do, they are the big two companies in the academic integrity / anti-plagiarism space. The announcement earlier this year that Turnitin planned to acquire Ouriginal raised some concerns in the sector about the impact that this may have on competition, support and innovation. The ACCC started an investigation in July and this article about the submission from the Group of Eight universities nicely sums up some of the issues.

Interaction in asynchronous discussion boards: a campus-wide analysis to better understand regular and substantive interaction from Education and Information Technologies Journal

Discussion forums have been a mainstay of online learning for as long as we have had online learning. Used well, they contribute to social, teaching and cognitive presence in a space that can sometimes be isolating. In spite of the time we have had to develop our use of forums as teaching tools, their efficacy varies wildly. This journal article from Gasell, Lowenthal, Uribe-Florez and Ching draws on the wealth of analytic data now available in the LMS to see how forums are used and whether there is an optimal level of teacher engagement. It’s largely quantitative but still offers some insights and suggestions for faculty development.

Some of the most iconic 9/11 news coverage is lost. Blame Adobe Flash from CNN Business

For a good few decades Adobe Flash dominated interactive multimedia content online. This was also true of many educational resources, and when support for Flash finally ended at the start of 2021 – the ‘Flashapocalypse’ – there was a significant body of work done in education institutions to ensure that resources were converted. Fortunately, the writing had been on the wall for some time. This CNN business article describes the impact on the wider web and particularly the strategies that have been used to preserve a wealth of rich online media that could be lost with the (virtual) flick of a switch.

Digital disruption in the time of COVID-19: Learning technologists’ accounts of institutional barriers to online learning, teaching and assessment in UK universities from International Journal of Academic Development (pre-print)

Learning (or education) technologists are most commonly professional staff responsible for supporting the effective use of technologies to enable better learning and teaching. They bridge IT departments and teaching centres, holding expertise in both spaces. Unsurprisingly, with the rapid pivot to technology enhanced learning since COVID19, they (we) have been busy helping institutions move to the ‘new normal’. This study from Watermeyer, Crick and Knight explores this shift through the eyes of these people on the ground and captures their insights into what has changed, whether this change will endure and why. It does not pull punches.

The meme is the message from Taraneh Azar

Part of Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the world wide web was that it would be a home for creators as much as consumers. In some ways, memes as easily created, constantly evolving pieces of micro-content have realised that vision. Taraneh Azar is a student at Northeastern University that has built an incredibly rich resource outlining some of the history, theory, concepts and exemplars of memes and meme culture. It’s a rabbit hole but always interesting.

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ed tech edtech Education Support People Education Technologist higher education organisation technologist

Thoughts on Who Chooses What Ed Tech to Buy for the College Classroom? Jenae Cohn – Chronicle of Higher Education

https://www.chronicle.com/article/who-chooses-what-ed-tech-to-buy-for-the-college-classroom

Given my job and my interests, I probably spend more time than most people thinking about how educational institutions implement educational technologies. This is not something that gets much coverage at all in research literature about technology enhanced learning or ed tech, most likely because it is big and messy and complex. Most things I have seen about ed tech relate to specific interventions to see what impact a tool has on learning and teaching – which is, you know, pretty important. Alternatively another major strand seems to consist of feelings about ed tech – either at scale or individual wailing about the (sometimes legitimate) failings and ethical/moral problems of certain tools and approaches. Again, these can be important discussions to have.

I was excited to see this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education crop up in my Twitter feed today though from Dr Jenae Cohn, the director of academic technology at California State University at Sacramento. These are certainly questions and concerns that I’ve heard before but it was nice to see them articulated so clearly and evenhandedly.

Recognising that there are, of course, cultural/operational/organisational differences between HE institutions in the US and Australia and definitely different terminology, hopefully I read and understood it as intended. My biggest response was – where are your educational technologists? These challenges sound a lot like what we work to address every day (with varying degrees of success, sure). There is a reference to ed tech professionals at the end but I do wonder what differences there are in how we work and what we do.

Anyway, from here, this is largely going to be my direct responses to some of the key points. Apologies if I’m overdoing the quotes.

“Decisions about educational technology can appear opaque to academics. On the flip side, the IT staff in charge of acquiring the technology may find faculty preferences in the classroom to be similarly hazy and ill-defined.”This is literally why we have educational technologists (and also do reasonable business analysis), to be the bridge between educators and IT.

“Yet decisions surrounding digital tools — and the professional development necessary to use them effectively — seem to have no clear catalyzing origin for either faculty or staff members.” Agreed there is definitely a need for better communication, but at the same time, I’ve tried to explain the complexities of these processes only to see people’s eyes glaze over.

