King’s Online & ‘agile working’

Both for expanding units such as King’s Online, and for the humble spider crab of recent Blue Planet II fame, sometimes physical ‘growth’ can prove a little bit tricky…

BBC crabsHot-desking spider crabs: almost as numerous as tech start-ups

 While swiftly developing start-ups seldom need to resort to massing together on the ocean floor, shedding their tight, spiked shells while avoiding giant stingrays, growth in size without corresponding growth in space can present comparable, if less briny, difficulties. Market-leading online courses, for example, cannot be created without real-world infrastructure – yet what does one do when one’s team is expanding ‘too quickly’?

To seek out innovative solutions to this happy problem, the whole King’s Online team congregated recently at Bush House, to attend an invaluable ‘agile working workshop’. Here, experienced change managers – fresh from working on successful projects right across King’s College London – organised group discussions and shared insights from numerous different sectors, all of which had faced similar space-related challenges.

‘Flexible or agile working’ as a concept has moved from industry to industry and sector to sector over the past years, and it was great to learn of the various methodologies and protocols adopted by a medley of organisations. Even government offices and public sector bodies – not always the most flexible-minded of groups – are looking to lead the way here! Be it through remote working, hot-desking, or technology-based solutions, teams, companies and organisations all over the world are becoming more flexible in their working patterns.

To that end, as a collective we have pulled together a whole host of our own ‘King’s Online’ protocols, to help us navigate the upcoming challenges of 2018 and ensure that next year is even more successful than the last. A quartet of ‘champions’ have been appointed to help implement these new ideas, and new and fabulous equipment will be shipping its way across to the team to help make these agile working dreams a reality! With mutual trust and our usual professionalism very much central to these new endeavors, we at King’s Online are quite certain that what once were seen as difficult challenges will turn out to be excellent opportunities!

George & Moia hard at workSome flexible working at its most agile in the King’s Online office

 

High fives all round! 500+ online students, 5 King’s Faculties

After 18 months and 10 intakes, King’s College London and King’s Online recently reached a significant milestone, with the 500th acceptance of an offer to study on a King’s online managed programme.

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To have reached over 500 students in such a short period of time is testament to the appetite for innovation in our Faculties at King’s, and the exceptional progress made by King’s Online as a unit. By bringing together skilled instructional designers with leading academics, we are helping to transform education here at King’s College London, and are opening up access to postgraduate study to a wider audience. As you can see from the chart below, growth has been swift and steady, with only the occasional bump and slowdown along the way:

Graph

The IoPPN’s online MSc in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health continues to enjoy great success, with over 350 students now accepted onto the course; while the Dickson Poon School of Law’s online LLM programmes are also growing steadily. Student feedback and retention has been excellent across the board – testament to the dedication of the King’s delivery teams to an exceptional student experience – and we expect to have our first master’s graduates receive their degrees July 2018.

Building on our success in delivering online healthcare education, King’s Online are particularly proud to launch King’s’ latest fully managed online programme, Public Health MSc. Also available as a PG Dip/PG Cert, this exciting programme began teaching its first cohort this week. For more information on this thought-provoking online master’s, please do check out the programme prospectus on the King’s Online website.

So what next for King’s Online? Well, our online offering continues to grow at pace, with our MSc Global Finance & Banking – the first online programme from King’s Business School – launched for marketing in September, and an International Affairs MA now approved for development. As more Faculties commit to online education, we will surely see online student numbers grow even further and even faster, all the while supported by the dedicated team here at King’s Online.

Educating in new realities

Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality have received quite a lot of press over the last couple of years – and not just here in the King’s Online Blog! As computer processing power and other necessary technologies have advanced, finally these exciting fields are truly able to come into their stride.

What is especially interesting for us at King’s Online is how these technologies will impact the sphere of education and, in particular, what uses they might have in enhancing the online learning experience.

