Keeping the diversity flag flying

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 came into effect on 23rd September. It’s now a legal requirement for all digital resources supporting teaching and learning to be accessible.

Designing for Diverse Learners is a re-purposing of the UK government’s six posters on accessible design to create a single page set of criteria covering the principles of digital accessibility. These are for anyone who writes emails, creates word documents or builds presentations with text and images. Following the guidance anticipates and removes potential barriers to access. Based on years of experience of supporting inclusive practice, working with Jisc TechDis (sadly no longer with us) and with knowledge derived from teaching a range of users of assistive technologies, Lee Fallin and I have collated the basics. These include font size, colour and contrast, justification, link text and alternative formats. If everyone creating digital content follows this advice it would make a huge difference.

image of a padlok against computer code
We’re in the process of designing a digital home to host the poster and subsequent work. We’ve plans for supporting resources, including a card sort activity and board game. The idea is to create workshops with activities which promote and support the discussion and sharing of a digitally inclusive higher education experience.

In the meantime, an ex-colleague from the University of Lincoln, Marcus Elliott  (now at NTU) has begun to extend the Diversity poster, and shared the output in a blog post Thinking about Diverse  Learners. The work demonstrates the value of a creative commons culture of reuse and repurpose so all credit to Marcus for showing the value of an open approach in this way.

guidance for accessibility poster

Marcus has taken the NHS Design Principles, based in the NHS constitution, to add an additional page on the Principles of Design (see above).

When it comes to digital accessibility, the NHS are worth exploring. They’ve had a Digital First policy for nearly a decade, spelt out in their Digital Data and Information Strategy.

When I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society back in 2011, it was driven by the need for more digitally inclusive health care practice. at a time when the government were moving to put all their information and welfare services online. Back in the day I provided sessions for social work students designed to raise awareness of how service users, often already marginalised and disempowered, are expected to have the digital access and literacies to negotiate an online benefits system. Since then, the NHS have bought in online GP appointments and medical checks from home with digital systems for online consultations.

NHS Digitsl logo blue on white

Universal Credit, designed to incorporate all payments into one, is the government’s move to a digital first provision of welfare. This week there’s  been calls for stopping it. Voices include Sadiq Khan, Lord Mayor of London and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury on the grounds of it leaving too many people worse off. The parameters of digital exclusion mirror existing discrimination yet nowhere in this week’s media has there been mention of universal credit being a welfare system managed online.

logo for Universal credit, blue letters on whit background

Digital accessibility is about all these things. Digital literacies are not only about readable font and good colour and contrast. They’re about digitally inclusive practice too.

My eyes are tired. Too many evenings and weekends doing data analysis using s software package which does not adequately respond to magnification. I’ve been drafting the thesis chapters to build the framework within which the analysis is located as well as writing blog posts like this one calling for change. It’s a lot of screen time on top of the day job.

spaniel puppy lying down with big sad eyes

For me, tired eyes equates to an increasing reliance on clear digital text. Too often I find unresponsive design and zoom controls being prevented from working effectively. Design trumps accessibility. I’ve said this before and will be saying it again. The steps needed to make digital content accessible are  not difficult.

Seven key principles guide the NHS in all it does. They are underpinned by core NHS values which have been derived from extensive discussions with staff, patients and the public. Marcus is spot on to add these to the Design for Diversity work.

Lee and I have ambitions to have the poster printed and displayed above every photocopier alongside the CLA requirements. To have cards which are on everyone’s notice board or wall. We want to see an institutional digital accessibility strategy based on the principles of the Web Accessibility Initiative; to build time for developing  inclusive practice into the work allocation process, and a greater general awareness of how digital accessibility matters, so much, to everyone.

hundreds of lego people

Because digital inclusion isn’t only about people with disabilities. It’s about temporary disablement through broken bones or sensory impairment. It’s about a socially democratic internet. When my uveitis flares up I need steroid medication. The treatment enlarges the pupils of my eyes, letting in too much light and making me see through a white fog. With resisable. responsive design and clear readable font with good contrast, I can continue to work in digital environments,  Without it I can’t. I’m disabled by the technology which in theory should be creating a more inclusive user experience.

image of a tick list with a pen

My concern is the new UK legislation will be seen as a set of tick boxes, without the underpinning knowledge of what digital exclusion is really like and the consequences of inaccessible digital design for learners. The student experience should be at the heart of higher education and the new act is an opportunity for change, to ensure digital accessibility is a supported literacy, alongside reading and writing, in order to make the increasingly digital society in which we live and work an inclusive one too.

ALT logo - green on white

There is now a law which supports this. Ros Walker from the University of Stirling has written a post for the ALT blog titled Important New /Accessibility Regulations. Its a valuable post well worth reading. I have just one query. Ros writes ‘This work would largely need to be addressed jointly by service providers within the institution such as disability services, web development and IT.’ I would add learning development and academic practice too.

With my colleague Patrick Lynch, we’ve built inclusion into the learning design module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP) at the University of Hull.  I facilitate a digital inclusion session for our Professional Practice in Higher Education Teaching and Learning module for postgraduates who research and teach. There’s also a workshop in the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Academic Professional as Development Framework (APDF) run by Lee and myself.

