Alexa

image from https://www.amazon.in/Amazon-Echo-Smart-speaker-Powered/dp/B0725W7Q38

The family refer to Alexa as ‘she’.

Alexa is artificial intelligence, built to respond to commands and presented as female. Unlike a sat nav, you can’t change the gender. While some say the voice is androgynous, to me it sounds like a woman and this is uncomfortable. It worries me.

What also bothers me is the way I see people talk to Alexa. The ability to demand an action, the lack of please and thank you, is rude. It must be having an effect, in particular on young minds who are are also having the socio-cultural associations between women and service being reinforced.

The family laugh at my concerns but the habit grows incredibly fast.  By the end of an hour I’m saying ‘Alexa, volume 4’ to turn down the music which she (see what I mean?) was told to find. It’s alarming how quickly new behaviours are embedded. You get in the car, and ask for the radio. This is how fast ways of being change.

Alexa is early technology.  This time next year it will have moved on, like the e-reader shifted from clunky keyboard to swipe screen. But where will Alexa move to?

image showing the first Kindle e-reader and a current one side by side

I’m beginning to feel I’m on the wrong side of the digital revolution.

Words like revolution and transformation should be used with care. Easy to throw into conversations, their significance gets diluted by repetition, but when it comes to the social impact of the internet, language like this is appropriate. However, the implications of digital development are not yet fully understood – or feared.

Sometimes it feels like we’re walking into dystopian futures with eyes wide open, but not seeing. Alexa is the beginning but do we really need apps linked to fridges to tell us when to buy milk, have remote control of household appliances or be so totally dependent on electronic systems for storing and accessing our hard-earned cash. Is it wise to have the administration of our lives resting on cables running under the ocean, in particular for accessing public services, health and welfare. Is it? Really?

I’ve long had concerns about the consequences of unequal access but even as I write these words, I’m aware they involve unspoken assumptions the digitisation of society is good. It has advantages to be sure. But what is it doing to relationships and the quality of interpersonal communication? How is it changing what it means to be human?

image showiing Siri logo
image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siri_icon.svg

I watch family interact with voice activation and the ways they use Siri on their devices. Actions which remove politeness and grace and replace them with commands. The technology we’re increasingly dependent on for the administration of day-to-day to life emerged from controlling weapons of war, the language of computers still reflect their military origins and remnants of this remain.

Failure to initialise. System error. Fatal exception. Corrupted file. This week I saw the message ‘You have aborted this video’. Then there’s the dreaded ‘Word is not responding’ followed by ‘Word is shutting down’ when you’re in the middle of a long document you haven’t saved for a few pages and Autorecovery is never as up to date as you need it to be!

image showing windows error message

We have less control over our devices than we think

If the machine was using us in 2007, think how much more it’s using us now!

Virtual reality is an artificial simulation but one at risk of being perceived as real. We think we know the difference but do we?

Spend an hour being disconnected. Extend the absence to a day or a week. How does it feel? I access my life through my laptop and struggle without it. This scares me but I can’t stop. Everything is online.

My Alexa weekend has got me thinking. Maybe we need to apply social theory to the digital domain. Revisit the social construction of technology. Theorise digital practice.

image showing steps on a pile of rubble
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/stairs-concrete-construction-1481394/

I drove to Manchester and where the M62 crosses the Pennines, the motorway becomes vulnerable to the weather. Its high up and exposed to cross winds. Snow quickly settles in the outside lane, where poor driving conditions increase risk of accidents as visibility worsens and the road surface is icy. Good drivers adjust their speed while others power on, feeling secure in their metal bubbles.

Motorway driving is dependent on individuals following the rules of the highway code. Keeping a safe stopping distance from the vehicles in front. Showing courtesy to other road users. A busy motorway is like an artery. So long as there’s no obstructions people should reach their destinations safely. But as we’re continuously told, hearts need to be kept healthy, with attention to diet and exercise supporting the free flow of oxygenated blood around the body.

image showing busy motorway junctions
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/architecture-buildings-cars-city-1837176/

Social life is not so different. It requires compassion. Care. Kindness. Understanding how little things matter, like when you’re driving and a stranger smiles as you stop at a pedestrian crossing, or a quick flash of the lights when someone les you out at a difficult junction, a hand raised in acknowledgement to say thank you.

