simultaneous existence

planets in outer space

I have a colleague who is researching space. Not the outer space of stars or the inner space of quarks. Not the digital space of VLE or social media. This is real space. The space we exist in. The space we breath in and out, in and out…

Which raises the question – what is space? I’m not sure I’ve asked myself that before.

Space. We pass through it. Things pass through it. It’s the container in which we live and I can understand the air being of interest to a chemist or sports scientist. After all it keeps us alive but other than that it’s just the physical distance between objects – isn’t it?

diagram of distances between the sides of a triangle

How can you research space of the day-to-day kind?

It seems space has interested researchers for some time. There is Lebrevre’s Spacial Triad, Soja’s Thirdspace and Foucault’s Heterotopia. My Marx is a little rusty but I recall the notion of capital blurring measures of space where technologies enable the crossing of traditional boundaries of time and place – thereby compressing them. As in McLuhan’s global village and the virtual spaces of the internet. I think. Then there’s the liminal space of thresholds, the space between concepts and worlds and one of my favourites – the transient space of hotels and airports which we pass through on our way to and from different locations.

It seems space can be both physical and conceptual.

diagram of theoretical quarks

How often do we stop to think about the characteristics of the spaces within and between the places we inhabit?  Have you ever thought of space as socially constructed with inherent meanings which we replicate and reinforce, absorbing them without even being conscious of it. For social scientists interested in the origins of attitudes and behaviors, researching space may hold intriguing clues.

So what is the difference between the space I inhabit at work and the space I operate in online. Digital space. For me, the connected internet is a place/space I go into. If the internet is down I’m shut out. When I’m online with colleagues we are connected much the same as if we were in the same room. Now I’m thinking about how I exist in both of them at the same time. Walk across campus and every other person (or more) is also existing simultaneously in both the real and the digital world.

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In education development we’ve treated the virtual as something external to us and different. Applied different rules and said it requires different pedagogical approaches. But how different is it to generations born into a social media society, who are accustomed to the simultaneous existence enabled by their mobile devices?

Maybe we see the virtual as different because we have analogue roots.

Maybe, instead of highlighting the differences between the two types of space ,we should be looking at the similarities instead.


Review, Reflect and Remember – Playful Learning #playlearn16 @playlearnconf @ucisa

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The Hull team arriving at the Playful Learning Conference, 13-15 July 2016.

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On arrival* participants were inducted into the marble game which ran throughout the three days. Clutching our marble winnings we were able to register and inspect the construction – a bit like mousetrap for marbles – which we were invited to add components to.

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This was supplemented with text message tasks and challenges in return for – yes – more marbles. It was indicative of the amazing amount of preparation work which must have gone into planning and setting up the Playful Learning Conference.

Everywhere you looked  on the Spanish Steps on the ground floor of MMU’s Birley Campus there was something to do.

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The steps homed an assortment of objects and board games while over on the registration desk the ‘Sea You Sea Me’ activity buckets were waiting. Each bucket contained 30 items, all designed for teams to create a beach (with real sand, shells and water!) while having conversations and solving puzzles. 30 buckets = 900 individual component parts! Did I mention the phenomenal amount of work which went into setting up this conference?

Three Keynotes over three days and a total of 25 parallel sessions were interspersed with whole conference activities like the Storybook. I wish I’d recorded Nikky’s vibrant retelling of the process of  creating stories.  It ended too soon.

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Unsurprisingly Storybook involved yet another set of challenges. This time it was to unlock the chest whose treasures included a set of keys for yet more games!

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It was difficult to choose from the variety of parallel sessions; I went to six in total. Having recently experienced Lego Serious Play, https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/bricking-it, I was interested to compare this with the PlayDoh Plaza. Maybe it’s in the name but it felt strange to be asked to take part in activities so reminiscent of childhood yet they were both underpinned with constructionist and kinaesthetic pedagogies. When PlayDog was introduced to bio-medical students they’d also been unsure. The words in the images below show their feelings before and after a PlayDoh session. It shows the value of being prepared to try something different. We were asked to choose a colour and make a model which represented our work. The purple chains are my digital networks while the face is the digital monster – the one which appears in our worst technology nightmares when everything goes wrong in front of a room full of students. Interestingly, everyone I spoke to knew exactly what this felt like!

