Why don’t I speak French?

page of french text

Why don’t I speak French? I learned it at school and went to French night class – twice. For 10 years I car-shared with a colleague who was fluent in French. What can I show for it today other than  un, deux, trois, and Je m’appelle Sue.

There’s a connection with speaking French and my PhD.  I’m at the University of Northampton’s Postgraduate Induction week. UoN are moving to a new Waterside Campus and changing their learning and teaching. Leaving behind the traditional f2f lecture, they’re adopting a blended approach via greater use of digital tools. Sounds exciting but it would do wouldn’t it – I’m a VLE advocate and at risk of extinction. There aren’t many of us left.

I’ve met my PhD supervisors; Ale Armellini and Ming Nie. Ale is the Director of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in HE and both Ale and Ming worked at Leicester with Gilly Salmon in the days of the Media Zoo. They have digital provenance and talking to Ale is like sharing a language – in a good way. He gets what I’m doing and this doesn’t happen often.  Ale suggests learning online involves a move from literacy to competency to fluency and we should aim to be bilingual, seamlessly transferring from one environment to another. Online. Offline. Online. Bourdieu comes to mind. A habitus binary. Digital fluency as a form of cultural capital. Digital capital.

Parlez-vous francais? written in chalk on a blackboard

So why don’t I speak French? I don’t have to. I don’t want to. If I were lost in France it would be different but I’m not so I don’t.

My PhD is about technology enhanced learning (TEL). It explores how staff transfer their f2f practice to online environments. Based on my TELEDA courses, it shows how resistance to VLE can be reduced by adopting immersive approaches to TEL support.

The irony is this research into digital resistance has been so difficult to home. One institution changed my role, wiping off ten years of  TEL work  and ending my TELEDA courses. Another rejected my PhD along with three years of data saying they had no supervision. It’s a year since my Thesis Whisperer debut on how supervision issues have haunted me (Know Your Limits). Ale is the first supervisor in five years to have a relevant TEL background. There’s another irony in how all these blocks on the PhD journey reinforce its message; digital divides on campus continue to separate the digital and non-digital speakers.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

The motivation for my PhD was to explore staff resistance to TEL. My approach was to put them into a digital environment and use that medium for critical reflection. I believed a supported immersive experience would make a difference. A bit like taking them to France with a phrase book and a fluent French speaker to intermediate if necessary. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the TEL-People and how we are a unique tribe with our own territory. https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-invisible-tribes-and-territories-of-the-tel-people Maybe there is something about our language which I need to consider too.

dandilion growing out of parched ground

TEL-People are fluent with TEL-Speak and TEL-Beingness. We show, tell and demonstrate from our digital positions but where do we involve?  I have an ongoing battle with the use of the word ‘training’ with regard to technology. We do not train we teach. If we don’t have knowledge about how people learn then we should do.  TELEDA was built around sharing, discussion, collaboration, synthesis and critique. It was much more time and resource heavy than providing workshops and helpsheets but made a real difference to how participants changed their own TEL practices.  TELEDA was rejected just like my research has been. The buzz phrase today is digital capabilities. The Jisc model (below)is not perfect. I’d like to see digital inclusion made explicit as as one of the elements, but it’s a good enough place to explore the multiplicity of being digital in 21st century.

jisc digital capabilities model

Twice this month I’ve stood in front of rooms of teaching staff and no one has heard of it. I would suggest TEL-People are using a language which is only spoken by a minority. Yet our role is to encourage the majority to change how they teach.  We need to ask more critical questions about what we do. We work in institutions of higher education but how well do we apply the rules of teaching and learning to our own TEL practices? Should we be looking to the teaching of languages for ideas? Meaningful adoption of change requires a cultural shift and here governance plays a part. Without it there is no impetus for change. I would learn French if I had to, just as staff at Northampton are turning to the digital because their current ways of working are changing. It’s a dramatic move and one I’ll be watching with interest.

image showing python programming language

In the meantime I’ll take back to my own TEL-People the suggestion we consider a linguistic route and approach TEL as being ‘Digital’ for speakers of other languages. Rather than see pedagogical practice as being online or offline we should see it through a bi-lingual lens as Ale suggests. After all communication is at the heart of learning and teaching wherever it takes place.

‘si au début vous ne réussissez essayer somthing diffrent’


images from https://pixabay.com
Advertisements

The importance of being earnest not ignorant

Poster for the play the importance of being earnest

[Lady Bracknell]  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
From The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.


Ignorance is an interesting word. Wikipedia (one of the best teaching tools for understanding the internet) offers  ‘often (incorrectly) used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts.

We can’t know what we don’t know so why is ‘ignorance’ i.e. a state of being uninformed or lack of knowledge critiqued as a negative trait? Shouldn’t it be those responsible for withholding information who are critiqued instead?

Some valuable conversations took place at work this week about digital capabilities. Four departments are now represented in our monthly DigiCaps group; the TEL-Team, Library, Careers/Employability and Staff Development. There is enthusiasm. This is an encouraging start. I have hope.

