Everything In Balance

Martin Weller has written some excellent posts on disruption and disruptive innovation. In his most recent blog post on disruption and the unenlightenment he argues that “knowledge of any area itself is viewed as a reason not to trust someone.” I’ve come across this myself, or more critically I’ve seen others placing a higher value upon knowledge which is unencumbered by context, so for example in our own environment having business acumen is treated with higher value than having knowledge of the higher education sector. This has been reflected over the past decade in Job Descriptions and recruitment processes in HE and also applies to politics where Farage and Trump are seen to have more value through coming from outside the political system. Within higher education this has resulted in a rash of appointments of people from outside the sector to senior positions.

Yin_yang.svgThis is not necessarily a bad thing. I see the higher education sector like an ecosystem and too much inbreeding within too small a gene pool will lead to stagnation and mutation  – in HE this can be seen as people adopting confirmation bias since meetings with the same cohort provide no novel insight or new interpretations on the original plan. On the other hand too much migration and churn will lead to a different but equally serious problem where specialist knowledge is lost to the organisation and sector and therefore decisions are not based on a full evaluation of evidence. The past influences the future so there is a balance to be struck. When you get new people and talent into an organisation you provide opportunities for cultural advancement and change. Ideas can move across domains in a way that allows things to happen. People ask questions like “why can’t you do it like that?” and you realise that because you had issues previously you have mentally blocked off an opportunity.

As an example I have had some of my richest conversations recently with Rosie Jones the new Director of Library Services. In her induction we discussed using gaming approaches in the workplace to stimulate new thinking as we both have backgrounds in serious gaming.

animal_crossing

Animal Crossing 

I have now begun applying some of these approaches in events that I am facilitating for Leadership in Digital Innovation. I wouldn’t have been able to make the mental leap without her fresh perspective on some of the organisational issues, adopting what Dave Coplin might describe as non-linear thinking.

 

My point is that stimulation is a good thing as it can build the conditions for the new system to emerge – but disruption by it’s nature means that, as Martin describes it, “there is no collaboration, working alongside, improving here”. It’s what Bernard Stiegler describes in his interview How to Survive “Disruption” as “a form of widespread dispossession of knowledge, of life skills and indeed of livelihood across Europe through the rapid political, social and technological changes to work and everyday life.”

Crucially for both education and politics we must seek to understand, value, and then challenge the current system in order to create the system we need.

 

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Ringing the changes in HE

I’ve been working with a group of colleagues across the Open University in a very collegiate spirit to develop a coherent Vision and Plan for Learning and Teaching. We are also developing a vision for our leadership in digital innovation which is complimentary. We are doing this at a time of unprecedented change for UK Higher Education, not simply because of the HE Bill and TEF and the changes those bring with them (N.B. despite the OU not entering TEF this year we still have a lot of work to do lobbying for changes, supporting the four nations agenda and national policies and preparing for the time when we will enter TEF which involves collecting and interpreting data to better differentiate part-time learners, their prior experience/level of knowledge and their learning gain) but also the wider changes resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU and implications from changes in U.S. policy. This makes it challenging to construct a vision that is both grounded but is also fixed on the far horizon and so can guide actions for transformation.

As far as Innovation is concerned we’ve been looking to the Educause “Building a Culture of Innovation in HE: Design and Practice for Leaders” as a tool to help us identify areas to prioritize. There are a series of near horizon and far horizon goals that we wish to achieve through this process. Near horizon goals aim to improve the current system of learning and teaching at the OU, while far horizon goals simultaneously build the conditions from which a new system can emerge (figure 1).

Figure 1 – Shifting from Improvement to Innovation (extracted from Educause “Building a Culture of Innovation in Higher Education: Design and Practice for Leaders”)

transform

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is element of crystal ball gazing to all of this endeavour (although some market research and academic research is also involved). I was taken with this recent post by Joshua Kim for Inside Higher Ed which resonates with some of my feelings around HE. It’s called Why Our Higher Ed Transformation Crowd Should Read ‘The Upstarts’ and emphasizes that the antecedents for transformative change are rarely understood in advance. We can create the conditions but we cannot imagine the impact (or not).