It was a time of new discoveries. I came across the word Shonky, discovered Makey Makey clips, answered questions with clues gained from QR Codes, used Poll everywhere and competed in a quiz using Kahoot. One of the most memorable workshops was Ugg-Tect; a game which uses gestures instead of words to give instructions for building models from coloured shapes. Ungungdo!

I also learned about data encryption; one of those topics you know about without really understanding the detail. We began with the Caesar Cypher; a mono alphabetic transposition code (and we got to keep the encryption wheels). We then moved onto the Diffie-Hellman Ken Exchange to generate an encryption key which was theoretically more difficult to intercept. This used an app which didn’t seem to be working as well as it could do or maybe it was just the digital monster rearing its scary PlayDoh head again!

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Other sessions included a digital form of Exquisite Corpse as an aid to creative storytelling, the application of pedagogical theory to a teaching practice card game, and exploring creative methods for solving learning and teaching problems. These involved dressing up (hat and sunglasses to go incognito), choosing objects (it had to be the ammonite) and making things (not sure what my pipe cleaner mesh represented but I found it therapeutic to shut out the world and focus on its construction).

There were also the escape room experiences, the Board Game Cafe demonstrations, different sporting activities including Neon Badminton, and Inbox Zero – which I missed completely – as well as the Treasure Hunt on the last morning. Meanwhile the marble challenges continued to run alongside everything else.

By the end of the conference I’d joined in so many different activities yet still only experienced a part of the whole event. I’d arrived with a number of questions about the role of play in learning and teaching e.g. how digital would it be, had the organisers assumed we’d all have wifi connected devices, how inclusive and accessible were the activities, as a non-game player would I have ‘fun’ and above all else what would I learn.

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Play is a misnomer. Because of its association with fun and games, rather than the ‘serious’ business of higher education, you almost need to ‘permission’ to do something so different. Yet what is play other than an alternative way to describe creative approaches to learning and teaching? Getting around the discontinuity can be a simple as re-framing an activity within a pedagogical theory. Maybe we need to find more ways to play in disguise!

Stepping outside the box – or recreating the size and shape of the box – can often mean taking a risk but if we don’t take risks now and then, everything stays the same. It’s only by challenging ourselves that we can develop and grow. A key message I took away was how it can be good to venture outside your comfort zones and do something you wouldn’t normally do. A ‘feel the fear and do it’ scenario. Only then do you discover what feels strange at first can soon become normalised if we repeat it often enough. The conference participants were a unique mix. They included computer scientists, gamers, creative writers and other artists, academics, academic developers and librarians. This made for some interesting exchanges of thoughts and experiences.

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I’ve taken away not only new connections but reinforcement of the value of having time and space to discuss learning and teaching. I loved how the parallel sessions were so interactive. There was very little traditional sitting and listening and I don’t think I’ve been to such an activity based conference before. For me, this definitely added to its value. With regards to the play element, if you interpret this as creative thinking then all educational conferences would benefit from its inclusion. At minimum it could be a strand or a themed component while at best it would be threaded throughout.

When we engage with ‘playful’ situations we seemed to have more discussion than we would have otherwise. It was particularly useful for beginning and continuing conversations with strangers. Whether you were staff or student facing, involved in supporting the student experience or working with CPD/academic practice elements, there was something at Playful Learning for everyone.  It was an inaugural conference. For something so new and innovative, this first time around felt like a resounding success. I’m sure I’m not the only one to hope there will be more to come.

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My thanks to UCISA for the bursary which funded my attendance. 

digital detective #playlearn16

This week I’m at the Birley Campus of MMU attending the Playful Learning Conference #playlearn16. Thank you @UCISA for the bursary which made this amazing experience possible.  I say amazing because playing games takes me right out of my comfort zone.

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Youngest son works here at Birley and while we were chatting about the conference, he reminded me how playing board games was an integral part of his childhood. Before this week I can’t remember the last time I opened a board game box. There’s lots of them here  week but now – as then  – computers are competing for attention.

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We used to have a ZX Spectrum when that was cutting edge – and a shoe-box full of games. Today eldest son still plays WarHammer but youngest is a digital gamer. Thanks to him I can talk about Grand Theft Auto, Heavy Rain and Witcher. Love the graphics but still much to learn about the multitasking demands of an Xbox console! I’m more of a vicarious game-player rather than a real one and with regard to play it’s more the creativity aspects which interest me. I’m part of the #creativeHE network and we’ve just finished another open online week. With the conversations still fresh in my mind, of the questions I arrived with on Wednesday was how play and games might link up with creative approaches to HE. In particular, could I find ways to be more creative with introducing staff to TEL and developing digital capabilities.  The conference isn’t over yet so there’ll be blog posts to follow which try and answer this. In the meantime I’m reflecting on the power of crowd sourcing to find things forgotten things.

