A New Future for CETIS

After over a decade of supporting Jisc innovation and projects a new future beckons for CETIS. Following the Wilson review of Jisc, the organisation has confirmed that it will continue to provide “core” funding to CETIS until July 2013. Since 1998 CETIS has established a global reputation in the fields of educational technology and interoperability, from July 2013 we will build on that reputation and work with other partners to ensure that interoperability is a key consideration for Universities and Colleges.

In response to the announcement close colleague and former chair of our Board, Professor Mark Stiles said:
“CETIS is recognised internationally as an invaluable centre of expertise. As universities struggle to address the very real challenges confronting them, CETIS will be an essential source of guidance and support. The need for universities to take an enterprise view of their information, not just for learning and teaching but also organisationally, will place standards and interoperability high on the national agenda, and I am confident that CETIS will be more than able to respond to this and become ever more successful. Whilst the Board has been wound up, its members, including myself, are committed to continuing to work with, and support, CETIS in its reborn form.”

We will continue to work with Jisc, and other agencies and organisations in the sector. Many of our partners see us as a “trusted” broker for information and future developments of educational technology and standards in education, and we aim to maintain that role. We are currently working with a number of our partners with a view to funding future activities.

Over the next seven months CETIS and Jisc will work together to develop a new relationship. We are also actively seeking out new collaboration opportunities with a range of stakeholders in the education sector and looking forward to maintaining and extending our valued position in national and international developments around the use of educational technology, interoperability and standards.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jisc for supporting our work in the sector over the last decade and look forward to continuing to working together in key areas in future years.

Education is about compromise, a negotiated social contract

The purpose of education is:

“To teach you stuff, so when you grow up you know what to do and everything! You wouldn’t be able to read and write and do stuff like that.”

This was the quite succinct response to the question offered by my ten year old son and on reflection I’m not convinced that I could provide a more pithy statement. Unlike many of my colleagues my focus in this post is on Education as a system as opposed to ideal. From a cybernetic perspective systems are defined by what they “do”. What is it exactly that education does? What attributes do we assign to an educated person?

It would be easy for me to write a scathing critique of the education “system”. A system designed in and a relic of the Victorian era to produce the well educated workforce required to fuel industrial manufacturing output. As Ken Robinson et al argue it is a system that stifles creativity and innovation, one shaped by political doctrine. I could offer a list of worthy ideals, my own particular favourite being “enlightenment”, not purely in the Ionian sense but in the spiritual, others would include curiosity, creativity, connectedness and magic, ideals that undoubtedly resonate with my peers in the academic community. The purpose of education should be all of these things and more … the process by which wisdom is attained an ability to think beyond what is “given”. John Dewey suggested the primary purpose of education is the transfer of established conventions of knowledge and values across generations.

For me though, Education is about compromise, a negotiated social contract, one that deals with the complexity of expectation management. Ask the stakeholder constituents, and you will find a series of conflicting expectations and that’s why education is unavoidably political. Governments of all persuasions want, indeed need be seen, to care and provide “good education” of one flavour or another in an attempt to satisfy, through compromise, the conflicting demands and expectations of society for their own political purpose. Teachers invariably want to provide a “good” education based on their personal constructs of what that should constitute, compromised by such things as the requirements of state examination regimes and national curricula. Administrators may characterise good education as one of safety, order and control. Industry and employers demand “good” education that provides them with a variety of educated, able, skilled workers and students want a “good” education in order to get one of these jobs and, quoting my son, so that they know “what to do and everything” These disparate groups have from their individual perspectives perfectly valid expectations of education and all are constituent parts of an extremely complex system, with the associated variety management, that is education.

If we as a society continue to fund state education through central taxation and do not adopt the illichian ideal of de-schooling society then our education system will remain one characterised by compromise

And the Winner Is … The UK

I have spent this week at the IMS Learning Impact Conference in Long Beach California. I’ve enjoyed the conference and sensed a remarkably fresh approach, amongst delegates and IMS alike, to standards and their role in educational technology. Overall I’d suggest a strong re- affirmation that the direction of travel we have been following in CETIS is very much on course. Lots of talk of openness, collaboration and Learner centred approaches (I’ll reflect on this in my next blog post). As is custom at this event the final activity, before workshops and working group meetings, is the annual Learning Impact Awards. It was something akin to the British (music) invasion of the early 1960′s with the UK dominating the platinum awards across all categories winners included The BBC for their accessibility tool kit ASK, Pebblepad and the Nottingham Xerte online toolkit Three out of the four main awards to the UK with two of these being accessibility tools.

