Digital practice

image showing digital code
image from https://pixabay.com/en/web-network-programming-3706562/

Mistakes can be useful learning tools but we’re rarely rewarded for getting something wrong.

Another way to learn is to have something you’ve become used to taken away.

My biggest learning curve with regard to digital practice was on the MA Open and Distance Learning with the OU. It was a fully online course with lots of different platforms plus we were piloting their MyStuff portfolio when such tools were still new. The MA was also my first experience of virtual meetings with audio and I still remember how I jumped when the tutor’s voice boomed out at me from my laptop as I entered the online room!

The course had an international cohort which was another fresh experience. Comparing education as I knew it with what was happening in countries like Russia and the US provided valuable knowledge but I learned most of all from the final two modules.

image showing an open book and pair of glasses
image from https://pixabay.com/en/knowledge-book-library-glasses-1052010/

I chose one from Psychology and one from Social Science without realising they hadn’t been transferred to online formats. Typically, I’d assumed all the OU units would be like the ones I’d just taken.  When the courier arrived with a box of books, papers and a DVD I realised my mistake. This was my course. There were no online forums, no virtual meetings and if I wanted to speak to my tutor I had to book a phone call.

The resources were good. I still have them. But the greatest learning came from not having the digital communication and collaboration I’d become used to. Without these I appreciated their value in a way I never would have done otherwise.

It was the same with the assessment centres. I had problems parking, arrived late, and struggled with the physical writing. I sent emails and used social media. I no longer wrote letters and did little more than sign my name by hand. For days afterwards my arm and shoulder ached and I still haven’t forgotten how it felt to be sat in a room with over 30 people all scribbling away in various states of stress as the clock ticked and the temperature rose.

rows of empty desks and chairs
image from https://pixabay.com/en/empty-exam-hall-deserted-nobody-314554/

Students still take examinations in this style.

Many VLE still look like content repositories when they can offer so much more.

Technology-first approaches to blended and distance courses are still common when all the evidence suggests a pedagogy-first path for the design of teaching and learning online is a more effective method.

I’ve been thinking of these experiences as I come to the end of my PhD. We’re discussing eternal examiners and planning a mock viva in preparation for the final defence. The end is in sight but I’m not there yet. There are still hurdles to jump. In the meantime, I’ve learned so much.

My research is practice-based. Participants were enrolled on my online courses, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA). I was an insider, both at the university and as the developer and facilitator of the programmes.  Each of the three iterations of TELEDA were 30 level 7 credits and on the advice of the external examiner I had the validation booked for merging two modules into a PG Cert in Digital Education. A restructure halted those plans and instead TELEDA became a Diploma level option on a new MA in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  It looked good on paper but institutional changes prevented it from happening.

Last year, with my colleague Patrick Lynch, we developed a pedagogy-first approach to enhancement called Design for Active Learning (D4AL). With or without technology, we explained, but its 2018, the tech will be in there somewhere, we’re just choosing not to lead with it. Again, progress was affected by changes we had no control over.

CMALY accreditation badge
image from https://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/cmalt/

When I gained my Certified Membership of ALT (CMALT) there were less than 100 certified learning technologists in the country. Today there are many more and for the past few years I’ve been a CMALT assessor. The portfolio submission has to address the design of learning yet the majority of people who apply are technologists. This reinforces the on-campus divides between those who promote technology enhanced learning and those who practice it on a day-to-day basis with students.

How can higher education institutions do more to develop their staff who teach and support learning to become digitally fluent practitioners?

TELEDA was successful.  I have a mass of data which confirms the value of experiential approaches to digital practice, in particular for later adopters of online ways of working. I know many participants took their TELEDA learning and applied to their own practice which was the original intention. Staff were enrolled as students on the institutional VLE and for many this itself was transformational. Getting lost online helped them rethink their own practice as did the supportive introductions to social media and creating audio and video as supplements for text. TELEDA covered learning design and assessment. It introduced the philosophy and practice of open education. We read and discussed seminal papers around the digital native and digital immigrant debate and Siemen’s Connectivism. It was an ideal opportunity to introduce accessibility of content as being of benefit to everyone and show how VLE and other digital tools supported widening participation and increasingly diverse student cohorts.MS Office 365 logos

image from http://www.iconarchive.com/show/microsoft-office-2013-icons-by-carlosjj.html

All this is in the thesis and published in a range of books and papers. I’ve learned a lot over the years about digital practice and like to think TELEDA is remembered by colleagues as a worthwhile investment of their time.

I’ve also seen a lot of changes in higher education and, like many others, have concerns about the future.  I remain convinced that VLE offer genuine opportunities for participation in transformational higher education experiences, in particular for students who are unable to enjoy a full time on-campus degree.

However, developing the necessary digital practice of staff who teach and support learning needs more investment. This is likely to remain the biggest hurdle of all.

image showing a fence in woodland
image from https://pixabay.com/en/gateway-the-fence-wood-fencing-1277010/

Janus head

image showing a roman scupture with two faces, eah looking different ways
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus#/media/File:Janus1.JPG

Christmas is coming.