Studies demonstrate that stronger memories are created when the brain is fooled into thinking it is in a 3D environment, rather than looking at a 2D screen. Getting a wee bit technical for a moment, this sense of ‘presence’ triggers an emotional response that causes the amygdala to modulate the storage of memories in the hippocampus.

Anyhow…a few years back our Senior Video Producer, Dan Childs, penned an article on 3D films and memory. While researching this piece, he contacted neuroscientist Dr Larry Cahill from UC Irvine for his take on this fascinating topic:

“It is certainly the case that emotional arousal tends to produce stronger, longer-lasting memories. And, we have some good ideas as to why that happens in the brain. I have no idea whether 3D movies are more emotionally engaging than are standard movies, but if they are, they probably activate the brain’s emotional memory circuitry more than would standard movies. The answer involves the relationship between emotional arousal, memory, and the body’s stress hormone or adrenaline response. In high school biology classes, many people learn about the fight-or-flight syndrome. It is possible that this same fight-or-flight syndrome that helped Neanderthal Man escape from the sabre-toothed tiger also helped him remember the incident better. Therefore, he could use it better the next time.”

So it seems that VR and AR, through the strengthened emotional responses they can generate, could help form stronger memories. This has the potential to be notably beneficial for learners – though, of course, until the hardware necessary for high end VR becomes cheaper and more ubiquitous, it will not be possible to include such experiences in affordable online courses. The only option which currently offers a broad enough reach Google Cardboard – which, while interesting, is unlikely ever to be described as ‘high end’…

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Keen to experience the educational potential of this exciting technology for themselves, our ground-breaking video team attended the VR World conference at Kensington Olympia. They were not entirely sure what to expect, but were looking forward to trying out some of the most cutting-edge tech and seeing what elements, if any, might be integrated into what we do here at King’s Online.

One of the most memorable talks they attended was by Pearson’s Global Director of Immersive Learning, Mark Christian. Pearson are, for now, targeting just the lower end of the spectrum, and are attempting to be device-agnostic in order to make their content as accessible as possible. To this end, they are currently producing 2-3 minute experiences or installations.

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Mark stated that an impressive number of students (some 3.5 million) would be using Pearson VR next year. It also became clear to the team that, as the technology matures, Pearson would be focusing very much on augmented reality, and that they saw collaborative AR as the future of classroom learning.

Mark also showed off some impressive mixed reality medical training examples, with interactive holographic patients overlaid in real world environments. This will enable any student, anywhere in the world to get practice interacting with patients presenting different disease symptoms, using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology.

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Wandering around the various exhibits at VR world, the team were most impressed by the haptic interface by Generic Robotics. Dan was invited to sit down at a desk and insert his right thumb and index finger into two harnesses attached to two small robotic arms. When he put on the VR headset he could see that he was sitting at a table with a tray of objects in front of him. He picked up a pool ball and could immediately feel the weight and hardness of it in his hand. It is amazing what a difference the sense of touch can make to one’s feeling of presence. It was not long until he was completely immersed and playing a virtual game of Jenga as if each brick were real.

And wouldn’t you just know it, but General Robotics is already working with King’s College London – with King’s Dental Institute to be precise, suppling students with virtual, haptically-enhanced practice suites! The AR/VR revolution is, it turns out, already at our doorstep here at King’s Online, and we – and our video/tech teams in particular – could not be more excited by the prospect.

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King’s Online & the ‘Ultimatum Game’

Gamification and its equivalents have been popular in the edtech/instructional design space for a little while now. We at King’s Online, never liking to be behind the curve, have, accordingly, been introducing gaming concepts into our online modules for some time – and a very fine example of this was our use of the classic ‘ultimatum game’ in our work with the Dickson Poon School of Law.

Ultimatum

What, pray tell, is an ‘ultimatum game’?

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the premise of this game is that a player is given £10 to share with another individual. He or she can choose how to split this money however he or she chooses – however, the other individual must accept this offer if both players are to keep any money at all: If the other player rejects the offer, neither player gets anything.

