Big Humans & UoE Teaching and Learning Conference 2019

I attended the university if Edinburgh Teaching and learning conference this week. It’s the second year of the conference and browsing the session list it looked mega intimidating with references to papers and pedagogies plastered all over the place.

Now I need to be honest (not Flea Bag honest but honest) before I blurb anymore.


Last year attending this event was not on my radar which may seem weird, but my role leaned more to core learning and teaching systems and the delivery, maintenance, strategy and support of those services. With my new role my remit has changed, and I find myself researching. reading numerous papers, reflecting and strategizing on how we can deliver scaled online courses with a heavy slant on the theory of learning and teaching playing a fundamental role (placing the student and academic at the centre of everything we do, previously I cared more about the technology as this was in situ and colleagues worked with academics).

So first time attendee plus I was involved with two below sessions:

Expanding the Teaching function with the awesome Michael Gallagher (GGGG….G Unit) and Marcello Crolla (iceman): session about chat bots in teaching. If your interested read Sian Bayne paper Teacher Bot Interventions in automated Teaching 

Supporting Large Student Cohorts with timely and personalised feedback: 10 talk about Learning Analytics and OnTask (just me as Anne-Marie aka the annemator is in Canada running the chatbot workshop we created). If your interested in OnTask have a read here.

I honestly didn’t have a clue what to expect from the day and due to the current workload, it wasn’t a priority however I am glad I was involved. This blog will not be a blow by blow account of the day, is my takeaways on what stuck with me especially in relation to automation and augmentation of the student\teacher relationship.
Peter Felten (@pfeltenNC) and Camille Kandiko Howson (@cbkandiko) were the keynotes and discussing the importance of the relationships, student experience and learning gains.

Peter said something that stuck with me ‘Go big go human’, now if you new to me and my blog hello I am Myles, I like eating spicy food, drinking Guinness and don’t understand why Edinburgh bus stops are 10 metres apart. Back on topic, the reason it stuck with me is the two words

  • big implying scale, effort, resource etc
  • human which means a person who is made of organic material and like pressing red buttons (ooooh red button!)

I got thinking is this possible, it may be desirable with research showing that 1-1 contact, recognition of student names etc is beneficial however in a competitive education sphere where institutions are graded and rated whilst competing for funding and trying to maintain student numbers and reputation can we truly go big and go human.
Or is this where we can see the use of technology augmenting the teaching experience to aid the facilitation of a digital personal touch. Could chat bots be used to aid students struggling with topics, could the tech be the non-judgemental medium students ask questions, the medium where students feel they are not judged and how would this impact student visibility if teachers aren’t involved or have visibility of these interactions. Could a chat bot deal with scale, I think bespoke chatbots per course\topic could he helpful to students but maybe not all (just like a you tube video on a speaking with a northern irish accent may not be useful to me – I am Northern Irish- but its mega useful to someone else who wants to sound Northern Irish). They could be specialists for topics and fulfil a set use case however expanding that use case could be problematic.

Plus, I wonder how students would feel paying £££££ for less human contact and more automated interactions Or would they be happy with a web of digital and human mentors that could be utilised if and when required.

Meaningful interactions were discussed in a few sessions however speaking to colleagues this was human driven with concerns regarding scale, resource, when, how and why? My session on supporting and providing personalised feedback show cased ‘OnTask’ which can provide students with personalised coaching feedback (created with the academics at an identified key point within the course) which is a meaningful interaction. These interactions are key for any size course and aren’t new but will vary as we all intervene differently, we all speak different, give feedback different and these will change depending on numerous external factors (tired, just had a coffee, hangry, workload).
During a session I was asked about automation and students’ perception which got me thinking abut whether students will be upset that this email is not from a human or will they be happy they are getting some personalised advice based on identified criteria.

Are we happy when the bank texts about strange behaviour on your account allowing us to take action and resolve any issues or would we be happier getting a phone call from a call centre from someone working through a list of jobs that received the internal notification 2 hours ago and is just phoning now (2 hours after the text or the next day as its home time)? Now change this from commercial to education, is it still relevant? Is it blasphemy to consider students as consumers? Or should we try and offer the best experience to students which may be a blend of automation and teacher, the augmented teacher.

Wait, before I forget Michaelan d Marcello gave a great presentation and got a nice tweet from one of the keynotes and some nice comments.


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