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.

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The Other Side of Lurking Part One; a unique distance from isolation

black and white image of soiral staircase

What is lurking anyway?

I call it consuming without contribution and we are all great digital consumers.

Truely, here and now in 2018, we risk Amusing Ourselves to Death 

When Nicolas Carr (20080 asked Is Google Making us Stupid?  interest in cognitive data overload was high. What happened to the CIBER research? The collaboration between Jisc and the British Library studied information searching behaviours in young people. Findings included short attention spans and reliance on surface browsing, with clear implications for universities in the future. Ten years on, those young people are likely to be our students. Today, I can’t even find the report online.

Show me embedded critical digital literacies and I’ll show you a dozen examples of uncritical acceptance.

Tell me why digital skills and confidence of staff who teach and support learning is absent from the ed-tech literature. We know how students learn as e-learners but staff who teach as e-teachers? Where’s that?

…and what’s all this got to do with lurking?

It’s scene setting. Part of the wider picture which starts and ends with our digital codependency and online habits.

Return to Lurking began Friday 13th July, 2018. The 24 hour #HEdigID discussion facilitated by @SuzanKoseoglu was still going strong on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…

The hashtag #OEP (Open Educational Practice) seemed a good opportunity to bring in digital shyness and the politics of participation persuasion. I introduced the concepts and before long lurking emerged as a theme.

I lurk. You lurk. We all lurk.

Lurking has intention and purpose.

Lurking as Learning is a path well-trodden.  On 17th April this year, following the Digital Researcher run by my colleagues Mike Ewen and Lee Fallin, I wrote a post titled Sounds of Silence which addressed some of the emerging issues.

To lurk is to loiter, with or without intent, and not post.

Why?

Dunno.

We simply don’t understand enough about non-participation. We don’t know what’s going on behind closed screens.

Most of the time it simply doesn’t matter. We’re not expected to comment on every news article or blog post. The facility is available but there’s no pressure to use it.

It’s lurking in online courses which bothers me. Like in blended and distant learning courses where students consume without contributing. You can see content has been accessed but discussion or other collaborative activity fails.

Social constructivism is where it’s at these days. There’s Siemens’ Connectivism and Cormiers’ rhizomatic learning, but the majority of academic practice assumes a Vygotskian approach to how students learn, one which support knowledge construction through collaborative activity rather than didactic transmission.

open book. glasses and movile phone from pixabay

Sometimes this takes place online and this is where digital silence worries me. Maybe it shouldn’t. But if students don’t talk, how can active learning progress?

So what next?

Well, maybe we’ve got it wrong.

The assumption (to borrow from Orwell’s Animal Farm) is participation good – non participation bad.

Yet we know from discussions, like those reported in Sounds of Silence  and elsewhere on Twitter et. al, there’s lots of positives to lurkish practice.

Some were highlighted during the #HEdigID discussions.

Yet we know from discussions, like those reported in Sounds of Silence  and else where on Twitter et. al, there’s lots of positives to lurkish practice.

Some were highlighted during the #HEdigID diccussions.

However, lurking as negative remains a common perception as shown in the tweet below

while a 2018 paper by Sarah Honeychurch et. al., Learners on the Periphery: Lurkers as Invisible Learners, explores the lurking research literature. and makes some interesting suggestions. For example, the dominant mode remains that suggested by Neilsen in 2006, namely the 90-9-1 rule.

This rule posits that approximately 90% of group members consume content, 9% participate by contributing from time to time, leaving 1% to contribute a lot on a regular basis (Nielsen, 2006).

Then there’s the Pareto Principle, known as the 80/20 rule. Applied to online participation this translates as 20% of participants creating content which 80% consume.

It seems likely that to lurk is to inhabit safe space. Places of safety. Silent participation without risk. If so, then constructing lurking as a wrong to be righted is inappropriate. It may cause guilt and exacerbate fear of contribution rather than encouraging it.

The majority of Lurk-Lit focuses on change. The use of language like ‘converted’ and ‘persuaded’ suggests students need transforming from no-shows to show-offs, from passive to active.

But is this correct?

If 90% don’t contribute, or 80% consume, maybe we should look at non-contribution and consumption more closely.

Learning online is fundamentally isolated and lonely, but rather than stressing digital participation as a solution, maybe we should celebrate digital singledom instead.

dandylion head from pixabay

When Philip Larkin wrote about the ‘unique distance from isolation‘ he was referring to a couple next to other in bed. The context is a difficult relationship, Something Larkin is so painfully good at.

If people can be so physically close, yet so far apart, maybe assumptions that distance means separation can also be challenged, Perhaps the isolated learner is more closely linked to a holistic experience of the module or programme, through the medium of digital resources, than we might think. It comes back to my introduction tweet to the #HE digID community.

