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AL development online conference: March 2021

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 12 Apr 2021, 13:10

In more usual times, I would probably be attending a face-to-face AL development conference. Since everyone in the university is working at home, the university ran an online cross-faculty AL development conference on Thursday 4 March 2021. 

What follows is a set of edited notes I made during the event. It’s intended as a rough record of the event, so I can remember what happened. Wherever possible, I tried to directly quote some of the speaker, but I won’t promise I’ve got all their words spot on. This said, I do hope I have honestly reflected points that were shared during the sessions.

Keynote: Marcia Wilson

The event kicked off with an opening keynote from Professor Marcia Wilson, Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Here are some notes that were sent around in advance of Marcia’s presentation (which have been edited down for brevity): “Prior to the OU, Marcia worked at the University of East London for 12 years where she established the UK’s first Office for Institutional Equity (OIE) … . Her work includes equality projects with Universities UK to tackle racism in higher education institutes. … Marcia has spent 30 years teaching and conducting research in higher education and is a multiple award winner for her leadership and equalities work.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to this very first session due to work commitments, but I must refer to an earlier presentation that was given by Marcia at an event called Dismantling Racial Inequalities in Higher Education which I found to be really through provoking. 

AL Contract Change Programme Update

Bruce Heil and Carey Stephens, from UCU and the AL contract programme management team, presented updates about the contract implementation. This was a popular session, attracting 108 delegates.

UCU summary

Bruce highlighted a period of accelerated negotiations that were on going at the time of the conference. He emphasised that there was an aim to build a stable tuition workforce, to enable better future planning and emphasised that a step-by-step approach was taken “to make sure we get the changes right”. 

Bruce emphasised that this will be a permanent contract, rather than a piece work contract, and one would encompass module tuition appointments, annual leave, and tuition related activities, such as TMA monitoring, EMA marking, and time that relates to academic currency (which means: keeping up to date with your subject). Benefits for ALs include security and certainty. Benefits for the faculties includes “simpler processes for allocating work now to maintain AL FTE” and longer term planning and development. The benefits for university include opportunities to enhance student experience. 

Regarding the implementation, the plan is to migrate to new contract in October 21, and phase in the ways of working over a period of 2 years. I noted down that there would be 4 phases of change: prep to migration, development of processes and procedures (up until 22J), and in 23D the deployment of a workload management system.

A key difference between the old and the new contract is that tutors will no longer need to apply for contracts. Instead, there will be a discussion between a tutor and their line manager (staff tutor or student experience manager), and this will give security and certainty. Spare or unused capacity can be allocated to extra students or modular work, and tutors will be working to a defined FTE figure that relates to an annualised salary which will be paid over 12 months rather than just for the period of the contract. There is also a longer term idea, which is that tutors will have one line manager.

Other updates include that the FTE for practice tuition has been agreed, and the provisional FTE (which is currently calculated from October 20) will be updated with any further appointments that have been made.

Management summary

Cary stated that the new contract will bring ALs in line with other staff, and the FTE score represents the workload rather than the tasks. Tutors can expect an agreed FTE value to be maintained.

From this session, I noted down some questions and answers, such as: how can I increase my FTE before the official start of the new contract? The answer was: you will need to apply to modules as you did before.  Also, how can I decrease my FTE before the start? There will be a query and appeals process which can be used before the start of the contract.

An important question was: what is meant by historic tuition related activities? These are additional duty contracts, which are all gathered together, and averaged out over a 3 year period between August 17 through to July 20.

Key workload areas (in terms of making the contract work) includes a new capability procedure, a skills audit process, and prioritising conversations with ALs whose modules are coming towards the end of their presentation. There is also the need for guidance to help faculties to maintain a tutor’s FTE and developing workload allocation processes to manage workload fluctuations

A good question was: will I have the same flexibility to decide what work I will take on? “There may be occasions where you have capacity and are reasonably requested to take on a piece of work that you can do but would not normally consider.” There will be a conversation where you may be asked to take on a piece of work.

Also, rather than taking a personal leave of absence, tutors will be able to submit an “agile working request”. Another important point is that if student numbers fall, tutors may be asked to carry out additional duties to make up their time that is expressed within the FTE score.

I made a note of the important question: how will these TRAs be managed? The answer I’ve noted down was: “we’re at the ‘how do we do this’ phase?”

Q&A session

Q: I have over 0.3 of historical duties. I haven’t seen any statement of what are covered and what are not. Can we have one? A: you would have to go through your payslips over the last 3 years.

Q: I want to reduce my FTE. Is there a minimum FTE? What will be the notice period of a contract? A: There is no minimum. A reduction should be a sensible one. Term of notice is not known. 

Q: Will we be recompensed for IT use? A: Currently under negotiation.

