if the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it! Reflections on UCISA spotlight #udigicap

presnting at the UCISA conference

I hate being late.

I blame the M1 speed restrictions.

Four lanes of traffic should move at ease but 40 mph defeats the object of a motorway. So I missed the start of the conference. Arrived half way through the keynote by Donna Laclos. Times like these you realise the value of recording is not just for the absent, it’s for those like me, who are late.

The event was the fourth UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference. Held at the Radcliffe Centre at the University of Warwick, this two day programme of presentations and workshops was accompanied with great food and on suite accommodation. Lovely to see my UCISA colleagues and meet up with Kerry ‘Do Academics Dream of Electric Sheep‘ Pinny again (we didn’t take any pictures!!)

Times like this, your extended higher education family come together and remind you how we’re all involved in the core business of the university; i.e. teaching, learning and research. We all face similar challenges; widening participation, the inexorable rise of data analytics, designing for diversity and so on. Conferences are opportunities to touch base and share insights. They should be protected as integral to individual CPD.

Two years ago I spoke at the second UCISA Spotlight event. I’d just broken my ankle so was hobbling around on crutches and, when I revisited my slides, I could see apart from ditching the sticks, not a lot had changed. It’s a running joke how we make techie mistakes in public. I was no exception; having hidden this slide earlier I’d forgotten to make it visible again. So these are the missing images I talked through!

 

The lecture remains an instantly recognisable format, we’ve just transferred it online through slides, notes and recordings, Whole cohorts of students have spent their lives digitally connected while fear of technology  and change continues to create digital rifts, divides and chasms.

In 2016 I’d spoken about directing our attention to diversity. Never mind Visitors or Residents, some people were the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets.

Those who don’t come to our workshops or TEL themed events, don’t apply for TEL funding, read the TEL literature and who generally avoid TEL work as much as they can. We are the TEL people, living in our TEL Tribes and Territories. They are not. We know about them as a species but less as individuals and this needs to change.  When it comes to understanding more about digital shyness and resistance, they can help.

title slide 2018

This year I was speaking about moving from theory to practice at the University of Hull via our Design for Active Learning approach. We were the TEL Team. Now we’re the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Team (LTE). We used to be Technology-First. Now we’re Pedagogy/Design-First. Academics who shy away from technology, saying it’s not for them and/or not their responsibility, would be hard pushed to say the same about student learning.

D4AL is a toolbox of tools.  Built around Appreciative Inquiry and Action Research, it focuses on learning activities which are data informed thereby making the process agile, open ended and responsive to student needs.

It’s interesting to observe tweeting at conferences. Twitter in action provides additional voices, both remote and present but it’s a exclusive environment, one which privileges those with mobile devices and the ability to think in text-bites. It also helps spread your words to the networks of others which is always rewarding to see. Thank you.

tweets from UCISA Spotlight conference

Twitter is also very much of the moment. Capturing tweets needs automation.

Da Da!

Enter Wakelet, the new Storify. A lovely tool which harvests hashtags and names. This is my initial harvest – it needs editing but for now it brings all the #udigicap hashtags together UCISA Spotlight 2018 Wakelet 

wakelet logo blue on white

I took Design for Active Learning to the Spotlight Conference

The main message I took away was a massive need to reach agreed consensus on the language to use to describe digital ways of working.

Is it capabilities, literacies, competencies, skills or a word we haven’t yet thought of?

When considering this it’ worth bearing in mind the reminder from Donna Laclos of the power of the binary.

Binaries are those fundamental units of linguistic construction whereby we identify things not by what they are – but what they’re not.

You can’t have a yin without the yang.

We know dark because it isn’t light.

Every time we talk about digital competencies we’re also referring to incompetence. The same goes for illiteracies and incapabilities. Doesn’t sound so good does it.

Also….does it have to be digital anything? If the problem is the partnership why not use ‘digital’ on its own or pair it with something more neutral like Digital today, or digital way, road, path – top of my head thinking here – but you get the message.

If the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it!

image showing ditches crossing a field

After deciding on the term you have to decide what it refers too? Which framework to use? There are plenty to choose from. The Jisc Digital Capability Framework was designed specifically for UK  higher education but has gaps. Where’s digital pedagogy and design and why isn’t digital exclusion an element, preferably an all encompassing one. The omission suggests an invisibility which is not only self perpetuating but also indicative of the wider social and cultural blackout on digital democracy issues.

