All watched over by machines of cold indifference

This post is based on a presentation I gave at this afternoon’s M25 Learning Technology Group meeting at King’s College London.

The title of this post refers to an Adam Curtis documentary series from 2011, itself taken from a Richard Brautigan poem.  I’ve reproduced the last stanza:

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

This is a lyric expression of something that’s come to be known as Technological Utopianism.  This isn’t merely the preserve of beatniks and hippies; Bertrand Russell wrote, in his 1932 essay In Praise of Idleness, “four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit,” because:

Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was rendered possible only by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.

And John Maynard Keynes wrote, in his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, that within 100 years the “economic problem” would be solved.  In 2030 we would all be working “three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week” and:

For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

Keynes’s grandchildren are eleven years from this horizon, and (needless to say) things haven’t quite worked out that way.  Why not?

Russell’s “Modern technique”

Jacquard Loom

The Jacquard Loom in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris [Moof (CC BY 2.0)]

The Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris is a temple to scientific progress.  In its galleries you’ll find hundreds of machines, including a lovely example of the Jacquard loom.  Looking at the machine, you’ll see some punched cards which, as the mechanism moves, raise and lower different warp threads, producing patterned textiles.  The cards can be re-ordered to create different patterns.

Those punched cards may look familiar to computer users of a certain age; they are practically identical to those once used to program computers.  The comparison is not lost on the curators of the museum; the exhibition leads finally to a room containing a Cray 2 supercomputer. Nor was it lost on Charles Babbage, who understood punched cards could be used to program his Analytical Engine.


A fifteen hour week?

The textile industry gave Britain its first full-blown industrial relations crisis: the outbreak of machine breaking by the Luddites.  The Luddites were not, contrary to popular opinion, opposed to technology per se; textile workers had been using stocking frames since Tudor times, but in a highly-regulated industry.  The Luddites’ machine breaking was instead a response to the use of machinery in “a fraudulent and deceitful manner,” particularly by unskilled apprentices working without the supervision of master craftsmen.  In Eric Hobsbawm’s memorable phrase, the Luddites were conducting “collective bargaining by riot“.

The textile workers’ expertise, hitherto distributed among men and machines in a cottage industry, became concentrated in machines housed in factories owned by capitalists.

Did the textile workers share in the profits that followed? Did they reduce their hours to fifteen a week?  Of course not:

[Wages] could be compressed by direct wage-cutting, by the substitution of cheaper machine-tenders for dearer skilled workers, and by the competition of the machine.​  This last reduced the average weekly wage of the handloom weaver from 33s. in 1795 to 4s. 1½d. in 1829.​

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848

In thirty four years, their wages were reduced to one eighth.

So much for history

This is not a phenomenon confined to the pages of history books.  A similar battle is playing out right now, on the streets of London, between black cab drivers and Uber.

In order to become a cabbie, you need “the knowledge,” earned by learning 80 runs across the city, getting at least 60% on two written exams, and passing three oral exams.  This can take between three and five years to accomplish.  By contrast, becoming an Uber driver in London requires that you have a TfL Private Hire license, and I estimate this to take a minimum of eight weeks. The process includes what TfL calls a “topographical skills assessment“, which (being brutally honest) ensures you are able to read a map.

It is very difficult to find out the earnings of black cab drivers or Uber drivers, because they are self-employed and not required to reveal their earnings to impertinent systems administrators.  But the New York Times estimates Uber fares to be about 30% cheaper than black cabs, and Uber extracts a fee upwards of 25% from its drivers.  As Daniel Markovits, author of The Meritocracy Trap, points out, a cabbie can earn enough to own a home, provide for his family, and go on holiday.  The precarious finances of the Uber driver, on the other hand, are legendary.

Naturally all this enrages the black cab drivers; as with the looms in the dark satanic mills of the 19th century, their previously distributed expertise is becoming concentrated in the machines of capitalists.

But this time, there are no looms to smash.  Uber has developed not one machine learning algorithm, but so many that their engineers have created a bespoke machine learning service, so the teams of engineers working on the myriad components of the Uber service can automate them more easily.

So they want to replace you with a machine. But is it any good?

Models used in forecasting have a property called “skill”, which measures how good they are at what they’re intended to do.  I’d like you to consider a specific example which, while detailed, is readable enough for a non-technical audience.  Amazon Web Services will rent you a machine learning service, which you can bend to your requirements.  In this example, Denis Batalov shows how you can use Amazon Machine Learning to predict customer churn from a mobile phone service.

For mobile providers, obtaining new customers is costly. Those special offers you see advertised are loss leaders designed to lure you into signing a contract. They will absorb the loss because they assume you are too lazy to switch providers at the end of your contract, at which point they can milk you for profit. Those customers who do leave are said to “churn”.

The set uses comparatively few data points, for example how long the customer has had the service, how much they use their phone, how much the service costs and how many times they’ve called Customer Services.  The goal of the exercise is to identify those customers most likely to churn, and to stage an automated intervention, buttering them up with free minutes, a new handset, etc.

