the truth is out there somewhere

image of a magnifying glass over the word truth and the words lies appearing beneath the glass

Critical digital literacy should be embedded throughout the higher education experience. We all need effective ways to tell the difference between truth and lies, not just for ourselves but those around us. In 1970, Alvin Tofler called our information explosion the Third Wave, the next greatest social movement following the Agrarian and Industrial ages. What would he say if he could see us now – not waving but drowning in information overload!

Yet the quantity is the least of our problems. It’s the quality which matters. New genres have appeared, in particular since since Brexit and Trump.

Da da!

introducing

Post Truth and Fake Truth.

image of the word truth as a jigsaw with missing pieces

They sound similar but there’s a difference. Post truth, most often used in connection with politics, appeals to emotions rather than presenting factual evidence. With Post Truth, what is true is secondary to getting that emotional hit, appealing to the personal and turning it into political action. Fake Truth or False Truth is another way to describe spin. Also known as Fake News/False News, it describes not so much the misinformation but the spreading of it via social media. Like Chinese Whispers, the story changes, getting further away from the original sources, picking up more emotional overtones as it travels on through digital space and time.

black and white image of a pile of books demonstrating different genres

A genre is born when new ways to structure and present information are created. Genres can be different styles of creative writing such as the thriller, detective or horror novel or it can be categories and styles of non-fiction news. Today we have what could be called genres of lies; deliberately false information masquerading as truth with the sole purpose of persuasion.

George Monbiot writes about the misinformation machines. He claims huge amounts of money are spent on setting up international and corporate think-tanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Their objective is swaying the hearts and minds of the electorate over big issues like immigration, employment and climate change. (Monbiot also refers to Trump and hyporeality which sounds to me ike Baurillard’s hyperreality nightmare come true – I think this may be is next week’s topic sorted!)

Falsity is not new. The internet has always been full of lies as has the world of advertising. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Edward Bernays applied the psychoanalytic ideas of his Uncle Siggy to persuade young women to smoke and increase the popularity of the colour green. His techniques were called Public Relations or Propaganda, depending if you were on stage controlling the show or in the audience watching it. Century of the Self by the brilliant documentary film maker Adam Curtis tells how America learned to take control of its population. Using archive footage, he tells the story of how Bernays, nephew to Sigmund Freud, laid the foundations of mental manipulation by the media, showing how ‘desire’ was created and blurred boundaries between truths and lies were established.

Control of the media equates with control of the people. George Orwell portrayed this as ‘Big Brother‘ in the novel 1984 and showed how deliberately  vague or meaningless language was used to conceal the truth in his essay Politics of the English Language.  In Understanding Media The Extensions of Man, (1964) Marshall McLuhan predicted the medium as well as the message would influence attitudes and behaviors while Neil Postman claimed we would be Amusing Ourselves to Death (1984) as the platforms of the public sphere were taken over by cable tv’s multiple channels leaving no place for discussion and critique of political discourse.

Were these writers prescient? Do we recognise the world they predicted?

digital divide with a page and an ipad

Early founders of the internet claimed it was a tool for social democracy because it offered equal access to information. Instead we have digital exclusion as the new but invisible category of social and economic discrimination. The development of user generated content via sites like Facebook and Twitter was hailed as a tool for the revolution, giving voice to minority groups and bestowing powers of resistance and subversion. Instead, we have a mess.

image showing social media logos from pixabay

For vast swathes of the population, social media has become the single source of truth. Mobile digital media supports speed swapping of news, presented in soundbites and video clips. Adjective heavy headlines and sensational straplines frame news stories telling the reader how to emotionally approach them. Reality TV confuses truth and fiction, magazine industries are built on ‘true’ confessions while multi-channel news is invaded by false news stories. As well as Monbiot, this weeks’ Guardian also has Roy Greenslade on Post Truth and the art of lies citing Barack Obama and his observation the morning after the US election that how the ‘new media ecosystem‘ of social media means ‘everything is true and nothing is true‘.

It seems this is the week for talking about truth.

But of course, after reading all this, you may not believe a single word I have said.

