Digital practice

image showing digital code
image from https://pixabay.com/en/web-network-programming-3706562/

Mistakes can be useful learning tools but we’re rarely rewarded for getting something wrong.

Another way to learn is to have something you’ve become used to taken away.

My biggest learning curve with regard to digital practice was on the MA Open and Distance Learning with the OU. It was a fully online course with lots of different platforms plus we were piloting their MyStuff portfolio when such tools were still new. The MA was also my first experience of virtual meetings with audio and I still remember how I jumped when the tutor’s voice boomed out at me from my laptop as I entered the online room!

The course had an international cohort which was another fresh experience. Comparing education as I knew it with what was happening in countries like Russia and the US provided valuable knowledge but I learned most of all from the final two modules.

image showing an open book and pair of glasses
image from https://pixabay.com/en/knowledge-book-library-glasses-1052010/

I chose one from Psychology and one from Social Science without realising they hadn’t been transferred to online formats. Typically, I’d assumed all the OU units would be like the ones I’d just taken.  When the courier arrived with a box of books, papers and a DVD I realised my mistake. This was my course. There were no online forums, no virtual meetings and if I wanted to speak to my tutor I had to book a phone call.

The resources were good. I still have them. But the greatest learning came from not having the digital communication and collaboration I’d become used to. Without these I appreciated their value in a way I never would have done otherwise.

It was the same with the assessment centres. I had problems parking, arrived late, and struggled with the physical writing. I sent emails and used social media. I no longer wrote letters and did little more than sign my name by hand. For days afterwards my arm and shoulder ached and I still haven’t forgotten how it felt to be sat in a room with over 30 people all scribbling away in various states of stress as the clock ticked and the temperature rose.

rows of empty desks and chairs
image from https://pixabay.com/en/empty-exam-hall-deserted-nobody-314554/

Students still take examinations in this style.

Many VLE still look like content repositories when they can offer so much more.

Technology-first approaches to blended and distance courses are still common when all the evidence suggests a pedagogy-first path for the design of teaching and learning online is a more effective method.

I’ve been thinking of these experiences as I come to the end of my PhD. We’re discussing eternal examiners and planning a mock viva in preparation for the final defence. The end is in sight but I’m not there yet. There are still hurdles to jump. In the meantime, I’ve learned so much.

My research is practice-based. Participants were enrolled on my online courses, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA). I was an insider, both at the university and as the developer and facilitator of the programmes.  Each of the three iterations of TELEDA were 30 level 7 credits and on the advice of the external examiner I had the validation booked for merging two modules into a PG Cert in Digital Education. A restructure halted those plans and instead TELEDA became a Diploma level option on a new MA in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  It looked good on paper but institutional changes prevented it from happening.

Last year, with my colleague Patrick Lynch, we developed a pedagogy-first approach to enhancement called Design for Active Learning (D4AL). With or without technology, we explained, but its 2018, the tech will be in there somewhere, we’re just choosing not to lead with it. Again, progress was affected by changes we had no control over.

CMALY accreditation badge
image from https://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/cmalt/

When I gained my Certified Membership of ALT (CMALT) there were less than 100 certified learning technologists in the country. Today there are many more and for the past few years I’ve been a CMALT assessor. The portfolio submission has to address the design of learning yet the majority of people who apply are technologists. This reinforces the on-campus divides between those who promote technology enhanced learning and those who practice it on a day-to-day basis with students.

How can higher education institutions do more to develop their staff who teach and support learning to become digitally fluent practitioners?

TELEDA was successful.  I have a mass of data which confirms the value of experiential approaches to digital practice, in particular for later adopters of online ways of working. I know many participants took their TELEDA learning and applied to their own practice which was the original intention. Staff were enrolled as students on the institutional VLE and for many this itself was transformational. Getting lost online helped them rethink their own practice as did the supportive introductions to social media and creating audio and video as supplements for text. TELEDA covered learning design and assessment. It introduced the philosophy and practice of open education. We read and discussed seminal papers around the digital native and digital immigrant debate and Siemen’s Connectivism. It was an ideal opportunity to introduce accessibility of content as being of benefit to everyone and show how VLE and other digital tools supported widening participation and increasingly diverse student cohorts.MS Office 365 logos

image from http://www.iconarchive.com/show/microsoft-office-2013-icons-by-carlosjj.html

All this is in the thesis and published in a range of books and papers. I’ve learned a lot over the years about digital practice and like to think TELEDA is remembered by colleagues as a worthwhile investment of their time.

