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 speed restrictions on the M1.

Four lanes of traffic should move at ease and speed 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. Time 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

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sounds of silence #DigiResHull

letter tiles spelling the words sounds of silence

Silence has a language of its own.

We say a lot without speaking. Bodies, faces, clothes, all give clues. Some messages are intentional like a smile or movement. Other times they’re not, like when you’ve tried to be engaged in a meeting and a colleague says afterwards how bored you looked!

I can usually tell if people are with me or not. Reading silence leads to decisions. Repeat a question in a different way or change the timing of an activity. This is data informed practice. Silence can evidence an agile, flexible approach while for participants, well…. higher education is about working with adults who have the capacity to make choices, and these might include choosing not to contribute.

Which leads to the sound of silence.

black and white microphone

Interpretation of silence depends on context. It might signal active engagement or be indicative of problems. Haven’t done the reading, distracted by troubles at home, disinterested or struggling with a concept. When this happens in physical spaces we can change the dynamics. Turn off the PowerPoint. Ask a different question. See if the silence changes. Are eyes watching you or the phone under the table? Is that the start of a smile? When we’re all together we can take steps to understand where silence comes from.

It’s different online.

In virtual places I’m dependent on text e.g. forum discussions or chat.  Online, all the variety of face-to-face verbal communication is lost when the medium is reduced to Times New Roman or Calibri except it’s true, capital letters really do come across as SHOUTING!

We use email and social media more than ever but meaning still gets lost, humour displaced or a sentence taken out of context so key messages are misunderstood.  But at least digital text is communication.

Silence online is different. Since the early days of the internet it’s been called ‘lurking’ and however you look at it, to lurk has negative connotations.

alternative definitions of the word to lurk

Lurking online has become a sticky concept, both in terms of definition and purpose but has retained its primary association with something socially and culturally sinister.

definitions of lurking from a dictionary

‘Is it ok to lurk?’

The question was asked in last weeks Digital Researcher Course, run by colleagues at the University of Hull and delivered via a closed VLE. Using #DigiResHull opened up discussion on Twitter and I tweeted to those I thought might have something to say. I wasn’t wrong.

Tweet asking the question Is it OK to Lurk?

Very quickly tweets arrived supporting the principle of lurking as a valid activity, for example Teresa MacKinnon‏ @WarwickLanguage tweeted about power dynamics.

‘it is a power thing, you have to take into account the teacher/student relationship and the imbalance of power there. Sometimes the only agency a learner may have in an online environment is to exercise their right to watch.’

My reply:  ‘am interested in the balance been lurking and non-participation in an activity based online task or project – at which point does legitimizing lurking become the rationale for non-engagement? I get nervousness and hesitancy about posting online but also struggle with silence.’

tweet about struggling to deal with silence as an online tutor

David White @daveowhite added this:

‘I also think recognition that ‘not speaking’ is not the same as ‘being passive’ is important’

tweet from David White suggesting lurking is passive

My reply: ‘It can be difficult to identify ‘not speaking’ compared to ‘being passive’ in particular when you are facilitating online blended/distance learning.’

The discussion faded at this point.

I tweeted I was still reflecting on ‘not speaking’ and ‘being passive’ in online places and thinking of the implications for learning design. For example, creating online activities which no one engages with results in… well…. silence.

final tweet on the issue of silence

I accept lurking online might be a valid activity but want to suggest that to lurk is a problem, in particular in groups with a purpose. The reason for this is simple. As an online facilitator I have no way of knowing what your silence means.

Online silence is too often undecipherable. Pedagogically, we know activity is key to successful learning. Content is no longer king or queen. It’s context which matters. 21st century education is less about knowledge acquisition because it’s no longer restricted to the individual expert. It’s more about what can be done with it. Effective learning experiences are built around concepts like searching, selecting, synthesising and sharing, using knowledge to support the development of situated literacies and transferable ’employability-skills’.

mixed up rubrik cube

Online silence is baffling, not least because there’s no faces to give any clues about what’s going on.

