The invisible tribes and territories of the TEL-People

On reflection this post could also be called the Othering of the TEL-People 

By [1], Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2040293

I was at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event James Clay refers to in his recent blogpost Engaging the Invisibles. Also there was ex-Lincoln colleague Kerry Pinny who’s asked the questions Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? and what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?  My own research explores digital resistance and reaching ‘the invisibles’ – is it lack of confidence or lack of interest which are the drivers?  I’ve been speaking about metasthiaphobia and the need to talk. As always),there are two sides to this story.

TEL-People are invisible too. Borrowing from Becher and Trowler, we are a unique tribe with our own territories.

TEL-People inhabit sequestered spaces, frequently separated from the Units, Centres and Libraries which house us. Located at the far end of a corridor behind a swipe card or on the periphery of the campus where no one bothers to tread.

We have our own distinguishing features. Like permanent headphones. If clothes are statements then power dressing for TEL-People is visible displays of the latest gadget with the newest OS rather than items which say more about aspirations than abilities. TEL-People tend towards casual. The ‘morning after a long night down-timing with Netflix‘ look or ‘survived an early hours code emergency where the principles of rubber duck debugging failed’.

Rubber_duck_assisting_with_debugging

If you were to venture to our territories you wouldn’t see us at first. We tend to hide behind walls of monitors. Connected through multiple devices via a range of social networks (we’ve moved on from email) we tweet or slack and the air sings to the ring, ding, ping of notifications, even when we know from the feet beneath the desk our colleagues are in the same room. We save being vocal for when we don’t agree. Our different areas of expertise can make for explosive conversations but together we can provide an answer to anything and everything TEL related.

social media icons pixabay

Most TEL-People are classified as professional support rather than academic. If we want to study we have to pay for it. It doesn’t come cheap but we do it all the same because we understand the value of being research informed, engaged and active – plus status matters if you want to be heard.

Research matters too…

We’re passionate supporters of TEL  We know technology can be transformational, most often from our own experience rather than buying into rhetorical promises. We understand how any-time-any-place access through devices of choice has become so ubiquitous its value risks being underestimated. We know TEL is the future of higher education and we care about this. To us the word ‘quality’ means accessible, well navigated, motivational and interactive learning on systems which are supported and where data is secure. Digital inclusion is our philosophy.

dig ed 1

We want to make a difference. We’d like to see more initiatives for reward and recognition. We understand the need for evidence based innovations and ensuring the pedagogy is in the driving seat. We support people to take risks. TEL is full of them. The technology has a bad day. The lecturer forgot to cloud-save their notes. The screen looks different and they can’t find the button to press. We’ve all been there – right?

But you don’t like us…

We talk about minimum standards for module sites on the VLE, the need for captions and transcripts and Alt text, knowing you don’t and won’t even when your reaction is friendly rather than aggressive and we’re used to both on a regular basis. TEL Workshops can be difficult. We talk about using online forums to support active learning. No, no! you cry. I set one up once and no one used it so I don’t do that any more. Digital tasks and activities are dismissed out of hand. Students won’t do that if it’s not assessed! So you talk about assessment of interaction. No, no! you say. Student participation will be tokenistic so that won’t work. Then we get blamed for everything perceived to be wrong with the institution. It all comes tumbling out during these sessions, the rare times we get to meet, and it seems accepted to be rude and to shout at us when all we’re trying to do is to help.

These are the cleft sticks we work in. Being unable to win whatever we do and with an ever increasing shortage of carrots.

carrot and stick

Welcome to the world of the TEL-People.

Bear with me. There is more, much more. I try to be succinct…

We talk about knowledge co-construction, about students as makers of meaning, producers not consumers, we sketch out ZPDs and scaffolding, the difference between constructivist and constructionist pedagogies. We know our theory but your eyes glaze over because we’re not the ones having to teach and what can we possibly know about what your world is really like. So we watch the new semester sites unfold with list upon list of PDFs and Word documents headed Read this! Useful information! IMPORTANT!!!!!!! Sites are didactic dumps; digital document depositories. Then you complain students don’t read any but can you blame them? It’s like dropping them into an archive of boxes with labels. Where do you begin?

archive

We know the technology itself can do nothing. It is how it’s used which makes the difference. Create transmissive information sites and students will switch off, be bored. Digital over paper does not make for innovative practice.

But you don’t listen…

We know Marshal McLuhan predicted over 50 years ago new technologies will be used to replicate old practices and we see  evidence of this everywhere. BYOD, mobile learning, different tools and apps for presenting content – they’re all old ways of using newer tools. Even the word pedagogy is another way to describe teaching practice or method. Old wine? New bottles?

old wine in new bottles

We know there are no quick fixes, no right answers, no one size fits all model. Life doesn’t fit into such neat binaries but we can help. What do you want your students to learn? How will you know they’ve learned it? What activities are going help students to achieve the learning outcomes? This is where technology steps centre stage, offering active learning through forums, wikis, quizzes and group work,  multiple opportunities for students to search, share, suggest, synthesise, while all the time developing those digital graduate attributes so essential for 21st century employment.

But you don’t know any of this because just as you try to be invisible to us, we the TEL-People are invisible to you.