What’s your excuse?

pencil sketch of a bar of soap and a box

I’m in that cleft stick again. The one called accessibility. That’s my stick in the corner. On its own. Because most of the time we don’t think about it – don’t talk about it – and with exception of a small band of colleagues from across the sector – we don’t much care about it either 😦

I’m drafting a policy document for the use of Panopto. I can’t say the words (Shhhhh lecture capture) because that colours how people see the software. It influences usage. In the way VLE’s get used as digital depository dumps, recording 50 minute lectures is making minimal use of the affordances as well as being poor pedagogical practice. Try it yourself and see. Choose an online lecture. Unplug your speakers, turn off your sound and be sure to concentrate…

For the last decade multimedia has been challenging the supremacy of text. Yet for all the speed and variety of digital content, there isn’t a one size fits all method for getting messages across. This is the century of communication. Toffler called it the Third Wave. An information age following an agrarian and industrial/technological age.

blue information symbol

The 20th century has bought an obsession with the collection, curation and communication of information. Now in the 21st we have big data and learning analytics. It can only get better (or worse depending on your ontology). I’m unconvinced by this new data revolution. Its rhetorical promise is like the hyperbole heralding the arrival of the VLE and look where that got us.

The grating sound is the soap box being dragged out.  Early this year I presented the keynote at a Making Research Count Conference at UCL. The theme was living and working in digital times and included barriers to digital access. Feedback included this – which says it all…

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

Digital exclusion is invisible. With digital platforms of the public sphere those denied equality of access are neither seen nor heard. People agree social exclusion is a big issue (which it is) and digital divides are important (which they are) but when it comes to doing something then the whole shebang is seen as being outside of their remit. Let’s bring it closer to home.

drawing of a digital divide between ipad and paper

How are you getting on with the recorded lecture with no sound?

It’s a new academic year. The DSA has changed. Institutions have to consider the principles of reasonable adjustments. Software like Panopto is being hailed as a convenient answer but unless textual equivalents are provided how can it be?

I wave the digital inclusion flag with regard to online learning and teaching content but it’s lonely out here. Sort of invisible. It would be so much easier if we were all in this together but other people don’t seem interested. There’s always an excuse or it’s the responsibility of someone else. They talk the talk but don’t do anything about it.

Accessibility isn’t to be put aside until there is more time. The future will never have enough time. It will be exactly the same as it is today. It’s 2016. Equality has been a legal requirement since 1995. Part of the problem – I think – is how digital inclusion gets side-lined into being a disability issue rather than a fundamental digital capability leading to best practice and experiences for all.

We need to talk!

Why we should

  • It’s a legal requirement (Single Equality Act 2011)
  • The law takes a proactive approach – content in alternative formats should be provided not requested  Universities have to make reasonable adjustments
  • Inclusivity improves access for everyone (not just people with disabilities, international students, etc etc)
  • Multimedia is a valuable learning tooI
  • access is explicit in the sconul 7 pilliars of information literacy through a digital lens
  • It will enhance learning

Why we don’t

  • We don’t realise any of the reasons why we should
  • TechDis has been disbanded
  • It isn’t an explicit element of the Jisc digital capabilities framework
  • We’d know its important and would love to but…  we haven’t got the time, resource, money, skills, capacity, interest – fill in the blanks.

So what’s your excuse? What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Lets get a conversation going and make 2016 the year for virtual inclusion.

Tweet @suewatling and #digitalinclusion

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digital divide image from http://www.idgconnect.com/IMG/082/17082/digital-divide-india1157-620×354.jpg?1412145199 
information symbol https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Simple_Information.svg 

the distance between digital innovation and capability

screen imge showing web page not available message

The University of Leeds has announced a partnership with FutureLearn to offer a credit-bearing online course Environmental Challenges. This will be the first mooc of its kind in the UK. Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, claims the new mooc offers flexibility because ‘Online education is available to anyone with access to the Internet’ and ‘Just as the digital world has transformed other areas of life, so higher education will be no exception. I strongly believe that universities need to be offering substantially more online learning.

Describing new digital approaches in higher education as ‘a great leveller’, Professor Morris cites the Government’s White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy and the Higher Education and Research Bill which puts teaching excellence, student choice and social mobility at the top of the agenda. The mooc is being promoted as a method for realising the white paper’s stress on flexibility and access, yet the document makes no mention of internet supported technology, other than a single reference to ‘the complexities of digital delivery’ with regard to measuring contact hours (p48). While debates about defining teaching quality continue, it seems technology enhanced learning is absent from the arena. By default this excludes any mention of ensuring digital inclusion, with regard to both access and practice.

Fresh from the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference, and two days of discussing the distance between digital innovation and digital capability, it’s clear this is another gap between assumptions and outcomes. Far from online courses offering ‘more efficient, competitive and learner-focused study options’ the reality is they’re more likely to exacerbate existing social inequality and discriminatory power imbalances.

Students on this particular mooc-route to higher education will pay for their participation and assessment. Each of the five course certificates cost £59 with a sixth assessment course at £250 and the total £545 covering access to online library content. The mooc-route has a price as well as the need for prerequisite digital capabilities, while internet access should never be taken for granted.

