this week’s post is bought to you by digital procrastination

image of keyboard and social media icons from pixabay

Procrastination is something I’m good at. Very good.

I wander through the world wide web like it’s my second home – or maybe even my first I spend so much time there!

Hyperlinks are my downfall. There’s still excitement attached to them. My brain is a sponge. It doesn’t always retain what it finds but it loves a good soaking.

Hyperlinks were the brainchild of Tim Berners Lee. The internet already existed and the WWW was a way of linking individual pages and sites.  In the early days you knew you were online.  Dial up connections beeped and whirred like some giant machine coming to life and the internet being what it is, you can remind yourself exactly what this sounded like

My first computer was a second hand Tandy. I was married and living in the country. My first internet connected computer was a Gateway 486. I was divorced and a city dweller.  A degree does this to you. As passing your driving test gives you independence so taking your first degree opens your mind and like Pandora’s Box, once opened it can’t be closed again.

Today the internet/www is integral to our lives and for some, the boundaries between the real and unreal are getting confused.  During the US election there was much debate around social media and fake news/false truths. US voters told the world how they relied on Facebook and Twitter as sources of truth because they followed so many people and the majority view had to be the right one, didn’t it.

There are generations who have been born into digital life and know no other, unlike my peers who have analogue feet and roots. We were there at the beginning. My Tandy computer ran DOS, the word processor used commands like <b>strong</b>. I still have a 5 ½ inch floppy disk and sometimes use it in presentations where, as the years pass, less people know what it is,

After DOS came the Microsoft GUI and mouse. We learned to point and click, double click, drag. Now it’s touch screen and a thousand smudgy fingerprints as we tap, double tap, swipe while speech to text and text to speech alternatives continue to get more accurate every year and films like Ex Machina and Her take us to the edge of what is real and unreal – or so we think.

Should we be concerned over the line between real and unreal? Is this what we should be discussing with students? With the aptly named Second Life there were many stories of people becoming emotionally attached to online avatars and we see this today with online dating where digital identity takes on real meaning for real-world users.

Baudrillard gained notoriety for saying the Gulf War hadn’t happened. He didn’t mean it didn’t take place but that for most of us, it was a second hand experience, mediated by a digital reality which wasn’t real. It was hyperreal.

Hyperreality, as in Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle (1967) is about the confusion between real and representation, in Debord’s case this was caused by a proliferation of images. It isn’t hard to rethink this using virtual reality or even the animated posters they have on the London Underground. They’re like something out of Harry Potter they move and speak to you as though they were real people.

https://makewealthhistory.org/2008/10/28/london-undergrounds-new-digital-posters/

In Simulacra and Simulation (1981) Baudrillard described confusion between real and unreal claiming we’re mistaking digital reality for the real thing so whoever controls digital media has increasing influence over attitudes and behaviours. We are living in a state of hyperreality; hyper from the ancient greek meaning over or above as in hypersonic (faster than the speed of sound) or hyperspace as a different dimension where science fiction characters can travel at hypersonic speeds. The internet/www is known as hyperspace. Online we communicate instantly regardless of time or distance. Online we’re digital space travellers and in 2017,with instant wifi for our mobile devices, we’re increasingly taking this immediate access for granted.

What matters is having the critical digital literacies to be aware this is a construction. Documentary maker Adam Curtis describes Hypernormalisation as a politically influenced state of knowing your reality is wrong but accepting it as right because there’s no alternative.

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series also explores these boundaries through prescient scenarios involving digital shifts and realities. The digital isn’t real yet it must be if we’re all using digital communication to collaborate and make sense of the world.

This blog came about because I read this review from the Research Student Conference at the University of Northampton and was struck by how it reflected the writer’s own perception rather than what I was saying.

PhD student Sue Watling’s timely paper focused on staff attitudes towards technology-enhanced learning and discussed what this can mean from the instructor’s perspective and the processes to standardise training of such skills for teaching staff. (my emphasis)

I was talking about digital shifts yet mention technology enhanced learning and it’s interpreted ‘standardise training and skills. I come across this a lot. With regard to the digital there’s a mismatch between what I’m saying and what you’re hearing and interpreting.  This is something which needs addressing.

