Release of Irish Horizon Report for Higher Education

H Report

Ireland’s first Horizon Report for Higher Education was formally launched last Friday at the Irish Learning Technology Association Conference (ILTA) at the University of Limerick. The report featured prominently throughout the conference, with Jim Devine helping to contextualise the study in the broader European context in his opening address, and Alex Freeman from New Media Consortium (NMC) describing the main findings on Friday in his keynote.

H Report Table

A feature of the report is the contrast with the recently published Australian and International reports for Higher Education. As the above table shows there are some notable differences between the reports, with under-resourced institutional infrastructure a key finding of the Irish report.

Irish Times

The report also featured in a story by the Irish Times, with particular reference to the need for greater investment in infrastructure, the current inequitable funding model and the need for educators to adopt new pedagogies in order to exploit the affordances of new digital technologies.

The previous Monday the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) hosted a pre-launch event where Dr Larry Johnson, CEO New Media Consortium, shared the main findings and facilitated a brief workshop with an audience of invited guests. He stressed importantly that the Horizon Report does not predict the future and simply offers another ‘futures tool’ for institutional leaders and policy-makers to discuss and plan for their preferred futures. Notably, the Report links to the Roadmap for Enhancement in a Digital World for Irish Higher Education along with recent European reports promoting the current modernisation agenda. It also acknowledges the value of comparing and contrasting the findings with other major publications such as the annual Innovating Pedagogy Report produced by the Educational Technology team at the UK Open University.

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The Horizon Report has its critics and the sample selection and methodology for the Irish report was adapted to ensure the greatest possible diversity amongst the expert panel, including a mix of experienced, and new and emerging educators. Approximately 70 Irish educators across every university and institute of technology were invited to participate on the panel and almost 50 people volunteered to contributed to the final report. In the context of Dublin City University (DCU), and the current Incorporation Project, it was noteworthy that the panel included specialist academic and administrative staff from across the University and linked Colleges.

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The intention over the next few months is to workshop the findings with institutions wishing to think more deeply about the impact of new technology-enhanced models of teaching and learning on higher education. Accordingly, please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to host a workshop in your own region or institution.

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Finally, we would like to thank everyone who contributed to the Horizon Report project since the beginning of the year, especially panel members. The full press release produced by NMC supporting the launch of the Horizon Report appears below.

NMC, NIDL, and ILTA Release the 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Higher Education in Ireland

Limerick, Ireland (May 28, 2015) — The New Media Consortium (NMC), the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University, and the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) are releasing the 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Higher Education in Ireland at the 2015 EdTech Conference at the University of Limerick. This inaugural Ireland edition describes findings from the NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.

Ten key trends, ten significant challenges, and twelve important developments in technology are identified across three adoption horizons over the next five years, giving Irish higher education leaders, decision-makers, and practitioners a valuable guide for strategic technology planning. The report helps to provide these leaders with indepth insight into how the trends and challenges are accelerating and impeding the adoption of educational technology for higher education institutions in Ireland.

“Ireland’s role in Europe and in the world as a critical hub for technological development and innovation continues to grow in importance and influence,” says Larry Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the NMC. “I think it is an extremely timely moment for a report that looks at the ways Irish universities and institutes of technology are responding in their own uses of technology and where they are heading. The use of digital and hybrid learning designs are increasing across Ireland, and it is clear that Irish institutions are looking forward to a technology-enhanced future that will play out in more effective and engaging learning across the entire country. We believe this new report from the NMC, NIDL, and ILTA will be a significant catalyst for strategic planning and high-level discussions at universities and colleges that will spur even more campus and off-campus innovation in teaching and learning.”

“Our collaboration with the ILTA and NMC is a strong step toward promoting more strategic conversations about future models of teaching and learning in Irish higher education,” said Professor Mark Brown, Director for the NIDL. “Drawn from the collective expertise of leading Irish educators, this report supports work already underway to help universities and institutes of technology throughout the country to develop a more future-focused strategy for higher education in such rapidly changing times.”

“The 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Higher Education in Ireland could not be timelier in providing a comparative international evidence-base to inform research, policy and practice in the Irish higher education landscape over the medium term,” says Paul Gormley, Director of ILTA. ”This report offers exciting opportunities to identify commonalities and regional differences in higher education across an increasingly global landscape, and contributes a unique Irish perspective to inform the wider NMC Horizon Project. It is significant that the Expert Panel has identified the development of digital literacies to support the changing roles of staff and students in an increasingly digital age. This is a key enabler in maximising the opportunities for creative and innovative learning opportunities in Irish Higher Education.”

