Metathesiophobia and other #udigcap take-aways

Fear of change signpost
image from https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/changes_ahead.html

Like attracts like and for some time the education technology community has been talking to an audience which mirrors itself. The focus has been on innovation while the experience of non-adoption was largely ignored. At the UCISA Spotlight conference, it was good to see low TEL take-up being highlighted. Possibilities for lack of interest included fear of change (metathesiophobia), not setting baseline capabilities low enough and the number of digitally shy and reluctant staff being greater than realised. While highlighting problems doesn’t solve them, it’s a step in the right direction.

cartoon showing a person battling with a wall of a technology

One question raised was if the word ‘training’ had reached the end of its useful lifespan. I used to think the T word was part of the problem but trying to define the difference between training and teaching, the lines soon began to blur.

Training is about skills and functionality so tends to be instructional. It’s a read the manual, follow the checklist approach whereas teaching covers a broader knowledge base including the why, where and when as well as the how. You could say training is the practice and teaching is the theory. While training often follows behaviorist principles of didactic, passive pedagogies, teaching today is supposed to be more constructivist, collaborative and active. Maybe the teaching continues where the training stops. So far so good. But we’ve all experienced training as doing and teaching as listening. Once you begin to dig down it can be less easy to tell them apart.

When it comes to TEL, training is the more dominant approach but where it focuses on  specific tools like a VLE, any personal context can be missing. When this happens, it’s easy to leave the workshop, go back to the office and carry on as before. So what can we do to encourage meaningful take up of TEL? I took away the following ideas.

Make it relevant: TEL needs to fit within the context of each individual subject discipline so make time for one-to-one and teaching-team conversations. We need to talk. Not just to each other but to the digitally shy and reluctant. We need new ways to reach out and find those wedded to more traditional, analogue modes of teaching.
Make it different: explore more creative approaches to supporting staff and students to use digital technologies their practice. I was awarded a UCISA Bursary to attend the Playful Learning Conference in July where I’ll be looking for new ways to promote TEL in the future. The Dig Cap Play Track usefully opened up ideas around gamification, personae and different approaches to the use of case studies and problem based learning. We not only need to talk to digitally resistant staff but also to focus on new ways of learning with each other.
Make it experiential: look at review and revision of CPD, staff development and teacher education to explore scope for providing some, more or all of it online. Enrol staff as students on the VLE to give them the student viewpoint and opportunities to reflect on aligning this with their own teaching practice. The internet is not going away and it’s no longer possible to ignore its influence on knowledge acquisition and employability. Students need to develop digital graduate attributes while TEL can offer broader and inclusive access to learning opportunities.
Make it rewarding: where possible allocate small amounts of funding for incentivisation and recognition of creative digital work. Develop institutional digital rewards and on a local level make use of chocolate and biscuits. Try Jane Secker’s great idea of using of fortune cookies containing digital hints and tips. Look at what other institutions are doing with regard to creative approaches to digital education. If the old isn’t working it’s time to focus on the new.

plate of chocolate chip cookies
image from https://pixabay.com/en/photos/chocolate%20chip/
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Dig Cap Game Track, a gamification initiation #udigcap

Avatar characters from UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference game

  • The first task is to give the avatar their name.
  • Then write their back story.
  • Or better still, watch the Call to Arms video, join the UCISA Digital Capability Community, find your group, email  your Twitter name, introduce yourself to your team members and let the game begin.

This is the second UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference at Austin Court, Birmingham, 25-26 May and we were  playing Dig Cap Play Track.

Dig Cap Play Track cartoon stril
Eve Turner-Lee @artladycomic

The work which went into setting this up was phenomenal. Kudos to Fiona MacNeill @fmacneill and Farziaa Latiff @farzanalatif for their inspiration, knowledge and technical skills 🙂

Why Gamification? To explore the use of game design metaphors to create more game-like and enjoyable experiences’  (Marczewjki, 2015 p 11)

Each team had to create a digital story outlining the current digital ‘need-to-knows’ for each group’s assigned person: IT Director, Student, Academic or Admin Staff. Points were awarded for engagement with the community, tweeting, exploring the Introspective Room and making a digital nirvana box (see images below) before publishing and disseminating the story online.  Scores were collated on a RISE leaderboard with prizes for the winning teams.