Promoting digitally inclusive practice as integral to the enhancement of learning and teaching is the way forward and there is now a law which supports this.

The future is looking bright.

My hope is it’s looking more accessible too.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

 

 

 

Will the new Accessibility Regulations make any real difference?

closed padlock on a shut dor

On 23 September, 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive became law. Websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies have to meet an accessibility requirement. While not explicitly referring to ‘Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), course documents, and video recordings of lectures’ as listed by Wonkhe the need for online content to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (WCAG 2.0) strongly suggests this is the case.

However, it isn’t obvious.

The majority of media coverage I’ve seen so far prioritises the technical structures of websites and mobile apps. Neither Jisc’s Accessible Organisations or Gov.uk’s Make your public sector website or app accessible make explicit reference to resources for teaching and learning.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

So already I’m confused. Exactly what does the law say with regard to the day-to-day digital documents uploaded to institutional VLEs?

It seemed I had to do what my first supervisor always advised – read the original text. I started with the European Directive.

Ignoring the paradox of centre alignment, capital letters and fully justified paragraph text!

There are two references to intranets

(34) Member States should be able to extend the application of this Directive to other types of websites and mobile applications, in particular intranet or extranet websites and mobile applications not covered by this Directive which are designed for and used by a limited number of persons in the workplace or in education….

Paragraph 37 was more helpful with regard to accessibility requirements.

(37)

The four principles of accessibility are: perceivability, meaning that information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive; operability, meaning that user interface components and navigation must be operable; understandability, meaning that information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable; and robustness, meaning that content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. (my emphasis)

So there it is!

If content has to be robust it has to be accessible.

It seems the detail is in the exemptions. The Directive refers to the content of extranets and intranets while the UK statute, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations also list content under the exemptions.

(2) ‘These Regulations do not apply to the following content of a website and mobile application of a public sector body

  • office file formats published before 23rd September 2018…
  • pre-recorded time-based media published before 23rd September 2020.

Office file formats are defined as ‘a document in a format that is not intended primarily for use on the web and that is included in web pages, such as Adobe Portable Document Format, Microsoft Office documents or their open-source equivalents.’

It sounds like everything uploaded to a VLE has to comply.

The law came into force this week. All new content has to be compliant within one year and existing websites within two years..

I should be delighted, I think.

black silhouette of a person juming for joy against a background of words meaning delight

Instead, I’m not sure what real difference this will make.  Accessibility is an attitude as much as a practice. It’s complex.  While the new law makes it clear the structures of websites and apps must be accessible, it could have done more to define the nature of the digital content it applies to.

PDF, Word, PowerPoint, audio and video are probably the most frequently used file formats by staff who teach and support learning.  Is the law really saying each of these have to be accessible i.e. follow WCA2 and be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust? If so it would be useful to see this stated more explicitly.

MS Office logos

I have questions.

What about teaching and learning material on institutional blogs, or student work posted on sites provided by universities, or feedback given using audio or video on a VLE?

Changing practice requires a sound rationale. You shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to understand the law but this is how it feels with regards to the Regulations .

I feel bad about my lack of enthusiasm but revisiting the Digital Soapbox  shows some of the breadth and scale of digital exclusion issues.

These posts go back eight years. What has changed?

Digital inaccessibility is the scandal of 21st century. The social model with regard to the built environment is broken every day. Categories of ‘disablement’ grow incrementally year on year, while support for equal opportunities for access and participation gets less.

black and white image of a wheelchair on the edge of a kerb

Digital exclusion is part of larger structured attitudes towards difference and diversity. For all legislation is needed as a baseline, I’m not sure these new Accessibility Regulations will make a great deal of difference to day-to-day practice.

Lee Fallin and I have been looking for ways to support digitally inclusive literacy and developed this poster suggesting changes in habits with digital content e.g. selecting a good colour contrast and a readable font.

Following the tips on Designing for diverse learners could make a big difference to how students access text, images and multimedia. The new Accessibility Regulations are big on structures but vague on content. Ensuring accessible resources comes down to the basics with text and image. This is our starting point and the poster is freely available to anyone who wants to use, reuse or repurpose it.

Accessibility was a fundamental ambition of the early web pioneers.

‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ Tim Berners Lee (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  Daniel Dardailler (1997) W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Project Manager Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal.Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIDE/f1.htm 

Twenty years on digital content is more inaccessible than ever.

Will these regulations make any real difference?

Hating to say it, but I’m not sure they will.

Please, somebody tell me I’m wrong!

political and critical; a personal reflection #ALTC #femedtech

green nd white ALT logo

ALT and motherhood on the same page?

I didn’t see that coming!.

Last week Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell presented A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018 describing themselves as IT professionals, lecturers, community educators, postgraduate students, researchers, feminists, social activists, and mothers.

Since watching the live stream, I’ve been reflecting on political and critical perspectives and, following my last post Start the Week Backwards have written this response to the zeitgeist mood of the 25th ALTc.

