on a scholarly approach to teaching enhancement

image of bookshelves and a mobile device showing wikipedia

I’ve meant from the start to write a post about the blog title. Why Digital Academic? Why not Digital Shifts or TEL Tells or.so on… there were enough reasons but always something else to write about instead.

18 months on, it’s come to the forefront…

I was told by a colleague this week that I’m not an academic because I don’t have an academic contract. My professional services contract defines what I do.  Since changing from an A to a PS contract I’ve wondered what the difference means in practice. What should I change?  Stop learning? Stop researching?  Look different?

cartoon image of an owl sitting on a book

We were discussing our restructure. My job description as Academic TEL Advisor always differed from the other TEL Advisors because Technology had been replaced with Pedagogy. Our recent plans for a learning design approach (which might or might not include the T word) originated from this difference. Putting pedagogy first is attracting the more digitally shy or resistant to the table – those we might not usually get to talk to.

During the restructure conversation,  I said I wanted to have scholarship made explicit in our new roles as Teaching Enhancement Advisors. By this I meant:

  • Scholarship as per the HEA’s 2015 research into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ScoTL).
  • Scholarship as in being research informed and research engaged.
  • Scholarship which includes
    • having conceptual frameworks,
    • being a ‘research-led form of professional development’
    • having ‘the potential to inform policy and practice at institutional level, for example, in career development and in the promotion and recognition of teaching excellence’ See the HEA Summary Report

Teaching excellence is everywhere these days! HE is currently on the crest of the big data wave informed TEF (or Tsunami, depending on your POV). Like it or not, the TEF is here and affects perception which in turn effects student cohorts, curriculum design, learning spaces, public engagement etc.

The TEF might be drawing attention to T&L but shouldn’t all our teaching enhancement interventions be underpinned with scholarly approaches anyway – pedagogy first rather than technology determinism?

image showing open book, glasses and mobile phone

So what does it mean to be scholarly?

I don’t think by definition it’s only a postgraduate occupation although at institutions where you already need a doctorate to become a lecturer, it’s even more important those on professional services have the opportunity to study.   Librarians do doctorates. Administrators do too.  I struggle with time constraints and self-funding but think of my PhD as a privileged opportunity to get up close and personal with the processes of knowledge construction and dissemination – the heart of the HE endeavour. A professional services contract does not and should not exclude you from professional development although where it means you have to be self-funding it does becomes discriminatory and unequal.

Back to contract status.

What difference does having (or not having) the word academic in your contract mean?  Isn’t ‘academic’ itself a state of mind? Shouldn’t we all be exercising our sociological imaginations and asking questions, making the familiar strange.*’ Isn’t being scholarly just a case of seeing the larger picture and using evidence to justify your position?

art gallery showing questions and answers processes

There’s never been a greater need for scholarly critique. The future is precarious. Climate change is happening. The bees are troubled and the internet transforming what it means to be posthuman.

There’s no escape from the social impact of the internet. Digital divides between people like myself, with physical and virtual identities, and colleagues who openly state they ‘don’t do technology’ have never been deeper. The question is what to do about it. Should institutions be insisting on digital engagement and if so – how? It all comes back to digital shifts.

cartoon showing the devil relating torture to powerpoint

I might be wrong. They may not matter – clearly they’re not relevant to some – but if you work in HE you’re connected to the student experience and I’d suggest being aware of the implications of teaching or learning in a digital age is part of what you do.

Back to the war of the words. The clinching phrase from the original conversation was ‘you may want to be on an academic contract but you’re not.‘  That’s me told then!

Am I bovered?

