Shakey ground: The Temptations of technology

I was looking for a song lyric that had been bugging me when I came across an old 1975 video of The Temptations and I ended up watching it (am easily distracted). It didn’t have the lyric I was looking for but it did help me to reflect on an operational issue I am currently facing- an experience of ‘technology (only partly) enabled learning’

I seem to always want to change things. I think a part of this is always wanting to push myself to keep learning. Change keeps learning alive. Perhaps we only learn through change? It also means I find myself on shakey ground or is it shaky ground  – even the word is unstable.

Tempted by change and drawn toward the affordances of technology I tend to jump in and give new technologies a go. Act now- reflect later.

This semester I have been teaching 150 students in a health ethics module. I’ve been playing around with audio assessments as I realise that so much of their assessments across their degrees are in written form, yet as future health professionals so much of their communication will be oral. I started last semester with asking students to use their phones (or some other device) to record an audio response to one of the assessment questions and to provide an accessible link so it could be graded. I thought this would be an easy task! However this caused all sort of issues and many students, despite videos I made with suggestions for Apps that would help with this, were unable to easily manage this process.

This semester I decided to try a different approach and use one of the audio tools embedded within our institution’s LMS, Blackboard. I figured that maybe the Blackboard team would at least be able to support any glitches along the way, which is very helpful when I am the only staff member appointed to this paper.

So, I’ve been using Voice Thread. Students are provided with a link and (simply!) record their response, save and submit. You guessed it- not so simple in practice!

Despite a short Youtube clip plus screen shot instructions from the Blackboard team some students still had problems making and saving a recording. The Voice Thread tool allows students to save a recording without submitting. the submit button seems to not be in an intuitive position. It is difficult for the grader to know whether work has or has not been submitted. Load times are slow so getting started with accessing audio files for grading takes a while with 150 students. Next semester I have close to an additional 100 students so this becomes a real issue. Furthermore, Voice Thread currently sends a notification to students when feedback has been given. Ideally it would be great to have the ability to time release feedback to ensure all students get feedback at the same time.

On the plus side,  Voice Thread allows for audio feedback and it’s been a lot of fun listening to my students and then providing an audio recorded message for them. It is a nice connection to complete an online paper.

Reflecting on my dabbles with audio assessments makes me realise that my relationship with technology is very trusting – I am tempted and leap in. Invariably there are issues. In many cases technology creates small pockets of time when I am seriously frustrated and within that small window I have a distorted sense of my precious time being used up at an enormous rate of knots. But there is something that continues to draw me to try new things, to continue to be tempted, to dabble, to sometimes fail and to continue learning along the way.

The shaky ground is familiar territory- continually creating an environment where personal and learning boundaries can be stretched. As The Temptations say in the clip:

“Standing on shakey ground (standing, standing)…And I love standing on shakey ground”



Wider Context #CMALT: Understanding and engaging with legislation, policies and standards.

This post links to the following element of CMALT:

Wider Context
a) Understanding and engaging with legislation, policies and standards

[Statements here should show how relevant legislation, has influenced your work. You are not expected to have expert knowledge of all of these areas, but are expected to be aware of how they relate to your current practice. These issues will vary depending upon the country and Government policy.]

New Zealand legal context

Education Act 1989

For my first piece of NZ legislation to reflect upon I have chosen the Education Act 1989, specifically Section 162 (4) (a), which sets out the requirements for being a tertiary institution in NZ.

Section 162 Establishment of institutions

Section 162 (4) (a) (v)

In recommending to the Governor-General under subsection (2) that a body should be established as a college of education, a polytechnic, a specialist college, a university, or a wananga, the Minister shall take into account—


that universities have all the following characteristics and other tertiary institutions have 1 or more of those characteristics:

(i) they are primarily concerned with more advanced learning, the principal aim being to develop intellectual independence:
(ii) their research and teaching are closely interdependent and most of their teaching is done by people who are active in advancing knowledge:
(iii) they meet international standards of research and teaching:
(iv )they are a repository of knowledge and expertise:
(v) they accept a role as critic and conscience of society;

Section 162 (4) (a) (v) of NZ’s Education Act (1989) provides the requirement for universities in NZ to “accept a role as critic and conscience of society”.

