Empower Learners for the Age of AI: a reflection

During the Empower Learners for the Age of AI (ELAI) conference earlier in December 2022, it became apparent to me personally that not only does Artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to revolutionize the field of education, but that it already is. But beyond the hype and enthusiasm there are enormous strategic policy decisions to be made, by governments, institutions, faculty and individual students. Some of the ‘end is nigh’ messages circulating on Social Media in the light of the recent release of ChatGPT are fanciful click-bait, some however, fire a warning shot across the bow of complacent educators.

It is certainly true to say that if your teaching approach is to deliver content knowledge and assess the retention and regurgitation of that same content knowledge then, yes, AI is another nail in that particular coffin. If you are still delivering learning experiences the same way that you did in the 1990s, despite Google Search (b.1998) and Wikipedia (b.2001), I am amazed you are still functioning. What the emerging fascination about AI is delivering an accelerated pace to the self-reflective processes that all university leadership should be undertaking continuously.

AI advocates argue that by leveraging the power of AI, educators can personalize learning for each student, provide real-time feedback and support, and automate administrative tasks. Critics argue that AI dehumanises the learning process, is incapable of modelling the very human behaviours we want our students to emulate, and that AI can be used to cheat. Like any technology, AI also has its disadvantages and limitations. I want to unpack these from three different perspectives, the individual student, faculty, and institutions.


Get in touch with me if your institution is looking to develop its strategic approach to AI.


Individual Learner

For learners whose experience is often orientated around learning management systems, or virtual learning environments, existing learning analytics are being augmented with AI capabilities. Where in the past students might be offered branching scenarios that were preset by learning designers, the addition of AI functionality offers the prospect of algorithms that more deeply analyze a student’s performance and learning approaches, and provide customized content and feedback that is tailored to their individual needs. This is often touted as especially beneficial for students who may have learning disabilities or those who are struggling to keep up with the pace of a traditional classroom, but surely the benefit is universal when realised. We are not quite there yet. Identifying ‘actionable insights’ is possible, the recommended actions harder to define.

The downside for the individual learner will come from poorly conceived and implemented AI opportunities within institutions. Being told to complete a task by a system, rather than by a tutor, will be received very differently depending on the epistemological framework that you, as a student, operate within. There is a danger that companies presenting solutions that may work for continuing professional development will fail to recognise that a 10 year old has a different relationship with knowledge. As an assistant to faculty, AI is potentially invaluable, as a replacement for tutor direction it will not work for the majority of younger learners within formal learning programmes.

Digital equity becomes important too. There will undoubtedly be students today, from K-12 through to University, who will be submitting written work generated by ChatGPT. Currently free, for ‘research’ purposes (them researching us), ChatGPT is being raved about across social media platforms for anyone who needs to author content. But for every student that is digitally literate enough to have found their way to the OpenAI platform and can use the tool, there will be others who do not have access to a machine at home, or the bandwidth to make use of the internet, or even to have the internet at all. Merely accessing the tools can be a challenge.

The third aspect of AI implementation for individuals is around personal digital identity. Everyone, regardless of their age or context, needs to recognise that ‘nothing in life is free’. Whenever you use a free web service you are inevitably being mined for data, which in turn allows the provider of that service to sell your presence on their platform to advertisers. Teaching young people about the two fundamental economic models that operate online, subscription services and surveillance capitalism, MUST be part of ever curriculum. I would argue this needs to be introduced in primary schools and built on in secondary. We know that AI data models require huge datasets to be meaningful, so our data is what fuels these AI processes.

Faculty

Undoubtedly faculty will gain through AI algorithms ability to provide real-time feedback and support, to continuously monitor a student’s progress and provide immediate feedback and suggestions for improvement. On a cohort basis this is proving invaluable already, allowing faculty to adjust the pace or focus of content and learning approaches. A skilled faculty member can also, within the time allowed to them, to differentiate their instruction helping students to stay engaged and motivated. Monitoring students’ progress through well structured learning analytics is already available through online platforms.

What of the in-classroom teaching spaces. One of the sessions at ELAI showcased AI operating in a classroom, interpreting students body language, interactions and even eye tracking. Teachers will tell you that class sizes are a prime determinant of student success. Smaller classes mean that teachers can ‘read the room’ and adjust their approaches accordingly. AI could allow class sizes beyond any claim to be manageable by individual faculty.

One could imagine a school built with extensive surveillance capability, with every classroom with total audio and visual detection, with physical behaviour algorithms, eye tracking and audio analysis. In that future, the advocates would suggest that the role of the faculty becomes more of a stage manager rather than a subject authority. Critics would argue a classroom without a meaningful human presence is a factory.