Under review, my post excluded from the suggested new structure, I don’t know what lies ahead. The process has paused for the seasonal break and uncertainty creates the Janus effect of looking back, looking forwards.

Where have I come from?

Where am I going?

This is the second time I’ve witnessed digital practice being sidelined. In the past couple of years, both institutions I’ve worked in have been through reviews which appear to equate education technology with ICT Departments, rather than an integral component of academic practice.

I admit I’m on the inside looking out, so maybe I’m missing the wood for too many trees.

imge of trees from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/forest-trees-rays-sun-light-690075/

What seems clear, is my approach to digital education is at odds with wider institutional views.

So in this final post of 2018, I’m reflecting on my own beliefs and looking back over the Digital Academic blog posts of the past years for clues.

It starts with ‘like attracting like’.

In the same ways different disciplines have unique signature pedagogies, those working in the areas of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) are unique tribes occupying their own territories.  This can result in digital divides between the early adopters and those late making digital shifts in practice. Universities are made up of more than Visitors and Residents, they also include a third option, the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets and reaching them has been a primary driver of my work. A number of blog posts address these divides specifically.

selection of digital tools and devices
https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-technology-computer-business-3244483/

TEL people put on digitally themed events where the majority of faces are those you know. The Friends of TEL. occasionally you see someone new, full of enthusiasm for the topic, and actively engaged in finding ways to apply new approaches to their teaching practice. A few months later you pass in the corridor and ask how it went. They study the wall behind you and mutter something about not having had time before moving on.

Time for digital development needs to be recognised and adequately workloaded. This isn’t happening. As a consequence, staff who are already overloaded and under pressure to achieve ever-changing targets are unable to prioritise new working practices.

image from https://pixabay.com/en/paper-messy-notes-abstract-3033204/

My response to this was to apply lateral thinking. Rather than find new ways to attract people to use technology, I put the tech aside and focused instead on learning design. Staff might say they don’t do technology, and I’ve heard this said on numerous occasions, but they can’t say they’re not interested in student learning. So during the past year, my colleague Patrick Lynch and I developed a Design for Active Learning (D4AL) approach to enhancement. We promoted D4AL as being with or without technology and discovered in 2018, it was always in there somewhere. It just needed a pedagogy-first rather than than a technology-first approach to reach it.

Digital divides take many forms. One of these is made explicit by the practice of lurking. Traditionally understood as a negative behaviour, lurking was the topic of a number of blog posts back in 2016.

letter tiles spelling the words sounds of silence

During 2018, there’s been renewed interest in rethinking lurking as valid learning, a form of legitimate peripheral participation. It received wider interest via the Digital Researcher course and a number of online forums including #lthechat plus Twitter responses to these blog posts.

Lacking digital confidence is the path less travelled. Their absence is reinforced when TEL people are genuinely unaware of the parameters of digital exclusion, or how low literacies are contributory factors. Inclusive digital practice is not talked about enough but this might change in 2019.

closed padlock on a shut dor
image from https://pixabay.com/en/castle-chain-completed-shut-off-to-3788999/

The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 calls for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to meet accessibility requirements. However, realistically I wonder how much real difference will it make. Already we are seeing interpretation  through a technology lens with VLE suppliers offering ‘checking’ systems focused on table headings, alt text etc. This is not addressing individual changes in practice. The Design for Diversity project set up with colleague Lee Fallin tackles these with poster guidelines for all staff creating and uploading digital resources. The poster can be downloaded from here – Keep the Diversity Flag FLying here

Digital inclusion is like critical digital literacies – both are needed in theory and digital scholarship but are less often evidenced in practice. Yet ignoring the issues only results in widening the divides between those with easy unproblematic access and means of use compared to those without

Finally looking back pedagogically these blog posts offer new ways of reinterpreting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Blooms Taxonomy for a digital age. I’m convinced pedagogy-first is the way forward.

MAslow Hierarchy of Needs pyramid
repurposed image original from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.svg

Some posts have been a bit political this year but only with regard to highlighting those issues which matter if society is to become a more equal and inclusive place, something I believe a ‘higher’ education should have as an underpinning philosophy and is integral to digital scholarship.

There’s been positive responses from conferences I’ve presented at this year, which included these issues, for example

presnting at the UCISA conference

And there’s the Lego with feedback showing real value in building, sharing and asking questions.

lego bricks from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/lego-colors-toys-build-up-disorder-688154/F

Plus, in relation to innovative approaches to learning and teaching, there was the work on using labyrinths as aids for reflection as detailed in Walking the Labyrinth and my Classical Allsorts Radio Show for Siren FM which explored the Mozart Effect while promoting music for studying to.

So – looking back – I should be ending 2018, and maybe my career, on a high but I don’t know what 2019 has in store and the ‘not-knowing’ casts a shadow over what’s usually a happy time of year. However, I’m a huge believer in closing doors leading to new ones opening and I like the idea of fresh and different opportunities ahead.