Where the software shows participants have accessed content, I’ve no idea if they’ve read and understood if direct questions or prompts are ignored. I don’t know if students are working hard and enjoying the resources, except those which ask them to interact with their peers, or are not even there. Dashboards which list login details are rarely useful. Who hasn’t been logged in all day or night on a different tab or browser window!  Advice to assess participation risks encouraging strategic approaches and not all online activity relates to accredited courses.

However you look at it, online silence is an issue.

#DigiResHull provided useful ideas why silence might be a choice and broadened my understanding of its potential legitimacy. Also, I’ve been reflecting on the possibility of a digital form of impostor syndrome (future blog alert!) but even if we understand the causes of silence, the question remains of how to design for non-participation in online places.  Face-to-face situations contain clues and when silence makes its own kind of noise there are always possible solutions.

In digital places, the sounds of silence are absent and I’m not sure where to take the discussion from here.

Postscript

After writing this blog I found two others which dealt with the same issues. Lurking has clearly been on my mind for some time!

Imposter Syndrome or Instagram Symptom

LEgo scene showing an armed police arrest

I have a new colleague whose PhD examines Imposter Syndrome in teachers.  My twitter feed has been linking me to Imposter Syndrome resources. 2018 seems to have begun on a wave of Imposter Syndrome awareness raising.

So what is it?

Imposter Syndrome is the constant feeling that wherever you are and whatever you do – you’re inadequate. Not good enough, not clever enough, you don’t deserve to be there and sooner or later someone’s going to expose you as the fundamental fake you really are.

Imposter Syndrome is a voice in your head constantly putting you down.

It’s particularly prevalent in higher education research where expectations of expertise don’t always match how you’re feeling inside.

Too easy to feel you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before others find out too. Sound familiar?

blue and red signs showing right way and wrong way

Imposter Syndrome is a mentally destructive condition. If instances are increasing, what’s triggering this explosion of self-doubt and hatred. Why have we fallen out of love with ourselves?

The web is full of suggestions and tools for coping. The affordances of a self-help Internet is one of its benefits but sometimes it feels there’s more bad than good and it’s Internet fuelled social media which is making IS worse.

image of broken heart and hands holding mobile phones

The social in social media has become all about the image. The social user creates online presence which shows how they want to be seen rather than the reality.  Photographs are no longer about the person. Instead, crafted images have become representations of desire, used to project something socially constructed as perfection.

It’s a simulation where the ‘like-ing’ game of hearts and arrows takes on a significance far beyond their red lines and circles. They, like the images they’re attached to, have become what Baudrillard would have recognised as empty signs. The meaning has shifted from the appearance of the sign to what the sign has come to represent.

cartoon characters from an opera

The idea of presenting ourselves as how we want to be seen is not new. Over 50 years ago Goffman wrote about people as performers. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life he likened us to actors on the stage, dressing up in whatever costumes are appropriate for the different roles we play. Althusser claimed we all have a set of identities which feel comfortable. When we find them it’s like someone hailing us in a busy street; a familiar face and voice, which stands out from the crowd and is comfortable because we know them.

Social media has become the perfect psychological storm.

storm clouds

There are too many stories about young people bullied and suicidal over online behaviour. Living in a heightened state of awareness, mobile devices have become carriers of extreme joy when digital popularity soars or the depths of despair when they’re unliked, arrowed down, or subject to unpleasant status  text which spreads like wildfire so it seems the whole world of people you know and those you’ve never met are all against you.

Or the image of you.

Who are you anyway?

Which brings us back to Imposter Syndrome and the feeling you’re not good enough. instagram logo

In a world of digital image and false representation, we should rename imposter syndrome as Instagram Symptom.

Social media creates loops where signs are no longer symbolic of the real. Instead, they are exchanged for other signs which are empty and self-referential. The social media image shows an untruth, a falsity. It’s a simulation which has moved from being a copy to being a replacement. When Baudrillard wrote about representation in a postmodern world, he claimed simulations are dangerous.

