Ludic Lego and theory head

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I don’t mean to be repetitive but there’s something of a theme going on here – the Lego has been out again. It was the final catch-up for LLI and the TEL-Team at the University of Hull for this academic year.  These ‘catch-ups’ are less formal than ‘meetings’. The idea was a regular slot for sharing news on the digital front. Library and Learning Innovation are student facing while the TEL-Team are staff facing but we both deal with learning technology so it makes sense to share practice – with tea and biscuits.

So far there’s been a number of instances of ‘I didn’t know  that!’ Which was the original idea. Then we decided to alternate news swapping with a more in depth look at something we’re involved with.  Fresh from the Lego Serious Play workshop it was suggested I say a bit more about it. As the essence of LSP is learning by doing, it made sense to dig out the Lego from the attic.

It reinforced how much Lego has changed! While the large box of mixed bricks contained a bit of everything; people, horses, spaceships, wheels and some Technic, it wasn’t as bright or diverse as Lego is today. There was a lack of eyes and other features like trees, flowers and smiley bricks plus a distinct lack of pink and orange. Also it wasn’t as ‘clickable’. If you’re serious about Lego Serious Play then a trip to a Lego Shop and investing in some pick ‘n mix is probably the way to go. But it didn’t stop the innovation. We built towers and (aspirational) movable objects then focused on creating a digital learning environment. The outputs were diverse and insightful. Many incorporated the blurring between real and virtual e.g. how we are located in dual environments as both staff and students and need to find common ground for effective communication.

An extra advantage for me is the insight into the thoughts and research practices of colleagues in LLI. The PhD application is being processed and the theory head is coming back. Doctorates are lonely experiences so opportunities to share thoughts are always welcome. Tweets following the Lego session led me to the Collision of Two Worlds blog post  by Carl Barrow (typical of the serendipitous learning affordances of social media).  Carl’s library scenario parallels my thoughts around the duality of f2f and virtual teaching spaces, while Lee Fallin has generously shared some of his EdD research on space. The focus is library space but the broader theoretical framework which brings together Marxist and postmodernist perspectives has had me rummaging on my bookshelves for David Harvey and Fredric Jameson, blowing the dust from Best and Kellner and reflecting on the power and control of an anti-pm (ex) supervisor for controlling the direction of your research! Now I’m beginning to re-engage with theory, the ‘academic library’ perspectives of my LLI colleagues is really helping, not only with regard to my own work but adding a different and relevant HE perspective. Maybe we should arrange some regular research catch-ups as well!

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We need to talk Pokemon Go and alcohol

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Something somewhere has gone terribly wrong. Educational technology has journals, books,  professional qualifications and conferences but it’s the same names and faces appearing again and again. We need to talk but the people we need the conversations with never turn up. It sounds incredible but true – you can have a role in higher education which involves teaching and supporting learning but doesn’t comply with any baseline requirements for digital competence. Digital incompetence is more common alongside attitudes like I don’t use social media, admin manage assessment, VLE are for module handbooks, students won’t turn up if I put my lecture notes online.

The roots of digital resistance are deep.

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You can divide the population with the words ‘Pokemon Go’. I’ve no interest in Pokemon but it only took a few minutes to download and get started and now I’ve a better idea what the media fuss is about. Poekman Go is less about Weedle, Pidgey, Eevee and Rattata and more about digital CPD. Lack of first hand experience creates the risk of being judgmental. Experiential learning is more successful than didactic approaches. Just as higher order thinking skills are integral to a higher education, so inquiry and evaluation are integral to becoming digitally capable. If students live in a world of augmented reality and instant mobile communication, it makes sense to look at how their existing skills might be applied to learning and teaching. Doesn’t it?

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This year I sense the winds of change are blowing. There’s a shift in attitude. If you’re not digitally literate and capable then why are you here in the first place? How did you get the job if you’re unable make appropriate use of social media, build collaborative learning environments, give feedback via audio and video?

There’s an expectation students will leave university as employable adults but the  digital dimensions of graduate attributes are too often neglected. Society needs critical users of the internet who can tell the difference between peer reviewed knowledge, media bias and personal opinion. Somewhere between induction and graduation, staff who teach or support learning have a responsibility to help students get there.