My career’s been shaped by motherhood, divorcehood and resulting single-parenthood.  Built round term-times, it was one long juggling act, never stopping, never resting, life full on until the nest was empty and I woke up one day with the whole weekend ahead and no idea of what to do.

image showing the word start on a road

It’s been liberating to acknowledge a gendered perspective to my decades working with education technology. Last week in Start the Week Backwards I returned to 1989, to my first degree as a mature ‘widening participation’ student, my early encounter with DOS computers running Wordstar and Lotus. I cried during an ‘IT Test’ when I accidentally pressed the Insert key.  I didn’t know it existed, never mind why all my text was being overtyped.

I hope I never forget how that felt.

cartoon showing a person facing angry technology with the caption The Battle we all Face

My first degree was transformative in so many ways. It cost me my marriage.

Apparently, no one likes a clever git.

I moved from country to inner city. It was February 1991. The coldest winter with the heaviest snow. My student loan fixed the boiler and bought a cooker. The second-hand electric shop wanted £5 for delivery. I borrowed a sack barrow and delivered it myself.

The greatest life lesson I learned was this.

Regardless of gender, the parent with the least earning potential takes on most of the childcare. A salutary lesson.  A universal rule like Jane Austen on men and wives (note the primary identity!)

Before the start of the conversation started by Catherine and Frances, the last time I ‘outed’ myself as a parent was five years ago in Who will clean the toilets after the revolution This was my problem with feminism. The personal is political but it has to be practical too.

blue plasticine person leaning over a white toilet

Today I’m comfortable in my empty nest and appreciate my freedom of choice. I admire colleagues who juggle full-time work alongside small children, especially those with babies. Feminism and equality campaigns have made flexible working possible, although I suspect it’s an ongoing struggle, financially, emotionally and physically. The women who make it are stars!

gold stars

A personal and feminist lens shows gender affected me. Being a female of a certain age when I entered HE has influenced opportunities and choices.  During Catherine and Frances’s presentation, I looked for a photo of myself with the children, realising for the first time how few there are.  Lots of babies, with and without their father, but not with me. This was before the days of mobile phones and selfies – not that long ago – all I could find were two.

This is what happens to women in the home. They become invisible. It’s the public work versus the private ‘hearth and home’ binary all made real.

cut out images of domestic tools and tasks

I wouldn’t have it any different, but I do sometimes wonder how different it might have been.

My career in adult, community and higher education has been eclectic, like so many others. An  eclecticness shared so creatively in a timeline by Amber thomas, who gave a keynote at #ALTc. Throughout my working life, I’ve been a mother, step-mother, carer.  Constant but rarely discussed. Why? Is it because I’ve worked mostly alongside men?  I’ve never thought of this before. It shows the power of Catherine and Frances using the motherhood word in conjunction with technology, research, social activism. Been there. Done that. But it’s not often I’ve reclaimed gender in public.

Thank you women of ALTc, for giving us permission to do the same.

We need more stars!

gold starsgold starsgold stars

Like so many women, I’ve done life backwards. Much of my knowledge is experiential. This means I often feel I’m swimming against the tide.

Practice can disempower in the way assumptions discriminate.

Being a female of a certain age, I feel othered in ways I imagine are not shared by men. I write about the digital but have analogue roots The ‘O’ word is banned. I refuse to accept life as linear. For me, it’s circular and spiral, like a a labyrinth. Remember the labyrinths? This is another area of work I’d love to resurrect, but people move on and the early momentum of a movement looking at walking meditative practice for learning development and reflection feels faded. At least the blog and the photos remain Walking the Labyrinth

Women who do too much!

Why are we so driven?

Julian's Bower Turf Labyrinth at Alkeborough, North Lincolnshire
Julian’s Bower Turf Labyrinth at Alkeborough, North Lincolnshire

Age is discriminatory.

Socially, culturally, politically….

Take the phrase Early Career Researcher. It ‘Others’ me. I feel excluded. My PhD is the biggest independent piece of research I’ve done but in terms of time it’s late rather than early. I have two degrees and two Masters. I hold CMALT plus SFHEA. If I’m not an Early Career Researcher, what am I?

Identity has been an issue for some time.

I was Senior Lecturer in Education Development. Now I’m a Teaching Enhancement Advisor in Professional Services.

a white building with the word university in silver

Take the word ‘academic’ off your employment contract and what does it mean?

Who am I within university tradition and practice?  Where do I fit?

Amber’s keynote was inspirational.  It spoke to all women with eclectic careers built round the public face of ed tech alongside the private space of hearth and home. Amber’s timeline reinforced how the industry continually transforms itself, creating new identities to solve the same old issues.

We know.

Our voices may have been silenced but we know what’s going on.

It’s not about the technology.

This is why the promised transformation hasn’t happened.

Like attracts like and technology determinist approaches won’t reach the non-digital whose doors are closed and habits fixed. This is not to belittle either but we need to talk. To everyone across borders and boundaries; to everyone involved in creating opportunities for students to learn.

We need to learn too.

I like an Appreciative Inquiry approach. This assumes the answers are in the room. Rather than investing in expensive external consultancy and the input of perceived ‘experts’,  we should invest in exploring ways of sharing what we already know.