All this work has come to the attention of others in high places and so I am having my own personal transformative change. I’m leaving my role as Head of Incubation at the end of this month to take up a new role as Head of Strategy and Policy (including a continued responsibility for co-ordination of incubation/innovation). I’m going to miss the Learning and Teaching Development team which includes the Learning Design team that I’ve been managing for the past few months, they are great people doing fantastic but hugely undervalued work.

This change consequently means an alignment and co-ordination of the Learning Design and TEL-Design (Technology Enhanced Learning Design) teams to have a coherent organisational approach and vision for Learning Design and clear ownership and responsibility for aspects of LD under Rebecca Galley (Head of TEL). We are also defining the homes for enabling elements for LD including data which is becoming increasingly valuable for decision making.

From next month I’ll be managing the Strategic Planning and Policy team. I will also be moving away from the academic side of business and from the Institute of Educational Technology to focus on this new role within the Learning and Teaching Innovation Portfolio. I’m also in my second week of the Masters course in Online and Distance Education to better understand the theory around what I’m doing. It’s a seriously well constructed course and I’m really enjoying my tutor group chats. I think I’m becoming slightly addicted to this online learning thing but I’ll see if I remain enthusiastic after my first exam!

Crucially though despite all the changes I’m  keeping a hot desk in the Jennie Lee building so that I can continue to network with academic colleagues (..and steal their coffee and biscuits)!

 

 

Non linear thinking

mission-shield-mutedI’ve been involved in supporting several workshops recently for the Open University around Leadership in Digital Innovation. This is one of the six strands of the new “Students First” strategy and the various workshops and events around this topic have already produced some great ideas. The most recent workshop was to a select group of OU leaders about the leadership challenges (in my opinion we are all leaders, and personal leadership is what we should be developing here!).

The event was led by Dave Coplin the Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft and included a video by Martha Lane Fox, Chancellor of the Open University and creator of dot.everyone, and I’ve just seen that she is now on the board of Twitter.

I was  leading the online discussion which took place during the event and I thought it might be worth sharing with you some of my key takeaways (now I’m getting hungry).

Martha gave a great talk about the dangers of complacency and how organisations are either digital organisations or they are not digital (digital DNA?). The thing that most resonated with me however and was echoed by others was how we must be “..always and relentlessly focused on users”. This may seem obvious to most but in many ways it is easy for organisations to inadvertently do things that lead to greater separation with users. For me I believe that we have been neglectful when it comes to user testing for example compared to the rigourous approaches we had previously, we also don’t represent the users at senior level in the way we once did and I’ve been calling for the Open University to consider a “chief customer officer” rather than, or complementary to, a chief operating officer, so that the emphasis is advocacy of the students. Some Universities are creating a PVC (Student Experience) role for similar reasons. The introduction of TEF and quality measured against student satisfaction sharpens the focus in this area and as we look at student co-creation, co-production, student evangelists, students champions and student evaluators we also need to consider student advocacy.

Dave CDave Coplin, CEO*oplin provided a inspiring and provocative talk on themes such as the end of the divide between work/life, with most people having access to better technology at home than at work yet we are forced to commute in order to use lower tech in offices. He talked about us as a Victorian workforce still largely pinned to our desks to use connected technologies.  He talked about email, how it relies on us as the filter to the conversation moving further in the organisation, how most emails are not confidential and how we should ditch email as not the right technology. He talked about leadership changing to become about empowerment rather than control. He talked about lack of information flows across the organisation, about the potential for connectivism in work, about AI and predicting the future and about non linear thinking. He mentioned Skype Translator and how we no longer need to learn languages (yeah we all get the babelfish idea, but here I got uncomfortable about technologies reducing our ability for human discovery and improvement, language learning changes our brains and perhaps we shouldn’t just be so quick to lose that opportunity Dave? – to be fair he did say that we still need to develop core skills) and he finished off by saying that we need to focus on outcomes not process and concluded with the elephant powder anecdote which made a very good point about people doing stuff which adds no particular value.