TakeAways

I’m the non-gamer in the family. Apart from Treasure Island Dizzy on a Spectrum 48 and brief addiction to Candy Crush, my experience is limited to vicarious exposure to Heavy Rain and Witcher. I’ve never been a great fan of charades or cards and its been a long since I played chess or any other board game. However, in recent months I’ve been watching Joel Mills use Minecraft and was looking forward to seeing Dig Cap Play Track progress.

The minimum requirement was a mobile device and a Twitter account. Oh, and wifi. Poor connections proved to be a challenge and some participants had problems checking in with the i-beacons in the Introspective room, even with notifications enabled on the ucisa app. Of 91 players, 53 used Twitter (58%) while 38 (42%) did not. There were 12 teams but only one had a full contingent of Twitter users. The gaps might have been people opting not to use Twitter or changing their minds about playing and opting out altogether. The the disparity in numbers resulted in uneven opportunities to win points and although Twitter was not compulsory, it felt the scoreboard was more about the tweets than the digital story. Communication between team members was patchy in spite of a number of contact options; the online Community, Twitter, coloured tags on the name badges and visible meet-up points in the refreshment area.

UCISA conference name badge

Overall, the quality of any gamification event depends on the motivation  of the players. Even accounting for the inevitable differences in personality and enthusiasm, when half of more of the team is absent it makes it difficult and the intermittent wifi added to the problems. But for those who played it was a valuable experience on multiple levels. There was the instant commeradery between team members, opportunities to engage with a variety of different digital tools, the challenge of competing for points and some valuable reflection on how much the internet has impacted on higher education over the past 16 years.

There was so much going on at the conference that sometimes playing the game felt like overload. However, because so many point gaining activities were threaded throughout e.g. the tweeting, the Introspective room, the Nirvana Box etc it did create additional elements of fun. Fiona and Farzana worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen and it will be interesting to see what the evaluations show from a broader participant response.

my badge

Was it worth playing? Definitely yes! Even though my team didn’t complete the digital story, the game stimulated conversations and ideas which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Apart from the intermittent wifi and invisible team players, the only other downside was lack of time to engage fully with the story development. A good conference is a busy conference with things to see and people to talk to and if you’re presenting as well, it isn’t always easy to find spaces for extra curricula activities. Maybe building in time out for the game activities would be worth consideration next time. I hope there will be a next time. I think I could get used to this gamification pursuit!

the distance between digital innovation and capability

screen imge showing web page not available message

The University of Leeds has announced a partnership with FutureLearn to offer a credit-bearing online course Environmental Challenges. This will be the first mooc of its kind in the UK. Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, claims the new mooc offers flexibility because ‘Online education is available to anyone with access to the Internet’ and ‘Just as the digital world has transformed other areas of life, so higher education will be no exception. I strongly believe that universities need to be offering substantially more online learning.

Describing new digital approaches in higher education as ‘a great leveller’, Professor Morris cites the Government’s White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy and the Higher Education and Research Bill which puts teaching excellence, student choice and social mobility at the top of the agenda. The mooc is being promoted as a method for realising the white paper’s stress on flexibility and access, yet the document makes no mention of internet supported technology, other than a single reference to ‘the complexities of digital delivery’ with regard to measuring contact hours (p48). While debates about defining teaching quality continue, it seems technology enhanced learning is absent from the arena. By default this excludes any mention of ensuring digital inclusion, with regard to both access and practice.

Fresh from the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference, and two days of discussing the distance between digital innovation and digital capability, it’s clear this is another gap between assumptions and outcomes. Far from online courses offering ‘more efficient, competitive and learner-focused study options’ the reality is they’re more likely to exacerbate existing social inequality and discriminatory power imbalances.

Students on this particular mooc-route to higher education will pay for their participation and assessment. Each of the five course certificates cost £59 with a sixth assessment course at £250 and the total £545 covering access to online library content. The mooc-route has a price as well as the need for prerequisite digital capabilities, while internet access should never be taken for granted.

