Learning but not as we recognise it

A blog written by Paul Orsmond – Senior lecturer (Tef) in Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Most research carried out into learning in higher education (HE) is within the context of teaching, and a tutor-designed curriculum. Here the research is driven by questions such as ‘what sort of learning do we want’? Such research helps address higher education metrics, such as academic performance indicators that track and provide a measure of performances and achievement. Metrics are now strongly ingrained into higher education that it is understandable why student acquired learning is recognised as the only learning of worth taking place in higher education. Of course, it isn’t.

Our research explores the rich everyday learning that students naturally engage in with their peers within university, but outside the tutor curriculum. Such learning can be extended, encompassing student learning arising from engagement with family and friends. This participatory learning addresses questions about ‘what learning do we have now’?

A lack of awareness of this ‘other’ learning taking place in higher education presents a problem. At present there is a disparity between employer expectations and employee qualifications. Quite rightly HE invests in preparing students for the workplace. But there is gap in this preparation and it is one that our research well illustrates.

Our research shows that many of our students in the Department of Biological Sciences at Staffordshire University are developing key employability skills through their participatory learning, learning outside the curriculum, and learning not driven by HE metrics. Such learning is taking place every day but remains unrecognised. This is what we call ‘invisible’ learning. Students and higher education institutions, therefore, do not appreciate, or recognise this invisible learning. Hence are not focused on these skills being developed and refined. Through our research we hope to make the richness of this learning more visible, making our students more aware of their potential to achieve.

Thank you to our students

A blog written by the Education Department

Welcome to this instalment of the Education Department blog, and this time around it is a little something different. 

It’s been a strange semester during these unprecedented times, and we would simply like to extend our sincere thanks to our students for managing this so excellently. The continued engagement with digital lessons and support, and their resulting work has been a credit to each of them. With this in mind our fabulous alumni are now ‘out there’, many of them indeed keyworkers in care, education and social service fields, and we extend our Thursday evening applause to you all. 

Many of our students have numerous responsibilities and challenges, including many keyworkers, and we are proud of the way they have continued to progress with their studies. Many of the students, particularly our part-time cohorts, are still at the chalk face running early years settings still open for essential service workers and the most vulnerable, or, still supporting their own students who they are still teaching remember some education services are indeed still open and staffed for those most in need. Those in initial teacher training have been on the frontline preparing families for home schooling, and supporting their learners, families and colleagues in completely new ways that no one could have prepared them for, thus we take our hats off to you. Many of our students work in retail, care, and, have their own personal caring responsibilities. Some are active volunteers for the most vulnerable and in charitable organisations and we are so proud of all that you do. 

Now, the switch to digital study has not always been easy and students have shown patience and positivity towards the efforts in altering how the support is offered to them. Equally, many have reflected on themselves as future educators and have appreciated that they too are increasing the tools in their own teacher toolkits, as they grapple with new ways of learning. They may be supporting their future learners in similar ways therefore, they are becoming ‘Educator 2.0’ by increasing their digital capabilities.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-3.pngInnovation in teaching and learning has occurred, although equally so too have approaches to time management, organisation, resilience and communication. We are immensely proud of all students that have demonstrated development in each of these areas during such difficult times. This has been a real test of their skill sets, and this has been handled fabulously. 

It’s the final push in the academic year now and students are so close to completing all of the to dos on the list. We hope this message of support and pride motivates them to enjoy the final stages of the year. We also hope this message reaches our alumni so they know we continue to think of them. Finally, to any future students, we hope this gives an insight to the support and care that you receive on your journey with us in the Education department. 

Take care and stay safe.  

Best wishes, the Education Department 

The Pathway to Becoming a Biologist

Written by Dr Sarah Williams – course Leader for Biomedical Science 

The Pathway to Becoming a Biologist

I should be clear from the start, I’m loose with my term biologist.  I am a true believer in the concept of ‘One Biology’ so whether your biology is more towards the biomedical or more aligned with the ecological (or maybe you don’t even know yet?) – I still mean YOU. 