Having chosen to put this in the public domain it might look like I am, but tbh, so long as it isn’t detrimental, I don’t mind what I’m called. It’s more about the semantics than the status. I’ll always be a reader, thinker and writer. I’m comfortable with a ‘digital academic’ identity but also have a fundamental belief that what you do has more credibility when informed by the appropriate literature**.  Just because an employment contract says PS and not A, it should never preclude a scholarly approach.

teddy bear reading a book


*  from C Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

** Mark Carrigan offers an interesting persepctive on ‘the literature’  https://markcarrigan.net/2016/11/25/what-is-the-literature/  a topic for another blog post in the future


this week’s post is bought to you by digital procrastination

image of keyboard and social media icons from pixabay

Procrastination is something I’m good at. Very good.

I wander through the world wide web like it’s my second home – or maybe even my first I spend so much time there!

Hyperlinks are my downfall. There’s still excitement attached to them. My brain is a sponge. It doesn’t always retain what it finds but it loves a good soaking.

Hyperlinks were the brainchild of Tim Berners Lee. The internet already existed and the WWW was a way of linking individual pages and sites.  In the early days you knew you were online.  Dial up connections beeped and whirred like some giant machine coming to life and the internet being what it is, you can remind yourself exactly what this sounded like

My first computer was a second hand Tandy. I was married and living in the country. My first internet connected computer was a Gateway 486. I was divorced and a city dweller.  A degree does this to you. As passing your driving test gives you independence so taking your first degree opens your mind and like Pandora’s Box, once opened it can’t be closed again.

Today the internet/www is integral to our lives and for some, the boundaries between the real and unreal are getting confused.  During the US election there was much debate around social media and fake news/false truths. US voters told the world how they relied on Facebook and Twitter as sources of truth because they followed so many people and the majority view had to be the right one, didn’t it.

There are generations who have been born into digital life and know no other, unlike my peers who have analogue feet and roots. We were there at the beginning. My Tandy computer ran DOS, the word processor used commands like <b>strong</b>. I still have a 5 ½ inch floppy disk and sometimes use it in presentations where, as the years pass, less people know what it is,

After DOS came the Microsoft GUI and mouse. We learned to point and click, double click, drag. Now it’s touch screen and a thousand smudgy fingerprints as we tap, double tap, swipe while speech to text and text to speech alternatives continue to get more accurate every year and films like Ex Machina and Her take us to the edge of what is real and unreal – or so we think.

Should we be concerned over the line between real and unreal? Is this what we should be discussing with students? With the aptly named Second Life there were many stories of people becoming emotionally attached to online avatars and we see this today with online dating where digital identity takes on real meaning for real-world users.

Baudrillard gained notoriety for saying the Gulf War hadn’t happened. He didn’t mean it didn’t take place but that for most of us, it was a second hand experience, mediated by a digital reality which wasn’t real. It was hyperreal.

Hyperreality, as in Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle (1967) is about the confusion between real and representation, in Debord’s case this was caused by a proliferation of images. It isn’t hard to rethink this using virtual reality or even the animated posters they have on the London Underground. They’re like something out of Harry Potter they move and speak to you as though they were real people.

https://makewealthhistory.org/2008/10/28/london-undergrounds-new-digital-posters/

In Simulacra and Simulation (1981) Baudrillard described confusion between real and unreal claiming we’re mistaking digital reality for the real thing so whoever controls digital media has increasing influence over attitudes and behaviours. We are living in a state of hyperreality; hyper from the ancient greek meaning over or above as in hypersonic (faster than the speed of sound) or hyperspace as a different dimension where science fiction characters can travel at hypersonic speeds. The internet/www is known as hyperspace. Online we communicate instantly regardless of time or distance. Online we’re digital space travellers and in 2017,with instant wifi for our mobile devices, we’re increasingly taking this immediate access for granted.

What matters is having the critical digital literacies to be aware this is a construction. Documentary maker Adam Curtis describes Hypernormalisation as a politically influenced state of knowing your reality is wrong but accepting it as right because there’s no alternative.

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series also explores these boundaries through prescient scenarios involving digital shifts and realities. The digital isn’t real yet it must be if we’re all using digital communication to collaborate and make sense of the world.

