2017 looks like an interesting year

2017

2017 will be an interesting year. The Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight. Penguin order a 75,000 reprint of Orwell’s 1984. Council for the US President invites debate on the nature of ‘alternative facts’ while the alleged influence of social media during the US election suggests ‘critical digital literacies’ warrants attention.

Should Media Studies be taken more seriously? Narrowly escaping Gove’s bonfire of the subjects the MS GCSEgives students the chance to develop a critical understanding of the role of the media in daily life’  while MS A level includes ‘understand and evaluate how meanings and responses are created’ alongside ‘develop and formulate… its influential role in today’s society.’ The only thing wrong with a well taught Media Studies programme is it isn’t mandatory!

media-studies

It’s not too far fetched to suggest truth and knowledge are under attack. The internet is awash with speculation and fake news masquerading as truths. To counter balance this we may need to re-frame ontology and epistemology in everyday language, encourage examination of media beliefs and interrogate preferred sources of news – be it the BBC, Daily Mail or Twitter. Words like ideology and discourse can be challenged but should at least be discussed. A baseline dose of Foucault with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World wouldn’t do anyone any harm.

Following the US election I blogged about the media in The Truth is out there somewhere . Today, just 8 weeks later, it seems even more important to address issues of truth and knowledge. Regardless of personal politics, the US election is a wake-up call.  Who do we believe and why? Suroweiki’s Wisdom of Crowds and Gladwell’s Tipping Point have supported the development of Communities of Practice – where relevant knowledge is situated within the connections we make  – and these concepts remain true; the risk is when wisdom and tipping points are based on fakery rather than evidence.

community

2017 will be a busy year.

I’ve begun to let go of wider commitments to create space for the PhD and shhh…. complete the dissertation for my p/t creative writing degree which no one knows about so far! The timing is not perfect but when it comes to doctoral research there’s no such thing. A time-table is mapped out for the PhD transfer process to the University of Northampton, a week with NVivo booked for April and I’m loving the educational research conversations with my supervisors, Director of Studies and fellow students.

On the work front there’s an exciting new focus on Learning Design. This will inform development of a digital capabilities framework for staff who teach and support learning and I want to develop the world of the TEL-People. The only downside is withdrawing from projects like #creativeHE and it was really difficult to put #poetryfeedHE to one side – albeit temporarily – but something had to give.

Lastly – the allotment lies waiting – as it did last year, and the year before that. At some point I need to find my allotmenteering hat and wear it again.

So here’s to 2017.

Did I say it looks like an interesting year? 🙂


 

 

It isn’t technology it’s learning design

communication-pixabay

This began as a PhD reflection but turned into a blog post because the issues matter. We need to talk. What has gone wrong? Quite a lot.

December 1 was the first Graduate School Research workshop day. I thought joining in remotely would be a motivator. I’m self-funding so every opportunity for contact is welcome. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but couldn’t join in the activities. In the afternoon the sound was lost. I’m hoping the recording will be ok and wondering when it will appear on the VLE. The cognitive connection has already faded.

What is meant by the phrase ‘online distance learning?’ What did I get from passively listening and watching on my laptop? Not a lot to be honest. The common model of distance learning is still a delivery one. Recorded lectures are seen as progression and if you build in some formative MCQ then Hallelujah – you have an online course.

My PhD includes mandatory research and ethics modules. They’re produced by Epigeum, so expensive and considered gold standard. I’ve sat alone in my room clicking through linear screen after screen of content in order to take the test at the end. It’s lonely and my learning is surface recall rather than any deeper approach achieved by cognitive understanding via critical reflection or discussion with colleagues.

What has gone wrong with the promise of student centered, interactive collaborative learning – online? How can the principles of Social Learning Theory be applied to what is fundamentally learning in isolation?

digital-tech-pixabay

In the THES last month there was a piece called Mass Learning must mean web based study It claimed the elements exist to make online learning happen, but ‘institutional inertia’ creates lack of progress. Thinking this might refer to the invisibility of on-campus digital divides or lack of recognition of diverse digital capabilities I read on. Technology has its problems I’m told – and here the piece links to Distance and Discontent the Downside of Digital Learning – but it will continue to evolve, solving all the negative issues as it does.