So, therefore, if Player A offers Player B £3, B can either accept the £3, thereby giving Player A £7; or Player B can refuse the offer and have both players gain nothing. Pairs of players are only matched a single time in a given game, so no reciprocity should be possible.

The ‘offering’ players want to maximize the amount of total money they earn – so, when playing optimally, they will attempt to offer the lowest amount they can, without making an offer so ‘offensively low’ that it is refused. The player who has gained the largest amount of cash by the end of the game ‘wins’.

So what’s so different about your version?

Ours, firstly, is a digital version of this longstanding economic experiment – which is often played ‘in person’, rather than remotely and anonymously. What is more, King’s Online’s iteration of this famous formula includes two significant developments: one which we can relay; the other which we cannot. ll players’ responses are recorded using the SCORM API, to report to King’s Online’s learning management system for analyses.

“It allows en masse application and statistical analysis of the results of student performance, both individual and as a collective, through recording results via SCORM.”

Mihael Jeklic, Dickson Poon School of Law (on King’s Online’s ‘Ultimatum Game’)

 

Okay but what’s the ‘point’ of it then?

Well this particular ultimatum game was created for King’s College London’s highly regarded law school and has been used in both on-campus and blended-learning law courses to investigate how students might evaluate their own profit-gain techniques. There was a wish to be able to perform a consistent experiment on all students, online and ‘off-line’, to see how well they might play the game and which individual would perform best overall.

Many of the legal academics King’s Online worked with had performed this game in a face-to-face seminars before, yet data had always been skewed, necessarily, by the ‘human element’. Students who were popular with their peers (or who boasted the largest egos) would typically outperform the mean, as they tended to receive more favourable offers. The law school wished to anonymise the players and reiterate to the students that the sole aim of the game was make the maximum amount of ‘money’ possible, rather than curry collegiate favour. They also wanted to be able to track every single action taken by each student, so they could share the results with the individual and reinforce the learning objectives vis-a-vis negotiation skills.

So, just another example where King’s Online met their Faculty partner’s needs with genius technological wizardry and first-class collaboration?

Something like that, yes.

Innovation, innovation, innovation (Part Two)

 

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Earlier this month King’s Online’s Instructional Technology Manager, Louise Bennett (@aestivus) spoke on the topic of building innovative teams in digital education at the Open Forum Events (@openforumevents) conference, ‘Technology in Learning: Reshaping the Educational Landscape’.

Here the King’s Online Blog brings you the second half of Louise’s insightful and engaging talk, touching on what we at King’s Online have learned about innovation, its pursuit and its implementation, over the last year or so.

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So what have we learned? 

  1. Innovation is expensive 

‘Expense’ can mean a lot of things…and in this case we mean most of them. Innovation, you see, costs money. It also takes time (which also costs money). King’s Online use open-source tools almost exclusively, which means they are ‘free’ to use – free, however, as in puppies, not free as in beer. Yes, the software itself may be free, but everything else is not: someone has to maintain the product, install updates, keep the server running, manage backups, and resolve issues as they arise.

In addition to using and maintaining software, innovation can be expensive in terms of designing and building out one’s new ideas. It takes people out of their normal duties to spend time plotting out how to do new things. Sometimes, there are things we would love to create which, quite simply, aren’t possible based on the time and resource we have available – an inevitable part of the innovation cycle, alas.

  1. Innovation is exciting 

One of the wonderful things about King’s Online’s focus on innovation is that everyone is excited to be involved in the process, with ideas for new developments and projects coming from all across the team. This too, of course, can be a balancing act: We don’t want our team tied down by the structures currently available; yet we can’t have them designing all their work based on tools and capabilities that don’t, in fact, exist (at least, not yet).