This blog came about because I read this review from the Research Student Conference at the University of Northampton and was struck by how it reflected the writer’s own perception rather than what I was saying.

PhD student Sue Watling’s timely paper focused on staff attitudes towards technology-enhanced learning and discussed what this can mean from the instructor’s perspective and the processes to standardise training of such skills for teaching staff. (my emphasis)

I was talking about digital shifts yet mention technology enhanced learning and it’s interpreted ‘standardise training and skills. I come across this a lot. With regard to the digital there’s a mismatch between what I’m saying and what you’re hearing and interpreting.  This is something which needs addressing.

So this post was going to be you say training, I say teaching, you say skills I say capabilities or something along those lines, but I couldn’t even get from there to here without procrastinating a whole blog post away. Like I said, its something I’m very good at.

brick walls crack but don’t fall

image of brick wall from pixabayWhat’s a digital shift?

It’s like getting through a brick wall.

Brick walls are not made to be broken…

At last weeks Annual Research Students Conference at the University of Northampton I called my presentation Digital Shifts.

This was in  reference to shifting from traditional f2f transmissive-based pedagogies to more interactive, student centred approaches which make use of technology. But digital shifts are much more than transferring paper to screen.

fingerprints fr

Many years ago I wrote about digital literacies (as they were called then) being personal and individual as fingerprints. Applying a one-size-fits-all model of digital development was doomed to failure. People have to find comfort in ways which suit them. I still believe this today. Unless there’s a personal reason for change, it’s unlikely to happen with any degree of authenticity. Hence the existence of on-campus divides between digital fluency and shyness.

For those involved in promoting and supporting digital adoption, we need to think deep. This week I’ve been pondering the nature of macro, meso and micro levels of change.

book cover for Third Wave image from wikipedia
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave_(Toffler_book)

In 1980, Alvin Tofler described the post-industrial society (following the agrarian and industrial ages) as the Third Wave. Computer technologies were emerging and had Tofler been writing two decades later he may well have called it the Digital Wave. At times of great change, society gets swept up into massive shifts of lifestyle and the present is no exception. In less than a decade internet connectivity represents change on a macro-shift dimension.

When universities adopt digital ways of working as the norm, it’s an example of a meso-shift. Led by their ICT driven systems, there ‘s often little choice for those in administrative roles but for many academics there’s been less impetus to change. The absence of a whole institution approach to digital change means shifts are often fragmented. Active Blended Learning, a new normal in higher education at the University of Northampton is an example of a wholesale digital shift. The absence of lecture theatres in the new Waterside campus is leading a pedagogic move from lecture style teaching towards small group and blended learning. This brave new digital world is being watched with great interest across the sector.

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library (my photos).

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library

Digital shifts at a micro-level are more about individual change. These often involve the principles of threshold concepts including liminality, integration and troublesome knowledge. Digital shifts represent a unique combination of emotions and responses.  For the digitally shy and resistant,  technology  can appear threatening. What if it breaks, goes wrong, gets lost….Habits are lifesavers when under pressure. If it works why break it… Students love what I do already…. There isn’t enough time…. Never enough time for change…

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Digital shifts can be feared or rejected for a range of reasons yet when they happen it can be transformative involving ontological as well as epistemological change as demonstrated by this quote from my research data (full text below post).

image of presentation slideshowing TELEDA Tip 5

Micro-shifts can occur in unexpected ways. Illness or impairment can lead to assistive technology or customisation of PCs and personal devices. Speech to text and text to speech can convert the most digitally resistant. Be My Eyes uses the affordances of social media while anyone ‘hot-desking’ soon learns to appreciate cloud computing and systems like Google Accounts which give access to folders and customised browser tabs anywhere you log on.

google logo under a magnifying glass

Research can be another digital shift trigger. My Director of Studies at Northampton has a paper on Academia.Edu with 600 downloads while the journal site version only has 100. Cristina also finds it useful it is to share research links via Twitter or Skype an idea with a colleague over breakfast. We’ve met twice in 9 months but are regularly in touch online. For myself, every week I get notifications of who’s accessed my publications on ResearchGate while the power of Twitter meant within 20 minutes a stranger had found me the book I needed with only the flimsiest (and partially incorrect) details.

