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/

 

 

 

 

 

Designing for Diverse Learners

Image showng the University of Hull Venn Building with students in the forefront

The LTE Summer Programme (June 2018) included two days of LTE workshops where colleague Lee Fallin and myself took the opportunity to ‘launch’ an Introduction to Inclusive Approaches to Teaching and Learning, with specific reference to digital resources. This post offers an introduction to inclusivity with online content for anyone unable to be there.* 

The Home Office has an excellent poster series to highlight practices for developing content for users falling into one of the following six categories:

  • low vision,
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Dyslexia,
  • motor disabilities,
  • users on the autistic spectrum,
  • users of screen readers (visual issues/blindness).

We we really impressed by these posters, but also overwhelmed with how we can support educators to use them in practice. For this reason, we developed our Designing for Diverse Learners poster, combining the essential practices for all of the above. The aim of this document was not to target any one group of learners, but to develop an outline of practices that follow the principles of universal design where changes for some benefit the vast majority of learners.

Why ‘diverse learners’?

The idea of ‘diverse learners’ is really important to the both of us. The practices outlined in our poster will benefit every learner, not just those who many require specific adjustments. The reason we are able to do this is that in applying the principles from the above posters to the educational context, we are able to look at them for the specific purpose of designing digital learning materials and opportunities.

One of the reasons for our initial focus on digital resources is our institutional context at the University of Hull where the majority of resources will be access via the institutional VLE, Canvas. The University of Hull has a set of ‘expected use of Canvas’ criteria which include the following:

Staff should ensure that all digital content supporting learning and teaching e.g. text, images and multimedia, follows inclusive practice guidelines.

Our poster does not claim to support every single learner or requirement an educator may come across, but we are certain that resources developed along these principles will meet the vast majority of needs. We are also keen to frame this as a working document. We are keen to get as much feedback as we can to help us make this resource event better. We’ve already had some feedback about including some text line spacing and would welcome any further ideas you all have.

Future developments

As a community, we can continue to develop this resource and make it even better. We welcome input from both educators and learners as to how we can make this any better. We have set-up a Tricider to help collect feedback on the poster and to enable to community to vote on individual ideas. If you have not used Tricider before, it is very easy to contribute. Simple visit our Tricider and either ‘add an idea’ or vote on the ideas of others. You can also place comments on Tricider or use the comment area on this blog post if your prefer.

The poster

We have made this poster available in two formats, the image below and a printable PDF. For best results, print your poster on A3 paper (portrait orientation) and trim the white paper to the sides.  


* See https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/ltesummer/conference for Workshop Abstract


 

Blended and distance learning

Image showng the University of Hull Venn Building with students in the forefront

The LTE Summer Programme (June 2018) included two days of LTE workshops. I took the opportunity to present an introduction to blended and distance learning. This post offers an introduction to the topic for anyone unable to be there.* 

Making the digital shift from traditional face-to-face, on-campus courses to blended or fully distance modes may feel like a challenge but when done well, it can offer exciting and motivational student experiences. Tearning and teaching in 21st century offers potential 24/7 access at a time, place and device of student choice. However, in many cases this transformative potential remains untapped. The lecture continues to be the primary form of content delivery. A consequence of this is similar didactic pedagogic models being transferred to virtual envrionments, and presented as online learning. VLE resembling repositories of files, frequently fail to become the centres of interactivity they have the potential to be. Successful bended and distance eduation requires digital shifts in teaching and learning practice. The tips on these pages cover some of the key changes in attitudes and pratice which need to be made.

Quotes have been taken from an online teacher education course where particpants were encouraged to keep a reflective journal. Here they wrote about the transfer of new learning to their own practice. Journal entries have been used with permission.

Tip 1: busting myths of digital confidence

Remember: When it comes to digital technologies colleagues/students might be less confident than you think but disguise it well. This quote shows blended learning

requires more than technical competence, there are social and emotional challenges too. Avoid making assumptions, the majority of students are NOT Digital Natives and nearly all need to develop critical as well as effective digital literacies.