One thing we’ve had to work on is building a structure and workflow for new innovation requests. Ideas need to go through an approval process: Are they actually worth pursing (based on timelines, costs and ultimate benefits)? They will, after all, need to be fully scoped out before they go into development. It’s very easy to get over-excited about new ideas and rush them into development without stopping to think about what is needed. Therefore, while still great fun, innovation needs to be managed systematically. 

  1. Recruiting non-traditional talent can be difficult

When King’s Online first started, we had a team that looked somewhat traditional: instructional designers, learning technologists and multimedia designers/developers. Eighteen months on, we still have a lot of instructional designers, but we have only one learning technologist and our multimedia has undergone some big changes. We also have a web developer, who writes code for us, and several web designers, who design UX and UI.

Instead of learning technologists, we’re now recruiting for a role that has been difficult for us to quantify: one part graphic/PowerPoint design, one part traditional content development, one part…well, everything.

It can, therefore, require a good deal of work to recruit on several different levels. Our content developers are often younger, relatively new graduates, most with a graphic design background. But we need more than graphic design – it takes an all-rounder, and finding them, and bringing them in to e-learning can be difficult. The same is true of web design/web development roles: these individuals potentially have a lot more experience, but most gain that experience in fields other than e-learning. How can we advertise in a way that encourages people to give a new industry a chance? I don’t have any obvious answers for this, but we’ve been very lucky in finding the people we have! 

  1. Testing and review

It’s very easy to get excited about prototypes and rush them into production before actually making sure that they work exactly as they need to. Several times, we’ve had to roll out last-minute fixes to things to make them function properly – this is clearly not the way we really wish to work! Building testing into the process is, therefore, absolutely imperative. Nothing should ever be released without going through a multi-stage QA process. (Something we have yet to put into practice, but look to do in the future, is actual user-testing. One day!) 

  1. Every project is different 

We’ve built at least four different workflows in the past eighteen months, and the sad truth is that even the latest version – which is comprehensive and well-designed, building upon all previous iterations – is not perfect for working with all our stakeholders. Each of our projects involves different faculties (or individuals within faculties), and the relationships are different every time. It is up to us to adjust to get the best out of our academics (within reason). It turns out that being innovative also means being flexible, too!

 

 

Innovation, innovation, innovation (Part One)

louisebadge

Earlier this month King’s Online’s Instructional Technology Manager, Louise Bennett (@aestivus) spoke on the topic of building innovative teams in digital education at the Open Forum Events (@openforumevents) conference, ‘Technology in Learning: Reshaping the Educational Landscape’.

Here the King’s Online Blog brings you the first section of Louise’s insightful and engaging talk, touching upon the reasons behind our unit’s focus on all things innovation.

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One of the things we’re truly focused on at King’s Online is building innovation into each and every single thing we do. We want to improve our methods continually, with fresh ideas and constant redevelopment.

But why this focus on innovation? 

  • We want control and adapt the tools we use day-to-day – It’s important to us that we can implement the changes we want, when we want them. Waiting for other people to develop something for us just doesn’t suit King’s Online’s fast-paced workflow.
  • We want to contribute to the wider community – Open source tools rely on community support, and we’re in the fortunate position of being able to give back to the community that gave us our original tools in the first place. We feel that as we can help make the tools better for everyone, we should.
  • We have design & development ideas – We at King’s Online have a lot of ideas: endless quantities of them, in fact. As we wish to make the best e-learning products possible, this requires moving and changing – and implementing our new ideas.
  • We want to be industry leaders in what we do – Being an industry leader, we feel, means doing more than ‘just what everyone else does’. We need to be the one that other people look to follow.

 As a result of all of this, building a multi-talented team that truly embraces innovation has been key.

 [End of part one]

IT’S PODCAST TIME!

NB ~ the podcast episodes described below were recorded some three months ago, so not all information discussed is necessarily 100% up to date. It is, however, 100% interesting!

