All entries for May 2020

May 28, 2020

Reading for Wellbeing – Kate Glavina

I have often shared with trainee teachers the analogy promoted by Professor Sims Bishop of books being ‘windows, mirrors, and sliding doors’ and how important these concepts are in terms of the range and diversity of books shared with pupils in school. ‘Windows’ is to do with ‘looking out’ – it is the idea that the books we give children offer views of the ‘worlds of others’, beyond their own reality. ‘Sliding doors’ is to do with stepping beyond the view from the window – enabling children to enter (albeit imaginatively) the world of the book to experience a different reality. ‘Mirrors’ is to do with book choices including texts that mirror and reflect the child’s own reality so that the pages of the book value and validate who that child ‘is’. In other words, the child is looking back at themselves. The combination of ‘mirrors, windows and sliding doors’ is a powerful way of encapsulating the different ways in which books enable children to enter new worlds, visit new places, inhabit the lives of characters and, most importantly, learn to empathise by ‘walking around ‘in someone else’s shoes’. These are surely undisputed reasons for all schools providing pupils with a rich range of texts and a wide range of reading experiences, including time in the day for independent reading and for being read to.

A further reason for parents and educators to recognise and understand the importance of encouraging children to read is the fact that research by The Reading Agency has found reading can benefit our wellbeing and help us to make social connections. Research suggest that people who read regularly are more satisfied with life and more likely to feel that the things they do are worthwhile. Reading for pleasure can improve relationships and reduce symptoms of depression. Considering these research findings in relation to children, it seems fair to suggest that emotionally, books can offer children dual benefits – they can be an opportunity for the reader to become rapt and delighted in an ‘escape’ from the ‘real world’ into a magical, fantastical one. Equally, books can be transformative for children who are feeling isolated, worried and vulnerable, in the way that they can offer children scope to share and identify with a character who is depicted as sharing similar ‘life challenges’. Jacqueline Wilson highlighted this exact point recently, emphasising the power of books to reassure children experiencing difficult times, helping them to feel that they are not ‘alone’. In terms of wellbeing, then, the world of books has the scope to provide both reassurance to children and a sense of ‘connection’. More generally, books which invite and enable children to enter the lives of others and inhabit their concerns and preoccupations – whether mirroring their own or not - can be a key antidote to the inward-looking, self-absorption which is engendered by many social media platforms which isolate and create anxiety for many youngsters in our classrooms.

At a time when the Education Inspection Framework is placing an emphasis on reading for pleasure and schools will consequently be reviewing their reading programmes, it is timely to build on the issues around diversity of text selection and opportunities for reading and to make explicit to parents and educators, the role books play in promoting emotional wellbeing. What should we be doing? What messages should we be sharing? Perhaps a key message to convey to parents is that ‘family encouragement’ to read beyond early childhood is invaluable. In areas of social disadvantage where literacy levels may be low and some parents may be holding enduring negative memories of reading themselves, teachers could invite them to share story time during the school day so they can observe ‘how it’s done’ and recognise that sharing a book is not a threatening or difficult thing to do. Class and school libraries should offer diversity in their stock so that both teachers and pupils have ready access to books which reflect important themes and highlight pertinent issues. Steadily, in these ways, it is possible for schools to develop a culture in which it is routine for staff, children and parents to reach for a book for solace, ‘company’ and understanding. That is to say, in terms of supporting children’s wellbeing, the power and potential of reading has never been more important.

May 18, 2020

Digifest 2020 part three – Abigail Ball

Where they have been made available, the slides for the various sessions are on the link below:

Exploring digital wellbeing

Alicja Shah and Heather Price from JISC ran a workshop introducing JISC’s new definition of digital wellbeing. They got workshop participants to create digital wellbeing trees looking at the challenges organisations face in this area and what the possible solutions to those challenges might be.

Practical approaches to building the digital capability of staff and students

Lisa Gray (JISC), Elizabeth Newell (University of Nottingham) and James Kieft (Activate Learning) discussed their practical experiences of building the digital capability of their students and staff. They outlined the approaches they’ve taken and identified benefits, lessons learnt and next steps. All of these presentations centred around using the JISC Discovery Tool.

Supporting student wellbeing through our virtual learning platform

Kim Blanchard and Faz Masters both from Activate Learning introduced how they have used their VLE to support their learners on their journey at the college. They explained how they have developed key dimensions of core wellness for their students:

  • Occupational
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Financial

And how students can gain badges for the different topics.

Making a learning environment accessible to everyone

In this session Alan Crawford a Microsoft Learning consultant, discussed how to make content accessible in Windows 10. Points discussed included:

  • The mobile accessibility deadline on 23rd June 2021
  • Using building blocks for coding
  • Using the translator functionality – which literally translates word for word (not into meaningful phrases)
  • Eye control/narrator
  • Dictate
  • PowerPoint Designer
  • Accessibility checker
  • Office accessible templates on the web
  • Accessibility Insights on Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge
  • Automated transcripts from videos (not as accurate as you would hope)
  • Immersive reading in Office 365
  • Wellbeing in My Analytics
  • PowerPoint Coach
  • Accessibility Insights 10
  • The importance of using meaningful display names in hyperlinks

The closing keynote was cancelled.

*These notes are my own personal reflections and have not been endorsed by JISC or the individuals who presented the sessions.