Don't give up hope image blue butterfly on black background

The majority of education technology projects fail to gain widespread adoption because like attracts like and ICT is sticky stuff. Early digital adopters tend to stick together while digital pedagogies require digital competencies to stick but the majority of those in positions of managing change fail to appreciate the width and depth of on-campus digital divides. They are well kept secrets and this is where the words of Lady Bracknell come to mind. Why is there so much ignorance about the  true lack of meaningful digital adoption?  Is this knowledge-loss accidental or deliberate?

When it comes to the users of technology I hesitate to use the word ignorant. I’ve tried reluctant and resistant to describe lack of engagement and been told these are too kind. The latest trend among digital pioneers is to say if people don’t have appropriate digital skills they are not employable which seems a little harsh. Students are told their attributes should include competence to manage in an increasingly digital society. I agree this should apply to staff as well but rather than reject staff for being not being digitally capable, institutions should put in place digital development. It isn’t happening and I wonder if this is because it would mean admitting there is a digital problem in the first place. Just who is being ignorant here and why?

The second UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey has just been launched.

The findings of the first survey in 2014 highlighted lack of time and resources for staff to develop digital ways of working. The UCISA TEL Surveys have been saying this for years. There’e no shortage of evidence; just ignorance about what to do next. Contrary to the rhetorical promise, we’re in a digital dystopia and part of the problem is no one understands the baseline of what digital incapability looks like.

baseline

To highlight the issues our digi caps group are collecting anonymised examples of how low a digital baseline needs to go to ensure everyone starts from the same place. If you work in areas like education or learning development, learning technology or ICT support, and have examples of the divide between the promise and the reality of virtual learning, please do feel free to share them using the form below. This will help us to attach more importance to digital incapability and challenge ignorance about baseline support. It’s a sensitive issue but ignoring it won’t make it go away.  Lady Bracknell tells us the ‘whole theory of modern education today is unsound’ and this could easily be a reference to the world of digital education, resting as it does on assumptions of staff confidence and competence which simply don’t tally up.

image showing multiple students involved in creating a puzzele to demonstrate active learning

21st century higher education has been aptly summarised by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006:2) as follows: ‘Instead of characterising [student learning in HE] as a simple acquisition process based on teacher transmission, learning is now more commonly conceptualised as a process whereby students actively construct their own knowledge and skills. Students interact with subject content transforming and discussing it with others in order to internalise meaning and make connections with what is already known.’

The internet is a fabulous learning tool on so many different levels with multiple means to help students actively construct their own knowledge and skills but there remains an huge ignorance about the true state of adoption and use. I believe appropriate support can make a difference. I believe institutions have to accept technology on its own is not enough and investment needs to be in the people who use it as well

(Not sure why my details appear  in the form below but just delete and add your own or anonymous ones. I couldn’t find how to make the fields non-compulsory. Digital capabilities irony!) 


Share examples of how digital capabilities can best be developed and supported 


*Nicol, D. J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education (2006), Vol 31(2) 199-21

Images

simultaneous existence

planets in outer space

I have a colleague who is researching space. Not the outer space of stars or the inner space of quarks. Not the digital space of VLE or social media. This is real space. The space we exist in. The space we breath in and out, in and out…

Which raises the question – what is space? I’m not sure I’ve asked myself that before.

Space. We pass through it. Things pass through it. It’s the container in which we live and I can understand the air being of interest to a chemist or sports scientist. After all it keeps us alive but other than that it’s just the physical distance between objects – isn’t it?

diagram of distances between the sides of a triangle

How can you research space of the day-to-day kind?

It seems space has interested researchers for some time. There is Lebrevre’s Spacial Triad, Soja’s Thirdspace and Foucault’s Heterotopia. My Marx is a little rusty but I recall the notion of capital blurring measures of space where technologies enable the crossing of traditional boundaries of time and place – thereby compressing them. As in McLuhan’s global village and the virtual spaces of the internet. I think. Then there’s the liminal space of thresholds, the space between concepts and worlds and one of my favourites – the transient space of hotels and airports which we pass through on our way to and from different locations.

It seems space can be both physical and conceptual.

diagram of theoretical quarks

How often do we stop to think about the characteristics of the spaces within and between the places we inhabit?  Have you ever thought of space as socially constructed with inherent meanings which we replicate and reinforce, absorbing them without even being conscious of it. For social scientists interested in the origins of attitudes and behaviors, researching space may hold intriguing clues.

So what is the difference between the space I inhabit at work and the space I operate in online. Digital space. For me, the connected internet is a place/space I go into. If the internet is down I’m shut out. When I’m online with colleagues we are connected much the same as if we were in the same room. Now I’m thinking about how I exist in both of them at the same time. Walk across campus and every other person (or more) is also existing simultaneously in both the real and the digital world.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

In education development we’ve treated the virtual as something external to us and different. Applied different rules and said it requires different pedagogical approaches. But how different is it to generations born into a social media society, who are accustomed to the simultaneous existence enabled by their mobile devices?

Maybe we see the virtual as different because we have analogue roots.