The ICT Dilemma facing Senior Management in FE

Earlier this week I was invited into a Further Education College to participate in a Technology Strategy working Group. I’m really very pleased to be invited to these kinds of discussions as I see them as crucial in informing both my work for JISC CETIS and the IEC Department in Bolton. Perhaps on the down side it is a often a (much needed) harsh reality check on the challenges faced by institutions in applying technologies and technology policy across their enterprise, not just in the teaching and Learning domain.

I have previously “blogged” about, what I see as, often poorly informed and quite “Draconian” policies regarding internet usage within FE colleges including, for example the wholesale blocking of students’ internet access to social networking sites. It’s easy and too simplistic to suggest that this is resolved solely by increased knowledge amongst administrators, education, or by a more sophisticated understanding of ICT by those responsible for policy. There are major issues at the policy level, which Colleges are obliged to deal with.

There is some discussion as to what level of technical understanding should senior Management in institutions have. Lawrie Phipps, JISC programme Manager “blogged” about this very subject earlier this week. And he raises some important issues and questions.

What has prompted my current thinking on this situation are recent guidelines produced by Ofsted in structuring grades for College Assessment within the Leadership and Management effectiveness. Two of the criteria “Safeguarding” and “Equality and Diversity” are what are termed as Limiting grades; which in effect means should a college receive an “ineffective” grade on one of these criteria it is unlikely that overall effectiveness of the college would be assessed as anything but “inadequate” which in turn triggers a series of requirements of the college.

Whilst these two criteria are clearly extremely important the emphasis of college’s maybe, understandably, concentrated on these criteria. Quality of provision, which falls within the teaching, learning, and Assessment criteria, could be compromised. Whilst Ofsted recognizes the need to equip students with the skills necessary to navigate the digital space safely; the balance is precarious.

Clearly any college that blocks access to all sensitive sites and social networking sites is “effective” with its safeguarding policy but would, in my view, be quite inadequate with its teaching, Learning and assessment provision. The former however carries much greater weight.

I’m sure there is good practice in dealing with this in the FE sector but it does present a real challenge to senior Management

Are we crawlers, walkers or Runners when it comes to Business Intelligence in Higher Education?

I was pleased to attend with JISC colleagues the recent

UCISA Business Intelligence event in Bristol In the context of current CETIS work in the support and synthesis project for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Student Life-cycle support project.

There were a variety of speakers at the event and a great deal consistency of issues raised, issues relevant to our work in CRM/SLRM. There were however also some quite notable inconsistencies.
One of the speakers described business intelligence in Higher Education (HE) as being a “mature “ area whilst another revealed when conducting an ad hoc straw poll of those attending the event (largely UCISA members ,Management and Information Systems Managers/Directors in HE) asking the audience to categorise where they believed their institutions were with Business Intelligence as Crawlers (Very much at the early scoping stage) Walkers (Scoping and pre-planning stage) and Runners (Planning and implementation stage) Out of an audience there were no runners about six or seven confessed walkers with the rest of us admitting to being crawlers, which I think is probably a more accurate reflection as to where institutions are just now.

William Liew and Martine Carter talked about Business intelligence activities at the University of Bristol which were driven from a financial measurement perspective and their attempts to integrate systems across research, procurement and student data and in their words “eliminate” local systems in order striving for the very bold ambition of“true” data for financial purposes. In their work they recognised multi stakeholder perspectives and quite honestly detailed the barriers they encountered. I must confess to having a little difficulty when one approach or one model is presented as THE model. Models from my perspective are a useful tool “A way of presenting a particular view of the world or representation from a particular perspective “too often they presented as THE view of THE organisations, it is one of the inherent deficiencies of modelling of any persuasion.

I was also very interested in David Sowerby’s presentation regarding the University of Bedfordshire’s student retention system and recognised the potential significance of this approach, in particular given the current Border Agency requirements of institutions to monitor foreign student attendance. Metrics relating to student “engagement” were presented, metrics based on consistent parameters being applied across the institution and values set against these parameters to define levels of student “Engagement” in order to flag up potential retention issues… all interesting stuff.
Some of the key points in BI implementation highlighted were:
1. Stakeholder Engagement buy-in ownership was essential.
2. The need for (process) modelling.
3. Data Quality – Bad data in Bad data out.
4. The need for meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
I am mindful that I will be attending the IMS GLC Learning Impact conference in the US in May 2010 and contributing to the Analytics discussions at this event.

I suspect our US colleagues are, using the earlier analogy, runners and they will indeed be running with Business Intelligence, although whether this is in the right direction will be the big question.