So this post was going to be you say training, I say teaching, you say skills I say capabilities or something along those lines, but I couldn’t even get from there to here without procrastinating a whole blog post away. Like I said, its something I’m very good at.

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me and mendelay are mates

cartoon explosion

How much is too much? Or not enough? Overload warning – drowning not waving – data data everywhere. Explode. Head. Ready.

Weekends and bank holidays are for research. Any part-time researcher saying otherwise is lying!

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a set of Nvivo workshops alongside an introduction to Refworks and Endnote. Been there before but you know how it is – use it or lose it. Guess which happened?

I’ve decided to work with Mendelay.

My relationship with referencing tools one of start but not finish. As a result my most comprehensive list of references is hand constructed. Not the way to do it. This time – I promised – once and for all – I’d face my bibliographic fears.

I like Mendelay.

logo for Mendelay

With so many research processes being online, the management of research data and literature has become a digital capabilities issue. You could say the same about learning and teaching but as TEL-People know, the link is more tenuous. Workshops are where TEL-People come face-to-face with the reality of digital adoption. This is often far removed from TEL-World – as you might expect – but the distances involved can still be a surprise. Coming face-to-face with low levels of digital knowledge is essential for designing support where it’s needed.

jisc digital capabilities model

The Jisc digital capabilities profiles include one for researchers. For me, it demonstrates how research processes cut cross the elements. Apart from data literacies and working with multiple formats, there’s the grey identity area (as both staff and student), dissemination through publication and conference plus involvement in a range of online networks. Social media and research are natural partners but not everyone is a natural online communicator while the most powerful research tools can also be the most challenging. SPSS and Nvivo are not for faint digital hearts.

computer screen with image of books

I like working with Nvivo. It fascinates me how interpersonal communications like interviews can be digitised, themed and linked, highlighting connections you didn’t see before. I’m self taught from the days of Nvivo 9 so the workshops were a useful opportunity to update to 11 and see what tricks I’ve missed. Nvivo Word Clouds are amazing!

Research software encapsulates all the issues around developing digital skills and one of these is the shift from customised, institutional help to generic, online resources. This goes alongside a move to DIY where you’re expected to RTFM (find things out for yourself); a policy which could only be imagined by the digitally confident or non-tech user, either a refusenik or with someone else doing it for them.

I know my way around the internet but still waste a lot of time trying to find things out for myself.

range of tools for DIY

Well made generic videos can show you where to click but are less successful with the why and the wherefore. Even the brilliantly made Nvivo Water project – custom designed to demonstrate all the options – can’t cater for every potential scenario. Ultimately there’s no off-the-shelf substitute for the experience and expertise of other people.

Back to data.

Back to Mendeley.

If you don’t use a digital referencing tool you should bite the digital bullet and give one a try. I settled for Mendeley because it’s more than a referencing tool. It offers social bookmarking (like Delicious or Diigo) and my bibliographies are not tied to an institution. It has all the features you’d expect i.e. cloud and desktop versions, citation options for Word etc. I can access it anywhere and get to take it with me when I leave.

computing technologies

My research data is already in digital formats; interviews transcribed and supplementary materials online. The next task is getting it all into Nvivo and start coding. It’s been over a year since I spent time with Nodes.  It will be a massive task but hopefully a rewarding one. My research explores how staff concceptualise teaching and learning in a digital age and I’m looking forward to seeing what Nvivo does with millions of words from three years of data collection.

Me and Mendelay plus Nvivo are going to be best mates this year or at least – that’s the plan!

Let’s…

crowd of lego people

Stumbled onto a video of Gardener Campbell talking about educating the whole person.  Sidetracked through the serendipity which characterises the internet. Start at A and find yourself at Q and R without being too sure how.