There are barriers such as the need for more teaching hours (at last – acknowledgement it requires additional resources rather than less to build and run effective online learning environments) plus new forms of examination and inclusion of ‘the broader social and cultural benefits of higher education’ but hey the piece goes on – none of these are insuperable. No. The problem is the university itself. Over the past decades they’ve continued to expand their physical presence at the expense of their virtual one, to a point where they can no longer afford to go online. As the author says, Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but – don’t you know – technology is still the solution!

turkeys-pixabay

As if this were not depressing enough, the Distance and Discontent piece offers two further narratives of online education failure. Against a sector which still shouts about the transformative power of digital environments, something isn’t fitting. The rhetorical promise of e-learning solutions continues to be promoted in headlines, straplines, Jisc-speak and conference halls. In the meantime research and anecdote speak of digital depository models of VLE usage, empty discussion forums and neglected project sites return broken links and 404 errors.

So often over the years I’ve seen digital layers added onto existing face-to-face practice. It rarely creates effective online learning because it isn’t about the technology, it’s about learning design.


images from pixabay.com 

Being on the edge of things

In an archive edition of Monitor (1964) Philip Larkin talks about Hull being ‘a little on the edge of things’ and how he ‘quite liked being on the edge‘.  Hull is my home. I know about being on the edge and when it comes to my PhD it’s the same story. I need to  find a research community and when it comes to my subject, Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), I don’t know where that is.

So who am I and what am I doing? it’s back to the TEL People. In previous posts I’ve written about their tribes and territories in terms of identity and language.  Today I’m reflecting on TEL research. Who’s doing it and where do TEL People go research support?

a plant surviving behind barbed wire

It was no surprise I was the only one at the University of Northampton’s postgraduate induction week to be researching online education or how out of 6 of us within the School of Education, I’m the only one researching outside of the compulsory sector. I call my research educational but the educational research discipline has never felt like home.  For years I’ve been writing about the loneliness of the long distance learner and already at Northampton I feel like I’m on the edge of things again.

For the PhD this week I’ve been reading the disciplines and discipline of educational research by David Bridges. As assessor for the REF, Bridges looked at the diversity of disciplinary approaches to educational research (ER). He asks if ER should be seen as a single subject or are there more benefits to adopting a multi-disciplinary identity. Applying either to my own research assumes it already sits within a discipline but I don’t know where to find it.

image of a maze

The word discipline carries the idea of unique qualities. This is where Becher’s first work on academic tribes and territories began. Based on research carried out in the 1980s, it was a time when you were defined by your subject. You were a sociologist, psychologist, archaeologist. If you didn’t have an …ology you were a chemist, physicist, geographer or historian. Your ideological home then shaped the ways in which you conducted research inquiries. The second edition (2001) looked beyond the traditional hold disciplines had over research epistemologies. It brought in influences from learning and teaching alongside the shift to more practice-based as well as interdisciplinary programmes. This reflected the changing HE landscape and by the 3rd edition (2012) Trowler was suggesting epistemological essentialism no longer suited the complexity of HE.

So the idea of a single disciplinary community is dead. Or is it? Bridges concludes by asking if the disciplines themselves contained intrinsic research validity which is weakened by adopting a multidisciplinary approach. The debate continues but where does TEL fit in?

finding-a-home-pixabay

Finding a home for my PhD has always been a problem. In spite of it dealing with sector-wide issues around blended learning, no one has wanted it. It’s a touch ironic how a 3 year study of the attitudes of academic staff towards digital pedagogy and practice is so unloved. Maybe if TEL was recognised as a discipline in its own right it might gain more respect. As it is, TEL People tend to be classified as techies (when we’re not) and our outputs seen as less valuable than the related disciplines like education and computing science where we’re most often shoehorned in to fit.