You can get a flavour of Dave’s talk from this piece on innovation (thanks to Catherine Chambers for reminding me of this resource)

After Dave’s provocations I led the online discussion and we had around six or seven people engaging in a stimulating chat where we discussed topics including:

  1. How we are a process driven organisation and this impacts on how we manage change, so we tend to have process led change which means we tackle little bits rather than the bigger goals and this approach seems to take away the creativity.
  2. How technology, when supporting our organisation, should be in the background and sometimes it appears to be in the foreground.
  3. The perceived tension between our regulatory and quality requirements and the need to take risk and innovate. We later concluded at our table that this was largely a demon of our own making (i.e. an internal perception rather than a reality) and that many universities find ways of working with the QAA and regulatory bodies to manage the balance.
  4. Trust being a critical factor for the empowerment of staff at all levels.

Finally there was a panel discussion with the Peter Horrocks (Vice Chancellor), Hazel Rymer (Acting Pro Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching Innovation) and Dave Coplin. Key quotes from that were “as Facebook say done is better than perfect“, “take the users with us on the journey”, “students as digital creators”, “everyone should have the opportunity to feed back”, “we need to challenge what we provide which is paid for versus what is given for free”, “we have gold standard bureaucracy”, “we must always and relentlessly focus on the user” and finally, a little controversially for a university “we should investigate what we can burn” (what are we doing that is of little value).

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these provocations, in the meantime I’m going to work with others across the OU to continue the discussion #OUDigitalInnovation

 

Artificial Perception

dyspotian futureI’ve been listening to educational technology hype recently with an eyebrow raised particularly in respect to the ideas being expressed around artificial intelligence and the role of intelligent agents to replace humans. One of the most recent examples of this is Mark Zuckerberg at F8 conference saying ““Our goal with AI is to build systems that are better than people at perception.” The Telegraph provides a summary of his keynote and the F8 conference.

Sit back and reflect on his statement for a moment.

perception
pəˈsɛpʃ(ə)n/
noun
  1.  
    the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    “the normal limits to human perception”
  2.  
    the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.
    “Hollywood’s perception of the tastes of the American public”

What is perception? – a personal view of the world? – shaped by our emotional state and environment? – An entirely subjective reality. What do we mean by better perception? is this seeing the world logically without the trappings of emotion? – is it about the ‘wisdom of crowds? – If it’s the latter then we know that this is being gradually debunked because we are seeing greater confirmation bias within social media circles, I referred to this in a previous post as ripples in the pond, and there is evidence of the undermining effect of social influence. However there is no doubt that artificial intelligence will have access to a greater dataset and will have the ability to interpret data in ways that would be impossible to humans. My question though might be is that going to translate into better outcomes?

crucibleInvention comes from creative friction, discourse, questioning. In a world where we are all synthesized down within a crucible above the flame of artificial intelligence what happens to inspiration. interpretation. challenge? – this is of course a dyspotian future that people in the AI world are keen to promote because it creates a big dream of the future and a strong emotional connection.

But we do need to be concerned because at a minimum a possible future predicted by Gartner may see smart machines replacing millions of humans but at the same time we should be rational because we must recognize the Myths around AI’s and their usefulness is in support human endeavours, especially around tackling big data challenges.

…so what of humanity?

 

 

Effective social teaching and learning

Eric and I introduce the group to our social media session (That’s me on the right) – Image courtesy of Ian Roddis .

eric

Several months of planning, and a few nights waking up in a sweat, have led to a successful one day social media event which I co-chaired with colleagues from Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS) on “Embedding Social Media to effectively support OU learners”.