I like Jung’s theory of collective unconscious. I believe in the possibility of univerisal memories, that shared expereinces create energy. It explains the attraction of an open fire and the awe of layng on a hill top below a night sky full of stars.

Memories are strange phenomena. They disappear when you want them then reappear for no apparent reason. Proust’s Madeleine has happened to us all. Sarsaparilla on your tongue. Electric shivers from a full moon.

full moon at night shining on dark waer

Pedagogic practice hasn’t really changed. My first experience of higher education was during A levels. I signed up for an evening class at the Universty of Hull. In the Wilberforce Building. Now I work there. The building has had a facelift but the rooms are fundamentally the same – small with no windows and rows of desks facing the front.

Last year I finished a part-time degree at Hull. Six years of attendance. Twelve modules taught in the same Wilberforce Building in rooms with rows of desks facing the front. No technology was used during the making of this degree. The only time the PC was switched on was student presentations where I used Powerpoint.

lassroom with rows of empty desks and chairs all facing the board at teh front

When is comes to teaching and leaning, technology is not the solution. There’s no magic tool to solve the problems but plenty of technology-based solutions which have added to them.

Learning and teaching is where we need to begin. The design of opportunities for learning with or without the tech. It’s 2018. It’s going to be in there somewhere, in the same way it’s at home and in the workplace.

So what are the problems?

Well, the status of being digitally literate for starters. This is a requirement which needs to be elevated alongside english and maths, but even so, technology is not the answer. Not on its own.

There are bigger issues.

Like widening participation; the opening up of university courses ‘… for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”  (Robbins Report, 1963)

The NSS arrived with promises it would not lead to league tables when it was clear this was exactly what would happen.  Today, the NSS combined with student fees, pose a potential (and predictable) perfect storm.

Despite it all, I still believe in the concept of higher education for the public good. The often quoted analogy of public good with lighthouses is – I think – apt. Shining light into darkness, warning of danger.

Danger?

light house on Isle of Skye at teh end f a long rocky prootary looking out to sea

Education can hurt and be uncomfortable. It should be full of liminal spaces and troublesome knowledge. Unfortunately, it can break relationships and create division – but also open hearts and minds, shine light on exclusion and discrimination, be a beacon for socially democratic thinking and provide opportunities for individuals to be transformed and thrive.

Why shouldnt it be for the public good?

person standing in front of the siplay boards in an airport

Across the country, thousands are preparing for arrival on campus. Diverse cohorts are packing bags and preparing to leave home. Others are sitting late at night juggling the school run on paper with nursery pickups and contingency plans for when the grandparents are ill. Those who’ve had unexpected life changes are looking to university with no idea of what lies ahead. To those who are unsure, I’d say feel the fear and do it.

image showing a erson leaping across a chasm at suset

In all of this, the women working in higher education, in partcular in ed tech and digital practice, have their own unique contribution to make. Accustomed to suppressing the maternal and personal, they can add hugely to the collaborative processes of teaching and learning.

We need a platform and a voice.

I hope the conversations started at ALTc are enabled to continue.

table discussion with an open laptop

images from ALT and pixabay

Start the week backwards #ALTC #femedtech

We look ahead and forget the value of looking behind.

It’s ALT time again.

green nd white ALT logo

If you’re involved with technology for teaching and learning, then ALT is the place to be. Of all my networks, it never fails to deliver. My first ALT conference was Rethinking the Digital Divide It was 2008. The place  was the University of Leeds. Speakers included George Siemens, Gilly Salmon, Jane Hart and Hans Roslin. Ten years on, the ALT 2018 programme is still full of wonderful things.

Logo for Certified Member of ALT acreditation as a learning technologist

I’m looking out for A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018 with Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell.  I read Catherine’s accompanying blog post Reflecting before ALT and was struck by the crossovers with my own life.

We’re all unique women and this is an opportunity for us to have a voice. We’ve lived and worked through great transitions in communicative and collaborative practice. Our voices are based on years of experience. We know where we’ve come from and that matters.

Catherine and Frances will examine some of the key themes of ALTC during the past 25 years (particularly in the areas of Open/Active Learning and Community/Communities of Practice) and explore how personal experiences intersect and compare.

The personal is political. This is about making change happen.

rosie the riveteer

One of the subheadings in Catherine’s Personal Reflection is Community Education. It was one of many resonance points and the driver for this post. How many others have experienced Community Ed’s potential for transformation and bitterly regret the closure of  part-time learning paths for adults.

This personal, feminist, critical retrospective has power.

I’m responding to be part of the experience. The voices of women are still too often silenced but we have the technology to challenge this. The potential for liberating silenced voices must be realised and we can contribute towards making it happen.

What matters iswe remain vigilant of the fact that access and usage are still divided and diverse.

Personal reflection, 1989- 2018

1989 – youngest child at school, I enrolled on my first degree. Applied Social Science.  It was a transformative experience. As higher education should be. When I graduated in 1992, the libary catalogue was a card index file and assignments written by hand. There was a computer room. I learned Wordstar. Lotus. DOS. In 1989 I enrolled at Hull College of Further Education, which became Humberside Polytechnic, then the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. All in three years. I offer this to show I’ve lived through not only digital change, but the reconstruction of higher education as well.

man with arms outstretched by the river humber and humber cridge

I began my degree as a mature student, wife and mother, commuting 60 miles a day to study. I’d given up my safe civil service career in London to start a family and move back home, to the north. How many women can identify with that?