On the way I bumped into teaching scholarship – as you do – and an interesting analogy from the late 1990’s by Randy Bass in The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem? Citing Boyer, Bass claims problems in research are welcomed while problems in teaching are seen as failures of practice. Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) is remains a seminal work on SoTL (less than Scholarship Reassessed (1997) by Glassick, Huber, Maeroff) and its principles of scholarly approaches to teaching still hold i.e. ‘It should be public, susceptible to critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use by other members of one’s scholarly community.’ (Bass, 1999:2)

The HEA report Defining and supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) a sector wide study suggests SoTL themes hve expanded. They may now involve peer review, CoP and more interdisciplinary approaches. It also involves student engagement through redesign of curricula which encourage undergraduates to be research informed and engaged. The HEA report claims continued confusion around the definition and practice of SoTL. It recommends linking SoTL to the TEF, adding CPD to workload models, making SoTL more explicit in the UKPSF and greater recognition  of SoTL across all REF units of measurement.

baby with a laptop

The value of SoTL is in the L. How students Learn. Few benefit from lecture style transmission of content unless it’s recorded so they can revisit and review. I’m unlikely to meet Gardener Campbell but have watched and listened, paused to revisit, shared (seen it reshared) and stored the link for future reference.

Any HEI with a policy for recording timetabled teaching sessions supports their students learning. They can catch up on what they’ve missed through illness or unforeseen circumstances and have meaningful discussions; the benefit of so called flipped learning i.e. access to transmitted content at a time and place which suits then get together – face to face or online – for discussion with the benefit of time to reflect and craft comments. A deeper  approach which – if linked to a collaborative document – presents opportunities to extend learning by searching and sharing associated links, commenting on the contributions of others and summarising the whole learning experience. What’s not to like?

logo for Box of Broadcasts

Using audio and video is a no-brainer. So much content is freely available (eg British Film InstituteFilm Education,  Vimeo, YouTube, Teacher Tube, Ted Talks, Khan Academy, MIT) or licenced for use within UK HE like the excellent Box of Broadcasts (BoB). You can make your own audio/video with webcams and mobile devices although this raises the DC (digital capabilities) issue. Not  problem. Lets link it to scholarly practice and persuade institutions to invest in the digital skills of their staff as professional development. It also raises issues of IP which can be complex and opening the copyright box will be the topic of a follow-on blog (brave, stupid or what?!)  😉

footprints

Back to Gardener Campbell and Educating the Whole Person. Gardener says granular analytics does not represent the whole person yet the current push towards big data claims it can be used to design personalised learning. How? Footfalls and logins give little meaningful information about learning. Counting the number of VLE sites is irrelevant compared to what goes on there. Ditto forum posts. The data tells us nothing about content quality. We need more critical thinking around the types of data collected and why.

climbing a wall

It all comes back to scholarship. Inquiry into what you do and why you do it. How do you know it works? Where is the evidence of impact? SoTL provides a framework for taking this forward.

Lets be more joined up about linking CPD with Academic Practice. Encourage action research, action learning sets, appreciative inquiry, critical reflection and loops of experiential learning.

Let’s make opportunities to get people around a table to talk about teaching, underpinned with research into how students learn, and how best to design learning experiences which can be personalised to encourage motivation, enthusiasm and ownership.

Lets start investing as much into learning and teaching as we do research and technologies.

Let’s bring in the student voice and build mechanisms for recognising and rewarding evaluated learning design.

Let’s do all this. Now! We’re all here to support the student experience so let’s have some exciting thoughts about how to go forward into the future.


images from pixabay except BoB from http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/ucreate/facilities/box-of-broadcasts/introduction

The VLE and Machines of Loving Grace #nationalpoetryday

grey robot looking at a red flower

Yesterday was #nationalpoetryday. When I think the digital in the poetry world it’s Richard Brautigan’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace which comes to mind. Brautigan offers a vision of a cybernetic future from 1997. This is the year  the report from the Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education was published. In Brautignan’s cybernetic ecology, machines have freed us from labour and watch us live the Utopian dream. In the Dearing Report, the VLE represented a more efficient and effective future, internationalizing higher education, reaching the parts people couldn’t reach, crossing traditional barriers of time and distance and so on and on and on…

It didn’t really happen did it?

The internet bought us the global village as predicted by McLuhan at a time when television represented cutting edge technology. Now we have the internet. Social media has given a voice to everyone with access. VLE have revolutionised higher education – or maybe not.