Technology has long been a primary driver of social change. This can be good. Digital developments, where science, engineering and the arts come together, have the capacity to alter the world, make it a better place, one which supports individual health and happiness. So long as the ways in which the affordances aim to improve the human condition, not diminish it.

You can re-programme Alexa’s ‘wake-up’ but the default setting is a command.

‘Alexa’

Would it have been so hard to make ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a requirement of use? The ways in which technology usage can influence attitudes and actions are known yet it’s deemed ok to demand a service rather than request it.

People will talk to their device as they talk to others, and ‘Alexa’ can be said as a question as much as a command, but the lines are thin and blurred. Usage will be diverse and it seems a missed opportunity to build some kindness into what feels like an increasingly hostile world.

It bothers me that criticality appears to be waning and there’s an absence of digital mindfulness.

‘Alexa, what should we do?’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.’

image showing questions asking what, where, how, why
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/questions-font-who-what-how-why-2245264/

Since writing this, Amszon have announced Amazon will start letting random people provide Alexa answers. A topic for a follow-up post but here some points for critical relfection from the article.

“The system will use game mechanics to engage users — people will be able to earn “points” each time the assistant shares one of their answers. But as other platforms…have discovered, user-generated content is open to mischief and propaganda. It’s easy to imagine the kinds of answers somebody might submit for questions about Donald Trump or measles vaccines, for instance. Amazon [says] it’s relying on a combination of algorithms and human editors to help vet responses and hoping that a system of user up and down votes will weed out mischief-makers. But previous experiments with user-generated answers, such as Yahoo Answers and Quora, have never really taken off, so Amazon has a hard task ahead.”

Why is Amazon doing this?


Kindle images from

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Amazon_Kindle_-_Wikipedia.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kindle_Fire_web_browser_05_2012_1430.JPG

The week the internet was 30

image showing Sir Tim Berners Lee
image from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-47524474

I’ve often wondered if what we call the internet keeps Sir Tim Berners Lee awake at night. Reading his open letter to the Web Foundation this week, it sounds like it might.

TBL writes ‘…the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.’ and calls for us to ‘…make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good….making this happen should be a ‘priority agenda of our governments’

image showing the earth surrounded by digital networks
image from https://pixabay.com/en/network-earth-block-chain-globe-3537401/

I would suggest higher education also has a role to play. The undergraduates of today are the citizens of the future, which will be digital in ways we don’t yet know or understand. They should be given opportunities to develop digital graduate attributes which not only develop confidence with online environments but include opportunities to raise awareness of the impact of digital practice. This should be critically examined and promoted in ways which are accessible and inclusive because the digital is political.

The internet is about power and all students should have time to explore questions about who holds this power and what is done with it to affect the lives of others.

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

Walk down any high street, take public transport, sit in a pub or a café and its clear how connectivity rules. The mobile device is ubiquitous. Not 100% but enough to represent social transformation.  In less than two decades we’ve become digitally connected, with everything done online being tracked, recorded and monitored. Data about our online activity underpins all internet transactions. Online lives are exposed through browser histories with all transactions leaving permanent digital footprints. Bentham’s panoptican has been reinvented for a digital society. The all seeing eye is virtual.

Orwell and Foucault were right!

image showing the panopticon
image from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault-disciplineandpunish-panopticism-html

The early pioneers of the world wide web saw it as an opportunity to create democracy and give everyone a voice, in particular those previously silenced. While  evidence shows there are places where this has happened, the fact remains that patterns of internet access mirror existing forms of marginalisation.  Digital exclusion is a 21st century form of discrimination where those without equitable access are disempowered. But this is not the only problem society faces.