The UCISA conference suffered wifi problems while connections were poor at the hotel. It was a useful reminder of the risks of living digital lives in the cloud.

message saying internet connection was interrupted

Lack of access also resonated with the conference’s opening video interview where Martha Lane Fox talked about the need for digital equality and skills. Digital divides have complex social structures. Their greatest disadvantage is their invisibility but they exist everywhere, including on campus. As higher education incrementally shifts towards a mix of blended, flipped and distance learning, the need to identify and engage with digitally invisible students and staff has become a problem for which we have no clear solutions.

Seven years ago, Diana Laurillard described how ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’  While the government pushes towards its student flexibility and mobility agendas, the promise of the digital continues to persuade decision makers that virtual is the way forward. The theory and the potential of digital education certainly offers promise but its practice less often fulfills it. The sector needs more opportunities like the UCISA event to discuss not just minding the gaps but in finding and appropriately bridging them too.

Time to flex your hashtags

image from https://pixabay.com/en/twitter-tweet-bird-funny-cute-117595/

If you’re new to social media, Twitter is a useful starting point. Ignore the negative hype around celebrities and breakfasts. Twitter works because it’s what you make it. You choose who to follow and can block unwanted followers. On Twitter you’re in control, not only of your own Twittersphere but who you want to share it with. Hashtags make useful aggregators while additional tools like Buffer and Pocket help manage tweeting times as well as offering a handy curation service. Twitter’s 140 character limit is conducive to preciseness which is a valuable skill for all. The limit keeps tweets neat. You can also include an image to extend or emphasise the message. At the moment this takes up extra characters but maybe not for much longer ‘Twitter to stop counting photos and links in character limit’

Yet Twitter can be divisive. Not everyone likes it. An excellent blog post from @KerryPinny I am rubbish at Twitter highlights some of this ambivalence, in particular around life balance and TMI (too much information), but on reflection I wonder how much Twitter-resistance is about the wider issues associated with putting yourself online in the first place. After all, it can be a scary thing to do. While the nuances of a face-to-face conversation are soon forgotten, tweets stick and this stickiness is a justifiable worry, in particular where deleting texts is no guarantee of their demise. Yet there are definite benefits to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Twitter networks can become valuable sources of information. Like attracts like and this can be useful for a range of educational topics. Also, just when you thought you were the only person in the world with a particular problem, Twitter leads you to those with similar issues and becomes a great source of shared comfort and advice.

When Kerry tweeted her blog post, @jamesclay responded with a list of Things people say about using twitter but really you shouldn’t Number one on the list is an wry ‘Never write a blog post telling people how they should use Twitter!’ but in reality, there’s value in offering advice for Twitter newbies who might be unsure what it’s all about. At the risk of tipping the balance between self-promotion and collective wisdom, here’s a link to my own ‘Ten Tips for Neat Tweets’ this was posted prior to my #LTHEchat session on accessibility. These weekly chats take place 8.00-9.00 p.m. on Wednesdays and are Storified afterwards. https://lthechat.com has a record of the sessions and offers valuable insight into how Twitter brings people together to share information and practice.For those new to Twitter, the hashtag #LTHEchat is a great place to begin.

Twitter also ticks all the elements of the Jisc digital capabilities model. Using Twitter requires confidence with the inner circle of ICT proficiency and the outer circle of digital identity and reputation as well as showcasing professional learning, developing a range of literacies, artefacts and practices plus demonstrating effective online communication and collaboration. It’s  a great example of technology enhanced learning too.

Phew! Let’s get Twitterate. Go forth and Tweet.

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An extended version of this post first appeared on the UCISA Training Community in relation to the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference 25/26 May 2016 #udigcap.  

From Lego to Minecraft; alternative approaches to learning and teaching

A discussion on a Jisc mail list (ALDinHE; the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) is promoting the use of LEGO® and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.  I am intrigued. Not because I’m any good with making things, it’s more about interest in new concepts for old problems.

