digital blindness and rethinking Maslow’s Hierarchy through a digital lens

hand holding a mobile phone
image from http://ddnews.gov.in/health/blue-light-smartphones-may-speed-blindness

Digital blindness is increasingly common.

The medical risks are growing but blindness to digital theory and practice are also a concern.

Too often the creators and shapers of our online lives assume the prerequisite digital literacies are in place but assumptions are not enough. Sit in any social learning space for an hour and it becomes clear how many are unable to maximise a screen or name and save a file. Anyone supporting learnng and teaching will have similar stories to tell.

Higher education appears blind to the need for developing individual digital literacies and confidence.

Why is this?

For centuries, universities have been about knowledge acquisition. Students as buckets. Turn on the knowledge tap. Fill them up. A consequence is approaches to digital accessibility have tended to follow similar transmission models. The reality is simply putting information out there isn’t enough to change hearts and minds.

Check out the OU Innovating Pedagogies series and the NMC Horizon reports then ask yourself where do staff go to learn to be so digitally confident?

drawing of a seesaw with a cartoon grey brain and red heart
image from https://pixabay.com/en/brain-head-psychology-closed-mind-2146159/https://pixabay.com/en/brain-head-psychology-closed-mind-2146159/

The 21st century has seen a massive shift from teacher-teaching to student-learning, but places, people and practice remain unchanged. Students arrive expecting to be lectured, PowerPoint slides are overloaded. Delivery speeds up towards the end to fit everything in. We’ve all done it. It’s easier to use tried and tested methods than step into new territory.

When it comes to the digital agenda, the map is still being drawn. We need to rethink and repurpose.

Children become literate from an early age. They learn from schools and families but when it comes to digital literacies, which are arguably more broader and complex than ‘read and write’,  adults adopt DIY approaches. In higher education digital literacies exist on multiple levels. Core keyboard and screen literacies, the use of mobile devices and app culture, cloud computing, digital pedagogies and the digital fingerprints belonging to individual subject disciplines. Everything has a digital dimension.

All the elements of Maslow have digital equivalents.

repurposed Mslow Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid
repurposed image original from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.svg 

A digital hierarchy begins with connectivity. Who hasn’t felt panic when realising your mobile phone’s at home or there’s no wifi in the remote cottage you’ve booked for a week.

Digital data has become our dominant currency.  Everything done online creates data footprints. Citizens need to work and function effectively in digital environments. Government and NHS have shifted to Digital-first while higher education is dependent on digital administration and virtual learning environments. The data this produces is increasingly being used to inform policy ad practice.

Relationships are developed, maintained, enhanced and ended through social media and apps for communication, collaboration and file sharing.  Our online practice creates digital presence. Whether these digital images are true or false the evidence suggest the ways we perform identity online are integral to mental wealth and wellbeing.

At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy is Self-Actualization; becoming the best possible version of ourselves and realising potential. This is about self-fulfillment, which relates to the images we present. I’d suggest solely analogue means are no longer sufficient for living, learning and working in the digital age.

selection of digital tools and devices
image from https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-technology-computer-business-3244483/

I’ve been in higher education since the turn of the century and watched society become more and more dependent on digital literacies. Blindness to this is both metaphor and physical reality.

Digital is a massive agenda and by refusing to address it from universal, joined up perspectives, the sector has failed its staff across the board.

As a consequence, universities are failing students.

My concern is that digital blindness is infectious.

Becoming digital is an issue for higher education on so many levels. Teaching and learning, administration, employability and internationalisation while inclusive and accessible practice are essential elements for quality assurance via programme approval and validation  – the list could go on and on…

There’s a scattering of diverse groups and practices addressing digital inclusion, all excellent in their own way but too often isolated from each other.

While writing this I’ve been listening to the Jisc Webinar on the EU Accessibility Directive. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/training/new-regulations-new-risks-online-briefing

Details can be found in this blog post asking how much real difference the regulations will make.