Also, the allotment has been much neglected this year.

Closing down for 2018…

image from https://pixabay.com/en/christmas-star-background-backdrop-2894952/

 

Tips for part-time PhD research

tangled mess of pink and green wool

A part-time doctorate is a challenge on many levels.

In 2014 I posted my top tips for surviving a part time phd Looking back, I think they’ve stood the test of time and would still recommend the following;

  • Make your research personal; you need passion to stay the course.
  • There’s never enough hours so make the topic inform your work. Chances of completing are increased by the connections between your research and daily practice.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for making small but beautifully crafted changes instead.

However, I’d extend this one

‘The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.’

I now realise doctoral research is not only about creativity – it’s about being brave. You need courage to put yourself out there in the public domain with all the risks of negative feedback and challenges. It’s part and parcel of being a doctoral researcher but part-time PhD students often lack opportunities to practice defending their choices.

Confidence and courage are two essential PhD attributes.

Wizard of Oz and the Lion who needs courage

Alongside the top tips, I’ve also been thinking about a ‘doctoral development’ list. Learning Development is an established field, thanks to the excellent work of ALDinHE but seems primarily concerned with undergraduate provision. Resources like Vitae require institutional licence, and although there’s helpful projects like SUCCEED@8 project (Supporting Community to Collaborate and Emotionally Engage in Digital Shifts) from University of Northampton, generic support for postgraduate research seems less visible. Based on my own research, I’ve found the following approaches really useful.

Action Research loops and spirals of reflective practice: I’d add ‘researchers’ to Laurillard’s suggestion that all teachers should be Action Researchers while Brookfield (2005:xiii) identifies ‘viewing practice through four distinct, but interconnecting lenses’, the experience of our students, colleagues, ourselves and the literature. For me, critical reflection on progress has been invaluable.

Finding your own boundaries: qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis tend to be looser than traditional positivist paradigms. My research is less concerned with measuring or predicting and more about investigation for improving understanding, so with less boundaries I had to find my own constraints. This has been a challenge. I’ve always had problems with boundaries as described in Know Your Limits but when I feel stuck I revisit Lincoln and Guba’s advice on trustworthiness, in particular their evaluative criteria. Establishing the following offers an authentic framework..

  • Credibility – confidence in the ‘truth’ of the findings
  • Transferability – showing that the findings have applicability in other contexts
  • Dependability – showing that the findings are consistent and replicable
  • Confirmability – neutrality or the extent to which the findings of a study are shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest.

Social media: make it work for you. The concept of the ‘Digital Researcher’ (e.g. #DigiResHull from University of Hull) is another under-developed area. Networking affordances are too often under-utilised. Twitter on a Sunday morning with hashtags like #phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life has been a lifeline.  You are not alone!

life ring against a stormy sea
image from https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-coast-spray-surge-2530692/

It’s year three at the University of Northampton and the plan is to complete in 2019. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to submit the bounded copy.

Freedom?

Doctoral study is a trap you fall into. The walls get higher until the light disappears and it’s just you and your data. No one else can do it for you. The loneliness of the long distance learner is hard to anticipate which is good.

If I really knew what lay ahead, would I have still applied?

Unequivocally…

Yes!

Because…

Reading the data is still rewarding. It reminds me how colleagues were supported to make shifts to more blended and flexible practice, utilising digital technology to explore new pedagogic led approaches to enhancing and extending the student experience. That makes it worthwhile. I know it helped individuals become more digitally confident in an increasingly digital sector and that’s what matters.

image showing laptop, tablet and phone with pictures emerging from the screen
imge feom https://pixabay.com/en/background-waters-computer-laptop-3048816/

Also, I’m filling a gap in the literature which is full of research into how students learn as e-learners but with less on how teachers teach as e-teachers. In contemporary accounts the ‘e’ has been dropped because it’s assumed the technology will be in there somewhere, but the reality is – for many colleagues – it isn’t.

By losing the distinction the sector is also losing the emphasis on negotiating digital shifts in practice and providing appropriate support.

Traditional lectures dominate cultural conceptions of ‘going to university’. They’re what students expect, how architects design – with rows of seats facing a single direction, while attempts to challenge this are utilised by the few rather than the majority, and frameworks for digital graduate attributes remain aspirational rather than evident in practice. Employers continue to highlight the issues (e.g. The Technology for Employability report from Jisc) but I still facilitate workshops on professional online identity where students have no idea what prospective employers might find if they google their names. Presentations and publications still have uncritical references to students as ‘digital natives’ despite the research discarding this (e.g. Helspeth and Enyon, 2009) Students might appear fluent users of technology but its use for learning and teaching remains a much of a  mystery to many.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

Digital education research is focused primarily on the innovators and early adopters whereas my interest is low adoption and establishing an inclusive digital baseline from which to move forward. This can only be done through research into how colleagues conceptualise teaching and learning, how they negotiate digital shifts in practice, develop digital fluency and establish digital presence, in itself an under researched area with regard to learning and teaching.