During my degree I got divorced.

Higher education can have this effect.

I knew someone in the same situation, who was also commuting and struggling with single parenthood. At the time it made sense to pool resources so by the end of my degree, I was living in the city and realising feminism had problems.

Children have to be looked after, all the time, and in particular when they’re poorly and off school . Food has to be bought and prepared. School uniforms washed and ironed. My career dreams faded in the glare of reality. Regardless of gender, I learned the parent with the least earning potential gets the childcare and someone has to clean the bathroom.

bathroom
image from https://pixabay.com/en/bathroom-bathroom-interior-design-1085991/

Adult and Community Education – it fitted with the school week and holidays. This was the time of the European Social Fund and money was splashing around for computer training.  Couldn’t afford a second car so I rode a push bike 60 miles a week to all my sessions across the city. I was known as the biking tutor. An early adopter of literacy and math support using computers, I ran RSA Word Processing sessions, CLAIT, Desk Top Publishing et. al., set up Computers for the Terrified, for Women Returners, for those changing careers. DITTO (Disabled Information technology Training Opportunities) was my highlight; a ground level room in an accessible building. Digital doors had opened. It seemed everyone wanted the affordances of the internet but it was too biased for this to happen.

MS Windows 3.1 was a disaster.

Widows 3.1 screen shot
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_3.1x#/media/File:Windows_3.11_workspace.png

Tim Berners Lee wrote about the potential of an accessible internet for digital democracy. Well, tell that to Bill Gates. DOS had so much potential for equality of access and use while the GUI, with its visual icons and tricky mouse navigation, excluded whole sections of the population. This narrow range of access criteria has continued.

I wrote to Bill Gates.

He didn’t reply.

2000 – higher education – my entry role was a widening participation project officer, building virtual links for partner schools and colleges. Then the university moved and I began a 100 mile a day commute to the new campus and a new role in an education development team.

panopticon

image from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault-disciplineandpunish-panopticism-html

Hello Foucault…

A self-funded MA in Gender Studies led me to Butler’s troubling of gender  and concepts of performativity. I revisited Goffman’s perfomance of self and applied it to the construction of digital identity (long before social media happened).  I read Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality. They turned my world upside down and blew my mind. Postmodernism had its problems but shouldn’t be totally dismissed. It taught us to break the binary, understand langage as semiotics and shone much needed light onto structured inequality.

postmodernism spelt out in letters

I developed Uveitis. The treatment impaired my vision and I learned about inaccessible digital design.

As a volunteer, I supported people with sight loss to use computers and shop online – learning even more about the parameters of digital exclusion.  I wrote to the government complaining about Universal Credit and how those without digital access would be discriminated against.

The govenment promoted library access to PCs as a solution but in my home town, this was limited to one hour a day. The system knew if you tried to get on at a different library and shut you out – all the time you were online, a clock was counting down the minutes in the corner of the screen. How many people knew about this?

open watch showing inner movement

I could go on all day…

Changes, in terms of the VLE, mobile devices, social media etc but also in the wider reconstruction of HE, are all reinforced by those who don’t remember it being any different, while the wider social impact of the internet is universal.

This is why I welcome those with a voice to speak out, to speak from wisdom, born of experience, of years of reading, reflecting, writing about higher education and digital technology. I believe the need for developing critical digital literacies, which include these issues of exclusion and bias, has never been greater. Without this happening, whole generations will make assumptions about access and use. They will mistake the mass of personal opinion they’re exposed to on a daily basis, from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter etc,  for knowledge and truth. Google et. al. are doing nothing to stop this. I’ve seen the algorithms change over the years. Careful choice of search terms could get you close to where you wanted to be. No more. Today it’s all surface stuff, paid ads and other forms of marketing not to mention the darkeness of the deep web. The internet is mirroring society. Black Mirror is worth watching.

We need to talk about what’s happening and how higher education can ensure students are equipped to understand and face the digital challenges ahead.

Thank you Catherine and Frances, for taking the steps towards making this happen.

image of a long empty road
Route image from https://pixabay.com/en/road-highway-route-asphalt-journey-691124/

 

 

 

 

 

landing a jumbo jet on a postage stamp

image from  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Aviation/Selected_picture#/media/File:Inverted_Jenny.jpg

Some blog posts bubble and brew for months.

Others burst out of nowhere – like this one.

It started earlier today with a tweet…

HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) posted a blog piece on admissions How to land a jumbo jet on a postage stamp

Good title, great hook.

HEPI is a think tank; a research institutes with a remit to underpin policy with evidence. Some think tanks are funded by government bodies and clearly positioned left or right of centre. HEPI claims to be the UK’s only ‘independent think tank devoted to higher education’.

banner from HEPI blog site

The jumbo jet on the postage stamp was about admissions. Author Nick Hillman recently explored this in a Guardian peice which referred to ‘an explosion in unconditional offers, where a university wants a student so much it doesn’t mind what A-level results they achieve‘.  These days, HEI set admissions criteria and places can now be offered on the basis of predicted grades rather than actual ones (despite a 2016 report by UCL and UCU suggesting only 16% of predictions were accurate).