It was affirming to see so many people on the Jisc webinar who care about creating accessible digital futures. I pledged to complete a post called ‘Borrow my Eyes’ which is about my own experiences with inaccessible online content.

Watch this space – it will be following soon…

mobile phone against a background of digitla faces
image from https://pixabay.com/en/smartphone-hand-photomontage-faces-1445489/

 

 

political

backboard sign sayiing Quiet Please

Events this week remind me of Shelia McNeil’s fabulous post on being political – Struggling with my Silence

You’re unaware of getting politicised at first.

It takes a key to unlock the door and this is what higher education does. Helps you see the world a different way – at least, I believe it should.

I’m an educator who’s worked in HE for 18 years as adviser, academic and researcher – so I would think that wouldn’t I?!

As women we’re bought up to be quiet and compliant, regardless of what’s going on around us. I’m thinking #Femedtech and how Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell’s presentation at the #ALT18 conference fired up my resistance to the invisibility of motherhood in the workplace. This is turn led to a couple of ‘coming-out’ posts with regard to feminism e.g. political and critical, a personal reflection

This week I’m left wondering if our complicit silence is part of the problem?

imag showing a crying baby

Should I make more noise?

Maybe I’m not political enough.

Maybe I should shout more from the rooftops – look at me – how I got here –  what I offer…

So here it is…

Silent no more!

image shwing audio recorded sound waves

I was politicised without knowing it. Even working with users of assistive technologies, I made opportunities for digital development without questioning why they were necessary in the first place.

Working for a national Epilepsy charity, I was fascinated by the negative cultural constructions around epilepsy but didn’t question their dissemination.

A decade earlier, my first degree had expanded my knowledge but not my critique, while my first Masters in Gender Studies introduced poststructuralism and postmodernism, but – I later realised – I was grasping them as theoretical concepts without application to real world situations.

It was 2000. A fin de siècle in digital terms but even the significance of that passed me by.

image showing transistors

In 2007, the Centre for Educational Research and Development at the University of Lincoln was created from a merger between teaching and learning development with international education leadership.  We kicked off with the Learning Landscapes project followed by Student as Producer while co writing two books The Future of Higher Education Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience and Towards Teaching in Public Reshaping the Modern University. During this time, I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society, successfully applied for external funding, took the lead in a HEA Change Academy programme, led a whole institution approach to embedding open education and supporting the experience of international students. I developed the Getting Started project from a single school to a whole institution approach to transition, completed a second Masters in Open and Distance Education and started a PhD. I was also researching, publishing and travelling the world presenting and disseminating my practice in inclusive education and supporting the student experience in virtual environments.

This is where I come from.

My politics were informed through the critical pedagogy of Friere, Giroux and hooks. Surrounded by a cohort of revolutionary Marxists, my previous experiences began to make sense. I saw the structures of discrimination but learned to resist understanding class as the ultimate determinant of inequality. Gender, disability, age, ethnicity etc all play their part.

image showing a row of different coloured gummy bearsweets

Inequalities still matter to me, as does widening opportunities for accessing higher education, which surely remains a root of social citizenship in the future.

‘…courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.’ (Robbins, 1963:8)

‘…increasing participation in higher education is a necessary and desirable objective of national policy over the next 20 years. This must be accompanied by the objective of reducing the disparities in participation in higher education between groups and ensuring that higher education is responsive to the aspirations and distinctive abilities of individuals.’ (Dearing, 1997: 101)

‘…the extent to which institutional concerns over status are mutually exclusive with the aims of widening participation is unclear…’ (Evans et. al. (2007:13)

‘Universities have made considerable progress in this area in recent years, but there is more work to be done…more effective evaluation of policies and interventions is needed. We need to improve the use of data in driving future developments and a focus on ‘what works’ underpinned by a robust and systematic use of the evidence.’ ​​(Universities UK, 2018)

image showing a room full of graduates at a graduation ceremony

Widening participation can only be as successful as the extent to which support for learning and teaching addresses the increasing diversity of student cohorts. The answers lie in enhancing the quality of teaching with the appropriate design of opportunities for active student learning, through a data informed approach to programmes as well as modules.