Digital shifts can be fragmented and inconsistent. The Jisc Digital Capabilities Model shows the complexity of opportunities there are to become ‘more digital‘. As government, finance, health and leisure go online so the pressure to digitally engage increases. Some might be adept users at home but not work. Or vice versa. We hold hard onto habitual practice and the university is a traditional environment.Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve Digital shifts happen for many reasons. External pressures can lead to tipping points but the Late Majority, and unfortunately named Laggards of Rogers Diffusion of Innovations curve, will need something more personal to persuade them to change. Institutions can provide reward and recognition. Digital Education Developers can provide rationales and resources. Ultimately though, the choice to make digital shifts has to come from within. At the present time, the brick walls of resistance within learning and teaching might crack but the barriers remain strong.

I suspect digital shifts in practice will continue to be blocked and resisted for quite some time to come.

broken brick wall


full text from slide in post

“… It seems obvious now that the lack of student engagement with my online resources was due to inappropriate design. I placed too much emphasis on text based, selfdirected learning and didn’t recognise the important roles of self and peer assessment, interaction between students and probably most importantly, investing time in building solid foundations and helping students develop skills for online learning.”

more examples of digital shifts from my research data (contact me for full text versions) 

research data quotes showing digital shifts

research data quotes showing digital shifts

Castells, M. (2009) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (Vol I) Second Edition.  Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Webster, F. ( 1995) Theories of the Information Age. Third Edition. Abingdon: Routledge

All images from pixabay.com unless otherwise stated.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

#lthechat to hybridity, a journey of 800 words

LTHEChat cartoon by Simon Rae, two people discussing CPD

This week’s #lthechat (no 87- what will 100 be?) was about CPD or, to be more precise,  Professional Development Challenges in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and led by Prof Sally Brown.

Q1 What professional development challenges do you plan to set yourself in the next academic year?

image showing LTHEchat question one, What professional development challenges do you plan to set yourself in the next academic year? Er um – I’m not sure.

As the #lthe-chatters listed plans, I sidetracked, taking note of those involving technology, out of interest….but what about the question. What were my own ‘professional challenges’? Then I remembered the PhD. Of course! So why didn’t I initially think of it as CPD?  The second question held a clue.

Q2 How can you best engage with students in planning and achieving your CPD?

LTHE chat question 2 How can you best engage with students in planning and achieving your CPD?

One chatter posted ‘Not entirely sure what you mean? CPD for me or CPD I deliver for others?’  The reply was ‘for me!’

Another posted ‘Stunning question Hadn’t thought it was something I could do … but it obviously is.’

So not only me! I wonder if there’s a wider tendency to think of CPD in terms of what we provide for others rather than what we do for ourselves?

If so, is the belief related to areas like Academic Practice or Learning Development which are about supporting others to achieve. Could it even be a gender issue. Traditional social conditioning as in being taught to look out for others, be the carer, mender, the one who keeps it all together. Does cultural construction make it more likely some will interpret CPD as ‘do unto others’ rather than ‘unto yourself’?

LTHEchat blog banner

OR

…do we do CPD without being aware of it. Like students not recognising feedback.

The accompanying #lthechat post listed seven CPD challenges from ‘Professionalism in practice: key directions in higher education learning, teaching and assessment’. These are about ‘translating action into transformative change’. If you saw CPD as doing a mooc or reading a book, take a look at this. CPD can involve any – or all – of the following …

  • Stepping out of your comfort zone
  • Making an effort
  • Talking more to students
  • Checking out inclusive practice
  • Reviewing internationality
  • Becoming more scholarly
  • Taking up mentoring or coaching

As if my head wasn’t already thinking enough, question 4 arrived. Which are your key communities of practice: what do you give to them and what do you gain from them? Physical/Virtual

LTHEchat qiuestion 4 Which are your key communities of practice: what do you give to them and what do you gain from them? Physical/Virtual

It woz the binary wot did it! Physical/Virtual. For some time I’ve been brooding about how my online life is isolated from my real one. The social media I use isn’t shared by most of my working colleagues (or home peeps come to that, but we’re talking CPD so family/friends is different).