Something has to change…

invisible people from pixabay


Images

Magritte’s Son of Man https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2040293 

Rubber duck debugging https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging#/media/File:Rubber_duck_assisting_with_debugging.jpg

social media tree from https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/

carrot and stick https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot_and_stick#/media/File:Carrot_and_stick_motivation.svg 

Archive from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archive#/media/File:Fondos_archivo.jpg 

Old wine in new bottles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Wine_into_Old_Wineskins#/media/File:Niko_Pirosmani._Porter_with_a_Wineskin._Diptych._Oil_on_oil-cloth,_51x34_cm._The_State_Museum_of_Fine_Arts_of_Georgia,_Tbilisi.jpg 

invisible people https://pixabay.com/en/people-find-search-facebook-295145/

Let’s get digital or not?

wine and cake pixabay

The Friday blog-habit is proving hard to break! If only I could be as strict with the Friday evening wine or Saturday cake. As in not having them.  The blog is almost a reverse addiction. Usually we go for instant gratification rather than delayed and blogging is definitely in the second category. It’s rewarding when posts get liked or quoted but that often comes days and sometimes weeks after the event!

On reflection, maybe the idea of pausing over the summer wasn’t so good after all. If the habit is established why stop? Exactly my approach to the Friday evening wine and Saturday cake. Why break something which works so well!

panopto logo

The days when August was the time for catching up and preparing for the new academic year are well and truly gone. Not only are we launching a new VLE in September, I’m also working on the policy document for Panopto and preparing staff development activities to introduce teaching with video (thanks Gemma Witton @gemmawitton from the University of Wolverhampton for the inspiring Panopto conversation this week)

The digital capabilities framework. continues to underpin everything I do. So far this year we’ve piloted the Jisc Discovery Tool and run the Digital Storytelling workshops. The TEL Team and the Library are now having regular catch-ups to discuss all things digital and I’m curating a ‘Sharing Practice’ resource center to demonstrate interesting and effective use of technology to support the student experience.

black and white cartoon, one dog tells anthother on the internet no one knows you're a dog

In LEAP there are Academic Practice Advisers and TEL Advisers. Unfortunately we’re divided by geography which reinforces the lack of opportunities to get together and discuss how maybe we should all be one and the same?  The minute you say the ‘technology’ word  those who see themselves as non-techie self-exclude yet we are all involved with learning and teaching. I want to ‘rebrand’ digital capabilities. I’m concerned the word ‘digital’ is getting like ‘technology‘ and the phrase ‘digital capabilities framework‘ is almost doomed before it begins. So what are my options?

pixabay education

I like ‘digital scholarship‘.  The HEA have reviewed the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and last year I attended a Colloquium event discussing the importance of being research informed and engaged in teaching practice. There are tensions over the meaning and evaluation of ‘teaching excellence’ but the TEF remains an opportunity to revisit institutional support for pedagogical research. Anyone supporting a VLE will be familiar with the persistence of transmissive approaches with emphasis on knowledge consumption rather than construction. We need to talk.

Time, space and rationale (as well as reward and recognition) are all essential prerequisites to change. Maybe the TEL Team could have a monthly ‘digital scholarship’ meetings over coffee – cake – or lunch – to discuss key papers and pedagogies relating to TEL – as well as ideas to publish and promote our work so yes, scholarship is a possibility.

There’s just one problem – I’m still using ‘digital’.

Should my new approach be with or without the D word?

Any suggestions?

 

I may need a bigger biscuit tin!

biscuit tin

Determinist approaches to technology continue to dominate strategic thinking. Buy it, build it and learning will happen. Technology is still seen as the answer to widening participation, internationalisation, changes to the DSA, transition, alumni, you name it technology will be spoken of as the solution. This is in spite of a trail of failed projects and broken ideas across the sector. We must learn from the past and not ignore it. Technology simply cannot exist in isolation from the people who use it – not just pay for and provide support for – but who are the users i.e. learners and teachers. With technology comes the need for investing in digital capabilities and confidence but this message is still struggling to get itself heard.

dig tech pixabay

I’ve been at Hull for nine months. Its nearly the end of the 15/16 academic year. I’m looking backwards, reflecting on the Hull journey and forwards to what is to come. My challenges at Hull include developing a digital capabilities framework for learning and teaching as well as supporting the big three (pedagogically speaking) investments; Canvas, Panopto and Pebblepad.

dig ed 1

No one automatically knows how to use new digital tools. I’ve been working with learning technology for some time but new platforms still require ‘time to learn’ while even more demanding is the head space it takes to grasp all the different ways they can support disciplines and levels. This is where technology advisers, education developers, academic staff and students can benefit from sitting together in the same room. We need to talk!

Hull have recognised the need for investment in the TEL team but the bigger problem is the digital capabilities learning curve. All VLE requires a broad understanding of digital ways of working. If you’re not a great fan of technology or a great user of the internet then expecting you to find your way around Canvas, record and edit video or build an online portfolio is a big ask. To do this in front of students is even more of a demand.

cartoon showing a person battling with a wall of a technology

My task is to find a way to not only make this seem manageable to but to recognise and reward the time it takes to develop digital confidence in the first place. It’s layered learning. The buttons-basics but also the understanding of constructivist and connectionist pedagogies, the benefits of group learning and peer review, the higher order critical thinking and reflection skills. All these can be supported by thoughtful use of technology but it won’t and can’t happen in a vacuum. It needs a community of practice and inquiry approach, at module, programme, school, faculty or institutional level. Getting people together to talk about how technology can extend and enhance learning because it can – but we need to get back to basics and ensure the baseline competencies are there in the first place.

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image

For the next academic year I may need a bigger biscuit tin!

plate of chocolate chip cookies

biscuit and digital technology images from https://pixabay.com 
Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/thriving-in-a-connected-age-digital-capability-and-digital-wellbeing-25-jun-2015