Once an educator always an educator.

Once the politics are out of the box there’s no squeezing them back in.

For a decade I worked in community development, My time in higher education has been about transferring what I learned about social and digital exclusion to staff and students, in particular in health care and practice placement.  On Monday I facilitated a workshop on the use of social media for students going into professional practice placement. An hour later I learned my role was excluded from the new Directorate structure.

Maybe it’s time to leave the ivory towers and return to the community, taking back some of the lessons from campus, politics and all, going back to my roots.

Hey ho, ho, ho – it will soon be Christmas. The new year might be starting in a different place to what I expected but I’m a great believer in new doors opening when existing ones close. One thing is for sure, if the PhD gets finished sooner rather than later, that can only be a good thing- can’t it?

sue watling with a parrot

Keeping the diversity flag flying

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 came into effect on 23rd September. It’s now a legal requirement for all digital resources supporting teaching and learning to be accessible.

Designing for Diverse Learners is a re-purposing of the UK government’s six posters on accessible design to create a single page set of criteria covering the principles of digital accessibility. These are for anyone who writes emails, creates word documents or builds presentations with text and images. Following the guidance anticipates and removes potential barriers to access. Based on years of experience of supporting inclusive practice, working with Jisc TechDis (sadly no longer with us) and with knowledge derived from teaching a range of users of assistive technologies, Lee Fallin and I have collated the basics. These include font size, colour and contrast, justification, link text and alternative formats. If everyone creating digital content follows this advice it would make a huge difference.

image of a padlok against computer code
We’re in the process of designing a digital home to host the poster and subsequent work. We’ve plans for supporting resources, including a card sort activity and board game. The idea is to create workshops with activities which promote and support the discussion and sharing of a digitally inclusive higher education experience.

In the meantime, an ex-colleague from the University of Lincoln, Marcus Elliott  (now at NTU) has begun to extend the Diversity poster, and shared the output in a blog post Thinking about Diverse  Learners. The work demonstrates the value of a creative commons culture of reuse and repurpose so all credit to Marcus for showing the value of an open approach in this way.

guidance for accessibility poster

Marcus has taken the NHS Design Principles, based in the NHS constitution, to add an additional page on the Principles of Design (see above).

When it comes to digital accessibility, the NHS are worth exploring. They’ve had a Digital First policy for nearly a decade, spelt out in their Digital Data and Information Strategy.

When I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society back in 2011, it was driven by the need for more digitally inclusive health care practice. at a time when the government were moving to put all their information and welfare services online. Back in the day I provided sessions for social work students designed to raise awareness of how service users, often already marginalised and disempowered, are expected to have the digital access and literacies to negotiate an online benefits system. Since then, the NHS have bought in online GP appointments and medical checks from home with digital systems for online consultations.

NHS Digitsl logo blue on white

Universal Credit, designed to incorporate all payments into one, is the government’s move to a digital first provision of welfare. This week there’s  been calls for stopping it. Voices include Sadiq Khan, Lord Mayor of London and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury on the grounds of it leaving too many people worse off. The parameters of digital exclusion mirror existing discrimination yet nowhere in this week’s media has there been mention of universal credit being a welfare system managed online.

logo for Universal credit, blue letters on whit background

Digital accessibility is about all these things. Digital literacies are not only about readable font and good colour and contrast. They’re about digitally inclusive practice too.

My eyes are tired. Too many evenings and weekends doing data analysis using s software package which does not adequately respond to magnification. I’ve been drafting the thesis chapters to build the framework within which the analysis is located as well as writing blog posts like this one calling for change. It’s a lot of screen time on top of the day job.

spaniel puppy lying down with big sad eyes

For me, tired eyes equates to an increasing reliance on clear digital text. Too often I find unresponsive design and zoom controls being prevented from working effectively. Design trumps accessibility. I’ve said this before and will be saying it again. The steps needed to make digital content accessible are  not difficult.