TBL identifies three sources of dysfunction affecting today’s web:

  • Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  • System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of
  • Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

The Contract for the Web declares ‘governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone.’ It calls for everyone to commit to a number of principles. Taking a few minutes to read and sign up is to make a commitment towards understanding what you do online matters.

google icon seen through a magnifying glass

image from https://pixabay.com/en/magnifying-glass-google-76520/

The contract is not only aimed at governments and corporations, there are individual responsibilities for citizens who can agree to the following.

  • Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
  • Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

For every advantage the internet offers, there are disadvantages. The internet is a mirror of society with all its benefits and horrors. If we want to make a positive difference, we can commit to ensuring our use of the internet prioritises those values which promote public good.

As internet users, we all have a responsibility to ensure not only equality of access but attention to the ways that access is used.

As the web reaches the age of 30, this week is an opportune time to raise discussion and debate about these issues. Visiting the Contract for the Web would be useful place to begin.

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

Will the new Accessibility Regulations make any real difference?

closed padlock on a shut dor

On 23 September, 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive became law. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 calls for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to meet an accessibility requirement. While not explicitly referring to ‘Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), course documents, and video recordings of lectures’ as listed by Wonkhe the need for online content to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (WCAG 2.0) strongly suggests this is the case.

However, it isn’t obvious.

The majority of media coverage I’ve seen so far prioritises the technical structures of websites and mobile apps. Neither Jisc’s Accessible Organisations or Gov.uk’s Make your public sector website or app accessible make explicit reference to resources for teaching and learning.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

So already I’m confused. Exactly what does the law say with regard to the day-to-day digital documents uploaded to institutional VLEs?

It seemed I had to do what my first supervisor always advised – read the original text. I started with the European Directive.

Ignoring the paradox of centre alignment, capital letters and fully justified paragraph text!

There are two references to intranets

(34) Member States should be able to extend the application of this Directive to other types of websites and mobile applications, in particular intranet or extranet websites and mobile applications not covered by this Directive which are designed for and used by a limited number of persons in the workplace or in education….

Paragraph 37 was more helpful with regard to accessibility requirements.

(37)

The four principles of accessibility are: perceivability, meaning that information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive; operability, meaning that user interface components and navigation must be operable; understandability, meaning that information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable; and robustness, meaning that content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. (my emphasis)

So there it is!

If content has to be robust it has to be accessible.

It seems the detail is in the exemptions. The Directive refers to the content of extranets and intranets while the UK statute, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations also list content under the exemptions.

(2) ‘These Regulations do not apply to the following content of a website and mobile application of a public sector body

  • office file formats published before 23rd September 2018…
  • pre-recorded time-based media published before 23rd September 2020.

Office file formats are defined as ‘a document in a format that is not intended primarily for use on the web and that is included in web pages, such as Adobe Portable Document Format, Microsoft Office documents or their open-source equivalents.’

It sounds like everything uploaded to a VLE has to comply.

The law came into force this week. All new content has to be compliant within one year and existing websites within two years..

I should be delighted, I think.

black silhouette of a person juming for joy against a background of words meaning delight

Instead, I’m not sure what real difference this will make.  Accessibility is an attitude as much as a practice. It’s complex.  While the new law makes it clear the structures of websites and apps must be accessible, it could have done more to define the nature of the digital content it applies to.

PDF, Word, PowerPoint, audio and video are probably the most frequently used file formats by staff who teach and support learning.  Is the law really saying each of these have to be accessible i.e. follow WCA2 and be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust? If so it would be useful to see this stated more explicitly.

MS Office logos

I have questions.

What about teaching and learning material on institutional blogs, or student work posted on sites provided by universities, or feedback given using audio or video on a VLE?

Changing practice requires a sound rationale. You shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to understand the law but this is how it feels with regards to the Regulations .

I feel bad about my lack of enthusiasm but revisiting the Digital Soapbox  shows some of the breadth and scale of digital exclusion issues.

These posts go back eight years. What has changed?