What a situation we find ourselves in, sitting at home doing what we can to maintain a normal work life, a normal family life, a normal social life – even though we all know none of this is normal (so we are really aiming for the impossible there) and we are all hoping that this comes to an end sooner rather than later.  But there are some positives – I see biologists everywhere.  They are providing advice to the government, they are modelling the outbreak, they are working towards a vaccine, they are designing new laboratory tests and implementing them in our hospitals (big shout out here to the NHS Healthcare Scientists – another amazing set of biologists).  They are on our TVs and our radios, they are talking to the general public, they are calm and they are collected, and I feel lucky to be one.   

I am a biologist of many labels – a human biologist, an immunologist, a clinical immunologist, a senior lecturer in biomedical science.  Those names represent an amazing journey of biology that has taken me to different ends of the country, in research labs, hospital labs, lecture theatres – and most recently my attic office.   

People often ask – what does a biologist do?  Look around you, at the moment they are difficult to miss.  However, to use a well-known adage ‘this too shall pass’ and then what?  Well, then the Biologists will move on to the all of the roles they were quietly performing before COVID19 changed all of our lives.  The Healthcare Scientists will go back behind the pathology doors, quietly processing all of our biological samples (being a part of 80 % of  diagnosis).  Research Scientists will continue to strive for answers, to tackle the World’s biggest problems.  They will push for a more sustainable future, they will work to understand disease, to enhance biodiversity, to monitor emerging threats to health, to educate, to advise, to inform.  From where I sit, the opportunities for a biologist are somewhat endless, you just need to find the first step on your path. 

Three seperate pictures of the academic staff of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences department and students in a collage.

We are all biologists, and you could be too. We will help to unlock your potential and start you on your own journey. Become a Biologist with one of our undergraduate or postgraduate courses.

From the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Department, stay safe and stay well.

World Immunisation Week 2020

A blog written by Dr Sarah Williams, Clinical Immunologist and Course Leader for Biomedical Science

 

There is a race going on right now to develop a vaccine to protect us all against the devastating consequences of COVID19.  A race that is being ‘run’ by amazing scientists around the world and cheered on by us all.

World Health Organisation’s World Immunisation Week 2020
https://www.who.int/news-room/campaigns/world-immunization-week/world-immunization-week-2020

World immunisation week, organised by the World Health Organisation, aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. Even without the current global situation in to which we have all been plunged, the role of vaccination and immunisation was always worth celebrating and promoting. But with vaccination against COVID 19 being our best shot at returning our disrupted worlds back to our own version of normal, it is perhaps even more vital that we raise awareness of the role of immunisation in protecting and promoting health. And, as we wait and hope, I want to take some time to look at something else – those diseases we are already able to prevent because we have vaccines already. Diseases such as measles.

Measles is deadly. COVID19 is reported to have an R value of around 2.  That means, in a totally susceptible population, for every person who contracts the virus, they will infect 2 others. There are some great modelling images out there where you can visualise this.  Measles on the other hand has an R value of somewhere around 14. So, in a totally susceptible population each individual that contracts measles will infect 14 other people. Imagine how quickly this disease spreads. There is a great article which has visual models of some disease spread here.

It is not just the infectivity that is different.  It is also the death rate.   Simplifying work that is ongoing in this area, it has been reported that COVID19 has a death rate of somewhere around 0.66 % in the general public. This means that for every 200 people infected, approximately 1 will die. In the 1920s approximately 30 % of measles cases were fatal. This means that for every 200 people infected, 60 would die. With improved healthcare and the advent of the measles vaccine this dropped to 0.5 % in developed countries, putting it just slightly lower than the reported COVID19 fatality rate.

Those two paragraphs simply translated mean COVID19 spreads reasonably well and kills some people, measles spreads much more rapidly and kills many more.  This is not to lessen the impact of COVID19 related deaths, not at all.  The whole thing makes for gruesome and tragic watching/reading.  Each death will be associated with immeasurable pain and suffering for those left behind but I ask you to consider how much worse this already awful situation could be. 

The reason we don’t see such huge numbers of deaths for measles as we are for COVID19 is because the world is not totally susceptible to measles. For a long time measles vaccine coverage was high keeping transmission rates low.   As vaccine hesitancy has risen, the uptake of the vaccine has fallen. We cannot and should not sit back and let deadly diseases such as measles re-emerge. It is all of our responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to promote immunisation.

Measles is a deadly, vaccine preventable disease.  By ensuring you are vaccinated, if you can be, you are helping to reduce transmission, protect the vulnerable and prevent needless deaths.