Key Trends Accelerating Educational Technology Adoption in Irish Higher Education

These ten trends are identified as very likely to drive technology planning and decision-making over the next five years, and they were ranked in order of importance by the expert panel, with the first trend listed being deemed the most impactful. The key trends are: “Rethinking the Roles of Educators,” “Increasing Use of Hybrid/Blended Learning Designs,” “Rise of Digital Delivery,” “Shift from Students as Consumers to Students as Creators,” “Growing Focus on Measuring Learning,” “Redesigning Learning Spaces,” “Increase in E-Portfolios Created by Learners,” “Proliferation of Open Educational Resources,” “Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation,” and “Increasing Preference for Personal Technology.”

Significant Challenges Impeding Educational Technology Adoption in Irish Higher Education

A number of challenges are acknowledged as barriers to the mainstream use of technology in Irish higher education. Because not all challenges are of the same scope, the discussions were framed by three categories defined by the nature of the challenge. The expert panel ranked challenges in order of significance, with the first challenge listed being deemed the most prominent. They are: “Underresourced Campus Infrastructure,” “Scaling Teaching Innovations,” “Improving Digital Literacy,” “Engaging with the Ethical, Privacy, and Ideological Aspects of Learning Analytics,” “Integrating Technology in Faculty Education,” “Creating Authentic Learning Opportunities,” “Blending Formal and Informal Learning,” “Competing Models of Education,” “Keeping Formal Education Relevant,” and “Teaching Complex Thinking.”

Important Developments in Educational Technology in Irish Higher Education

Additionally, the report identifies Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), flipped classroom, mobile learning, and online learning as digital strategies and technologies expected to enter mainstream use in the first horizon of one year or less. Badges/microcredit, games and gamification, learning analytics, and open content are seen in the second horizon of two to three years; adaptive learning technologies, collaborative environments, digital identity, and social networks are seen emerging in the third horizon of four to five years.

The subject matter in this report was identified through a qualitative research process designed and conducted by the NMC that engaged an Irish body of experts in higher education, technology, business, and other fields around a set of research questions designed to surface significant trends and challenges. The Irish expert panel was also asked to identify important development in technology that have a strong likelihood of adoption in Irish universities. The 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Higher Education in Ireland details the areas in which these experts were in strong agreement.

The 2015 NMC Technology Outlook for Higher Education in Ireland is available online, free of charge, and is released under a Creative Commons license to facilitate its widespread use, easy duplication, and broad distribution.

Download the report at go.nmc.org/2015-ie

Reflections on hosting MoodleMoot 2015

A recent EDUCUASE Report by Brown, Dahomey and Millichap (2015) estimates that almost 99% of higher education institutions support a Learning Management System (LMS); that is, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for those living in the UK/Ireland/Europe. The same report claims that according to the first ECAR survey of faculty and IT in the United States, 85% of faculty use a LMS, with 56% using it on a daily basis.

What is clear is that the LMS/VLE has become an established feature of the digital architecture of today’s modern university and institute of technology. Although the LMS/VLE has many critics, and was recently described by Phil Hill as the “minivan of education” due to lack of style, poor fuel economy, uncomfortable seating, and because people are embarrassed to have one up their driveway, it remains an important platform for advancing and implementing a modern digital teaching and learning agenda.

In his critique of the above analogy, Stephen Downs prefers to think of the LMS/VLE as more like a ‘bus’ that we value as a core component of our public transportation system. While it may lack a bit of style and not everyone likes taking the bus, it generally runs on time, you know where it is going, what to expect, and very few people would advocate for its removal from an integrated transportation system, especially given the level of disruption that occurs when there is a major strike. In this respect the LMS/VLE is a tool that has an important role in the basic provision of  digital learning throughout the higher education sector.

IMG_7130Therefore, last week the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) was delighted to host 328 delegates from 26 different countries at the annual UK/Ireland MoodleMoot at Dublin City University (DCU). The event took place over four days and offered a lively mix of presentations, workshops, Pecha Kucha, posters, and physical and virtual discussions. Notably, approximately 2500 tweets were shared over the period of the event using the hashtag #mootieuk15.

After DCU’s President, Professor Brian McGrath, opened the conference, Dr Bart Rienties, a Reader in the area of Learning Analytics at the Institute of Educational Technology at the UK Open University, gave the opening keynote address. Bart’s keynote set the tone for the remainder of the Moot where pedagogical discussions rather than technical matters were very much the major focus of discussions. A video of Dr Rienties’ presentation will be available in the next week or so but in the meantime you may wish to view this recording from a previous visit to DCU in 2014.