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So how digitally capable are you? Where did it appear on your job description list of essential criteria? How was it tested at interview? What do you mean it wasn’t included? Are you telling me you work in higher education with responsibility for student learning and no one bothered to check your attitudes to social media, how mobile devices might be used in lectures, assessing e-portfolios, giving multimedia feedback, the risks of online communication, the hazards of app based learning, creative commons, open access, barriers to online participation? What do you mean you’ve never taken part in a webinar? Here’s your webcam and headset.  Would you prefer a laptop or a tablet and I don’t mean paracetamol.

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The phrase digital capabilities has replaced digital literacies. These were more a measurement of skills like the ECDL and today literacies are the starting not the finishing point. Yet the language of digital capabilities contains ambiguity. The elements are like alcohol adverts which ask adults to be drink aware – drink sensibly – be responsible – without actually saying what this means or how it might translate into real world behaviours. The result is confusion about what to do for the best.

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The Jisc Digital Capabilities model offers a six element structure of digital ways of working to be addressed. The teacher, learner, researcher profiles provide frameworks for applying these to practice but what difference will it really make when it’s the same people talking to each other?

We need to talk. We need to find out more about digital shyness and reluctance. Tackle the excuses  and find resources, rewards and recognition to make developing digital capabilities possible   I think one of the problems  is when people believe technology is not for them. Well, I’m no technology expert but have learned digital capabilities are attitudinal. They’re about the cultural shift from acquiring knowledge to knowing where to find it. Today it’s less about what you know and more about making use of mobile internet access to find it out (exactly the independent self-determined approach to learning we expect students to develop).  Sorry, that excuse doesn’t work any more. Next one please?

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Review, Reflect and Remember – Playful Learning #playlearn16 @playlearnconf @ucisa

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The Hull team arriving at the Playful Learning Conference, 13-15 July 2016.

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On arrival* participants were inducted into the marble game which ran throughout the three days. Clutching our marble winnings we were able to register and inspect the construction – a bit like mousetrap for marbles – which we were invited to add components to.

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This was supplemented with text message tasks and challenges in return for – yes – more marbles. It was indicative of the amazing amount of preparation work which must have gone into planning and setting up the Playful Learning Conference.

Everywhere you looked  on the Spanish Steps on the ground floor of MMU’s Birley Campus there was something to do.

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The steps homed an assortment of objects and board games while over on the registration desk the ‘Sea You Sea Me’ activity buckets were waiting. Each bucket contained 30 items, all designed for teams to create a beach (with real sand, shells and water!) while having conversations and solving puzzles. 30 buckets = 900 individual component parts! Did I mention the phenomenal amount of work which went into setting up this conference?

Three Keynotes over three days and a total of 25 parallel sessions were interspersed with whole conference activities like the Storybook. I wish I’d recorded Nikky’s vibrant retelling of the process of  creating stories.  It ended too soon.

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Unsurprisingly Storybook involved yet another set of challenges. This time it was to unlock the chest whose treasures included a set of keys for yet more games!

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It was difficult to choose from the variety of parallel sessions; I went to six in total. Having recently experienced Lego Serious Play, https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/bricking-it, I was interested to compare this with the PlayDoh Plaza. Maybe it’s in the name but it felt strange to be asked to take part in activities so reminiscent of childhood yet they were both underpinned with constructionist and kinaesthetic pedagogies. When PlayDog was introduced to bio-medical students they’d also been unsure. The words in the images below show their feelings before and after a PlayDoh session. It shows the value of being prepared to try something different. We were asked to choose a colour and make a model which represented our work. The purple chains are my digital networks while the face is the digital monster – the one which appears in our worst technology nightmares when everything goes wrong in front of a room full of students. Interestingly, everyone I spoke to knew exactly what this felt like!

It was a time of new discoveries. I came across the word Shonky, discovered Makey Makey clips, answered questions with clues gained from QR Codes, used Poll everywhere and competed in a quiz using Kahoot. One of the most memorable workshops was Ugg-Tect; a game which uses gestures instead of words to give instructions for building models from coloured shapes. Ungungdo!