It’s clear there’s more to read and reflect on with regard to disciplinary difference and the location of TEL. Trowler (2014) writes about strong and moderate essentialist approaches while Neuman, Parry, and Becher (2002) allocate disciplines into Pure, Applied, Hard and Soft; binaries which inevitably contain implications of preference. In this taxonomy, Technology is Hard Applied while Education is Soft Applied an TEL crosses both boundaries so straight away there’s an epistemological clash.

house on the edge of a jetty

I’m sure that where ever I find my TEL home, it’s still going to be on the edge of things.


Bridges, D. (2006) The disciplines and discipline of educational research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40 (2) pp 259–272

Neuman, R., Parry, S., & Becher, T. (2002). Teaching and learning in their disciplinary contexts: A conceptual analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 27(4), 405–417.

Trowler, P. (2014) Depicting and researching disciplines, strong and moderate essentialist approaches. Studies in Higher Education. 39:10. 1720-1731


All images from pixabay


Why don’t I speak French?

page of french text

Why don’t I speak French? I learned it at school and went to French night class – twice. For 10 years I car-shared with a colleague who was fluent in French. What can I show for it today other than  un, deux, trois, and Je m’appelle Sue.

There’s a connection with speaking French and my PhD.  I’m at the University of Northampton’s Postgraduate Induction week. UoN are moving to a new Waterside Campus and changing their learning and teaching. Leaving behind the traditional f2f lecture, they’re adopting a blended approach via greater use of digital tools. Sounds exciting but it would do wouldn’t it – I’m a VLE advocate and at risk of extinction. There aren’t many of us left.

I’ve met my PhD supervisors; Ale Armellini and Ming Nie. Ale is the Director of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in HE and both Ale and Ming worked at Leicester with Gilly Salmon in the days of the Media Zoo. They have digital provenance and talking to Ale is like sharing a language – in a good way. He gets what I’m doing and this doesn’t happen often.  Ale suggests learning online involves a move from literacy to competency to fluency and we should aim to be bilingual, seamlessly transferring from one environment to another. Online. Offline. Online. Bourdieu comes to mind. A habitus binary. Digital fluency as a form of cultural capital. Digital capital.

Parlez-vous francais? written in chalk on a blackboard

So why don’t I speak French? I don’t have to. I don’t want to. If I were lost in France it would be different but I’m not so I don’t.

My PhD is about technology enhanced learning (TEL). It explores how staff transfer their f2f practice to online environments. Based on my TELEDA courses, it shows how resistance to VLE can be reduced by adopting immersive approaches to TEL support.

The irony is this research into digital resistance has been so difficult to home. One institution changed my role, wiping off ten years of  TEL work  and ending my TELEDA courses. Another rejected my PhD along with three years of data saying they had no supervision. It’s a year since my Thesis Whisperer debut on how supervision issues have haunted me (Know Your Limits). Ale is the first supervisor in five years to have a relevant TEL background. There’s another irony in how all these blocks on the PhD journey reinforce its message; digital divides on campus continue to separate the digital and non-digital speakers.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

The motivation for my PhD was to explore staff resistance to TEL. My approach was to put them into a digital environment and use that medium for critical reflection. I believed a supported immersive experience would make a difference. A bit like taking them to France with a phrase book and a fluent French speaker to intermediate if necessary. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the TEL-People and how we are a unique tribe with our own territory. https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-invisible-tribes-and-territories-of-the-tel-people Maybe there is something about our language which I need to consider too.

dandilion growing out of parched ground

TEL-People are fluent with TEL-Speak and TEL-Beingness. We show, tell and demonstrate from our digital positions but where do we involve?  I have an ongoing battle with the use of the word ‘training’ with regard to technology. We do not train we teach. If we don’t have knowledge about how people learn then we should do.  TELEDA was built around sharing, discussion, collaboration, synthesis and critique. It was much more time and resource heavy than providing workshops and helpsheets but made a real difference to how participants changed their own TEL practices.  TELEDA was rejected just like my research has been. The buzz phrase today is digital capabilities. The Jisc model (below)is not perfect. I’d like to see digital inclusion made explicit as as one of the elements, but it’s a good enough place to explore the multiplicity of being digital in 21st century.