My first encounter with Lego was this explanation of SOLO Taxonomy. It worked for me. I was also interested in Carina Buckley’s paper Conceptualising plagiarism; using Lego to construct students’ understanding of authorship and citation which describes making visible the ‘underlying theoretical philosophy of referencing and plagiarism by using Lego as a mode of authorship.’  There is clearly scope for closer investigation of what Lego can do. A useful starting point is Innovating in the Creative Arts with Lego. This report by Dr Alison James promotes Lego as representation of complex ideas in three dimensional forms. It can be a ‘playful and imaginative alternatives to traditional ways of learning and engaging.

The Prompting Reflection through Play video from Manchester Met’s CELT refers  to using Lego as ‘thinking with your hands.’

During the workshop, Lego is used to create metaphors. This sounds like a form of three dimensional reflection. If external shapes represent internal thoughts then I suspect working with Lego is as much about the process as the end result.

In June I’m attending a Lego workshop at Manchester Met. Play is not my strong point so it may not work for me but underpinning this is wanting to rethink approaches to developing digital capabilities.  I’m looking for ways to stimulate discussion which are non-digital. If going online in the first place is uncomfortable then presenting solutions in digital formats risks creating further barriers. I think we need to go back to basics to establish how low a digital capabilities baseline should be. This requires old fashioned face to face communication. At times like these, where we need to talk, it’s possible an alternative approach like using Lego might work to stimulate conversation. One thing is for sure. I won’t know unless I try.

It isn’t only Lego Serious Play which is attracting interest. The HEA have recently produced a toolkit for Gamification and Games-Based Learning Closer to home the principles of gamification are being realised through the pedagogical potential of Minecraft. Joel Mills and March Lorch at the University of Hull have created Molcraft; an animated world of amino acids and molecules.

Minecraft reminds me of the immersive learning experiences I encountered in Second Life; another alternative form of learning. Virtual 3D reality is now 360 degrees thanks to technologies like Oculus and Google Cardboard. High tech approaches like these make Lego look a little basic but compared to the digital, Lego is more accessible and inclusive. Therein I think lies the power in keeping it simple. Whatever the method, the message is the same. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

Digital overload, choice and consequence

digital wave image

There’s been an interesting debate in the TEL-Team this week over online communication. It’s set me thinking about information overload and how many channels we can be expected to simultaneously manage. This led to thoughts around digital capabilities. It didn’t take long to conclude reluctance to adopt new ways of working is not necessarily a matter of digital confidence. It’s about choice and consequence.

image of a red pill and a blue pill symbolising choice

We’re expected to manage work loads. This involves making choices about when and where to communicate online. The ubiquity of email makes it a hard act to follow. We complain about volume but most of us have devised methods to cope.

emial inbox menu showing 99999 items

Any alternative doesn’t take the place of email. It sits alongside it, doubling the need for checking, reflecting and response and represents additional workload. When it came to adopting additional social media for internal communications, the TEL Team responded in different ways. If we apply the Residents and Visitors analogy, some were residentials, slotting the new channel alongside existing ones while others adopted a visitor approach, using it as and where necessary. Others were reluctant to use it at all. This reaffirms how digital engagement is ultimately about choice.

martini logo with the words anytime, anyplace, anywhere

Social media is the epitome of the internet effect. Like the Martini add, wet. We can be connected to anyone – anytime – anywhere – but only if they are also part of the digital shift. It’s easy to make assumptions about engagement but ultimately we make choices about what works best for us. Decisions are based on assessment of investment versus payoffs. If the initial expense offers what seems like poor returns then adoption is unlikely to take place. For new ways of team working to be effective, they have to be meaningful. Without personal reward, change is unlikely to last beyond initial trial and taste.

question mark made up of jigsaw pieces

 

So where does that leave us now? I think it may give insight into the wider issues around digital adoption. The TEL Team are a talented group of people with individual specialisms and expertise. We’re all comfortable with being online but still choose to engage in different ways. So if eight digital professionals can demonstrate such disparate responses to adopting a new communication channel, what does this tell us about VLE adoption across a large university campus?  Is reluctance more about digital overload than digital resistance? What are the consequences of  choosing not to change? The answers to some of the bigger questions around digital capabilities may be closer to home than we realise.

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digital wave image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/7537238368
email inbox from https://www.flickr.com/photos/restlessglobetrotter/2660204217 
red pill blue pill image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Red_and_blue_pill.jpg