We need a better understanding of digital shyness. Stop demonising those who choose not to express themselves, be it the digital public sphere or password protected university network. We need to look at lurking from the other side.

This was The Other Side of Lurking Part One; a unique distance from isolation

There is more in The Other Side of Lurking Part Two; dabbling with digital imposter syndrome.


Images from #HEdigID discussion on Twitter or pixabay.com

 

#EDEN18 and the scholarship of TEL

 

The 27th EDEN conference brought technology and research together. I haven’t seen the phrase ‘scholarship of technology enhanced learning‘ before so am claiming authorship because #EDEN18 was research, pedagogy and technology all rolled into one.

It’s the pedagogy wot matters!

Too often pedagogic design for optimum learning is treated as a disparate topic. People teach as they were taught, or as their colleagues do, with or without technology. The time it takes to change and develop new practice is barely recognised  in workload models while education research has never been highly REF-regarded, to the extent the scholarship of our practice has been described as the Cinderella of academia.

How inspirational to be at #EDEN18, where TEL-ology and pedagogy collide. Several times I heard the question ‘Which VLE did you use?’ and realised it hadn’t even been mentioned because it wasn’t central to the message.

As someone researching the nature of digital shifts, and how academics conceptualise their practice in a digital age, it was a pleasure to be reminded of what matters i.e. the values and philosophies of higher education which brought us to where we are and keep us working in the sector. Too often these risk getting blurred or buried beneath the associated strains of ever increasing work loads. Lest we forget, higher education remains a privileged place of employment despite all the government attempts to marketise, monetise and destroy its heart.

The conference was held at the Albergo dei Poveri building of the University of Genoa.  Here, there was a shared language, albeit in multiple tongues, for example Alan Tait, Professor of Distance Education and Development at the OU, began his keynote with a reference to the Sociological Imagination and making the familar strange. good to see critical reflective questioning as core to the higher eduation experience. The keynote theme was sustainability as the new responsibility of higher education, alongside social justice and inclusion. A timely reminder of how the university was always intended for the public good, not a passive experience for consumption.

How do students learn? Through active engagment with content and context, not passive didactic pedagogies. Sessions left me inspired and tired and it wasnt just the heat. Where to find the energy to keep these values constant against a tide of capitalist consumerism and relentless state orchestrated change. These attempts at the commodificantion of knowledge have to be resisted.

The core messge from EDEN18 was even more change ahead. Increased demand for flexible chunks of learning, the breaking up of traditional degree programmes, the provison of micro-credentials through badges and certificates, the unbundling and out-sourcing of services. Think it’s bad now?  It would be easy to get scared, very scared but – I have every confidence – despite all the pressures – it remains possible to keep higher education as we want it to be. An experience for students containing all the possbilities of transformation so they leave as different people – in the best possible way – to how they arrived at the start of their journey.

Conferences are unique experiences. They offer fresh perspectives on old topics as well as exposure to alternative ones. Most of all, you’re reminded how your little spot in the world – no matter how much it can feel all-encompassing – is just one of zillions.

Then there’s the travel. Different countries take you out of your comfort zone. Arrive in Europe and everything is different; currency, food, language. You forget how much you take for granted like using a PC. I went into the room to load up my presentation. It was early and no one was around. right click is universal practice but what’s Italian for cut, copy, paste? I was sure to avoid ‘elimni’.

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be a challenge but nearly always good for you. Travel is the best educator and when combined with your research topic, not only are you exposed to new ideas in your field, there’s opportunities for validation as well. Win win. Just look at these workshop themes.

  • Developments in digital learning methodology
  • Sociocultural aspects of digital learning
  • Social media, digital collaborative learning
  • Learner needs and attitudes

Yay!

My presentation was titled Connect Disconnect – Academic Identity in a Digital Age. This was placed under the theme Learning Theory and Implementation Practice.

I talked about digital shifts and the need to reach those more digitally shy and resistant. One way could be through improved understanding of digital literacies as situated knowledge practices and the application of existing research into print and text. There’s also the power of the experiential and reflective practice to challenge and transform. My data is confirmation this can be transformational but it takes time and there’s never ever enought time.

The conference theme was Macro, Meso and Micro Exploring the dimensions of the digital landscape. This mapped well onto the institutional, pedagogic and individual framework of my research. Thanks Janita Poe (@PoeCommunicate) for the photos. Love how Patrick Lynch is looking over my shoulder!