Moodle HQ was well represented at the event and Martin Dougiama and Dr. Michael de Raadt did not disappoint in helping to keep a strong pedaogogical focus with their respective presentations on the importance of feedback and personalised learning. Throughout the event it was apparent that the decision by an institution or organisation to use Moodle needs to be understood as a strategic investment in supporting an open pedagogical and technological culture. In this respect, by analogy, in joining the Moodle community people and institutions have an opportunity to not only influence future decisions about the replacement of the current ‘bus fleet’ but also how to redesign the transport system to better meet our changing needs. That said, in his closing address, Professor Mark Brown challenged delegates to be more creative in their thinking about the LMS/VLE and to develop new metaphors for the future of teaching and learning through new digital technologies.

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Finally, we would like to thank everyone involved in helping to make last week’s MoodleMoot so successful, especially Gavin Henrick and Dr. Mark Glynn. The following reflections from a number of NIDL staff who participated in the event provide further personal insights into some of the highlights of this year’s MoodleMoot.

Dr Eamon Costello wrote…

The theme of feedback which was central to Martin Dougiamas’s talk was a common thread that could be detected in most if not all of the UK & Ireland 2015 Moodle Conference presentations. Examples were presented of educational practices that utilised both new and longstanding tools from Moodle’s assessment toolset such as discussion post rating via scales, anonymous and double marked assignments, digital badges, student dashboards etc.

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Indeed the Student Dashboard was the subject of one of the workshops on day one of the conference. The Moodle Moot was bookended by workshops/working groups. The day n-1 working groups acted as a form of user focus group for feature specification. A developer Hackfest was held on day n+1 at which code was written to implement ideas that had arisen from the workshop and the conference.

This year, as the Moodle Moot renewed its continuing association with Dublin City University, the decision was taken to take attendees out of the comfort (zone) of a hotel conference venue and plant them instead in the heart of the DCU campus itself – including eating lunch in the student canteen. Moving between buildings on the campus, to accommodate the large crowd for the keynotes, provided peripatetic moments to stretch the legs as well as the minds and put delegates into the physical student spaces. The link between the physical and digital learning spaces was made explicit by DCU President Professor Brian McGrath in his Welcome address where he outlined the University’s ambitious Digital Campus initiative.

An interesting backdrop was that conference took place within the context of a resurgent debate on the role of the VLE/LMS in the educational technology research community including an important recent Educause report. In his keynote Michael de Raadt Director of Research at Moodle HQ outlined his vision of how the VLE can enhance learning by outlining a view of personalised learning that foregrounds student diversity.

Technology is a strong focus of Moodle Moots and the pace of the development of the underlying technical infrastructures, platforms, programming languages, frameworks and development methodologies can be dizzying. Ultimately this all happens in the service of making Moodle more secure, robust, reliable and responsive, particularly regarding the diversity of UX designs in modern Moodle deployments including for mobile, MOOC and so on. The message of the Conference overall was a simple one: the call to continued enhancement of the learner experience. This mission is powered by a vibrant community comprised of specialists from intersecting fields and all anchored around a cornerstone of openness.

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IMG_7170Dr Pip Ferguson wrote…

This was my first MoodleMoot and I was a little apprehensive about it possibly being dominated by ‘techies’ to an intimidating extent. I’m pleased to relate that this was not the case. There were lots of exemplars, case studies and stimulating conversations around the importance of pedagogy in the use of Moodle. I really liked the multicultural nature of the attendees and had great conversations with people from Denmark, the Netherlands, Egypt, the United States, England, and of course Australia and New Zealand. I found the conference inviting and friendly. The conference dinner was delicious and an opportunity to get to know other attendees in more depth. I also enjoyed conversations with some of the sponsors, whose products are designed to enhance the Moodle experience, even if DCU is not currently a user of some of these. I always try to engage with sponsors at conferences, recognising their generosity in supporting the event. The only minor criticism I’d have was the difficulty in moving from one stream to the other, given the fixed seating in lecture theatres. So I stayed in the education stream. I hope to pick up some items from the technical stream subsequently, and am chasing up the twitter feed for further ideas.

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Noeleen O’Keeffe wrote…

Among the highlights of Moodlemoot for me was the presentation by Hiram Bollaert on the use of quizzes to teach statistics in Moodle, food for thought for our research modules in the Open Education Unit. From the presentations I attended, it is clear there is a lot of great work being done on improving the Moodle experience for both teachers and learners, with the development of some very useful plugins for instance. Of particular interest to me are the plugins on image copyright attribution mentioned in Nigel Owen’s talk which will be very useful when developing learning resources within Moodle. The ability to view a student’s complete submission, grade and feedback history is another nice feature presented by Jessica Gramp and Tim Neumann. It struck me throughout the conference that there was a great willingness to share resources and plugins among the attendees. Well done to everyone for a successful Moodlemoot.