My online professional network is supportive, informative and sometimes game-changing. Take the PhD. Transferring from Lincoln to Hull hadn’t gone well. I was upset at how three years of research into the attitudes and practices of academics online, and how they conceptualised teaching and learning in a digital age, had been rejected. Then a by-the-by comment on Twitter led me to the University of Northampton and Ale Armellini who is now my PhD supervisor. It couldn’t be better. Thank you internet and Chrissi Nerantzi.

image of a twitter message asking Could it be Glyn Hughes ‘A Year in the Bull Box’. Not sheep but cattle.

We all have similar stories of digital synchronicity. Like the time I found an elusive book of poetry via Twitter in under half an hour! Also regular events like #lthechat can lead to unexpected connections and insights. Yet when I look around, it feels those of us with virtual lives are still the minority. The dominance of the 3P’s, Pen, Pencil and Paper, may be greater than we realise.

pencil and paper from pixabay

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not demanding colleagues be online, or become part of my online life, but I’m aware of their absence. It’s like the ‘Did you watch….’ conversation in the kitchen. I don’t have a tv so am immediately excluded. I’m more likely to ask ‘Did you see….on Twitter’ or ‘have you read the latest post on …..blog’ but I don’t because no one has.

My tweet-answer summed it up. great support/sharing via @twitter but digitally shy colleagues excluded – feel I’m digital/analogue hybrid.

image of tweet saying get great support/sharing via @twitter but digitally shy colleagues excluded - feel I'm digital/analogue hybrid

I juggle two worlds – the virtual and real – which feels like I don’t fully fit in either. Like the Roman God Janus, I look both ways. I have dual identities, maybe triple if you include my social use of the internet. Either way I’m an analogue/digital hybrid.

Hybridity is an interesting concept. It’s been around for some time, long before the digital, more complex than a binary, and seemingly well suited to an internet age.

As so often happens, a blog post on one topic is ending on another.

More on hybridity another day.

In the meantime, back to CPD, or in this case – the CPhD.

keyboard with a sign saying Under Construction

Storify of #lthechat 14/06/17 available here:https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthechat-no-87-professional-development-challenges 

blog images from #lthechat or https://pixabay.com 

Hull City of Culture and the digital shift

2017 is Hull City of Culture. In 2003 we were trashed as the top Crap Town   What does culture mean? Let’s take a look because language matters – it really does…

Cultural Studies programmes show a variety of specialisms; media, sociology, anthropology, identity, languages and more. So culture can be context specific.

Is 2017 about the culture of Hull or Hullensian exposure to external  icons and events? Six months into our year it appears to be a combination of both.

How do we experience culture? Is it something you do, something done to you or a blend? Does cultural exposure lead to change or after the intervention do we carry on as before.

Do you see where this is heading?

When it comes to changing attitudes and practice, cultural shifts rarely happen without rebooting existing ways of being and seeing. Wider social or institutional incentives are needed to bring about change. When talking about digital capabilities, we shouldn’t forget (although we do) in the same way DC’s are personal, change is ultimately about people and their individual thoughts and feelings.

Have we been looking in the wrong place all along?

When it comes to imposing the move from face-to-face pedagogic design to online activities – tell to TEL – does a lack of attention to the broader context reinforce the gulf between rhetoric and practice?

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations model remains a useful visual representation of the adoption phases of new technologies.