In Our Digital Capabilities Journey Kerry Pinny describes a 25% response rate to the Jisc Discovery Tool at her university. When I piloted this self-diagnostic digital capabilities tool earlier this year, a professional services department achieved over 80% response rate (not the TEL-Team or ICT I hasten to add) whereas a Faculty scored so low it was meaningless. 25% would have been a dream. Kerry asks how to reach the other 75%. I wonder this too. The V in VLE seems to have passed so many people by.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

Liz Bennett @LizBennett1 and Sue Folley @SueFolley from the University of Huddersfield facilitated a D4 Learning Design workshop at Hull this week. The focus was digital capabilities but in a covert, through the back door, approach. Using Appreciative Inquiry and focusing positive rather than negative or deficit thinking, we constructed learning activities which blended face-to-face and online interaction. Inevitably the discussion turned to VLE adoption and the question of reaching the unreachables. I’m never sure whether to laugh and cry at how we need subterfuge to trap people into dealing with VLE but was also struck by Sue’s comment that everyone across the sector has the same problem.

Its nearly 20 years since the Dearing Report. What ever we’ve been doing, in that time it isn’t working.

panning drawing with pencil and ruler

Both Dearing’s Committee and poet Brautigan saw technology as the future. Well, the future has arrived and I don’t see the VLE as having made a great deal of difference. There are pockets of excellent practice but overall the dominant model of use remains a digital despository document. Video may be more prevalent but ultimately it’s supplemented read this with watch this. How about do something with this instead?

Postmodernism is vanishing into the wings. Learning analytics is stepping centre stage, bringing Big Data with all its positivist baggage of targets, metrics and ranking with it. SCoT also seems in danger of disappearing. The Social Construction of Technology suggested the development of machines was dependent on the people who used them. The potential of the machine for change was not enough. In the 1960’s, McLuhan told us how new technology would replicate existing practice and in the 1980’s Bijker and Pinch were predicting new technologies would not determine human action but be shaped by it instead.

If a higher education is the passive transmission of knowledge, memorised and regurgitated for assessment, the VLE is perfect. We have made it into what we want it to be.

The question is – where do we go from here?

red question mark on a keyboard


All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.


Image sources

The invisible tribes and territories of the TEL-People

On reflection this post could also be called the Othering of the TEL-People 

By [1], Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2040293

I was at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event James Clay refers to in his recent blogpost Engaging the Invisibles. Also there was ex-Lincoln colleague Kerry Pinny who’s asked the questions Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? and what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?  My own research explores digital resistance and reaching ‘the invisibles’ – is it lack of confidence or lack of interest which are the drivers?  I’ve been speaking about metasthiaphobia and the need to talk. As always),there are two sides to this story.

TEL-People are invisible too. Borrowing from Becher and Trowler, we are a unique tribe with our own territories.

TEL-People inhabit sequestered spaces, frequently separated from the Units, Centres and Libraries which house us. Located at the far end of a corridor behind a swipe card or on the periphery of the campus where no one bothers to tread.

We have our own distinguishing features. Like permanent headphones. If clothes are statements then power dressing for TEL-People is visible displays of the latest gadget with the newest OS rather than items which say more about aspirations than abilities. TEL-People tend towards casual. The ‘morning after a long night down-timing with Netflix‘ look or ‘survived an early hours code emergency where the principles of rubber duck debugging failed’.

Rubber_duck_assisting_with_debugging

If you were to venture to our territories you wouldn’t see us at first. We tend to hide behind walls of monitors. Connected through multiple devices via a range of social networks (we’ve moved on from email) we tweet or slack and the air sings to the ring, ding, ping of notifications, even when we know from the feet beneath the desk our colleagues are in the same room. We save being vocal for when we don’t agree. Our different areas of expertise can make for explosive conversations but together we can provide an answer to anything and everything TEL related.

social media icons pixabay

Most TEL-People are classified as professional support rather than academic. If we want to study we have to pay for it. It doesn’t come cheap but we do it all the same because we understand the value of being research informed, engaged and active – plus status matters if you want to be heard.