The danger lies here. An obvious falsity such as a famous face dressing up or acting a role still contains a truth. We know it’s pretend. The intention to deceive is apparent. A simulacrum, as Baudrillard described the postmodern world of media simulations, was more than a deception, it signified the destruction of the original which it replaced. The risk we face with digital images is when they become more real than the person arranging, adapting and adjusting them.

imag showing a blue bird in a twitter egg

Baudrillard died in 2007. Facebook was new (2004) and Twitter still a baby (2006). Many of his ideas were controversial (Gulf War, Twin Towers etc) but his conception of hyper-reality, where fiction is indistinguishable from fact, is scarily true for the phone-talking-while-walking millions for whom social media is the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night and most of the hours in between. Hyper has become the reality of choice.

 

Social media tree

Just as education doesn’t teach critical digital literacies in the way it teaches text and numbers, we don’t teach visual digital literacy – but we should.  Either Imposter Syndrome is increasing or more people are talking about it. Either way, it seems symptomatic of 21st century desires for digital perfection.

We need to remind ourselves we are real people and the real matters more than the fantasy. No matter how beguiling it might appear – it’s a lie!


If you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome these links might help.

Sakulku1, J. and Alexander, J. (2011) The Impostor Phenomenon International Journal of Behavioral Science 2011, Vol. 6, No.1, 73-92  http://bsris.swu.ac.th/journal/i6/6-6_Jaruwan_73-92.pdf 


images from pixbay.com
CC0 Creative Commons

Baby Tweet from http://365icon.com/icon-styles/social/blue-bird-twitter-icon/ 


 

 

 

be the change

laptop with the countries of the world

The end of 2017 has been marked by a two incidents. First was the laptop. A complaint was made about me using one in a meeting – ergo I was not paying attention. A week later the issue of devices in meetings came up again. Different context but same person who clearly feels strongly about the subject. I have some sympathy. Over the years presenting/lecturing has changed. These days we look over a sea of bent heads rather than people’s faces but I believe banning devices is not the answer. We need to find ways to work with them rather than deny their presence and affordances.

pink and green direction arrows

This time I spoke up. Explained a laptop need not signify Facebook or catching up with email – for me it was like a reasonable adjustment – when my eyes are bad it’s easier to make notes in a strong, bold font than to write by hand.

Hold that thought…

The second incident was a conversation with a lecturer who said it isn’t the job of academics to show students how to use the VLE or develop digital literacy.  This explained a lot. Here I was face-to-face with the on-campus digital divide.

Again, I have sympathy. Academics have seen big changes in HE.  The spectre of  the internet lurks in dark corners. There’s no avoiding digitisation and not everyone lives comfortably in the digital world.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

There are those who blog, tweet, join #lthechat, network online, and generally support the use of education technologies in a variety of ways and means.

There are those who object to the use of mobile devices and don’t see developing digital graduate attributes as part of their remit.

book, phone and keyboard

This takes us back to the tribes and territories of the TEL People. How like attracts like and if your role is about technology, the chances are you  tend to work with staff who use it willingly. The more digitally shy won’t come to your lands or speak your language and on those rare occasions we venture into their worlds, we’re often viewed with suspicion. We’re the techies, geeks, magicians of code with esoteric skills. We are Othered.

This digital divide – cue lightbulb – means embedding digital graduate attributes into modules, or using VLE tools which support collaborative online working, is not going to happen without structural change.

Right?

It’s not going to happen if things stay the way they are.

image of keyboard and social media icons from pixabay

This is where we are:

  • 30 years of computers in education.
  • 20 years of VLE at universities.
  • 10 years of Web 2.0 style social media supporting user-generated content and file sharing.

In the second decade of 21st century, I get a complaint about using a laptop in a meeting.

Christmas is coming and mobile devices are high on present lists. The age at which children get connected drops every year.  For all its critique, the phrase ‘digital native’ actually fits because they’ve never known an analogue world.

Typical ‘fresh-from-school’ students arrive with a set of digital social practices, honed through their teenage years, replicated and reinforced by family and friends, taken advantage of by media advertisers. In short, their internet experience mirrors the society they live in.

a borken mirror with the text Black Mirror in white capital letters

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is either prescient or stating the bleedin’ obvious. Of course this is what lies ahead. If you haven’t watched the series you should. Be scared, very scared – but at least be prepared for the future and understand the value of critique.