The UCISA conference suffered wifi problems while connections were poor at the hotel. It was a useful reminder of the risks of living digital lives in the cloud.

message saying internet connection was interrupted

Lack of access also resonated with the conference’s opening video interview where Martha Lane Fox talked about the need for digital equality and skills. Digital divides have complex social structures. Their greatest disadvantage is their invisibility but they exist everywhere, including on campus. As higher education incrementally shifts towards a mix of blended, flipped and distance learning, the need to identify and engage with digitally invisible students and staff has become a problem for which we have no clear solutions.

Seven years ago, Diana Laurillard described how ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’  While the government pushes towards its student flexibility and mobility agendas, the promise of the digital continues to persuade decision makers that virtual is the way forward. The theory and the potential of digital education certainly offers promise but its practice less often fulfills it. The sector needs more opportunities like the UCISA event to discuss not just minding the gaps but in finding and appropriately bridging them too.

We need to talk

sign which reads Warning, Assumptions ahead

Assumptions are the root of digital exclusion. Functions like right click, drag, drop, swipe, long press or pinch mean nothing to some. Zipping and unzipping, minimise, maximise and working within folder structures have passed them by. Opening a new browser tab can be a step too far while trying Chrome or Firefox when IE fails to interpret a command is just not going to happen.

operating system error message

If we are serious about technology enhanced and blended learning, we need to face up to reality. The digital baseline for many staff who teach and support learning is lower than many ICT staff, learning technologists and digital education developers might expect. At a time of growing interest in DIY models like Lynda.com and the growth in online VLE support, the onus is being placed on individuals to discover answers to problems. This assumes levels of digital comfort which simply do not exist.

Did I say assumptions are the root of digital exclusion?

So what to do?

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image

Digital way of working have had many names. Skills, Literacies, Capabilities; each new iteration more complex than the one before. To work comfortably online not only demands a huge learning curve, it has also become a cultural shift. The internet is no longer somewhere you go for a specific task or piece of information; it’s become a vast informed network. Call it Connectivism or Rhizomatics or simply social media, it has fueled a revolution in our capacity to be continually in touch with those we see every day, only here and there or have never met. Functioning in these spaces requires attention to digital profiles, safety, data protection and skills in the vagaries of online communication where there are no fall backs like eye contact or body language to help interpret identity or meaning.

To be digitally capable has become so much more than buttons.

black and white cartoon, one dog tells anthother on the internet no one knows you're a dog

Raising awareness of the true picture of digital capabilities is essential but self-diagnostic tools and surveys rarely reach those who are less digitally active so accurate data can be difficult to source. In the meantime, every day in every way assumptions are made about the digital abilities of strangers. The only way to find out what support is needed, and where best to target it, is to spend time in their company. There’s no getting away from it. We need to talk.

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Assumptions image http://blog.ecoastmarketing.com/2014/01/23/assumptions-the-failure-to-ask-questions/ 
Error message http://atom.smasher.org/ 
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
on the internet no one knows you’re a dog https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you%27re_a_dog 

digital dilemmas

image of different faces

The word digital is busy. Not only does it casually prefix a host of other words (e.g. graduate attributes, citizens, skills, education) contemporary digital developments are leaving most of us behind. If students aged 18 are not arriving at university already equipped to make critical use of internet resources and devices, who within HE is going to support the development of appropriate digital graduate attributes, such as those identified in the Jisc report on Technology for Employability? The recent surge of activities around Visitors and Residents has been doing excellent work in challenging the idea of young people as digital natives. However, it is doing little to recognise and surface the NAYS, those who have Not Arrived Yet. The theory of VLE as tools to extend and enhance student learning falls flat when it comes to practice, never mind how they might also support the development of professional communication, collaboration and safety in online places.

The problem is digital development has been segregated rather than integrated. Its always the responsibility of someone else – student services, learning development, the library, ICT departments – it’s never situated within core curriculums. Most of the support for digital ways of working is optional meaning students can graduate with the same digital habits they bought into university 3-4 years previously. Why is this?

The thinking about digital aspects of higher education is not joined up. Digital competence is translated into being ‘techie’ while responsibility for becoming digitally capable is too often perceived as sitting with someone else.  All the work being done to include digital ambitions within strategic directions and investment in operational  TEL teams risks falling into big black holes which suck in excuses and  extenuating circumstances for non-engagement and exclusion.

When it comes to the effective use of digital tools for learning and teaching, the digital divides are widening. It’s not just in HE. Schools are focusing on programming rather than generic ICT while ‘There are still 12.6 million people who lack the basic digital skills to succeed in our increasingly digital society and this week’s budget focus …seems to be on digital infrastructure at the expense of skills’ 

This lies at the core of digital diversity. Until the focus shifts from systems implementation to the people using them on a day to day basis to support and enhance learning and teaching practice, then nothing much is going to change.