See you on Twitter Sunday morning!

#phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life

 

Images

political and critical; a personal reflection #ALTC #femedtech

green nd white ALT logo

ALT and motherhood on the same page?

I didn’t see that coming!.

Last week Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell presented A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018 describing themselves as IT professionals, lecturers, community educators, postgraduate students, researchers, feminists, social activists, and mothers.

Since watching the live stream, I’ve been reflecting on political and critical perspectives and, following my last post Start the Week Backwards have written this response to the zeitgeist mood of the 25th ALTc.

My career’s been shaped by motherhood, divorcehood and resulting single-parenthood.  Built round term-times, it was one long juggling act, never stopping, never resting, life full on until the nest was empty and I woke up one day with the whole weekend ahead and no idea of what to do.

image showing the word start on a road

It’s been liberating to acknowledge a gendered perspective to my decades working with education technology. Last week in Start the Week Backwards I returned to 1989, to my first degree as a mature ‘widening participation’ student, my early encounter with DOS computers running Wordstar and Lotus. I cried during an ‘IT Test’ when I accidentally pressed the Insert key.  I didn’t know it existed, never mind why all my text was being overtyped.

I hope I never forget how that felt.

cartoon showing a person facing angry technology with the caption The Battle we all Face

My first degree was transformative in so many ways. It cost me my marriage.

Apparently, no one likes a clever git.

I moved from country to inner city. It was February 1991. The coldest winter with the heaviest snow. My student loan fixed the boiler and bought a cooker. The second-hand electric shop wanted £5 for delivery. I borrowed a sack barrow and delivered it myself.

The greatest life lesson I learned was this.

Regardless of gender, the parent with the least earning potential takes on most of the childcare. A salutary lesson.  A universal rule like Jane Austen on men and wives (note the primary identity!)

Before the start of the conversation started by Catherine and Frances, the last time I ‘outed’ myself as a parent was five years ago in Who will clean the toilets after the revolution This was my problem with feminism. The personal is political but it has to be practical too.

blue plasticine person leaning over a white toilet

Today I’m comfortable in my empty nest and appreciate my freedom of choice. I admire colleagues who juggle full-time work alongside small children, especially those with babies. Feminism and equality campaigns have made flexible working possible, although I suspect it’s an ongoing struggle, financially, emotionally and physically. The women who make it are stars!

gold stars

A personal and feminist lens shows gender affected me. Being a female of a certain age when I entered HE has influenced opportunities and choices.  During Catherine and Frances’s presentation, I looked for a photo of myself with the children, realising for the first time how few there are.  Lots of babies, with and without their father, but not with me. This was before the days of mobile phones and selfies – not that long ago – all I could find were two.

This is what happens to women in the home. They become invisible. It’s the public work versus the private ‘hearth and home’ binary all made real.

cut out images of domestic tools and tasks

I wouldn’t have it any different, but I do sometimes wonder how different it might have been.

My career in adult, community and higher education has been eclectic, like so many others. An  eclecticness shared so creatively in a timeline by Amber thomas, who gave a keynote at #ALTc. Throughout my working life, I’ve been a mother, step-mother, carer.  Constant but rarely discussed. Why? Is it because I’ve worked mostly alongside men?  I’ve never thought of this before. It shows the power of Catherine and Frances using the motherhood word in conjunction with technology, research, social activism. Been there. Done that. But it’s not often I’ve reclaimed gender in public.

Thank you women of ALTc, for giving us permission to do the same.

We need more stars!

gold starsgold starsgold stars

Like so many women, I’ve done life backwards. Much of my knowledge is experiential. This means I often feel I’m swimming against the tide.

Practice can disempower in the way assumptions discriminate.

Being a female of a certain age, I feel othered in ways I imagine are not shared by men. I write about the digital but have analogue roots The ‘O’ word is banned. I refuse to accept life as linear. For me, it’s circular and spiral, like a a labyrinth. Remember the labyrinths? This is another area of work I’d love to resurrect, but people move on and the early momentum of a movement looking at walking meditative practice for learning development and reflection feels faded. At least the blog and the photos remain Walking the Labyrinth

Women who do too much!

Why are we so driven?

Julian's Bower Turf Labyrinth at Alkeborough, North Lincolnshire
Julian’s Bower Turf Labyrinth at Alkeborough, North Lincolnshire

Age is discriminatory.

Socially, culturally, politically….

Take the phrase Early Career Researcher. It ‘Others’ me. I feel excluded. My PhD is the biggest independent piece of research I’ve done but in terms of time it’s late rather than early. I have two degrees and two Masters. I hold CMALT plus SFHEA. If I’m not an Early Career Researcher, what am I?

Identity has been an issue for some time.