The algorithm is trained first on data where it can see the outcome.  Customer x with the following attributes remained a customer, but customer y with these attributes decided to leave.  Then, to test its skill, it is shown the data without seeing the outcome.  More successful models are selected for evolution, and the remainder are culled.  This continues until the returns are diminished to the extent that there’s no more tweaking to be done.


As you can see, 14.5% of customers in the set “churned”. Can the machine identify those who will stay, and those who will leave?  Well, it can identify 86% of them.  But this is, in practical terms, the same as having no model at all, or (to put it another way) having a model which assumes all customers are loyal but is wrong about 14.5% of them.

However, since losing customers is expensive, and offering butter-ups is (comparatively) cheap, you can tweak the model so that it is more wrong than having no model at all, and yet saves the company $22.15 per customer.  Scaled up, this is big money (and a big bonus for the ML developer).

Less accurate than guessing, but much more profitable.

What has this to do with Learning Technology?  I’ve seen ML models not very different to the above, deployed in a VLE and using very few data points, making predictions about whether a student will pass or fail a particular module, or whether a student will drop out or remain enrolled.  The problems come in the “costs” we attach to the quadrants in the truth table, and in concentrating expertise in a machine at the expense of our distributed expertise as individual educators.

Seen it all before

Any forecasting discipline also suffers the problem of bias.  In human actors, we hope it is unconscious.  But in machine learning, it is built in, because we are training our AIs on historical data.

In 2017, Amazon announced it had shuttered an experimental programme to train an AI for recruitment. Scouring LinkedIn or sifting a pile of applications is time-consuming (and thus costly), repetitive, boring, and tiring.  These characteristics belong to tasks which IT professionals immediately select for automation.  But, just as when training a model to predict customer churn, historical data are required, with all the perils inherent therein.  Amazon’s AI was chucking women’s applications on the discard pile, because the company had, in the past, consistently favoured male applicants over female ones.

Again, what has this to do with learning technology, or even with IT in HE?  I’ve found institutions which were at least toying with the idea of using machine learning to sift admissions applications.  What will that do to our efforts to widen participation?  Instead of artificial intelligence, we will have automated ignorance.

When you combine bias-as-code with the kinds of de-skilling discussed in the cases of the textile workers and taxi drivers, you have a potent recipe for problematic decision making.  The most recent example is the “sexist AI” behind Apple Card, which assessed a married couple who, on the face of it, presented identical credit risks.  It offered the husband 20x the credit limit it offered his wife. Apple’s customer services people threw their hands up: “It’s just the algorithm”.  Even The Woz waded in, observing “It’s hard to get to a human for a correction though. It’s big tech in 2019.”  Once again, we see expertise, previously distributed among financial advisers, concentrated in a machine.

Weird, inscrutable logic

Even if Apple had retained the human capability to consider an appeal against the AI’s decision, it wouldn’t have been able to explain that decision, because ML algorithms do not admit of human scrutiny: software that is evolved is unreadable.

As a systems administrator, I like code that can be audited.  When something aberrant happens, I like to be able to see if there’s a logic problem.  But in discussions with non-systems (i.e. normal) people, I’ve come to agree that it’s acceptable, in some circumstances, to audit a system only knowing its inputs and its outputs.  An example is the pocket calculator.  You can ask it to solve 5 x 5, 10 – 8, etc, and compare it with your own working.  Eventually you come to trust the system and ask it to solve the square root of pi, and because it’s been right about everything until now, you believe that it’s right about this.

But as we’ve seen, ML is being asked to solve more complex problems than the root of pi.  It’s being asked to make predictions and decisions, with multiple inputs that it may or may not be using to draw its inferences, some of which could be wildly inappropriate.  There are, after all, a lot of spurious correlations in the world.

So I finish on an appeal: if your institution is ever considering the use of AI to admit applicants, or mark students’ work, or predict their likely success, press as hard as you can for the institution to retain a human in the process.  Because if the past is any guide — and it surely is, because that’s the basis on which we’re training our machines — if you don’t, there won’t be anyone left to hear an appeal.

Going digital

Geraldine Foley, Assistant Learning Technologist and Athina Chatzigavriil, Senior Learning Technologist share their thoughts on Learning from Digital Examinations – 26th April 2018 conference.

Learning from Digital Examinations, a one day conference organized by Brunel University brought together practitioners form different universities across the country and from abroad. It was a great opportunity to share best practices, lessons learnt and provided detailed examples of the complexities involved with digital examinations as well as some of the potential benefits.

Students are used to typing their work electronically and the majority have their own devices, yet when it comes to exams at LSE and elsewhere in the UK the standard expectation is to hand-write responses for final examinations. This is due to multiple reasons including; infrastructure, regulations, spaces and facilities. However, some universities have started to shift to electronic examinations and so we went along to find out more and to present on the pilot projects we have done here at LSE (more details below).