Being very aware of my role as critic and conscience of society has always been a core part of my role as an ethics lecturer. In essence, like Socrates, in my role as ethics lecturer in a health faculty, I am trying to facilitate the ‘thinking student’ rather than a compliant, passive health professional. To achieve my own crusade in this direction I am very fortunate to sit outside the various disciplines I teach. Not only is my background not that of a nurse, an oral health professional, a medical laboratory scientist, a psychologist, an OT or any other of the 8 disciplines I teach but the small team of health law and ethics where I am situated resides outside all these departments as well. This creates distance, which may be disconcerting for students who anticipate being taught by ‘one of their own’- a nurse, an oral health practitioner,  but at the same time it facilitates the luxury of being the outsider, the naive inquirer – the person who asks – why do you think that? why do you do things that way? Where do you get advice? What is your purpose as a nurse, as a medical laboratory scientist?

So, you get the picture- I get to ask questions- lots of them. I get to ask questions that have no answers. I get to pose questions to students who are used to answers, to certainty, to absolutes, to things that can be measured, things that count.

I am not diminishing the fact that teaching content and knowledge is a core role of an health educator – to equip future health professionals with knowledge of skills for what can be known. To also equip them with research and enquiry skills so they can adequately keep abreast of knowledge as it changes in their field.

But aside from teaching and research there is this other part of my role- this critic and conscience- what an awesome job description – it is a licence to provoke, to challenge, to be that naive inquirer, to model provocation so that students will learn to think for themselves and, to challenge those in authority if need be.

Within my academic networks we often refer to this role of critic and conscience and as we have adopted many of our university practices from overseas, including the UK, I had assumed this was a common component of being an academic.

It was only when I came across The January 2017 Times Higher Ed article by Graham Virgo, pro vice-chancellor for education and professor of English private law at the University of Cambridge that I realised that this isn’t an attribute or responsibility of academics in other countries. Professor Virgo argues it ought to be and cites our NZ Education Act as legislation to aspire to. As he says, academics needs to “ embrace the freedom to develop new ideas, test received wisdom and examine controversial and unpopular positions.

In a climate where free speech is under threat it is good to know the law protects me but also mandates that I must be that critic. Health care can be a very political industry. Not only do I need to be that critic but I need to help my students develop their responsibility to also be those critics and the conscience of society; to be the ones who stand up for their patients, to challenge inequitable structures and ask the difficult questions.

This law definitely impacts on my use of educational technologies. Technology helps me  to be that critic and conscience but also to foster these skills in my students.

Critic and conscience enabled through technology

The Values Exchange is web and App-based learning community for ethical deliberation of health and social care issues, based on the Socratic approach of questioning. It supports students to consider controversial scenarios independently but upon submission of their views they gain access to the thinking of all other respondents. It has a fairly flat structure in that all users can load scenarios and all respondents get full access to all response. It is underpinned by values-based decision-making, which values all perspectives.

Screenshot 2017-11-09 08.43.40

The AUT Values Exchange home page;

This semester we have explored social issues, for instance the legalising of recreational marijuana and whether more companies should offer reproductive egg freezing but also we have used this technology to debate technology itself, with recent deliberations on whether parents should be banned from posting photos of their children on Facebook or whether CCTV surveillance is justified.  Students report that through its use they build confidence to better understand how they think, and why, as well as valuing being able to learn broad perspectives from their peers – perspectives that are arguable all ‘ethically’ correct. They say this helps them better understand others they work alongside as well as their patients as well as helping them thinking more deeply about everyday issues as well as ethical issues related to their practice.

I see them taking on the mantle as critic and conscience when they tell me they are now initiating family and peer discussions on ethical issues in society and when they get in touch after graduation to post a topical issue for current students to consider. For other colleagues who teach topics with greater objectivity (eg anatomy and physiology), there is perhaps less room for being that critic. That places extra onus on me to carry the critic role given the nature of the topic I teach. I am legally obligated to be outward looking and that role seems somewhat easier with technology.

#cmaltcmooc CMALT start line


There is something about a start line that seems foreboding – a point of no return. Self-doubt creeps in – am I ready to start? Have I done enough? Will I last the distance? But on reflection perhaps there is no good time to start; no time of perfect preparedness. And so, I’m launching into the CMALT accreditation process. I’m also trying to get my doctoral studies off the ground, complete the HEA Fellowship process and build a house so sometimes I feel I am squeezed to even find time for my day job!

I began the accreditation process last year but really only got as far as doing a draft of the contextual statement so hoping that the #cmaltcmooc will provide the structure and support I need to not only start but to finish. What happens in between is at present unknown, but I relish the experiences and shared learning along the way.