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Alan Crean wrote…

The event itself was extremely well run, well attended and had a rich variety of topic content. I attended the event in the vain of cameraperson. It was very much for me like a bag of Revels. By and large most presenters were intriguing and engaged the audience, yet a small few failed to captivate.

I think it’s a great thing to meet so many people from different countries with differing opinions and views and different techniques that have been put into practice. I have since made a new working relationship with a programmer from the Open University of Israel who is currently working on Moodle and Google Drive integration. The conference team worked hard and it showed. The schedule remained pretty much on time. Beverage and snack breaks boosted the energy levels regularly. The social event was amazing, really enjoyed the night… maybe a little too much!

Congrats to all who worked so hard to make it a success. DCU and NIDL should be very proud that such a successful event took place on our campus.

Developing a Shared Vision for Digital Learning

Back in early March the National Forum for the Enhancement for Teaching and Learning hosted a useful panel discussion on the theme of Strategic and Leadership Perspectives on Digital Capacity in Irish Higher EducationThis initiative followed the publication of a report by Jim Devine analysing institutional Compacts and interviews with senior leaders exploring strategic leadership initiatives in the area of Digital Learning. Amongst those on the panel asked to share their thoughts was Mark Brown who was specifically invited to provide a response to the statement:

“Developing a shared vision and goals for digital learning nationally – is this a realistic aspiration/how might it be approached?” 

NF Panel

At the time the following notes were prepared by Mark in his response to the above question. These notes were also provided to the National Forum on request after the event and can be downloaded at the end of this posting in a PDF format.

Introduction

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to today’s panel discussion. In many respects this is precisely the type of initiative required to help build a stronger sense of shared vision for Digital Learning in Irish Higher Education. In the short time available I would like to contribute three main points to this panel discussion.

However, before introducing these points, it is useful to anchor this discussion in a couple of key observations from Jim Devine’s (2015) recently published report on Strategic and Leadership Perspectives on Digital Capacity in Irish Higher Education. Firstly, based on the analysis of Compact Agreements, the report concludes that:

‘The overall pattern is something of a patchwork that does not present a picture of a higher education sector with a shared understanding or cohesive vision for [digital] capacity’ (Devine, 2015, p.8).

Following on from this observation, the report goes on to conclude from the sector interviews:

‘There is wide agreement that clarity is urgently needed about the vision and goals for digital learning in higher education nationally. Current initiatives are regarded as fragmented, piecemeal and unsustainable’ (Devine, 2015, p.18).

In many respects neither conclusion is particularly surprising. The report also makes the point there is confusion around terminology. Developing a shared vision is always going to be problematic when there is no agreed definition or understanding in policy or practice of what we mean by Digital Learning. In the interests of vision building there are some advantages of leaving this definition open for local interpretation and supporting a more organic approach, but this needs to be a conscience decision and the lack of common agreement is problematic when it comes to reporting on and monitoring of progress.

Focus on Digital Learning

My first key point follows on from this as to what extent should the focus be on digital learning? Is digital learning the end game or merely a key vehicle to achieving a much bigger vision? I think we should still leave open to further debate whether the benefits of singling out digital from a focus on learning and teaching per se outweigh the disadvantages. Some would argue our visions and strategies for the future need to be thinking post-digital rather than digital, as the latter is already the new normal. Perhaps we would benefit from shifting our current focus away from the language of ‘Digital Learning’ to an emphasis on our preferred learning or education futures? The guiding question could be restated:

How do we develop a shared vision and goals for the future of learning and teaching nationally?

Although a relative newcomer to Ireland, I would argue that a future-focused vision for Higher Education, which subsumes learning and teaching, already exists. The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 (2011), more commonly known as The Hunt Report, states:

‘In the decades ahead, higher education will play a central role in making Ireland a country recognised for innovation, competitive enterprise and continuing academic excellence, and an attractive place to live and work with a high quality of life, cultural vibrancy and inclusive social structures’ (Report of the Strategy Group, 2011, p.17).

In my view, this statement meets the definition of a vision as it grew out of a consultation process engaging a wide range of stakeholders and sets out our aspirations for the future. The National Strategy gives a sense of where we want to go in the future, with a moral purpose, and the smart thing for any emerging vision for digital learning (or Education Futures) is to ensure that it aligns with and can be mapped against this wider vision.