I was Senior Lecturer in Education Development. Now I’m a Teaching Enhancement Advisor in Professional Services.

a white building with the word university in silver

Take the word ‘academic’ off your employment contract and what does it mean?

Who am I within university tradition and practice?  Where do I fit?

Amber’s keynote was inspirational.  It spoke to all women with eclectic careers built round the public face of ed tech alongside the private space of hearth and home. Amber’s timeline reinforced how the industry continually transforms itself, creating new identities to solve the same old issues.

We know.

Our voices may have been silenced but we know what’s going on.

It’s not about the technology.

This is why the promised transformation hasn’t happened.

Like attracts like and technology determinist approaches won’t reach the non-digital whose doors are closed and habits fixed. This is not to belittle either but we need to talk. To everyone across borders and boundaries; to everyone involved in creating opportunities for students to learn.

We need to learn too.

I like an Appreciative Inquiry approach. This assumes the answers are in the room. Rather than investing in expensive external consultancy and the input of perceived ‘experts’,  we should invest in exploring ways of sharing what we already know.

I like Jung’s theory of collective unconscious. I believe in the possibility of univerisal memories, that shared expereinces create energy. It explains the attraction of an open fire and the awe of layng on a hill top below a night sky full of stars.

Memories are strange phenomena. They disappear when you want them then reappear for no apparent reason. Proust’s Madeleine has happened to us all. Sarsaparilla on your tongue. Electric shivers from a full moon.

full moon at night shining on dark waer

Pedagogic practice hasn’t really changed. My first experience of higher education was during A levels. I signed up for an evening class at the Universty of Hull. In the Wilberforce Building. Now I work there. The building has had a facelift but the rooms are fundamentally the same – small with no windows and rows of desks facing the front.

Last year I finished a part-time degree at Hull. Six years of attendance. Twelve modules taught in the same Wilberforce Building in rooms with rows of desks facing the front. No technology was used during the making of this degree. The only time the PC was switched on was student presentations where I used Powerpoint.

lassroom with rows of empty desks and chairs all facing the board at teh front

When is comes to teaching and leaning, technology is not the solution. There’s no magic tool to solve the problems but plenty of technology-based solutions which have added to them.

Learning and teaching is where we need to begin. The design of opportunities for learning with or without the tech. It’s 2018. It’s going to be in there somewhere, in the same way it’s at home and in the workplace.

So what are the problems?

Well, the status of being digitally literate for starters. This is a requirement which needs to be elevated alongside english and maths, but even so, technology is not the answer. Not on its own.

There are bigger issues.

Like widening participation; the opening up of university courses ‘… for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”  (Robbins Report, 1963)

The NSS arrived with promises it would not lead to league tables when it was clear this was exactly what would happen.  Today, the NSS combined with student fees, pose a potential (and predictable) perfect storm.

Despite it all, I still believe in the concept of higher education for the public good. The often quoted analogy of public good with lighthouses is – I think – apt. Shining light into darkness, warning of danger.

Danger?

light house on Isle of Skye at teh end f a long rocky prootary looking out to sea

Education can hurt and be uncomfortable. It should be full of liminal spaces and troublesome knowledge. Unfortunately, it can break relationships and create division – but also open hearts and minds, shine light on exclusion and discrimination, be a beacon for socially democratic thinking and provide opportunities for individuals to be transformed and thrive.

Why shouldnt it be for the public good?

person standing in front of the siplay boards in an airport

Across the country, thousands are preparing for arrival on campus. Diverse cohorts are packing bags and preparing to leave home. Others are sitting late at night juggling the school run on paper with nursery pickups and contingency plans for when the grandparents are ill. Those who’ve had unexpected life changes are looking to university with no idea of what lies ahead. To those who are unsure, I’d say feel the fear and do it.

image showing a erson leaping across a chasm at suset

In all of this, the women working in higher education, in partcular in ed tech and digital practice, have their own unique contribution to make. Accustomed to suppressing the maternal and personal, they can add hugely to the collaborative processes of teaching and learning.

We need a platform and a voice.

I hope the conversations started at ALTc are enabled to continue.

table discussion with an open laptop

images from ALT and pixabay

The Other Side of Lurking Part Two, searching for explanations, digital imposter syndrome or digital self-efficacy?

9mage of a duck peeping over the edge of a cliff

In Part One of The Other Side of Lurking, I wrote about the #HEdigID #OEP discussion (13/07/18) on Twitter. Every day this week something new has been added to the debate. It’s good to talk.  Lurking risks being side-lined by the rhetoric of innovation and transformation. Let’s face it – digital shyness or resistance are usually less attention grabbing headlines.

Conclusions validate lurking as learning. It’s a valid strategy. So lurking’s not a problem, right?

…but if it’s your virtual environment and you’re dealing with silence, it can’t be ignored. Lurking flies in the face of everything we’re told 21st century education should be, namely active. We’re well versed in communities of practice and inquiry, zones of proximal development, social, cognitive and teaching presences, and so on – and they all require interaction.