Institutions

The attraction for institutions of AI is the promise to automate administrative tasks, such as grading assignments and providing progress reports, currently provided by teaching faculty. This in theory frees up those educators to focus on other important tasks, such as providing personalized instruction and support.

However, one concern touched on at ELAI was the danger of AI reinforcing existing biases and inequalities in education. An AI algorithm is only as good as the data it has been trained on. If that data is biased, its decisions will also be biased. This could lead to unfair treatment of certain students, and could further exacerbate existing disparities in education. AI will work well with homogenous cohorts where the perpetuation of accepted knowledge and approaches is what is expected, less well with diverse cohorts in the context of challenging assumptions.

This is a problem. In a world in which we need students to be digitally literate and AI literate, to challenge assumptions but also recognise that some sources are verified and others are not, institutions that implement AI based on existing cohorts is likely to restrict the intellectual growth of those that follow.

Institutions rightly express concerns about the cost of both implementing AI in education and the costs associated with monitoring its use. While the initial investment in AI technologies may be significant, the long-term cost savings and potential benefits may make it worthwhile. No one can be certain how the market will unfurl. It’s possible that many AI applications become incredibly cheap under some model of surveillance capitalism so as to be negligible, even free. However, many of the AI applications, such as ChatGPT, use enormous computing power, little is cacheable and retained for reuse, and these are likely to become costly.

Institutions wanting to explore the use of AI are likely to find they are being presented with additional, or ‘upgraded’ modules to their existing Enterprise Management Systems or Learning Platforms.

Conclusion

It is true that AI has the potential to revolutionize the field of education by providing personalized instruction and support, real-time feedback, and automated administrative tasks. However, institutions need to be wary of the potential for bias, aware of privacy issues and very attentive to the nature of the learning experiences they enable.


Get in touch with me if your institution is looking to develop its strategic approach to AI.


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Free Online CPD Course on Learning Outcomes (until 14th January 2023)

Have you got some time for professional development over the holiday period? Or do you have colleagues or design teams working on course designs over the holiday period?

Anyone who has ever tried to assess or teach to poorly learning outcomes, and then tried to defend their practices or results, will tell you that getting it right at the offset saves a huge amount of effort and heartache.

Intended Learning Outcomes are the foundations of any sound well-aligned course and programme design. Being able to create effective well-structured learning outcome is a valuable skill required of all learning designers, faculty and quality officers.

I have created a short, self-study, course hosted on a Moodle instance. The full course will take between up to 10 hours at a leisurely pace but is designed to allow you to navigate your way through it as you please. You are welcome to dip in and out. The course complements the book ‘Writing Good Learning Outcomes and Objectives’. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0473657929/)

Join the free course entitled ‘Designing Effective Intended Learning Outcomes’ at https://sijen.net/courses

The Metaverse explained for university leaders: opportunities and decisions ahead (4/4)

Who should universities watch?

The question is to what extent universities feel the need to step into the developmental space around XR technologies, and who should they be watching. Which evolutionary pathways will win out is unknown. Meta/Facebook has brand identification with the Metaverse concept in its advocacy of VR. Given the serious trust issues with Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the challenge to revenue from Apple’s changing advertising policy, and TikTok’s growing share of advertising revenue, the future of Meta is uncertain.

Google has innovated in the XR space for several years, not least with its long-standing, sometimes apparently covert,  commitment to Google eyewear. No one should discount what happens at Google Skunkworks. Microsoft has the advantage of being the foundation for the majority of business enterprises’ ecosystems and has a cross-platform strategy. Although I have to say I don’t see the attraction for users to be able to integrate Team meetings into Meta’s Horizon environment but Microsoft has also invested in gaming technology with its Xbox and XR hardware technology.

Apple has not made much public noise around XR technologies beyond integrating AR functionalities into its recent iPhone releases. However, its promotion of AR design tools for its platform arguably gives it an edge. Apple and its peripherals are clearly being aligned with an AR future. Technology that allows for the real world to be scanned and proximity detection linked to location services on an individual’s phone also represents opportunities. Apple also encourages third-party developers to innovate around its technology base, as opposed to Meta’s approach which appears to seek to absorb potential competition.

If you are looking to review institutional strategies in the light of challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch with spa@sijen.com

Opportunities in co-development

The opportunities for Universities will range from providing their learning community as a test-bed for any of the major players to purchasing XR artifacts.

It is not a binary choice but its useful for leadership to contemplate the two extremes. This could mean a corporate co-development of a  high-tech laboratory on campus, or it could be a unique academic course in which an AR artifact serves as a learning resource. There are many points in between.

