Why don’t I speak French?

page of french text

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

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

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

Parlez-vous francais? written in chalk on a blackboard

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

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

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

digital divide with a page and an ipad

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

dandilion growing out of parched ground

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

jisc digital capabilities model

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

image showing python programming language

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

‘si au début vous ne réussissez essayer somthing diffrent’


images from https://pixabay.com

simultaneous existence

planets in outer space

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

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

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

diagram of distances between the sides of a triangle

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

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

It seems space can be both physical and conceptual.

diagram of theoretical quarks

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

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

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

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

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

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


I may need a bigger biscuit tin!

biscuit tin

Determinist approaches to technology continue to dominate strategic thinking. Buy it, build it and learning will happen. Technology is still seen as the answer to widening participation, internationalisation, changes to the DSA, transition, alumni, you name it technology will be spoken of as the solution. This is in spite of a trail of failed projects and broken ideas across the sector. We must learn from the past and not ignore it. Technology simply cannot exist in isolation from the people who use it – not just pay for and provide support for – but who are the users i.e. learners and teachers. With technology comes the need for investing in digital capabilities and confidence but this message is still struggling to get itself heard.

dig tech pixabay

I’ve been at Hull for nine months. Its nearly the end of the 15/16 academic year. I’m looking backwards, reflecting on the Hull journey and forwards to what is to come. My challenges at Hull include developing a digital capabilities framework for learning and teaching as well as supporting the big three (pedagogically speaking) investments; Canvas, Panopto and Pebblepad.

dig ed 1

No one automatically knows how to use new digital tools. I’ve been working with learning technology for some time but new platforms still require ‘time to learn’ while even more demanding is the head space it takes to grasp all the different ways they can support disciplines and levels. This is where technology advisers, education developers, academic staff and students can benefit from sitting together in the same room. We need to talk!

Hull have recognised the need for investment in the TEL team but the bigger problem is the digital capabilities learning curve. All VLE requires a broad understanding of digital ways of working. If you’re not a great fan of technology or a great user of the internet then expecting you to find your way around Canvas, record and edit video or build an online portfolio is a big ask. To do this in front of students is even more of a demand.

cartoon showing a person battling with a wall of a technology

My task is to find a way to not only make this seem manageable to but to recognise and reward the time it takes to develop digital confidence in the first place. It’s layered learning. The buttons-basics but also the understanding of constructivist and connectionist pedagogies, the benefits of group learning and peer review, the higher order critical thinking and reflection skills. All these can be supported by thoughtful use of technology but it won’t and can’t happen in a vacuum. It needs a community of practice and inquiry approach, at module, programme, school, faculty or institutional level. Getting people together to talk about how technology can extend and enhance learning because it can – but we need to get back to basics and ensure the baseline competencies are there in the first place.

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image

For the next academic year I may need a bigger biscuit tin!

plate of chocolate chip cookies

biscuit and digital technology images from https://pixabay.com 
Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/thriving-in-a-connected-age-digital-capability-and-digital-wellbeing-25-jun-2015