Networks need people, don’t they?

We’re schooled to see communication and collaboration as the heart of active learning yet the data says otherwise. Whether we measure with Nielsen’s 90% or Pareto’s 80% non-participation rates – consumption without contribution is rife and suggests most of us are comfortable with digital isolation.

Are we creating a problem which doesn’t exist?

an office full of empty chairs

The scenario is familiar. I set up an online discussion, but no one used it, so I didn’t do it again.

Lurking can’t be ignored. Digital silence speaks but what is it saying?

Are the students ok or have they disappeared?

Are they managing their learning or are they struggling?

We wouldn’t run a seminar in silence.

image showing a group of sparrows

I need to know lurking better.

My research is about digital shifts. How staff who teach and support learning conceptualise their practice in a digital age. What influences individual attitudes and behaviours.  Data suggests the permanence of digital publication is frequently feared. Once words are in the public domain, they’re gone. No longer under control, let loose in an open arena, exposed to the responses of others and risking – many people believe – potential ridicule.

Damn Twitter’s lack of an Edit function. But its more than seeing carefully crafted ideas spoiled by typos. What if the ideas themselves are flawed in some way. What if you’ve used an incorrect reference, or inappropriate word or phrase. Worse, what if you’ve misunderstood the question or the reading, Suppose, just suppose, your thoughts are deemed incorrect and you’ve exposed your lack of knowledge about key concepts to the world.

image of a goldfish flying out of a glass of waer

From data collected over the years:

…what if I look foolish.

…what if I’m wrong.

…what if people think I’m stupid

The fear is once your words are out there you can’t get them back.

Sun, Rau, and Ma, (2014) categorise lurkish behaviours and under ‘personal dispositions’ they cite self-efficacy.  This is the inner turmoil which influences attitudes and behaviours. Jerome Bruner described it as ‘people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives” (1994: 2)

Self-efficacy is our individual motivation driver. High self-efficacy fires you into action, underpinned by the ability to push yourself forward, believing you can achieve whereas low self-efficacy results in fear. It will come as no surprise, those with low self-efficacy have more self-doubt, spending inordinate amounts of time imagining 101 obstacles and 1001 possibilities of error.

They feel the fear and don’t do it.

person hiding underneath cushions

A quick google search brings up connections between self-efficacy and technology. Where there’s tech there’s emotion. Liz Bennett at the University of Huddersfield has written about the emotional work involved when adopting digital practices.  Technophobia might not be a top ten phobia  but fear of public embarrassment before students is a common deterrent.

cartoon showing a person facing angry technology with the caption The Battle we all Face

I’ve heard of academics not using PowerPoint in case the computer won’t switch on, and how many times have you seen a presenter unable to open their presentation because the file’s on their desktop, 100 miles away, or they can’t find it on their data stick.

It happens. Don’t laugh. Fear is real.

Lurking may be a valid learning strategy for some, but for others it’s looking like digital shyness.

In popular psychology there’s a condition called Imposter Syndrome (IS). This is about successful people feeling they’re frauds, believing it’s luck rather than skill or ability that’s got them where they are, and it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out. People with IS live in continual dread of making mistakes which they fear will expose them.

triangle with the words Fraud Alert in the centre

Imposter Syndrome sounds like self-efficacy by another name. First identified in 1978 (Clance and Imes) there’s an Impostor Phenomenon Scale (test yourself here) and while not an officially recognised disorder (IS is absent from any psychiatric diagnostic manuals) a whole IS business has emerged based on self-help and therapeutic interventions. Imposter Syndrome appears to provide a popular conceptual understanding of the underlying psychology. The phrase is in common use and I wondered if Digital Imposter Syndrome (DIS) could exist.

I googled but nothing came up. Not even a googlewhack.  DIS returned zero.

word nothing written in chalk on a board

Woo hoo! Was this a conceptual gap? Should I push the digital imposter syndrome idea a bit further or return to Bruner?

I went back to Jerome. In the Narrative Construction of Reality (1991) Bruner writes about the situated nature of knowledge, via cultural tool kits and distributed networks.  Long ago, in a different university, I wrote about digital literacies being best understood as socially situated practices. They were personal, as individual as fingerprints, and determined how we operated online, but we all have differing amounts of digital capital, depending on socio/cultural/material locations. Maybe part of the solution to encouraging online engagement is to refocus on the development of literacies of the digital kind.

image showing the word start on a road

While competencies type training focusing on which button to click may have value, any change it effects can only ever be surface. We know learning requires deeper approaches so let’s start with building and supporting digital confidence in safe environments. Experiential digital practice can be transformative for both staff and students.

Where does this leave us with us lurking?

It’s a problem. We need to reduce the 90% and 80% consumption models.

Or do we?

If lurking is simply a reflection of ourselves, should we leave lurkers alone to do what they do best.

Assimilation in their own preferred way; to listen, watch, consume, absorb…. to learn.

