I’ve often wondered if what we call the internet keeps Sir Tim Berners Lee awake at night. Reading his open letter to the Web Foundation this week, it sounds like it might.
TBL writes ‘…the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.’ and calls for us to ‘…make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good….making this happen should be a ‘priority agenda of our governments’
I would suggest higher education also has a role to play. The undergraduates of today are the citizens of the future, which will be digital in ways we don’t yet know or understand. They should be given opportunities to develop digital graduate attributes which not only develop confidence with online environments but include opportunities to raise awareness of the impact of digital practice. This should be critically examined and promoted in ways which are accessible and inclusive because the digital is political.
The internet is about power and all students should have time to explore questions about who holds this power and what is done with it to affect the lives of others.
Walk down any high street, take public transport, sit in a pub or a café and its clear how connectivity rules. The mobile device is ubiquitous. Not 100% but enough to represent social transformation. In less than two decades we’ve become digitally connected, with everything done online being tracked, recorded and monitored. Data about our online activity underpins all internet transactions. Online lives are exposed through browser histories with all transactions leaving permanent digital footprints. Bentham’s panoptican has been reinvented for a digital society. The all seeing eye is virtual.
Orwell and Foucault were right!
The early pioneers of the world wide web saw it as an opportunity to create democracy and give everyone a voice, in particular those previously silenced. While evidence shows there are places where this has happened, the fact remains that patterns of internet access mirror existing forms of marginalisation. Digital exclusion is a 21st century form of discrimination where those without equitable access are disempowered. But this is not the only problem society faces.
TBL identifies three sources of dysfunction affecting today’s web:
Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of
Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.
The Contract for the Web declares ‘governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone.’ It calls for everyone to commit to a number of principles. Taking a few minutes to read and sign up is to make a commitment towards understanding what you do online matters.
The contract is not only aimed at governments and corporations, there are individual responsibilities for citizens who can agree to the following.
Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
For every advantage the internet offers, there are disadvantages. The internet is a mirror of society with all its benefits and horrors. If we want to make a positive difference, we can commit to ensuring our use of the internet prioritises those values which promote public good.
As internet users, we all have a responsibility to ensure not only equality of access but attention to the ways that access is used.
As the web reaches the age of 30, this week is an opportune time to raise discussion and debate about these issues. Visiting the Contract for the Web would be useful place to begin.
This week I’m left wondering if our complicit silence is part of the problem?
Should I make more noise?
Maybe I’m not political enough.
Maybe I should shout more from the rooftops – look at me – how I got here – what I offer…
So here it is…
Silent no more!
I was politicised without knowing it. Even working with users of assistive technologies, I made opportunities for digital development without questioning why they were necessary in the first place.
Working for a national Epilepsy charity, I was fascinated by the negative cultural constructions around epilepsy but didn’t question their dissemination.
A decade earlier, my first degree had expanded my knowledge but not my critique, while my first Masters in Gender Studies introduced poststructuralism and postmodernism, but – I later realised – I was grasping them as theoretical concepts without application to real world situations.
It was 2000. A fin de siècle in digital terms but even the significance of that passed me by.
My politics were informed through the critical pedagogy of Friere, Giroux and hooks. Surrounded by a cohort of revolutionary Marxists, my previous experiences began to make sense. I saw the structures of discrimination but learned to resist understanding class as the ultimate determinant of inequality. Gender, disability, age, ethnicity etc all play their part.
Inequalities still matter to me, as does widening opportunities for accessing higher education, which surely remains a root of social citizenship in the future.
‘…courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.’ (Robbins, 1963:8)
‘…increasing participation in higher education is a necessary and desirable objective of national policy over the next 20 years. This must be accompanied by the objective of reducing the disparities in participation in higher education between groups and ensuring that higher education is responsive to the aspirations and distinctive abilities of individuals.’ (Dearing, 1997: 101)
‘…the extent to which institutional concerns over status are mutually exclusive with the aims of widening participation is unclear…’ (Evans et. al. (2007:13)
‘Universities have made considerable progress in this area in recent years, but there is more work to be done…more effective evaluation of policies and interventions is needed. We need to improve the use of data in driving future developments and a focus on ‘what works’ underpinned by a robust and systematic use of the evidence.’ (Universities UK, 2018)
Widening participation can only be as successful as the extent to which support for learning and teaching addresses the increasing diversity of student cohorts. The answers lie in enhancing the quality of teaching with the appropriate design of opportunities for active student learning, through a data informed approach to programmes as well as modules.
