sounds of silence #DigiResHull

letter tiles spelling the words sounds of silence

Silence has a language of its own.

We say a lot without speaking. Bodies, faces, clothes, all give clues. Some messages are intentional like a smile or movement. Other times they’re not, like when you’ve tried to be engaged in a meeting and a colleague says afterwards how bored you looked!

I can usually tell if people are with me or not. Reading silence leads to decisions. Repeat a question in a different way or change the timing of an activity. This is data informed practice. Silence can evidence an agile, flexible approach while for participants, well…. higher education is about working with adults who have the capacity to make choices, and these might include choosing not to contribute.

Which leads to the sound of silence.

black and white microphone

Interpretation of silence depends on context. It might signal active engagement or be indicative of problems. Haven’t done the reading, distracted by troubles at home, disinterested or struggling with a concept. When this happens in physical spaces we can change the dynamics. Turn off the PowerPoint. Ask a different question. See if the silence changes. Are eyes watching you or the phone under the table? Is that the start of a smile? When we’re all together we can take steps to understand where silence comes from.

It’s different online.

In virtual places I’m dependent on text e.g. forum discussions or chat.  Online, all the variety of face-to-face verbal communication is lost when the medium is reduced to Times New Roman or Calibri except it’s true, capital letters really do come across as SHOUTING!

We use email and social media more than ever but meaning still gets lost, humour displaced or a sentence taken out of context so key messages are misunderstood.  But at least digital text is communication.

Silence online is different. Since the early days of the internet it’s been called ‘lurking’ and however you look at it, to lurk has negative connotations.

alternative definitions of the word to lurk

Lurking online has become a sticky concept, both in terms of definition and purpose but has retained its primary association with something socially and culturally sinister.

definitions of lurking from a dictionary

‘Is it ok to lurk?’

The question was asked in last weeks Digital Researcher Course, run by colleagues at the University of Hull and delivered via a closed VLE. Using #DigiResHull opened up discussion on Twitter and I tweeted to those I thought might have something to say. I wasn’t wrong.

Tweet asking the question Is it OK to Lurk?

Very quickly tweets arrived supporting the principle of lurking as a valid activity, for example Teresa MacKinnon‏ @WarwickLanguage tweeted about power dynamics.

‘it is a power thing, you have to take into account the teacher/student relationship and the imbalance of power there. Sometimes the only agency a learner may have in an online environment is to exercise their right to watch.’

My reply:  ‘am interested in the balance been lurking and non-participation in an activity based online task or project – at which point does legitimizing lurking become the rationale for non-engagement? I get nervousness and hesitancy about posting online but also struggle with silence.’

tweet about struggling to deal with silence as an online tutor

David White @daveowhite added this:

‘I also think recognition that ‘not speaking’ is not the same as ‘being passive’ is important’

tweet from David White suggesting lurking is passive

My reply: ‘It can be difficult to identify ‘not speaking’ compared to ‘being passive’ in particular when you are facilitating online blended/distance learning.’

The discussion faded at this point.

I tweeted I was still reflecting on ‘not speaking’ and ‘being passive’ in online places and thinking of the implications for learning design. For example, creating online activities which no one engages with results in… well…. silence.

final tweet on the issue of silence

I accept lurking online might be a valid activity but want to suggest that to lurk is a problem, in particular in groups with a purpose. The reason for this is simple. As an online facilitator I have no way of knowing what your silence means.

Online silence is too often undecipherable. Pedagogically, we know activity is key to successful learning. Content is no longer king or queen. It’s context which matters. 21st century education is less about knowledge acquisition because it’s no longer restricted to the individual expert. It’s more about what can be done with it. Effective learning experiences are built around concepts like searching, selecting, synthesising and sharing, using knowledge to support the development of situated literacies and transferable ’employability-skills’.

mixed up rubrik cube

Online silence is baffling, not least because there’s no faces to give any clues about what’s going on.