I also learned about data encryption; one of those topics you know about without really understanding the detail. We began with the Caesar Cypher; a mono alphabetic transposition code (and we got to keep the encryption wheels). We then moved onto the Diffie-Hellman Ken Exchange to generate an encryption key which was theoretically more difficult to intercept. This used an app which didn’t seem to be working as well as it could do or maybe it was just the digital monster rearing its scary PlayDoh head again!

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Other sessions included a digital form of Exquisite Corpse as an aid to creative storytelling, the application of pedagogical theory to a teaching practice card game, and exploring creative methods for solving learning and teaching problems. These involved dressing up (hat and sunglasses to go incognito), choosing objects (it had to be the ammonite) and making things (not sure what my pipe cleaner mesh represented but I found it therapeutic to shut out the world and focus on its construction).

There were also the escape room experiences, the Board Game Cafe demonstrations, different sporting activities including Neon Badminton, and Inbox Zero – which I missed completely – as well as the Treasure Hunt on the last morning. Meanwhile the marble challenges continued to run alongside everything else.

By the end of the conference I’d joined in so many different activities yet still only experienced a part of the whole event. I’d arrived with a number of questions about the role of play in learning and teaching e.g. how digital would it be, had the organisers assumed we’d all have wifi connected devices, how inclusive and accessible were the activities, as a non-game player would I have ‘fun’ and above all else what would I learn.

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Play is a misnomer. Because of its association with fun and games, rather than the ‘serious’ business of higher education, you almost need to ‘permission’ to do something so different. Yet what is play other than an alternative way to describe creative approaches to learning and teaching? Getting around the discontinuity can be a simple as re-framing an activity within a pedagogical theory. Maybe we need to find more ways to play in disguise!

Stepping outside the box – or recreating the size and shape of the box – can often mean taking a risk but if we don’t take risks now and then, everything stays the same. It’s only by challenging ourselves that we can develop and grow. A key message I took away was how it can be good to venture outside your comfort zones and do something you wouldn’t normally do. A ‘feel the fear and do it’ scenario. Only then do you discover what feels strange at first can soon become normalised if we repeat it often enough. The conference participants were a unique mix. They included computer scientists, gamers, creative writers and other artists, academics, academic developers and librarians. This made for some interesting exchanges of thoughts and experiences.

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I’ve taken away not only new connections but reinforcement of the value of having time and space to discuss learning and teaching. I loved how the parallel sessions were so interactive. There was very little traditional sitting and listening and I don’t think I’ve been to such an activity based conference before. For me, this definitely added to its value. With regards to the play element, if you interpret this as creative thinking then all educational conferences would benefit from its inclusion. At minimum it could be a strand or a themed component while at best it would be threaded throughout.

When we engage with ‘playful’ situations we seemed to have more discussion than we would have otherwise. It was particularly useful for beginning and continuing conversations with strangers. Whether you were staff or student facing, involved in supporting the student experience or working with CPD/academic practice elements, there was something at Playful Learning for everyone.  It was an inaugural conference. For something so new and innovative, this first time around felt like a resounding success. I’m sure I’m not the only one to hope there will be more to come.

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My thanks to UCISA for the bursary which funded my attendance. 

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This week I’m at the Birley Campus of MMU attending the Playful Learning Conference #playlearn16. Thank you @UCISA for the bursary which made this amazing experience possible.  I say amazing because playing games takes me right out of my comfort zone.

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Youngest son works here at Birley and while we were chatting about the conference, he reminded me how playing board games was an integral part of his childhood. Before this week I can’t remember the last time I opened a board game box. There’s lots of them here  week but now – as then  – computers are competing for attention.

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We used to have a ZX Spectrum when that was cutting edge – and a shoe-box full of games. Today eldest son still plays WarHammer but youngest is a digital gamer. Thanks to him I can talk about Grand Theft Auto, Heavy Rain and Witcher. Love the graphics but still much to learn about the multitasking demands of an Xbox console! I’m more of a vicarious game-player rather than a real one and with regard to play it’s more the creativity aspects which interest me. I’m part of the #creativeHE network and we’ve just finished another open online week. With the conversations still fresh in my mind, of the questions I arrived with on Wednesday was how play and games might link up with creative approaches to HE. In particular, could I find ways to be more creative with introducing staff to TEL and developing digital capabilities.  The conference isn’t over yet so there’ll be blog posts to follow which try and answer this. In the meantime I’m reflecting on the power of crowd sourcing to find things forgotten things.