Research matters too…

We’re passionate supporters of TEL  We know technology can be transformational, most often from our own experience rather than buying into rhetorical promises. We understand how any-time-any-place access through devices of choice has become so ubiquitous its value risks being underestimated. We know TEL is the future of higher education and we care about this. To us the word ‘quality’ means accessible, well navigated, motivational and interactive learning on systems which are supported and where data is secure. Digital inclusion is our philosophy.

dig ed 1

We want to make a difference. We’d like to see more initiatives for reward and recognition. We understand the need for evidence based innovations and ensuring the pedagogy is in the driving seat. We support people to take risks. TEL is full of them. The technology has a bad day. The lecturer forgot to cloud-save their notes. The screen looks different and they can’t find the button to press. We’ve all been there – right?

But you don’t like us…

We talk about minimum standards for module sites on the VLE, the need for captions and transcripts and Alt text, knowing you don’t and won’t even when your reaction is friendly rather than aggressive and we’re used to both on a regular basis. TEL Workshops can be difficult. We talk about using online forums to support active learning. No, no! you cry. I set one up once and no one used it so I don’t do that any more. Digital tasks and activities are dismissed out of hand. Students won’t do that if it’s not assessed! So you talk about assessment of interaction. No, no! you say. Student participation will be tokenistic so that won’t work. Then we get blamed for everything perceived to be wrong with the institution. It all comes tumbling out during these sessions, the rare times we get to meet, and it seems accepted to be rude and to shout at us when all we’re trying to do is to help.

These are the cleft sticks we work in. Being unable to win whatever we do and with an ever increasing shortage of carrots.

carrot and stick

Welcome to the world of the TEL-People.

Bear with me. There is more, much more. I try to be succinct…

We talk about knowledge co-construction, about students as makers of meaning, producers not consumers, we sketch out ZPDs and scaffolding, the difference between constructivist and constructionist pedagogies. We know our theory but your eyes glaze over because we’re not the ones having to teach and what can we possibly know about what your world is really like. So we watch the new semester sites unfold with list upon list of PDFs and Word documents headed Read this! Useful information! IMPORTANT!!!!!!! Sites are didactic dumps; digital document depositories. Then you complain students don’t read any but can you blame them? It’s like dropping them into an archive of boxes with labels. Where do you begin?

archive

We know the technology itself can do nothing. It is how it’s used which makes the difference. Create transmissive information sites and students will switch off, be bored. Digital over paper does not make for innovative practice.

But you don’t listen…

We know Marshal McLuhan predicted over 50 years ago new technologies will be used to replicate old practices and we see  evidence of this everywhere. BYOD, mobile learning, different tools and apps for presenting content – they’re all old ways of using newer tools. Even the word pedagogy is another way to describe teaching practice or method. Old wine? New bottles?

old wine in new bottles

We know there are no quick fixes, no right answers, no one size fits all model. Life doesn’t fit into such neat binaries but we can help. What do you want your students to learn? How will you know they’ve learned it? What activities are going help students to achieve the learning outcomes? This is where technology steps centre stage, offering active learning through forums, wikis, quizzes and group work,  multiple opportunities for students to search, share, suggest, synthesise, while all the time developing those digital graduate attributes so essential for 21st century employment.

But you don’t know any of this because just as you try to be invisible to us, we the TEL-People are invisible to you.

Something has to change…

invisible people from pixabay


Images

Magritte’s Son of Man https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2040293 

Rubber duck debugging https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging#/media/File:Rubber_duck_assisting_with_debugging.jpg

social media tree from https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/

carrot and stick https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot_and_stick#/media/File:Carrot_and_stick_motivation.svg 

Archive from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archive#/media/File:Fondos_archivo.jpg 

Old wine in new bottles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Wine_into_Old_Wineskins#/media/File:Niko_Pirosmani._Porter_with_a_Wineskin._Diptych._Oil_on_oil-cloth,_51x34_cm._The_State_Museum_of_Fine_Arts_of_Georgia,_Tbilisi.jpg 

invisible people https://pixabay.com/en/people-find-search-facebook-295145/