I’ve also seen a lot of changes in higher education and, like many others, have concerns about the future.  I remain convinced that VLE offer genuine opportunities for participation in transformational higher education experiences, in particular for students who are unable to enjoy a full time on-campus degree.

However, developing the necessary digital practice of staff who teach and support learning needs more investment. This is likely to remain the biggest hurdle of all.

image showing a fence in woodland
image from https://pixabay.com/en/gateway-the-fence-wood-fencing-1277010/

Janus head

image showing a roman scupture with two faces, eah looking different ways
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus#/media/File:Janus1.JPG

Christmas is coming.

Under review, my post excluded from the suggested new structure, I don’t know what lies ahead. The process has paused for the seasonal break and uncertainty creates the Janus effect of looking back, looking forwards.

Where have I come from?

Where am I going?

This is the second time I’ve witnessed digital practice being sidelined. In the past couple of years, both institutions I’ve worked in have been through reviews which appear to equate education technology with ICT Departments, rather than an integral component of academic practice.

I admit I’m on the inside looking out, so maybe I’m missing the wood for too many trees.

imge of trees from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/forest-trees-rays-sun-light-690075/

What seems clear, is my approach to digital education is at odds with wider institutional views.

So in this final post of 2018, I’m reflecting on my own beliefs and looking back over the Digital Academic blog posts of the past years for clues.

It starts with ‘like attracting like’.

In the same ways different disciplines have unique signature pedagogies, those working in the areas of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) are unique tribes occupying their own territories.  This can result in digital divides between the early adopters and those late making digital shifts in practice. Universities are made up of more than Visitors and Residents, they also include a third option, the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets and reaching them has been a primary driver of my work. A number of blog posts address these divides specifically.

selection of digital tools and devices
https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-technology-computer-business-3244483/

TEL people put on digitally themed events where the majority of faces are those you know. The Friends of TEL. occasionally you see someone new, full of enthusiasm for the topic, and actively engaged in finding ways to apply new approaches to their teaching practice. A few months later you pass in the corridor and ask how it went. They study the wall behind you and mutter something about not having had time before moving on.

Time for digital development needs to be recognised and adequately workloaded. This isn’t happening. As a consequence, staff who are already overloaded and under pressure to achieve ever-changing targets are unable to prioritise new working practices.

image from https://pixabay.com/en/paper-messy-notes-abstract-3033204/

My response to this was to apply lateral thinking. Rather than find new ways to attract people to use technology, I put the tech aside and focused instead on learning design. Staff might say they don’t do technology, and I’ve heard this said on numerous occasions, but they can’t say they’re not interested in student learning. So during the past year, my colleague Patrick Lynch and I developed a Design for Active Learning (D4AL) approach to enhancement. We promoted D4AL as being with or without technology and discovered in 2018, it was always in there somewhere. It just needed a pedagogy-first rather than than a technology-first approach to reach it.

Digital divides take many forms. One of these is made explicit by the practice of lurking. Traditionally understood as a negative behaviour, lurking was the topic of a number of blog posts back in 2016.

letter tiles spelling the words sounds of silence

During 2018, there’s been renewed interest in rethinking lurking as valid learning, a form of legitimate peripheral participation. It received wider interest via the Digital Researcher course and a number of online forums including #lthechat plus Twitter responses to these blog posts.