Staffordshire University’s Biological Sciences Students visit Istinye University

A blog written by student Max Clarkson (BSc Hons Pharmaceutical Science, Level 6)

Staffordshire University’s Biological Sciences Students visit Istinye University

Staffordshire University’s Biological Sciences students have just returned from one of Turkey’s largest cities, Istanbul – a city that embodies the country’s complex history and rich culture. In addition to the many tourist attractions within Istanbul (including the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and Roman architecture), the city demonstrates well developed systems for healthcare and scientific research. Staffordshire University’s students visited Istinye University, a diverse institution, conducting research into complex topics such as artificial intelligence, stem cell technology, and virology.

Upon arrival to Istinye University (after a scenic, and luckily rather straightforward tram ride) we received a warm welcome from Asst. Prof. Zehra Aydin and her colleges who were very eager to show us around the University’s Topkapi campus.

To begin the tour, we were introduced to Istinye’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory and were surprised at the many applications of machine learning within the biological industry. Staffordshire University students were very excited to discuss the potential use of artificial intelligence in their own future projects – hopefully in collaboration with Istinye!

Students were also given the opportunity to visit various other facilities within Istinye, including: the tissue typing laboratory, the molecular biology laboratory, the cancer research laboratory, the CRISPR and gene editing laboratory and the infectious agent research laboratory. The investment and passion demonstrated towards the resolution of some of the biggest issues we face in the 21st century is enormous – we were quite envious of Istinye’s high-tech equipment!

Molecular Cancer Research Laboratory at Istinye University
Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Istinye University

The next day, Staffordshire students were welcomed behind the scenes of Istinye University Liv Hospital Bahçeşehir and Liv Hospital Ulus. We were very impressed with the relaxed environment and quality of care provided within each hospital – some students were even able to witness this first-hand during a live brain surgery! A surreal representation of what we can achieve together as scientists. Staffordshire students and Staffordshire University’s Dr Ahmad Haidery were also very keen to discuss the stem cell treatments being performed at Istinye University Hospital.  

We had the opportunity to show off our biological knowledge to Prof. Engin Ulukaya – the Dean of Istinye’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Level 6 Staffordshire University student Uzair presented some of his research on the bacteriophage virus; discussing the potential healthcare applications. Additionally, we had fantastic conversations with researchers at Istinye that are using nano-formulations with novel chemotherapeutics to target cancer cells.

After touring some very impressive facilities we got the opportunity to explore some of the marvels of Istanbul, and eat some great Turkish food, obviously.

The visit to Istinye University is one we will never forget, it has been the experience of a lifetime, we cannot wait to return!

Biological and Biomedical Sciences – Introducing Mascot David AttenBear

During the summer break we saw the arrival of a lone, quiet, little bear at Staffordshire University’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences department. This unexpected mysterious, arrival had no name, no identification, but a lot of curiosity for all things science and eager to gain some hands on experience. Being friendly scientists, and naturally curious ourselves, we welcomed this enthusiastic Ursine (scientific name of bears) to the department. Of course, every great scientist has to start somewhere and we’re more than happy to help them on their journey no matter the species. Our motto is ‘One Biology, One World, Endless Connections’ after all!

Firstly, we needed to enrol our new researcher into the department and for that our little bear colleague needed a name. The Ursine scientist asked if we could pick a name, but picking just one name proved difficult. We decided the best thing to do would be to put the suggested names into a poll for the public to vote. After some time, the votes were counted and there was a very clear winning name. Our excitement grew as we could finally enrol our furry friend but we wanted to get permission from the person whose name we would be using a version of. We know this seems strange but bear with us it’ll all make sense soon.

A letter was written and sent in the post while we all eagerly awaited the response, which we didn’t have to wait long for!

The science bear couldn’t wait to open (although clumsily) the letter to read the good news! The sender who gave their permission you ask? Well that was none other than the brilliant Sir David Attenborough himself! The winning name was David AttenBear, which Sir David was very flattered our fuzzy friend would take a version of his name.