The presentation was followed by some challenging questions and good discussions. I’m still pondering the influence of ‘ontological uncertainty’ and after meeting Emma Gillaspy (@egillaspy)  from Salford am seeing useful applications for applying coaching approaches to our Design for Active Learning Toolbox (more about this next week).

People ask why I keep a blog. There’s lots of reasons but mostly it’s to keep a record of what I do. My blog is a diary, scrapbook, journal and photo album all in one.

It’s for analysis and reflection as well as questions I can’t yet answer. It’s my CV and my research log. Occasionally non work/research issues slip in like my allotment. One of these days I’ll get the Digital Academic hosted and restore the plugins I used to have. I miss the photo album which made it easy to have a gallery of thumbnails and the freebie version doesnt support basic functions like tables.

This post doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything particularly unique or special but it pins down a week in June when I travelled to Genoa. These words and photos will always take me back there. It was my first visit to the Italian port town on a hill and what a hill – steep in every sense of the word. I want to be reminded of this and a blog with its tags and categories is a perfect place.

Italy is a country which bleeds history. The university building of thick stone walls around a courtyard seemed little changed since the day it was built.

Strip out the electricity and overhead projectors and you’re left with the original floors, doors and windows, staircases and fireplaces.

It didn’t take much imagination to see it as it would have been.

Being Italy, the lunches were magnifico, down to the expresso hits during the breaks and chilled Pino Grigio in ice buckets.

 

I missed the conference dinner at the Aquarium but called in on my last day.  I saw the room where it was held – next to the dolphin tanks so as you’re eating they’re swimming around behind the plate glass wall, watching you.

How did I feel about that?

Not comfortable to be honest.

It seemed like a lot of dolphins in the available space and shouldn’t they be out in the ocean anyway?

 

Hull has The Deep and I was curious to see how they compared.

The Deep is smaller but has a better feel plus seems more geared up for education and conservation. The cbildren of the future, who might one day be our students in years to come, need a healthy, sustainable planet. It’s the best legacy we can give alongside the hope they continue conserving the earth. If places like The Deep and Genoa’s Aquarium can help this, they justify their existence – but I’m still not convinced keeping dolphins in captivity is a good idea.

Genoa felt more like a working city than a tourist hot spot. I expected a smaller version of Florence but its catherdral di San Lorenzo or UNESCO badged Palazzi dei Rolli in Le Strade Nuove were definately under-advertised. Genoa seems more a stopping off place for cruise ships or for passing through to other destinations. Cheap flights from the UK (my suitcase cost more than I did) gives you easy access to fast trains to Turin, Milan, Florence and Rome.  For myself Genoa lacked the art/history impact of its Italian neighbours but is still worth seeing. It claims to be the birthpace of Christopher Columbus and the Galata Museo del Mare: (Great Nautical Museum) looked interesting with its 17th century galley ship dominating the harbourside.

The venue for EDEN19 hasn’t yet been announced but whereever, it will be worth consideration. Alongside  SRHE, SEDA, ALT, UCISA, and JISC I’m adding EDEN to the list of conferences to look out for.


Recorded Keynotes available here

Plenary session livestream – Monday – Airina Volungeviciene, Georgi Dimitrov, Fabrizio Cardinali, Claudio Dondi

Plenary session livestream – Tuesday – Antonella Poce, Alan Tait, Teemu Leinonen, Anthony Camilleri, Joe Wilson

Plenary session livestream – Wednesday – Wim Van Petegem, Sarah Guri-Rosenblit, Tom Wambeke, Claudio Dondi, Airina Volungeviciene, Sylke Vandercruysse


if the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it! Reflections on UCISA spotlight #udigicap

presnting at the UCISA conference

I hate being late.

I blame the M1 speed restrictions.

Four lanes of traffic should move at ease but 40 mph defeats the object of a motorway. So I missed the start of the conference. Arrived half way through the keynote by Donna Laclos. Times like these you realise the value of recording is not just for the absent, it’s for those like me, who are late.

The event was the fourth UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference. Held at the Radcliffe Centre at the University of Warwick, this two day programme of presentations and workshops was accompanied with great food and on suite accommodation. Lovely to see my UCISA colleagues and meet up with Kerry ‘Do Academics Dream of Electric Sheep‘ Pinny again (we didn’t take any pictures!!)

Times like this, your extended higher education family come together and remind you how we’re all involved in the core business of the university; i.e. teaching, learning and research. We all face similar challenges; widening participation, the inexorable rise of data analytics, designing for diversity and so on. Conferences are opportunities to touch base and share insights. They should be protected as integral to individual CPD.