Where the software shows participants have accessed content, I’ve no idea if they’ve read and understood if direct questions or prompts are ignored. I don’t know if students are working hard and enjoying the resources, except those which ask them to interact with their peers, or are not even there. Dashboards which list login details are rarely useful. Who hasn’t been logged in all day or night on a different tab or browser window!  Advice to assess participation risks encouraging strategic approaches and not all online activity relates to accredited courses.

However you look at it, online silence is an issue.

#DigiResHull provided useful ideas why silence might be a choice and broadened my understanding of its potential legitimacy. Also, I’ve been reflecting on the possibility of a digital form of impostor syndrome (future blog alert!) but even if we understand the causes of silence, the question remains of how to design for non-participation in online places.  Face-to-face situations contain clues and when silence makes its own kind of noise there are always possible solutions.

In digital places, the sounds of silence are absent and I’m not sure where to take the discussion from here.

Postscript

After writing this blog I found two others which dealt with the same issues. Lurking has clearly been on my mind for some time!

Lego moments

lego bricks

Do you speak Lego?

Probably yes.

Lego is language without words. We can all do it.

The more I experience Lego the more I’m discovering its value as a creative approach to problem solving and change.

Lego is reminiscent of childhood and concepts of ‘play’. Academia still has snobby roots. For everyone willing to put preconceptions aside and engage in something a bit different, there’s those looking down their noses at what they see as a trivial, time wasting activity.

Last week Chrissi Nerantzi from CELT, MMU, came to Hull to run a Lego based workshop.  I’ve been exploring Lego for a while but but this session was different. Excuse the pun, but something clicked and it wasn’t just bricks fitting together. It was my snail.

two different snails made from lego bricks

It didn’t look like a snail. Lego does straight lines better curves but I knew it had snailness. My colleague next to me also built a snail. We didn’t consider the weirdness that of all the animals in all the world we’d chosen snails. Instead I was stuck by the difference. You couldn’t have had two snails less alike!

Up to that point I thought I’d understood. The build was the focus of attention (not the builder). I got the principles of connectivism, i.e. think with your hands. At my first workshop I’d sat next to Paul who built a snail (a theme here). We were talking about the weight of heavy workloads when I noticed the brick with a smile on the inner side of the snails leg (I know, snails don’t have legs but lego can involve some imagination!) There was something fundamentally reassuring about the hidden smile in the context of the conversation and I think about it often. Like a mantra. Smile on the inside. It’s going to be ok.

yellow lego snail with smile on bricks

So what can Lego teach you?

Well, its cumulative. No doubt, next time I’ll learn something different but for now, here’s my list

  • Lego is about creativity and imagination but without needing artistic skills like music or drawing; just the dexterity to click bricks together. This means it can be exclusive, Facilitators need to consider the experience for anyone with physical or sensory impairment.
  • A Lego workshop is structured; it uses a defined and facilitated process which involves a developmental set of activities where Lego models represent metaphors (literal and conceptual) as the basis for narrative.
  • Participants are encouraged to express themselves through the different bricks (colour, shape, size etc) Lego has been described as 3D printing your thoughts.
  • The focus of discussion is the bricks, not the person. Tell me what the pink brick represents. Why are those three bricks on the top. What does the wheel represent.

Models can be literal (a snail which looks like a snail) or conceptual. My model was about snailness.  I realised I’d worried too much about making my models literal rather than expressive.  You need to let go of some inhibitions for Lego is to work its real magic. Go with the flow. Trust your hands. Click the bricks together without a preconceived end point in mind. Your models will evolve as will your interpretations.

The model below shows three teaching styles. Each has a lecturer and students. Can you tell the difference?  It would be interesting to see how other people interpret them.

three lego models representing teaching styles

So what is it about Lego?

80% of our brain cells are supposedly connected to our hands and with an allegedly hundred million ways (102,981,500!) to combine just 6×8-stud bricks, the possibilities are extensive.

In a group its often the few who do the talking. With Lego everyone gets turn. The focus is on the bricks not the person and this can feel liberating. The models also reinforce diversity; everyone starts with similar brick-sets yet models are wildly dissimilar.

lego people standing in rows

However, Lego is not for everyone.