Q: I’ve only had the one appraisal over 15 years. Will the time be made for this? A: We envisage an annual workload and CDSA meeting; an annual conversation; this will be a right and an expectation.

Q: Would it be possible to remain FTE and move onto a different module before October? A: speak with your line manager.

Q: Will assistant staff tutor roles and activities be counted? A: No; it isn’t in the contract.

Q: I want to get my workload spaced out better. Is this possible? A: Make sure your line manager is aware of your needs; have a chat with your staff tutor.

Q: I have a LLM that I have never met; it would be nice to meet them face to face. A: Ideally, yes.

A staff tutor’s reflection

I chose to go to this session for two reasons: the first was to add my understanding of what is going on, and secondly, to try to understand what the official UCU and management line on the contract was. The session confirmed some key fears that I have long held: that some very important aspects of the detail hasn’t yet been worked out. I have, for example, no idea how the historical tuition related activities will be managed, and nor do I know how to get an overview of which tutors are doing what, or how to get a quick summary of a tutor’s FTE score.

Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

The session provided an opportunity for STEM ALs to meet each other. It was said to be: “informal, giving ALs the chance to converse, raise questions, and discuss the priorities within the STEM Faculty”. Approximately 40 tutors were able to attend, which was great to see. 

Michael Bowkis from the School of Computing and Communications and Fiona Aiken from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences gave a summary of updates to the curriculum.

For the School of Computing and Communications, Michael summarised the key qualifications that were run from the school. These are: Q62 BSc (Honours) Computing and IT, Q67 BSc Computing and IT & second subject, R62 BSc (Hons) Computing with electronic engineering (which starts this year, and has four compulsory modules: T193. T194. T212 and T312), R38 BSc (Hons) Data Science (which is technically managed by Maths and Statistics), and R60 BSc (Hons) Cyber security.

The BSc (Hons) Cyber security (R60) started in 2020, and is a specialist qualification that is aligned with industry certification (CompTIA  Security+, CeH (Certified Ethical Hacking) and is accredited by the British Computer Society (BCS). It comprises of 3 new modules: TM256 Computer Security and Digital Forensics, which starts in February 2022, which addresses aspects of systems security and introductory concepts of digital forensics. There is also, TM311 Information security, which is linked to InfoSec standards for cyber security analysts. TM311 starts in October 2021. There is also TM359, System penetration testing, which is concerned with building secure systems, testing, ethical hacking methodology including certification as ethical hackers. This final module begins in February 2023.

On the postgraduate front, there is a new qualification: F87 MSc Cyber security. GCHQ certification and BCS accreditation will be applied for. An important module will be: M817 Cyber Security Fundamentals, which will complement M811 Information Security, and M812 Digital Forensics. Also, advanced networking qualifications are being withdrawn, but networking will remain as a pathway option in the main MSc programme.

Finally, the school offers four undergraduate degree apprenticeship qualifications, and one postgraduate. These are: R24 BSc (Honours) Digital and Technology Solutions (England), R32 BSc (Honours) IT: Software Development (Scotland), R33 BSc (Honours) IT: Cyber Security (Scotland), and R40 BSc (Honours) Applied Software Engineering (Wales). The postgraduate programme has the title of: F83 MSc Cyber Security (Scotland).

What hasn’t been mentioned is also new machine learning and artificial intelligence module, TM358. The School of Computing and Communications is a busy place!

Refreshing your practice: working across disciplines to enhance the student experience

We were given a choice of what session we would like to attend, and I opted for this session, which was facilitated by Heather Richardson and Clare Taylor. I was attracted by the abstract. Here’s a section: “In this practical workshop you’ll explore how experimenting with the teaching approaches of a different discipline can help you look at your own subject in a new light. Drawing on the findings of the FASS scholarship project ‘Creative Interactions’, which brought together the disciplines of Art History and Creative Writing, you’ll first take part in some hands-on activity, and then move on to consider potential ‘interactions’ between your own and other disciplines.”

I was drawn to this session, partly because I’ve been studying an arts module, A111, and have also recently completed a creative writing assignment. I was curious about what these activities might be, and how the activities might relate to my own discipline of Computing. The abstract also went on to say: “In the first part of the workshop you will analyse and respond to a piece of visual art from the Open University’s art collection, firstly conducting an Art-Historical visual analysis of the artwork, and then being guided through producing your own Creative Writing response to the piece.” The session was related to a Faculty of Art and Social Sciences project called ‘Creative Interactions’. 

There was a reference to the university art collection, which is mostly hung in corridors and shared spaces. During this session, we were show a number of works, and introduced to some terms that could be used to create (or write) a formal analysis of a piece. Key terms that we were introduced to included: scale, space and composition, viewpoint, subject matter, material/medium, line, colour and light, display and function.