Lacking digital confidence is the path less travelled. Their absence is reinforced when TEL people are genuinely unaware of the parameters of digital exclusion, or how low literacies are contributory factors. Inclusive digital practice is not talked about enough but this might change in 2019.

closed padlock on a shut dor
image from https://pixabay.com/en/castle-chain-completed-shut-off-to-3788999/

The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 calls for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to meet accessibility requirements. However, realistically I wonder how much real difference will it make. Already we are seeing interpretation  through a technology lens with VLE suppliers offering ‘checking’ systems focused on table headings, alt text etc. This is not addressing individual changes in practice. The Design for Diversity project set up with colleague Lee Fallin tackles these with poster guidelines for all staff creating and uploading digital resources. The poster can be downloaded from here – Keep the Diversity Flag FLying here

Digital inclusion is like critical digital literacies – both are needed in theory and digital scholarship but are less often evidenced in practice. Yet ignoring the issues only results in widening the divides between those with easy unproblematic access and means of use compared to those without

Finally looking back pedagogically these blog posts offer new ways of reinterpreting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Blooms Taxonomy for a digital age. I’m convinced pedagogy-first is the way forward.

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

Some posts have been a bit political this year but only with regard to highlighting those issues which matter if society is to become a more equal and inclusive place, something I believe a ‘higher’ education should have as an underpinning philosophy and is integral to digital scholarship.

There’s been positive responses from conferences I’ve presented at this year, which included these issues, for example

presnting at the UCISA conference

And there’s the Lego with feedback showing real value in building, sharing and asking questions.

lego bricks from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/lego-colors-toys-build-up-disorder-688154/F

Plus, in relation to innovative approaches to learning and teaching, there was the work on using labyrinths as aids for reflection as detailed in Walking the Labyrinth and my Classical Allsorts Radio Show for Siren FM which explored the Mozart Effect while promoting music for studying to.

So – looking back – I should be ending 2018, and maybe my career, on a high but I don’t know what 2019 has in store and the ‘not-knowing’ casts a shadow over what’s usually a happy time of year. However, I’m a huge believer in closing doors leading to new ones opening and I like the idea of fresh and different opportunities ahead.

Also, the allotment has been much neglected this year.

Closing down for 2018…

image from https://pixabay.com/en/christmas-star-background-backdrop-2894952/

 

Tips for part-time PhD research

tangled mess of pink and green wool

A part-time doctorate is a challenge on many levels.

In 2014 I posted my top tips for surviving a part time phd Looking back, I think they’ve stood the test of time and would still recommend the following;

  • Make your research personal; you need passion to stay the course.
  • There’s never enough hours so make the topic inform your work. Chances of completing are increased by the connections between your research and daily practice.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for making small but beautifully crafted changes instead.

However, I’d extend this one

‘The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.’

I now realise doctoral research is not only about creativity – it’s about being brave. You need courage to put yourself out there in the public domain with all the risks of negative feedback and challenges. It’s part and parcel of being a doctoral researcher but part-time PhD students often lack opportunities to practice defending their choices.

Confidence and courage are two essential PhD attributes.

Wizard of Oz and the Lion who needs courage

Alongside the top tips, I’ve also been thinking about a ‘doctoral development’ list. Learning Development is an established field, thanks to the excellent work of ALDinHE but seems primarily concerned with undergraduate provision. Resources like Vitae require institutional licence, and although there’s helpful projects like SUCCEED@8 project (Supporting Community to Collaborate and Emotionally Engage in Digital Shifts) from University of Northampton, generic support for postgraduate research seems less visible. Based on my own research, I’ve found the following approaches really useful.

Action Research loops and spirals of reflective practice: I’d add ‘researchers’ to Laurillard’s suggestion that all teachers should be Action Researchers while Brookfield (2005:xiii) identifies ‘viewing practice through four distinct, but interconnecting lenses’, the experience of our students, colleagues, ourselves and the literature. For me, critical reflection on progress has been invaluable.

Finding your own boundaries: qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis tend to be looser than traditional positivist paradigms. My research is less concerned with measuring or predicting and more about investigation for improving understanding, so with less boundaries I had to find my own constraints. This has been a challenge. I’ve always had problems with boundaries as described in Know Your Limits but when I feel stuck I revisit Lincoln and Guba’s advice on trustworthiness, in particular their evaluative criteria. Establishing the following offers an authentic framework..