jisc digital capabilities model

Twice this month I’ve stood in front of rooms of teaching staff and no one has heard of it. I would suggest TEL-People are using a language which is only spoken by a minority. Yet our role is to encourage the majority to change how they teach.  We need to ask more critical questions about what we do. We work in institutions of higher education but how well do we apply the rules of teaching and learning to our own TEL practices? Should we be looking to the teaching of languages for ideas? Meaningful adoption of change requires a cultural shift and here governance plays a part. Without it there is no impetus for change. I would learn French if I had to, just as staff at Northampton are turning to the digital because their current ways of working are changing. It’s a dramatic move and one I’ll be watching with interest.

image showing python programming language

In the meantime I’ll take back to my own TEL-People the suggestion we consider a linguistic route and approach TEL as being ‘Digital’ for speakers of other languages. Rather than see pedagogical practice as being online or offline we should see it through a bi-lingual lens as Ale suggests. After all communication is at the heart of learning and teaching wherever it takes place.

‘si au début vous ne réussissez essayer somthing diffrent’


images from https://pixabay.com

The VLE and Machines of Loving Grace #nationalpoetryday

grey robot looking at a red flower

Yesterday was #nationalpoetryday. When I think the digital in the poetry world it’s Richard Brautigan’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace which comes to mind. Brautigan offers a vision of a cybernetic future from 1997. This is the year  the report from the Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education was published. In Brautignan’s cybernetic ecology, machines have freed us from labour and watch us live the Utopian dream. In the Dearing Report, the VLE represented a more efficient and effective future, internationalizing higher education, reaching the parts people couldn’t reach, crossing traditional barriers of time and distance and so on and on and on…

It didn’t really happen did it?

The internet bought us the global village as predicted by McLuhan at a time when television represented cutting edge technology. Now we have the internet. Social media has given a voice to everyone with access. VLE have revolutionised higher education – or maybe not.

In Our Digital Capabilities Journey Kerry Pinny describes a 25% response rate to the Jisc Discovery Tool at her university. When I piloted this self-diagnostic digital capabilities tool earlier this year, a professional services department achieved over 80% response rate (not the TEL-Team or ICT I hasten to add) whereas a Faculty scored so low it was meaningless. 25% would have been a dream. Kerry asks how to reach the other 75%. I wonder this too. The V in VLE seems to have passed so many people by.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

Liz Bennett @LizBennett1 and Sue Folley @SueFolley from the University of Huddersfield facilitated a D4 Learning Design workshop at Hull this week. The focus was digital capabilities but in a covert, through the back door, approach. Using Appreciative Inquiry and focusing positive rather than negative or deficit thinking, we constructed learning activities which blended face-to-face and online interaction. Inevitably the discussion turned to VLE adoption and the question of reaching the unreachables. I’m never sure whether to laugh and cry at how we need subterfuge to trap people into dealing with VLE but was also struck by Sue’s comment that everyone across the sector has the same problem.

Its nearly 20 years since the Dearing Report. What ever we’ve been doing, in that time it isn’t working.

panning drawing with pencil and ruler

Both Dearing’s Committee and poet Brautigan saw technology as the future. Well, the future has arrived and I don’t see the VLE as having made a great deal of difference. There are pockets of excellent practice but overall the dominant model of use remains a digital despository document. Video may be more prevalent but ultimately it’s supplemented read this with watch this. How about do something with this instead?

Postmodernism is vanishing into the wings. Learning analytics is stepping centre stage, bringing Big Data with all its positivist baggage of targets, metrics and ranking with it. SCoT also seems in danger of disappearing. The Social Construction of Technology suggested the development of machines was dependent on the people who used them. The potential of the machine for change was not enough. In the 1960’s, McLuhan told us how new technology would replicate existing practice and in the 1980’s Bijker and Pinch were predicting new technologies would not determine human action but be shaped by it instead.

If a higher education is the passive transmission of knowledge, memorised and regurgitated for assessment, the VLE is perfect. We have made it into what we want it to be.