Two years ago I spoke at the second UCISA Spotlight event. I’d just broken my ankle so was hobbling around on crutches and, when I revisited my slides, I could see apart from ditching the sticks, not a lot had changed. It’s a running joke how we make techie mistakes in public. I was no exception; having hidden this slide earlier I’d forgotten to make it visible again. So these are the missing images I talked through!

 

The lecture remains an instantly recognisable format, we’ve just transferred it online through slides, notes and recordings, Whole cohorts of students have spent their lives digitally connected while fear of technology  and change continues to create digital rifts, divides and chasms.

In 2016 I’d spoken about directing our attention to diversity. Never mind Visitors or Residents, some people were the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets.

Those who don’t come to our workshops or TEL themed events, don’t apply for TEL funding, read the TEL literature and who generally avoid TEL work as much as they can. We are the TEL people, living in our TEL Tribes and Territories. They are not. We know about them as a species but less as individuals and this needs to change.  When it comes to understanding more about digital shyness and resistance, they can help.

title slide 2018

This year I was speaking about moving from theory to practice at the University of Hull via our Design for Active Learning approach. We were the TEL Team. Now we’re the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Team (LTE). We used to be Technology-First. Now we’re Pedagogy/Design-First. Academics who shy away from technology, saying it’s not for them and/or not their responsibility, would be hard pushed to say the same about student learning.

D4AL is a toolbox of tools.  Built around Appreciative Inquiry and Action Research, it focuses on learning activities which are data informed thereby making the process agile, open ended and responsive to student needs.

It’s interesting to observe tweeting at conferences. Twitter in action provides additional voices, both remote and present but it’s a exclusive environment, one which privileges those with mobile devices and the ability to think in text-bites. It also helps spread your words to the networks of others which is always rewarding to see. Thank you.

tweets from UCISA Spotlight conference

Twitter is also very much of the moment. Capturing tweets needs automation.

Da Da!

Enter Wakelet, the new Storify. A lovely tool which harvests hashtags and names. This is my initial harvest – it needs editing but for now it brings all the #udigicap hashtags together UCISA Spotlight 2018 Wakelet 

wakelet logo blue on white

I took Design for Active Learning to the Spotlight Conference

The main message I took away was a massive need to reach agreed consensus on the language to use to describe digital ways of working.

Is it capabilities, literacies, competencies, skills or a word we haven’t yet thought of?

When considering this it’ worth bearing in mind the reminder from Donna Laclos of the power of the binary.

Binaries are those fundamental units of linguistic construction whereby we identify things not by what they are – but what they’re not.

You can’t have a yin without the yang.

We know dark because it isn’t light.

Every time we talk about digital competencies we’re also referring to incompetence. The same goes for illiteracies and incapabilities. Doesn’t sound so good does it.

Also….does it have to be digital anything? If the problem is the partnership why not use ‘digital’ on its own or pair it with something more neutral like Digital today, or digital way, road, path – top of my head thinking here – but you get the message.

If the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it!

image showing ditches crossing a field

After deciding on the term you have to decide what it refers too? Which framework to use? There are plenty to choose from. The Jisc Digital Capability Framework was designed specifically for UK  higher education but has gaps. Where’s digital pedagogy and design and why isn’t digital exclusion an element, preferably an all encompassing one. The omission suggests an invisibility which is not only self perpetuating but also indicative of the wider social and cultural blackout on digital democracy issues.

This is where the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy Model seen through a digital lens comes out on top because it promotes inclusion and accessibility. Also the boundary lines between information literacy and digital literacy are blurring.

With apologies for showing images of text in these tweets. Contact me if you need the detail. Lee Fallin and Mike Ewen (Librarians), Ale Armellini (Director Learning and Teaching Institute) and Jane Secker (Librarian and leading copyright expert) all agree information is by default becoming digital.

 

There’s also the recently revised UK government’s Essential Digital Skills framework. I like the how this combines work and life ‘skills’ with contextual examples. How many staff who teach and support learning in higher education can demonstrate all of these?

Context is key. There’s a body of work around text and print literacies which can inform approaches the digital today. In my presentation, I recommended a paper by Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012). This supports the view of literacies as knowledge practices, situated in social and cultural contexts. As such they are subject to inequalities of access of use. As always. attention to inclusivity is vital.

It isn’t enough to measure literacy.

Educators need to understand how it’s acquired and developed.

I’m way over my word limit so this is a separate blog post, one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The time has come!

Thank you UCISA for a really useful two days which showcased ways HEI are approaching the topic of ‘digital’. Many have chosen Microsoft ‘training’ or are adopting DIY with services like Lynda.com. The variety was reminiscent of issues around the teaching/training debate. What is the purpose of higher education. Is it to teach or to train? Those who believe it’s to train may not be in the right place.