  • Credibility – confidence in the ‘truth’ of the findings
  • Transferability – showing that the findings have applicability in other contexts
  • Dependability – showing that the findings are consistent and replicable
  • Confirmability – neutrality or the extent to which the findings of a study are shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest.

Social media: make it work for you. The concept of the ‘Digital Researcher’ (e.g. #DigiResHull from University of Hull) is another under-developed area. Networking affordances are too often under-utilised. Twitter on a Sunday morning with hashtags like #phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life has been a lifeline.  You are not alone!

life ring against a stormy sea
image from https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-coast-spray-surge-2530692/

It’s year three at the University of Northampton and the plan is to complete in 2019. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to submit the bounded copy.

Freedom?

Doctoral study is a trap you fall into. The walls get higher until the light disappears and it’s just you and your data. No one else can do it for you. The loneliness of the long distance learner is hard to anticipate which is good.

If I really knew what lay ahead, would I have still applied?

Unequivocally…

Yes!

Because…

Reading the data is still rewarding. It reminds me how colleagues were supported to make shifts to more blended and flexible practice, utilising digital technology to explore new pedagogic led approaches to enhancing and extending the student experience. That makes it worthwhile. I know it helped individuals become more digitally confident in an increasingly digital sector and that’s what matters.

image showing laptop, tablet and phone with pictures emerging from the screen
imge feom https://pixabay.com/en/background-waters-computer-laptop-3048816/

Also, I’m filling a gap in the literature which is full of research into how students learn as e-learners but with less on how teachers teach as e-teachers. In contemporary accounts the ‘e’ has been dropped because it’s assumed the technology will be in there somewhere, but the reality is – for many colleagues – it isn’t.

By losing the distinction the sector is also losing the emphasis on negotiating digital shifts in practice and providing appropriate support.

Traditional lectures dominate cultural conceptions of ‘going to university’. They’re what students expect, how architects design – with rows of seats facing a single direction, while attempts to challenge this are utilised by the few rather than the majority, and frameworks for digital graduate attributes remain aspirational rather than evident in practice. Employers continue to highlight the issues (e.g. The Technology for Employability report from Jisc) but I still facilitate workshops on professional online identity where students have no idea what prospective employers might find if they google their names. Presentations and publications still have uncritical references to students as ‘digital natives’ despite the research discarding this (e.g. Helspeth and Enyon, 2009) Students might appear fluent users of technology but its use for learning and teaching remains a much of a  mystery to many.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

Digital education research is focused primarily on the innovators and early adopters whereas my interest is low adoption and establishing an inclusive digital baseline from which to move forward. This can only be done through research into how colleagues conceptualise teaching and learning, how they negotiate digital shifts in practice, develop digital fluency and establish digital presence, in itself an under researched area with regard to learning and teaching.

See you on Twitter Sunday morning!

#phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life

 

Images

borrow my eyes

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 puts digital inclusion in the spotlight. It’s waving the diversity flag, calling for greater attention to digitally inclusive practice.

For a number of years I’ve had an eye condition called Uveitis. It’s treated with steroid drops and

  sometimes

injections

          in the eye

I see the needle coming!

The pupil is dilated, letting in too much light and blurring my vision.  It’s a first-class experience of sight impairment.

For several years, I helped people with sight loss to use the internet. Before that I set up DITTO (Disabled Information Technology Training Opportunities) at Centre 88, in Hull. Experiences like these showed how inclusive practices are essential for digital equality.

Inclusion matters, not just to function in a digital society but to maintain independent living, one of those things where – as Joni Mitchell sang – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Borrow my eyes

Share the fog.

image showing text with different sight loss conditions
image source was Skills for Access which is no longer available

Font, size, colour and contrast make all the difference.

Before anyone shouts browser controls, let’s be clear from the start, they’re no guaranteed solution. You could even say they’re abjuration of responsibility, peddled by those with high digital skills and low experience of discrimination.