Think small. Technological opportunities will present themselves as access devices become smaller and cheaper. Universities would be wise to pitch their engagement at a realistic level for the present, such as AR experiences through individuals’ smartphones rather than anticipating students will embrace body-integrated technologies, such as AR contact lens. It will be a stretch to get everyone into full haptic bodysuits (pun intended).

Think foundations. Universities may want to evaluate their research strategies and partnerships in the sciences and steer them toward industrial needs for developments in sensors, displays, battery life, network, and computer performance. In the social sciences and humanities, the social and cultural impact of XR is severely neglected. Leveraging some research funding for the implications of use is an opportunity. Proactively approaching the technology providers and providing them with a critical review of the impact of emerging technology is something funders should be encouraging.

Lessons Learnt. What smart institutions learned from the Second Life land grab in the 2000s is that building virtual campuses did little to advance the experience of either students or staff. The only beneficiaries were the 3D modelers and designers who learned a great deal. The more insightful money has been focussed on the immediacy of the experience rather than the grand architectural gesture. Universities who want to develop some expertise in XR should start by identifying a teaching problem, brainstorming an experiential solution, and then group-design an XR, most obviously an AR, solution, with their in-house capacity if it exists or in partnership with commercial design outfits (someone like eonreality.com perhaps). You need to tread carefully in this space and take legal advice. However, I would suggest that beyond simply adopting existing 3D visualizations using existing XR technologies, universities would be wise to seek to develop effective learning visualizations in the arts, humanities, and social sciences and license them.

Avoiding hype. If universities are set on creating a virtual presence, there are a range of options. Different platforms offer different capabilities. Decentraland allows people and organizations to buy land and build in a 3D world, with the limitation that it is limited to Windows PC. There is still Second Life of course. Platforms like Spatial.io allow creators to build immersive virtual spaces that can be accessed via a VR headset. It is important that institutional leaders keep their expectations of a Star Trek holodeck in check. These VR platforms require ongoing development in 3D graphics rendering, simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM), sensor advances and integration, raw computational power, and high-speed connectivity. Different facets of technology are developing at different rates. This makes predictions highly problematic.

Access matters. Universities also need to consider the issue of digital equality and access. Even AR technologies delivered on smartphones require a certain level of sophistication in the devices that students possess. Having reliable high-speed communications is essential for an effective immersive experience and to overcome the worst of the motion sickness associated with VR. Download storage capacity and increasingly streaming speeds will be a continuous challenge. We can expect AR glasses and VR headsets to gradually reduce in size and weight in order for them to be worn for sustained periods of time. 

University leadership decisions

Where on the curve will you join?  Leaders need to consider where in the adoption curve they are best positioned. I would suggest they decide on whether they want to be at the cutting edge of immersive VR pilots, seek to excel within a specific research niche in supportive technologies, or sit behind the leading edge and avoid unnecessary risk. I have recommended to my clients they should be exploring AR learning experiences in the short term.

How future-proof is your information technology policy? I would suggest they undertake an annual review of policies and student charters to ensure they are up to date and to inform internal awareness

Where is the benefit for students? Which parts of their curriculum can serve as the testing ground for emergent virtual pedagogies? What is the learning challenge that is being confronted? Is it important enough to pay for the relevant hardware to allow students to engage? What are the actual learning outcomes the effort is designed to enable?

Conclusion

There is a danger of FOMO (fear of missing out) and I understand that. The truth is you are not going to wake up one day and find the rest of the world is living inside Zuckerberg’s Metaverse. Yes, there will be seepage between online gaming communities and commercial networking tools, but I do not believe the majority of humans will want to suspend their real-world experience in favour of full VR immersion.

The reality is that AR has been around for more than a decade in a servable form (I first integrated AR elements into learning materials in 2013), and the fact that it has been slow to spread across the discipline spectrum should tell us that we have the time to make considered decisions. 

If you are looking to review institutional strategies in the light of challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch with spa@sijen.com

Image credit: Generated by DALL-E

The Metaverse explained for university leaders: challenges for universities ahead (3/4)

Press coverage of recent cryptocurrency disruptions and the significant staff reductions at Twitter and Meta is giving pause for thought amongst investors and futurists, as well as university leaders considering the future of the Metaverse.

The fact that you may feel like you cannot keep up with the news is understandable. The collapse of the cryptocurrency platform FTX, the apparent meltdown underway at Twitter and the 11-year sentence handed down to Elizabeth Holmes for the Thanos fraud do all have something in common. The digital world is sufficiently obscured from the majority of people, sometimes deliberately, and the ‘trust train’ may have now hit to buffers, reminiscent of the end of the dot-com boom.