Recommend: build in time for an online course induction with activities for sharing aims and feelings. It’s helpful for e-learners and e-teachers too know others might share similar hopes and fears.

Tip 2: be aware of the risks text mis-communication

Remember: the absence of face-to-face clues makes it easy to misinterpret messages. These quotes remind us online communication can be challenging. Prepare for silence! Reluctance to engage and mixed messages can affect retention.

Recommends: discuss the advantages of digital text e.g. pre-practice, reflect, edit, spellcheck then paste into the Text Editor when ready. Provide practice spaces. Have a ‘good manners’ guide, either prep-prepared or constructed during induction. Include CAPITAL LETTERS are like SHOUTING, use emoticons to help avoid misunderstanding   , don’t be rude or offensive – if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t say it online.

Tip 3: expect identity blur

Remember: e-teachers are tutors, moderators, facilitators, instructors but called rarely e-lecturers. Teaching online requires digital communication skills while e-teachers have to shift identities from ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’, a loss of visible status which can take some adjusting to.

Recommends: e-teaching can be complex and challenging but gets easier the more you do and when done well, it’s a powerful tool for widening participation and enhancing the student experience. Whether the course is fully online or blended the affordances of 24/7 access at a time, place and device of student choice means it’s well worth it!

Tip 4: adopt activity based content (ABC) designs

Remember: Online resources have guide, motivate and enthuse as well as retain students to the end of the course. Blended learning design follows socio-constructivist principles for example interaction, communication and collaboration

Recommends: create online groups with their own forums and a choice of activities based on key texts or themes. Agree tutor response times.  Ask students to share understanding of core ideas through posters, mindmaps, presentations, audio or video. Set up peer review with feedback summaries.  Avoid 50 minutes of talking heads with audience coughs and sneezes. Chunk lecture content into smaller pieces interspersed with formative assessment opportunities. Be inclusive and provide multimedia transcripts or text equivalents to suit diverse students cohorts.

Tip 5: effective signposting

Remember: online is a different experience to f2f seminars and lectures. Learners are often isolated and VLE look strange to new users. Without physical support, it’s easy to misread instructions or get lost so effective signposting is essential.

Recommends: ask critical friends to review your resources and give constructive feedback. Be clear about learning outcomes and their assessment. Be sure students know what is expected and  if interaction is assessed. Arrange synchronous meet-ups or activities. Give reasons for accessing links and directions for reading. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page. Check links aren’t broken. Post weekly summaries looking back and forward.

Tip 6: do a MOOC

 

Remember: Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to get ideas designing content and enabling communication as well as experience learning Tip 7: Pedagogy of Uncertainty online. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer free resources through a Creative Commons licence support reuse and repurposing.

Recommends: in the UK FutureLearn, a consortium of UK universities, and the OU Open Learn offer free online courses. Visit Coursera, Khan Academy or Udacity. Look up Creative Commons licences https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ for more information about copyright free materials.

Tip 7: Pedagogy of Uncertainty

Remember: sometimes e-teaching can feel like communication with a big black hole. A major challenge is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know who your learners are or if they’re going to engage in your activities. Silence may be a sign students have got lost or lost interest through miscommunication or misunderstanding. Following these tips will help avoid common errors.

Recommends: online teaching and learning is not an easy option but done well, the advantages outweigh the negatives. VLE offer inclusive opportunities to widen participation in higher education. They can enhance on-campus experiences through encouraging independent learning.  The future of higher education will be increasingly digital and e-teaching/e-learning an essential craft.

For further information please get in touch Sue Watling


* See https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/ltesummer/conference for Workshop Abstract


 

#EDEN18 and the scholarship of TEL

 

The 27th EDEN conference brought technology and research together. I haven’t seen the phrase ‘scholarship of technology enhanced learning‘ before so am claiming authorship because #EDEN18 was research, pedagogy and technology all rolled into one.

It’s the pedagogy wot matters!