In the same way car engines have become more mysterious, people engage in digital life with no understanding of how it works. It just does. In the way the ignition fires the engine, our devices connect and our personalised digital landscape unfolds. But not for everyone.

Many working in HE don’t have digital footprints and rarely use the internet for anything other than email or access to university systems.

mobil phon with a landscape of trees and a castle emerging from the screen

They’re not alone. A recent Lloyds Bank report states “More than 11 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills. One out of every 11 completely avoids the internet.”  while the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee reports a digital skills crisis. There’s more research about people not being online than how to encourage the critical skills and capabilities of those already there.

What can we do?

As learning technologists, as enhancers of learning and teaching – with or without technology (but in 2018 it’s likely to be there) – we have a responsibility to bridge on-campus digital divides. Its not just reaching the digitally shy and resistant, it’s promoting critical digital skills as being integral to other HE literacies and specialisms.

laptop wth screen showing the words Fake News

We have to find ways to start conversations about digital graduate attributes and digital CPD for staff. We need to leave our Territories of TEL and get into the heart of the university. Align our work with that of the learning development and academic practice teams, with those talking about learning gain, employability awards, TEF work and not forgetting the importance of the student voice in all of this.

Remember the thought from the top of the page – the one about reasonable adjustments?

TEL people need to talk about inclusive practice, how digital technologies can widen and support access but at the same create barriers. The sector is moving towards inclusion as the norm, reasonable adjustments as universal design. Watch this space. In January the Digital Academic soapbox will be out.

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

Let’s be the change we want to see in the world.

Rethink the relationships between institutions, staff and students.

Revisit our digital lenses. They need a clean and polish every now and then and sometimes a shift in their focus.

The time has come.

Seasons greetings to one and all.

a merry christmas message

the language matters of digital pedagogy and learning wheels

I’ve said it before…

……….will say it again…

             …….language matters!

Neil Postman – not from the prescient Amusing Ourselves to Death –  but a later book Technopoly (1993) called language ‘pure ideology’ and claimed ‘It instructs us not only in the names of things but, more important, in what things can be named …of course, most of us, most of the time, are unaware of how language does its work’ (p123)

Postman goes on to assert the ideological agenda of language, while hidden from view, is nevertheless deeply integrated within our personalities and world view. ‘The great secret of language is to appear as natural and neutral.’ (p124).

So – think before you speak.

Language matters.

This week I was asked what ‘pedagogy first‘ means.

In TEL-World it’s the heretical alternative to the determinist ‘technology first‘ approach. Rather than make the practice fit the tech, pedagogy first is about starting with the design of the programme, module or activity. What are your learning outcomes? How will you assess them? What activities are most appropriate?

A pedagogy first approach, which  might or might not be enhanced by technology, is appearing here, there and everywhere. Notably the QAA Subscriber Research Series 2016-17 which looked at the relationship between digital capability and teaching excellence. This integrative review explored ‘what infrastructure and strategies are necessary to support effective use of technology enabled learning ’. Findings were presented as seven overarching principles:

  1. start with pedagogy every time
  2. recognise that context is key
  3. create a digital capability threshold for institutions
  4. use communities of practice and peer support to share good practice
  5. introduce a robust and owned change management re strategy 3
  6. develop a compelling evidence-informed rationale
  7. ensure encouragement for innovation and managed risk-taking.

Adopt a pedagogy/learning design first approach and everything else will follow. The HEPI report Rebooting learning for the digital age, appears to put technology first,  but cites the QAA report and says ‘TEL initiatives will only lead to excellent teaching if they are applied with a focus on pedagogy, aligned with strategy, and suited to the institutional, learner and discipline context.’ (p16, my emphasis)

If all linguistic comprehension is framed by context, where can pedagogy and technology be most effectively aligned?