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This week I was defeated by Google. It started with a poet and the title of a book of poems. I couldn’t remember either. All I knew was male with a cancer diagnosis, northern England, something to do with a year spent in a sheep pen or shepherd shelter, within the last decade and I thought I’d read about him in the Guardian.  I didn’t expect it to be a problem. After all you can find anything with Google – can’t you?

But it was and I couldn’t. On and off for a couple of days I tried variations of all the bits I could I could remember, confident Google would pick up something which would trigger what I needed.  It didn’t. Instead it was an lesson in how Google makes overt decisions based on popularity and how this can prevent any covert, deeper connections from taking place. William Wordsworth and James Rebanks  came up again and again. I learned some interesting asides like Yan Tan Thethera, an old english counting method, but could not discover my poet.

Then I thought – Library!

So I sent a tweet to @HullUni_Library who shared it with @hull_libraries from where it was picked up by @BookjacketsHQ who gave me the answer – all within minutes. Could it be Glyn Hughes ‘A Year in the Bull Box’. Not sheep but cattle. Yes – it could and it was!

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Wrong beast but I’m not convinced it would have made much difference. When I briefly tried the same search terms, substituting cattle for sheep, still no luck. So thank you Lyn Fenby. I have the book of poems I needed for the final year of my creative writing course as well as discovering the rest of the work of Glyn Hughes who died in 2011 The Guardian Glyn Hughes Obituary.

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With hindsight the library (shown above reconstructed in Minecraft) may have been the most obvious place to start but turning digital detective was an automatic conditioned behaviour.

The implications for learning and teaching are reassuring. One of the affordances of VLE is alleged to be supporting student independence so using search engines is part of induction processes while a core element of digital literacy is the authentication and validation of online resources. Of course, the internet doesn’t have the answers. It’s how we use it that counts. With regards to my poet, it was people who made the difference and, like reliving the value of playing board games at this Playful Learning event, it’s good to be reminded how being human in the digital age is what matters most of all.

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creativity as aerobic excercise for the brain #creativeHE

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I was going to retire the Friday blog for the summer. Focus on the PhD I said. Do less social media and get back to my ‘…ologies’. But it’s been a #creativeHE week which deserves a blog. So here it is.

The #creativeHE  community is open for anyone interested in the subject of creativity in education. What is it? How does it manifest? In which ways can creative thought and action be embedded into curriculums and practice?

The week began with a request to offer an example of creativity.  But there is a question to be answered. What does ‘creativity’ mean?

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Accepted interpretations include difference, innovation and originality. To step outside of the box of conventional thinking, be unrestrained by social expectations, demonstrate uniqueness of thought and action.  Lots to work with there! But then it gets more complex because where do our measures of diversity come from? How is difference defined? Who controls what is considered to be creative action in the first place? This rather beautifully segues into my Phd where I’m building a conceptual framework which seeks to explain how our attitudes and behaviours are influenced.

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PhD alert!!!  The teaching on my first MA was influenced by postmodernism’s insistence on the social construction of reality. At the time I found PM a useful explanation for diversity and difference. The limitations of language and power of cultural expectations fitted well with my research into parameters of gender. But there was philosophical trouble ahead.

Postmodernism was an intellectual attack on meta theory without seeming to realise the irony of  presenting an alternative meta-meta theory. Yet PM was all about irony so maybe it didn’t mind how within its single narrative around the validity of truth and knowledge (i.e. there wasn’t any) it carried within itself the weapons of its mass destruction.

Postmodernism was followed by critical realism. This conceded social structures were callable of generating discourse. Their causal effects had a realist quality but our knowledge of them would be forever fallible. Traditional conceptions of structure and agency were inseparable. They were linked in an invisible mesh of convention, expectation and belief. PhD alert end.