There was then a shift towards creative writing. With an artwork used as a prompt, we were asked: “imagine you’re in the space that is depicted in a picture; what do you feel through your senses, and what is your emotional state?” We were asked to comment on three questions and respond through text chat: how did you respond to the image? Which approach was more helpful? What did you gain by trying two approaches?

What I got out of this session was how our online teaching tool, Adobe connect could be used, to create an interesting, and thoughtful tutorial experience. In our breakout rooms we were asked to discuss the question: what other disciplines could your own discipline interact with? In the breakout room that I attended, we discussed the connections between our own disciplines, and others.

To summarise, this was a popular session, with over 50 delegates attending. It made me reflect on how I use the online teaching tools, and consider how I might be able to draw on other subjects to (potentially) make my online tutorials more interesting and engaging.

Reflections

 I always get something from AL development conferences. It was useful to hear the official line about the new AL contract, and I did really enjoy the final session, which certainly got me thinking. I can’t help but feel that whilst online conferences useful and helpful, nothing quite beats being able to share tips and experiences over a cup of coffee at a face-to-face AL development conference. I look forward to a time when these can happen again. 

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A111 Journal – January 2021

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 1 Feb 2021, 09:26

1 Jan 21

I have a few things I want to finish off before having a good look at the TMA questions again. The first thing is the online section about the set text: The Faber Book of Beasts.

We were set an activity: to create a mini anthology of five poems. I went over the table of contents of the book a number of times, and looked at a few, before settling on an animal related theme. 

The next bit was a discussion about the concept of conceit, and what it means in the context of poetry. I had never heard this term before (other than within the word conceited). One poem was used to demonstrate the idea that a conceit is a “turn of thought” or an “artistic device or concept” (p.182) 

The final bit was a return to the online materials, where we were introduced to the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Oxford Art Online. I had once used a physical version of the OED, but I hadn’t heard of the other two. 

That’s enough for today.

2 Jan 21

I’ve been misunderstanding things! I thought we had to answer two questions for this TMA; instead, we’ve just got to answer one of them!

In some ways, I’m relieved, but I’m also slightly disappointed that the course isn’t forcing me (in a good way) to really look at another topic in detail.  This said, there’s nothing stopping me from carrying out some independent study.

I’ve made good progress today; I’ve made a rough plan, I’ve started a story, and I’ve made some notes about what I’ve been thinking as I progress. 

9 Jan 21

It seems like I’ve had an accidental short break from everything, which coincides with my first week back at work, following the new year break.

Today is the day of a tutorial. Unfortunately, I arrived half an hour late to a session on Roman and Greek sculpture. I made a note of the phrase that it isn’t about just copying the forms of the sculpture, but recreating and engaging in a symbolic dialogue with the artefacts. There was also a discussion about how the sculptures may have been used, and what they symbolised.

Next up was a section about poetry. 

We were asked the question: what is poetry? And also: how do we recognise a poem when we wee one? We were put into breakout rooms, and asked to discuss some short poems from the set texts. A quite enjoyed this activity, and was quite surprised at the range of different interpretations everyone came up with.

I took away an important point from this tutorial: do remember to include an essay plan for TMA 3.

13 Jan 21

Another day, another tutorial. This time it was a session about creative writing and The Blues. Unfortunately, due to internet connectivity issues, the session had to be cut short. Our tutor dropped out a few times, and there was sometimes a bit of audio lag.

Key points I took away was that there are different ways to define a short story, and there are different definitions for the terms story and plot; a story relates to what happens, an event or circumstance whereas a plot is all about why something happens.

Points to bear in mind when writing a short story includes what happens (story), who things happen to (character), where things happen (place), how and why things happen (plot), and why everything matters.

23 Jan 21

For TMA 3 we have to choose a tradition and make a short post to a discussion forum. Before making my choice, I did a bit of reading, on a popular online encyclopaedia. I became quite engrossed in the subject, and started to look at the references at the bottom of each of the articles. I ended up choosing a subject that I hadn’t really thought of as a tradition before. I remembered that the tradition that I focussed on was also very briefly addressed in the previous tutorial. I’m now looking forward to seeing what other students submit.

It’s back onto my short story. I had completely forgotten where I got to. Before I begin my writing, I prepare a cup of tea to keep me going. I find that tea always helps. There’s something in it that helps you (one) to concentrate.

30 Jan 21

I’ve finished my story. I’m pretty pleased with it. A friend has kindly read it. He has given me a few comments which I’m very grateful for. The process of reflecting on those comments will feed into the reflective bit of the TMA.

I’ve spent a couple of hours revisiting the chapter on creative writing, and rereading the TMA questions just to make sure I’ve got a thorough handle on what is required. 