TEL World is on the left. This is where TEL-People live. On the right is everyone else. The black line represents the chasm. Geoffrey Moore writes about the gap between the early adopters and early majority as being the most difficult transition. My research explores the chasm. I’ve renamed it the on-campus digital divide which is less about access and more about usage*.  The divide is where reluctance and resistance to change is situated, with deep roots and foundations. Strategy and workshops are not enough to cross or close the gap. DIY is never going to cut it. If TEL-People are serious about reaching the nonTEL-World they need to talk, find time to talk – and to listen.

sculptured people with their ears pressed up against a wall listening

I’m getting repetitive.

I know.

What can you do?

In 2004 Grainne Conole wrote a paper called e-learning: the Hype and the Reality which called for more research informed theory and practice to develop an e-learning framework. In May 2017 Claire McAvinia has asked Why hasn’t Online Learning Transformed Higher Education? Claire has researched the adoption of learning management systems/virtual learning environments because ‘the story of their introduction and use can help us to learn some valuable lessons for the future’ . For more from Claire see Chapter Two, Challenges and Disappointments from the associated book Online Learning and its Users

Like Grainne and Claire, I believe we need to understand the reasons why the the digital shift hasn’t happened. Getting ‘digital’ isn’t a light switch. It isn’t something you can be ‘trained’ into. Digital shifts require cultural shifts which in turn need fundamental changes to attitudes and behavior. How many institutions have changed their VLE but not their VLE practice? How many have pockets of innovative digital interaction between staff and students rather than whole campus changes to learning and teaching? Should we tear up existing approaches and start again.

In 2017, Claire writes about ‘assumption based’ issues which contribute to the recreation of ‘cycles of disappointment’. In 2004, Grainne called for more research informed theory to develop a framework for e-learning. In between are a thousand other publications which cite digital education as the new revolution or claim the virtual has failed. It’s a literature of hope and despair.

scrable tiels spelling hope and despair

Which side are you on?

Learning online can be a transformational experience. There, I’ve said it! The OU’s MA in Open and Distance Learning taught me well.

Hope, I always have hope!

But hope is more than uploading text files and opening a forum.

montage of images all based on Hull City of Culture

What will happen when Hull’s year of culture ends? Has it only attracted those who would have come anyway or is it reaching out to others? Is it making any permanent difference?

The questions can be applied to TEL projects aims at creating digital shifts.

Lets make hope happen.

Any ideas?


The original conception of the digital divide was about access to computers and the internet. This is still an issue for over 6 million in the UK and hundreds of millions in the world. Existing categories of social exclusion align with digital exclusion. When the UK government shifted its digital policy from promoting lack of access to the lack of digital literacies and skills they effectively hid the figures of those who are digitally excluded and who demonstrate a unique 21st century form of disempowerment and discrimination.


Reading suggestions 

Bennett, S. and Oliver, M. (2011) Talking back to theory: the missed opportunities in learning technology research. Research in Learning Technology 19 (3) 179-18

Clegg, S., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) The Emperor’s New Clothes: globalisation and e-learning in Higher Education. British Journal of Scoiology of Education 24 (1) 2003 39-53

Conole, G. (2004) E-Learning: The hype and the Reality. Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2004 (12)

Friesen, N. (2008) Critical Theory Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-learning Ubiquity Volume 2008 Issue June Article No. 2.

Gunn, C. and Steel, C. (2012) Linking theory to practice in learning technology research. Research in Learning Technology Vol 20 (2012).

Kirkwood, A. (2009) E-learning: you don’t always get what you hope for. Technology, Pedagogy and Education 18 (2) 107-121

Kirkwood, A. and Price. L. (2014). Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, Media and Technology, 39(1) pp. 6–36.

Latchem, C. (2005) Failure—the key to understanding success. British Journal of Educational Technology Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 665–667.


Diffusion of Innovations image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_adoption_life_cycle#/media/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png and edited under the permissions of its CC license.