It’s the students fees wot dun it.

Admissions has become a market place. There, I’ve used the language of commodification, of students as consumers, or even worse, customers. Well, I believe, I really believe, there’s enough people working in HE who still see it as more, so much more than a product to be bought and sold.

What doesn’t help is uncritical use of language, for example the HEPI piece referring to institutions and prospective students as buyers and sellers.

So I tweeted so say I felt disappointed at what appeared an uncritical use of language.

The phrase in my head was ‘public good’. What happened to the discourse of ‘higher education for the public good’?

PG refers to services which benefit society without citizens necessarily having to pay for them. A university for the public good is an institution charged with developing the citizens of the future, in a socially democratic society, and upholds the principles of social justice and equality.

There was a time when going to university was free. Sounds crazy now but I took my first degree just as student loans began. It was 1990 and I was one of the first to take advantage. It made all the difference. I’d become a single parent; relationship breakdown being an unacknowledged side-effect of higher education which no one talks about. The student loan meant I could finish my degree and still feed the kids. So in a way I paid for my education but it was nothing compared to the debt students put themselves in today, and the debts my own childrn and their partners are paying off.

Commonly quoted examples of public good include municipal gardens, national parks and lighthouses. They exist to make our lives better, safer, more fulfilling. A university for the public good is about equipping  graduates to take up public office and care about a fair and just society, one with equal rights and opportunities.

HEPI replied saying thanks for the feedback. But wouldn’t it be wrong, this close to results day, to pretend we have anything other than the system we do when people need help making choices?

I struggle to accept the reduction of higher education to a buyer and seller’s market.

There’s a number of ways to look at 21st century society. They include the fictional lenses; 1984 by George Orwell (1949) and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). There are many versions of the aphorism ‘fiction is the lie which tells a truth’ and both these novels contain resonance.

In Orwell’s dystopian vision, media messages were readjusted at regular intervals to suit the power structures of the day i.e. the construction of fake news and false truths, while wherever you were, whatever you did – Big Bother was watching you

OR

Huxley’s Brave Bew World of Hypnopaedia, sleep control aimed at persuading the population to remain in soma-induced highs, a drug freely provided by the government to induce semi-permanent states of bliss in a society where drugs and sex were the only sources of entertainment.

Which would you prefer?

HEPI says it’s an independent think tank but referring to universities as sellers and students as buyers sounds more like buy-in than reminaing neutral. Systems are constructed to support dominant mechanisms of power and control, in this instance capitalism and a free market economy. I don’t deny higher education is being commodified and HEI have to adapt to survive, but language is a powerful reinforcer of ideology and people in positions of influence should take care over their choice of words.

I still believe in the power of higher education to change not only individual lives for the better but as a proactive  voice calling for a fairer more equal society.

Thanks for the reply I tweeted back.  My worry is the risk of accepting ‘the system’ is to construct the degree as an ‘off the shelf’ product for purchase when knowledge acquisition can be complex and challenging as well as a potentially transformative life experience

HEPI ‘liked’ my reply but the conversation stopped there, but it’s still going on inside my head.

The stamp image at the top of this blog, the inverted jenny, was mistakenly printed in the wrong position; an error which became worth a fortune, showing how in the midst of darkness, there may be light ahead.

The Other Side of Lurking Part Two, searching for explanations, digital imposter syndrome or digital self-efficacy?

9mage of a duck peeping over the edge of a cliff

In Part One of The Other Side of Lurking, I wrote about the #HEdigID #OEP discussion (13/07/18) on Twitter. Every day this week something new has been added to the debate. It’s good to talk.  Lurking risks being side-lined by the rhetoric of innovation and transformation. Let’s face it – digital shyness or resistance are usually less attention grabbing headlines.

Conclusions validate lurking as learning. It’s a valid strategy. So lurking’s not a problem, right?

…but if it’s your virtual environment and you’re dealing with silence, it can’t be ignored. Lurking flies in the face of everything we’re told 21st century education should be, namely active. We’re well versed in communities of practice and inquiry, zones of proximal development, social, cognitive and teaching presences, and so on – and they all require interaction.

Networks need people, don’t they?

We’re schooled to see communication and collaboration as the heart of active learning yet the data says otherwise. Whether we measure with Nielsen’s 90% or Pareto’s 80% non-participation rates – consumption without contribution is rife and suggests most of us are comfortable with digital isolation.

Are we creating a problem which doesn’t exist?

an office full of empty chairs

The scenario is familiar. I set up an online discussion, but no one used it, so I didn’t do it again.

Lurking can’t be ignored. Digital silence speaks but what is it saying?

Are the students ok or have they disappeared?

Are they managing their learning or are they struggling?

We wouldn’t run a seminar in silence.

image showing a group of sparrows

I need to know lurking better.

My research is about digital shifts. How staff who teach and support learning conceptualise their practice in a digital age. What influences individual attitudes and behaviours.  Data suggests the permanence of digital publication is frequently feared. Once words are in the public domain, they’re gone. No longer under control, let loose in an open arena, exposed to the responses of others and risking – many people believe – potential ridicule.