Brunel University commenced research of digital examinations in 2015. They used WISEflow, a platform provided by the Danish based company UNIWise. They used students’ own devices Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and implemented 1 exam (115 students) in 2016. Following a successful proof of concept with this one exam they moved to a pilot with 1300 students in 2016/17. Since then the university moved to a staged implementation of the assessment platform in September 2017. WISEflow was the highlight platform for digital examinations but also Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA) of the conference.

There were quite a few institutions at the conference that have already moved wholesale to typed examinations while others are still starting out. Moreover there seems to be a greater interest among institutions to move towards EMA approaches to assessment and not only typed instead of handwritten examination. Line Palle Andersen described how staff at University College Copenhagen, Denmark use WISEflow to support flows of other forms of assessment (such as oral, MCQs etc.) and how their staff are involved in marking and feedback provision taking advantage of the extensive feedback features available.

The full conference programme and the presentation slides can be viewed online but some general themes and questions over the day are discussed here.

  • Bring your own device (BYOD)

    Space and facilities tend to be limited in HE so the majority of institutions appear to be adopting the BYOD approach. In Norway and Denmark where the move to typed exams was a nation-wide project it is mandatory for all students to have a device for their studies. UK universities using the BYOD approach provide support for those that do not have their own devices such as loans and grants with a small number of devices for those that experience problems on the day of exams.

  • Student training and support are essential… and students can help!

    Students need chances to test out and get used to any new system or approach. Unsurprisingly those students that didn’t go to support sessions tended to be the ones that needed more support. Brunel University employed students as assistant learning technologists to run drop in support sessions leading up to the examinations so students could install and test out the software on their devices and they also worked with invigilators to offer technical support during the exams. This model has been used successfully in Demark and Norway too. Dr Liz Masterman from the University of Oxford presented on the literature review that looked at studies from 2000 onwards on typed exams to assess the equivalence on the psychological and academic aspects of moving from handwritten to typed examinations. The various studies surveyed yielded inconsistent results; nevertheless, the findings prompt a number of questions for consideration when moving essay-based examinations to typed ones.

  • Change requires strong project management

    Assessment processes involve multiple stakeholders and facilitators; professional support staff, admin staff, estates, IT, academic staff, students, and invigilators all need to be involved, informed and on-board in order to move successfully to digital assessment. Learning technology and Educational development staff have a critical role in working with academics to ensure that they engage with the process and don’t just replicate existing practice. Moving online should present an opportunity to design assessment that is in-line with the course learning outcomes, with clear links between the formative and summative assessments and is balanced across the course.

  • Electronic assessment may lead to more inclusive assessment

    Dr Torben K Jensen on his keynote talking about the reason for which universities should digitise examinations raised the ‘generation argument’ in terms of fairness; handwritten exams are far from students’ every day activities. Making spell checkers, screen readers, remote assessment and other assistive technology available to everyone can reduce the need for individual adjustments. More work is needed to find out the impact of moving to electronic assessment, but Brunel University reported that they received no appeals with regards to moving to electronic exams. As mentioned above changing assessment can provide an opportunity to rethink assessment and even move away from examinations. Many institutions demonstrated digital assessment in various forms, including oral presentations, video submissions, multiple choice questions, simulations and group projects.

  • Feedback can be electronic too!

    Feedback on work in HE has been similarly slow to move to electronic form and yet handwritten comments are often hard to read and slow to produce and distribute compared to typed comments. Many institutions moving to electronic assessments are shifting the entire process online. Professor Denise Whitelock from the Open University presented the final keynote on the various ways that technology can be used to train and support teachers to give useful and supportive feedback. She has been involved in creating several automated feedback tools for students and highlighted the importance feedback can have on students’ learning.

Pilot e-exams at LSE

Our presentation focused on three past LSE pilots that took place in order to:

  • Explore students’ perceptions of typing versus handwriting exams.
  • Test out online examination software
  • Evaluate the requirements for online examinations including: security, regulations, facilities, training and support.

All three pilots were for formative assignments which provided feedback for final examinations. In each case various software were compared and the departments made the final selection for the platforms used in-line with their individual requirements.

Two of the pilots were in the Law department for take home mock examinations using the software Examsoft which allowed students to access examination questions and type 1 essay response from a choice of 3 within 2 hours.  Students were given 5 working days to access the questions and it was up to them to find a suitable space to type their response (see full report here).

The third pilot was with the Government department for a mock on campus invigilated examination using the software Exam4 (see full report here). Students brought their own devices to type 4 essays questions (from a choice of 16) within 3 hours. Exam questions were given in hard copy format with extra information provided to invigilators. In both cases students were given opportunities to test out the software in advance.  Both pilots were evaluated with questionnaires and focus groups with students and feedback from staff.