Are effective online environments not about building and sustaining interaction after all? Should we rethink pedagogy and practice to support less active forms of learning? Or would that be a huge mistake?

This might need a Part Three, What do we do about lurking?


References

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press,  1998)  https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1994EHB.pdf .

Bennett, L. (2014) Putting in more: emotional work in adopting online tools in teaching and learning practices. Teaching in Higher Education 19 (8), 919-930

Clance, P. and Imes, S. A. (1978) The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”  Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice.

Sun, N., Rau, P. P. L., & Ma, L. (2014). Understanding lurkers in online communities: A literature review. Computers in Human Behavior, 38, 110-117.

be the change

laptop with the countries of the world

The end of 2017 has been marked by a two incidents. First was the laptop. A complaint was made about me using one in a meeting – ergo I was not paying attention. A week later the issue of devices in meetings came up again. Different context but same person who clearly feels strongly about the subject. I have some sympathy. Over the years presenting/lecturing has changed. These days we look over a sea of bent heads rather than people’s faces but I believe banning devices is not the answer. We need to find ways to work with them rather than deny their presence and affordances.

pink and green direction arrows

This time I spoke up. Explained a laptop need not signify Facebook or catching up with email – for me it was like a reasonable adjustment – when my eyes are bad it’s easier to make notes in a strong, bold font than to write by hand.

Hold that thought…

The second incident was a conversation with a lecturer who said it isn’t the job of academics to show students how to use the VLE or develop digital literacy.  This explained a lot. Here I was face-to-face with the on-campus digital divide.

Again, I have sympathy. Academics have seen big changes in HE.  The spectre of  the internet lurks in dark corners. There’s no avoiding digitisation and not everyone lives comfortably in the digital world.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

There are those who blog, tweet, join #lthechat, network online, and generally support the use of education technologies in a variety of ways and means.

There are those who object to the use of mobile devices and don’t see developing digital graduate attributes as part of their remit.

book, phone and keyboard

This takes us back to the tribes and territories of the TEL People. How like attracts like and if your role is about technology, the chances are you  tend to work with staff who use it willingly. The more digitally shy won’t come to your lands or speak your language and on those rare occasions we venture into their worlds, we’re often viewed with suspicion. We’re the techies, geeks, magicians of code with esoteric skills. We are Othered.

This digital divide – cue lightbulb – means embedding digital graduate attributes into modules, or using VLE tools which support collaborative online working, is not going to happen without structural change.

Right?

It’s not going to happen if things stay the way they are.

image of keyboard and social media icons from pixabay

This is where we are:

  • 30 years of computers in education.
  • 20 years of VLE at universities.
  • 10 years of Web 2.0 style social media supporting user-generated content and file sharing.

In the second decade of 21st century, I get a complaint about using a laptop in a meeting.

Christmas is coming and mobile devices are high on present lists. The age at which children get connected drops every year.  For all its critique, the phrase ‘digital native’ actually fits because they’ve never known an analogue world.

Typical ‘fresh-from-school’ students arrive with a set of digital social practices, honed through their teenage years, replicated and reinforced by family and friends, taken advantage of by media advertisers. In short, their internet experience mirrors the society they live in.

a borken mirror with the text Black Mirror in white capital letters

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is either prescient or stating the bleedin’ obvious. Of course this is what lies ahead. If you haven’t watched the series you should. Be scared, very scared – but at least be prepared for the future and understand the value of critique.

In the same way car engines have become more mysterious, people engage in digital life with no understanding of how it works. It just does. In the way the ignition fires the engine, our devices connect and our personalised digital landscape unfolds. But not for everyone.

Many working in HE don’t have digital footprints and rarely use the internet for anything other than email or access to university systems.

mobil phon with a landscape of trees and a castle emerging from the screen

They’re not alone. A recent Lloyds Bank report states “More than 11 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills. One out of every 11 completely avoids the internet.”  while the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee reports a digital skills crisis. There’s more research about people not being online than how to encourage the critical skills and capabilities of those already there.

What can we do?

As learning technologists, as enhancers of learning and teaching – with or without technology (but in 2018 it’s likely to be there) – we have a responsibility to bridge on-campus digital divides. Its not just reaching the digitally shy and resistant, it’s promoting critical digital skills as being integral to other HE literacies and specialisms.

laptop wth screen showing the words Fake News

We have to find ways to start conversations about digital graduate attributes and digital CPD for staff. We need to leave our Territories of TEL and get into the heart of the university. Align our work with that of the learning development and academic practice teams, with those talking about learning gain, employability awards, TEF work and not forgetting the importance of the student voice in all of this.

Remember the thought from the top of the page – the one about reasonable adjustments?

TEL people need to talk about inclusive practice, how digital technologies can widen and support access but at the same create barriers. The sector is moving towards inclusion as the norm, reasonable adjustments as universal design. Watch this space. In January the Digital Academic soapbox will be out.

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

Let’s be the change we want to see in the world.

Rethink the relationships between institutions, staff and students.