Damn Twitter’s lack of an Edit function. But its more than seeing carefully crafted ideas spoiled by typos. What if the ideas themselves are flawed in some way. What if you’ve used an incorrect reference, or inappropriate word or phrase. Worse, what if you’ve misunderstood the question or the reading, Suppose, just suppose, your thoughts are deemed incorrect and you’ve exposed your lack of knowledge about key concepts to the world.

image of a goldfish flying out of a glass of waer

From data collected over the years:

…what if I look foolish.

…what if I’m wrong.

…what if people think I’m stupid

The fear is once your words are out there you can’t get them back.

Sun, Rau, and Ma, (2014) categorise lurkish behaviours and under ‘personal dispositions’ they cite self-efficacy.  This is the inner turmoil which influences attitudes and behaviours. Jerome Bruner described it as ‘people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives” (1994: 2)

Self-efficacy is our individual motivation driver. High self-efficacy fires you into action, underpinned by the ability to push yourself forward, believing you can achieve whereas low self-efficacy results in fear. It will come as no surprise, those with low self-efficacy have more self-doubt, spending inordinate amounts of time imagining 101 obstacles and 1001 possibilities of error.

They feel the fear and don’t do it.

person hiding underneath cushions

A quick google search brings up connections between self-efficacy and technology. Where there’s tech there’s emotion. Liz Bennett at the University of Huddersfield has written about the emotional work involved when adopting digital practices.  Technophobia might not be a top ten phobia  but fear of public embarrassment before students is a common deterrent.

cartoon showing a person facing angry technology with the caption The Battle we all Face

I’ve heard of academics not using PowerPoint in case the computer won’t switch on, and how many times have you seen a presenter unable to open their presentation because the file’s on their desktop, 100 miles away, or they can’t find it on their data stick.

It happens. Don’t laugh. Fear is real.

Lurking may be a valid learning strategy for some, but for others it’s looking like digital shyness.

In popular psychology there’s a condition called Imposter Syndrome (IS). This is about successful people feeling they’re frauds, believing it’s luck rather than skill or ability that’s got them where they are, and it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out. People with IS live in continual dread of making mistakes which they fear will expose them.

triangle with the words Fraud Alert in the centre

Imposter Syndrome sounds like self-efficacy by another name. First identified in 1978 (Clance and Imes) there’s an Impostor Phenomenon Scale (test yourself here) and while not an officially recognised disorder (IS is absent from any psychiatric diagnostic manuals) a whole IS business has emerged based on self-help and therapeutic interventions. Imposter Syndrome appears to provide a popular conceptual understanding of the underlying psychology. The phrase is in common use and I wondered if Digital Imposter Syndrome (DIS) could exist.

I googled but nothing came up. Not even a googlewhack.  DIS returned zero.

word nothing written in chalk on a board

Woo hoo! Was this a conceptual gap? Should I push the digital imposter syndrome idea a bit further or return to Bruner?

I went back to Jerome. In the Narrative Construction of Reality (1991) Bruner writes about the situated nature of knowledge, via cultural tool kits and distributed networks.  Long ago, in a different university, I wrote about digital literacies being best understood as socially situated practices. They were personal, as individual as fingerprints, and determined how we operated online, but we all have differing amounts of digital capital, depending on socio/cultural/material locations. Maybe part of the solution to encouraging online engagement is to refocus on the development of literacies of the digital kind.

image showing the word start on a road

While competencies type training focusing on which button to click may have value, any change it effects can only ever be surface. We know learning requires deeper approaches so let’s start with building and supporting digital confidence in safe environments. Experiential digital practice can be transformative for both staff and students.

Where does this leave us with us lurking?

It’s a problem. We need to reduce the 90% and 80% consumption models.

Or do we?

If lurking is simply a reflection of ourselves, should we leave lurkers alone to do what they do best.

Assimilation in their own preferred way; to listen, watch, consume, absorb…. to learn.

Are effective online environments not about building and sustaining interaction after all? Should we rethink pedagogy and practice to support less active forms of learning? Or would that be a huge mistake?

This might need a Part Three, What do we do about lurking?


References

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press,  1998)  https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1994EHB.pdf .

Bennett, L. (2014) Putting in more: emotional work in adopting online tools in teaching and learning practices. Teaching in Higher Education 19 (8), 919-930

Clance, P. and Imes, S. A. (1978) The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”  Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice.

Sun, N., Rau, P. P. L., & Ma, L. (2014). Understanding lurkers in online communities: A literature review. Computers in Human Behavior, 38, 110-117.

The Other Side of Lurking Part One; a unique distance from isolation

black and white image of soiral staircase

What is lurking anyway?

I call it consuming without contribution and we are all great digital consumers.

Truely, here and now in 2018, we risk Amusing Ourselves to Death 

When Nicolas Carr (20080 asked Is Google Making us Stupid?  interest in cognitive data overload was high. What happened to the CIBER research? The collaboration between Jisc and the British Library studied information searching behaviours in young people. Findings included short attention spans and reliance on surface browsing, with clear implications for universities in the future. Ten years on, those young people are likely to be our students. Today, I can’t even find the report online.