Digital inaccessibility is the scandal of 21st century. The social model with regard to the built environment is broken every day. Categories of ‘disablement’ grow incrementally year on year, while support for equal opportunities for access and participation gets less.

black and white image of a wheelchair on the edge of a kerb

Digital exclusion is part of larger structured attitudes towards difference and diversity. For all legislation is needed as a baseline, I’m not sure these new Accessibility Regulations will make a great deal of difference to day-to-day practice.

Lee Fallin and I have been looking for ways to support digitally inclusive literacy and developed this poster suggesting changes in habits with digital content e.g. selecting a good colour contrast and a readable font.

Following the tips on Designing for diverse learners could make a big difference to how students access text, images and multimedia. The new Accessibility Regulations are big on structures but vague on content. Ensuring accessible resources comes down to the basics with text and image. This is our starting point and the poster is freely available to anyone who wants to use, reuse or repurpose it.

Accessibility was a fundamental ambition of the early web pioneers.

‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ Tim Berners Lee (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  Daniel Dardailler (1997) W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Project Manager Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal.Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIDE/f1.htm 

Twenty years on digital content is more inaccessible than ever.

Will these regulations make any real difference?

Hating to say it, but I’m not sure they will.

Please, somebody tell me I’m wrong!

Start the week backwards #ALTC #femedtech

We look ahead and forget the value of looking behind.

It’s ALT time again.

green nd white ALT logo

If you’re involved with technology for teaching and learning, then ALT is the place to be. Of all my networks, it never fails to deliver. My first ALT conference was Rethinking the Digital Divide It was 2008. The place  was the University of Leeds. Speakers included George Siemens, Gilly Salmon, Jane Hart and Hans Roslin. Ten years on, the ALT 2018 programme is still full of wonderful things.

Logo for Certified Member of ALT acreditation as a learning technologist

I’m looking out for A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018 with Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell.  I read Catherine’s accompanying blog post Reflecting before ALT and was struck by the crossovers with my own life.

We’re all unique women and this is an opportunity for us to have a voice. We’ve lived and worked through great transitions in communicative and collaborative practice. Our voices are based on years of experience. We know where we’ve come from and that matters.

Catherine and Frances will examine some of the key themes of ALTC during the past 25 years (particularly in the areas of Open/Active Learning and Community/Communities of Practice) and explore how personal experiences intersect and compare.

The personal is political. This is about making change happen.

rosie the riveteer

One of the subheadings in Catherine’s Personal Reflection is Community Education. It was one of many resonance points and the driver for this post. How many others have experienced Community Ed’s potential for transformation and bitterly regret the closure of  part-time learning paths for adults.

This personal, feminist, critical retrospective has power.

I’m responding to be part of the experience. The voices of women are still too often silenced but we have the technology to challenge this. The potential for liberating silenced voices must be realised and we can contribute towards making it happen.

What matters iswe remain vigilant of the fact that access and usage are still divided and diverse.

Personal reflection, 1989- 2018

1989 – youngest child at school, I enrolled on my first degree. Applied Social Science.  It was a transformative experience. As higher education should be. When I graduated in 1992, the libary catalogue was a card index file and assignments written by hand. There was a computer room. I learned Wordstar. Lotus. DOS. In 1989 I enrolled at Hull College of Further Education, which became Humberside Polytechnic, then the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. All in three years. I offer this to show I’ve lived through not only digital change, but the reconstruction of higher education as well.

man with arms outstretched by the river humber and humber cridge

I began my degree as a mature student, wife and mother, commuting 60 miles a day to study. I’d given up my safe civil service career in London to start a family and move back home, to the north. How many women can identify with that?

During my degree I got divorced.

Higher education can have this effect.

I knew someone in the same situation, who was also commuting and struggling with single parenthood. At the time it made sense to pool resources so by the end of my degree, I was living in the city and realising feminism had problems.