Higher education is about supporting individuals to become knowledgeable in their subject of choice and part of the process is to acquire sets of literacies which encompass paper, print and digital. I’m closing with a quote from the paper cited above.

digital technolowies and an open book

‘Therefore, digital literacy extends beyond competence, such as the ability to form letters in writing or to use a keyboard. Digitally based knowledge practices are meaningful and generative of meaning; they depend on the learner’s previous experiences… on dispositions such as confidence, self-efficacy and motivation… and on qualities of the environment where that practice takes place…. digital literacies are both constitutive and expressive of personal identity.’ (Littlejohn et. al., 2012:551)

The last sentence is where the next blog will begin.

Like this…

Digital literacies are individual and unique like fingerprints. As such there is no one size fits all solution for their development. Instead, they need to be situated within the patterns and practices of people’s lives. Experiential, contextual support, alongside relevant and appropriate learning opportunities, is central to creating digitally literate and confident learners and citizens of the future.


Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H. and McGill, L. (2012) Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol 28, issue 6

images my own or from pixbay.com

Troubling boundaries (cats and imposter syndrome)

Where my research is concerned, I have trouble with boundaries

I’ve said this before (Know Your Limits) and am likely to again. It’s nowhere more prevalent than this blog. I start new posts all the time but don’t finish them. Too many ideas and not enough boundaries.

There it is again!

It’s getting worse as the research progresses. The more I reduce the data for analysis, the more I need to give contextual background. I save in one place but increase elsewhere. On reflection, this might show digital shifts are linked to all aspects of higher education. Show me what isn’t digital and , I’ll eat my blog.

baby wearing a large hat
image from pixabay – no attribution required

This week I’ve taken leave. Allocated PhD time with at least one research-related (and completed) post. The boundary issue is critical. This blog was about Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). It’s not core to my research but is related (I rest my case!) in that I’ve a partially-generated theory which suggests DIS might underpin digital shyness and resistance.

afternote: 6 weeks later I return to imposter syndrome, realise it’s populat pyschology rather than hard science, or self-efficacy by another name and  abandon the idea of using it.

Reluctance to engage in online activity is well documented. Colleague Patrick Lynch and I facilitate Module Two of the PG Cert in Academic Practice (PCAP). We introduced it as a blended module because the group only meets 5 times in 10 weeks but our online activities were – I think it’s fair to say – not widely adopted. We want to explore why.

We’re told there’s too many competing pressures but a 200 hour Level 7 module with only 15 hours contact time? Why not develop an online PCAP community. My previous TELEDA courses (Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age) were experiential (offering staff a student view of the VLE) and although successful, it feel a similar approach may not work this time.

Again – why not?

cartoon of single person facing a wall of technology

At this stage, I’m not suggesting the answer is Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS) although the idea is hovering. PCAP Evaluation may well reveal we set about it wrong or made errors we’re not yet aware of. But generically, it seems something prevents staff and students from contributing to online forums, blogs, wikis or other google logo under a magnifying glassplaces set up to enhance or extend face-to-face education. Why? When the discourse is digital technology transforms – even revolutionises – higher education.

Houston – we have a mismatch.

Is it nerves about negative responses?

A recent seminar on student’s being asked to blog revealed blog URLs being deliberately obscured to prevent them being found by google, and read by strangers. Tthe rationale being to reduce potential trolling or flaming. Someone else went through their student posts, editing out typos to prevent the department being associated with poor writing.

Where is the digital literacy here? The critical reflection on teaching and learning in a digital age? But, aeast the students are blogging, they have an output and will have learned some digital skills.

Digital attitudes and practices tend to be unique to individuals.  To become ‘digital’ is to change behaviours in a hundred different ways. For my research I gather these up into the phrase ‘digital shifts’.

Collecting themes for my data analysis hierarchy, I thought about Digital Impostor Syndrome. Of all the reasons for keeping a blog (another post!) reducing large to small can be a challengem one which forces critical reflection on how to ensure it becomes a useful reference.

So I began a post on DIS. Firstly, it needed an explanation of what Impostor Syndrome was, then ‘digital’ in that context. This involved ‘literaries’ as socially-situated practice. Situated learning segued into communities of practice (I’d been wanting analyse Lave and Wenger in the original rather than through third party accounts). Before you could say Tweet, 500 words were written but I found myself with the Browne Review of HE and the subject of teaching accreditation, which led to the teaching/research nexus and ‘professionalisation’ debate – definitely a post for the future, if only I could stay on topic!

blue twitter bird

The HEA are now ‘Advance HE‘ (Why? Who decided  to choose that?)  and have a new Academic Professional Practice Apprenticeship Standard (outlined here). Having done some work around Degree Apprenticeships (which are effectively Work Based Learning), and the use of  VLE (they’re also blended learning) I found this video which includes an outline of Epigeum’s new resource University Teaching: Core Skills: a new online training programme.