May 11, 2020

Digifest 2020 part two – Abigail Ball

Where they have been made available, the slides for the various sessions are on the link below:

Digital imposter syndrome - Theresa Marriott, digital learning technologist, Bishop Grosseteste University and Kate Bridgeman, teaching enhancement officer, University of Hull

I was quite interested in this session because of the nature of my role and because I am co-lead of the WIHEA Third Space Professional Learning Circle. Many third space professionals view themselves as imposters (although interestingly not with the negative connotations that this presentation implied) so I wanted to see if the presenters had a different perspective to add to the topic. They talked about recognising the signs of digital imposter syndrome including feelings of inadequacy when faced with something new, fear of failure and avoidance. They then moved on to discuss positive steps to help overcome digital imposter syndrome including coaching, the use of a safe/neutral workspaces and drop-in and open-door policies.

Bridging the skills gap: a novel approach to delivering academic skills support

Catriona Matthews from the University of Warwick talked about her experiences of running a pilot programme in an undergraduate classics module, to bridge the student transition skills gap between school or college and university.

Leveraging tech to close student support gaps

Vygo is a mobile platform that enables peer-to-peer tutoring and mentoring for university students via what it calls ‘local tutoring marketplaces.’ Vygo has a mobile app which allows students who need support to contact other students who can provide that support. Joel Di Trapani, co-founder of Vygo and Professor Jonathan Shaw from Coventry University talked about Coventry University’s approach to student support and how they have used Vygo to enable this.

Blackboard Ally

I saw an interesting piece of software at Digifest called Blackboard Ally. This helps staff to make digital content more accessible for students. It works with Moodle; it automatically checks content against WCAG2.1 and AA rules and it generates alternative formats such as semantic HTML and audio braille. This is something that needs to be considered at an institutional level rather than at a departmental level, so I will be encouraging the central Academic Technologies team to explore this further, as I think it is important for our students, particularly in this increased time of online learning.

Digital transformation: the bear in the room – Lindsay Herbert, author of Digital Transformation

According to Lindsay, real transformation comes from tackling problems that matter, but we spend far too much time and energy on ‘elephant in the room’ type problems instead. She argues that we need to tackle ‘the bear in the room’ to create lasting innovations with wide-reaching impact.

Lindsay introduced us to the five stages of personal digital transformation (denial, fear, anger, delight and attachment) and then went on to talk about the BUILD acronym. BUILD is essentially the five stages that all successful transformations have, namely:

  1. Bridge [the gaps between your institution, its stakeholders and the changes happening around it]
  2. Uncover [hidden barriers, useful assets and needed resources to achieve the transformation]
  3. Iterate [use short cycles, test with real users, improve gradually]
  4. Leverage [use successes to access more resources, influence stakeholders and give yourself the space to scale up]
  5. Disseminate [tell people what works and why]!

*These notes are my own personal reflections and have not been endorsed by JISC or the individuals who presented the sessions.

May 05, 2020

Digifest 2020 part one – Abigail Ball

This event (which feels like an eternity ago given lockdown and all of the changes since then) took place across two days in mid-March in Birmingham. Where they have been made available, the slides for the various sessions are on the link below:

Make way for Gen Z - Jonah Stillman, co-founder, author and speaker

This was an interesting keynote on day one where the very engaging Jonah, explained the difference between his generation (Gen Z) and other generations, such as Millennials or Baby Boomers. He described how Gen Z students:

  1. are realistic
  2. are driven (competitive)
  3. suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) - which is why they always have their devices with them
  4. are Phigital (yes apparently that is a real term and means they are comfortable with a blend of physical and digital experiences)
  5. like to engage in hyper-customisation (which means they expect to be able to choose what they want to read/listen to/watch/eat and when they want to do this - think boxset binging and ordering take-aways)
  6. Do It Themselves (are independent and happy to try give things a go)
  7. are Weconomists (another new term which means they engage in a shared economy)

Whilst most of this was fairly light and quite tongue in cheek in some cases, the important point Jonah was making was that our universities are now multi-generational, and we have to accommodate these generations in our teaching practice. What works or worked for Millennials does not necessarily work for Gen Z students and we need to be much more aware of this. He did not provide answers per se, but he did raise awareness which I guess is the purpose of a keynote.

An evidence-based journey of digital transformation - Gavin McLachlan, vice-principal, chief information officer and librarian, University of Edinburgh

Due to the cancellation of the session I had planned to attend, I missed the first part of this session, but Gavin talked about the importance of digital culture and vision and how an institutional digital strategy needed to be aligned with the culture and vision of that institution. He also talked about the importance of having a digital e-safety policy and how the University of Edinburgh has developed a digital transformation programme which is composed of seven pillars:

  1. Every educator is a digital educator (very apposite)
  2. Every student is a digital student (it was almost as if he were psychic)
  3. Every University service is a digital service
  4. Every decision considers the available evidence
  5. Everyone plans and updates their digital skills (particularly liked this one as Edinburgh mandates two digital skills courses per year; controversial I know but probably necessary especially given Covid-19)
  6. Stop wondering about the future and start predicting the future (easier said than done)
  7. Hyper-connected digital economy and digital community (again much easier said than done but a good aspitation to have)

If you would like to know more, Edinburgh have contributed a case study to the JISC website.

*These notes are my own personal reflections and have not been endorsed by JISC or the individuals who presented the sessions.

May 2020

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