So what of the metaverse? I did not mean to imply that it is a fanciful dream that will never have an impact on higher education,  but I have reservations.  I received some negative feedback for comparing 3D Cinema and VR technology adoption curves. I stand by my contention that such technology developments need to take more account of user expectations, as well as their user experience. Demographic patterns play a huge part in any technological innovation. The challenge for most Universities is to decide whether they are best to invest in low-tech entry materials and approaches to build a foundation for future ‘metaverse’ technologies or to join a narrow range of institutions that are innovating around these emergent technologies.

If you are looking to review institutional strategies in the light of challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch with spa@sijen.com

The obstacles for entry are less technical than they are learning design and delivery related. Clearly having sufficient finance in place is an obstacle for some, but even for those that have the cash to spend, knowing where to invest is crucial.

The technologies already exist for building VR immersive experiences, and some a free to try out (Unity.com), and the headsets and accessories are in theory available within reach of those on a medium or high income, although with the current cost of living crisis one might anticipate that Meta’s sales expectations for its latest headset to fall short. But creating a test suite, a development platform to create VR immersive environments, requires a greater degree of investment.

If I was a betting man (and I am not), I would agree with those who believe that Zuckerberg is willing to sacrifice the social platforms (Facebook, Instagram), with their declining demographic, in favour of speculative investment in the future. The future for him is the Metaverse. However, there is no clear evolutionary path for the Metaverse. That includes the challenges mentioned previously, those of wearable technologies, computer power to sustain them, the privacy legislative framework, and the broader legal implications. There are billions around the world without internet access, millions without reliable broadband, and millions who do not have the disposable income, time, or inclination, to while away hours as a virtual avatar. It might be ‘cool’, but is it really worth the time and effort?

Legal frameworks are struggling to keep up with the rapid technological changes society faces. The European Union is possibly the most active in seeking to impose guardrails around digital technologies. Some of these are privately welcomed by the big technology companies, who lend some of their legal minds in pursuit of meaningful legislation, while other legal restrictions are resisted. Profit still comes first after all.

Esports, a growing share of the online gaming space, certainly benefits from advances in hyper-real 3D immersive technologies. A business paying to advertise inside these game spaces, whether the hoardings around a virtual pitch or track, or branding on virtual apparel, makes sense. Whether this gaming trend will fruitfully spill over into academia, I am doubtful.

What should universities do?

There are things universities should do, in my view, to ensure they are ready to react (if I’m wrong) and VR technologies become more integrated into the learning experience of a wider group of students.

They should have both a Student Charter and an Information Technology Policy that are both reviewed annually. Things move that fast. And all students and staff should be asked to reassert their commitment each year. The executive summary for both of these documents serves to enhance the digital literacy of the entire learning community.

Privacy and ‘netiquette’ are concepts that are intertwined in the experience of staff and students. I can use abusive language, within limits, and ALL CAPS to insult people on Twitter and face little in the way of challenge. If I was to stand in London’s Leicester Square and do the same thing, say exactly the same thing hurling abuse at a passerby, it would not be too long before a couple of Police officers would turn up and move me on. Failure to comply would likely result in arrest and being charged with disturbing the peace. Imagine that scenario now within a virtual world. Who is the Police? What penalties would I face, if any? The behavioural norms we associate with the real-world fall apart in the digital sphere. That is already true today given the vile abuse faced by female academics in particular.

Is your institutional policy framework designed to cope with this scenario?

A student group, registered with your Student Union, organises a virtual event, hosted on a third-party application ( ZOOM for example) using a license owned by the controversial speaker themselves. The event requires registration but this is also done by the speaker themselves, and the event is advertised without any explicit endorsement from the student group themselves through it is heavily advertised verbally and using paper flyers around campus. During the event, some students mount a protest, disrupting the event. The event attracts huge criticism and excepts of the ZOOM meeting go viral on TikTok and Telegram, with some of the student’s name and affiliations being attributed. The mainstream press seize on the event as an example of both the ‘no-platform’ policy position you hold and the ‘woke, liberal elite’ attitudes in evidence.

My advice to a recent University client was that they should run ‘war games’ scenarios with senior student leaders and Heads of Department around exactly these kinds of scenarios. Because the challenges institutions face are less about being overrun by technological developments than it is one of uncontrollable user scenarios.

And explore AR in the short term. That’s for the final blog in this short series.

If you are looking to review institutional strategies in the light of challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch with spa@sijen.com

Image credit: generated using DALL-E

Metaverse explained for University Leaders: What is currently possible within the Metaverse? 2/4

I am not selling anything here. That should be self-evident given that my answer to the question “what is currently possible within the Metaverse?” is, not much. I could even suggest nothing, because ‘it’ doesn’t exist yet, certainly in the form it aspires to. What we have instead are partial experiences, glimpses into the promise of what the future holds. In part one of this four-part blog, I explored the definitions of what the Metaverse might be. We don’t have it yet.