The Amazon locker at Hull has delivered The Learning Wheel; A Model of Digital Pedagogy by Deborah Kelsey and Amanda Taylor. A slim little volume which packs a lot into its chapters. Well referenced and illustrated, it takes the core concepts of the Learning Wheel – Collaboration, Communication, Learning Content and Assessment – and applies them to the principle of digital pedagogy.

So what is digital pedagogy?

Debbie and Amanda tell us ‘Like most things in the education system, is a fluid and emerging concept’ (p2) For me, it’s acknowledgement of how – with some thoughtful adjustment – pedagogy and technology can be aligned.

Digital pedagogy acknowledges and accepts the changes technology is making to academic practice.

…or if it isn’t – and there are still places where the digital has yet to arrive –  it should be.

image taken from the film close encounters of the third kind showing a spaceship over a mountain

I’ve had a close encounter of the technophobic kind.

It left me wondering this…

  • How long can you
    •  ignore the presence of the internet/world wide web?
    • refuse to acknowledge the changes in traditional modes of communication and collaboration
    • insist on analogue models of teaching, learning, research practice?
    • resist the digital shift?
  • How many more reasons do you need when…
    • employers are looking for digital graduate attributes
    • offering a choice of digital format supports inclusivity
    • none of us want to sit and listen to stuff we can get online
    • most students prefer active, situated, constructivist activities

For those yet to make the digital shift, the learning wheel model of digital pedagogy is a useful place to start. The idea is you adapt the basic wheel model to suit your own practice.  Then – if you want – give it a creative commons license and share – see the Learning Wheel website for examples.

image from http://procatdigital.co.uk/learning-wheels/

Sometimes it’s hard to understand my non-digital colleagues who

It’s hard to accept how some academics continue to ban wikipedia rather than introduce it via critical digital literacies. My ‘learning design’ advice would be don’t ban but invite students to create their own stubs and peer review them.

If I were to set some digital shift tasks they’d look something like these

  • Discuss the potential for diversity of digital resources and access.
  • Compare and contrast transmissive pedagogies with constructivist ones.
  • Analyse the difference between  constructivism and constructionism.

Just saying.

Sounds like another blog post is born.

Back to pedagogy in a digital age.

Back to digital shifts.

american west covered wagon with large wheels

The learning wheel is a great analogy. Wheels go round. Again and again. They get you places. They’re open, continual, and universal. I was thinking of digital shifts as a chasm to be bridged and crossed but maybe it’s more about wheels and progression.

So thanks Deb Kellsey @DebKellsey and Amanda Taylor @AMLTaylor66  – both part of my social media network. It’s another sign of the digital shift when you meet people at an event with ‘I follow you on Twitter‘ or ‘I read your blog‘. Those not digitally connected are missing so much with regard to sharing knowledge, ideas, support and fun. Social media really is what you make it so make it work for you.

blue twitter bird

I think overall I prefer ‘learning design‘ to ‘pedagogy‘ (and avoiding the whole andragogy/heutagogy debate) but I do quite like the phrase ‘digital pedagogy‘ (maybe partly because my preference is ‘digital‘ rather than ‘technology‘) and I’m thinking the concept of the wheel might also have further mileage (!) as a research metaphor.

Part of my research is how the Community of Inquiry model of learning design might influence the development of digital capital. I’ve been considering developing digital capabilities as analogous to language learning and the processes of becoming digitally fluent.  When it comes to language –  as Postman reminded us – it’s the context which influences interpretation and the Learning Wheel model of Digital Pedagogy provides all the context anyone should need.

Let me know if you agree/disagree…


images – book covers my own – others not cited in text are from pixabay


on a scholarly approach to teaching enhancement

image of bookshelves and a mobile device showing wikipedia

I’ve meant from the start to write a post about the blog title. Why Digital Academic? Why not Digital Shifts or TEL Tells or.so on… there were enough reasons but always something else to write about instead.