This is where the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy Model seen through a digital lens comes out on top because it promotes inclusion and accessibility. Also the boundary lines between information literacy and digital literacy are blurring.

With apologies for showing images of text in these tweets. Contact me if you need the detail. Lee Fallin and Mike Ewen (Librarians), Ale Armellini (Director Learning and Teaching Institute) and Jane Secker (Librarian and leading copyright expert) all agree information is by default becoming digital.

 

There’s also the recently revised UK government’s Essential Digital Skills framework. I like the how this combines work and life ‘skills’ with contextual examples. How many staff who teach and support learning in higher education can demonstrate all of these?

Context is key. There’s a body of work around text and print literacies which can inform approaches the digital today. In my presentation, I recommended a paper by Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012). This supports the view of literacies as knowledge practices, situated in social and cultural contexts. As such they are subject to inequalities of access of use. As always. attention to inclusivity is vital.

It isn’t enough to measure literacy.

Educators need to understand how it’s acquired and developed.

I’m way over my word limit so this is a separate blog post, one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The time has come!

Thank you UCISA for a really useful two days which showcased ways HEI are approaching the topic of ‘digital’. Many have chosen Microsoft ‘training’ or are adopting DIY with services like Lynda.com. The variety was reminiscent of issues around the teaching/training debate. What is the purpose of higher education. Is it to teach or to train? Those who believe it’s to train may not be in the right place.

Higher education is about supporting individuals to become knowledgeable in their subject of choice and part of the process is to acquire sets of literacies which encompass paper, print and digital. I’m closing with a quote from the paper cited above.

digital technolowies and an open book

‘Therefore, digital literacy extends beyond competence, such as the ability to form letters in writing or to use a keyboard. Digitally based knowledge practices are meaningful and generative of meaning; they depend on the learner’s previous experiences… on dispositions such as confidence, self-efficacy and motivation… and on qualities of the environment where that practice takes place…. digital literacies are both constitutive and expressive of personal identity.’ (Littlejohn et. al., 2012:551)

The last sentence is where the next blog will begin.

Like this…

Digital literacies are individual and unique like fingerprints. As such there is no one size fits all solution for their development. Instead, they need to be situated within the patterns and practices of people’s lives. Experiential, contextual support, alongside relevant and appropriate learning opportunities, is central to creating digitally literate and confident learners and citizens of the future.


Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H. and McGill, L. (2012) Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol 28, issue 6

images my own or from pixbay.com

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digitally blooming – taxonomies for a digital age

LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) are busy. Next month we launch Design for Active Learning (D4AL), our toolbox of designs and activities with a focus on building in feedback data about how students are learning and how successful/or not their learning activities are.

learning activity cards spread on on a desk
examples of different learning design activities

The process has involved colleague Patrick Lynch and myself trialing a number of different learning design activities in order to build our own core framework. Underneath them all, I think I’ve found a consistent pedagogic skeleton.  Everything else is clothes and accessories, The skeleton begins with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

Blooming Bloom

Never has a taxonomy been so reproduced and challenged, uncritically accepted or taken apart and restructured. It’s been critiqued as linear, sequential and inappropriate for the 21st century but I don’t see it like that. In fact the opposite. For me Bloom is still relevant today. It all depends on how you view it.

Controversial as this idea might be, I want to suggest despite the different world we live in and the impact of the internet  – I’d go as far as to say Bloom could have been written for a digital higher education in 21st century.

Can I justify this?

Well, let’s try…

Bloom for beginners

Bloom had a team. There was a whole crowd involved but only himself as chairperson is remembered – a bit like Dearing being forever associated with widening participation, student fees and the implementation of virtual learning environments. Bloom et. al. were tasked with identifying the best way to construct the curriculum in the US school system. So, years and miles away in time and distance from UK HE today.  Not the best beginning I know!

What is Bloom’s Taxonomy?

