On the development of digital practice…

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241 pages (without the front bits and bibliography)

77298 words (and rising)

My thesis is now in a single word file and beginning to look serious. But never mind the research; it’s the section breaks and captions which are defeating me.

In case you’re wondering, don’t rely on cross references transferring when you merge chapter files. The table links broke. Why? I have no idea but I have to recaption them again. As for trying to insert landscape pages within portrait ones or an Abstract page without messing up existing numbering or heading styles  – it isn’t happening.

My advice?

Good luck!

Each thesis will be different and if you don’t have a pre-formatted  template which expands and adjusts as you add content, then you’re on your own.

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I’ve been word processing since the DOS version of Wordstar and WordPerfect 5.1. Pre-windows. I thought I knew my way around the ribbons and menus of Word which I’ve been using since Windows 95 but I don’t.

l couldn’t achieve my aims, couldn’t keep asking colleagues for help, and could feel my confidence levels dropping. This reinforced how digital literacies are situational. We know what we need to know and this knowledge is only transferable if we want to do the same thing somewhere different. Even with the help of google, and years of working with programmes like Flash, Dreamweaver, and WordPress, I’ve struggled to format this document the way I want it.

Because I’m dealing with editing tools I havent used before.

I used to proofread research papers for medical journals. I didn’t understand the words but was good at spotting inconsistent spelling and although my supervisor might be surprised, I always thought my punctuation and grammar was good enough. When it comes to text I know my way around the alphabet but give me a page of numerical data and I break out in a cold sweat.

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We know what we know.

When it comes to something new, education theory suggests effective learning comes through applying new knowledge to what is already known, in ways which make sense to us as individuals. Success comes from situations which are contextual.

I believe experiential learning is key to becoming digitally fluent.

For some time, I’ve been immersed in data. NVivo has been another challenge. Anyone whose used it will be familiar with ‘Environment Change Down East’, This is their in-package training programme. It’s well made and shows what can be done with regard to data analysis. However, the chances are your data will be different and applying the principles from these tutorials is not always as seamless as they suggest.

I never want to see NVivo again!

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My research is practice-led. Participants were enrolled on my online teacher education courses; Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA). This meant researcher and researched were all embedded within the environment being studied, which was digital practice. How do staff teaching and supporting learning conceptualise higher education? What influences their attitudes and actions? I was particularly interested to work alongside the later adopters of learning technologies, whose voices and experiences are often excluded from a literature privileging the innovators and early adopters. How did participants negotiate shifts in their digital practice? What could I do to encourage engagement in the digital world of teaching and learning in 21st century?

A 12 month HEA Change Academy programme exploring the adoption of open educational resources showed me how the most resistant of colleagues found new ways to engage with digital tools and platforms. Approaching digital development from a contextual position, and directly working alongside students, rather than an isolated technology-first training approach which focused on the how rather than the why, proved to be transformative. TELEDA emerged from seeing first-hand the power of experiential learning to support change.

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In these days of review and restructure, it seems investment in the digital practice of staff teaching and supporting learing is first to go. There appears to be a growing assumption that digital literacy is a given. After all, we live in an increasingly digital society, where public services are digital-by-default and everyone is going online to manage all the aspects of their lives. The need to address digital skill sets seems to be less of a requirement.

I get this.

My research suggested participants were in possession of digital capital. The later adopters could communicate and collaborate in online environments and were aware of the advantages for students of any-time, any-place access through devices of choice. But specific application of this digital capital to pedagogic development was not seamless.  My recent experiences with NVivo and formatting a large and complex document appeared to reinforce the situational nature of digital practice.

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If, with all my digital experience, I was struggling with section breaks and cross referencing because they represented areas I was unfamiliar with, then how can institutions expect their staff to make use of virtual environments for anything other than what they already know.

The literature of digital education speaks of independent student-centred learning through the construction of activities which support the co-production and co-construction of knowledge, but the scholarship of teaching and learning appears to be lacking a digital domain.

It seems there’s a gap between what could be done and the reality of day-to-day practice, while investment in the development of digitally confident practitioners appears to be returning to technology-first approaches.

There’s an increasing focus on measurement of engagement through counting logins and downloads of recorded lectures rather than creating time and opportunities to explore questions such as what do you want your students to do and which pedagogic approaches are best suited to achieving this – with or without technology but it’s 2019, the tech is going to be in there somewhere. It just needs a more situated view of developing digital practice, one which is embedded within individual context.

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Experiential learning works but it takes time and resources. It needs a sociological imagination, one which makes the familiar strange through critical, reflexive questioning. We’re all digital citizens but with citizenship comes a responsibility for  to ensure equality.

I think the principles of inclusion can be usefully applied to digital development within higher education. Access appears to be a given but what’s too often missing is relevant and meaningful opportunities to critically examine the ways in which access is used.

In the meantime, I have section breaks to return to…

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digital presence as an indicator of digital capital

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The Community of Inquiry model suggests successful online education requires cognitive, teaching and social presences.  I’d agree that designing around this combination is a useful starting point for any online activity.