Reflections from 2017 CAPHIA Teaching & Learning Forum: Tips for early career academics (and arguably not so early career ones too)


A couple of weeks ago Kate Kersey and I attended our first CAPHIA (Council of Academic Public Health Institutions Australia) Teaching & Learning Forum in Sydney, Australia:

This was an inspiring event.  The presenters had engaging content but more than that, the forum effectively created a sense of community; an open and warm collegial spirit. The sessions were all held in the one room and so everyone had the opportunity to listen to all the scheduled speakers, unlike the bigger conferences where parallel sessions means you spend your time darting between session rooms, making difficult choices, or opting out and choosing the city sights instead. This forum was different.

One of the highlights (and there were many) was a lunchtime seminar from Associate Professor Joe Negin, Head of School, Associate Professor of International Public Health, School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

Joel shared with us his top tips for early/mid career academics, woven through his story-telling of his circuitous path to academia.

This is my recollection of his top tips:

  1. Be present – turn up, attend meetings, be seen around the place.
  2. Be the person to make the first draft – although daunting offer to start the first draft. That way you’ll make your mark on the project/document etc
  3. Be opportunistic.
  4. Be bold.
  5. Be global.
  6. Suck up to people we admire, such as authors – read a great article? email the author. Tell them what you think. May lead to new and important connections.
  7. Gain methodological expertise – a transferable area of expertise
  8. Think multisectorally – life doesn’t exist in silos, get out there and mix/mingle across sectors/faculties
  9. Work with people you like rather than people with shared areas of interest or expertise – working with people you like means you’ll enjoy work more, plus will lead to more creativity and more cross-discipline research, greater likelihood for innovative collaborations.
  10. Be organised – just helps a lot!

For me the key tip was choosing to work with people I like – more fun, more productive, more interesting outcomes. I look forward to doing more of this!

What’s your favourite tip…or do you have others?

Thanks Joel 🙂

Shifting from engagement to empowerment

There is a lot of talk about increasing student engagement. For me, engagement suggests the teacher sets the agenda and the student then engages.

What about shifting away from this to a more student directed model – where the student determines what they want to learn and then sets about working out how?

Engagement then becomes empowerment.

For me, this is at the heart of the change we need to make in education; we need to equip students with the skills to be creative, enquiring and critical – long after their time in the classroom with us.

This video from John Spencer @spencerideas really encapsulates this shift in thinking and action. Plus, video has a simple format; black and white… nice design 😉


Reflections on #mosomelt bootcamp 2017


The traditional notion of a ‘bootcamp’ conjures up images of blood, sweat and toil; of instructions for almost unachievable tasks being shouted at quivering participants by military style authoritarians, with the purpose as much about them relishing their domination and power as it is about personal achievements of those taking part. Today’s #mosomelt bootcamp at AUT South was the antithesis of this. Rather, it was an opportunity to get together mid-way through the semester, to chat as equals and share ideas for trying, evaluating, and implementing digital technologies into our learning and teaching.

Today, perhaps even more than usual, I was struck by our shared goals that transcend our disciplinary areas; the heutogological self-determined learning we strive for in our students and the almost statutory period of unlearning required by them (and teaching staff) to enable the seeds of this learning experience to be allowed to grow and flourish; the shared challenges we face either with students or institutional structures and processes creating unnecessary and sometimes necessary hurdles to be considered and negotiated.

While our discussions included challenges with ‘things’: iPhones, iPads, Apps and other gadgets, I think it was agreed that the bigger challenge lies within the mindset of people who don’t easily see the role of self-determined learning or the value in exploring, embracing, and critiquing digital media within the tertiary setting, despite the inevitability of an increasingly digitialised world for our graduates within an uncertain and changing future workforce paradigm.


I was reminded of Arthur Koestler (1905-1983), the Hungarian-British author and journalist, who possibly might have thought bootcamps were just what were needed to ignite innovation within the staid academic traditionalists:

“The inertia of the human mind and its resistance to innovation are most clearly demonstrated not, as one might expect, by the ignorant mass- which is easily swayed once its imagination is caught- but by professionals with a vested interest in tradition and in the monopoly of learning. Innovation is a twofold threat to academic mediocrities: it endangers their oracular authority, and it evokes the deeper fear that their whole, laboriously constructed intellectual edifice might collapse. The academic backwoodsmen have been the curse of genius from Aristarchus to Darwin and Freud; they stretch, a solid and hostile phalanx of pedantic mediocrities, across the centuries.”


While Koestler’s words are harsh they reflect his frustration with the hesitancy to change as the world changes, which perhaps today, in our 21st Century tertiary setting, is just not an option (especially if we are ‘the university for the changing world’).

I was reminded that during last week’s student presentations for our Media and Communication in Health Promotion paper, one student made the statement:

“Social media skill is not any more a matter of choice”

They presented the statement as a quote and I asked the student who were they quoting – they replied that it was their own.