Too often pedagogic design for optimum learning is treated as a disparate topic. People teach as they were taught, or as their colleagues do, with or without technology. The time it takes to change and develop new practice is barely recognised  in workload models while education research has never been highly REF-regarded, to the extent the scholarship of our practice has been described as the Cinderella of academia.

How inspirational to be at #EDEN18, where TEL-ology and pedagogy collide. Several times I heard the question ‘Which VLE did you use?’ and realised it hadn’t even been mentioned because it wasn’t central to the message.

As someone researching the nature of digital shifts, and how academics conceptualise their practice in a digital age, it was a pleasure to be reminded of what matters i.e. the values and philosophies of higher education which brought us to where we are and keep us working in the sector. Too often these risk getting blurred or buried beneath the associated strains of ever increasing work loads. Lest we forget, higher education remains a privileged place of employment despite all the government attempts to marketise, monetise and destroy its heart.

The conference was held at the Albergo dei Poveri building of the University of Genoa.  Here, there was a shared language, albeit in multiple tongues, for example Alan Tait, Professor of Distance Education and Development at the OU, began his keynote with a reference to the Sociological Imagination and making the familar strange. good to see critical reflective questioning as core to the higher eduation experience. The keynote theme was sustainability as the new responsibility of higher education, alongside social justice and inclusion. A timely reminder of how the university was always intended for the public good, not a passive experience for consumption.

How do students learn? Through active engagment with content and context, not passive didactic pedagogies. Sessions left me inspired and tired and it wasnt just the heat. Where to find the energy to keep these values constant against a tide of capitalist consumerism and relentless state orchestrated change. These attempts at the commodificantion of knowledge have to be resisted.

The core messge from EDEN18 was even more change ahead. Increased demand for flexible chunks of learning, the breaking up of traditional degree programmes, the provison of micro-credentials through badges and certificates, the unbundling and out-sourcing of services. Think it’s bad now?  It would be easy to get scared, very scared but – I have every confidence – despite all the pressures – it remains possible to keep higher education as we want it to be. An experience for students containing all the possbilities of transformation so they leave as different people – in the best possible way – to how they arrived at the start of their journey.

Conferences are unique experiences. They offer fresh perspectives on old topics as well as exposure to alternative ones. Most of all, you’re reminded how your little spot in the world – no matter how much it can feel all-encompassing – is just one of zillions.

Then there’s the travel. Different countries take you out of your comfort zone. Arrive in Europe and everything is different; currency, food, language. You forget how much you take for granted like using a PC. I went into the room to load up my presentation. It was early and no one was around. right click is universal practice but what’s Italian for cut, copy, paste? I was sure to avoid ‘elimni’.

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be a challenge but nearly always good for you. Travel is the best educator and when combined with your research topic, not only are you exposed to new ideas in your field, there’s opportunities for validation as well. Win win. Just look at these workshop themes.

  • Developments in digital learning methodology
  • Sociocultural aspects of digital learning
  • Social media, digital collaborative learning
  • Learner needs and attitudes

Yay!

My presentation was titled Connect Disconnect – Academic Identity in a Digital Age. This was placed under the theme Learning Theory and Implementation Practice.

I talked about digital shifts and the need to reach those more digitally shy and resistant. One way could be through improved understanding of digital literacies as situated knowledge practices and the application of existing research into print and text. There’s also the power of the experiential and reflective practice to challenge and transform. My data is confirmation this can be transformational but it takes time and there’s never ever enought time.

The conference theme was Macro, Meso and Micro Exploring the dimensions of the digital landscape. This mapped well onto the institutional, pedagogic and individual framework of my research. Thanks Janita Poe (@PoeCommunicate) for the photos. Love how Patrick Lynch is looking over my shoulder!

The presentation was followed by some challenging questions and good discussions. I’m still pondering the influence of ‘ontological uncertainty’ and after meeting Emma Gillaspy (@egillaspy)  from Salford am seeing useful applications for applying coaching approaches to our Design for Active Learning Toolbox (more about this next week).

