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. Websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies have 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 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

 

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

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