Not only was the student’s message correct, but they had come to realise this themselves, through their own curation of, and reflection on, learning experiences facilitated through engagement with the class discussions and independent exploration. Furthermore, they felt confident to present their idea as a quote as if declaring the legitimacy of their own learning and experientially informed knowledge.

Their quote has stayed with me and it’s relevance solidified during today’s bootcamp discussions on possible inappropriate uses of social media by students, likely ramifications and the most effective strategies for instilling ethical use of social media. Do we steer clear of using social media in learning and teaching or do we have an ethical obligation to embrace it, thus allowing for a more collaborative, supportive learning environment within which students can assess the appropriateness of its use?

Do we wait for students to fall and then berate them like the traditional bootcamp’s authoritarian leader or do we embrace social media and together explore its boundaries and benefits? Perhaps “its not any more a matter of choice“.

#mosomelt 2017 setting off…


With my recent focus being on student enrolments and getting the first couple of weeks of classes up and running I feel quite excited to be now setting off on my own path of discovery with #mosomelt launching for 2017. Having participated in #mosomelt before I know a little of what is ahead but at the same time am still very much a learner.

Since my last venture into Vine-land I see that it has been renamed Vine camera yet it looks a feels very much the same. I like the idea that you can create 6 seconds of video with no post production editing needed. It takes some thought to decide how you will fill that 6 seconds and could be a very creative tool for students as the user must learn how to cover a lot of ground while being very concise.

So on this return to the App I probably have more ideas of its uses and potential within learning and teaching. What I certainly don’t have is a clear sense of how it works- after capturing my 6 seconds of video. The images and icons presented as instructional guides for editing, saving, posting etc, to me, don’t seem very intuitive and it took several attempts to delete my first very rubbish video but then also to work out how to save a slightly better one. It really was a case of random navigation and a visit to Google search to work out how to save and post to the Google Community and Twitter. I’m interested in others’ experiences as this is a continuing issue for me . Somehow there is a mis-match between the App’s guidance and the way my brain is wired. Luckily there are obviously others like me…enough to warrant kind people creating YouTube clips and Google searchable instructions- that make sense to me! Phew!

A straight path misses many opportunities for learning…

Seeking out discomfort


This week I came across a post by Alyssa Tormala on the edutopia site. Entitled ‘Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation’ Tormala outlined the essential nature of innovation in education, highlighting the need to disrupt the status quo but tempered with the notion that, for many, changing what we do brings discomfort.

Here, at the end of the semester, there is a period of reflection and projection. There is some sense of comfort in what has been completed and a feeling that students have enjoyed their learning experience but this is surpassed by thoughts of what comes next – what can I do differently next time?  what can I tweak?

I feel I am drawn to discomfort and uncertainty – looking for new ways to do things, trying them even when I’m not sure they will work. I feel my drive for continual change is almost more about my needs than those of the students. I could change nothing and things would very likely work well.

Discomfort is also something I expect from my students. Teaching ethics begins with a period of unlearning; an unsettledness for students where the long established assumptions about life’s issues or their specific professional practice unravels a little as they are encouraged to examine the underpinnings of their decisions. Sometimes, for the first time, students are confronted with the complexity and inconsistencies that make up their decision-making processes, something those of us in this and related fields grappled with a lengthy time ago; inconsistencies in which we now find comfort.

At present I am at the start of a new discomfort trajectory. I have been given a new paper to teach next semester. It is not entirely new but has been gathering dust having not been offered for the past 6 years. It’s called Media and Communication in Health Promotion. Tormala’s ‘Discomfort, Growth and Innovation’ are all words that come to mind given the exponential change to our conception of ‘media’ and ‘communication’ during the time of this paper’s dormancy. A complete overhaul is needed. A blank slate. A fresh start. Exciting but daunting as I suddenly feel ill-equipped, inadequate and a little overwhelmed. Discomfort is definitely present but this time my questions what can I do differently and what needs to change aren’t so much reflections of personal indulgence but completely essential. This feels like a new type of discomfort, a feeling of pressure by others rather than me looking for personal growth. Perhaps I have grown comfortable with my own form of discomfort? Maybe its time to disrupt my status quo.


Looking back and looking forward

Today Thom has asked me to come along to a session with my colleagues from the School of Interprofessional Health Studies.  And so, I’m thinking about what I might share with this group; what is it that has been the key learning for me over the past couple of years?