Overall students welcomed the typed examinations and many appreciated producing a typed script which was more legible for examiners to read some students, but some had concerns about the expectations of examiners who might assume typed answers required better quality answers even though they were produced under exam conditions. Several students found editing their examination answers was easier when typing, but others felt penalized by their slow typing skills. Some students believed the cognitive process of typing an exam answer differed to handwriting one and that grammar and spelling errors were less easy to spot when typing. The identified institutional implications for scaling up typed examinations, include substantial overhaul of the regulations, provision in case students cannot use their own device and adequate student support and training.  The full evaluation reports of the pilots can be found on LSE Research online.

Next steps

The conference gave lots of detailed examples of the complexities involved with digital assessment as well as some of the potential benefits. Going forward at LSE, the Assessment Service Change Project (ASCP), led by Cheryl Edwardes, Deputy Head of Student Services, is collaborating with staff and students to design enhanced assessment processes and systems which incorporate best practice and expert knowledge from across the School community and wider HE sector. If you wish to learn more and/or share your views you can sign up to attend any of the Validation Workshops. Moreover, the Assessment Working Group, led by Dr Claire Gordon, Head of Teaching and Learning Centre are taking forward work on the following areas: i) assessment principles, ii) good practice in assessment design, iii) inclusive practice in assessment, and iv) quality assurance and regulatory arrangements in assessment. Also, the Law department are currently trialing a small-scale proof of concept exam using DigiExam with ipads and keyboards – providing devices for students.

LTI is involved in all the above initiatives and support courses and programmes in the use of electronic assessment and are working with several departments to move their processes online.  Please contact if you would like to discuss this further with us.

Co-creativity and collaboration

It’s been a playful few weeks in LTI, starting with Chrissi Nerantzi from Manchester Metropolitan University presenting a workshop on playful and creative learning in HE.

Chrissi’s workshop was full of exercises designed to get people moving, thinking and talking with others. She started off by pointing out that being creative doesn’t always mean coming up with something completely original, as remixing, adapting and taking ideas into another context is also creative.  We discussed the fact that the majority of learning theories omit the emotional and physical aspects of the learning process.  We were asked to think about what we enjoy about teaching and also to discuss our failures and what went wrong for us when teaching recently.  Talking this through with another person and getting feedback on what intervention would help was very useful and illustrated that we probably don’t spend enough time sharing and getting feedback on failure and yet this is where we can learn the most.

Chrissi recognised that sometimes it can be hard to make large scale change in institutions and gave some personal examples of the barriers and blockers that she has experienced but she also demonstrated that by taking a playful approach to your teaching and making small changes you can create a positive environment which encourages learners to experiment, be creative, try things out and get feedback.

Following on the theme of play and creativity, this week I went up to Coventry University to attend RemixPlay2, a summit to celebrate the design and application of all things gameful, playful and creative in Higher Education. This is the second year of the event hosted by the Disruptive Media Learning Lab in Coventry University (see my blog post on last years’ event).  This year’s focus was on co-creativity and collaboration.  With similar messages to Chrissi’s workshop on taking an experiential approach to learning by doing, there were a lot of examples of how playful activities and games can be embedded within courses.

Ross Flatt from the Institute of Play in New York has worked with a lot of teachers to transform their practice and was an advocate of involving students in the design process and using games as tools for assessment.  Sylvester Arnab’s in his keynote argued that the word ‘Fail’ should be defined as ‘First, Attempt In Learning’. He has worked with staff and students on several interdisciplinary projects to try and solve problems in the community.  Sylvester has found that by giving students a sense of purpose and encouraging them to think creatively about how they can use what they have learnt to change the world for the better, they are more likely to engage and be motivated to learn.  Changing assessment to problem or project based tasks provides students with an intrinsic motivation and shifts the focus away from learning just for passing exams.

Both events provided a lot of inspiration and ideas on the ways we can transform teaching and assessment to be more creative and collaborative.  If you are interested in finding out more about using games for learning, we are holding a workshop on designing games for learning on Monday 26 February book a place via the training and development system.

We are starting a community of practice for anyone at LSE who is interested in playful and game-based learning in HE. If you are interested in joining please contact

If you have an idea on how to make your teaching more playful, creative or game based and would like some funding to support the implementation and evaluation we are currently accepting proposals for Spark and Ignite grants, the deadline for applications is Friday 2nd March, contact for more information or to discuss your idea.

February 16th, 2018|Conferences, Events & Workshops (LTI), games, Projects, Teaching & Learning, Tools & Technologies|Comments Off on Co-creativity and collaboration|

Playful learning

In February I was lucky enough to attend the ‘RemixPlay’ event at Coventry University.  Hosted in the amazing ‘Disruptive Media Lab’ the day featured some really interesting speakers (Ian Livingstone (CBE), Bernie DeKoven, Professor Nicola Whitton and Dr Sebastian Deterding).  There are already some great write-ups about the event which I won’t replicate here, instead see the blog post by Daryl Peel from University of Southampton and The Flying Raccon’s write up of Remix Play.