Recent press (including this from the NYT), in part the reason for the delay in issuing this second of four short articles, have highlighted how deeply unpopular the concept of an immersive working environment in the Metaverse actually may prove to be. Meta’s own Horizon platform, the immersive environment that is the company’s manifestation of the Metaverse, is proving unpopular even amongst its own employees. Essentially, the Metaverse still remains largely the domain of ‘video games’. There is a serious risk of over-inflating the promise of a virtual reality workspace. Just as 3D films have repeated the cycle of innovation, technology breakthrough, costly implementation, partial deployment, and customer non-engagement, so it looks like the Metaverse risks repeating this trajectory.

If you are looking to review institutional strategies in the light of challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch with spa@sijen.com

Nonetheless, we should discuss what is currently accessible for educators. There are a range of AR and VR visualisations that aid learning. These include 3D visualisations of the human body for medical purposes, and of engineering and architectural designs that aid a deeper understanding of structure. The challenge for academics is to confront themselves with the question of whether learning gained through these 3D renditions adds enough value to warrant associated costs. If you were a medical science student before these visualisations were available, are you likely to have learned anything new from these 3D renditions? Are these 3D images necessarily enhanced by viewing them using VR headsets? It might be a ‘nice to have’, but does it warrant the not insignificant investment in staff training and equipment?

What is currently available in the commercial world,  notably in disaster response and security contexts, are a series of hyper-real representations of real-world scenes, as opposed to fantasy worlds, in which skills can be perfected. The most obvious in the public consciousness would be flight simulators on which pilots learn to master new aircraft. Surgeons have also benefited for some years from the VR renditions of difficult procedures that can be rehearsed before opening up a patient. Touching on a humanities field, but still with a foot firmly in the technical realm, the restoration team working on the Notre Dame in Paris collaborates within a VR version of the fire-gutted cathedral, discussing and experimenting with approaches before tackling the real thing. 

There is no doubt that the human brain is clever. Having a 3D visualisation of an object or a scene, displayed on a flat screen, satisfies most cognitive engagements. Is immersion in virtual reality either helpful or necessary?

Graphic design and game design students would undoubtedly benefit from practice suites to be able to design 3D models and game interactives. Saving individual students the cost of investing in the kit that is likely to be constantly upgraded as IT equipment manufacturers attempt to recoup their investments.  However, unless there is a distinct visualisation requirement,  asked of by current or emergent practice within the profession to which university programmes are aligned to, I would suggest there is no need to invest heavily in developing the in-house capacity to create VR experiences. It remains cheaper, not cheap, but cheaper, to employ either a third party, or your own student designers, to create experiences. 

What is less certain is the role that AR will play in the Metaverse. That’s for next time.

If you are looking to review institutional strategies in the light of challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch with spa@sijen.com

How Sijen Courses work

Sijen courses are hosted outside of this WordPress site. They are on a seperate Moodle instance at https://sijen.net.

I have chosen to use the Tiles format, developed by David Watson, who I had the pleasure of working with at BPP University. I think it’s a great structured interface and allows the learner themselves to track completion in a really transparent way.

Currently the course ‘Designing Effective Intended Learning Outcomes’ is free, until 14th January 2023. Join us.

Metaverse explained for University Leaders:
 A simple guide to the immersive future (1/4)

University Leaders will doubtless come away from the latest round of late summer conferences with ideas about how to seize some real estate in Metaverse. With some caveats, I would suggest it is worthwhile that Universities start thinking now about how to harness the potential.


If you are looking to review institutional strategies in light of the challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch.


In four separate postings I want to outline:

  1. What the Metaverse is and is not.
  2. What is currently possible within the Metaverse
  3. Where are the challenges for universities in journeying into the Metaverse
  4. The opportunities likely to emerge over the next few years within the Metaverse.

What the Metaverse is and is not.

It is not yet here. The Metaverse is conceived as a series of intertwined digital experiences, from the presentation of personalised content based on physical proximity to the fully immersive virtual reality experience. The Metaverse is not a single ‘place’, it is rather an experience. It is envisaged as being an experience in which you, the individual, spend time between the virtual world and your flesh-and-blood existence.

Definitions are as varied as they are numerous as the label ‘Metaverse’ has some commercial cachet. Existing technologies, immersive gaming and virtual worlds have adopted the label of Metaverse. Even some commercial teleconferencing companies have chosen to use the label to describe their all-walls solutions.