18 months on, it’s come to the forefront…

I was told by a colleague this week that I’m not an academic because I don’t have an academic contract. My professional services contract defines what I do.  Since changing from an A to a PS contract I’ve wondered what the difference means in practice. What should I change?  Stop learning? Stop researching?  Look different?

cartoon image of an owl sitting on a book

We were discussing our restructure. My job description as Academic TEL Advisor always differed from the other TEL Advisors because Technology had been replaced with Pedagogy. Our recent plans for a learning design approach (which might or might not include the T word) originated from this difference. Putting pedagogy first is attracting the more digitally shy or resistant to the table – those we might not usually get to talk to.

During the restructure conversation,  I said I wanted to have scholarship made explicit in our new roles as Teaching Enhancement Advisors. By this I meant:

  • Scholarship as per the HEA’s 2015 research into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ScoTL).
  • Scholarship as in being research informed and research engaged.
  • Scholarship which includes
    • having conceptual frameworks,
    • being a ‘research-led form of professional development’
    • having ‘the potential to inform policy and practice at institutional level, for example, in career development and in the promotion and recognition of teaching excellence’ See the HEA Summary Report

Teaching excellence is everywhere these days! HE is currently on the crest of the big data wave informed TEF (or Tsunami, depending on your POV). Like it or not, the TEF is here and affects perception which in turn effects student cohorts, curriculum design, learning spaces, public engagement etc.

The TEF might be drawing attention to T&L but shouldn’t all our teaching enhancement interventions be underpinned with scholarly approaches anyway – pedagogy first rather than technology determinism?

image showing open book, glasses and mobile phone

So what does it mean to be scholarly?

I don’t think by definition it’s only a postgraduate occupation although at institutions where you already need a doctorate to become a lecturer, it’s even more important those on professional services have the opportunity to study.   Librarians do doctorates. Administrators do too.  I struggle with time constraints and self-funding but think of my PhD as a privileged opportunity to get up close and personal with the processes of knowledge construction and dissemination – the heart of the HE endeavour. A professional services contract does not and should not exclude you from professional development although where it means you have to be self-funding it does becomes discriminatory and unequal.

Back to contract status.

What difference does having (or not having) the word academic in your contract mean?  Isn’t ‘academic’ itself a state of mind? Shouldn’t we all be exercising our sociological imaginations and asking questions, making the familiar strange.*’ Isn’t being scholarly just a case of seeing the larger picture and using evidence to justify your position?

art gallery showing questions and answers processes

There’s never been a greater need for scholarly critique. The future is precarious. Climate change is happening. The bees are troubled and the internet transforming what it means to be posthuman.

There’s no escape from the social impact of the internet. Digital divides between people like myself, with physical and virtual identities, and colleagues who openly state they ‘don’t do technology’ have never been deeper. The question is what to do about it. Should institutions be insisting on digital engagement and if so – how? It all comes back to digital shifts.

cartoon showing the devil relating torture to powerpoint

I might be wrong. They may not matter – clearly they’re not relevant to some – but if you work in HE you’re connected to the student experience and I’d suggest being aware of the implications of teaching or learning in a digital age is part of what you do.

Back to the war of the words. The clinching phrase from the original conversation was ‘you may want to be on an academic contract but you’re not.‘  That’s me told then!

Am I bovered?

Having chosen to put this in the public domain it might look like I am, but tbh, so long as it isn’t detrimental, I don’t mind what I’m called. It’s more about the semantics than the status. I’ll always be a reader, thinker and writer. I’m comfortable with a ‘digital academic’ identity but also have a fundamental belief that what you do has more credibility when informed by the appropriate literature**.  Just because an employment contract says PS and not A, it should never preclude a scholarly approach.

teddy bear reading a book


*  from C Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

** Mark Carrigan offers an interesting persepctive on ‘the literature’  https://markcarrigan.net/2016/11/25/what-is-the-literature/  a topic for another blog post in the future


this week’s post is bought to you by digital procrastination

image of keyboard and social media icons from pixabay

Procrastination is something I’m good at. Very good.

I wander through the world wide web like it’s my second home – or maybe even my first I spend so much time there!

Hyperlinks are my downfall. There’s still excitement attached to them. My brain is a sponge. It doesn’t always retain what it finds but it loves a good soaking.