Education for Change

In my view the current discourse around visions needs to shift from the reactive language of Higher Education being in change to more proactive debate about education for change. This is my second key point. Adopting a wider perspective anchored in the language of societal inclusion, and the changes we are seeking to achieve, may help to overcome the problem that visions can be blinding, overly narrow and potentially hide competing change forces.

History is littered over the ages with people and groups who at times have had quite dangerous and morally corrupt visions. Hitler is usually cited as the most extreme example of this point. As the Digital Roadmap – Phase 1 (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, 2014) rightly notes, digital learning is not benign. Some of the visions for the future being presented to us are infused with the language of globalisation, neo-liberal polices, and the increasing commercialisation of Higher Education.

This point recognises the debate in the educational change literature about the role that visions should play in successfully implementing complex change. Conventional change models advocated by people like John Kotter usually promote ‘vision building’ as the first step in successfully implementing large-scale organisational change. In contrast, Professor Michael Fullan (2007) argues in his seminal work on educational change that vision and strategic planning come later. Vision is what you end with rather than something you start with, and arises out of extensive consultation over a long period of time where resistance is valued as a source of insight. Put simply, you cannot mandate what matters!

To quote Professor Geoff Scott (2003), who with Fullan co-authored an excellent book on Turnaround Leadership for Higher Education, ‘Change is learning and learning is change’ (p.70). The lesson is that change is complex; change is a process; change is a journey not a blue print.

Situating Visions

My third key point is that there is an important difference between defining our vision and stating our respective missions. Arguably, at a macro-level vision is a process of identifying what matters most to people, making our choices explicit, and stating our preferred future(s). Mission is about how we get there and staying on track. In a complex and diverse sector each third level institution is likely to have a quite different mission. Your mission is inextricably linked to your institutional culture and the strategic goals you set for serving your students, stakeholders and wider community.

As noted in the Digital Roadmap – Phase 1 (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, 2014), the ‘Innovative use of digital technology will vary in different contexts’ (p.16). At the meso-level what this point reinforces for me is that each institution must be given the opportunity to define its own path in this new and emerging context. That said, how you define and implement your institutional mission it is really important. In order for the mission to live in your institutional culture we need to recognise and understand the creative tensions between bottom up, middle out and top down approaches. Neither centralization nor decentralization works as individual learning and organisational learning are inextricably linked.

Moreover, at the micro-level every person is a change agent, a micro leader and they must be encouraged to become vision builders. It follows that we must not underestimate the importance of articulating, cultivating and influencing person visions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the report on Strategic and Leadership Perspectives on Digital Capacity in Irish Higher Education (Devine, 2015) talks about adopting the metaphor of an Atlas rather than Roadmap. In many respects, I see the challenges and opportunities facing us more akin to steering a pathway through difficult and continually shifting terrain where there is no atlas or complete road map of the digital and post-digital frontier. What we need is a compass and a set of strategic tools to help guide us and explore beyond current practices and possibilities. Getting lost along the way may be a valuable part of the process, which contributes to the evidence base and new knowledge. With this point in mind, envisioning our Education Futures will always be a work in progress, as no one can predict the future and you can never reach the horizon. There is no end point to the conversation and this needs to be understood in the policy landscape and timeframes we create.

Suggested Actions

Finally, I want to conclude with three practical suggestions of what we could do to build a more future-focused digitally enabled Higher Education sector. These suggestions are offered in the spirit that the goals we set and initiatives we undertake should not be framed to manage digital innovations but rather to foster more digitally creative and innovative institutions, teachers and learners. To this end there would be value in sectoral collaboration to develop:

i)  A set of National Guidelines for Digital Learning.

– An inclusive sector wide process

– Articulate the types of questions we need to consider

– A common language for discussion and decision-making

ii)  A National Benching Marking Toolkit for Digital Learning

– Whole of system approach

– Strong focus on quality enhancement

– Build on existing toolkits recognising multiple stakeholders

(iii) An Education Futures Scenario Planning Toolkit

– A tool for planning in uncertain times

– Help articulate the options available to us

– Mature our thinking about our preferred futures

References

Devine, J. (2015). Strategic and leadership perspectives on digital capacity in Irish higher education. Dublin: National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

Fullan, M. (2007). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. (2014). Principles and first insights from the sectoral consultation on building digital capacity in Irish higher education: Digital roadmap – phase 1. Dublin: National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

Report of the Strategy Group. (2011). National strategy for higher education to 2030. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills.

Scott, G. (2003). Effective change management in higher education. EDUCAUSE, November/December, 64-80.

Click here to download a PDF version of the above response.