It’s a step into the unknown. Lego works on different levels from day-to-day custom and practice and facilitators need to anticipate emotional responses if the experience goes below the surface, triggering unexpected thoughts or reactions. Most of us have complexity in our lives and frequently cope by shutting down that particular part of the mind or memories. Lego is like a key, reaching the parts other methods don’t. I’ve seen tears and resistance but also how it’s been a revelation for the initially reluctant.

lego bricks from pixabay

It’s clear Lego has powerful potential but where does it fit in these difficult days where teaching excellence rules but no one is really sure what it means and the dominant discourse equates measurement with value. Does the current obsession with data signal the end for innovative approaches to teaching and learning?  Is there risk where those working with data lack pedagogic knowledge so are measuring what they don’t understand. The sector is shifting back to didactic transmission (e.g lecture recording) with assessment re-branded as digital exams. Those from the student-as-producer/student as partner days, when interactive, research-engaged teaching and learning was first explored, are now being swept along in a data tsunami which tells us more about our socially constructed systems than our students.

hundreds of lego people

What we shouldn’t do with Lego is dismiss it as a pile of childishness with no place in a university. The contrary. A university is where the new and the different can safely be explored using alternative approaches to problem solving.

In this increasingly digital age, Lego offers time to put devices aside and do something as old as humanity itself;  building with our hands. This has the potential to tap into what Jung called the collective unconscious, the shared memory which stirs whenever we look up at the stars or sit around a fire at night. Even more, Lego offer structured opportunities to stop and think and these are rare. We live in increasingly frenetic times with fundamental challenges to truth and knowledge. I’d suggest moments with Lego are needed more than ever before.

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Lego images from pixabay or my own

 

Troubling boundaries (cats and imposter syndrome)

Where my research is concerned, I have trouble with boundaries

I’ve said this before (Know Your Limits) and am likely to again. It’s nowhere more prevalent than this blog. I start new posts all the time but don’t finish them. Too many ideas and not enough boundaries.

There it is again!

It’s getting worse as the research progresses. The more I reduce the data for analysis, the more I need to give contextual background. I save in one place but increase elsewhere. On reflection, this might show digital shifts are linked to all aspects of higher education. Show me what isn’t digital and , I’ll eat my blog.

baby wearing a large hat
image from pixabay – no attribution required

This week I’ve taken leave. Allocated PhD time with at least one research-related (and completed) post. The boundary issue is critical. This blog was about Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). It’s not core to my research but is related (I rest my case!) in that I’ve a partially-generated theory which suggests DIS might underpin digital shyness and resistance.

afternote: 6 weeks later I return to imposter syndrome, realise it’s populat pyschology rather than hard science, or self-efficacy by another name and  abandon the idea of using it.

Reluctance to engage in online activity is well documented. Colleague Patrick Lynch and I facilitate Module Two of the PG Cert in Academic Practice (PCAP). We introduced it as a blended module because the group only meets 5 times in 10 weeks but our online activities were – I think it’s fair to say – not widely adopted. We want to explore why.

We’re told there’s too many competing pressures but a 200 hour Level 7 module with only 15 hours contact time? Why not develop an online PCAP community. My previous TELEDA courses (Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age) were experiential (offering staff a student view of the VLE) and although successful, it feel a similar approach may not work this time.

Again – why not?

cartoon of single person facing a wall of technology

At this stage, I’m not suggesting the answer is Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS) although the idea is hovering. PCAP Evaluation may well reveal we set about it wrong or made errors we’re not yet aware of. But generically, it seems something prevents staff and students from contributing to online forums, blogs, wikis or other google logo under a magnifying glassplaces set up to enhance or extend face-to-face education. Why? When the discourse is digital technology transforms – even revolutionises – higher education.

Houston – we have a mismatch.

Is it nerves about negative responses?

A recent seminar on student’s being asked to blog revealed blog URLs being deliberately obscured to prevent them being found by google, and read by strangers. Tthe rationale being to reduce potential trolling or flaming. Someone else went through their student posts, editing out typos to prevent the department being associated with poor writing.