Once an educator always an educator.
Once the politics are out of the box there’s no squeezing them back in.
For a decade I worked in community development, My time in higher education has been about transferring what I learned about social and digital exclusion to staff and students, in particular in health care and practice placement. On Monday I facilitated a workshop on the use of social media for students going into professional practice placement. An hour later I learned my role was excluded from the new Directorate structure.
Maybe it’s time to leave the ivory towers and return to the community, taking back some of the lessons from campus, politics and all, going back to my roots.
Hey ho, ho, ho – it will soon be Christmas. The new year might be starting in a different place to what I expected but I’m a great believer in new doors opening when existing ones close. One thing is for sure, if the PhD gets finished sooner rather than later, that can only be a good thing- can’t it?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
HEPI is a think tank; a research institutes with a remit to underpin policy with evidence. Some think tanks are funded by government bodies and clearly positioned left or right of centre. HEPI claims to be the UK’s only ‘independent think tank devoted to higher education’.
Admissions has become a market place. There, I’ve used the language of commodification, of students as consumers, or even worse, customers. Well, I believe, I really believe, there’s enough people working in HE who still see it as more, so much more than a product to be bought and sold.
What doesn’t help is uncritical use of language, for example the HEPI piece referring to institutions and prospective students as buyers and sellers.
So I tweeted so say I felt disappointed at what appeared an uncritical use of language.
The phrase in my head was ‘public good’. What happened to the discourse of ‘higher education for the public good’?
PG refers to services which benefit society without citizens necessarily having to pay for them. A university for the public good is an institution charged with developing the citizens of the future, in a socially democratic society, and upholds the principles of social justice and equality.
There was a time when going to university was free. Sounds crazy now but I took my first degree just as student loans began. It was 1990 and I was one of the first to take advantage. It made all the difference. I’d become a single parent; relationship breakdown being an unacknowledged side-effect of higher education which no one talks about. The student loan meant I could finish my degree and still feed the kids. So in a way I paid for my education but it was nothing compared to the debt students put themselves in today, and the debts my own childrn and their partners are paying off.
Commonly quoted examples of public good include municipal gardens, national parks and lighthouses. They exist to make our lives better, safer, more fulfilling. A university for the public good is about equipping graduates to take up public office and care about a fair and just society, one with equal rights and opportunities.
HEPI replied saying thanks for the feedback. But wouldn’t it be wrong, this close to results day, to pretend we have anything other than the system we do when people need help making choices?
I struggle to accept the reduction of higher education to a buyer and seller’s market.
There’s a number of ways to look at 21st century society. They include the fictional lenses; 1984 by George Orwell (1949) and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). There are many versions of the aphorism ‘fiction is the lie which tells a truth’ and both these novels contain resonance.
In Orwell’s dystopian vision, media messages were readjusted at regular intervals to suit the power structures of the day i.e. the construction of fake news and false truths, while wherever you were, whatever you did – Big Bother was watching you
Huxley’s Brave Bew World of Hypnopaedia, sleep control aimed at persuading the population to remain in soma-induced highs, a drug freely provided by the government to induce semi-permanent states of bliss in a society where drugs and sex were the only sources of entertainment.
Which would you prefer?
HEPI says it’s an independent think tank but referring to universities as sellers and students as buyers sounds more like buy-in than reminaing neutral. Systems are constructed to support dominant mechanisms of power and control, in this instance capitalism and a free market economy. I don’t deny higher education is being commodified and HEI have to adapt to survive, but language is a powerful reinforcer of ideology and people in positions of influence should take care over their choice of words.
I still believe in the power of higher education to change not only individual lives for the better but as a proactive voice calling for a fairer more equal society.
Thanks for the reply I tweeted back. My worry is the risk of accepting ‘the system’ is to construct the degree as an ‘off the shelf’ product for purchase when knowledge acquisition can be complex and challenging as well as a potentially transformative life experience
HEPI ‘liked’ my reply but the conversation stopped there, but it’s still going on inside my head.
The stamp image at the top of this blog, the inverted jenny, was mistakenly printed in the wrong position; an error which became worth a fortune, showing how in the midst of darkness, there may be light ahead.