It’s a ‘good enough’ theory. We’re limited by social constraints and change requires an understanding of the forces which are preventing it from happening in the first place. You can apply this to creativity. The ability to solve problems through unique and innovative actions is partly what makes us human but we’re also capable of being creative for self-satisfaction. This is the internal creative drive seeking expression. However, we live within a society which is full of social conditioning and this includes behavioural expectations. It leaves two options. We offer creative action within culturally acceptable limits or apply the creative impulse to blow these limits apart. The ability to think so far outside the box it breaks all known rules seems to suggest we may be positioned in different places on a scale of creative thinking.

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The #creativeHE community is full of examples not only of creative thinking but of thinking about being creative. It’s good to sometimes step outside our boxes, practice some critical reflection and ask questions about the environments we live and work in. Taking part in something that exercises our creative muscles is as good for the brain as aerobic activity is for the heart. What we need to do is ask why we don’t all do a little bit more of it. Look out for #creativeHE the next time around!

brain on treadmill image from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201602/more-proof-aerobic-exercise-can-make-your-brain-bigger 
Alert image from https://pixabay.com/en/exclamation-mark-point-triangle-24144/ 

The #creativeHE team is led by Norman Jackson and Chrissie Nerantzi. It began as an extension of a PgCert/MA unit at MMU and sits within P2pU

We need to talk (and do pedagogical research) #lthechat #heachat

pixabay educationHE Teachers as Pedagogic Researchers was the final #lthechat for this academic year. It’s also the title of the pre-reading by Dr Abbi Flint on the HEA blog https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/blog/higher-education-teachers-pedagogic-researchers An appropriate choice before the summer chat-break. In these TEF times the topic of excellence in teaching is raising interest in scholarship. Valid questions are being asked, albeit with contentious answers but what matters is the conversation. Like the role of TEL in 21st century higher education – We Need to Talk!

The theory-practice divide between research and teaching is still a predicator of attitudes. There are many barriers to breach. Researchers say they don’t have time to teach and teachers don’t have time for research and those of us with TEL heads are caught in the middle where neither have time for our technologies.

So the #lthehat was spot on although they sneaked in an extra hashtag. #lthechat and #heachat took up 17 characters and space counts on twitter where brevity is part of the challenge fun. Browse through this beautifully presented Storify by Kandy Woodfield @jess1ecat for an overview of the session.

Like #lthechat I’m taking a break from the Friday blog this summer. It’s back to my research. Changing institutions involved  a PhD gap year. Part-time doctoral study with full-time work is always a challenge (alert -danger – warning) but to move as well verges on impossible.

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Yet it’s been unexpectedly valuable because time is integral to the learning process. Pause. Step away. Return. See how different everything looks. Change the context. Alter the view. When I look back over my PhD journey, which has been like a roller coaster on rocky rails, this is the year it coalesced. My research is about pedagogies and online environments, about supporting staff to become digitally confident and also about my own teaching practice. As practitioner-researcher I applied action research evaluation loops to inform the development of a teacher education programme.  This enabled me to work with pedagogic theory and examine the difference it made – or not.  It also opened the door to the research literature on digital education which is full of aspiration and magical thinking. Nowhere is the gap between theory and practice so wide and my research has positioned me in the vast open spaces in between.

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Adopting a pedagogic research-mind forces critical examination. What did you do, why did you do it, how, where, when – all those questions which can be so difficult to answer. It’s like looking in a mirror and mirrors don’t always feel like friends.

Reflection is like technology. If you find it easy you risk forgetting what it’s like for those who don’t. Where courses have reflection built in, like practice placement, students can struggle with shifting from writing descriptive accounts to more crucially reflective ones. The research literature reinforces the value of reflective practice, both for learning and for life, but too often it’s another example where we tell students to do what we don’t do ourselves. Like using TEL, going to the library, or carrying out research projects.

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Too often we don’t draw the lines between the dots. We use TEL but don’t consider how it might be evidence for accreditation. We carry out our own inquiries into learning but don’t see it as a pedagogical research activity. It comes back down to sharing practice and the need to talk. For people who spend most of their working lives talking with students we can be less good at talking to each other.

So thanks #lthechat for the reminder and timely insight into the thoughts and experiences of so others across the sector.  It’s time to open up the research diary again, download NVivo and blow the digital dust off my data. Hello Phd. I’m back.

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