Show me embedded critical digital literacies and I’ll show you a dozen examples of uncritical acceptance.

Tell me why digital skills and confidence of staff who teach and support learning is absent from the ed-tech literature. We know how students learn as e-learners but staff who teach as e-teachers? Where’s that?

…and what’s all this got to do with lurking?

It’s scene setting. Part of the wider picture which starts and ends with our digital codependency and online habits.

Return to Lurking began Friday 13th July, 2018. The 24 hour #HEdigID discussion facilitated by @SuzanKoseoglu was still going strong on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…

The hashtag #OEP (Open Educational Practice) seemed a good opportunity to bring in digital shyness and the politics of participation persuasion. I introduced the concepts and before long lurking emerged as a theme.

I lurk. You lurk. We all lurk.

Lurking has intention and purpose.

Lurking as Learning is a path well-trodden.  On 17th April this year, following the Digital Researcher run by my colleagues Mike Ewen and Lee Fallin, I wrote a post titled Sounds of Silence which addressed some of the emerging issues.

To lurk is to loiter, with or without intent, and not post.

Why?

Dunno.

We simply don’t understand enough about non-participation. We don’t know what’s going on behind closed screens.

Most of the time it simply doesn’t matter. We’re not expected to comment on every news article or blog post. The facility is available but there’s no pressure to use it.

It’s lurking in online courses which bothers me. Like in blended and distant learning courses where students consume without contributing. You can see content has been accessed but discussion or other collaborative activity fails.

Social constructivism is where it’s at these days. There’s Siemens’ Connectivism and Cormiers’ rhizomatic learning, but the majority of academic practice assumes a Vygotskian approach to how students learn, one which support knowledge construction through collaborative activity rather than didactic transmission.

open book. glasses and movile phone from pixabay

Sometimes this takes place online and this is where digital silence worries me. Maybe it shouldn’t. But if students don’t talk, how can active learning progress?

So what next?

Well, maybe we’ve got it wrong.

The assumption (to borrow from Orwell’s Animal Farm) is participation good – non participation bad.

Yet we know from discussions, like those reported in Sounds of Silence  and elsewhere on Twitter et. al, there’s lots of positives to lurkish practice.

Some were highlighted during the #HEdigID discussions.

Yet we know from discussions, like those reported in Sounds of Silence  and else where on Twitter et. al, there’s lots of positives to lurkish practice.

Some were highlighted during the #HEdigID diccussions.

However, lurking as negative remains a common perception as shown in the tweet below

while a 2018 paper by Sarah Honeychurch et. al., Learners on the Periphery: Lurkers as Invisible Learners, explores the lurking research literature. and makes some interesting suggestions. For example, the dominant mode remains that suggested by Neilsen in 2006, namely the 90-9-1 rule.

This rule posits that approximately 90% of group members consume content, 9% participate by contributing from time to time, leaving 1% to contribute a lot on a regular basis (Nielsen, 2006).

Then there’s the Pareto Principle, known as the 80/20 rule. Applied to online participation this translates as 20% of participants creating content which 80% consume.

It seems likely that to lurk is to inhabit safe space. Places of safety. Silent participation without risk. If so, then constructing lurking as a wrong to be righted is inappropriate. It may cause guilt and exacerbate fear of contribution rather than encouraging it.

The majority of Lurk-Lit focuses on change. The use of language like ‘converted’ and ‘persuaded’ suggests students need transforming from no-shows to show-offs, from passive to active.

But is this correct?

If 90% don’t contribute, or 80% consume, maybe we should look at non-contribution and consumption more closely.

Learning online is fundamentally isolated and lonely, but rather than stressing digital participation as a solution, maybe we should celebrate digital singledom instead.

dandylion head from pixabay

When Philip Larkin wrote about the ‘unique distance from isolation‘ he was referring to a couple next to other in bed. The context is a difficult relationship, Something Larkin is so painfully good at.

If people can be so physically close, yet so far apart, maybe assumptions that distance means separation can also be challenged, Perhaps the isolated learner is more closely linked to a holistic experience of the module or programme, through the medium of digital resources, than we might think. It comes back to my introduction tweet to the #HE digID community.

We need a better understanding of digital shyness. Stop demonising those who choose not to express themselves, be it the digital public sphere or password protected university network. We need to look at lurking from the other side.

This was The Other Side of Lurking Part One; a unique distance from isolation

There is more in The Other Side of Lurking Part Two; dabbling with digital imposter syndrome which delves further into understadning lurking as a pedagogic strategy neding to be addressed in learning design.

taster below….

So lurking’s not a problem, right?

…but if it’s your virtual environment and you’re dealing with silence, it can’t be ignored. Lurking flies in the face of everything we’re told 21st century education should be, namely active. We’re well versed in communities of practice and inquiry, zones of proximal development, social, cognitive and teaching presences, and so on – and they all require interaction.  Networks need people, don’t they?

visit The Other Side of Lurking Part Two; dabbling with digital imposter syndrome for more….


Images from #HEdigID discussion on Twitter or pixabay.com