There were two reasons that it’s taken so long to arrange:

  1. I wanted to introduce external perspectives to the topic to refresh our thinking. To this end my fantastic co-chair Beccy Dresden got in touch with Eric Stoller and we brought him to work with us. You’ll get a sense of his work from his blog. The thing I most like about Eric is his passion and enthusiasm for effective knowledge of, and use of, social media (more on that later).
  2. I wanted to tackle this problem at three levels in order to get actionable outputs and from both a top-down and bottom-up perspective, by that I mean (i) the Vice Chancellor, (ii) the people at Director/AD level responsible for learning & teaching, communications and marketing and (iii) the people who work directly in support of academic practice around module production and presentation.

I structured the day to begin with a conversation with the Vice Chancellor about the Open University and use of social media for a variety of strategic purposes, then we held a wider conversation which I chaired with a group of senior OU staff, from both academic and non-academic areas on “Embedding social media to effectively support OU learners facilitated by Eric Stoller”, then in the afternoon Beccy chaired sessions with academic support staff which began with a Keynote by Eric followed by parallel sessions around Social media for professional development with Eric and Lawrie Phipps (JISC) and Exploring the possibilities for social media within distance learning material hosted by Beccy Dresden and Steve Parkinson from Learning and Teaching Solutions (OU) and concluded with a plenary/roundup.

I began the morning session by introducing four provocations:

Provocation 1 – “Do we need a social media strategy for learning?”
Provocation 2 -“How and when do we embed social media practice within our modules and across the curriculum?”
Provocation 3 – “What can we learn from others?”
Provocation 4 – “Can we use social media to bridge the informal/formal divide?”

We then has an introductory chat about our different perspectives with social media and Eric followed this up by giving a talk which went into more detail starting with why does social media matter?

 

We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion and the session has a lot of stimulating and interesting perspectives thanks in large part to Eric’s facilitation. Eric asked me before the session what type of conversation should we expect “..sometimes it’s a conversation about org culture and daring to dream/experiment that is needed…sometimes it’s more about choosing which tools are relevant right now and how to apply them in strategic / worthwhile ways.” I said that it was a bit of both and that turned out to be the case. Eric was also interested in the variety of perspectives and knowledge, for example some people in the room, such as Ian Fribbance, have used social media effectively in their practice for some time. The OU has some examples of great use of social media within pockets of the curriculum, and indeed for more general tips on best practice with social media such as the social media toolkit produced by Communications, but there are also pockets of skepticism around social media and particularly about its relevance within formal learning and teaching. In fact one person at the meeting had never used social media and didn’t want to try it, to which Eric exclaimed “This is 2016! – I’ll not force you to use social media but we will talk later!”. The OU is also a place where practice is diverse and where OU academics don’t necessarily engage directly with students but that aspect is managed through tutors (or ALs) so there can be a disconnect.

Here are my key takeaways from the session:

  1. We aren’t using social media consistently and effectively to support and facilitate our discourse within the Open University and that has  consequences for our engagement with our learners and more widely within our teaching communities.
  2. Things are improving. Examples of use of social media which have in the past been treated as ‘renegade’ are now being seen as exemplars of good practice, which is encouraging. e.g. the use of FaceBook within Social Science to support 26,000 learners
  3. It sounds like assessment may be the key to unlocking a bit of a cultural shift towards using social media more effectively…that and the push by certain individuals at the senior level is crucial. (this was echoed by Eric)
  4. We don’t need a formal strategy (considered to be constricting) and LTS are considering how to build a “manifesto” already as a grass roots approach, so what the group thought would be most valuable was an enabling framework within which people could experiment with optionally using social media within their contexts.
  5. We need to ensure that academic staff are developed and supported to be digital scholars, which includes using social media effectively, so we see a need to build this into the “academic excellence” objective that is currently being formulated.
  6. We need to ensure that we consider appropriate platforms and risks when using social media so we see a need to build these elements into the “leadership in digital innovation” objective that is currently being formulated.
  7. We need to provide greater support for ‘grass roots’ initiatives and to remove barriers to adoption, this includes advocacy at senior level but also enabling through joined up thinking and grass roots initiatives such as the special interest group for social media.
  8. We need to continue to engage with external perspectives to help us to see how we compare, and to ensure that we are leading the way around social learning.