Seven key principles guide the NHS in all it does. They are underpinned by core NHS values which have been derived from extensive discussions with staff, patients and the public. Marcus is spot on to add these to the Design for Diversity work.

Lee and I have ambitions to have the poster printed and displayed above every photocopier alongside the CLA requirements. To have cards which are on everyone’s notice board or wall. We want to see an institutional digital accessibility strategy based on the principles of the Web Accessibility Initiative; to build time for developing  inclusive practice into the work allocation process, and a greater general awareness of how digital accessibility matters, so much, to everyone.

hundreds of lego people

Because digital inclusion isn’t only about people with disabilities. It’s about temporary disablement through broken bones or sensory impairment. It’s about a socially democratic internet. When my uveitis flares up I need steroid medication. The treatment enlarges the pupils of my eyes, letting in too much light and making me see through a white fog. With resisable. responsive design and clear readable font with good contrast, I can continue to work in digital environments,  Without it I can’t. I’m disabled by the technology which in theory should be creating a more inclusive user experience.

image of a tick list with a pen

My concern is the new UK legislation will be seen as a set of tick boxes, without the underpinning knowledge of what digital exclusion is really like and the consequences of inaccessible digital design for learners. The student experience should be at the heart of higher education and the new act is an opportunity for change, to ensure digital accessibility is a supported literacy, alongside reading and writing, in order to make the increasingly digital society in which we live and work an inclusive one too.

ALT logo - green on white

There is now a law which supports this. Ros Walker from the University of Stirling has written a post for the ALT blog titled Important New /Accessibility Regulations. Its a valuable post well worth reading. I have just one query. Ros writes ‘This work would largely need to be addressed jointly by service providers within the institution such as disability services, web development and IT.’ I would add learning development and academic practice too.

With my colleague Patrick Lynch, we’ve built inclusion into the learning design module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP) at the University of Hull.  I facilitate a digital inclusion session for our Professional Practice in Higher Education Teaching and Learning module for postgraduates who research and teach. There’s also a workshop in the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Academic Professional as Development Framework (APDF) run by Lee and myself.

Promoting digitally inclusive practice as integral to the enhancement of learning and teaching is the way forward and there is now a law which supports this.

The future is looking bright.

My hope is it’s looking more accessible too.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

 

 

 

Will the new Accessibility Regulations make any real difference?

closed padlock on a shut dor

On 23 September, 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive became law. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 calls for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to meet an accessibility requirement. While not explicitly referring to ‘Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), course documents, and video recordings of lectures’ as listed by Wonkhe the need for online content to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (WCAG 2.0) strongly suggests this is the case.

However, it isn’t obvious.

The majority of media coverage I’ve seen so far prioritises the technical structures of websites and mobile apps. Neither Jisc’s Accessible Organisations or Gov.uk’s Make your public sector website or app accessible make explicit reference to resources for teaching and learning.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

So already I’m confused. Exactly what does the law say with regard to the day-to-day digital documents uploaded to institutional VLEs?

It seemed I had to do what my first supervisor always advised – read the original text. I started with the European Directive.

Ignoring the paradox of centre alignment, capital letters and fully justified paragraph text!

There are two references to intranets

(34) Member States should be able to extend the application of this Directive to other types of websites and mobile applications, in particular intranet or extranet websites and mobile applications not covered by this Directive which are designed for and used by a limited number of persons in the workplace or in education….

Paragraph 37 was more helpful with regard to accessibility requirements.

(37)

The four principles of accessibility are: perceivability, meaning that information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive; operability, meaning that user interface components and navigation must be operable; understandability, meaning that information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable; and robustness, meaning that content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. (my emphasis)

So there it is!

