(tl;dr – belated report on two internal events I organised and four I attended at City)
Opening the archives
Last year, I moved into a new position within LEaD’s Educational Technology Team, becoming a Senior Educational Technologist. The role has a Relationship Lead focus, and is associated with three of City’s schools. This means that I manage the relationship between educational technology at City and how that manifests in Cass, City Law School and SMCSE. It’s a really exciting role in many ways, as I get to work on a broad range of different projects and initiatives, and at many different levels. I also have the opportunity to explore possible synergies or areas for collaboration between the different schools. It does also mean, however, that I’m usually incredibly busy and have very little time to pause for breath and reflect on certain aspects of the work I’m involved in that can help to shape it. Not uncommon in HE, it seems, if my conversations with other senior academics or other professional services staff are anything to go by.
One of the ways that this manifests itself is that when I attend an event, internal or external, I often have to lean on ‘dissemination on the fly’ (such as tweeting from a conference) in order to keep a record or to share my findings with colleagues. These days, I rarely seem to get the chance to sit down and have a good think about what I’ve learned or discovered from attending something like a conference or a workshop, or from interfacing with others in the sector on the issues that arise in my work, and to then write it up for sharing afterwards or for bringing back to my work at City in some way.
In light of this, I’ve recently been going back through my archives to try and pull together some of the useful or interesting findings or reflections from events or campus visits I’ve been involved in over the past couple of years. This is leading to a likely occasional series of blog posts over the academic year that brings some of these things together and finally gives me a chance for some proper reflection on them.
This series is intended to go into detail on a handful of those events, and to list a few key takeaways from others. I plan to launch a collection of photographs from various learning spaces I have visited at other institutions across the UK. I also have an intended that will explore the use of animations in in-class polls via Poll Everywhere. I’ll tag all the posts as #ArchiveReflections in order to group them all together, but don’t hold your breath for regular instalments, dear reader – the inbox coalface is always calling, and it has a habit of shouting more loudly than blog posts do!
The first post in the series looks at some of the events that I have been involved in, organised, or attended, here at City.
I’ll Skype You In
The university launched International City Week in 2018, and I contacted the organisers to suggest that LEaD’s Educational Technology team could contribute something to the agenda. This resulted in ‘I’ll Skype You In‘, a lunchtime seminar intended to look at how educational technology can play a role in supporting the internationalisation agenda.
For this event, academic colleagues were invited to share examples of their work that involved crossing educational borders. We had academics from three schools join the line-up – Dr Ivan Sikora (SMCSE, Aviation) who talked about the ‘Learning to Fly’ project that I worked with him on, Dr Steven Truxal from City Law School on the LLM International Business online course – City’s first (and prize-winning) fully online programme, and Dr Rebecca Wells (Food Policy) on the innovative IFSTAL programme, a collaboration between several institutions.
Sikora and Wells were present in the room, while Truxal gave a presentation remotely, via Adobe Connect. All three presentations were run through Adobe Connect too, enabling remote participants to join the session and providing both remote and co-located participants a text-based channel for submitting questions. We used a webcam to pick up the audience in the room for feeding that out to those online, and a CatchBox mic for capturing the audio from audience questions. This gave an opportunity to try out how it might be possible to facilitate and support a similar event in a more regular educational context (such as a lecture or seminar), where the boundaries between present and remote participation were blurred for both presenters and audience. I described this approach as ‘blended synchronous learning‘.
Watch Ivan Sikora’s presentation below:
Sikora described our efforts to bring a colleague of his from industry into one of his undergraduate seminars, using similar technologies to the ones underpinning this event. In bringing an industry professional into his class in this way, he was able to make a stronger connection to employability for his students. Truxal shared many of the lessons learning from running a wholly online course, which included challenges with juggling students in different time zones, ensuring that online inductions are of a high standard, and details like repeating webinar questions asked in a chatroom to ensure that those following via audio only feel included. Once his presentation drew to a close, he also responded to questions asked in the room via Twitter, bringing another interaction dimension to proceedings. Wells described a range of experiments in multi-institution collaboration via online tools, which included fully online participation, switching between sites using Adobe Connect, and streaming a professional video feed via YouTube Live.