We can now officially introduce our newest member of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences department, David AttenBear. After getting Sir David’s letter, David AttenBear was honoured as he knew of Sir David’s integral work in conservation and inspiring the next generation of scientist all over the world across the 67 years he has worked at the BBC. Now David AttenBear is enrolled he can begin to get his paws into some work experience. Over the coming months we have some exciting opportunities for AttenBear to get involved with and we’ve asked if he can keep us up to date with some blog entries of his own. We hope David will enjoy his stay with us at Staffs and the things we have lined up for him.

Not only to gain some experience of being a scientist but also getting to live the Staffordshire University values we hold dear. Keep an eye out for the upcoming blogs by David AttenBear on his scientific journey with us and you might even bump into our beary enthusiastic friend at a school, college or event near you. Be sure to say ‘Hi!’ and take a picture with David AttenBear and tag us in it @SUBioScience on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or send an email to Victoria.McQuillan@staffs.ac.uk (Victoria’s helping David get his bearings with researcher life).

World Conference on Online Learning: A Third (Retrospective) Blog

picture of george siemans

Having returned from the WCOL on Thursday, thought I would add two final blogs in regard to the Conference. This one relates to the keynote from Prof. George Siemans, who on Thursday morning delivered a very challenging and thought provoking presentation on the role, rise and concerns of digital technology and the inadequate response of higher education to that change.

 The title of the paper was ‘Moving Beyond Happy, but not Hopeful: The role of higher education in meaning making in human and artificial cognition’  and the full paper can be located from the link below.

Here are some selections from the full paper..  well worth a read… for anyone interested in  the digital future and the roles that universities might play in that.

We have two learner populations in the higher education system: the traditional 17-24 year old group, and the emerging lifelong adult learner group. We have failed both, but in different ways. 

But let’s be realistic. We are giving our students what we wanted and needed for the world in which we grew up. 

We have failed youth by creating an education system that supports existing power structures in society and does so in a most pernicious way: don’t go through us and you can’t get a job. Go through us and become conditioned to existing systems and, heavily in the USA but also in numerous other developed countries, you will be locked into years, decades or even a life debt. This is a failure of purpose. A failure of opportunity. A failure of meaning.

Another concern arises in that learning is a coherence forming process and networks are fragmentary. This fragmentation provides serendipity AND it produces knowledge frameworks that often don’t cohere. This results in an effect called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. This is the appearance of understanding but on even slight questioning, it becomes apparent that the knowledge pieces don’t fit.

We are entering a post-learning era……   …Where what we know is less important than how we are connected for ongoing knowledge development. Where attributes of collaboration replace attributes of individual performance. And where sensemaking, meaning making, and wayfinding become primary knowledge activities

A post learning era is one where traditional learning is better performed, or exceeded, by technology and existing institutions are inadequate for the learning task needed.

Here is the link to the full paper,

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YP2t4aCkYtIDnkq8MHALPisltlUqIlrS/edit#

 

 

 

 

WCOL FutureLearn Key Note Summary

The first key note of the World Conference on Online Learning was Simon Nelson Head of FutureLearn (FL), and  below is a summary of the key points made by Simon in a thought provoking presentation.

Simon introduced himself in Irish by going to a free FutureLearn course (Irish 101) and listening to and repeating audio clip of how to say Hello in Irish!

First up the figures….

FL was founded 7 years ago as a commercial offshoot of the Open University and was a UK response to the rise of MOOC’s. FL has 175 partners (32 UK Universities), 2000 ‘courses’, 10 million registered users and 25 million enrollments with some courses with over a million enrollments (English Language Proficiency) and others with 20-30. Simon stated that FL was ‘scratching the surface….’

He highlighted that FL has just  become a partner of SEED who have invested $50 million into FL

He identified three key issues

  1. World Reports highlight that 13.9 million new students per year until 2030 are needed which in traditional money would equate to 700 new universities of 25,000 per university to meet the demand and concluded that physical campus based education CANNOT meet this demand, but online learning CAN.
  2. Acknowledgement of a Global Skills Gap (especially in Digital Skills) with 14% of the global workforce (375 million) switching job categories – so the need for training/retraining is massive
  3. Governments starting to get in on the act e.g. UK government ‘Get Help to Retrain’ 2019 initiative.

The above represent opportunities for universities to rethink their audience and move beyond the 18-24 market and that’s what FL is trying to do, support Universities and other providers on this.

Simon concluded by identifying key current agendas for Future Learn.