Browser controls need users to be digitally literate and read small print. Even more importantly, to work effectively they require content to be accessibly designed in the first place. So before I get dismissed yet again for saying browser controls are not the answer – hear me out.

Please.

Many of those with vision impairment are unable to read the browser menus.

These are often unresponsive to zoom (see examples further down) and not everyone with sight loss uses a screen reader which accesses content ‘hidden’ in the html.

Assumptions are dangerous.

It’s a perfect storm.

Examples…

Text unresponsive to resizing line length I often work with high magnification so it’s really frustrating when enlarged body text size on websites doesn’t wrap around the screen.  If I have to scroll horizontally to find the end of the line I soon give up. Also, scroll bars themselves don’t magnify – their colour merges rather than stands out – and the largest size mouse pointer isn’t large enough. All this makes scrolling difficult. I need text to be responsive.

The image below shows a typical text heavy content.

Image One – typical page  

imges showing text on the screen

Image Two shows the text has magnified perfectly because the designer has chosen a responsive layout option. The ‘Word Art;’ appearance of the title text is best avoided. Tired eyes struggle with shadow and 3D effects. I’ve also changed the colour contrast using a Chrome app. .

Note how the text in the Chrome Contrast App menu remains too small to read.

Image Two – differential text size  

image shows high contrast menu is fixed with regard to text and colour

Associated with this is the issue of printing.

Many web pages send content to print using font size which is 10 pt or less. It’s too small!

This can be fixed at the design stage by creating a print version.. Better still would be a user control option whereby I can state my preferred text print size. Is this possible? I don’t know but it would be helpful if Chrome. Microsoft or Apple took this on as standard practice.

WordPress have a plugin whereby blog pages convert to readable font for printing. If you use WordPress please add this BUT the free WordPress option – like this Digital Academic blog – doesn’t allow plugins. It’s so frustrating.

The images below show another example of menu text which does not resize. this time it’s Windows.

Come on Microsoft. It’s such an obvious issue.

Image Three – default windows display colours 

default windows display colours

Image Four below  is using Windows ‘High Contrast #1’ option. Image Three above is the Default Display with no contrast added.  Compare the Header/Title Bar and Footer/Taskbars. 

For me, the High Contrast #1 option is more difficult to see. It’s unclear how Image Four can be considered an improvement on the default settings shown in Image Three.

Image Four – high Contrast Windows display options

The version of Windows I’m using offers four high contrast display options. Image Five below shows an option while Image Six shows the Google search page and WordPress Dashboard are resistant to these styles.

Image Five – high Contrast Windows theme

Windows High Contrast colors theme

Image Six – High Contrast theme with Google and WordPress

Where the contrasts appear to work (Office  programmes like Word) the effects are local so a PowerPoint prepared using a High Contrast theme will lose all its colours when opened elsewhere. There should be ways round this but how many people are digitally literate enough to work it out?

i haven’t gone into the issue of digital skills and capabilities in this post but it needs saying – to create and access digitally inclusive content requires a digital literate practice. Where do people go to learn this?

Other sources of frustration…

Using the Tooltips option to give additional information can be useful, in particular for screen readers, but I don’t use one and because the font size doesn’t respond to magnification,  I can’t read Tooltips text.

Image Seven – tooltips text 

Too often, accessibility tools are tokenistic rather than realistic.

Windows offers a magnifer but have you tried using it?

It’s mouse controlled (which comes with its own accessibility issues). It’s annoyingly jumpy and the text pixellates on high zoom (see Image Eight below). This is something Microsoft really could and should have sorted.

Image Eight – text pixellates with the Windows magnifier  

Differential magnification has been referred to with regard to menu text. It’s also an issue with programmes, for example Outlook (Image Nine) and NVivo (Image Ten) where only text in the ‘working’ window is resizable.

Image Nine – Outlook  

I’m currently using NVivo for thematic data analysis. It’s a powerful programme but doesn’t support increasing text size anywhere other than the reading pane.