Browse tweets from the event in this Wakelet collection and watch Rebecca Wells’ presentation below:
Interrogating the Intelligent Campus
In January 2018, I ran a panel event at the Bett educational technology trade fair titled ‘The Smart Campus – A Future For Our Universities?’, a session that presented different perspectives on the prospect of a smart campus and invited the audience in to a discussion with the presenters. I was delighted to be able to bring this format in-house to City in January of this year, and build on it via a collaboration with Jisc.
This event was held in the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre, as part of Jisc’s intelligent campus community events series, and attracted around 100 people from across the UK. James Clay from Jisc opened the event, with an introduction to their work in the intelligent campus space. I then convened a panel of City representatives (including from LEaD, IT, Library and an academic and a student) to share their visions of what City’s campus might look like by 2026 and to take questions from the audience. Sample questions submitted by the audience are listed below, grouped together by theme:
- What are the underlying technologies being used for the analytical portion of the intelligent campus?
- If we allow students to opt-out, as we must, how do we ensure they are not negatively impacted in their studies as a result?
- Do you think that our students are even aware of how much data we gather already about them and use to make decisions? Adding in tracking data, is this the tipping point?
- Why is there an assumption that in a ‘post Cambridge Analytica’ Gen Z and those following will change their attitude to data sharing and what it is used for? Additionally would you agree that even with a student opt out an institution still has the right to collect data on location and usage?
- How do you consider staff attitudes to this subject being different to students?
- What is ethical is a moving target. In 10 years time, do you think we and our students will accept more tracking/surveillance as a normal part of life, or will we and they demand less intrusion?
- Can you think about any other applications of the intelligent campus for people with disabilities?
- Are technologists more risk-adverse on ethical issues in intelligent campuses than the general public?
- With more blended and online learning people might only come to campus for short periods of time. How might the campus of the future adapt to cater for this?
- Do you think that HEIs use their buying power to full advantage? It seems that on the whole, we adopt technology designed for other areas and wonder why it doesn’t fully help foster deeper learning or collaboration.
- The big opportunity around intelligent campus is greater efficiency, but to do this we may need to accept more automated assistance and be more liberal in how we are tracked. Corporates like Deloitte are doing this now (e.g. Edge Building, Amsterdam). Are universities ready to become more corporate to make great advances in this area?
Jisc give a live demo after the panel, collecting and displaying environmental sensor data from the room and sharing some of the technical details of how some intelligent campus technologies work. This was followed with two presentations – City alumni Robin Ghurbhurun on a new Richmond-On-Thames College campus and Jonathon Pokorny of Siemens on their vision of the campus of the future. Both were fascinating examples of activities happening in the wider sector.
As City was due to look again at the teaching equipment in the room as part of the DALI Summer upgrade, we used Poll Everywhere to harness the collective wisdom of the assembled crowd and ran an evaluation activity, asking for three aspects of the space that participants had enjoyed and three that they’d improve on, plus what they thought the key features of a large lecture theatre of the future should look like. It was very helpful to be able to gather so much immediate and direct feedback on the room, and was probably the largest scale learning space evaluation activity that I’ve been involved in.
Below is an interpreted aggregation of the ideas that came through for a ‘large lecture theatre of the future’ (with the assumption that they will still exist, at least for the foreseeable future, and that budget/technical possibility is not a constraining factor). The top idea that came through was the idea of some form of wireless sharing from screens, which happens to be something that City will be launching a pilot study with shortly. Forms of personalisation were very popular, such as of the AV display or more widely of the room itself. Forms of mixed or augmented reality layers on top of the physical features of the room were popular too, as was varieties of flexible seating (something that City at least has some pedigree in already). Two other features that are technically possible now but not widely adopted in most spaces were means of better incorporating remote or distant learners into the room and surface charging for mobile devices.
James Clay closed the event with a look at some of the legal and ethical dimensions of an intelligent campus. This blog post from him recounts his impressions of the day.
It was a very lively event, with plenty of discussion between people in the room and online via Twitter. This Wakelet collection captures some of the tweets from the day. The hope with events like these is that they plant a seed, from which hopefully new ideas, collaborations, questions or issues might emerge. I was therefore delighted to discover later in the year via Twitter an initiative that happened as a result of somebody coming to City to hear about the intelligent campus and seeing something in it that they could take away and apply.