Where is the digital literacy here? The critical reflection on teaching and learning in a digital age? But, aeast the students are blogging, they have an output and will have learned some digital skills.

Digital attitudes and practices tend to be unique to individuals.  To become ‘digital’ is to change behaviours in a hundred different ways. For my research I gather these up into the phrase ‘digital shifts’.

Collecting themes for my data analysis hierarchy, I thought about Digital Impostor Syndrome. Of all the reasons for keeping a blog (another post!) reducing large to small can be a challengem one which forces critical reflection on how to ensure it becomes a useful reference.

So I began a post on DIS. Firstly, it needed an explanation of what Impostor Syndrome was, then ‘digital’ in that context. This involved ‘literaries’ as socially-situated practice. Situated learning segued into communities of practice (I’d been wanting analyse Lave and Wenger in the original rather than through third party accounts). Before you could say Tweet, 500 words were written but I found myself with the Browne Review of HE and the subject of teaching accreditation, which led to the teaching/research nexus and ‘professionalisation’ debate – definitely a post for the future, if only I could stay on topic!

blue twitter bird

The HEA are now ‘Advance HE‘ (Why? Who decided  to choose that?)  and have a new Academic Professional Practice Apprenticeship Standard (outlined here). Having done some work around Degree Apprenticeships (which are effectively Work Based Learning), and the use of  VLE (they’re also blended learning) I found this video which includes an outline of Epigeum’s new resource University Teaching: Core Skills: a new online training programme.

I have a thing about the word ‘training’. Definately another blog post! Put ‘Skills’ and ‘Training’ into T&L in UK HE and I spontaneously combust. 500 words later my thoughts on marketisation, neo-liberalism, metrics and competency checklists are splattered across the page.

With a deep breath, I return to the concept of professional academic development. Comparing the Epigeum content and our Design 4 Active Learning (D4AL) reminds me the rationale blog for D4AL is long overdue (draft outline here).

By now I’ve Tweeted , uploaded photos to Facebook, watched the grandcat playing a board game (a few times) and am so far from the starting point I have to go through my notes to see what it was.

I think the boundary problem is self- evident.

I also think it can be explained.

My work has always been eclectic. Senior Lecturer in Education Development was to be in a third space for professionals, I’ve had a variety of responsibilities; been teacher, student and researcher, often at the same time, while also writing for publication and generating external income. If I had to identify areas of expertise I’d suggest transition, open education, blended and distance learning, digital literacies and inclusive practice, the other DED of digital education development – digital divides, exclusions and diversity. i bought this together in the TELEDA courses, which in turn became the primary instrument for data collection on my PhD, which I titled Digital Shifts and is – surprise surprise –

the subject of another post unpicking what ‘digital shifts’ might cover. Here’s the one I began earlier Digital Shifts

So – my problem with boundaries…

Work responsibilities and interests overlap and blur. Colleagues say you can’t talk about T&L in 21st century without the ‘digital dimensions’ but does ‘digital’ mean in different contexts? We have to stop assuming or taking for granted ‘digital’ is what everyone does. I’s not and positivist, non-critical approaches will miss the mark every time.

letter tiles spelling digital shifts

The complexity of digital shifts are partially to do with language, where the same phrases mean different things to different people and there’s no central guidance or structures.

I’ve been exploring how much this is generated and reinforced by those working in technology enhanced learning areas. Can academic tribes and territories (going their own subject-specialist ways) be contributing to the confusions by creating TEL-worlds which are mutually exclusive, see The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People and TEL People, Poetry and Language  for first thoughts on this.

We have to get a better understadning of the relationship staff who teach and support learning have with digital technologies and literacies. It’s complex. Have I mentioned digital identity? Did I tell you I don’t know where I belong?

jigsaw peices in the shape of a brain with some missing

Is it a school of education because of my res?

Is it a technology enhanced learning team through my CMALT accreditation

Or a CPD/academic practice unit via my Senior Fellow status with the HEA (Advance-HE) or Module Two Lead for PCAP?