Whilst several technologies play a part in building the Metaverse, including headsets, graphics platforms, blockchain encryption and so on, these individual technologies do not in themselves represent the Metaverse (Gillis, 2022). They are all pieces. They are yet to come together as a complete pattern. We are some years away from sufficiently integrated experiences that would warrant the label of Metaverse. The two experiences underpinned by this array of technologies are Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), both covered by the term Extended Reality (XR). AR could be defined as overlaying elements of digital representations on top of what we experience in the real world. AR is largely synonymous with Multiple Realities (MR). VR could be defined as the creation of immersive alternate reality. Big Think has a more detailed series of definitions (see here)

Definitions

Most commercial definitions of the Metaverse emphasise the connectivity between different digital experiences. They recognise already that no one wants to have to create multiple digital selves to participate in different experiences. How commercial realities will affect this aspiration is uncertain. Anyone who has signed up for multiple streaming services, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, etc, will tell you, it can be frustrating.

My working definition for Vice-Chancellors of the Metaverse is:

A series of experiences of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), grouped under the banner of extended reality (XR) facilitated by technologies (headsets, touch-sensitive haptic clothing, etc). Participation in the Metaverse allows individuals to create a digital version of themselves (digital-twin) and immerse themselves ‘inside’ the internet, as a representation of the digital world.

A shorter version is:

Metaverse is the intertwining of increasingly immersive digital spaces, experienced through XR technologies by you as your digital twin.

Implications

What this will look like in practice is open to question. At one extreme, a favourite film plot for the dystopia, individuals will spend most of their time ‘plugged in’ to a virtual ‘Matrix’, experiencing less and less human contact. More positive perceptions suggest a reality where working at home does not mean you cannot participate in person at a stand-up. Simply pop on the virtual reality headset and hyper-real representations of your team members appear in the space chosen for the meeting. Wearing a touch-sensitive technology suit (a haptic suit) would mean you can shake the hands of a new member and feel the pressure of their handshake. In its most utopian representation, it could be equated to the holodeck from the Star Trek franchise, a fully immersive hyper-real experience.

It is worth remembering that the concept of the Metaverse is not a new one. It has been around for at least 30 years. The term Metaverse is frequently attributed Neal Stephenson, in his 1992 cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (1992). Star Trek’s own holodeck television representation began in 1988. Its conceptualisation within education was explored in 1995 when John Tiffin and Lalita Rajasingham described virtual learning experiences that were fully immersive in their work In Search of the Virtual Class (1995). An inspiring read, all the more so because it is now 26 years old.

The challenge for university leadership is to know whether to invest and get ahead of the wave, uncertain as to the regulatory frameworks that are likely to be imposed, lack of clarity about the implications for personal privacy, and doubt as to which of the big players will set the technological standards that will allow for interoperability.

In summary

The Metaverse IS coming, will be complex, untidy, multispeed, digitally divisive, and fragmented in its realisation and implementation. The Metaverse IS NOT a product or service you can buy for your students.

Next time: What is currently possible within the Metaverse


If you are looking to review institutional strategies in light of the challenges and opportunities presented by the Metaverse, please feel free to get in touch.


Gillis, M. (2022, August). Emerging Technologies Ushering the Life Sciences Industry into the Metaverse, according to Accenture Report [August 2022]. Newsroom Accenture. https://newsroom.accenture.com/news/emerging-technologies-ushering-the-life-sciences-industry-into-the-metaverse-according-to-accenture-report.htm
Stephenson, N. (1992). Snow crash (Reissued). Penguin Books.
Tiffin, J., & Rajasingham, L. (1995). In search of the virtual class: Education in an information society. Routledge.

Workshop review: ‘Innovating Pedagogy 2022’

Thursday 8th September I had the privilege of running an online workshop for FLANZ  to explore the potential of a range of different pedagogical approaches that might apply to different educational sectors in New Zealand and Australia.

See Transcript The Innovating Pedagogy 2022 is the 10th annual report from the Open University (UK) exploring new forms in interactive and innovative practice of teaching, learning and assessment. These innovations already exist in pockets of practice but are not considered mainstream. This collaboration between the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK, and the Open University of Catalonia, Spain, is the result of a filtering process and is compiled, based on a review of published studies and other sources. Ten concepts or themes are identified.