It’s a classification system used to write a learning outcome. (LO). LO’s should contains a verb (an action),  an object (usually a noun identifying the subject of learning) and often the context where the learning takes place. The University of Nottingham show this example of the structure of a learning outcome in science.

worked example of a learning outcome from university of nottingham

Bloom basics

Bloom’s team identified three domains of knowledge. Learning activities today should aim to develop one or more of these domains and be capable of measuring the extent to which this has happened. When Bloom was revised (more of this below) a fourth

  • Cognitive (subject knowledge),
  • Psychomotor (dexterity/manual skills),
  • Affective (attitudes/values/emotions)

Bloom’s team addressed the cognitive domain.Critics of the taxonomy are quick to point out the difficulties of applying historical, linear systems to the complexity of real-world learning environments in 21st century but this triptych e.g VAK (Visual Aural Kinesthetic) has endured.  While research has debunked ‘the myth of learning styles’ (Coffield) it’s broadly accepted students have different learning preferences. Designing different tasks at different times which involve more than one approach can be beneficial.

The cognitive domain is most often displayed as a pyramid. This is reminiscent of the earlier hierarchy of needs by Maslow. In fact, Maslow should be incorporated into Bloom. Although the hierarchy has also been critiqued, unless students have met their basic needs, they’re unlikely to do well academically.

Learning designers should keep Maslow in mind.

MAslow Hierarchy of Needs pyramid
image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.svg

Back to Bloom…

The original version of the cognitive domain has six dimensions. these represent what Bloom called lower and higher order thinking skills.

  • Evaluation – appraise and critique
  • Synthesis – combine and integrate
  • Analysis – compare and contrast
  • Application – apply and restructure
  • Comprehension – understand and recognise
  • Knowledge – acquire and remember

In 2001 the dimensions were revised (Anderson and Krathwohl et. al.), Synthesis and Evaluation swapped around and Creativity given the top slot.

 

triangles showing original and amended blooms taxonomy
image from Wilson, Leslie O. (2001) https://thesecondprinciple.com/teaching-essentials/beyond-bloom-cognitive-taxonomy-revised/

There are dozens of versions of the original and revised taxonomy online, many of which have suggestions for understanding each dimension such as the one below from Vanderbilt University.

Bloom's Taxonomy pyramid

The most complex one I’ve seen is the rose version below. The conception of the taxonomy as a circle represents a more realistic approach for academic practitioners to follow, one where learning happens at different times in different subjects and is generally more complex and messy than the implied linear perspective originally proposed by Bloom.

Bloom's taxonomy as a circle with layers

Another aspect of Bloom to take into consideration is the division of knowledge into different types.

  • Factual  basic knowledge and facts e.g. vocabulary, definitions and specific details.
  • Conceptual  inter-relationships, e.g. information systems, classifications and categories.
  • Procedural  methods of inquiry e.g. algorithms and techniques with criteria for using them.

The revised Bloom added Metacognitive Knowledge  (awareness and knowledge of individual cognition e.g. manipulation of thinking processes). It differentiated between “knowing what” and “knowing how”. It also added greater emphasis on the sub categories attached to the dimensions. See A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview ( Krathwohl, D. 2010) for more details.

So that’s the framework.

Bloom’s taxonomy in 21st century 

21st century learning design is described by the Microsoft Innovative Educator Programme as involving communication and collaboration, with knowledge construction requiring interpretation, analysis and synthesis.

The UCL ABC types of learning design activities is based on previous work of the OU. It’s framework is represented by six cards covering acquisition, inquiry, practice, production, discussion and collaboration. It’s not hard to align these with the understanding, application, analysis, evaluation and creation of knowledge laid out by Bloom.

ABC learning activities

Digital Bloom

More recently, the taxonomy has been overlaid with a range of digital tools for achieving the different dimensions. Another indication Bloom is far from over yet.

Chart showing a digital version of blooms taxonomy

image Credit: Ron Carranza https://teachonline.asu.edu/2016/05/integrating-technology-blooms-taxonomy/

Many of the digital models retain the triangle or stepped pyramid approach which is not helpful. Don’t think of the dimensions as sequential but think circles, continuums or quadrants. A useful adaptation is the Padagogy wheel – which is well worth an exploration.

padagogy wheel

Last thoughts

The elements of Bloom’s taxonomy shouldn’t be dismissed as no longer relevant. Who wouldn’t support the development of activities which encourage students to acquire, apply, analyse and evaluate knowledge with the aim of creating new understandings. How better to introduce digital tools and literacies than via situations which require application, analysis and critical evaluation. The heart of  higher education remains the construction of new ways of seeing and the creation of new knowledge and the core concepts of Bloom’s taxonomy can help you design opportunities for learning which support this.

The taxonomy isn’t outdated. It’s blooming useful.

It’s not what you use, it’s how you use it which counts.


Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals (1956).

Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.), Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.