I have a thing about the word ‘training’. Definately another blog post! Put ‘Skills’ and ‘Training’ into T&L in UK HE and I spontaneously combust. 500 words later my thoughts on marketisation, neo-liberalism, metrics and competency checklists are splattered across the page.

With a deep breath, I return to the concept of professional academic development. Comparing the Epigeum content and our Design 4 Active Learning (D4AL) reminds me the rationale blog for D4AL is long overdue (draft outline here).

By now I’ve Tweeted , uploaded photos to Facebook, watched the grandcat playing a board game (a few times) and am so far from the starting point I have to go through my notes to see what it was.

I think the boundary problem is self- evident.

I also think it can be explained.

My work has always been eclectic. Senior Lecturer in Education Development was to be in a third space for professionals, I’ve had a variety of responsibilities; been teacher, student and researcher, often at the same time, while also writing for publication and generating external income. If I had to identify areas of expertise I’d suggest transition, open education, blended and distance learning, digital literacies and inclusive practice, the other DED of digital education development – digital divides, exclusions and diversity. i bought this together in the TELEDA courses, which in turn became the primary instrument for data collection on my PhD, which I titled Digital Shifts and is – surprise surprise –

the subject of another post unpicking what ‘digital shifts’ might cover. Here’s the one I began earlier Digital Shifts

So – my problem with boundaries…

Work responsibilities and interests overlap and blur. Colleagues say you can’t talk about T&L in 21st century without the ‘digital dimensions’ but does ‘digital’ mean in different contexts? We have to stop assuming or taking for granted ‘digital’ is what everyone does. I’s not and positivist, non-critical approaches will miss the mark every time.

letter tiles spelling digital shifts

The complexity of digital shifts are partially to do with language, where the same phrases mean different things to different people and there’s no central guidance or structures.

I’ve been exploring how much this is generated and reinforced by those working in technology enhanced learning areas. Can academic tribes and territories (going their own subject-specialist ways) be contributing to the confusions by creating TEL-worlds which are mutually exclusive, see The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People and TEL People, Poetry and Language  for first thoughts on this.

We have to get a better understadning of the relationship staff who teach and support learning have with digital technologies and literacies. It’s complex. Have I mentioned digital identity? Did I tell you I don’t know where I belong?

jigsaw peices in the shape of a brain with some missing

Is it a school of education because of my res?

Is it a technology enhanced learning team through my CMALT accreditation

Or a CPD/academic practice unit via my Senior Fellow status with the HEA (Advance-HE) or Module Two Lead for PCAP?

I’m Pedagogy-first with D4AL which is how technology can be used rather than how it works or what to do when it breaks. At least I know I’m not in ICT!

Lack of confidence in my identity brings me back to Digital Impostor Syndrome – which takes me back to the themes for my data analysis – and hey presto – my research.

Did I tell you – I have a problem with boundaries…

barbed and wire fencing

Warning! higher education is bad for your health  #UniMentalHealthDay 

Words Mental Heath made from scrabble tiles

March 1st was an awareness day. University Mental Health Day to be precise. This is the national campaign for promoting the mental health of people who live, work and study in Higher Education. Beginning in 2012, it’s run by Student Minds and  UMHAN  the University Mental Health Advisers Network and a flurry of postings highlighted the range of issues this might involve.

The THES posted University Mental Health Day: the weight of expectations addressing how pressure to perform, alongside a lack of institutional support, can have severe effects on mental health.

HEPI offered Who supports academics? ‘No one. No one. Literally no one.’ a guest blog written by Poppy Brown who also authored the 2016 HEPI report into The invisible problem? Improving students’ mental health

Whether you’re learning, teaching or researching, it seems higher education is bad for you.

Student Minds logo

None of this is new. There’s been growing media coverage over the past year. The Guardian’s contributions included It’s time for universities to put student mental health first while Anonymous Academic covered bullying in the work place, trolling on social media, and declaring a disability.  In January WONKHE published Academics under pressure: the invisible frontline in student mental health which highlights the problems of the next step – once someone has admitted to needing support where should they be advised to go and who has responsibility for getting this right. The WonkHE piece links to the Research and Publications page of StudentMinds  where there’s the findings of a report titled Student Mental Health: The Role and Experiences of Academics

Well worth a read.

recommendations from the Role of an academic report available http://www.studentminds.org.uk/theroleofanacademic.html
Image from https://tinyurl.com/yctth4cg Full report from  http://www.studentminds.org.uk/theroleofanacademic.html

Anyone thinking of going to university o study or work would do well to take note. Higher education in the 21st century might not be what you think.