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This week I was defeated by Google. It started with a poet and the title of a book of poems. I couldn’t remember either. All I knew was male with a cancer diagnosis, northern England, something to do with a year spent in a sheep pen or shepherd shelter, within the last decade and I thought I’d read about him in the Guardian.  I didn’t expect it to be a problem. After all you can find anything with Google – can’t you?

But it was and I couldn’t. On and off for a couple of days I tried variations of all the bits I could I could remember, confident Google would pick up something which would trigger what I needed.  It didn’t. Instead it was an lesson in how Google makes overt decisions based on popularity and how this can prevent any covert, deeper connections from taking place. William Wordsworth and James Rebanks  came up again and again. I learned some interesting asides like Yan Tan Thethera, an old english counting method, but could not discover my poet.

Then I thought – Library!

So I sent a tweet to @HullUni_Library who shared it with @hull_libraries from where it was picked up by @BookjacketsHQ who gave me the answer – all within minutes. Could it be Glyn Hughes ‘A Year in the Bull Box’. Not sheep but cattle. Yes – it could and it was!

image of a tweet with correct answer Glyn Hughes

Wrong beast but I’m not convinced it would have made much difference. When I briefly tried the same search terms, substituting cattle for sheep, still no luck. So thank you Lyn Fenby. I have the book of poems I needed for the final year of my creative writing course as well as discovering the rest of the work of Glyn Hughes who died in 2011 The Guardian Glyn Hughes Obituary.

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With hindsight the library (shown above reconstructed in Minecraft) may have been the most obvious place to start but turning digital detective was an automatic conditioned behaviour.

The implications for learning and teaching are reassuring. One of the affordances of VLE is alleged to be supporting student independence so using search engines is part of induction processes while a core element of digital literacy is the authentication and validation of online resources. Of course, the internet doesn’t have the answers. It’s how we use it that counts. With regards to my poet, it was people who made the difference and, like reliving the value of playing board games at this Playful Learning event, it’s good to be reminded how being human in the digital age is what matters most of all.

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emoticon https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.emojiworld.sademojis 

creativity as aerobic excercise for the brain #creativeHE

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I was going to retire the Friday blog for the summer. Focus on the PhD I said. Do less social media and get back to my ‘…ologies’. But it’s been a #creativeHE week which deserves a blog. So here it is.

The #creativeHE  community is open for anyone interested in the subject of creativity in education. What is it? How does it manifest? In which ways can creative thought and action be embedded into curriculums and practice?

The week began with a request to offer an example of creativity.  But there is a question to be answered. What does ‘creativity’ mean?

creativity definition

Accepted interpretations include difference, innovation and originality. To step outside of the box of conventional thinking, be unrestrained by social expectations, demonstrate uniqueness of thought and action.  Lots to work with there! But then it gets more complex because where do our measures of diversity come from? How is difference defined? Who controls what is considered to be creative action in the first place? This rather beautifully segues into my Phd where I’m building a conceptual framework which seeks to explain how our attitudes and behaviours are influenced.

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PhD alert!!!  The teaching on my first MA was influenced by postmodernism’s insistence on the social construction of reality. At the time I found PM a useful explanation for diversity and difference. The limitations of language and power of cultural expectations fitted well with my research into parameters of gender. But there was philosophical trouble ahead.

Postmodernism was an intellectual attack on meta theory without seeming to realise the irony of  presenting an alternative meta-meta theory. Yet PM was all about irony so maybe it didn’t mind how within its single narrative around the validity of truth and knowledge (i.e. there wasn’t any) it carried within itself the weapons of its mass destruction.

Postmodernism was followed by critical realism. This conceded social structures were callable of generating discourse. Their causal effects had a realist quality but our knowledge of them would be forever fallible. Traditional conceptions of structure and agency were inseparable. They were linked in an invisible mesh of convention, expectation and belief. PhD alert end.