If content has to be robust it has to be accessible.

It seems the detail is in the exemptions. The Directive refers to the content of extranets and intranets while the UK statute, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations also list content under the exemptions.

(2) ‘These Regulations do not apply to the following content of a website and mobile application of a public sector body

  • office file formats published before 23rd September 2018…
  • pre-recorded time-based media published before 23rd September 2020.

Office file formats are defined as ‘a document in a format that is not intended primarily for use on the web and that is included in web pages, such as Adobe Portable Document Format, Microsoft Office documents or their open-source equivalents.’

It sounds like everything uploaded to a VLE has to comply.

The law came into force this week. All new content has to be compliant within one year and existing websites within two years..

I should be delighted, I think.

black silhouette of a person juming for joy against a background of words meaning delight

Instead, I’m not sure what real difference this will make.  Accessibility is an attitude as much as a practice. It’s complex.  While the new law makes it clear the structures of websites and apps must be accessible, it could have done more to define the nature of the digital content it applies to.

PDF, Word, PowerPoint, audio and video are probably the most frequently used file formats by staff who teach and support learning.  Is the law really saying each of these have to be accessible i.e. follow WCA2 and be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust? If so it would be useful to see this stated more explicitly.

MS Office logos

I have questions.

What about teaching and learning material on institutional blogs, or student work posted on sites provided by universities, or feedback given using audio or video on a VLE?

Changing practice requires a sound rationale. You shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to understand the law but this is how it feels with regards to the Regulations .

I feel bad about my lack of enthusiasm but revisiting the Digital Soapbox  shows some of the breadth and scale of digital exclusion issues.

These posts go back eight years. What has changed?

Digital inaccessibility is the scandal of 21st century. The social model with regard to the built environment is broken every day. Categories of ‘disablement’ grow incrementally year on year, while support for equal opportunities for access and participation gets less.

black and white image of a wheelchair on the edge of a kerb

Digital exclusion is part of larger structured attitudes towards difference and diversity. For all legislation is needed as a baseline, I’m not sure these new Accessibility Regulations will make a great deal of difference to day-to-day practice.

Lee Fallin and I have been looking for ways to support digitally inclusive literacy and developed this poster suggesting changes in habits with digital content e.g. selecting a good colour contrast and a readable font.

Following the tips on Designing for diverse learners could make a big difference to how students access text, images and multimedia. The new Accessibility Regulations are big on structures but vague on content. Ensuring accessible resources comes down to the basics with text and image. This is our starting point and the poster is freely available to anyone who wants to use, reuse or repurpose it.

Accessibility was a fundamental ambition of the early web pioneers.

‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ Tim Berners Lee (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  Daniel Dardailler (1997) W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Project Manager Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal.Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIDE/f1.htm 

Twenty years on digital content is more inaccessible than ever.

Will these regulations make any real difference?

Hating to say it, but I’m not sure they will.

Please, somebody tell me I’m wrong!

political and critical; a personal reflection #ALTC #femedtech

green nd white ALT logo

ALT and motherhood on the same page?

I didn’t see that coming!.

Last week Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell presented A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018 describing themselves as IT professionals, lecturers, community educators, postgraduate students, researchers, feminists, social activists, and mothers.

Since watching the live stream, I’ve been reflecting on political and critical perspectives and, following my last post Start the Week Backwards have written this response to the zeitgeist mood of the 25th ALTc.

My career’s been shaped by motherhood, divorcehood and resulting single-parenthood.  Built round term-times, it was one long juggling act, never stopping, never resting, life full on until the nest was empty and I woke up one day with the whole weekend ahead and no idea of what to do.

image showing the word start on a road

It’s been liberating to acknowledge a gendered perspective to my decades working with education technology. Last week in Start the Week Backwards I returned to 1989, to my first degree as a mature ‘widening participation’ student, my early encounter with DOS computers running Wordstar and Lotus. I cried during an ‘IT Test’ when I accidentally pressed the Insert key.  I didn’t know it existed, never mind why all my text was being overtyped.