Children have to be looked after, all the time, and in particular when they’re poorly and off school . Food has to be bought and prepared. School uniforms washed and ironed. My career dreams faded in the glare of reality. Regardless of gender, I learned the parent with the least earning potential gets the childcare and someone has to clean the bathroom.

bathroom
image from https://pixabay.com/en/bathroom-bathroom-interior-design-1085991/

Adult and Community Education – it fitted with the school week and holidays. This was the time of the European Social Fund and money was splashing around for computer training.  Couldn’t afford a second car so I rode a push bike 60 miles a week to all my sessions across the city. I was known as the biking tutor. An early adopter of literacy and math support using computers, I ran RSA Word Processing sessions, CLAIT, Desk Top Publishing et. al., set up Computers for the Terrified, for Women Returners, for those changing careers. DITTO (Disabled Information technology Training Opportunities) was my highlight; a ground level room in an accessible building. Digital doors had opened. It seemed everyone wanted the affordances of the internet but it was too biased for this to happen.

MS Windows 3.1 was a disaster.

Widows 3.1 screen shot
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_3.1x#/media/File:Windows_3.11_workspace.png

Tim Berners Lee wrote about the potential of an accessible internet for digital democracy. Well, tell that to Bill Gates. DOS had so much potential for equality of access and use while the GUI, with its visual icons and tricky mouse navigation, excluded whole sections of the population. This narrow range of access criteria has continued.

I wrote to Bill Gates.

He didn’t reply.

2000 – higher education – my entry role was a widening participation project officer, building virtual links for partner schools and colleges. Then the university moved and I began a 100 mile a day commute to the new campus and a new role in an education development team.

panopticon

image from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault-disciplineandpunish-panopticism-html

Hello Foucault…

A self-funded MA in Gender Studies led me to Butler’s troubling of gender  and concepts of performativity. I revisited Goffman’s perfomance of self and applied it to the construction of digital identity (long before social media happened).  I read Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality. They turned my world upside down and blew my mind. Postmodernism had its problems but shouldn’t be totally dismissed. It taught us to break the binary, understand langage as semiotics and shone much needed light onto structured inequality.

postmodernism spelt out in letters

I developed Uveitis. The treatment impaired my vision and I learned about inaccessible digital design.

As a volunteer, I supported people with sight loss to use computers and shop online – learning even more about the parameters of digital exclusion.  I wrote to the government complaining about Universal Credit and how those without digital access would be discriminated against.

The govenment promoted library access to PCs as a solution but in my home town, this was limited to one hour a day. The system knew if you tried to get on at a different library and shut you out – all the time you were online, a clock was counting down the minutes in the corner of the screen. How many people knew about this?

open watch showing inner movement

I could go on all day…

Changes, in terms of the VLE, mobile devices, social media etc but also in the wider reconstruction of HE, are all reinforced by those who don’t remember it being any different, while the wider social impact of the internet is universal.

This is why I welcome those with a voice to speak out, to speak from wisdom, born of experience, of years of reading, reflecting, writing about higher education and digital technology. I believe the need for developing critical digital literacies, which include these issues of exclusion and bias, has never been greater. Without this happening, whole generations will make assumptions about access and use. They will mistake the mass of personal opinion they’re exposed to on a daily basis, from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter etc,  for knowledge and truth. Google et. al. are doing nothing to stop this. I’ve seen the algorithms change over the years. Careful choice of search terms could get you close to where you wanted to be. No more. Today it’s all surface stuff, paid ads and other forms of marketing not to mention the darkeness of the deep web. The internet is mirroring society. Black Mirror is worth watching.

We need to talk about what’s happening and how higher education can ensure students are equipped to understand and face the digital challenges ahead.

Thank you Catherine and Frances, for taking the steps towards making this happen.

image of a long empty road
Route image from https://pixabay.com/en/road-highway-route-asphalt-journey-691124/

 

 

 

 

 

landing a jumbo jet on a postage stamp

image from  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Aviation/Selected_picture#/media/File:Inverted_Jenny.jpg

Some blog posts bubble and brew for months.

Others burst out of nowhere – like this one.