Eric is reporting back his thoughts to the Vice Chancellor, and we are now exploring how we can work with the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching Innovation), the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Strategy) and the Head of Digital Engagement in particular to form an action plan to take this work forward – with thanks to Simon Horrocks, Beccy Dresden and The LTS team in particular who are supporting this work and considering the next steps.

Watch this space.

My highlights of 2015


“Don’t procrastinate” – that was my only resolution for the New Year as I started 2015. I began the year by moving to Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS) which was a big decision as it was a huge change for me to leave behind the research part of my job to focus on the big challenge of working in the learning and teaching area to create the TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) sub-unit of LTS.
Over the past year we’ve created a sub-unit with 44 extremely dedicated and committed staff from different parts of LTS who have come together to cover four TEL areas which complement each other. These areas are Learning Innovation, Learning Environments, TEL Design and Online Student Experience. All areas are supported by evidence which is gathered through student engagement or by working with areas from across the Open University responsible for data and analytics.

 

…it has been extremely hard work. TEL was created during a change process which saw the OU cut costs and reduce staffing across all units. This meant that we needed to adjust plans in March to take account of the financial constraints. TEL was also created during a period when we could not afford to reduce productivity which meant that people were expected to “double hat”, doing both their previous role and their new TEL role in parallel. I have huge admiration of the team and unit for what has been achieved. We’ve run Hack Days, drop-in events and worked with people across the OU to deliver a series of “Quick Win” projects to accelerate priority activities for TEL and we’ve also collaborated with the IET Learning Design team to create a joint series of Special Interest Group events to stimulate discussion about TEL across the organisation. We have created new websites including the Learning Innovation site. We have introduced a TEL design process across OU module production and have begun to explore co-creation, live student feedback, activity design, workload consistency issues and many more.

tel-cloud

Across the wider Open University the new OpenTEL Priority Research Area has been created which complements TEL, the research feeding through into practice.

As well as the organisational achievements I’ve also had some personal achievements during 2015. I became Acting Director of TEL in May and have enjoyed a year sitting in the “hot seat” driving the work of the unit. I’m now looking forward to taking on a new challenge in 2016 and to passing on the leadership of TEL to Mark Nichols who takes the reins in February.

I have achieved Senior Fellowship status with the Higher Education Academy through an OpenPAD inquiry process. My personal inquiry was my reflection on delivering services for the Open Science Lab (now called Open STEM Lab). I really enjoyed the process of reflection. I would encourage colleagues in HE to go through this process as it is extremely valuable to improving practice across the sector.

downloadI’ve also written a book chapter for a Routledge International publication, again on my work on iSpot and the Open Science Lab, in particular about using a participatory approach and design based research methodology to develop the mobile optimized experience – The book, published today, is called Mobile Learning and STEM: Case studies in practice  (a good read – especially chapter six!). Janice Ansine and Kevin Mcleod helped me to get the chapter in shape. The lead author role gave me a new found admiration for the work of my academic colleagues as it has been very challenging fitting the writing around the other aspects of my job.

I’ve really enjoyed the friendships I’ve made during 2015 and these will stay with me for life. I’m looking forward to the changes to the the portfolio and to enabling innovation across the University.

 

 

…I haven’t been procrastinating.

My next blog post will be about my thoughts on the external environment, the culture for innovation and the challenges ahead!

Innovation to Impact

“Innovation to Impact: Whilst there is a great deal of innovation in the University, it has been difficult to get ideas realised and tested quickly.  It will be necessary to take more managed risks to enable us to innovate rapidly and bring the benefits of innovation to our students.”

L&T Vision and Plan 2025  – Belinda Tynan PVC LT

In my last post Adaptive Capacity I began by setting the scene around the innovation agenda for The Open University, and more widely across UK Higher Education in order to meet the challenges that are currently faced by the sector. I’ll now delve a bit deeper into the Learning Innovation area to cover some of my recent work.