Although I have done some planning for my writing, it was all very informal – and I think I’m going to have to say this in the TMA. I’m also going to have to have a think about the effect of what my formal planning had on my final version of my story.

Looking back on what I’ve written, I think I’ve managed to address the key ingredients that the TMA was asking for. I’ve also managed to include a couple of surprises too.

On Monday I’m going to send a couple of replies to posts other students have made about the theme of 'tradition', choose the reply I like best, and start to pull together my TMA 3 submission.

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A111 Journal – December 2020

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Saturday, 2 Jan 2021, 09:53

1 Dec 20

I divide an empty TMA document into three sections, ready for writing. With my notes now navigable, I transfer some of the key terms from the module materials into my TMA document to remember what they are. 

I begin with the Mozart section. I listen to the fragment and note down some transitions and times.

It’s time to return to my day job.

4 Dec 20

I must have listened to the sound fragment around 15 times. I quite enjoyed describing the piece of music. I realised I need to simplify my writing to reflect its structure. There was a moment where I felt I understood what the module team were trying to ask us to discover.

Next up: Dickens. I minimise Outlook, minimise my web browser and reach for the text I’ve got to analyse for the TMA question.

It’s not long before I analyse the narrative voice, and then I quickly run out of steam. I need to return to the module materials to get a few more ideas about what analysing literature means.

6 Dec 20

I print out my draft TMA 2 and do some copy editing with a pen and paper. Next step: make those changes in the Word version. As I go, I tick off all those copy edits with a different coloured pen as I go. Final step: submit TMA 2, with just under a week to go before the deadline.

12 Dec 20

Today is the day when the iCMA opens. I work through the materials on academic conduct (which I feel pretty confident about), and then dive in to have a go at it. Although I had more planned for today, I was happy with what I had achieved: completing another bit of the module. 

15 Dec 20

I had one main objective for today: to get through a section about Greek and Roman sculpture. 

Looking at the TMA 3, I’m thinking of answering the question about Blues or Creative Writing. This said, I thought it would be important to read through all the other chapters in the second book to learn some new things, and to be open to the possibility that I might become interested in the other disciplines.

I made notes about the concept of ‘traditions’, which is described in the introduction; that it is about ‘handing things over’, and relates to “customs, artistic styles, ideas, practices or beliefs”. There was also the point that traditions can “enrich our experience of the contemporary world” (p.4). 

Onto the module materials; I was introduced to a bunch of terms: Greek, Roman, Greco-Roman, Ancient and Classical. Other terms include “votive offerings” and a section entitled “kouroi and korai”. There were differences in forms, and differences in poses.

I quite enjoyed watching the videos that describe how three contemporary artists have been included by ancient sculpture.

The final bit of today: a study skills section about referencing.

Next bit; the bit that I’m really looking forward to: the blues.

19 Dec 20

I’ve spent a few hours over the last week going through the online version of the module materials that relate to the blues. 

I can immediately recognise a traditional blues song when it is played, but I was never really consciously aware of its structure. In this section we learnt about the origins of the blues, the themes that are generally explored, listened to a number of tracks. We were introduced to the concept of scales, chords, and how they relate to the 12-bar blues structure. Although I had a sketchy idea of some of these concepts, it was good to read a formal definition.

During this week there were tracks by The Beatles, Gershwin, Queen, Robert Petway, Mamie Smith, W. C. Handy, Johnny Cash, and references to B.B. King, Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson. It was a really nice mixture.

Towards the end of this section, there was another bit about study skills, and how I went about planning the writing of assessments. It turns out that we have to submit a plan as a part of the next assessment.

There are two things that I want to look up. The first is: what modules are there on the music pathway; I’m curious. Secondly: what, exactly, have we got to do for the next TMA? 

I’m looking forward to the next chapter, which is all about creative writing.

28 Dec 20

I read the section on creative writing (without making notes), a few days after the above entry. I also went through the online materials. I particularly liked the audio recording of the short story. Some points from the creative writing section I need to take away: character, imagery and setting, point of view, time, and showing and telling (with an emphasis on showing, so the reader figures things out) (p.136-137). 

I feel a bit guilty about not explicitly completing the activities in the module materials (I know they’re important since they help us to prepare for the assessment), but I’m thinking I’ll go back to them if I choose the creative writing question for the TMA.

The next section is all about reading poetry.

We’re introduced to poems by Hardy, Blake, Donne, and Bishop, before I went to the online materials. Key terms I picked up on were: metaphor (obviously), simile (which was called a type of metaphor), anthropomorphism (which was also under the heading of metaphor), form, conceit, free verse, iambic tetrameter, trimeter and pentameter. 

I quite like the poetry section. I see them as descriptive puzzles that express something, which are there to be decoded and analysed. The more one studies them, the more they can speak to us.

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