Cracking the digital nut Jisc #connectmore16

cracking the digital nut

Tuesday, Liverpool and my first Jisc Connect event. What I like best about the Jisc advisors, apart from their digital expertise, is how they help you feel less alone. Developing digital capabilities is never easy. The innovators and early adopters don’t need me while the digitally resistant don’t need me either -because changing practice is not high on their agenda. This can be for valid reasons. I have sympathy for workloads as well as reluctance. Ask me to create a pivot table in excel and see the fear in my eyes. But sometimes it isn’t lack of skills or confidence, it’s lack of interest. Indifference can be  less to do with technology and more about adherence to traditional delivery modes like lectures .

What can we do about lectures?

Staff new to higher education expect to give them. New students expect to receive them. At Hull we’ve just acquired Panopto and the TEL-Team have banned the words lecture capture. We’re operating a fine system. One pound for each word. The problem is the connotations. We want to avoid the idea of passive replication of a didactic mode of delivery but it may be too late.

image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_university#/media/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_university#/media/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg

Thanks Phil Vincent @philvincent from YSJ for this quote “The uninspired label ‘lecture capture’ fails to convey the disruptive potential of this tool” (Russell, 2012). All technology has the potential to disrupt traditional ways of working but it can mimic them too.  When contact time with students is squeezed, digital environments can offer ways to extend and enhance learning. Collaboration and interaction beyond the time table might initially involve a learning curve but TEL-Teams can help make small yet incremental changes. But sometimes even a small change is a step to far. So lectures are replicated with little consideration if this is making the most of the opportunities offered by technologies which are tools and not enemies.

image from https://pixabay.com/en/army-blade-compact-cut-equipment-2186/
image from https://pixabay.com/en/army-blade-compact-cut-equipment-2186/ 

The gap between the possibility and the practice of technology is deep and wide beneath me. I spend my working days balanced between theory and reality.  It’s a tightrope above a chasm where learning technologists and digital educational developers fear to tread. Full of late adopters and those with no intention of changing, the walls echo with cries of  ‘but the students love my lectures’, ‘I don’t have time for digital stuff’ and ‘what’s a VLE anyway?’

What are we to do?

We need to talk about reluctance and resistance.  For too long the focus has been on innovation and pushing the boundaries. The divide between the metathesiophobic and the pioneer wearing an occulus or programming NAO robots is increasingly invisible. It’s a clever defense. The best form of protection is to hide.

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Jisc are comforting. They reassure it’s not just me but a similar story in other institutions. Events like Jisc Connect are full of participants who smile with recognition, heads nodding knowingly. It helps temporarily but if the issue is endemic then eradication becomes more difficult and TEL Teams can find themselves in the thick of it.

metathesiophobia paradigmshift

What are the wider issues? What are staff afraid of? Are these fears evidence based?  What works well and why? Some institutions have digital leads at school and programme level, strategic direction, reward and recognition schemes, digital portfolios for CPD and staff development, others have put teacher education online, changed validation processes, resorted to bribery with coffee, cake and chocolate. TEL Teams need more opportunities to talk about sharing practice and the different possibilities for action. I keep my faith in the power of the internet to support student learning and educational opportunities but the digital nut is a long way from being cracked.

Cracking the nut image from presentation by Saf Arfam, VC Development and Innovation Salford City College

 

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Bricking it

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I haven’t played with Lego for years. I wasn’t even sure if it was ok.. Shouldn’t I be working through the TO DO list which, like the magic porridge pot, never stops, it keeps getting longer. I did feel guilty but the clue is in the word serious. This was a day about learning and teaching. If you haven’t taken part in a Lego Serious Play workshop here are some reasons to give it a try.

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Lego Serious Play is Seymour Papert’s ‘Constructionism’ in action. It’s no coincidence that Papert worked with Lego to develop its Mindstorm kits for building robots. You’re learning by making things with your hands and it’s experiential and reflective as well. These are powerful combinations.

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You share the day with educationalists from across the sector . There’s much to learn from teachers in schools and colleges. We should have these cross-over conversations more often.

You quickly learn the brickery is the smallest part if it. The real focus is the eclectic nature of educational practice.

You get to build and the colours and shapes are appealing. When was the last time you heard the clatter and click of a pile of Lego and were faced with limitless options to be creative?

