Assumptions are the root of digital exclusion. Functions like right click, drag, drop, swipe, long press or pinch mean nothing to some. Zipping and unzipping, minimise, maximise and working within folder structures have passed them by. Opening a new browser tab can be a step too far while trying Chrome or Firefox when IE fails to interpret a command is just not going to happen.
If we are serious about technology enhanced and blended learning, we need to face up to reality. The digital baseline for many staff who teach and support learning is lower than many ICT staff, learning technologists and digital education developers might expect. At a time of growing interest in DIY models like Lynda.com and the growth in online VLE support, the onus is being placed on individuals to discover answers to problems. This assumes levels of digital comfort which simply do not exist.
Did I say assumptions are the root of digital exclusion?
So what to do?
Digital way of working have had many names. Skills, Literacies, Capabilities; each new iteration more complex than the one before. To work comfortably online not only demands a huge learning curve, it has also become a cultural shift. The internet is no longer somewhere you go for a specific task or piece of information; it’s become a vast informed network. Call it Connectivism or Rhizomatics or simply social media, it has fueled a revolution in our capacity to be continually in touch with those we see every day, only here and there or have never met. Functioning in these spaces requires attention to digital profiles, safety, data protection and skills in the vagaries of online communication where there are no fall backs like eye contact or body language to help interpret identity or meaning.
To be digitally capable has become so much more than buttons.
Raising awareness of the true picture of digital capabilities is essential but self-diagnostic tools and surveys rarely reach those who are less digitally active so accurate data can be difficult to source. In the meantime, every day in every way assumptions are made about the digital abilities of strangers. The only way to find out what support is needed, and where best to target it, is to spend time in their company. There’s no getting away from it. We need to talk.
This week #creativeHE has been offering opportunities to reflect on creative approaches to learning and teaching. Before applying creativity to practice, it helps to explore what it means to be creative in the first place. Definitions include the use of imagination and challenging traditional ways of being and seeing. Be original. It reminds me of Imagist Ezra Pound’s call to ‘Make it new’. When it comes to the VLE, there’s scope for reviewing current approaches. Digital depository models show little evidence of creativity. They replicate transmissive style lectures which many staff seem welded to. We need to ‘Make it new’ in TEL-world and rethink the promotion of blended approaches.
Each #creativeHE day began with a video and questions to consider. These can be viewed on the site. They are well worth a look. One core message from the week was how creative thinking needs time; a quality always in short supply. James Clay’s has examined the excuse ‘I haven’t got the time’ concluding it’s a question of priorities. But as an excuse, it implies ‘I would if I could’. True resistance is ‘even if I could I wouldn’t because I don’t want to’. This is the reality for many TEL workers and digital education developers, caught in the middle between institutional strategy and academic resistance to change, especially of the digital kind. I’ve come to the conclusion it isn’t a question of time. It’s a question of attitude.
How can creative thinking be applied to VLE adoption? My own solution has been an experiential approach. Digital CPD where staff are enrolled on the VLE with a student view. This does two things. It highlights low levels of digital capabilities. These are the norm in most HEIs but get rendered invisible to those accustomed to working with digi-tech on a daily basis. Like attracts like. Also staff will see how a digital depository model is little more than a text dump. Students need to read but you can get them searching and synthesising for themselves rather than throwing up a wall of hyperlinks. Creating activities which adopt social media techniques of user-generated content and file sharing will build on and extend existing practices. Talk to your TEL team about online pedagogies. Talk to your students. Make it an expectation the VLE constitutes a core part of their learning experience.
Don’t get me wrong. Time is an issue. I struggle too. A p/t creative writing degree, p/t Phd, full time job plus an allotment keep me time-poor and stressed while I’ve been an ‘online student’ enough to know it requires motivation to succeed. But the value of digital space is choice about where and when to access while affordances for communication and collaboration provide valuable extensions to face-to-face learning. Institutional support for digitally resistant staff, unwilling to adopt the VLE as part of their teaching toolkit, is essential. As #creativeHE has shown this week, the first requirement is always time but when faced with resistance to using VLE in the first place then I suspect it’s attitude which matters most of all. The #creativeHE site offers free examples of how online learning can be interactive, meaningful and fun. This is the digital future of education and we should all aspire to be part of it.
Digital storytelling is like blended learning. It fuses the traditional oral craft of story telling with 21st century technology. As TEL Teams support staff to bring VLE into their traditional f2f forms of teaching practice, so digital stories merge past and present. This week was the first digital storytelling workshop at the University of Hull. facilitated by Chris Thomson, Jisc Advisor. Details of the day can be accessed here https://sway.com/leZaeMETBElB1zVM The workshop included the following examples which show how digital media extends what was once a primary mode of communication; the telling of tales.
In My Alaska Story Julia Fuer shows you don’t have to be a video expert or use professional software. Monochrome images overlaid with a narrative offer memorable visual experiences. Click the image below to go to the WeVideo site
Participant/Observation is a powerful (and potentially upsetting) story from a research project in Pakistan.
Cheese sandwich from workshop facilitator Chris Thomson told a personal story which can be related to on multiple levels. Who hasn’t found themselves hungry and faced with limited options for food?
Rummaging around the internet I found an archived blog post by Chris. Responding to a challenge that this style of digital storytelling is too static in an internet age, Chris lists examples of more high-tech interactie style digital stories such as these:
I liked these less. The problem for me is they shift into the realm of professional digital media. I believe the craft of digital storytelling should be within everyone’s reach. Working with photographs you’ve taken, capturing video on a mobile phone, recording a narration on any personal device. As soon as you critique the common form of the digital story promoted by Chris and colleagues, saying it fails to take advantage of the affordances of the internet for interaction, then you take away the personal power we have to tell our own stories in digital ways.
Like an open fire, storytelling taps into our collective unconscious. Stories can have multiple levels and an impact which stays with you. They can be about individual or institutional success, sharing pedagogical and other forms of practice or be a record of personal memories. The best stories will always be those about human lives and experiences. However, their greatest value is keeping the telling within the realms of our own digital capabilities and comfort.
There’s no better way to start the day than breakfast with the TEL Team and invited speakers. This week the bacon and sausage butties were accompanied by Dr Helga Bartels-Hardege from the School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences who talked about student blogs.
Blogging is being used to encourage students on school placements to reflect on their experiences. The expectation is one blog per week over 20 weeks and to comment on the postings of their peers. The first thing most students do is turn off the commenting function. Helga’s question was how to encourage science students to engage in reflection. It’s an interesting question.
While most (but not all) students were making posts, they were more descriptive than reflective, as in ‘this is what happened’ rather than a ‘what I did, why I did it and what I might do differently next time’ approach. Science students are used to dealing with facts but should this preclude the self-directed process of analysing and evaluating understanding of individual learning processes.
What always works well are opportunities to get together and share practice and points of view. Suggestions from the TEL Breakfast included putting students into smaller groups, mixing school ages within the groups (primary, secondary, 6th form) and using model comparisons of stronger and weaker examples of reflection. If changing from summative to formative assessment mighty encourage students to share their posts was discussed and if changing from a flat text-based environment to a more multimedia supported blog might create an increased sense of value and ownership.
Reflection seems to be a bit like technology enhanced learning. Promise and expectation don’t quite match the reality. It’s one thing to theorise about the strengths of TEL or reflective practice from an academic or learning development perspective, but another thing to transfer the potential value where the prerequisite digital capabilities are absent or students are unused to the processes of personal review. Mindset is a powerful predictor of behaviour and perceptions of higher education can be firmly fixed. These are the real challenges to be faced.