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Originally Posted to LinkedIn on Thursday 2nd April.
SoleModelRoles
SOLE Model - changing nature of spaces

 

Change is often difficult. Actors who were adored as Vaudeville artists, glamorous or heroic, sounded unconsciously like clowns on the radio or looked clumsy and inarticulate on television. Many fell by the wayside, drifting into obscurity.

Does the current global shift into supporting learners online mean the end of some academic careers? Probably. Some will decide for themselves that they do not want to perform on this new stage, they will miss the smell of musty stage curtains and the face paint, the fever of anticipation, of adulation. There are many who will miss the lack of personal presence of their students enough to think it's a profession they no longer feel a part of. We, as leaders in tertiary education, whether as team leaders, Heads of Departments, Deans, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Proctors and others, need to understand this.

It is not just about 'shifting your content online', move your weekly lecture into a recorded version of the same or set yourself up with webinar software and substitute your seminar. The change that is being asked of many of our academic colleagues is profound. Most can transition into online delivery, and some will excel at it. Others will not. Both will need support. I want to suggest I may have a tool to help leaders talk through some of the challenges of changing roles with faculty.

A learning model: visualisation

Some years ago, 2011 to be precise, I produced a poster for a conference that mapped roles against a working learning model I had developed over the previous five years. The Student-Owned Learning Engagement model, SOLE for short (with apologies to Professor Sugata Mitra), is designed for course designers to map out their courses to ensure the curriculum is balanced, well-constructed and aligned. It also represents, I believe, an accurate picture of all of the facets of learning that a student should experience for that rounded education we purport to offer. Written on the assumption that courses reflect well-crafted intended learning outcomes across multiple domains of learning, the SOLE Model comes with an open Excel toolkit to support that process. The poster was a visual mapping of the SOLE Model against online and face-to-face spaces (and associated technologies), and the different student support roles that were required.

The details of the SOLE Model are available elsewhere, so I do not think it necessary to unpack it here. Suffice it to say, there are none elements that students need to have addressed in any course design, to varying degrees depending on discipline and level, but all are required. These are illustrated here;

SOLEmodelElements
SOLE Model - simple representation of the nine elements

Different spaces, different solutions

Traditional campus-based teaching has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. Libraries have been at the forefront of developing social spaces, community forums, shared-working clusters, study pods and any manner of imaginative configurations. These designs have been a response to the belief that students want, and expect, to learn socially. Alongside this, there has been a steady number of lecture theatre refits that see u-shaped, parliamentary style, seating configurations rather than straight theatre styles. Seminars rooms are more likely to have reconfigurable desks, chairs on wheels, and writable walls. This has been in the belief that students learn better in cooperation with others rather than being 'lectured at'. My visualisation against the SOLE Model was about identifying the different types of spaces that support different forms of learning. It was designed to stimulate conversation at my institution about a ‘learning spaces’ strategy. Illustrated below, you can see that I used the SOLE Model to structure this classification of spaces. It is in no way presented as a 'complete' list of anything. It is merely a starting point.

SoleModelRoles
SOLE Model - changing nature of spaces

Different roles

What is significant is that in thinking about the changing nature of learning spaces in the face-to-face world and the online environment, seen through the prism of the SOLE Model, it also became apparent that the same thing could be done with respect to those that support learners. Again, the SOLE Model was used to articulate a range of 'traditional' academic roles in their face-to-face context, mapped against each element of the Model, and this was then extended to the online world.

SoleModelSpaces
Visualisation of the SOLE model mapped to faculty roles

 

I would hope that some fairly apparent conclusions can be drawn from this exercise. The first is that in many institutions, the academic role is incredibly diverse. An individual academic may be course material author, lecturer, seminar lead, supervisor, pastoral carer, coach, marker and personal tutor. In other institutions some of these roles are subdivided and delegated, academics concern themselves primarily to inform-connect-engage, leaving others to assess-feedback. Yet others have groups of staff who support students to collaborate-contextualise-personalise and reflect.

The second thing that becomes evident is that the transition from any face-to-face role into its online substitute (and I carefully avoid the word ‘equivalent’ here) requires a whole range of particular skills to be developed. Going from producing your own in-class PowerPoints with no real concern about the ownership of images grabbed from Google to being a digital curator is for most a steep learning curve. There is no direct equivalency between running a face-to-face seminar from moderating a discussion forum, or between running an in-class role-play scenario and attempting to do the same online over the course of a week.

Yes, they are both teaching. There are still learners, and there is an established curriculum. But there is no smell of the musty curtains or the face paint. There is no bustling of the audience or the adrenalin rush when the lights go up. We, as academic developers, are not just helping people to ‘get their courses online’, we are helping them to redefine what it means to be a contemporary, agile, flexible and multifaceted academic.

If I see another VC or Pro-VC demand that their faculty, ‘just adjust’ and ‘get their courses online’, heckling from above, I am likely, Lord help me, lose it and storm the Royal Box.

As promised this version of the SOLE Toolkit, 3.5, remain a free, unprotected and macro-free Excel workbook with rich functionality to serve the learning designer. Version 3.5 has two significant enhancements. Rich visualization of the learning spaces and tools: that students are to engage with in their learning. This provides an alternative, fine-grain, view of the students modes of engagement in their learning. Faculty-time calculations in design and facilitating: based on the learning spaces and tools to be used

As promised this version of the SOLE Toolkit, 3.5, remain a free, unprotected and macro-free Excel workbook with rich functionality to serve the learning designer. Version 3.5 has two significant enhancements.