I hope I never forget how that felt.

cartoon showing a person facing angry technology with the caption The Battle we all Face

My first degree was transformative in so many ways. It cost me my marriage.

Apparently, no one likes a clever git.

I moved from country to inner city. It was February 1991. The coldest winter with the heaviest snow. My student loan fixed the boiler and bought a cooker. The second-hand electric shop wanted £5 for delivery. I borrowed a sack barrow and delivered it myself.

The greatest life lesson I learned was this.

Regardless of gender, the parent with the least earning potential takes on most of the childcare. A salutary lesson.  A universal rule like Jane Austen on men and wives (note the primary identity!)

Before the start of the conversation started by Catherine and Frances, the last time I ‘outed’ myself as a parent was five years ago in Who will clean the toilets after the revolution This was my problem with feminism. The personal is political but it has to be practical too.

blue plasticine person leaning over a white toilet

Today I’m comfortable in my empty nest and appreciate my freedom of choice. I admire colleagues who juggle full-time work alongside small children, especially those with babies. Feminism and equality campaigns have made flexible working possible, although I suspect it’s an ongoing struggle, financially, emotionally and physically. The women who make it are stars!

gold stars

A personal and feminist lens shows gender affected me. Being a female of a certain age when I entered HE has influenced opportunities and choices.  During Catherine and Frances’s presentation, I looked for a photo of myself with the children, realising for the first time how few there are.  Lots of babies, with and without their father, but not with me. This was before the days of mobile phones and selfies – not that long ago – all I could find were two.

This is what happens to women in the home. They become invisible. It’s the public work versus the private ‘hearth and home’ binary all made real.

cut out images of domestic tools and tasks

I wouldn’t have it any different, but I do sometimes wonder how different it might have been.

My career in adult, community and higher education has been eclectic, like so many others. An  eclecticness shared so creatively in a timeline by Amber thomas, who gave a keynote at #ALTc. Throughout my working life, I’ve been a mother, step-mother, carer.  Constant but rarely discussed. Why? Is it because I’ve worked mostly alongside men?  I’ve never thought of this before. It shows the power of Catherine and Frances using the motherhood word in conjunction with technology, research, social activism. Been there. Done that. But it’s not often I’ve reclaimed gender in public.

Thank you women of ALTc, for giving us permission to do the same.

We need more stars!

gold starsgold starsgold stars

Like so many women, I’ve done life backwards. Much of my knowledge is experiential. This means I often feel I’m swimming against the tide.

Practice can disempower in the way assumptions discriminate.

Being a female of a certain age, I feel othered in ways I imagine are not shared by men. I write about the digital but have analogue roots The ‘O’ word is banned. I refuse to accept life as linear. For me, it’s circular and spiral, like a a labyrinth. Remember the labyrinths? This is another area of work I’d love to resurrect, but people move on and the early momentum of a movement looking at walking meditative practice for learning development and reflection feels faded. At least the blog and the photos remain Walking the Labyrinth

Women who do too much!

Why are we so driven?

Julian's Bower Turf Labyrinth at Alkeborough, North Lincolnshire
Julian’s Bower Turf Labyrinth at Alkeborough, North Lincolnshire

Age is discriminatory.

Socially, culturally, politically….

Take the phrase Early Career Researcher. It ‘Others’ me. I feel excluded. My PhD is the biggest independent piece of research I’ve done but in terms of time it’s late rather than early. I have two degrees and two Masters. I hold CMALT plus SFHEA. If I’m not an Early Career Researcher, what am I?

Identity has been an issue for some time.

I was Senior Lecturer in Education Development. Now I’m a Teaching Enhancement Advisor in Professional Services.

a white building with the word university in silver

Take the word ‘academic’ off your employment contract and what does it mean?

Who am I within university tradition and practice?  Where do I fit?