The question is – where do we go from here?

red question mark on a keyboard


All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.


Image sources

War of the Words #nationalpoetryday

Image of the tripod from H.G. Wells War of the Worlds

War of the Words

Now Barthes once said ‘The author is dead’
so I have to let go of my prose,
however redeeming, whatever the meaning,
it’s only the reader who knows

how words which are read (like things that are said)
can take on a whole different meaning,
as issues of who (and knowledge and truth)
depend on who’s doing the reading.

All writers will find, below each bottom line,
there’s a host of mixed interpretations,
with lots to be learned from the postmodern turn
and its crisis in representations.

As we start to unravel the roads we have travelled
which bring us to our destinations
we see how the ‘asks’ in our research-based tasks
are linked to our social locations;

but what matters more are the battles and wars
which are fought between structure and agency,
where so much depends how we manage this blend
between selfhood and who self might-want-to-be.

It’s the same for the poet and life as they know it,
reflected in all their renditions,
where words try to strive, to catch and describe
all the quirks of the human conditions,

so I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not hard to see
how research and poetry blend,
how issues of seeing, of truth and believing,
are similar things in the end,

and the skillset to write what is clear and concise
is all part of the art of creation,
whether PhD thesis or poetry treatise
they both have the same motivation.

For wordsmiths and seers and text engineers
and dabblers in quests and hypothesis,
for teams of reformers or lonely explorers
of credence and theories of consciousness,

what your words mean (and how they are seen)
is based on the world we’re all living in,
and this knowing in turn depends how we’ve learned
to interpret our social conditioning

At the end of the day whatever you say
or do to express creativity,
people will moan, and grumble and groan,
for you can’t control their subjectivity.

So I have to conclude all meaning is skewed
as we all possess unique philosophies,
and what we receive and what we believe
helps build our creative ecologies.

Our epistemology and our ontology
all affect our observations,
so you might write the words but it’s clearly absurd
to expect to rule interpretations.

Researcher or poet it’s not how you know it,
it’s all about setting it free,
because Barthes spoke true and whatever you do…
the meaning is all down to me!

 

The invisible tribes and territories of the TEL-People

On reflection this post could also be called the Othering of the TEL-People 

By [1], Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2040293

I was at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event James Clay refers to in his recent blogpost Engaging the Invisibles. Also there was ex-Lincoln colleague Kerry Pinny who’s asked the questions Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? and what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?  My own research explores digital resistance and reaching ‘the invisibles’ – is it lack of confidence or lack of interest which are the drivers?  I’ve been speaking about metasthiaphobia and the need to talk. As always),there are two sides to this story.

TEL-People are invisible too. Borrowing from Becher and Trowler, we are a unique tribe with our own territories.

TEL-People inhabit sequestered spaces, frequently separated from the Units, Centres and Libraries which house us. Located at the far end of a corridor behind a swipe card or on the periphery of the campus where no one bothers to tread.

We have our own distinguishing features. Like permanent headphones. If clothes are statements then power dressing for TEL-People is visible displays of the latest gadget with the newest OS rather than items which say more about aspirations than abilities. TEL-People tend towards casual. The ‘morning after a long night down-timing with Netflix‘ look or ‘survived an early hours code emergency where the principles of rubber duck debugging failed’.

Rubber_duck_assisting_with_debugging

If you were to venture to our territories you wouldn’t see us at first. We tend to hide behind walls of monitors. Connected through multiple devices via a range of social networks (we’ve moved on from email) we tweet or slack and the air sings to the ring, ding, ping of notifications, even when we know from the feet beneath the desk our colleagues are in the same room. We save being vocal for when we don’t agree. Our different areas of expertise can make for explosive conversations but together we can provide an answer to anything and everything TEL related.

social media icons pixabay

Most TEL-People are classified as professional support rather than academic. If we want to study we have to pay for it. It doesn’t come cheap but we do it all the same because we understand the value of being research informed, engaged and active – plus status matters if you want to be heard.