Hybrid models Maximising learning flexibility and opportunities. Beyond the strict curriculum delineations in Blended Learning models, Hybrid forms aim to empower the learner to optimise their own learner choices at to where, when, and how to learn. Providing flexible choices requires teachers and institutions to adjust their systemic approaches. Influencer-led education Learning from education influencers on social media platforms. Acknowledging the growth of edu-influencers, who optimise their use of social media tools to share their knowledge, experience, and passion for a range of subjects from the highly specialised to the generic. Evaluating the veracity of the message is a challenge for the learner.
Dual learning scenarios Connecting learning in classrooms and industrial workplaces. A step up from work-integrated learning models, the expectation is that course designers fully meld both formal classroom and work spaces into a coherent experience. Pedagogies of the home Understanding the home as a place for cultural learning. Not the same as home-schooling. Rather, it seeks to leverage the wider socio-cultural environment that the learner inhabits. Also recognises the burden on marginalised communities to fully participate.
Pedagogies of micro-credentials Accredited short courses to develop workplace skills. Existing approaches, snippets taken from existing programmes, fail to create an effective learning ecosystem for learners who require support to develop a patchwork portfolio meshing formal, non-formal, and informal experiences together. Pedagogy of discomfort   Emotions as powerful tools for learning and for promoting social justice. A process of self-examination that requires students to critically engage with their ideological traditions and ways of thinking about issues such as racism, oppression, and social injustice.
Pedagogy of autonomy Building capacity for freedom and independent learning. Explores the notion of incorporating informal, non-formal, and formal learning patterns into the learner’s experience, creating self-regulated learners with an emphasis on their metacognitive development and allowing them to reflect their true selves.. Wellbeing education Promoting wellbeing across all aspects of teaching and learning. Wellbeing education helps students to develop mental health ‘literacy’ by teaching them how to manage their own mental health, recognise possible disorders, and learn how, where, and when to seek help.
Watch parties Watching videos together, whatever the time or place. Leveraging the increased connectivity prompted in response to covid-19, and the move of media providers to provide educational tools, this is the notion of structured engagement around a shared viewing (or listening) experience. Walk-and-talk Combining movement and conversation to enhance learning. Not just used in service of those in need of emotional support, where the therapeutic benefits have been proven, but across a wide range of learning activities where reflection and thought would be best served by being away from the classroom and being outside and mobile.
10 Themes from the 2022 Innovating Pedagogy report

The workshop used Mentimeter as an online polling tool. Of the 25 participants, 20 regularly voted and made 659 submissions. The tertiary sector dominated, at 15, with fewer representatives from the Private Training Enterprise and Commercial L&D sectors and only one from compulsory education. Only 2 Australians participated. Despite having laboured the point in all publicity materials that it would be valuable to read the report before participating, only 8 said they had read it (or the summary), with 11 admitting they had not. Of the 17 that responded to the question about their approach to new educational technologies, 12 saw themselves as ‘progressive’, 2 as ‘radical’, and 3 as ‘pedestrian’. To get participants involved in thinking about each pedagogic approach, we ran a 2×2 square exercise, asking what the relative effort versus impact might be. See the video for responses. Following breakout groups we ranked the innovations in terms of the amount of attention participants would pay to them in the next 12 months in their personal practice (see screenshot above). The general consensus was that whilst there was nothing exceptional or radical in any of these innovations, they provided a focus for reflection and were deemed stimulating. Thank you to all who participated.


Kukulska-Hulme, A., et.al. (2022). Innovating Pedagogy 2022: Open University Innovation (No. 10). Open University.

The threat to the integrity of educational assessments is not from ‘essay mills’ but from Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The threat to the integrity of educational assessments is no longer from ‘essay mills’ and contract cheating but from Artificial Intelligence (AI).

It is not so long ago that academics complained that essay mills, ‘contract cheating’ services, and commercial companies piecing together ‘bespoke’ answers to standard essay questions, were undermining the integration of higher education’s assessment processes. The outputs of these less than ethically justifiable endeavours tried to cheat the plagiarism detection software (such as Turnitin and Urkund) that so many institutions have come to rely on. This reliance, in part the result of the increase in the student-tutor ratio, the use of adjunct markers and poor assessment design, worked for a while. It no longer works particularly well.


If you are interested in reviewing your programme or institutional assessment strategy and approaches please get in touch. This consultancy service can be done remotely. Contact me


Many institutions sighed with relief when governments began outlawing these commercial operations (in April 2022 the UK passed the ‘Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022’ following NZ and Australian examples) and went back to the business-as-usual. For the less enlightened this meant a return to setting generic questions, decontextualised, knowledge recitation essay tasks. Some have learnt to at least require a degree of contextualisation of their students’ work, introduced internal self-justification and self-referencing, requiring ‘both sides’ arguments rather than declared positions, and applied the ‘could this already have been written’ test in advance. Banning essay mills, or ‘contract cheating’, is necessary, but it is not enough to secure the integrity of assessment regimes.

Why students plagiarise is worthy of its own post, but suffice it to say it varies greatly depending on the student. A very capable student may simply be terrible at time management and fear running out of time or feel the assessment is unworthy of them. Another student may be fearful of their ability to express complex arguments and in pursuit of the best possible grade, plagiarise. Some may simply have not learnt to cite and reference, or to appreciate that rewording someone else’s thoughts without attributing them also constitutes plagiarism. And there is that category of students whose cultural reference point, deference to ‘the words of the master’, make plagiarism conceptually difficult for them to understand.