However, I’d also suggest another presence is essential.

Digital presence.

In a Community of Inquiry context, including digital presence would ensure staff and students were prepared for the digital dimensions of teaching and learning online, and in possession of the prerequisite digital capabilities.

But I see digital presence as more than practical knowledge because how we work online influences access to other resources. Opportunities for networking, publication, research, teaching and learning can all happen in ways which privilege those with digital connectivity and the confidence to use it. I’m still thinking it through – hence this blog post – but suggest digital presence can be aligned with digital capital.

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I use this in the Bourdieusian sense to extend his ideas around social and cultural capital to the digital domain. A digital society requires increasing amounts of digital practice, but how often do we stop and think about what is happening? How many times do we automatically log on without considering the implications of our actions, the extent of the divides being created or what might be missing through being digitally disengaged?

I have analogue roots. This means I don’t take connectivity for granted but I do appreciate the affordances of digital access at a time, place and device of choice, in particular how this offers genuine opportunities to widen participation. For all the ways in which higher education is changing, I still believe in its capacity for making a positive  contribution to individual lives, which in turn will influence the future society our graduates will make.

My career has been built around supporting digital education development. The lack of attention to the ways in which digital practice is understood has always concerned me. Digital diversity risks differential student experiences at a time when the development of digital graduate attributes should be at the heart of curriculum design.

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Considering digital presence as an indicator of digital capital may be one way to address this.

Digital difference has multiple layers in particular the ways in which online activity enhances or diminishes social and cultural capital, described by Bourdeiu as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.’ (Bourdieu, 1983: 249)

In other words, capital is the knowledge and skills which bestow status and power. Digital capital creates digital presence and in today’s society, this matters. Having digital presence creates tangible outcomes which relate to other forms of capital.

Society privileges the digitally fluent and marginalises others.

So digital presence is attitudinal as well as behavioural. It involves tangible qualities like identity and performance but also the ways digital practices are embodied, cumulative, transferable and potentially transformative.

Transformation in relation to digital practice is contentious. Claims which conflate them are risky. For too long, virtual learning environments have been presented as having transformational qualities when actual usage is more about management and control of administrative functions. In higher education, risk derives from focusing on technology-drivers rather than pedagogy-first pathways.

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Teaching is a complex, socially situated activity, dependent on multiple perspectives, skills and experience. Transfer the requirements of effective teaching and learning online and they multiply in ways which are not always fully addressed. The practical wisdom associated with the literature of educational practice requires digital dimensions which are too often excluded from traditional  approaches to supporting academic development.

Understanding and building digital presence could be a way to address this.

Bourdieu suggests the ‘peculiarity of cultural capital’ exists in forms which are ‘embodied, objectified, or institutionalized.’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 119). The word ’embodied’ always makes me think of Foucault and his conception of coercive power. Individuals appearing to willingly conform to social discourse through the adoption of daily practices and routines or ‘technologies of the self’ (Foucault, 1982).  even where these repllcate and reinforce disadvantage or disempowerment. Practice, in particular digital practice, is inextricably linked to the possession of social and cultural capital which in turn relates to power.

Back to Bourdieu who used the terms ‘habitus‘ and ‘field’ for this interplay between structure and agency. These relationships are often internalised. Like a fish takes water for granted, social and cultural positioning can be accepted because it operates below the level of consciousness. However, it can be known through critical reflection and analysis, which should be the heart of a higher education experience. .

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In 21st century, all social theory has digital dimensions and structures of power and control contain within themselves the possibility of change. Understanding the origins of discourse creates opportunities to challenge it. A society with increasing digital dependency should have equitable access at its heart. Teaching and learning is a great place to embed digitally inclusive practice which is not limited to accessing technology but is about the ways in which it’s used. Digital capital is made visible by degrees of digital presence.

Rather than assume everyone has the skills and confidence of the innovators and early adopters, we should pay more attention to the later adopters and the parameters of resistance. There is much to learn from studying the diversity of digital practice and the extend to which digital presence is developed may be a useful conceptual tool for supporting these discussions.

 

References 

Bourdieu, P., 1983. Forms of capital. In: Richards, J.C. (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. Greenwood Press, New York.; Coleman.

Bourdieu, P., Wacquant, L.J.D., 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Foucault, M. Technologies of the Self.” Lectures at University of Vermont Oct. 1982, in Technologies of the Self, 16-49. Univ. of Mass­a­chu­sets Press, 1988.

 

 

 

The value of research into practice

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The requirements of a PhD are straightforward. It should produce robust claims for an original contribution to knowledge. In other words, what does the research show which wasn’t known before?

I seem to be having a problem with articulating my findings. I don’t usually struggle with text but at the moment it’s hard to find the right words!

Often a side-step from stuckness can be useful.