Research matters too…

We’re passionate supporters of TEL  We know technology can be transformational, most often from our own experience rather than buying into rhetorical promises. We understand how any-time-any-place access through devices of choice has become so ubiquitous its value risks being underestimated. We know TEL is the future of higher education and we care about this. To us the word ‘quality’ means accessible, well navigated, motivational and interactive learning on systems which are supported and where data is secure. Digital inclusion is our philosophy.

dig ed 1

We want to make a difference. We’d like to see more initiatives for reward and recognition. We understand the need for evidence based innovations and ensuring the pedagogy is in the driving seat. We support people to take risks. TEL is full of them. The technology has a bad day. The lecturer forgot to cloud-save their notes. The screen looks different and they can’t find the button to press. We’ve all been there – right?

But you don’t like us…

We talk about minimum standards for module sites on the VLE, the need for captions and transcripts and Alt text, knowing you don’t and won’t even when your reaction is friendly rather than aggressive and we’re used to both on a regular basis. TEL Workshops can be difficult. We talk about using online forums to support active learning. No, no! you cry. I set one up once and no one used it so I don’t do that any more. Digital tasks and activities are dismissed out of hand. Students won’t do that if it’s not assessed! So you talk about assessment of interaction. No, no! you say. Student participation will be tokenistic so that won’t work. Then we get blamed for everything perceived to be wrong with the institution. It all comes tumbling out during these sessions, the rare times we get to meet, and it seems accepted to be rude and to shout at us when all we’re trying to do is to help.

These are the cleft sticks we work in. Being unable to win whatever we do and with an ever increasing shortage of carrots.

carrot and stick

Welcome to the world of the TEL-People.

Bear with me. There is more, much more. I try to be succinct…

We talk about knowledge co-construction, about students as makers of meaning, producers not consumers, we sketch out ZPDs and scaffolding, the difference between constructivist and constructionist pedagogies. We know our theory but your eyes glaze over because we’re not the ones having to teach and what can we possibly know about what your world is really like. So we watch the new semester sites unfold with list upon list of PDFs and Word documents headed Read this! Useful information! IMPORTANT!!!!!!! Sites are didactic dumps; digital document depositories. Then you complain students don’t read any but can you blame them? It’s like dropping them into an archive of boxes with labels. Where do you begin?

archive

We know the technology itself can do nothing. It is how it’s used which makes the difference. Create transmissive information sites and students will switch off, be bored. Digital over paper does not make for innovative practice.

But you don’t listen…

We know Marshal McLuhan predicted over 50 years ago new technologies will be used to replicate old practices and we see  evidence of this everywhere. BYOD, mobile learning, different tools and apps for presenting content – they’re all old ways of using newer tools. Even the word pedagogy is another way to describe teaching practice or method. Old wine? New bottles?

old wine in new bottles

We know there are no quick fixes, no right answers, no one size fits all model. Life doesn’t fit into such neat binaries but we can help. What do you want your students to learn? How will you know they’ve learned it? What activities are going help students to achieve the learning outcomes? This is where technology steps centre stage, offering active learning through forums, wikis, quizzes and group work,  multiple opportunities for students to search, share, suggest, synthesise, while all the time developing those digital graduate attributes so essential for 21st century employment.

But you don’t know any of this because just as you try to be invisible to us, we the TEL-People are invisible to you.

Something has to change…

invisible people from pixabay


Images

Magritte’s Son of Man https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2040293 

Rubber duck debugging https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging#/media/File:Rubber_duck_assisting_with_debugging.jpg

social media tree from https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/

carrot and stick https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot_and_stick#/media/File:Carrot_and_stick_motivation.svg 

Archive from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archive#/media/File:Fondos_archivo.jpg 

Old wine in new bottles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Wine_into_Old_Wineskins#/media/File:Niko_Pirosmani._Porter_with_a_Wineskin._Diptych._Oil_on_oil-cloth,_51x34_cm._The_State_Museum_of_Fine_Arts_of_Georgia,_Tbilisi.jpg 

invisible people https://pixabay.com/en/people-find-search-facebook-295145/