 

image from http://blog.jobma.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Value-of-Soft-Skills.jpg 

Tweet-tips on #lthechat digital inclusion and accessibility

This post follows Wednesday’s #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. The tweetchat rationale is here http://lthechat.com/2016/02/15/lthechat-no-46-sue-sue-watling-digital-inclusion-and-accessibility/ and there’s a list of the shared resources at the bottom of this post for those in a hurry.

If you have a little more time, then freed from the limitations of 140 characters or less, I thought it might be useful to give some background.

It was around 2010 when I first experienced vision impairment. I thought it’ll be fine. I work with technology. I know the theory. The internet is fully accessible – right? I could enlarge text, change contrasts, use text to speech and train my Dragon. It was the beginning of a new journey which included volunteering with a local organisation for people with sight loss and seeing first hand the frustrations of digital exclusion. I worked with VLE but had no real practical application of the principles of accessibility. Now it all changed. I began to write about the risks of what Ellen Helsper at the LSE had called a Digital underclass. I knew how the social impact of the internet was as potentially exclusive as inclusive. It all depended on how you used a computer and accessed the internet. I devised the MEE Model of digital exclusion. This reflected common usage. I  refers to using a Mouse for navigation, Eyes to see and Ears to listen. When all around you follow the MEE Model it becomes easy to assume everyone else does too. The MEE Model has sequential layers of barriers.

  • The high cost and narrow market of alternative navigation devices or adaptations to make the best use of existing physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. You can’t buy assistive technology (AT) at Tesco.
  • The need for specialist training and support. AT can involve a steep and unique learning curve and it can be challenging to keep AT aligned with sequential developments in operating systems and browser controls.
  • Even with the AT plus training and support in place, if online content has not been designed and delivered with inclusive access in mind, you will remain excluded. Try using iTunes with a screen reader. Try any online shopping site with text to speech. You may be able to browse, select and move to the payment section then find it’s an add-on where text fields are not labelled and drop down menus don’t work. Turn off the volume and use YouTube with automatically generated captions, or any subtitled video where the titles cover the picture rather than sitting in a separate footer. Try zooming in (Ctrl+) and watch frames overlap , fail to resize or left to right scroll bars disappear. The list goes on.

In an increasingly digital society, where public information, health, welfare, retail and leisure are moving online, to be digitally excluded is to be marginalised and disempowered. The vision of the web pioneer for a digital democracy has simply not happened.

 ‘… it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities.’  (Berners Lee, 1997)

‘…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.’  (Dardailler, 1997)

So when asked to facilitate an #LTHEchat it seemed natural to bring out the digital inclusion soapbox in relation to learning and teaching.

image of a bar of soap and an empty box representing a digital soapbox

Over the past year or so, I’d been feeling a bit disillusioned. I’d already shifted focus from trying to change the world to making smaller changes such as building accessibility outcomes into my online TELEDA courses e.g. Reflect upon, and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice in relation to online teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students.  I still accepted any opportunity to raise awareness and did visitor slots for staff and students on a range of courses. Maybe I was imagining it but it seemed audiences a little bit more disinterested every year. Last month I gave a keynote on the social impact of the internet looking through a number of critical lenses, making sure these included digital divides; the hidden millions who had never been online in the UK and those with access but not the means to make essential use of it. One of the follow-up emails said it all.

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

A consequence of legislation (Single Equality Act) is tokenism as displayed in this photograph. It shows a perfect example of the law being followed but with no apparent awareness of the impossible situation created.

disabled parking road sign next to a postbox

Digital accessibility in learning and teaching is not always the most popular of topics. The response is often raised eyebrows, dismissive comments and barely concealed sighs.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect Wednesday at 8.00 pm but the fantastic #lthechat community come through in great style and by the end of the hour I felt reinvigorated again. This is the power of social media, adding Connect to the BBC mission to Educate, Inform and Entertain.

There are only a few months until the government’s proposed changes to the DSA come into place. This will remove a layer of digital support for new students and shift the responsibility for making reasonable adjustments back onto institutions. The topic of ensuring equal access to online learning resources should be at the forefront but in a way, the DSA itself has contributed to the notion that accessibility issues belong to someone else, somewhere over there, wherever student support is managed  We’re further away than ever to the idea of individual responsibility for ensuring accessible design of digital documents.

But there is hope. At a time when low levels of digital capability among staff who teach and support learning is coming to the forefront, accessibility can be built into new digital baselines and frameworks but the first step is raising awareness of why this matters in the first place.