Amber’s keynote was inspirational.  It spoke to all women with eclectic careers built round the public face of ed tech alongside the private space of hearth and home. Amber’s timeline reinforced how the industry continually transforms itself, creating new identities to solve the same old issues.

We know.

Our voices may have been silenced but we know what’s going on.

It’s not about the technology.

This is why the promised transformation hasn’t happened.

Like attracts like and technology determinist approaches won’t reach the non-digital whose doors are closed and habits fixed. This is not to belittle either but we need to talk. To everyone across borders and boundaries; to everyone involved in creating opportunities for students to learn.

We need to learn too.

I like an Appreciative Inquiry approach. This assumes the answers are in the room. Rather than investing in expensive external consultancy and the input of perceived ‘experts’,  we should invest in exploring ways of sharing what we already know.

I like Jung’s theory of collective unconscious. I believe in the possibility of univerisal memories, that shared expereinces create energy. It explains the attraction of an open fire and the awe of layng on a hill top below a night sky full of stars.

Memories are strange phenomena. They disappear when you want them then reappear for no apparent reason. Proust’s Madeleine has happened to us all. Sarsaparilla on your tongue. Electric shivers from a full moon.

full moon at night shining on dark waer

Pedagogic practice hasn’t really changed. My first experience of higher education was during A levels. I signed up for an evening class at the Universty of Hull. In the Wilberforce Building. Now I work there. The building has had a facelift but the rooms are fundamentally the same – small with no windows and rows of desks facing the front.

Last year I finished a part-time degree at Hull. Six years of attendance. Twelve modules taught in the same Wilberforce Building in rooms with rows of desks facing the front. No technology was used during the making of this degree. The only time the PC was switched on was student presentations where I used Powerpoint.

lassroom with rows of empty desks and chairs all facing the board at teh front

When is comes to teaching and leaning, technology is not the solution. There’s no magic tool to solve the problems but plenty of technology-based solutions which have added to them.

Learning and teaching is where we need to begin. The design of opportunities for learning with or without the tech. It’s 2018. It’s going to be in there somewhere, in the same way it’s at home and in the workplace.

So what are the problems?

Well, the status of being digitally literate for starters. This is a requirement which needs to be elevated alongside english and maths, but even so, technology is not the answer. Not on its own.

There are bigger issues.

Like widening participation; the opening up of university courses ‘… for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”  (Robbins Report, 1963)

The NSS arrived with promises it would not lead to league tables when it was clear this was exactly what would happen.  Today, the NSS combined with student fees, pose a potential (and predictable) perfect storm.

Despite it all, I still believe in the concept of higher education for the public good. The often quoted analogy of public good with lighthouses is – I think – apt. Shining light into darkness, warning of danger.

Danger?

light house on Isle of Skye at teh end f a long rocky prootary looking out to sea

Education can hurt and be uncomfortable. It should be full of liminal spaces and troublesome knowledge. Unfortunately, it can break relationships and create division – but also open hearts and minds, shine light on exclusion and discrimination, be a beacon for socially democratic thinking and provide opportunities for individuals to be transformed and thrive.

Why shouldnt it be for the public good?

person standing in front of the siplay boards in an airport

Across the country, thousands are preparing for arrival on campus. Diverse cohorts are packing bags and preparing to leave home. Others are sitting late at night juggling the school run on paper with nursery pickups and contingency plans for when the grandparents are ill. Those who’ve had unexpected life changes are looking to university with no idea of what lies ahead. To those who are unsure, I’d say feel the fear and do it.

image showing a erson leaping across a chasm at suset

In all of this, the women working in higher education, in partcular in ed tech and digital practice, have their own unique contribution to make. Accustomed to suppressing the maternal and personal, they can add hugely to the collaborative processes of teaching and learning.

We need a platform and a voice.

I hope the conversations started at ALTc are enabled to continue.

table discussion with an open laptop

images from ALT and pixabay