“Staff members and administrators often do not know why or how instructors intend to use certain ed-tech tools. The staff and administrative role is just to facilitate their purchasing and support.” So this is possibly a US/Australia thing – by administrators do you mean institutional managers/leaders (many of which are academics) or IT dept leaders? Here at least, IT dept leaders seldom make these kinds of calls without direction from the senior academic leaders in the institution. And, again, this is why we have educational technologists.

“Meanwhile, faculty members seem to think that some amorphous administrative body just decides to buy random ed tech purely for the sake of buying the latest fancy technology. Sometimes that perception aligns with reality; sometimes it doesn’t.” Again, these top end decisions here are frequently driven by senior academic leaders but the point about an amorphous admin body is well taken and sometimes decisions can even surprise the ed tech units too.

“Poor channels of communication. Because the faculty and the staff operate in separate spheres on most campuses, whether communication about teaching technology is clear and consistent often depends on where, and how, the ed-tech staff members are housed in an institution. On a single campus, you might find some ed-tech staff members in an IT department. Others are in campus teaching centres. Still others may be housed in an academic-affairs office or as part of a distinct online-learning division.” Certainly a challenge – in Australia at least, most ed tech units with the power to roll out ed tech uni wide sit in a central Learning and Teaching division and work with uni IT. There are often local ed techs in discipline based teaching centres (which we call faculties or colleges). There can also be a cultural component in HE institutions where academics tend not to talk that much to professional staff about these kinds of issues.

“Lack of representation. While faculty perspectives often shape campus technology choices, the mechanisms for collecting those perspectives may not always be representative. Some institutions have designated faculty-senate groups to discuss the choice and implementation of educational technology. But those committees may not be representative of the full range of faculty and staff voices and needs. In addition, those governance committees may not always consistently communicate with the staff members who are directly responsible for getting the technology up and running.” Any decent tech implementation project should first examine the business (learning and teaching) needs – which necessarily involves understanding what educators need (and want). An education technology will usually also need to address other institutional needs however (technical, security, financial, policy, etc), so educator input can’t be the only consideration. The question of how representative these representative groups is a fair one, with the potential for more senior educators who teach less to fill their ranks. One thing I’ve seen in Australia is that we will often seek out known ‘power-users’ or innovators in a faculty to inform decision making – which may still offer a skewed understanding of the needs of ‘average’ educators.

“Instructors going rogue. Faculty members may opt to use online teaching tools without the explicit support or licensing of their institution — turning the ed-tech environment on any campus into an idiosyncratic jumble that differs from one course to the next.” Certainly presents some challenges – ed technologists and central units actually don’t want to discourage innovative teaching practices and frequently do whatever they can to support localised implementations. Where value is demonstrated, with potential to be used more widely, they will even work to embed these new tools in the enterprise/institutional ed tech ecosystem. BUT there can be problems with integrating with existing systems (the LMS, student management etc), problems with support, accessibility, security and privacy and often problems when the person who was a big driver of using a tool moves on, leaving their colleagues abandoned.

Two suggestions:   

1) Give faculty members with expertise in college teaching a joint appointment in administrative units where they can directly influence campus decision-making about teaching — especially around purchases of educational technology.

Decision making in this space rarely happens quickly so there would likely be long periods where this person/people may have little to do. Developing stronger models for input (which many ed tech units are at least mindful of) might be more valuable. Also revisiting the weighting of priorities in the evaluation and procurement of new tools, while recognising that learning and teaching aren’t the only factors at play. Also, how would such people be found and, more pragmatically, how would we deal with institutional politics of it all? Would STEM academics accept someone from the humanities? How many would we need then? Some kind of embedding sounds useful but…

“2) Rethink the role of educational-technology professionals on campus and allow them to engage in a mix of scholarship, teaching, and administration. That way new research on college teaching directly influences technology procurement, testing, and implementation”.

Well, as an education technologist, clearly, I think this is ingenious. I have actually been advocating for this for a while but breaking down some of these perceived barriers between academics and professional staff and giving ed techs this richer experience of an academic’s work and needs can only help everyone.

This article is timely for another reason in that I’ve recently been looking at revising a Twine branching scenario game that I built with some colleagues (Wendy Taleo, Stephanie Luo and Kate Mitchell) in 2019 about choosing and implementing ed technologies. Bear in mind that it is a work in progress but enough is done to play through the process in around 20 mins. bit.ly/EdTechGame

https://bit.ly/EdTechGame
Cohn, J. (2021, June 3). Advice | Who Chooses What Ed Tech to Buy for the College Classroom? The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/who-chooses-what-ed-tech-to-buy-for-the-college-classroom