  1. Getting partners to work together – scale is so big, it has to be approached via collaboration eg Deakin and Coventry now offer an MA Entrepreneurship
  2. Unbundling of big degrees, so students can study for a few weeks to a few years
  3. Work on micro credentialing… short courses approved by employers with standardised credentialing are necessary. FL is doing significant work on micro credentialing aligning for example the European Credit System and the US credit system, so a common language of credit can be used for all courses offered

I came away from the key note with the following thoughts/questions..

As Staffordshire University moves forward as a digitally connected university, we need to look at the markets we wish to tap into.

  1. Should we be offering a far greater variety of online ‘chunks of learning’ to meet employer demands for training and especially re-training?  
  2. Do we need to move toward credentialing/micro credentialing for each and every online/blended unit that we offer?
  3. Do we want to attract students from beyond the region and can we do this by ourselves, or do we need to consider collaboration with other universities  in  online settings ( virtual/transnational!!) 
  4. Do we need to be looking for agencies (such as FL) to support attempts to offer learning not just  to regional audiences but to national and international audiences.
  5. If any of the above is considered necessary, how can we best use the  pockets of expertise that we have in delivering blended and online content to learners to move some/all of the above forward.

Day 1 at the World Congress of Online Learning

Dublin rain welcomed over 800 delegates from over 80 countries to the first day of the World Conference on Online Learning https://wcol2019.ie/

It was opened by the Minister of State for Higher Education who  was keen to praise the work  of the co hosts Dublin City University  and the National Institute of Digital Learning (do we have something similar?.. not really..). The minister  focused on ethical matters in regard to online learning and on keeping students at the heart of matters and even had a gentle dig at waiting for the UK to make up its mind about Brexit!!  Three thoughts came to mind during this and other welcome presentations

  1. In regard to online learning, will we ever get global reach on our courses without global partners?
  2. That we need to use free access courses as a marketing tool to grow online numbers
  3. That we need to engage with professional organisations in the field of online learning .e.g International Council of Distance and Online Education (ICDE) … European Network of Distance Education (EDEN)

On day 1 decided to focus on areas I felt I knew something about and flitted in and out of presentations happening across 10 parallel sessions, during 3 presentation slots in the day. So I selected presentations dealing with three issues; quality assurance and OPM’s (Online Programmer Management) providers and the Community of Inquiry (COI) model. I will comment on probably he most enlightening presentation of the 7 I attended on Day 1.

Jennifer Matthes from the US based Online Learning Consortium (OLC) outlined ‘Global Best Practices in Online Learning to Support a Quality Student Experience’ and reminded us that credibility is still an issue, with QA still not widely implemented. She argued that QA was needed as a baseline to improve form and to reflect an institutions commitment to quality of online provision. This certainly struck home as S.U. has not adopted any QA online specific processes, to my knowledge. Jennifer outlined the slightly different approaches of 4 QA online frameworks, those provided by the OLC, the European Assoc. of Distance Learning Universities (EADTU), Quality Matters (QM) and the American Council of Distance Educators (ACDE) and highlighted  the different course design rubrics (including some that are freely available) from the OLC and QM and from ASCILITE (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education).

If online learning is to be a strategic part of our offer at Staffs, then we need to take QA seriously and need to move to approaches that capture and assess the online bits of online learning.

Two final observations… The conference has a lot of presentations from (a) North America (not surprising) and from the African sub continent (more surprising). Well maybe not, as the WCOL s partly under the auspices of the ICDE, which has always has a strong international focus. Secondly, for such a large conference  the number of  Sponsors/Affiliates seemed rather small, approximately 15.. I spoke with 3 to date and will comment on these later, they were FutureLearn (OPM) provider (www.futurelearn.com) commercial offshoot of the Open University;  Urkund  www.urkund.com (Plagiarism Detection) and Studiosity ( 24/7 online study support see www.studiosity.com).

 

 

Off to Dublin to WCOL!!

  Am getting quite excited about attending the World Congress on Online Learning in Dublin from this Sunday to the following Thursday.  The plan is to post a daily blog about my experiences and reaction to this rather large conference…nine parallel sessions… 4-5 presentations per session…4 sessions per day.. for 4 days.. .. 8 Keynotes, including George Siemens and  Simon Nelson (Chief Exec FutureLearn). Where’s the Guinness?!!!!