People ask why I keep a blog. There’s lots of reasons but mostly it’s to keep a record of what I do. My blog is a diary, scrapbook, journal and photo album all in one.

It’s for analysis and reflection as well as questions I can’t yet answer. It’s my CV and my research log. Occasionally non work/research issues slip in like my allotment. One of these days I’ll get the Digital Academic hosted and restore the plugins I used to have. I miss the photo album which made it easy to have a gallery of thumbnails and the freebie version doesnt support basic functions like tables.

This post doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything particularly unique or special but it pins down a week in June when I travelled to Genoa. These words and photos will always take me back there. It was my first visit to the Italian port town on a hill and what a hill – steep in every sense of the word. I want to be reminded of this and a blog with its tags and categories is a perfect place.

Italy is a country which bleeds history. The university building of thick stone walls around a courtyard seemed little changed since the day it was built.

Strip out the electricity and overhead projectors and you’re left with the original floors, doors and windows, staircases and fireplaces.

It didn’t take much imagination to see it as it would have been.

Being Italy, the lunches were magnifico, down to the expresso hits during the breaks and chilled Pino Grigio in ice buckets.

 

I missed the conference dinner at the Aquarium but called in on my last day.  I saw the room where it was held – next to the dolphin tanks so as you’re eating they’re swimming around behind the plate glass wall, watching you.

How did I feel about that?

Not comfortable to be honest.

It seemed like a lot of dolphins in the available space and shouldn’t they be out in the ocean anyway?

 

Hull has The Deep and I was curious to see how they compared.

The Deep is smaller but has a better feel plus seems more geared up for education and conservation. The cbildren of the future, who might one day be our students in years to come, need a healthy, sustainable planet. It’s the best legacy we can give alongside the hope they continue conserving the earth. If places like The Deep and Genoa’s Aquarium can help this, they justify their existence – but I’m still not convinced keeping dolphins in captivity is a good idea.

Genoa felt more like a working city than a tourist hot spot. I expected a smaller version of Florence but its catherdral di San Lorenzo or UNESCO badged Palazzi dei Rolli in Le Strade Nuove were definately under-advertised. Genoa seems more a stopping off place for cruise ships or for passing through to other destinations. Cheap flights from the UK (my suitcase cost more than I did) gives you easy access to fast trains to Turin, Milan, Florence and Rome.  For myself Genoa lacked the art/history impact of its Italian neighbours but is still worth seeing. It claims to be the birthpace of Christopher Columbus and the Galata Museo del Mare: (Great Nautical Museum) looked interesting with its 17th century galley ship dominating the harbourside.

The venue for EDEN19 hasn’t yet been announced but whereever, it will be worth consideration. Alongside  SRHE, SEDA, ALT, UCISA, and JISC I’m adding EDEN to the list of conferences to look out for.


Recorded Keynotes available here

Plenary session livestream – Monday – Airina Volungeviciene, Georgi Dimitrov, Fabrizio Cardinali, Claudio Dondi

Plenary session livestream – Tuesday – Antonella Poce, Alan Tait, Teemu Leinonen, Anthony Camilleri, Joe Wilson

Plenary session livestream – Wednesday – Wim Van Petegem, Sarah Guri-Rosenblit, Tom Wambeke, Claudio Dondi, Airina Volungeviciene, Sylke Vandercruysse


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

presnting at the UCISA conference

I hate being late.

I blame the M1 speed restrictions.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

title slide 2018

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

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

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

tweets from UCISA Spotlight conference

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

Da Da!

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

wakelet logo blue on white

I took Design for Active Learning to the Spotlight Conference

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

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

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

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

You can’t have a yin without the yang.

We know dark because it isn’t light.

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

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

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

image showing ditches crossing a field

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

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

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

 

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

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

It isn’t enough to measure literacy.

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

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

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

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

digital technolowies and an open book

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

The last sentence is where the next blog will begin.

Like this…

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


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

images my own or from pixbay.com