For me the conference highlighted the positive aspects of play and I left thinking that we should do more to invite ‘Playfulness’ in Higher Education.  Creating a playful environment/community encourages exploration, collaboration, creativity and gives people agency to try things out and have the freedom to fail, all key conditions for learning.  There is an abundance of literature on learning through play and it’s importance see ‘Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation’ by Patrick Bateson, Bernard Suits book ‘The Grasshopper – Games, life and Utopia’ and the ‘How We Get To Next’ reading list on the Power of Play especially the video’s at the end.

Some nice examples of a playful environment given by speakers at the event:

As Jordan Shapiro et. al. note in Mind/Shift Guide to Digital Games + Learning  (Joan Ganz Cooney Center/KQED, 2014)

Play is exploration. It involves imagination. It means investigating the world of the game and feeling the frustration, flow, and excitement that goes along with playing it.”

Games designed to enable learning are becoming more popular in Higher Education.  Games are a more structured version of ‘play’ and allow players to problem-solve and often involve collaboration and peer learning.  Although they often involve rules and winners, games give autonomy to the players and provide a safe environment to fail and to try and test things out.  They are often about making decisions and then seeing the consequences and receiving feedback on your actions.  As Professor Nicola Whitton stressed, students need low-impact opportunities to experience failure (micro failures); it’s how they get feedback, learn and improve.

Games at LSE

As part of an LTI grant, I have been working with colleagues in LTI on the LSE100 course to create a board game which was played in classes this term.  One of the key difficulties when designing the game was to get the balance between play and content right.  Too much content, and it’s not a game anymore, it’s a lecture and it’s not fun.  Too much concentration on the game, and the learning outcomes are not as obvious and it’s harder for students to make the links between the concepts that you are trying to illustrate.  We are now evaluating the game collecting and collating feedback from students and staff, so look out for updates on this shortly.

LTI has awarded several grants to projects involving games, including ‘Capture the Market’ board game mentioned above and an Ethnographic point and click video game, more info and resources can be found on our website.

Game workshop

If you are interested in exploring the use of games in education, we are running a workshop on ‘Designing quick and effective games for learning’ with Alex Moseley on Wednesday 26 April.  Alex has been involved with games in education for 8 years and has lots of experience with designing games for learning. You can read an interview with Alex on this blog and you can book a place on the workshop on Eventbrite.

Spark grants

Applications for LTI spark grants are now open with the deadline of Friday 5 May.  If you are interested in finding out more, check out the LTI website and contact us to discuss your idea.

Copyright, the future and Brexit – what does it mean for education?

Copyright guide coverThe following post is based on a post published on the UK Copyright Literacy blog by LSE’s Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor, Jane Secker and Chris Morrison, Copyright and Licensing Compliance Officer at the University of Kent. An edited and abridged version appears below. 

I’ve now been to two recent events on the future of copyright in the UK following our exit from the European Union. Whatever your views on Brexit, we can’t deny it will happen but there is much uncertainty about what it means for education and what copyright implications there might be. This is because in recent years much UK copyright legislation has been amended following directives from the European Union. And there are important new changes going through the European Parliament currently on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. On 12 January 2017, the Commission’s proposal was debated by the European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). This week EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) issued a statement on the need for copyright reform across Europe, supporting the statement issued by five key organisations (including LIBER, and the European Universities Association) on ‘Future-proofing European Research Excellence‘. LIBER are also calling for more change to copyright to give Europe a real opportunity to become a global leader in data-driven innovation and research.

So what does the future hold for copyright in the UK? In October last year I was interested to read this LSE blog post from Professor Alison Harcourt of Exeter University. However, I thought I would share a few thoughts from recent events. Firstly in October last year I attended a meeting at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to discuss the copyright implications of Brexit on the higher education sector. Then earlier this week a conference organised by the Journal of Intellectual Property, Law and Practice (JIPLP). Both events were an opportunity to understand more about how important copyright and IP are particularly in the context of international trade but also the increasingly global education offered by the UK. In both meetings all agreed that following Brexit the UK would not have the same relationship with the Court of Justice of the EU, but no one was clear if decisions of this court might be taken into account by English judges. There were references here to important recent cases on issues such as whether hyperlinking is copyright infringement.

However what is clear is that not only does Brexit mean Brexit (and of course we all know exactly what that means) it also means we are unlikely to get a new copyright act in the UK any time soon. This is despite the view of Sir Richard Arnold, British High Court of Justice judge, that we are much in need of one. On Monday he gave us eight reasons why the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended and revised) was long overdue a major overhaul, technology being his first reason and Brexit being the last. This last reason was a recent addition – for the original list of seven reasons see his Herchel Smith IP lecture from 2014. However he concluded by saying that copyright is unlikely to be a priority for parliament over the next few years.

So in these dark, rather depressing January days is there any light on the horizon? The IPO suggested Brexit might be an opportunity to rethink copyright and make it fit for the UK. The lobbying work of organisations such as EIFL and Communia are hoping to convince Brussels that reforming copyright to support education and research is vital. We would like to think that those within the research and education world might be able to play a significant role in shaping the future of copyright in the UK. But it remains to be seen….