Jon Cole of Morley College attended our event, took some ideas back to his institution, and is now running a pilot with Jisc that includes the use of sensors to find out which pianos and harpsichords need tuning in their music department, as well as the use of buttons for staff and students to provide feedback on environmental conditions in learning spaces. Find out more about Morley College’s explorations in this Jisc blog post.
HCID Open Day
SMCSE’s Centre for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) has an annual event dubbed the HCID Open Day that runs towards the end of the academic year. I’ve had the pleasure of joining two of these now, along with others in the LEaD team, and they have both been extremely well attended and cram-packed full of fascinating insights.
The 2018 event was titled ‘Beyond The Screen‘, with a look at non screen-based human-computer interaction technologies. In the opening keynote, I was introduced to the concept of ‘somaesthetics‘, a field of inquiry related to bodily perception, performance and presentation, via objects such as a lamp that dims in the same tempo as an individual’s breathing. City’s Dr Simone Stumpf spoke about the importance of making artificial intelligence (AI) understandable for everyone, while Deepak Sahoo spoke of future technologies such as haptic interactions. There was plenty of robot presence at the event, with BotsAndUs talking about designing robots for interactions in public spaces and an actual robot moving autonomously around the conference venue too. It was standing room only for a session on VUIs (Voice User Interfaces), which shared insights from an ethnographic study into one family’s domestic use of an Amazon Echo. The event wrapped up for me with a session that really pushed the envelope, with Rebecca Fiebrink from University of the Arts giving an academic presentation as a art performance around data sonification. This Wakelet collection captures my tweets from the event, to find out more.
This year’s HCID Open Day was perhaps even more inspiring, with a theme of ‘Design for Good‘. The opening keynote was from Daria Loi of Intel Labs, who spoke about the roles of HCI and design in responding to ageing societies. Sam Medrington talked about the complexities of ‘designing for good’, detailing projects that were intended for social benefit but which encountered ethical challenges. A panel event highlighted work going on at City that explores the interface between AI and journalism. Chris Speed, from the University of Edinburgh, followed with some endgame talk on the role of design in apocalyptic scenarios, including reference to the BitBarista, a machine that asks coffee purchasers to vote on where the machine buys its coffee beans from next. See more about the BitBarista below:
Other sessions I attended includes Cass’s Sara Jones on her work using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to stimulate design thinking, Angelika Strohmayer on justice-centred interaction design, a wide-ranging talk from Sam Hooper titled ‘Is designing for good always good?‘, Abi James on the overlap between accessibility and usability, and one on Animal-Computer Interaction to close. Here’s the Wakelet collection of tweets from the whole event – can’t wait for the 2020 HCID Open Day!
Learning about the differences between photonics and electronics at a work event – perks of the job 😊 pic.twitter.com/BFgB57Q7Ps
— Dom Pates (@dompates) April 17, 2019
SMCSE has put on a number of other very interesting events over the past year too. In April, an ‘Industrial Engagement‘ event brought together academics from the school and speakers from industry – the academic equivalent of a speed networking night. It was a good opportunity to develop a better understanding of some of the research activity that goes on in the school.
The following month saw ‘Megacities 2050‘, held as part of Clerkenwell Design Week. This event focused on three cities and the challenges that they faced in the future (and by extension, the ways that STEM education and research might be in a position to address some of those challenges). It was a fascinating evening, with talks from Ben Rogers of Centre for London, Kevin Hom, the Dean of the School of Technology at The City University of New York, and Joan Clos, the former Mayor of Barcelona.
Staying late at work, for a #ClerkenwellDesignWeek event – kicking off with Ben Rogers from @centreforlondon. Part of a programme thinking forward at ‘Megacities 2050’. Also has speakers from New York and Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/80slyfiZ6O
— Dom Pates (@dompates) May 22, 2019
It’s easy to take for granted when you work at a university some of the amazing events that take place across a campus or opportunities to do very interesting things if you can pull the right people together, but I try not to, if I can help it 🙂