It wasn’t so many years a go I met someone who declared envy of my work in higher education. It must be wonderful, she said, to be surrounded by so much knowledge, to work alongside people who think for a living, to be in a place where books matter.

It’s only when you try to tell the truth you realise how difficult the truth can be.

collection of blue question marks

This is my 18th year in HE and to say I’ve seen changes is a massive understatement. The biggest has to be the introduction of the NSS,  REF and TEF bringing with them an audit and impact culture, but there’s also been the increasing diversity of student cohorts, stress on employability, on internationalism and throughout it all the relentless cutting back of resources. Oh, and the digitisation of university systems with an increase in administrative function. It isn’t only the rhetorical promise of the VLE to reduce costs and increase efficiency which is lies, all lies.

Staff in HE today struggle with increasing cuts and reductions alongside a relentless rise in bureaucratic expectations and – this is where I have to hold up my hand and admit I’m guilty –  the expectations they will all seamlessly adopt Technology Enhanced Learning into their pedagogy and practice.

Pedagogy and practice can be anomalous. I don’t like generic statements but it’s true that many academics are employed for their subject expertise and research specialisms rather than knowledge of pedagogic design and digital capabilities – but we ask – expect – assume this of them.

digital technolowies and an open book

Over the past two decades there’s been a shift in emphasis towards the student experience but what does this phrase mean? Does anyone know?

Have students – in their own eyes at least – become customers paying for a service?

Is fear of the NSS really preventing innovation and experimentation?

It’s no wonder stress levels are rising.

Then there’s data – which has become the new VLE.

Read the Dearing Report into the Future of Higher Education and substitute data for every mention of VLE or C&IT (always liked how Communication came before Information – so interesting how the I became privileged). If you read data or learning analytics instead the promise remains – be it improvement, enhancement, transformation or revolution, the rhetoric continues.

As do conflicting views on the value of higher education. In 1959 C. P. Snow gave the Rede Lecture entitled The Two Cultures where he claimed “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” was split between the sciences and the humanities. Over the years this argument has been challenged and supported in different ways, not least by Snow himself but two weeks ago the UK Government spectacularly re-lit the fire, suggesting tuition fees for humanities and the arts should be cheaper than those for STEM subjects.

Urgghhhhh!!!

yellow soft toy with open mouth to scream

I started this blog because I wanted to highlight the issues of mental health in higher education. Whether you are learning, teaching or researching you’re at risk and once you begin to tell truths you realise, with increasing anxiety for the future, just how large and difficult these truths are.

I wanted to point out how research into the mental health of PhD students suggests they are the most stressed of all.  So far, the research I’ve read is based on f/t study yet nearly everyone I know taking a PhD is doing it p/t alongside f/t work. I want to suggest this often isolated and forgotten about group may be at even more risk of developing symptoms of stress and fatigue.

SuCCEED@8 support group details

At the University of Northampton where my PhD is registered, we’ve set up SuCCEED@  (Supporting the PhD Community to Collaborate and Emotionally Engage in Digital Shifts at Level 8) The group aims include supporting the mental health of PhD students, in particular those studying p/t and at a distance. Were also on Twitter @Succeedat8 

I wanted to blog about coping mechanisms like these are dependent on digital literacies and confidence and how the rhetorical promise of TEL does not address diversity of use and digital shyness or resistance. In the same was stress on the educational experience of students does not address any absence of pedagogic or digital confidence of staff who teach and support learning.

My worry is the current highlighting of mental health issues of staff and students will not address realistic and manageable solutions. All the issues named here need more than what we’ve done so far, they need more than application of training techniques or coping mechanisms. It will take fundamental structural change to make change happen. There are not enough workshops or yoga positions in the world to make this happen.


images from pixabay or my own


 

 

 

 

 

 

the reconstruction of part-time higher education

green front cover of OU report Fixing the broken market

There a new report out

Fixing the Broken Market in Part-Time Study

From the OU

I quote

Lord Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science at the time of the reforms, has said that the collapse in part-time student numbers is ‘one of my biggest regrets about my time as Minister’

Oh come on!

Was anyone in his circle of family and friends affected? I doubt it.

Part-time education matters. Anyone could have predicted what the changes in student fees would do.

And it did.

The market isn’t just broken its crushed.  For all the rhetoric about widening access and participation,  it’s never been harder to get into university as a part-time student.

image of herbs being crushed in a bowl

I came into higher education at the turn of the century.  On the back of the Dearing report (1997) I worked on widening participation projects. The ones where you go into schools and talk to pupils about aspirations, bring them onto campus for mini-university experiences, play spot the lecturer (yes, honest, jeans and trainers, the suit is in ICT) It was all about breaking down the social and cultural barriers which make people believe a higher education is not for them.