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The range of Lego circa 2016 is amazing but it’s less about the modelling and more about the rationale. Build a tower. Build an animal. Build your ideal learning environment. What does action research look like in Legoland?

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Give someone a task. I had to sequence colours and sizes. In turn I asked for a digital device and was given a mouse. Yes it was fun but it was also a valuable leaning experience.

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The opportunity to do something different can be liberating but Lego places some restrictions on your imagination. It’s evolved hugely from the early days of white, red and green. In my tub were pink and orange  bricks. I had eyes, steering wheels and joysticks while the main table had boats, bikes, rocket parts and an endless range of characters. Nevertheless, you’re still more or less working with straight lines so ideas don’t always turn out as planned. Although part of the process is not to plan. Let your hands do the thinking and see what happens.  If your cat isn’t instantly recognisable as a cat but to you it’s a cat then it’s a cat and that’s that!  The purpose is why you chose it and how this connects to your understanding of learning and teaching.

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Plato is alleged to have said ‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.‘ Education is about developing relationships with strangers and teaching involves finding ways to make things happen for other people. Ramsden described teaching as the art of making learning possible. Rather than knowledge transmission, it should be about understanding and reconceptualising while Biggs suggests constructive alignment to achieve higher order learning. Here, providing a variety of learning activities can help meet learning outcomes. Lego Serious Play is an activity with a difference but it works. The bricks are like alternative words. Click them together and see what happens. There’s no right or wrong way to build so it equalises and because it’s a different approach it offers alternative ways of seeing and understanding.

The photos on this page show something of the range of creative thinking and outputs. It may be time to get the Lego from the attic!

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The word Lego is from the Danish leg godt, which means ‘play well’ and we did, but without doubt this LEGO® Serious Play® is serious stuff!


Thanks to Chrissi Nerantzi and Stephen Powell from MMU. Further information about LSP workshops from http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/teaching/lego_sp.php  


Seymour Papert (1993) Mindstorms; Children Computers and Powerful Ideas.

Paul Ramsden (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education.

John Biggs and Catherine Tang (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Third Edition.

 

Digital Storytelling; not an end but a beginning

Digital Storytelling presentation slide

The first workshop introduced the craft of storytelling. We were sent away to produce a script for the second where we’d make it happen. It was bright and sunny on the outside but inside the computer lap it was turning into ‘one of those days’. Facilitator Chris Thomson must have thought it was sabotage. First there was no sound through his laptop. Despite the best efforts of an ICT technician it refused to play through the system. Meanwhile work had started on a new road. Just outside. Which more than made up for any lack of sound on the inside. We’d opened all the windows because it was so hot. Now the choice was heat up or shout out. The irony of Chris’s slides telling us audio was the most important component of a digital story and the need for a quiet location to record was not lost – that isn’t wine in Chris’s glass – honest!

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Digital stories make great teaching tools. We all tell stories or anecdotes in one way or another. They can help explain something complex or show a different point of view. Contextualising knowledge within a story helps understanding and makes it more memorable while digital stories can be more engaging than a page of text or a report. They’re reusable and if you have the original materials they can be re-purposable as well. As you can probably tell, I’m an advocate. As well as learning and teaching aids, they’re useful development tools. To build the story you have to be critical and reflective; make decisions about what to put in and take out. Above all they’re opportunities to be digitally adventurous and creative. While the story itself can be about anything, the one rule was keep it short. Three minutes was the suggested maximum.

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At Hull we’re developing a digital capabilities framework for the university and I’m looking for original ways to support staff with exploring new digital ways of working. Story making offers opportunities to work with a range of artifacts and software. I often hear people say they can’t do audio or video because you need a professional studio with high end kit. My approach is DIY can be ‘good enough’. Phones and digital cameras take ‘good enough’ images and video and free software can  help you make a ‘good enough’ video. We used Audacity and Audacity Portable for recording and WeVideo for editing.