We’ve come a long way but …

I consider myself extremely fortunate indeed to work within an organisation, JISC CETIS, that is as progressive as it is, one that fosters a spirit of enquiry and in a collegiate environment where open, honest and frank exchanges are encouraged. Our funders, JISC in the words of Chief Executive Dr Malcolm Reed “are there to take the risks (with technology) institutions could not independently”. I’m involved with and support JISC activities that are highly innovative in the application of technologies within educational settings, professional, informed and enthusiastic colleagues surround me and work associates at the “bleeding edge” of education technology.

Independent of (but related to) my work in CETIS I have a senior board role with a large educational institution within the sector; this role exposes me to the “pragmatic challenges” facing institutions at a policy level and the role technology plays is supporting the “business” of the institution. The duality of the roles provides me with insight both into the benefits of the work we undertake for the sector and equally serves to highlight where impact in the sector is limited.

Two recent examples have emerged of the limitation of impact.

JISC recently published the highly regarded Designing Spaces for Effective Learning; which can be downloaded from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/learningspaces.pdf the publication highlights the good work being undertaken within the sector. The institution I am involved with used the principals highlighted to design a new learning space and indeed provided a case study to the JISC, which has been used in other JISC publications. To my dismay after a little over twelve months of usage the builders were in constructing walls and converting a large part of the space into a conventional “Student support Centre”. My initial enquiry as to why was largely treated with derision but further enquiry (Estates usage survey) revealed this (primary) space was not being utilized for teaching and learning.

Ofstead recently published policy guidelines relating to student safety (particularly in respect to the 14-19 agenda) and how these guidelines would be reflected in future inspections, the response of the institution (No doubt prompted by the MIS department) to lock down student (and tutor) access to all social software sites; problem solved at least from the regulatory perspective. Only a number of students had been using social web solutions as integral elements of their e-portfolio and reflective practice, from publicizing events on facebook through to using Blogs (wordpress) as reflective practice covering the period of study. Tutors I spoke to left with the problem of no access to students work for assessment purposes (Yes they could of course access the work via their own personal technology).

We encourage our students to use a variety of tools to support their learning; the concept of the Personal Learning Environment (PLE), has been developed around the notion of students own tools indeed government policy has gone to great lengths espousing the value of personalization as part of a rich learning experience. New work is also emerging around the concept of the distributed Virtual-learning environment.

I shouldn’t be surprised by either example they relate directly to the age-old adage that without supporting professional development and cultural change strategies our interventions, however well researched and intentioned, may be doomed to failure.

Neither am I critical of those responsible for the decisions to take action in either case; in both cases the decisions and action taken can be substantiated with “empirical evidence”.

As I say we have come a long way but…

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Higher Ambitions The Future of Universities in the Knowledge Economy

I have just been digesting the content of “Higher Ambitions” the governments recently published ‘framework” for the future of Universities here in the UK.

The impact of this report will be significant in shaping future priorities and investment in the sector and as such will frame much of the activity that JISC and JISC CETIS will undertake over the coming years. If not framing future activity it will certainly frame the environment in which we operate. The document does outline useful observations, in particular, relating to work-based learning , business and community engagement and in anticipation of the changing student demographic. These are themes that have been explored by the JISC through it’s funding and development activities over the last few years and as such is a strong endorsement of the current JISC strategy.

Technology is highlighted as a key element of the sectors global competitiveness although those of us who remember the e-university project will proceed with some caution in pursuing these ambitious objectives. More concerning is, what I consider, an over emphasis on the STEM subjects seen as,to the detriment of arts and the humanities, the key to future economic growth and the implicit suggestion that the key metrics applied to determine the “quality” of education are employability or a “good” job (whatever that may be). The report fails to recognize the massive contribution the arts and humanities make to society, even using the preferred metrics of government , financial, the arts and humanities generate around 30% of research income for UK universities.

Somewhere the “joy” of learning as reward in itself is lost and there seems little recognition of the benefits, economic or otherwise, of subjects such as the classics. I’m mindful that many of our current crop of politicians ,received their political grounding in the classics and other theoretical subjects. Many of our celebrated entrepreneurs also received a “classical” education. The government recently appointed Martha Lane-Fox as head of digital inclusion, Martha is highly regarded as a vanguard for women in technology and her entrepreneurial skills and yes Martha studied “classical” History at Oxford; I’m sure that she would contest the value of her studies in helping shape her successful business career.

One hopes that we don’t loose sight of the bigger picture in education by sacrificing the arts, humanities and the classics in striving for the perceived and dubious short term economic benefits of business/employment related courses, do we even run the risk of “training” our students for jobs that may not exist?

Digital Inclusion what is the message ?

I have been closely monitoring with interest the activities and ongoing debate in respect of the UK governments activities in respect of the digital inclusion agenda.