Maybe, instead of highlighting the differences between the two types of space ,we should be looking at the similarities instead.


The VLE and Machines of Loving Grace #nationalpoetryday

grey robot looking at a red flower

Yesterday was #nationalpoetryday. When I think the digital in the poetry world it’s Richard Brautigan’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace which comes to mind. Brautigan offers a vision of a cybernetic future from 1997. This is the year  the report from the Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education was published. In Brautignan’s cybernetic ecology, machines have freed us from labour and watch us live the Utopian dream. In the Dearing Report, the VLE represented a more efficient and effective future, internationalizing higher education, reaching the parts people couldn’t reach, crossing traditional barriers of time and distance and so on and on and on…

It didn’t really happen did it?

The internet bought us the global village as predicted by McLuhan at a time when television represented cutting edge technology. Now we have the internet. Social media has given a voice to everyone with access. VLE have revolutionised higher education – or maybe not.

In Our Digital Capabilities Journey Kerry Pinny describes a 25% response rate to the Jisc Discovery Tool at her university. When I piloted this self-diagnostic digital capabilities tool earlier this year, a professional services department achieved over 80% response rate (not the TEL-Team or ICT I hasten to add) whereas a Faculty scored so low it was meaningless. 25% would have been a dream. Kerry asks how to reach the other 75%. I wonder this too. The V in VLE seems to have passed so many people by.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

Liz Bennett @LizBennett1 and Sue Folley @SueFolley from the University of Huddersfield facilitated a D4 Learning Design workshop at Hull this week. The focus was digital capabilities but in a covert, through the back door, approach. Using Appreciative Inquiry and focusing positive rather than negative or deficit thinking, we constructed learning activities which blended face-to-face and online interaction. Inevitably the discussion turned to VLE adoption and the question of reaching the unreachables. I’m never sure whether to laugh and cry at how we need subterfuge to trap people into dealing with VLE but was also struck by Sue’s comment that everyone across the sector has the same problem.

Its nearly 20 years since the Dearing Report. What ever we’ve been doing, in that time it isn’t working.

panning drawing with pencil and ruler

Both Dearing’s Committee and poet Brautigan saw technology as the future. Well, the future has arrived and I don’t see the VLE as having made a great deal of difference. There are pockets of excellent practice but overall the dominant model of use remains a digital despository document. Video may be more prevalent but ultimately it’s supplemented read this with watch this. How about do something with this instead?

Postmodernism is vanishing into the wings. Learning analytics is stepping centre stage, bringing Big Data with all its positivist baggage of targets, metrics and ranking with it. SCoT also seems in danger of disappearing. The Social Construction of Technology suggested the development of machines was dependent on the people who used them. The potential of the machine for change was not enough. In the 1960’s, McLuhan told us how new technology would replicate existing practice and in the 1980’s Bijker and Pinch were predicting new technologies would not determine human action but be shaped by it instead.

If a higher education is the passive transmission of knowledge, memorised and regurgitated for assessment, the VLE is perfect. We have made it into what we want it to be.

The question is – where do we go from here?

red question mark on a keyboard


All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.


Image sources

War of the Words #nationalpoetryday

Image of the tripod from H.G. Wells War of the Worlds

War of the Words

Now Barthes once said ‘The author is dead’
so I have to let go of my prose,
however redeeming, whatever the meaning,
it’s only the reader who knows

how words which are read (like things that are said)
can take on a whole different meaning,
as issues of who (and knowledge and truth)
depend on who’s doing the reading.

All writers will find, below each bottom line,
there’s a host of mixed interpretations,
with lots to be learned from the postmodern turn
and its crisis in representations.

As we start to unravel the roads we have travelled
which bring us to our destinations
we see how the ‘asks’ in our research-based tasks
are linked to our social locations;

but what matters more are the battles and wars
which are fought between structure and agency,
where so much depends how we manage this blend
between selfhood and who self might-want-to-be.

It’s the same for the poet and life as they know it,
reflected in all their renditions,
where words try to strive, to catch and describe
all the quirks of the human conditions,

so I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not hard to see
how research and poetry blend,
how issues of seeing, of truth and believing,
are similar things in the end,

and the skillset to write what is clear and concise
is all part of the art of creation,
whether PhD thesis or poetry treatise
they both have the same motivation.

For wordsmiths and seers and text engineers
and dabblers in quests and hypothesis,
for teams of reformers or lonely explorers
of credence and theories of consciousness,

what your words mean (and how they are seen)
is based on the world we’re all living in,
and this knowing in turn depends how we’ve learned
to interpret our social conditioning

At the end of the day whatever you say
or do to express creativity,
people will moan, and grumble and groan,
for you can’t control their subjectivity.

So I have to conclude all meaning is skewed
as we all possess unique philosophies,
and what we receive and what we believe
helps build our creative ecologies.

Our epistemology and our ontology
all affect our observations,
so you might write the words but it’s clearly absurd
to expect to rule interpretations.

Researcher or poet it’s not how you know it,
it’s all about setting it free,
because Barthes spoke true and whatever you do…
the meaning is all down to me!