Hull City of Culture images from Hull Daily Mail, all other images from Pixabay


 

hatching the golden technology egg

golden egg in a nest

I’ve been reviewed and restructured. Again. It’ happens a lot. This time I’ve been shifted from technology to academic practice. Sounds good. Our new role is teaching enhancement – which might or might not involve technology – but unlike TEL Advisor colleagues, my role at Hull was ‘Academic’ TEL Advisor so ‘pedagogy first’ from the start.

Over the years, through research as well as practice, I’ve tried to understand where the TEL promise went wrong. Because it did. It has. To this day, TEL remains the domain of the few rather than the many.

image showing a crowd of toy people

It’s 20 years since the The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (1997). The Dearing Report presaged the influence of the internet on HE in terms of globalisation, employability and virtual learning environments. From the start VLE were for the ‘acquisition and delivery of electronic information [including] techniques to improve the management of the teaching and assessment process’ (13.16)

Which words jump out at you? Delivery? Information? Management? If you replace Techniques’ with pedagogy then it could mean active learning but the sentence still reeks of things teachers do rather than students. Language matters so much. Discourse analysis is dead. Statements are accepted at face value (think social media + elections) while the final remnants of postmodernism are smothered by a return to positivism. A rant is brewing. I digress…

signpost showing Hope and Dispair

Dearing offers pockets of hope e.g. VLE require ‘a radical change in attitudes’ (33) because ‘… many staff still see teaching primarily in terms of transmission of information, mainly through lectures’ (8.14). The shift from passive to active pedagogies is welcome, as is development of an effective strategy which involves ‘…guiding and enabling students to be effective learners, to understand their own learning styles, and to manage their own learning.’ (8.15) The concept of ‘learning styles’ has been rightfully challenged (Coffield, 2013) but the principle of autonomous, independent learning remains a keystone of higher education today. However, the problems outlined 20 years ago remain. The internet influences attitudes and practices, employers want digitally capable graduates and institutions continue to make massive investments in technology, chasing that elusive golden technology egg.

basket of coloured eggs

There is a mis-match. An on-campus digital divide. Witnessing reluctance and resistance towards digital ways of working is a common occurrence. The technophobes outweigh the technofans 100-1. When it comes to developing ‘digital capabilities’ (the latest buzz-phrase for digital competence and confidence) there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-model’.  To become ‘digital’ involves a cultural shift, a deep-rooted change in attitudes and beliefs. Filling in a survey or attending a workshop isn’t going to cut it. Neither is the practice of offering online resources to the digitally shy.

cartoon showing a person fighting a wall of technology

Last week I posted a photo of my phd-floor with the hundred plus papers at the core of my literature review. Annotated, highlighted, torn at the edges, covered in coffee stains – I have digital devices, including a Kindle, but this is my preference. The papers are the tangible, visible evidence underpinning my thesis chapter.  They help me ‘see’ the structure and content in a way a table of contents doesn’t.

piles of paper across a floor kindle like device

Yet I believe VLE have the potential for genuine HE experiences which challenge and stretch.  Section 8 of the Dearing Report Students and Learning outlines the C&IT future for higher education. Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is prescient reading. VLE can support ‘…tutorials, simulations, exercises, learning tools and educational games can be highly interactive and provide activities that students need to develop their understanding of others’ ideas and the articulation of their own.’ [8.21) From my own experience, in particular the OU’s MA in Open and Distance Learning, I agree with this and with the list in section 8.2 of the potential affordances of computer-based programmes. But I don’t like this phrase.