Being brutally honest with the appointment of dot com entrepreneur Martha Lane- Fox as “Digital inclusion Champion” I was initially concerned how “inclusive” the agenda would be given Ms Lane-Fox’s largely privileged background, and whilst the jury still remains out, I have been impressed with much of the work done thus far, this despite Martha’s occasional dip into “apple pie and mother statements”. Her personal enthusiasm for the role is evident and has significantly raised the profile of digital inclusion arguably the “lions share “ of the challenge facing us.

I read with interest this morning’s published data from PWC relating to the “benefits of getting everyone online in the UK are GBP22billion” and this has served to highlight some issues I have with the focus of the undertaking.

“>www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=268499

Perhaps I’m being a little disingenuous as I have not had the benefit of reading the whole of the PWC report but it does have the taint of many of those presented by management consultants, justifying their own role, importance and significance in the activity leading to the inevitable further commissioning of work.

The report does highlight the issue that over 10million adults across the UK have never used the internet and of these 4million are “socially excluded” a definition of which is not at present provided of this number (4million) 39% are over 65, 38% are unemployed and 19% families with children. In the draft there is no mention of those with disability or accessibility challenges which in itself is quite concerning. The report then goes further in presenting questionable data in respect of lifetime savings.

There is a real conflict in the duality of the aims and motivation in undertaking “Digital inclusion” activity. There is a compelling argument, no doubt supported by the treasury in these uncertain economic times, of ‘savings “ of GBP900million pounds in “customer contact costs” however they may be defined.

There are arguments and some data supporting the notion of the potential benefits accrued by those digitally included in society. We must when highlighting the benefits also equip, in a measured non alarmist way, the “included” with the critical skills required to mange the inherent risks and danger of online activity in a balanced way.

From my perspective there is one key word that seems to be missing form the report though I hope not the debate that of “choice”.

Digital inclusion should primarily be about choice, the informed choice of individuals how to participate (or not) in (digital) society.

Kevin Kelly talks about possessing the ability to “switch off” from the digital world to counteract arguments of technological determinism. If the inclusion strategy is about choice, widening accessibility, voluntary participation and improvement in the population’s digital literacy I’m fully behind it. If it is about compulsion to participate I’m not we (and the govt) need to be much clearer about this.

I’m sure that I would be classified as one of the digitally included and thankful I am but I choose not to use any number of digital services including Online banking, tax file systems, payment for local council services etc etc and I choose from a position of being informed. My father (one of the digitally excluded over 65’s mentioned in the report) chooses to be digitally excluded, despite my best efforts to provide him with technology and inform him of the benefits inclusion would bring to him. He chooses to walk to the post office to pay his council tax monthly as it, I quote, “gets me out of the house, I like to walk and meet my fiends on the way and in the post office”. these are his informed choices.

The primary motivation behind digital inclusion should be to provide access, educate inform and prepare citizens to improve levels of digital literacy alongside the ambitions to broaden access to the technology.

This should be done with honesty with the aim of providing all UK citizens with skills and ability to make informed choices to the extent, which they may wish to participate in (digital) society.

Will the i Phone ever be free ?

Just about very day I meet a yet another colleague, or friend, extolling the virtues of the i Phone and I have to admit that I think it is a wonderful piece of technology and there can be no doubt the interface has revolutionised the way we interact with technology. Whilst I have been suitably impressed by the device; as a point of principal I have resisted buying one sticking rigidly with my (very) old tried and tested Nokia. This is not a result of standing aside brick walls in Birmingham with colleagues assuring me “There is a restaurant here” but as a direct result of the business model applied , I refuse to sign up to an exclusive carrier deal just to have access to the i Phone nor do I wish to purchase my applications exclusively through iTunes it is anti-competitive and despite the overtures of Apple “exclusivity breads innovation” I don’t buy the argument.

I was very heartened to read recently in Business week that Apples exclusivity agreements for approved networks and applications is being seriously challenged in the US. I also love the idea of “jailbreaking” being (possibly) legalised in the US. I hope that this happens here


Business Week article

Shock! Interoperability in the serious games space.

I have been speaking at the Apply serious games event occuring in London this week, this included chairing a panel addressing the technical challenges being faced by the industry (both fun and serious games).

One of the consistent themes expressed by industry representatives was the lack of interoperability that currently exisits between tools, middleware and the various development platforms.My read on this is that this is indicative of a change in mindshift in the industry, no doubt prompted by the huge costs now incurred by developers in working on new (console) platforms such as the xbox360 or Playstation 3.

I would never have predicted that this would be the case as developers have historically guarded their tools and IPR vehemently resisiting all attempts to share their technology. In the new development environment this seems to have been recognised as unsustainable.

Lets hope the industry adopts a lightwieght touch to speifications to achieve interoperability which should help smaller developers remain competitive in thsee difficult tmes or will “the big gorillas “in the room prevail.