Rich visualization of the learning spaces and tools: that students are to engage with in their learning. This provides an alternative, fine-grain, view of the students modes of engagement in their learning. It permits the designer to plan not only for a balance of learning engagement but also a balance of environments and tools. This should allow designers to identify where 'tool-boredom' or 'tool-weariness' is possibly a danger to learner motivation and to ensure that a range of tools and environments allow students to develop based on their own learning preferences.

Faculty-time calculations in design and facilitating: based on the learning spaces and tools to be used there is now a function to allow programme designers and administrators, as well as designers themselves, to calculate the amount of time they are likely to need to design materials and facilitate learning around those materials.

This builds on newly designed functionality release in September 2014 in version 3 of the toolkit, namely;

  • Predicated Workload – the amount of time the designer anticipates students will spend is on activities charted.
  • Sequencing activities – the ability to suggest the order in which activities should be tackled. It remains an open approach and so the numbering system (letters, Roman, multiple instances of the same item) is open. It is considered important in the SOLE Model that students should take responsibility for the learning process as so the sequence should  be suggestive or advised.
  • Completion Record – a column has been added to allow students to record whether an activity has been completed alongside indicating the amount of time was actually spent on any given activity.
  • Objectives Met Record – an area is included to allow students to indicate that they believe they have met the objectives for each individual topic/week.

At its core the toolkit serves to implement a model of learning based on the SOLE Model itself and it is worth reminding yourself how the model is designed to work.

Further Details:

Here are two short videos that detail the significant enhancement made in Version 3.5 of the Tookit.

Visualisation of Learning spaces

Calculating Faculty-Time in Design and Facilitation

I've been looking recently at a range of new builds in Universities and colleges in the UK and have been struck by the relative lack of any learning theory behind the designs. Beyond, that is, the Vice-Chancellor's evident pride at being able to point to the new coffee franchise and padded benches and say wisely "students' like to learn in these informal spaces you know". Today, ahead of some planned workshops in July, I published a short working paper entitled “Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces“.

The paper recognises that new build and refurbishments of educational spaces can be significant financial commitments and often represent ‘flagship’ investments for many universities. It questions whether they are really supporting effective learning. This paper advocates that truly effective spaces need to be more closely associated with the particular learning contexts one is seeking to enrich. Re-visioning our learning spaces requires universities to create and engage with a conceptual model of the learner and faculty, to develop not just new spaces but support for new roles within those spaces. The SOLE model is presented as a conceptual framework through which new spaces and new faculty roles are considered.

Paper can be downloaded at Academia.edu or direct from BPP University College pages (ISBN – 9781 4453 5457 6 / Publication Date: May 2013)

"In search of the virtual class: education in an information society" published in 1995 by John Tiffin and Lalita Rajasingham begins with a description of a girl climbing into her sensor suit and shooting off to a virtual waterfall for a geography lesson. Digital Immersion was the future. The description of the learning envisaged a different kind of learner.

As the learner changes to take a significantly more determinant role in their own learning process, in a world in which Choice is the defining quality of the consumer and therefore the product, the model of our universities must look like the model of our students.

Universities must accept that the very nature of the University will change as societal expectations of their function ( most evident in student expectations ) changes. Which Universities will be brave enough to shape the learning spaces of the future?

Last month I wrote a short piece about the way the SOLE model might be used to reconceptualise the physical and virtual spaces in which learning will occur in the 21st Century. There are other models, my suggestion is simply that you need the model first, that a conceptual model of learning provides a useful mechanism to debate and design the spaces we intend for our learning. If we do not then we, Universities, will end up describing a 'what' we offer the student but not the 'why', and as we surely all recognise by now consumers don't buy what you make, they buy why you make it. "Give me an educational rationale for why my lecture theatre looks like this, why my VLE looks like this!"

What does that mean in practice? In 2009 I was fortunate enough to be invited to deliver the closing keynote at the Estonian e-Universities conference in Tartu, Estonia. I asked delegates to do a little foresight thinking with me, a little futurology. Not something particularly 'big' in the UK or New Zealand (where I worked a the time). In my scenario I described Trin, a girl born in 2009 in Estonia, and asked the audience to future-think with me what her educational life would be.

I had several points I wanted to share, that the academic qualifications she would study in 18 years time most likely did not exist today, that her career choices were likely to be more complex and 'portfolio' driven than today, based on evidential skills not qualifications and so on. In amongst this discussion was the suggestion that the very future of the educational spaces she encountered would change. My suggestion was that Trin would go to a school in 2020s, when it suited her parents who blended home-schooling with community-schooling to fit with their family scenario. That the school itself was built into the fabric of the community, in buildings shared with other community services, post-office, library, social centre for the elderly. The extension of this sees Universities being porous knowledge mediators not guardians of the book-tower. Universities that used to shape our epistemological universe will do so again, but as our universe changes and expands, so must our universities.

In the two years since 2009 I can see things already diverging from my future-think, but some things I'd suggest are still relevant and the SOLE model provides one way of interpreting and predicating this change. As we accord learners a more central role in the learning process, should we not be exploring spaces through the SOLE model, or something like it? Should we not be asking what spaces we need to engineer for students to help them fulfil the holistic experience the SOLE model represents?

The universities that will shape the learning spaces of the future are those that are able to conceptualise, visualise, the world in which this future learner lives. The campus has had it's day.

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