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In the spring King’s Online’s in-house Wed Developer, Simon Date (@simondate), went to have a series of chats about all things instructional design with Kristin Anthony (@anthkris), recorded as part of her excellent podcast – Dear Instructional Designer.

Two of the three conversations have now been uploaded and are available to download. Anyone interested in the world of instructional design and eLearning should definitely check them out at this address: https://dearinstructionaldesigner.simplecast.fm/

In the first episode Simon and Kristin talk, chiefly, about massive open online courses, AKA  ‘MOOCs’. The discussion touched upon:

  • The range of MOOCs that King’s produces, including Shakespeare: Print and Performance, and Medicines Adherence: Supporting Patients With Their Treatment;
  • The challenges facing MOOC providers, such as low completion rate and difficulties surrounding making a profit; and
  • The values of MOOCs from a brand recognition perspective.

In the second episode the pair chat about King’s Online’s chosen design programme, Adapt. When the team were looking for the central authoring tool for their work, it had to fit several criteria:

  • Embracing modern web standards – traditional desktop based authoring tools do not meet the needs of today’s modern learner, who often demands a higher standard from a website than they did ten years ago. They, for example, expect scrolling pages that work with all devices that they use.
  • Enabling collaboration and flexible working – server-based tools enable multiple users to work on a project at the same time, without having to install software on one’s computer and bounce large files around.
  • Extendibility – certain members of the King’s Online team have grand ambitions for what our content should look like. Having an open platform for which we can create new plugins allows us to achieve anything we can conceive, rather being limited by a software vendor.
  • Theming – our web designers are able to create beautiful designs for courses and see these designs realized across all of King’s Online’s lessons.
  • Ease to use – the tool is very simple to pick up and understand. People can place content in a component and there it appears. But it also allows for components and extensions which add exciting interactivity which might increase engagement.

The third episode, which will be uploaded in a fortnight’s time and which will be downloadable from the same address, touches upon open source software. Keep checking the King’s Online blog and follow us on Twitter (@kingsonline) to stay up-to-date!

A VR VISIT TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

VR

The time had come, as it occasionally does, for a team outing. And what better way, we thought, to spend a Friday lunch-hour than attending Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds exhibit at Somerset House?

Billed as a ‘new virtual reality artwork’, this was a particularly exciting prospect to the team, as both virtual reality (VR – an interactive, fully computer-generated simulation) and augmented reality (AR – superimposing images onto the real world) are hot topics of conversation within the eLearning world. We at King’s Online are always keen to explore innovative ways to bring online learning to life – so off, as they say, we went.

The central conceit behind Thresholds is that, before entering the exhibit space, visitors are equipped with an array of wearable devices: headset, earphones, backpack. Donning this futuristic attire, we were guided into the exhibition area, whereupon the virtual reality scene flickered astonishingly into view.

The white, box-like installation transforms before one’s eyes into a digitally reconstructed room, based exactly on scientist William Henry Fox Talbot’s photography exhibition in 1839. An opulent Victorian museum space now surrounds you, with high, vaulted ceilings, dark oak cabinets, and towering windows. Sounds from the era are piped into your headphones – including the echoes of Chartist protesters, rioting in the Birmingham streets ‘below’ – and Talbot’s exhibition cases ‘contain’ various priceless photographs and other fascinating items which would not typically be available to the general public. If one hovers one’s hand above these exhibits, one can bring them closer, offering a more detailed look.

As we began to move about in the room, smaller details started to emerge, such as a mouse scurrying across the floor under our feet, a spider crawling across a painting, moths flying about in the lights above. Moving across to the windows to take a peek ‘outside’, you see a Victorian street scene: a dark, grubby road, mist swirling, a soldier marching up and down.

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As a team, we could immediately see the possibilities that virtual reality might offer the realm of online learning. Putting aside, for a moment, the cost implications of producing VR and AR to the level that Mat Collishaw has achieved; or the logistical complications of the kit itself, the opportunities for, example, healthcare education are enormous: Imagine being able to teach anatomy and neuroscience by immersing students in an experience where they can ‘see’ organs pumping and blood flowing; neurons and synapses working away.