To help find a path through the challenges of crafting a viable conclusion, I sidestepped and wrote about the defining characteristics of the research instead.  Initially, they seemed to be strengths which would contribute to the validity of the findings. Now I’m having doubts. Despite the extensive review of the literature alonside a methodology which appears appropriate, what if I’ve produced nothing original at all?

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The first defining characteristic of this research is it’s situated within a qualitative paradigm. Qualitative research is interested in individual practice, the ways knowledge about practice are constructed and understood, and the processes through which practice is replicated or reconstructed. Qualitative data should be rich and deep with analysis leading to new insights.

So far so good.

Denzin and Lincoln, in the 5th edition of the SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research suggest ‘critical qualitative inquiry inspired by the sociological imagination can make the world a better place‘ (2018: xi).

I’ve always believed changing the world is a tough call but we have the capacity to change our own little part of it.

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I wanted to address an issue I’d worked with for many years, as an ICT tutor for Adult and Community Education and during my time as Senior Lecturer in Education Development at the University of Lincoln.

The issue was digital diversity. At a time when teaching and learning was undergoing huge technology-supported shifts to more student-centred learning, I wanted to know what influenced the adoption of virtual environments. I believed this would inform my role with supporting staff as they negotiated shifts in digital practice, while also producing evidence-informed guidance which could be disseminated more widely.

Why did this matter?

The literature of digital education focuses on the impact of technology on student learning from the perspective of staff who, using Rogers Diffusion of Innovations model, could be described as innovators or early adopters.

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The digital practices of staff who are later adopters appears to be under-addressed. Yet the majority of my work depended on encouraging the digitally shy and reluctant to not only take early digital steps, but to continue on digital pathways. I thought contributing to this knowledge gap might lead to useful insights for the development of digital education, in particular from the late-adopter perspective which seemed to be less well investigated or understood.

A qualitative paradigm appeared to offer the potential for deeper insights. However, I knew from experience how inviting participants to talk about digital ways of working risked a skewed sample of self-selectors i.e. those who were already early adopters. I needed a way to reach a broader proportion of staff, in particular those wanting to explore change but lacking meaningful or timely opportunities to do so.

This led to the second defining characteristic of this research.

It’s practice-led.

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Participants were invited to take part in Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA). These were my online courses built on the principles of active and experiential learning. Driven by pedagogy rather than technology, staff were enrolled on the VLE as students and encouraged to reflect on the transfer of new knowledge to their own practice. In true qualitative style, participants were immersed in the environment being studied and I was immersed in the world of my participants. On TELEDA we could all be described as action researchers.

Research into practice is well established within schools of education. It was Aristotle who distinguished between making action (poiesis) and doing action (praxis). Within the social world, praxis involves making judgements, in particular for the human good (phronesis). This has been called ‘practical wisdom’ (Carr, 1987).

My analysis suggested new forms of practical ‘digital’ wisdom were needed alongside a better understanding of the constituent parts of digital capital. My research seemed to fit requirements in terms of literature gap and methodology. Rich, deep data was collected from TELEDA while the use of Braun and Clarke’s stages of Thematic Data Analysis supported the emergence of several dominant themes, alongside answers to the research questions.

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But are my findings original?

What constitutes originality in the first place?

I consulted Patter which I’d recommend to anyone who feels they’ve lost their postgraduate way.

I’ve been there often!

Pat Thomson suggests originality might be where PhD researchers present their own ‘…interpretations and categorisations. These arise from their particular question, sample, methods and analytic/theoretical approach. It is in the thinking-for-myself process that their originality lies.’ What is an original contribution? 

But is this enough?

I was influenced early on by the Illustrated guide to a PhD. This shows the size of an individual doctoral contribution compared to the sum total of knowledge. You need to look closely to see it!

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Your research doesn’t have to change the world, but it needs to produce original findings.

So where am I today?

A 2015 paper by Ana Baptista et.al. looked at the relationships between originality, creativity, and innovation in the doctorate as an original contribution to knowledge. They suggest originality is not a  commonly understood concept. This didn’t help much, nor did the reminder of how ‘students at times work independently in an uncertain environment‘ (2015:57). Definitely a component of part-time distance learning! However, I found this useful.

‘Doctoral theses are expected to make not just an original but also significant contribution to the field, the implication being that there is little value in originality if it is not also significant. However, the determination of significance is context-dependent.’ (2015:58)

It was nothing I hadn’t read elsewhere but was maybe the right words at the right time. Context-dependency lies at the heart of qualitative research, which recognises the influence of positionality, as does my research framework which applies a critical realism lens and the use of social practice theory.  Contextuality is a thread running throughout. There’s something in there which I can’t quite articulate.

I think I’m stuck in the what, how and why of it. I need to put aside what I did methodologically and focus more on alternative ways to present the outputs which include two new models of digital practice. But on their own, the production of new forms of practical digital knowledge, alongside the evidenced value of practice-led research for understanding digital capital, are not enough.

I need different ways to describe my original contribution to knowledge.

How have others coped with this stuckness?

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Digital practice

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Tips for part-time PhD research

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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!

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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.

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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

 

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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.