It’s a ‘good enough’ theory. We’re limited by social constraints and change requires an understanding of the forces which are preventing it from happening in the first place. You can apply this to creativity. The ability to solve problems through unique and innovative actions is partly what makes us human but we’re also capable of being creative for self-satisfaction. This is the internal creative drive seeking expression. However, we live within a society which is full of social conditioning and this includes behavioural expectations. It leaves two options. We offer creative action within culturally acceptable limits or apply the creative impulse to blow these limits apart. The ability to think so far outside the box it breaks all known rules seems to suggest we may be positioned in different places on a scale of creative thinking.

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The #creativeHE community is full of examples not only of creative thinking but of thinking about being creative. It’s good to sometimes step outside our boxes, practice some critical reflection and ask questions about the environments we live and work in. Taking part in something that exercises our creative muscles is as good for the brain as aerobic activity is for the heart. What we need to do is ask why we don’t all do a little bit more of it. Look out for #creativeHE the next time around!

brain on treadmill image from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201602/more-proof-aerobic-exercise-can-make-your-brain-bigger 
Alert image from https://pixabay.com/en/exclamation-mark-point-triangle-24144/ 

The #creativeHE team is led by Norman Jackson and Chrissie Nerantzi. It began as an extension of a PgCert/MA unit at MMU and sits within P2pU

Bricking it

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I haven’t played with Lego for years. I wasn’t even sure if it was ok.. Shouldn’t I be working through the TO DO list which, like the magic porridge pot, never stops, it keeps getting longer. I did feel guilty but the clue is in the word serious. This was a day about learning and teaching. If you haven’t taken part in a Lego Serious Play workshop here are some reasons to give it a try.

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Lego Serious Play is Seymour Papert’s ‘Constructionism’ in action. It’s no coincidence that Papert worked with Lego to develop its Mindstorm kits for building robots. You’re learning by making things with your hands and it’s experiential and reflective as well. These are powerful combinations.

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You share the day with educationalists from across the sector . There’s much to learn from teachers in schools and colleges. We should have these cross-over conversations more often.

You quickly learn the brickery is the smallest part if it. The real focus is the eclectic nature of educational practice.

You get to build and the colours and shapes are appealing. When was the last time you heard the clatter and click of a pile of Lego and were faced with limitless options to be creative?

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The range of Lego circa 2016 is amazing but it’s less about the modelling and more about the rationale. Build a tower. Build an animal. Build your ideal learning environment. What does action research look like in Legoland?

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Give someone a task. I had to sequence colours and sizes. In turn I asked for a digital device and was given a mouse. Yes it was fun but it was also a valuable leaning experience.

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The opportunity to do something different can be liberating but Lego places some restrictions on your imagination. It’s evolved hugely from the early days of white, red and green. In my tub were pink and orange  bricks. I had eyes, steering wheels and joysticks while the main table had boats, bikes, rocket parts and an endless range of characters. Nevertheless, you’re still more or less working with straight lines so ideas don’t always turn out as planned. Although part of the process is not to plan. Let your hands do the thinking and see what happens.  If your cat isn’t instantly recognisable as a cat but to you it’s a cat then it’s a cat and that’s that!  The purpose is why you chose it and how this connects to your understanding of learning and teaching.

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Plato is alleged to have said ‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.‘ Education is about developing relationships with strangers and teaching involves finding ways to make things happen for other people. Ramsden described teaching as the art of making learning possible. Rather than knowledge transmission, it should be about understanding and reconceptualising while Biggs suggests constructive alignment to achieve higher order learning. Here, providing a variety of learning activities can help meet learning outcomes. Lego Serious Play is an activity with a difference but it works. The bricks are like alternative words. Click them together and see what happens. There’s no right or wrong way to build so it equalises and because it’s a different approach it offers alternative ways of seeing and understanding.

The photos on this page show something of the range of creative thinking and outputs. It may be time to get the Lego from the attic!

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The word Lego is from the Danish leg godt, which means ‘play well’ and we did, but without doubt this LEGO® Serious Play® is serious stuff!


Thanks to Chrissi Nerantzi and Stephen Powell from MMU. Further information about LSP workshops from http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/teaching/lego_sp.php  


Seymour Papert (1993) Mindstorms; Children Computers and Powerful Ideas.

Paul Ramsden (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education.

John Biggs and Catherine Tang (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Third Edition.