The years before I’d worked in adult and community education, teaching computer skills, supporting adults who’d been out of formal education for some time or never had the opportunity to study, helping them get back into employment after a career break or disability. I’d started my first degree after  the family were all at school. I was widening participation in action. Ten years before the Dearing Report it was already happening – albeit without the internet.

image showinf two cartoon people on either side of a chasm

I’ve been lucky.

Both my MA’s were part time and six years  ago I signed up for a part time degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull. It was the thought of the new fees wot did it. I got in just before the changes. Still had to pay – over 6 years it worked out as @£1000 a year – but for me it was money well. There were opportunities to be creative, meet new people, cover a wide range of genre. Hard work but worth it. The subsequent fee increases led to an inevitable drop in numbers and the part-time degree has now closed. Over half of my class wanted to take the MA in Creative Writing. They had the talent but simply couldn’t afford it.

For most it was their first experience of HE. I don’t think many would disagree that in one way or another the past 6 years were transformative. Not only in terms of knowledge and experience but in the acquisition of a  variety of skills and overall confidence in both the subject and as individuals. They were so proud to graduate and I was proud to have been part of such an talented and energetic group. Isn’t this what life is about? Learning there’s more to the world than exists in your little corner?

pink and green direction arrows

Fixing the Broken Market says some right things:

For prospective students, greater flexibility in degree provision will help people access the life-changing opportunities that a university education can provide…allowing people additional routes to higher skills – such as through flexible ‘learn-while-you-earn’ higher education provision or apprenticeships – will be vital to allow people to upskill and retrain whilst in work.

Apprenticeships.

Mmmm……

I’m currently involved in supporting a Degree Apprenticeship Programme. Intended to be partnerships between employers, universities, and professional bodies, students will have the opportunity to study (UG and PG) while working. It’s a revival of part-time study through work based learning.

book, phone and keyboard

At Lincoln I supported a variety of Work Based Learning programmes which focused on the needs of local employers. For me, WBL was widening participation in action. It was where the affordances of education technology came into their own and inclusive practice was essential in rural areas with poor broadband connections. I built transition support and helped amend the validation process. By the time a  WBL award got to validation, the differences and challenges had already been addressed, the first module developed and was demonstrated. For years I did the best I could to support staff teaching on these programmes. What I couldn’t control then, and still struggle with today, is time.

cartoon person pushing a brown cog wheel representing the gears of digital shifts

I know from experience how studying part-time while working full-time is tough.

My PhD is on a burner so far back I can’t see it.

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

It’s good to see Fixing the Broken Market in Part Time Study has bought up the issues, but the rationale worries me. Times have changed and the purpose of higher education is changing too. This resurgence of attention is also a reconstruction.  Part-time is repackaged as shorter, flexible modes of study. ‘Learning and Earning’ the new catch phrase. Improving the skills of the working-age population the driver.  A  meritocratic society the vision. Technology the discipline focus. This isn’t about the Arts or Humanities which, if I’m reading it right, are presented  low-value learning. It’s STEM STEM STEM all the way home.

keyboard with a sign saying Under Construction

Parts of the report make me want to cry – not in a good way. Page 9 addresses the lessons learned following the Browne Report and show how far removed the government was (still is) from reality. Read it yourself and see. Here are some tasters

It was thought that part-time students would respond to increases in deferred fees in the same way as full-time students…. it [was] thought that more part-time students would be entitled to and take-up tuition fee loans than actually did…  we would not expect a negative impact on the demand for part-time study… The experience of the last few years shows that this assumption, that all of us made, was catastrophically wrong

No shit Sherlock!

silhouette of raised arms

Apart from higher education becoming purely an employability incentive there are some lights at the end of this long dark tunnel. ‘Lessons from recent history include part-time students and full-time students need to be thought about differently by policymakers.‘ Yep, they certainly do. And by the universities and by all staff who teach and support learning but I would challenge statements like ‘Less time out of work is required for these flexible study modes‘ because this isn’t true. 20 credits is still 200 hours of learning no matter how you present it.

timer laid on its side in the sand

However the biggest single hurdle to achieving authentic and meaningful part- time study is time. Without an institution and employer wide shift in culture towards genuine CPD, part-time study will continue be a source of stress rather than reward.

I know…

I’m stressed…the Phd sleeps quietly in my absence….while I count down the days to Christmas for all the wrong reasons.

christmas baubles and tree

all images from pixabay.com