It started earlier today with a tweet…

HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) posted a blog piece on admissions How to land a jumbo jet on a postage stamp

Good title, great hook.

HEPI is a think tank; a research institutes with a remit to underpin policy with evidence. Some think tanks are funded by government bodies and clearly positioned left or right of centre. HEPI claims to be the UK’s only ‘independent think tank devoted to higher education’.

banner from HEPI blog site

The jumbo jet on the postage stamp was about admissions. Author Nick Hillman recently explored this in a Guardian peice which referred to ‘an explosion in unconditional offers, where a university wants a student so much it doesn’t mind what A-level results they achieve‘.  These days, HEI set admissions criteria and places can now be offered on the basis of predicted grades rather than actual ones (despite a 2016 report by UCL and UCU suggesting only 16% of predictions were accurate).

It’s the students fees wot dun it.

Admissions has become a market place. There, I’ve used the language of commodification, of students as consumers, or even worse, customers. Well, I believe, I really believe, there’s enough people working in HE who still see it as more, so much more than a product to be bought and sold.

What doesn’t help is uncritical use of language, for example the HEPI piece referring to institutions and prospective students as buyers and sellers.

So I tweeted so say I felt disappointed at what appeared an uncritical use of language.

The phrase in my head was ‘public good’. What happened to the discourse of ‘higher education for the public good’?

PG refers to services which benefit society without citizens necessarily having to pay for them. A university for the public good is an institution charged with developing the citizens of the future, in a socially democratic society, and upholds the principles of social justice and equality.

There was a time when going to university was free. Sounds crazy now but I took my first degree just as student loans began. It was 1990 and I was one of the first to take advantage. It made all the difference. I’d become a single parent; relationship breakdown being an unacknowledged side-effect of higher education which no one talks about. The student loan meant I could finish my degree and still feed the kids. So in a way I paid for my education but it was nothing compared to the debt students put themselves in today, and the debts my own childrn and their partners are paying off.

Commonly quoted examples of public good include municipal gardens, national parks and lighthouses. They exist to make our lives better, safer, more fulfilling. A university for the public good is about equipping  graduates to take up public office and care about a fair and just society, one with equal rights and opportunities.

HEPI replied saying thanks for the feedback. But wouldn’t it be wrong, this close to results day, to pretend we have anything other than the system we do when people need help making choices?

I struggle to accept the reduction of higher education to a buyer and seller’s market.

There’s a number of ways to look at 21st century society. They include the fictional lenses; 1984 by George Orwell (1949) and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). There are many versions of the aphorism ‘fiction is the lie which tells a truth’ and both these novels contain resonance.

In Orwell’s dystopian vision, media messages were readjusted at regular intervals to suit the power structures of the day i.e. the construction of fake news and false truths, while wherever you were, whatever you did – Big Bother was watching you

OR

Huxley’s Brave Bew World of Hypnopaedia, sleep control aimed at persuading the population to remain in soma-induced highs, a drug freely provided by the government to induce semi-permanent states of bliss in a society where drugs and sex were the only sources of entertainment.

Which would you prefer?

HEPI says it’s an independent think tank but referring to universities as sellers and students as buyers sounds more like buy-in than reminaing neutral. Systems are constructed to support dominant mechanisms of power and control, in this instance capitalism and a free market economy. I don’t deny higher education is being commodified and HEI have to adapt to survive, but language is a powerful reinforcer of ideology and people in positions of influence should take care over their choice of words.

I still believe in the power of higher education to change not only individual lives for the better but as a proactive  voice calling for a fairer more equal society.

Thanks for the reply I tweeted back.  My worry is the risk of accepting ‘the system’ is to construct the degree as an ‘off the shelf’ product for purchase when knowledge acquisition can be complex and challenging as well as a potentially transformative life experience

HEPI ‘liked’ my reply but the conversation stopped there, but it’s still going on inside my head.

The stamp image at the top of this blog, the inverted jenny, was mistakenly printed in the wrong position; an error which became worth a fortune, showing how in the midst of darkness, there may be light ahead.

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 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