January 24th, 2017|Conferences, copyright, Ed-Tech news and issues, Open Education, Reports & Papers, Teaching & Learning|Comments Off on Copyright, the future and Brexit – what does it mean for education?|

LTI in the spotlight

Last week staff from LTI  attended the Association for Learning Technology’s annual conference (ALT-C 2016). It was an eventful three days at the University of Warwick for the team, with five of us presenting a total of 4 papers and one keynote. And oh, we also won the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards!

Learning experiences and virtual learning environments: It’s all about design!

A design for learning; Learning Experiences for the Post-Digital World – Peter Bryant

In the first part of his presentation, Peter described his new approach to teaching and learning whereby seven  learning experiences (found, making, identity, play, discontinuity, authenticity and community) can “shape, influence and enhance the opportunities for students to learn, to share learning and to teach others in a post-digital world”. Participants then discussed how existing learning technology tools could be used to create such learning experiences.

You can find a summary, reflections and slides from Peter’s presentation on his blog

Innovating from the Outside In: a Creative Hub to Change eLearning Practice- Sonja Grussendorf

Sonja introduced the audience to LTI’s “creative hub”, a project bringing together film makers, artists and designers, and how it  is being used  to design a VLE that can “accentuate communication between participants; support independent learning, collaboration and student creativity; facilitate peer learning and peer assessment and deliver ongoing, two-way feedback opportunities.”

Physical teaching and learning spaces

Learning Spaces: Roles and Responsibilities of the Learning Technologist – Kris Roger and Sarah Ney

While Sonja was presenting on virtual spaces, Kris and myself discussed physical teaching and learning spaces. More specifically, we reflected on a recent project to develop new active learning spaces at the LSE that made us wonder about what our roles and responsibilities as learning technologists were in the design of learning spaces.

Copyright and eLearning: who else but Jane Secker?

Jane presented a paper AND a keynote at ALT-C this year!

CopyrightBuddiesLecture Capture: Risky Business or Evolving Open Practice? co-presented with Chris Morrisson, Copyright Licensing and Compliance Officer at the University of Kent.

Jane and Chris presented the findings from a recent survey on institutional attitudes towards intellectual property issues in relation to lecture capture and contents used in lectures. They also reflected on the relation between good policy and good practice and how to support staff in implementing and encouraging it.

Keynote: Copyright and eLearning: Understanding our Privileges and Freedoms

Jane presented an entertaining, fun, moving and very interesting keynote on how a better understanding of  copyright can empower copyright users and educators.

You can view Jane’s full keynote on youtube:

Last But Not Least: We won!

LTI was presented with the prestigious Team Learning Technologist of the Year Award last Wednesday for their work around Students as Producers. The award recognises “outstanding achievements in the learning technology field and the promotion of intelligent use of Learning Technology on a national scale”.

“LSE are proud to be selected as the Learning Technology team of the year, especially in its 10th year.  This recognition by our peers is a celebration of the innovative work being done by academic and LTI staff to better the student experience and provide more opportunities for engaging, positive and transformational education with technology.” Peter Bryant, Head of LTI

Here are a few pictures from the evening:



What is a Learning Technologist and How to Make it Known to Your Institution?

On Tuesday my colleague Kris and I ran a workshop at the University of Greenwich’s APT Conference. The theme of this year being “gaps”, we thought it would be interesting to work around the gaps in the perception of what a Learning Technologist is and does. These gaps can be found in the profession itself and amongst the various stakeholders in teaching and learning, be they teaching staff or teaching and learning support professionals. This provided the basis for another discussion between the participants on implementing an “action plan” to share their understanding of the job within their institution.

What is a Learning Technologist?

In the first part of the workshop, a mix of learning technologists, teaching staff, educational developers and other teaching and learning support professionals were asked to write their own definition on a post-it note, the colour of which depended on their job. They then discussed and compared them. It was interesting to note that participants, of all roles, mentioned the technical but also the pedagogical aspects of the job, highlighting the relation between teaching and technology. A few examples:

“Explores pedagogical aspects of technology to aid and support teaching, learning and assessment” – Learning Technologist

“Those who use technology to enhance the learning experience” – Teaching staff

“To explore and share practice, research strategy, etc. for how technology can motivate, support and enhance learning” – Other teaching and learning support staff

However, it was also pointed out that there was “a perceived lack of visibility from learning technologists in comparison to other support staff”. When asking a teacher about it, he agreed that he did not know much about the learning technology provision in his institution.

In his chapter from David Hopkins’ “The Really Useful EdTech Book”, Wayne Barry* concludes that the challenge for learning technologists is “how we engage with ourselves, our institutions and the wider public and make them aware as to who we are what we are and what we do“. How do we do that?


