Tips for part-time PhD research

tangled mess of pink and green wool

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

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

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

However, I’d extend this one

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

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

Confidence and courage are two essential PhD attributes.

Wizard of Oz and the Lion who needs courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom?

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

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

Unequivocally…

Yes!

Because…

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

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

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

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

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

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

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

See you on Twitter Sunday morning!

#phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life

 

Images

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.

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 which delves further into understadning lurking as a pedagogic strategy neding to be addressed in learning design.

taster below….

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?

visit The Other Side of Lurking Part Two; dabbling with digital imposter syndrome for more….


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