For me, digital stories tick all the boxes for learning development, digital CPD. You get something usable at the end and leave with the skills, knowledge and ideas for creating them in the future.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#686306411

Above it was fun. Completed stories will be showcased at the Learning and Teaching Conference in July and we plan is to repeat the workshops at School and Department level next year. Although the Jisc workshops have finished this is not the end of digital storytelling at Hull. It’s the beginning.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#687165951

On innovative pedagogy; looking behind as well as forwards #lthechat

Simon Rae’s illustration from the #lthechat Innovative Pedagogy

What does pedagogical innovation look like? Q2 from this weeks #lthechat on Twitter has stayed with me. Share an example of pedagogic innovation you experienced as a learner. I don’t remember many individual lessons or lectures but what does come back is learning by doing. Making butter in milk bottles. Spinning frames of honeycomb. Growing crystals in Chemistry. The effect of alcohol on individual response times in Psychology.  Visits to factories and fishing docks. Geology on the coast and Geography on the Wolds. Then I look at VLE and think how can pedagogic innovation be experienced via a laptop or other mobile device? While digital media offers useful alternatives to plain text, virtual learning experiences continue to risk being flat and isolating which in turn means they are too often ignored.

red sign with the message wrong way in white letters
image from https://pixabay.com/en/false-worse-off-shield-note-98375/

The phrase pedagogic innovation reminded me of the annual Innovating Pedagogies reports produced by the OU   These suggest ways digital technology can extend and enhance learning. After this week’s tweetchat I revisited them looking for inspiration. It’s always interesting to look back with hindsight. Badges, MOOC, BYOD, ebooks, gaming and big data all make appearances. The word ‘learning’ is prefaced with seamless, crowd, event based, flipped, storytelling, context, computational, incidental, embodied and rhizomatic; all presented as examples of innovation. I’m looking for ways to transfer repository models of VLE use to more interactive learning opportunities but while there is theory in abundance the practice is less easy to achieve. I set up a discussion forum but no one used it so I didn’t bother again is an often-heard phrase. It’s a familiar scenario yet social media and mobile devices are making digital communication common and every year more of our lives are being lived out online so why does effective pedagogic use VLE remain so challenging?

black and white image o the Matterhorm mountain
image from https://pixabay.com/en/matterhorn-switzerland-mountain-918442/

When it comes to barriers to digital engagement, VLE are high on the list. They’re not always attractive and, like it or not, appearance matters. Many resemble digital depository dumps when long lists of links can be a deterrent. Most staff are not learning technologists or designers so the expectation they will create interesting, interactive sites may be unrealistic. Too often VLE themselves are presented as solutions to student diversity, retention, access and attainment when they are simply content containers. It’s how they’re used which makes the difference and this not only requires pedagogic knowledge and experience, it demands higher levels of digital capabilities than are too frequently assumed to exist.

Mark Styles 2007 paper Death of the VLE has not aged. It remains relevant today and maybe more so, as social media offer alternatives. Likewise Oleg Liber’s Framework for Pedagogical Evaluation of eLearning Environments which is usefully read alongside Jisc’s Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models by Mayes and de Freitas.  Meanwhile the monolithic VLE rampages on. Blackboard grows larger, Moodle continues to hold its own and Canvas is emerging as a serious contender. VLE remain centre stage of most institutional digital education strategies whereas it should be pedagogy at the top. VLE useage mirrors existing practice and so long as this continues to follow traditional transmission and knowledge replication  models, online environments are unlikely to be anything different.

The questions asked on this weeks #lthechat would be a useful basis for any education development workshop but as they showed, innovative pedagogy is about looking behind as well as to the future. When it comes to technology enhanced learning, innovation is good but the advantage of hindsight means looking to what’s already happened can be even better.

Tweetroot of #lthechat
Tweetroot of #lthechat

#lthechat pedagogic innovation questions asked by Professor Ale Armellini (@alejandroa) 01/06/16

  • Q1: What does “pedagogic innovation” mean to you?
  • Q2: Share an example of pedagogic innovation, which you experienced as a learner.
  • Q3: Share one criterion that, in your view, innovative pedagogic practice in HE should meet or exceed (for example innovation should enable x or make y possible)
  • Q4: Share 1 example (initiative, trend, new concept) hailed as pedagogically innovative. Does it meet the criterion identified in Q3?
  • Q5: Do you agree with the message conveyed in the attached slide? What is that message, exactly?

two column table comparing past and present approaches to learning and teaching

  • Q6: What will your next pedagogic innovation be? (Please be uber creative here! no pressure…)