LTHEchat offered lots of useful reminders and advice for moving forward as captured in this Storify https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthechat-45-with

#LTHEchat questions:

  1. Why does digital inclusion matter?
  2. Who is responsible for accessible L&T content in your institution?
  3. Audio and video need transcripts. Discuss.
  4. Where to go for help? Share an online source of advice.
  5. Share a tip for creating accessible digital documents.
  6. What does accessibility mean to you?

Shared #LTHEchat resources list 

Lastly, a timely reminder of how a simple zoom can go wrong. Trying to get to the image only succeed in making it appear further away!

black screen with large text and tiny image

Thanks to everyone who makes #LTHEchat happen. Although this week’s session is over, I hope the conversations and sparks of interest and enthusiasm will be lighting bigger fires 🙂

 

Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

(Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org

Keep the digital inclusion flags flying #MRCSoMe

MRC Conference, UCLan, 22 January 2016

Thanks Amanda Taylor for this pre-conference photo, found on Twitter – after the MRC event at UCLan on 22nd January! Which was apt considering the conference topic; consequences of digital media within social work. The conference addressed some of the changes in practice bought about through programmes like Twitter and Facebook. How we risk finding ourselves online without realising it or how a careless comment or unguarded moment can be captured and uploaded for all to see. We might not think too much about the permanence of digital footprints but identity is no longer under our control. The need to take digital care within professional practice is is just one aspect of society which has undergone great changes in the past decade.

For the Keynote I suggested seven critical lens for exploring the social impact of the internet and digital equality.

  • digital identity – online profiles and issues of anonymity
  • digital boundaries – professional/personal and issues of authenticity
  • digital surveillance – how digital presence is tracked and recorded
  • digital assumptions – the MEE Model of digital engagement
  • digital exclusion – rendered silent and invisible
  • digital by default – shifts from face to face to online practice
  • digital equality – technically possible but socially denied

Opportunities to bring out the digital soapbox are always welcome.  The world of digital technology has moved  fast in a short time. As with all social change, we can be so busy keeping up and adapting we don’t always stop to ask the questions around the wider social implications. We become uncritical adopters of digital ways of working. However, as internet users we are already in positions of power and privilege. With that power comes responsibility to ensure a wider and more inclusive equality.

image of a bar of soap and an empty box representing a digital soapbox

I’ve been lucky enough to work in partnership with social work and health and social care teams with regard to promoting safe digital working as well as digitally inclusive practices. Together we’ve worked with students to raise awareness of how the social shift to digital-by-default risks excluding many sections of the population, including those already marginalised and disempowered who might arguably be in greatest need of support. Social work practitioners, and others who work closely with service users, are often in the unique position of being both sides of the digital divide. They may have all the advantages of digital inclusion at work and home but can come into contact with the realities of digital exclusion on a daily basis.

Digital Nation (Facts, Stats, Closing the Gap) Infographic (2015) Tinder Foundation Digital Nation (Facts, Stats, Closing the Gap) Infographic (2015) Tinder Foundation http://www.tinderfoundation.org/sites/default/files/digitalnation-2015-webb.pdf

In an increasingly digital society where the platforms of the public sphere are themselves becoming digitised, to be digitally excluded is to be silenced and rendered invisible. The tension is how on the one hand the internet offers a voice to those previously excluded and marginalised but without the prerequisite conditions of access and use, the same individuals can find themselves silenced.

After the Keynote I collected together a number of resources, included here for anyone wanting to explore the issues more closely. My own publications in this area include:

  • Watling, S. and Rogers, J. (2012) Social Work in a Digital Society. London: Sage.
  • Watling, S. (2012) Digital exclusion: potential implications for social work education. Social Work Education, 31 (1). pp. 125-130.
  • Watling, S. (2011) Digital exclusion: coming out from behind closed doors. Disability and Society, 26 (4). pp. 491-495.
  • Watling, S. and Crawford, K. (2011) Digital exclusion: implications for human services practitioners. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 28 (4). pp. 205-216.
  • Watling, S. and Rogers, J. (2012) Why social work students need to be careful about online identities. Guardian Social Care. 5th October, 2012 http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2012/oct/05/social-work-students-online-inclusion 

I would recommend the following works.

Lastly, a selection of videos which demonstrate the potential of assistive technology to ensure digital equality.

Giesbert Nijhuis; quadriplegic graphic designer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x31u1seLTo0

Mike Phillips gamer and freelance technology writer born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in One Thumb to Rule Them All https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BhHwk9qSvI

Thanks again to everyone I met at UCLan. Lets keep the digital inclusion flags flying.