I remember receiving my most blatant example of plagiarism and academic malpractice back in 2006. A student submitted a piece of work that included 600 words copied wholesale from Wikipedia, complete with internal bookmarks and hyperlinks. I suspect the majority of students are now sufficiently digitally literate not to make that mistake, but how many are also now in a position to do what the essay mills used to do for them, stitch together, paraphrase and redraft existing material using freely available AI text generation tools.

As we encourage our students to search the web for sources, how easy is it for them now to access some of the easily accessible, and often free, online tools? These tools include https://app.inferkit.com/demo which allows you to enter a few sentences and then generate longer texts on the basis of that origin. You can enter merely a title, of at least five words, or a series of sentences into https://smodin.io/writer and have it generate a short essay, free of references. Professional writing tools aimed at marketers, such as https://ai-writer.com, would cost a subscriber to be effective but would allow students to generate passable work. This last tool actually tells you the sources from which its abstractions have been drawn, including academic journals.

You might find it enlightening to take something you have published and put it through one of these tools and evaluate the output.

It is insufficient to ask the student to generate their own question, or even to ask the student to contextualise their own work. Some of the emergent AI tools can take account of the context. There is a need to move away from the majority of long-form text assessments. With the exception of those disciplines where writing more than a thousand words at once is justifiable (journalism, policy studies, and some humanities subjects), there is a need to make assessments as close to real-world experience as possible. It needs to be evidently the product of an individual.

Paraphrasing is a skill. A valuable one in a world where most professions do not lack pure information. The issue is to evaluate the quality of that information and then be able to reduce it to a workable volume.

I’ve worked recently with an institution reviewing its postgraduate politics curriculum. I suggested that rather than try and stop students from ‘cheating’ by paraphrasing learned texts, they should encourage the students to learn what they need to do to enhance the output of these AI tools. Using one of these tools to paraphrase, and essentially re-write, a WHO report for health policy makers made it more readable, it also left out certain details that would be essential for effective policy responses. Knowing how to read the original, use a paraphrasing tool, and being able to explore the deficiencies of its output and correct them, was a useful skill for these students.

We cannot stop the encroachment of these kinds of AI text manipulation tools in higher education, but we can make their contemporary use more meaningful to the student.


If you are interested in reviewing your programme or institutional assessment strategy and approaches please get in touch. This consultancy service can be done remotely. Contact me.


Image was generated by DALL-e



Psychomotor skills should be at the core of all learning

Any learning design framework that does not address the psychomotor skills is not worth exploring.

There is not a single discipline taught in any formal, non-formal or informal way that does not make use of some tool or technology, instrument or mechanism (aka media), at some point in the process. It makes sense that any curriculum development process needs to put the media at the forefront of its planning. Curricula need to developed around intended learning outcomes that are clearly articulated around the development of psychomotor skills.

Rather than have intellectual (cognitive) outcomes such as, (students will be able to:)

Apply transformations and use symmetry to analyze mathematical situations
Would it not be better to say
Utilise graphical representation software in order to analyse mathematical transformations and symmetry

That way the student requires the practical ability to evidence their ability to meet an intellectual skill.

Another example in a disparate discipline, let’s take theatre studies. Rather than say,

Demonstrate an understanding of all aspects of theatrical production including design and technical functions” [a real, but poorly written outcome]
Would it not be better say:
Produce design and technical specifications for a theatrical production

The learner cannot provide evidence of their ability to meet that outcome without fulfilling the weaker intellectual outcome.

The course design process then become skills focussed rather than knowledge orientated. Knowledge is acquired within a practical context. The psychomotor outcomes are not overly specific, they do not say ‘using Algosim to generate mathematical visualisations….” Or “Manage stage plans using ShowNotes….”, because in both cases stating a particular technology does not allow for future evolution of those technologies (renaming, rebranding, etc). The focus is on developing the skills, always with a light to their transferability across other tools. We should always ensure that we teach the ‘paper and pencil’ version alongside too, so the increments between origination and implementation are also evident.

The 8-Stage Learning Design Framework has as its third step the ‘Media Choices’, which requires programme and course designers to review the current (and evolving) environment into which graduates will emerge. This should incorporate a review of the tools and technologies that students are expected to use ‘on the job’. Only after this stage is complete is it appropriate to draft Intended Learning Outcomes, then assessment, and then learning & teaching activities.


See Courses on both Designing Effective Intended Learning Outcomes and the Introduction to Five Educational Taxonomies, which includes the Psychomotor domain.



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