Digital education is about the person against the machine. So far the Turing Test remains unpassed. Education is fundamentally a social experience yet Dearing acknowledges ‘…personal contact between teacher and student, and between student and student, gives a vitality, originality and excitement that cannot be provided by machine-based learning, however excellent…individuals are likely to choose to receive information and experience in the company of others, rather than alone.’ (8.21)

computing technologies

For me, the phrase ‘machine based learning’ brings home the reality of TEL in HE being a human v technology binary. Highly rated teaching is interpersonal. Popular staff get votes because of their effective communication skills. No one ever votes up a VLE or module site as inspirational. Looking back to Dearing I wonder if the technofans expected too much from the start, influenced by the rhetorical promises of the sales pitch – or if we simply misread the evidence.

three medals bronze, silver and gold

HE has moved into an era of ‘teaching excellence’. Regardless of our frustration at the metrics, the TEF is here. It underpins our new team remit of teaching enhancement and I welcome the opportunity to revisit the designs of the student learning experience.  Pedagogy first not technology first. Maybe this is where it went wrong. HEFCE’s eLearning Strategy (2005) tried to address the technological determinism of the Dearing Report but it was too late. The digital horse had bolted.

Success depends on ‘…appropriate technology, adequate resources and staff development’ as well as ‘…the effective management of change.’ (13.10).  Maybe of necessity, the Dearing Report has a technology first focus. Today it’s different. VLE (meaning all virtual tools and platforms) are here, embedded and present. The golden tech egg is sitting in its nest and the time has come to hatch it. So let’s start shifting from the ‘how’ to use the tech to the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘why’ instead.


Coffield, F. (2013) Learning styles: time to move on. National College for School Leadership. http://www.learnersfirst.net/private/wp-content/uploads/Opinion-Piece-Learning-styles-time-to-move-on-Coffield.pdf 


images from pixabay except golden egg in a nest from http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/download/golden-egg-nest-03-hd-picture_166586.html 

weed and write this bank holiday weekend

piles of paper across a floor

Am all Ph-Deed out and the allotment is a mess.

The photo above is my floor at home. Is it familiar? Does anyone else have a floor like this? I seem to have forgotten the slip/trip lesson resulting in a broken ankle and cancelled New Zealand trip two years ago.

The photo below is my allotment, taken last night. The wildness of the chives and limnanthes is lovely but the couch grass has taken hold since my last broken ankle (another one – last year).

I love my allotment. It’s sunshine, exercise, food, therapy, catharsis and sheer delight – most of the time.

allotment full of chives and weeds

It’s also hard work and when everything grow’s like crazy, falling behind can  be stressful.

allotment with flowerong sage aallotment with blue forgetmenots

A blog is many things; recording events, reflection, observation, memory jogger, research diary… This blog is all of these and – today – a statement of intent.

A part-time doctorate alongside full-time work feels an impossible challenge. Months pass. The amount of available time decreases as the amount to achieve (research wise) increases.  I have  my data – far more than I need. In terms of the research model I built ages ago and now sits on an inaccessible server rather than in the cloud (lesson learned!) I’ve moved into the third quadrant. Transferring to Northampton has led to a slight shift in emphasis – for the better – which requires a re-review of the literature. Much of the taken-out initial reading around learning design is coming back in – hence the floor. It might be a digital age but hard copy annotation is how I work best. I need all the help I can get!

It’s a bank holiday weekend. For the next three days this is the plan:

  • plant tomatoes and get early morning reading onto Mendeley
  • weed pond area and write up notes from said papers (currently Bart Rientes on learning design)
  • sow barlotti and purple beans (it’s late – I know!) and revisit the recommended adjustments to an accepted ALT paper submitted with colleague Patrick Lynch (who you gonna call? )
  • tidy raspberry canes hidden by weeds and mark PCAP assignments (PhD deviation but deadline is Tuesday)
  • replant  pots in the respite area and write/submit proposal to Research Student Conference (deadline Monday)

Allocate time they say.

Rule off blocks of hours for working they say.

Give up all semblance of a social life or R&R.

They’re not joking!!

Research is like an allotment. It needs time. You have to fit it into your life – or build your life around it.

Without attention is gets a mess – like this…allotment showing weeds

With attention it looks better, you feel better, and progress is achieved. What’s not to like? All it needs is time and commitment.

So this is my statement of intent.

Bring on the bank holiday weekend.

Lets weed and write!

allotment showing fence and greenhouse]