Revisit our digital lenses. They need a clean and polish every now and then and sometimes a shift in their focus.

The time has come.

Seasons greetings to one and all.

a merry christmas message

perfect academic storm

coffee cup, note pad and pen

Last week I wrote about the broken part time market in higher education.  The post referred to the new Degree Apprenticeship being developed at the University of Hull. Drawing on the experience of myself and colleagues it included this:

Without support from your employer, part time study risks being an unachievable goal. The new Degree Apprenticeships have to acknowledge the challenge of full time work/part time study.

This week we met again with the Degree Apprenticeship programme and module leaders. Initially these sessions were planned as CAIeRO at Hull. We were putting into practice the CAIeRO at Northampton model, alongside our own Design for Active Learning (D4AL) approach. Learning as we go, we’re realising CAIeRO at Hull is going to be more agile, more responsive and possibly different every time we run it.

It’s clear Degree Apprenticeships are great opportunities for D4AL conversations. Where else do you get a combination of university, employers and mature students all involved with a mix of on-campus/off-campus learning and teaching.

Full time work. Part time study. Distance learning. Virtual environments. Digital literacies. Add to the mix a non-traditional student base, many out of formal education for some time with multiple commitments in the workplace and home. It has all the makings of a perfect academic storm.

storm clouds

With Degree Apprenticeships local employers are footing the bill for three years of part-time study. They’ve asked for a fast, focused, blended route. The programme includes negotiable modules where students choose what they study alongside traditional business disciplines topics which will need applying to workplace practices.

Last week we ran the first two stages of a CAIeRO; writing a mission statement and deciding the look and feel of the course. This week we were faced with a room full of different faces. Of necessity the first half of the session was  informational. It was the first time all the module leaders from Year One had come together. Ao also the first time it was possible to create an overview of the course with the people who were going to be teaching it. The most powerful tool on the room was the table they all sat around. Closely followed by the flip chart paper and pens used to outline their modules and how they fit together but before moving onto storyboarding the activities students would do it was time to step back and consider the bigger issues.

jigsaw pieces

Too often the programme validation process is like a jigsaw. Still in its box, picture in pieces. A learning design session – be it Carpe Diem, CAIeRO, D4AL – should create an opportunity to take the pieces out of the box, turn them over, find the straight edges, start to put them together. Too often we have our own pieces or a few clusters of similar shapes and colours but not the whole story. Mapping out the design of the curriculum,  and ensuring alignment along vertical as well as horizontal axes, ensures consistent and coherent  learning expectations, modules appropriately sequenced and assessments spread out rather than bunched together. Having all the module leaders for Year one together meant these conversations could happen and reinforces the value of beginning the learning design process before validation rather than afterwards.

large empty lecture theatre with rows of empty seats
Learning doesn’t just happen. Put students in a room – be it a traditional teaching room or a 21st century redesigned educational  landscape – and learning is unlikely to take place without intervention. Multiple myths abound such as ‘build it and they will come’. Well, they might arrive but what happens next? It’s like online discussion.  How often do you hear the line ‘I set up a forum but no one used it – so I didn’t bother again’. We should collect and debunk these and other myths such as:
  • All students are digital natives
  • They won’t do it if it’s not assessed
  • Face to face is best

The Degree Apprenticeship has been a great opportunity to look at a programme in its entirety. It’s put together those who don’t often meet. TEL people talk to other TEL people. Academics stay in their subject tribes and territories.  East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.* It takes something new to break down the barriers. We need to talk. We like to talk. We want to talk about learning design. It’s the foundation of the student experience.

We might rename D4AL as SATT – Sit Around the Table and Talk!

silhouette of buildingsOn Friday (24/11/17) colleague Patrick Lynch and myself will be in Oxford for a meeting of the Learning Design – Cross Institutional Network (LD-CIN). Set up in 2015, this open network shares learning design shaped information, tools and ideas, is an international community of learning design practice. Presenting on learning analytics to inform learning design, Patrick will explore the statement

“Arguably then learning design needs learning analytics in order to validate itself. However it also works the other way: learning  analytics cannot be used effectively without an understanding of the underlying learning design, including why the particular tools, activities and content were selected and how they were deployed.” Sclater (2017).

We’re demonstrating an agile responsive approach so I’ll be collecting live data in the form of feedback throughout our session as well as making notes during the day and possibly some live blogging as well. Follow the hashtag #LDCIN and check out the LD-CIN site for further information.

Next week, the story of the Degree Apprenticeship development continues with more of the big programme-wide questions. In particular how technology might enhance or increase the challenges of part-time blended learning.

  • What can be done online which can’t be done face to face?
  • Vice versa
  • Where can technology provide value?
  • Where will the on-campus experience have most value?
  • How can student community be achieved?

See you 1st December.

24 shopping days to Christmas…


Rudyard Kipling Barrack-room ballads, 1892  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrack-Room_Ballads 

Niall Sclater (2017) Learning Analytics Explained Routledge