I’m Pedagogy-first with D4AL which is how technology can be used rather than how it works or what to do when it breaks. At least I know I’m not in ICT!

Lack of confidence in my identity brings me back to Digital Impostor Syndrome – which takes me back to the themes for my data analysis – and hey presto – my research.

Did I tell you – I have a problem with boundaries…

barbed and wire fencing

Design for Active Learning (D4AL)

What is Design for Active Learning?

Design for Active Learning (D4AL) is about developing activities which encourage students to become actively involved in their learning experiences. D4AL offers a scholarly approach to learning and teaching which is evidence based and demonstrates the impact of intervention through an iterative cycle of evaluation and design.

How does Design for Active Learning connect to Learning and Teaching Enhancement?

D4AL encourages the adoption of iterative loops of evaluation and reflection, for example Schon’s ‘reflective practitioner‘ and Brookfield’s ‘critically reflective teacher‘ alongside continual dialogue with the student voice and reference to collected data on student learning.

How will staff benefit from a Design for Active Learning approach?

D4AL is about supporting staff to ‘teach less to teach more’, to support student centred activity and enhance their own teaching practice through a scholarly approach to curriculum development [1]

Design for Active Learning cycle

When is a Design for Active Learning approach required?

Areas where D4AL will be most useful may include

  • ‘Sharing Practice’ across disciplines and faculties for joining up pockets of excellence and student satisfaction
  • Disseminating online best learning and teaching practices both online and face-to-face
  • Developing appropriate learning and teaching interventions in reponse to data informed drivers (e.g. external NSS and TEF and internal SEERs and AMRP)

Where does Design for Active Learning begin?

An intial meeting with Teaching Enhancement Advisors from the Directorate of LTE often begins with questions like these;

  • What works well with your students?
  • What are the causes for concern?
  • What does success look like?
  • How can we help you achieve this?

Why does Design for Active Learning matter?

D4AL supports the implementation of the Education Strategy and the university’s strategic themes of Employability, Internationalisation and Inclusivity.  D4AL lies at the heart of the university’s commitment to an ‘excellence agenda’ across all its activities, including learning and teaching[2] while also supporting the continuous development of curricula and co-curricular learning[3]

Front Cover of University of Hull Strategic Plan

Who facilitates the Design for Active Learning process?

Teaching Enhancement Advisors have developed D4AL as a consistent approach to supporting the enhancement of learning and teaching across the university; this enhancement might or might not include technology.

How do I find out more?

Visit the D4AL page on the LTE Sharepoint site which is currently under development or contact lte@hull.ac.uk


[1] Approach to Quality, Standards and Enhancement http://preview.tinyurl.com/y87b77up

[2] University of Hull Strategic Plan http://preview.tinyurl.com/yaf6y9d9

[3] University of Hull Education Strategy http://preview.tinyurl.com/ybgaymnc 

‘Digital Shifts’ definitions

letter tiles spelling digital shifts

Work in progress…

The aim of this page to is provide definitions of the phrase ‘digital shifts’ in layers.

At the present time this is the elevator pitch.

Digital shifts is a phrase used to describe the transfer of teaching, learning and research practice from traditional face-to-face to online practice in UK HE. It involves the essential shifts in attitudes and behaviors necessary for the development of successful learning, teaching and research environments in 21st century. It also covers wider social and cultural elements such as the development of a professional digital identity, online safety, data protection and digital inclusion. I see these as being  some of the constituent parts of digital literacies, which in turn I understand as socially situated practices, all the while acknowledging this is a contested field which contains a variety of alternative interpretations. All staff and students in UK HE need to negotiate individual digital shifts both generically and specifically in relation to their subject specialism. The lack of consensus over naming (eg digital literacies, skills, competencies, capabilities etc) and what these might consist of, has led to a diversity of approaches across the sector. My research uses the phrase digital shifts to present a single framework, currently called Design for Active Learning, which takes a pedagogy-first rather than a technology-first stance and seeks to find common ground for all staff in UK HE from which to take the digital agenda forward.