Image Ten – NVivo 

image showing text size in NVivo

The same applies to Webinars (Connect, Collaborate etc) where the chat window doesn’t support increasing font size and these are only a few examples!

Image Eleven  below shows a gmail message magnified to a size I can read BUT the left menu column expands with the right. I can’t reduce it, fix it or close it – even though I don’t need it. What I find is the enlarged reading pane has no scroll bars for moving up and down or across. Why not? For all scroll bars tend to be too small with poor colour contrast, not having them at all renders the page inaccessible.

Image Eleven – gmail  

imge showing gmial on high zoom with no scroll bars

While on the topic of Google, Image Twelve below is from my laptop. Google have one of those annoying header banners which resizes along with the text. As a result it takes up 50% of the screen, defeating the value of increasing the text size of the content.

Image Twelve – google header size  

image showing google header banner

Have I mentioned the scroll bars!

In early versions of Windows there was a customised option whereby you could select individual features like scroll bars and buttons and change their appearance. I haven’t seen that for years. Why aren’t commercial giants like Microsoft and Google doing more to offer practical, day-to-day customisation options.

Put the term ‘browser controls’ into Google and you’ll get a host of links about parental controls – any immediate association with accessibility is missing from the algorithm.

Following standard advice, I search for help. The suggestion is to install accessibility extensions (See Image thirteen below)

How many people know what these are? The instruction highlighted in blue in Image Thirteen below is not helpful – how do you know what extension you want? It comes back to the point I started with. Most users know what they need to know to do what they need to do. The language of accessibility is unfamiliar.

Image Thirteen – accessibility extensions 

Chrome instructions for finding accessibility extensions The full list of extensions can be seen here Take a look…are the titles meaningful for you? I can guess what a Color Contrast Analyzer is but the Chrome Automaton Inspector? More intuitive language would be helpful.

These days a thin grey font on a white background seems to be the fashion but the poor contrast between foreground and background means I struggle to read it. The same for text over images and content which is fully or centre justified. When your eyes are tired, text needs to be easy to read. Left justification takes one click to do and makes all the difference.

A final grumble…(for now!)

For years I’ve relied on the keys Ctr+ and Ctrl- to adjust the size of digital text and images. Quick, easy and free, I prefer it to the zoom controls because it gives me control over text size which seems fundamental in terms of access. Lately I’ve noticed a new practice creeping in. Ctrl+ scrolls down the page instead of zooming in. WHY?

magnifying glass

Why is always a good question.

Why does digital exclusion matter?

Why isn’t accessibility the start and end point for all digital design courses, programmes and modules – teaching and training – policy and practice?

Why the invisibility?

lack of status?

A topic the next blog post maybe…

postscript

I’ve been asked to include scanning text documents and sending them as pdf – this creates an image which can’t be read by any text to speech software and cant be enlarged without losing clarity.

Also – please – no text over images. The example below uses capital letters (which research shows takes longer to read and understand). The best practice is to put the text in a block of colour instead.

image showing ways to layout text on images

Check all content resizes on zoom – I still see examples which are unresponsive where text overlays other text on high magnification. Ctrl+ and Ctrl- is a quick way to zoom in and out.

contet showing text overlying text

 

digital blindness and rethinking Maslow’s Hierarchy through a digital lens

hand holding a mobile phone
image from http://ddnews.gov.in/health/blue-light-smartphones-may-speed-blindness

Digital blindness is increasingly common.

The medical risks are growing but blindness to digital theory and practice are also a concern.

Too often the creators and shapers of our online lives assume the prerequisite digital literacies are in place but assumptions are not enough. Sit in any social learning space for an hour and it becomes clear how many are unable to maximise a screen or name and save a file. Anyone supporting learnng and teaching will have similar stories to tell.

Higher education appears blind to the need for developing individual digital literacies and confidence.

Why is this?

For centuries, universities have been about knowledge acquisition. Students as buckets. Turn on the knowledge tap. Fill them up. A consequence is approaches to digital accessibility have tended to follow similar transmission models. The reality is simply putting information out there isn’t enough to change hearts and minds.