I’ll begin by setting out some of the current organisational barriers in the area of learning innovation as I see them:

  • There is frequently no early dialogue between different units to establish when services could be more widely applied to OU Learning and Teaching.
  • Research systems are not created to be enterprise ready and not designed with operational criteria in mind.
  • There is no organisational resource earmarked to bridge the gap between research funded activity and operational activity.
  • There is no systematic joining of the pedagogical, content and technical expertise across the organisation to enable leveraging of scholarship and research expertise to drive forward enterprise level innovation.

I suspect this is not uncommon in most large organisations that have grown organically and responded to different market forces and funding regimes. At the heart of this is a deep rooted risk aversion that has grown over the past decade. I speak to other people across the organisation and I hear things such as “the project and risk management expected of a mature organisation”. What this brings with it is a culture where experimentation is treated as recklessness and where it is deemed unacceptable to take risks.

So what should we do to address this? – I’ve had a number of workshops with colleagues from the Institute of Educational Technology, Knowledge Media Institute and Learning and Teaching Solutions (in particular the Learning Innovation team) along with a number of academic chums from across the faculties to try to tease this out and we’ve done lots of creative scribbling on boards! …

board

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The objective has been to improve the environment for innovation. The above scribbling represents a ‘maturity model’ where as a project moves from incubation to larger scale there is a process and environment to allow that transition to take place and at each stage a gradually larger amount of ‘transition funding’ is released (and consequently rigour applied) following an evaluation to allow the project to move to the next stage…but before I get into too much detail what framework is needed?

Let’s call it an “action plan” to addresses the four areas:

  • Governance – Directing investment and identifying opportunities for adoption from existing research work
  • Process – Creating a managed innovation process
  • Systems – The structure required to manage innovation projects
  • Culture – Developing a culture which enables innovation and managed risk taking

This is easy to say but difficult to achieve (see my previous post for details on that). I intend to cover all of these areas in future posts but I’ll begin by taking one of these, let’s take process for example, how would we achieve that objective?

Objective: Create an innovation pathway

  1. Identify and track opportunities to leverage research, scholarship and innovation investments etc.
  2. Regularly review the Learning Systems Roadmap and priorities in light of these opportunities.
  3. Ensure a clear and transparent process is in place to support the inclusion of worthwhile opportunities – where colleagues know how to get their work adopted to benefit students and learners and understand the learning systems priorities.
  4. Opportunities are developed by the appropriate teams at the appropriate stages for sustainability, quality, performance and security.
  5. Opportunities are reviewed throughout the development stages and continued or culled as appropriate.
  6. The cost/benefit of all developments is tracked.

The overall investment in learning systems results in an improved experience and outcomes for students and learners.

So on a practical level what can we do to enable this, what concepts can we apply?

Concepts discussed:

  1. “ideas club” – fostering ideas in a friendly informal environment
  2. Create an “ideas bank” and allow mechanisms for worthwhile ideas to get incubated and sponsored. (N.B. this needs to be carefully managed and orchestrated so that it is more than just a popularity contest but addresses mundane but important organisational innovation as well as the “shiny stuff” – Neilsen and Norman have done some good work on this within the usability research field)
  3. Build innovation into work planning and career development processes so that people are encouraged to develop ideas (i.e. building time in to allow everyone to develop scholarly practice across the organisation).
  4. Three stages
    1. “feral” – use anything, built it try it, agile, cull or iteratively improve.
    2. “incubated” – evaluated, developed further, sponsored, fostered.
    3. “mainstreamed” – roadmap ready, enterprise ready, robust, scalable, sustainable.

How do we remove blockers to taming the “feral children”? – That is the cultural challenge. To put this into perspective I often quote Ron Tolido, Chief Technology Officer at Amazon

“At Amazon, you must write a business case to stop an innovation proposal, rather than to start one. Silences 90% of nay-sayers”

This can be achieved if we all treat innovation as something we expect and sponsor. If you haven’t read it the Educause paper Building a Culture of Innovation in Higher Education: Design & Practice for Leaders is a good read with lots of practical advice.

 

I’ll talk more on the cultural aspects in my next post.