APT_Screenshot2 APT_Screenshot3 APT_Screenshot1 APT_Screenshot4

Spreading the message across the institution

The role and situation of learning technologists varies greatly from one place to another so it is crucial to a) define what a learning technologist is b) ensure that it is known across the institution. The second part of the workshop focused on this issue.

Remaining in mixed profession groups, participants reflected on and discussed ways to get the message across to the right people. They considered the “who”, “what”, “how”, “when” and “where”, they produced a mindmap summarising key action points. Here are the highlights:

  1. From the top down:
  • voice at a departmental and more senior level
  • institutional strategy

2. At individual/team level: being proactive instead of reactive

  • physical presence (events, training)
  • comms plan in place


APT - Recap

Click on the picture for the outcomes of the two activities

The focus was different for each group with this activity, which may be explained by the various roles and different levels represented in the room, as well as the team and institution they come from. The aim of the activity was not to provide a universal solution on how to address the visibility issue -as it was not to provide a universal definition of the learning technologist. Rather, it was an opportunity for any staff involved in teaching and learning to discuss the many options to address it.

We hope that it proved useful to the participants and provided – and provides for anyone reading this- an option as to how to engage the various stakeholders in a discussion to share their understanding of what being a learning technologist means to them, find a common ground and ensure that it is made explicit at the institutional level. It certainly did make us reflect on all of this!

At the LSE

At LTI, we also think that engaging the stakeholders as much as possible in what we do is key for them to understand who we are and how we can help.

Our team works mainly with academics and teaching staff. In addition to answering their queries and providing the relevant support, we also encourage them to pilot, test and implement projects aimed at exploring the use of technology in teaching and learning through a grant scheme.

We also engage with students through the SADL (Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy) programme, a staff-student partnership to improve their digital literacy skills, in collaboration with the Library and Teaching and Learning Centre.

Another route is dissemination of successful technology-enhanced projects and recognition of the work of TEL champions behind it. Our series of case studies, LSE Innovators, highlights the people who are leading and living innovative practice in their teaching.

What now?

We would love to hear from anyone involved in teaching and learning about their own definitions and suggestions/experience on sharing it within their institution. Please leave us a comment at the bottom of this page or use #LTRoles on Twitter.

For those interested in knowing more about the profession, we recommend to read David Hopkins’ “The Really Useful EdTechBook” (free PDF download) as well as his blog posts entitled “What is a Learning Technologist?”.

For an alternative to the “top down” and “bottom up” approaches, have a look at Peter Bryant’s post on the “Middle Out” approach (no, we are not biased!).

Slides from our workshop

*Barry, W. (2015). “‘…and what do you do?’: Can we explain the unexplainable?”. In: Hopkins, D. (Ed.). The Really Useful #EdTechBook. London, England: CreateSpace, pp. 23-34


July 11th, 2016|Conferences, Ed-Tech news and issues, Teaching & Learning|Comments Off on What is a Learning Technologist and How to Make it Known to Your Institution?|

Digital is not the future – A UAL/LSE online hack

hack poster 3

Digital is not the future – Hacking the institution from the inside

Within many higher education institutions, the patterns and responses of resistance to change make anything different from the norm forced into the position that has to justify ‘why?’ Debates about the potential of technology, the tensions of techno-determinism and the fears of replacement and redundancy have centred the discourse on service rather than pedagogy. The problem is that the genie is already out the bottle. There is no going back to chalkboards and overheads,we won’t be shutting off the internet any time soon. Technology and the digital are already integral to what we do but the presence of technology does not automatically equate to a shift in practice.

So, we came up with the idea of this hack. How do we change the discourse and empower people like us to actively shape teaching and learning at our institutions? What are the key messages, tools and strategies available that put the digital in the heart of the conversation and not as a freak show, an uncritical duplication of institutional norms or a fringe activity of the tech savvy?

The aim of this hack is to design collectively the solution to the problem. A problem that we all know exists but perhaps have never cracked. The problem of potential. The problem of resistance and acceptance. The problem of teaching and learning in the post-digital age. The problem of defining what a university is in the same.

An open document?
We have made a Loomio community, which open for anyone to edit. You can find it here, and registration is simple and easy!


This is a conversation that will be made better by involving more people. The aim of the community is to frame the discussions and debates we need to have at our institutions in order put innovation and the digital at the heart of the institutional approach to learning and teaching. There is a case to be made that institutionally, we have failed. ‘Traditional’ custom and practice is legitimised in the digital, whilst practice based innovation can be banished to the fringe or the grassroots. Techno-solutionism is equally legitimised, where ‘solutions in a box’ and services drive our activity; an activity that often replicates existing practice rather than transforming it. This widens the gap between ‘academic’ practice and the changing nature of learning in a digital era, masked by the procurement of new, and by implication, ‘innovative’ technologies

What do you have to do?
What we seek from the physical and online hacks is a form of radical pragmatism. You are in the room, because you are the institution, you are the senior management, you are the expert.

The rules of this hack are simple.