Check out the OU Innovating Pedagogies series and the NMC Horizon reports then ask yourself where do staff go to learn to be so digitally confident?

drawing of a seesaw with a cartoon grey brain and red heart
image from https://pixabay.com/en/brain-head-psychology-closed-mind-2146159/https://pixabay.com/en/brain-head-psychology-closed-mind-2146159/

The 21st century has seen a massive shift from teacher-teaching to student-learning, but places, people and practice remain unchanged. Students arrive expecting to be lectured, PowerPoint slides are overloaded. Delivery speeds up towards the end to fit everything in. We’ve all done it. It’s easier to use tried and tested methods than step into new territory.

When it comes to the digital agenda, the map is still being drawn. We need to rethink and repurpose.

Children become literate from an early age. They learn from schools and families but when it comes to digital literacies, which are arguably more broader and complex than ‘read and write’,  adults adopt DIY approaches. In higher education digital literacies exist on multiple levels. Core keyboard and screen literacies, the use of mobile devices and app culture, cloud computing, digital pedagogies and the digital fingerprints belonging to individual subject disciplines. Everything has a digital dimension.

All the elements of Maslow have digital equivalents.

repurposed Mslow Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid
repurposed image original from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.svg 

A digital hierarchy begins with connectivity. Who hasn’t felt panic when realising your mobile phone’s at home or there’s no wifi in the remote cottage you’ve booked for a week.

Digital data has become our dominant currency.  Everything done online creates data footprints. Citizens need to work and function effectively in digital environments. Government and NHS have shifted to Digital-first while higher education is dependent on digital administration and virtual learning environments. The data this produces is increasingly being used to inform policy ad practice.

Relationships are developed, maintained, enhanced and ended through social media and apps for communication, collaboration and file sharing.  Our online practice creates digital presence. Whether these digital images are true or false the evidence suggest the ways we perform identity online are integral to mental wealth and wellbeing.

At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy is Self-Actualization; becoming the best possible version of ourselves and realising potential. This is about self-fulfillment, which relates to the images we present. I’d suggest solely analogue means are no longer sufficient for living, learning and working in the digital age.

selection of digital tools and devices
image from https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-technology-computer-business-3244483/

I’ve been in higher education since the turn of the century and watched society become more and more dependent on digital literacies. Blindness to this is both metaphor and physical reality.

Digital is a massive agenda and by refusing to address it from universal, joined up perspectives, the sector has failed its staff across the board.

As a consequence, universities are failing students.

My concern is that digital blindness is infectious.

Becoming digital is an issue for higher education on so many levels. Teaching and learning, administration, employability and internationalisation while inclusive and accessible practice are essential elements for quality assurance via programme approval and validation  – the list could go on and on…

There’s a scattering of diverse groups and practices addressing digital inclusion, all excellent in their own way but too often isolated from each other.

While writing this I’ve been listening to the Jisc Webinar on the EU Accessibility Directive. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/training/new-regulations-new-risks-online-briefing

Details can be found in this blog post asking how much real difference the regulations will make.

It was affirming to see so many people on the Jisc webinar who care about creating accessible digital futures. I pledged to complete a post called ‘Borrow my Eyes’ which is about my own experiences with inaccessible online content.

Watch this space – it will be following soon…

mobile phone against a background of digitla faces
image from https://pixabay.com/en/smartphone-hand-photomontage-faces-1445489/

 

 

political

backboard sign sayiing Quiet Please

Events this week remind me of Shelia McNeil’s fabulous post on being political – Struggling with my Silence

You’re unaware of getting politicised at first.

It takes a key to unlock the door and this is what higher education does. Helps you see the world a different way – at least, I believe it should.

I’m an educator who’s worked in HE for 18 years as adviser, academic and researcher – so I would think that wouldn’t I?!