I think there are 3 key points I’d like to share:

  1. Being a learner makes you a more understanding, effective teacher.

I’ve gone back to my first terrifying blog post.

screenshot-2016-09-07-09-47-51Now, looking back I wonder what was so difficult! I’ve always used online technology in my teaching but realised that over the years I had become very comfortable and confident with the specific tool I used. So for me it has been hugely important to feel uncomfortable and unsettled and rediscover what it feels like to learn how to use new tools. It’s good for me personally but essential for me as a teacher to better understand what my students may be experiencing and the different ways we learn new things.

2. Learning involves and requires a supportive environment: Mucking things up is a great way to learn!

One of the highlights of working with Thom has been the botch ups! Being in an environment where mistakes are ok, where we are encouraged to work things out for ourselves, where we can laugh and learn together has been a treat. Again it trickles down to how we work with our on students; about being authentic and perhaps feeling ok about being vulnerable.

Who would have though my phone’s camera had a ‘right way up’??!!

Screenshot 2015-12-10 10.56.31

With this outlook, students are appreciative:

Screenshot 2015-08-10 21.19.18

This quest for authenticity within the online learning environment has led me to adopt Bambuser , live mobile broadcasting App, as a key digital learning and teaching tool. The ‘live’ broadcast goes some way for replicating the ‘one-take only’ reality of face to face teaching where we cannot edit or retrospectively tidy up our presentation. For me this tool has been a key part of my development as an online teacher and learner. Authentic, live and uneditable!

“… first of all I just wanted to say thank you for being so helpful with your online videos that have allowed me to understand the assignment much better… it doesn’t feel like a online course anymore great job”

3. The Community of Practice (COP) is a central component to professional development.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of our time with Thom has been the development and our Health Law and Ethics COP. Although very small and with some fluctuations in terms of membership a core group of four has regularly met. The surface focus is usually on learning about and then how to use a specific digital tool: Twitter, WordPress, Vine, audioBoom, TodaysMeet, etc. But the underlying essence has been on being together, learning together, sharing experiences, being supportive, collectively considering our specific learning and teaching requirements, considering our respective students’ needs, testing ideas out and getting to know one another on a new level.

This has been immensely beneficial to the ways we work together and support one another. Ultimately we hope it will also transfer into improved learning experiences for our students but along the way we’re certainly having fun…and some great coffee!


360 degree views


Screenshot 2016-06-09 11.02.33

Wednesdays are our ‘Digital Thom’ days when our small Health Law and Ethics COP meets to talk, try things out and enjoy good coffee. We used to meet on campus but have recently discovered an off-site café, very close by.

Meeting off site from the university has been a positive shift for us on many fronts. We get a tiny bit of exercise, making the 5 min trek across the road to the Little Wonder café. Meeting on Wednesdays is a great mid-week event often surrounded either side by a myriad of other work related activities and pressures. During that simple act of breaking away the short travel time reminds me that there is a real world out there; a 360 degree world, where the wind blows, it rains, and for a short time the pressures of the office are set aside. The walk over is just enough time to air a thorny issue or a chance to compare slow cookers or discuss the pros and cons of house renovations. The 5 minutes of time seems to distort and seem longer than it really is.

Distorted images were also on the agenda of this week’s COP meet. Thom introduced us to his new LG 360 Cam and we were able to be his guinea pigs as he tested it out. At first he couldn’t get the photos to save on his phone and then our first run testing the video the camera  was squarely focused on the decorative plant on our table, rather than us. I reminded Thom that things not working, of setting up things slightly incorrectly, were very reminiscent of our everyday digital practice. The ‘shame’ of getting things wrong was our frequent default position, but maybe not so frequently his! In that instance though – a 360 turning of the tables.

The 360 Cam technology reminds me of the importance of gathering the full ‘big picture’ view and what different angles bring to discussions and decisions. In our COP we are planning a ‘refresher’ session where in early semester 2 we will invite programme leaders and other interested stakeholders to a workshop where we will remind the programmes we serve of our current content but will also aim to invite them to contribute and help inform new directions for the content and delivery of our papers. Engaging others, seeking their views and valuing their input are all important components of our classroom (real or virtual) ethos but also highly valued considerations in terms of the way we plan and update and move forward with the delivery of our health law and ethics papers. We would be doing our students, their programmes, and ourselves a disservice if we failed to fully consider the 360 degree views of what and how we teach.

It was a lot of fun testing out the LG 360 Cam and as with other tools we could see its potential for engaging further with our students, but this week the main point of reflection for me was the reminder of the big picture, that things look different depending where we’re sitting and the importance of valuing diverse (and distorted views). The 360 degree concept gave me much to think about on the way back to the office –  and beyond.