All sorts of different disciplines could, we believe, apply VR techniques to their educational offerings, making use of simulation-based learning to improve learner engagement and real-world relevance. Mat Collishaw’s exhibit has definitely whetted our collective appetite, and VR and AR are technologies which King’s Online will certainly be exploring further over the coming months and years.

  • Photos and text by Lindsey Fulker, May 2017

First Adapt Meet Up Held at King’s

On Tuesday, King’s Online hosted the first Adapt Community Meet Up at King’s College London. Two concurrent streams saw more experienced users being dazzled by presentations on the Advanced Track, and newcomers taken through all the essentials on a Foundations Track.

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Photo courtesy of @AdaptLearning

Adapt is a free, open-source e-learning tool that our team started using about 9 months ago. The Adapt community is a group of developers, authors and interested stakeholders who all use the free tool, collaborate to improve it and contribute new features to expand its functionality and usability.  We were delighted to be able to help bring this talented, enthusiastic community together in one room.

More than 80 people attended, and heard from a number of community members – from developers to instructional designers – looking at how the tool is being used currently and how it integrates with new trends, and how the tool may evolve in the future.

Whilst some of the more technical sessions went completely over this author’s head, one key theme persisted throughout the day– the strong sense of community and collaboration. Brian Quinn from Learning Pool used the phrase, ‘There’s no “I” in Open Source’ in his presentation. This collection of individuals, with different motivations, in different organisations, sectors and industry all put in the time and effort to make a product better for the benefit of all Adapt users.

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Presenters spoke with passion; audience members participated by directing thoughtful questions and engaging in robust discussions. We hope this will be the first of many meet ups.

If we had our time over, we would have done away with our conference-style names badges, and instead opted for something like this, incorporating everyone’s individual Adapt avatar:

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Thank you to Learning Pool and Sponge UK for sponsoring the event, and to everyone who attended. A video will be available soon. In the meantime, you can search #AdaptLondon on Twitter to see what some of the attendees were live-tweeting.

Introducing Dr Fabio Serenelli, Head of IDD

Dr Fabio Serenelli was recently appointed as the Head of Instructional Design and Development, the team within King’s Online that is responsible for developing online courses with faculties and departments at King’s.

Over the past seven years, Dr Serenelli’s passion for educational technologies has taken him from his home in Italy where he ran his own business, to South America, Malaysia and finally to the United Kingdom where he undertook research in e-learning, before settling into his role at King’s earlier this year.

Dr Fabio Serenelli, with his beloved sticky notes:

“I love sticky notes as they are probably the most effective way to visualise complex structures: they are perfect for brainstorming, card sorting, information architecture, etc.”

How did you become interested in online learning?

For my whole life I have been interested in computers and technology, and later in life became interested in education; I studied my Master’s in Educational Sciences, with a focus on adult training. I had the idea to bridge my passion for education and technology, and I pursued a career in e-learning.

What actually is ‘instructional design’ anyway?

Instructional design is a learner-centred discipline that sits somewhere between science and arts. It aims to systematically produce effective, efficient and engaging learning experiences. 

Tell us about the Instructional Design and Development team:

We are fortunate to have the flexibility and the dynamism of a startup-like unit, while working within the solid parameters of King’s College London. We’ve gone through a period of rapid growth and change recently, having doubled in size. In terms of skills, we are bringing in experts from fields not strictly related to e-learning, like web design and development, cinema and motion graphics.

Tell us something nobody knows about you, not even your team:

Well, I can (or I could?) hold my breath for more than five minutes. Can you do that? : )

What is your favourite holiday destination?

In the past I spent quite long periods backpacking around the world but since I started working abroad, I prefer to spend my summer holidays in my country, ideally – as I love free-diving – in Sardinia.

A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of wonderful online programmes!