Rule 1: We are teaching and learning focused *and* institutionally committed
Rule 2: What we talk about here is institutionally/nationally agnostic
Rule 3: You are in the room with the decision makers. What we decide is critical to the future of our institutions. You are the institution
Rule 4: Despite the chatter, all the tech ‘works’ – the digital is here, we are digital institutions. Digital is not the innovation.
Rule 5: We are here to build not smash
Rule 6: You moan (rehearse systemic reasons why you can’t effect change – see Rule 3), you get no beer (wine, juice, love, peace, etc)

We have chosen 5 common scenarios which are often the catalyst for change in institutions. As we noted above, you are in the room with the new VC and you have 100 words in each of the scenarios below to effectively position what we do as a core part of the institution. Why is this going to make our institutional more successful/deliver the objectives/save my (the VCs) job? How do we demonstrate what we do will position the organisation effectively? How do we make sure we stay in the conversation and not be relegated to simply providing services aligned with other people’s strategies? Anyone who has been around the system for any length of time will recognise these scenarios and will have been through many of them. They are critical junctures at where momentum for change peaks.

Scenario 1
Strategic review of the institution and budget planning for 2020
Scenario 2
Institutional restructure because of a new VC
Scenario 3
Undertaking of an institution wide pedagogical redesign
Scenario 4
Responding to and implementing TEF
Scenario 5
Institutional response to poor NSS/student experience results

Write on the basis that you are pitching your responses to the above to the new VC and senior management.

Estonian adventures in information literacy

IMG_8573Two weeks ago I attended the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL2015); the third I was fortunate enough to attend. Held in Tallinn the capital of Estonia, which is a beautiful medieval city on the Baltic coast. The theme of the conference was Information Literacy in the Green Society and back last year when this was announced I was a little unsure what it meant. In fact few papers I attended addressed green issues directly, but what I took away was that information literacy is central to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, and IL is all part of building sustainable, democratic societies, where people have access to information and the critical abilities to know what to do with it.

I had a busy schedule, presenting three papers at the conference. The first was about our Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy programme at LSE, now in its third year, so the focus of the paper was on sustainability and the impact of this programme on our undergraduate students, following the extensive evaluation we carried out in the summer of 2015. My slides are available on Slideshare and I co-authored this paper with my colleague from LSE, Maria Bell. SADL has just recruited 45 LSE undergraduates and we have 9 Senior Ambassadors supporting the programme of workshops and activities this year. Go SADL!

My second paper was inspired by attending a series of papers at last year’s ECIL on European research into the copyright literacy knowledge of library and related professionals. Following this I got involved in the second phase of this multi-national study of copyright literacy, coordinating the UK version of this survey with Chris Morrison, from the University of Kent. We presented our findings from over 600 UK librarians in an interactive, ‘Play your Cards Right’ style session to compare the data with other countries. Again these slides are on SlideShare. You can also find out more from the new website we’ve launched as a home for UK Copyright Literacy activities.

My final paper focused on my work as Chair of the CILIP Information Literacy Group, and I delivered this with fellow ILG Committee member, Geoff Walton, from Northumbria University. UK Information Literacy Advocacy: reaching out beyond the tower, explored the advocacy work ILG have embarked on in the last year to build up links with organisations outside the library sector and to promote information literacy to groups such as Trade Unions, businesses, schools and public libraries. I also spoke about the work we’ve done with TeenTech to launch a Research and Information Literacy award.

Congratulations to Sonja Špiranec and Serap Kurbanoğlu, the founders of ECIL for another fantastic conference and for making me feel part of a global network of information literacy. I returned inspired and energized and would urge others from the UK to try to get to this conference next year, not least because it will be in another beautiful European city, Prague.

November 3rd, 2015|Conferences, copyright, Digital Literacy, Research Skills|Comments Off on Estonian adventures in information literacy|

LSE undergraduates become Digital Literacy Ambassadors

Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy (SADL) is a programme currently open to undergraduate students in the Departments of Statistics, Social Policy, International Relations and Law. It is run by Learning Technology and Innovation (LTI) and the Library and it is now in its second year.

This year the team recruited 40 student ambassadors to attend a series of workshops to develop their digital literacy. The workshops concentrated on finding and evaluating information, research practices, sharing and managing information and managing your digital footprint. They were designed to be interactive and an opportunity for the staff to learn from students and for students to share their experiences with each other and their peers. Students received Amazon vouchers for participating in SADL but also a statement on PDAM in recognition of their skills and experience.

In October 2014 the SADL team appointed four Senior Ambassadors who completed the programme last year. The Seniors Seow Wei Chin, Djelila Delior, Simran Masand and Eugene McGeown helped to plan and run the workshops in conjunction with LTI and Library staff and to supervise a group project which was presented at the end of the programme.

April 15th, 2015|Conferences, Research Skills, Teaching & Learning|Comments Off on LSE undergraduates become Digital Literacy Ambassadors|