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 speed restrictions on the M1.

Four lanes of traffic should move at ease and speed 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. Time 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

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sounds of silence #DigiResHull

letter tiles spelling the words sounds of silence

Silence has a language of its own.

We say a lot without speaking. Bodies, faces, clothes, all give clues. Some messages are intentional like a smile or movement. Other times they’re not, like when you’ve tried to be engaged in a meeting and a colleague says afterwards how bored you looked!

I can usually tell if people are with me or not. Reading silence leads to decisions. Repeat a question in a different way or change the timing of an activity. This is data informed practice. Silence can evidence an agile, flexible approach while for participants, well…. higher education is about working with adults who have the capacity to make choices, and these might include choosing not to contribute.

Which leads to the sound of silence.

black and white microphone

Interpretation of silence depends on context. It might signal active engagement or be indicative of problems. Haven’t done the reading, distracted by troubles at home, disinterested or struggling with a concept. When this happens in physical spaces we can change the dynamics. Turn off the PowerPoint. Ask a different question. See if the silence changes. Are eyes watching you or the phone under the table? Is that the start of a smile? When we’re all together we can take steps to understand where silence comes from.

It’s different online.

In virtual places I’m dependent on text e.g. forum discussions or chat.  Online, all the variety of face-to-face verbal communication is lost when the medium is reduced to Times New Roman or Calibri except it’s true, capital letters really do come across as SHOUTING!

We use email and social media more than ever but meaning still gets lost, humour displaced or a sentence taken out of context so key messages are misunderstood.  But at least digital text is communication.

Silence online is different. Since the early days of the internet it’s been called ‘lurking’ and however you look at it, to lurk has negative connotations.

alternative definitions of the word to lurk

Lurking online has become a sticky concept, both in terms of definition and purpose but has retained its primary association with something socially and culturally sinister.

definitions of lurking from a dictionary

‘Is it ok to lurk?’

The question was asked in last weeks Digital Researcher Course, run by colleagues at the University of Hull and delivered via a closed VLE. Using #DigiResHull opened up discussion on Twitter and I tweeted to those I thought might have something to say. I wasn’t wrong.

Tweet asking the question Is it OK to Lurk?

Very quickly tweets arrived supporting the principle of lurking as a valid activity, for example Teresa MacKinnon‏ @WarwickLanguage tweeted about power dynamics.

‘it is a power thing, you have to take into account the teacher/student relationship and the imbalance of power there. Sometimes the only agency a learner may have in an online environment is to exercise their right to watch.’

My reply:  ‘am interested in the balance been lurking and non-participation in an activity based online task or project – at which point does legitimizing lurking become the rationale for non-engagement? I get nervousness and hesitancy about posting online but also struggle with silence.’

tweet about struggling to deal with silence as an online tutor

David White @daveowhite added this:

‘I also think recognition that ‘not speaking’ is not the same as ‘being passive’ is important’

tweet from David White suggesting lurking is passive

My reply: ‘It can be difficult to identify ‘not speaking’ compared to ‘being passive’ in particular when you are facilitating online blended/distance learning.’

The discussion faded at this point.

I tweeted I was still reflecting on ‘not speaking’ and ‘being passive’ in online places and thinking of the implications for learning design. For example, creating online activities which no one engages with results in… well…. silence.

final tweet on the issue of silence

I accept lurking online might be a valid activity but want to suggest that to lurk is a problem, in particular in groups with a purpose. The reason for this is simple. As an online facilitator I have no way of knowing what your silence means.

Online silence is too often undecipherable. Pedagogically, we know activity is key to successful learning. Content is no longer king or queen. It’s context which matters. 21st century education is less about knowledge acquisition because it’s no longer restricted to the individual expert. It’s more about what can be done with it. Effective learning experiences are built around concepts like searching, selecting, synthesising and sharing, using knowledge to support the development of situated literacies and transferable ’employability-skills’.

mixed up rubrik cube

Online silence is baffling, not least because there’s no faces to give any clues about what’s going on.

Where the software shows participants have accessed content, I’ve no idea if they’ve read and understood if direct questions or prompts are ignored. I don’t know if students are working hard and enjoying the resources, except those which ask them to interact with their peers, or are not even there. Dashboards which list login details are rarely useful. Who hasn’t been logged in all day or night on a different tab or browser window!  Advice to assess participation risks encouraging strategic approaches and not all online activity relates to accredited courses.

However you look at it, online silence is an issue.

#DigiResHull provided useful ideas why silence might be a choice and broadened my understanding of its potential legitimacy. Also, I’ve been reflecting on the possibility of a digital form of impostor syndrome (future blog alert!) but even if we understand the causes of silence, the question remains of how to design for non-participation in online places.  Face-to-face situations contain clues and when silence makes its own kind of noise there are always possible solutions.

In digital places, the sounds of silence are absent and I’m not sure where to take the discussion from here.

Postscript

After writing this blog I found two others which dealt with the same issues. Lurking has clearly been on my mind for some time!