As women we’re bought up to be quiet and compliant, regardless of what’s going on around us. I’m thinking #Femedtech and how Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell’s presentation at the #ALT18 conference fired up my resistance to the invisibility of motherhood in the workplace. This is turn led to a couple of ‘coming-out’ posts with regard to feminism e.g. political and critical, a personal reflection

This week I’m left wondering if our complicit silence is part of the problem?

imag showing a crying baby

Should I make more noise?

Maybe I’m not political enough.

Maybe I should shout more from the rooftops – look at me – how I got here –  what I offer…

So here it is…

Silent no more!

image shwing audio recorded sound waves

I was politicised without knowing it. Even working with users of assistive technologies, I made opportunities for digital development without questioning why they were necessary in the first place.

Working for a national Epilepsy charity, I was fascinated by the negative cultural constructions around epilepsy but didn’t question their dissemination.

A decade earlier, my first degree had expanded my knowledge but not my critique, while my first Masters in Gender Studies introduced poststructuralism and postmodernism, but – I later realised – I was grasping them as theoretical concepts without application to real world situations.

It was 2000. A fin de siècle in digital terms but even the significance of that passed me by.

image showing transistors

In 2007, the Centre for Educational Research and Development at the University of Lincoln was created from a merger between teaching and learning development with international education leadership.  We kicked off with the Learning Landscapes project followed by Student as Producer while co writing two books The Future of Higher Education Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience and Towards Teaching in Public Reshaping the Modern University. During this time, I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society, successfully applied for external funding, took the lead in a HEA Change Academy programme, led a whole institution approach to embedding open education and supporting the experience of international students. I developed the Getting Started project from a single school to a whole institution approach to transition, completed a second Masters in Open and Distance Education and started a PhD. I was also researching, publishing and travelling the world presenting and disseminating my practice in inclusive education and supporting the student experience in virtual environments.

This is where I come from.

My politics were informed through the critical pedagogy of Friere, Giroux and hooks. Surrounded by a cohort of revolutionary Marxists, my previous experiences began to make sense. I saw the structures of discrimination but learned to resist understanding class as the ultimate determinant of inequality. Gender, disability, age, ethnicity etc all play their part.

image showing a row of different coloured gummy bearsweets

Inequalities still matter to me, as does widening opportunities for accessing higher education, which surely remains a root of social citizenship in the future.

‘…courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.’ (Robbins, 1963:8)

‘…increasing participation in higher education is a necessary and desirable objective of national policy over the next 20 years. This must be accompanied by the objective of reducing the disparities in participation in higher education between groups and ensuring that higher education is responsive to the aspirations and distinctive abilities of individuals.’ (Dearing, 1997: 101)

‘…the extent to which institutional concerns over status are mutually exclusive with the aims of widening participation is unclear…’ (Evans et. al. (2007:13)

‘Universities have made considerable progress in this area in recent years, but there is more work to be done…more effective evaluation of policies and interventions is needed. We need to improve the use of data in driving future developments and a focus on ‘what works’ underpinned by a robust and systematic use of the evidence.’ ​​(Universities UK, 2018)

image showing a room full of graduates at a graduation ceremony

Widening participation can only be as successful as the extent to which support for learning and teaching addresses the increasing diversity of student cohorts. The answers lie in enhancing the quality of teaching with the appropriate design of opportunities for active student learning, through a data informed approach to programmes as well as modules.

Once an educator always an educator.

Once the politics are out of the box there’s no squeezing them back in.

For a decade I worked in community development, My time in higher education has been about transferring what I learned about social and digital exclusion to staff and students, in particular in health care and practice placement.  On Monday I facilitated a workshop on the use of social media for students going into professional practice placement. An hour later I learned my role was excluded from the new Directorate structure.

Maybe it’s time to leave the ivory towers and return to the community, taking back some of the lessons from campus, politics and all, going back to my roots.

Hey ho, ho, ho – it will soon be Christmas. The new year might be starting in a different place to what I expected but I’m a great believer in new doors opening when existing ones close. One thing is for sure, if the PhD gets finished sooner rather than later, that can only be a good thing- can’t it?

sue watling with a parrot