 

Digital Storytelling; not an end but a beginning

Digital Storytelling presentation slide

The first workshop introduced the craft of storytelling. We were sent away to produce a script for the second where we’d make it happen. It was bright and sunny on the outside but inside the computer lap it was turning into ‘one of those days’. Facilitator Chris Thomson must have thought it was sabotage. First there was no sound through his laptop. Despite the best efforts of an ICT technician it refused to play through the system. Meanwhile work had started on a new road. Just outside. Which more than made up for any lack of sound on the inside. We’d opened all the windows because it was so hot. Now the choice was heat up or shout out. The irony of Chris’s slides telling us audio was the most important component of a digital story and the need for a quiet location to record was not lost – that isn’t wine in Chris’s glass – honest!

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Digital stories make great teaching tools. We all tell stories or anecdotes in one way or another. They can help explain something complex or show a different point of view. Contextualising knowledge within a story helps understanding and makes it more memorable while digital stories can be more engaging than a page of text or a report. They’re reusable and if you have the original materials they can be re-purposable as well. As you can probably tell, I’m an advocate. As well as learning and teaching aids, they’re useful development tools. To build the story you have to be critical and reflective; make decisions about what to put in and take out. Above all they’re opportunities to be digitally adventurous and creative. While the story itself can be about anything, the one rule was keep it short. Three minutes was the suggested maximum.

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At Hull we’re developing a digital capabilities framework for the university and I’m looking for original ways to support staff with exploring new digital ways of working. Story making offers opportunities to work with a range of artifacts and software. I often hear people say they can’t do audio or video because you need a professional studio with high end kit. My approach is DIY can be ‘good enough’. Phones and digital cameras take ‘good enough’ images and video and free software can  help you make a ‘good enough’ video. We used Audacity and Audacity Portable for recording and WeVideo for editing.

For me, digital stories tick all the boxes for learning development, digital CPD. You get something usable at the end and leave with the skills, knowledge and ideas for creating them in the future.

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Above it was fun. Completed stories will be showcased at the Learning and Teaching Conference in July and we plan is to repeat the workshops at School and Department level next year. Although the Jisc workshops have finished this is not the end of digital storytelling at Hull. It’s the beginning.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#687165951

From Lego to Minecraft; alternative approaches to learning and teaching

A discussion on a Jisc mail list (ALDinHE; the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) is promoting the use of LEGO® and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.  I am intrigued. Not because I’m any good with making things, it’s more about interest in new concepts for old problems.

My first encounter with Lego was this explanation of SOLO Taxonomy. It worked for me. I was also interested in Carina Buckley’s paper Conceptualising plagiarism; using Lego to construct students’ understanding of authorship and citation which describes making visible the ‘underlying theoretical philosophy of referencing and plagiarism by using Lego as a mode of authorship.’  There is clearly scope for closer investigation of what Lego can do. A useful starting point is Innovating in the Creative Arts with Lego. This report by Dr Alison James promotes Lego as representation of complex ideas in three dimensional forms. It can be a ‘playful and imaginative alternatives to traditional ways of learning and engaging.

The Prompting Reflection through Play video from Manchester Met’s CELT refers  to using Lego as ‘thinking with your hands.’

During the workshop, Lego is used to create metaphors. This sounds like a form of three dimensional reflection. If external shapes represent internal thoughts then I suspect working with Lego is as much about the process as the end result.

In June I’m attending a Lego workshop at Manchester Met. Play is not my strong point so it may not work for me but underpinning this is wanting to rethink approaches to developing digital capabilities.  I’m looking for ways to stimulate discussion which are non-digital. If going online in the first place is uncomfortable then presenting solutions in digital formats risks creating further barriers. I think we need to go back to basics to establish how low a digital capabilities baseline should be. This requires old fashioned face to face communication. At times like these, where we need to talk, it’s possible an alternative approach like using Lego might work to stimulate conversation. One thing is for sure. I won’t know unless I try.

It isn’t only Lego Serious Play which is attracting interest. The HEA have recently produced a toolkit for Gamification and Games-Based Learning Closer to home the principles of gamification are being realised through the pedagogical potential of Minecraft. Joel Mills and March Lorch at the University of Hull have created Molcraft; an animated world of amino acids and molecules.

Minecraft reminds me of the immersive learning experiences I encountered in Second Life; another alternative form of learning. Virtual 3D reality is now 360 degrees thanks to technologies like Oculus and Google Cardboard. High tech approaches like these make Lego look a little basic but compared to the digital, Lego is more accessible and inclusive. Therein I think lies the power in keeping it simple. Whatever the method, the message is the same. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different.