Hyperlinks were the brainchild of Tim Berners Lee. The internet already existed and the WWW was a way of linking individual pages and sites.  In the early days you knew you were online.  Dial up connections beeped and whirred like some giant machine coming to life and the internet being what it is, you can remind yourself exactly what this sounded like

My first computer was a second hand Tandy. I was married and living in the country. My first internet connected computer was a Gateway 486. I was divorced and a city dweller.  A degree does this to you. As passing your driving test gives you independence so taking your first degree opens your mind and like Pandora’s Box, once opened it can’t be closed again.

Today the internet/www is integral to our lives and for some, the boundaries between the real and unreal are getting confused.  During the US election there was much debate around social media and fake news/false truths. US voters told the world how they relied on Facebook and Twitter as sources of truth because they followed so many people and the majority view had to be the right one, didn’t it.

There are generations who have been born into digital life and know no other, unlike my peers who have analogue feet and roots. We were there at the beginning. My Tandy computer ran DOS, the word processor used commands like <b>strong</b>. I still have a 5 ½ inch floppy disk and sometimes use it in presentations where, as the years pass, less people know what it is,

After DOS came the Microsoft GUI and mouse. We learned to point and click, double click, drag. Now it’s touch screen and a thousand smudgy fingerprints as we tap, double tap, swipe while speech to text and text to speech alternatives continue to get more accurate every year and films like Ex Machina and Her take us to the edge of what is real and unreal – or so we think.

Should we be concerned over the line between real and unreal? Is this what we should be discussing with students? With the aptly named Second Life there were many stories of people becoming emotionally attached to online avatars and we see this today with online dating where digital identity takes on real meaning for real-world users.

Baudrillard gained notoriety for saying the Gulf War hadn’t happened. He didn’t mean it didn’t take place but that for most of us, it was a second hand experience, mediated by a digital reality which wasn’t real. It was hyperreal.

Hyperreality, as in Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle (1967) is about the confusion between real and representation, in Debord’s case this was caused by a proliferation of images. It isn’t hard to rethink this using virtual reality or even the animated posters they have on the London Underground. They’re like something out of Harry Potter they move and speak to you as though they were real people.

https://makewealthhistory.org/2008/10/28/london-undergrounds-new-digital-posters/

In Simulacra and Simulation (1981) Baudrillard described confusion between real and unreal claiming we’re mistaking digital reality for the real thing so whoever controls digital media has increasing influence over attitudes and behaviours. We are living in a state of hyperreality; hyper from the ancient greek meaning over or above as in hypersonic (faster than the speed of sound) or hyperspace as a different dimension where science fiction characters can travel at hypersonic speeds. The internet/www is known as hyperspace. Online we communicate instantly regardless of time or distance. Online we’re digital space travellers and in 2017,with instant wifi for our mobile devices, we’re increasingly taking this immediate access for granted.

What matters is having the critical digital literacies to be aware this is a construction. Documentary maker Adam Curtis describes Hypernormalisation as a politically influenced state of knowing your reality is wrong but accepting it as right because there’s no alternative.

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series also explores these boundaries through prescient scenarios involving digital shifts and realities. The digital isn’t real yet it must be if we’re all using digital communication to collaborate and make sense of the world.

This blog came about because I read this review from the Research Student Conference at the University of Northampton and was struck by how it reflected the writer’s own perception rather than what I was saying.

PhD student Sue Watling’s timely paper focused on staff attitudes towards technology-enhanced learning and discussed what this can mean from the instructor’s perspective and the processes to standardise training of such skills for teaching staff. (my emphasis)

I was talking about digital shifts yet mention technology enhanced learning and it’s interpreted ‘standardise training and skills. I come across this a lot. With regard to the digital there’s a mismatch between what I’m saying and what you’re hearing and interpreting.  This is something which needs addressing.

So this post was going to be you say training, I say teaching, you say skills I say capabilities or something along those lines, but I couldn’t even get from there to here without procrastinating a whole blog post away. Like I said, its something I’m very good at.