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


mini CAIeRO taster

flying blue cartoon bird

The Flying not Flapping workshop flapped a bit. Refreshments arrived – 10 cups, 20 bottles of water, no biscuits – for 30 people. Water is good for you but coffee’s essential on a Monday morning. The technology was dodgy too. Occasionally one of the five screens flashed into life but all five together wasn’t happening. Discovered the Support Desk phone discretely under the desk. Yes, right under the desk. It did get better.

Flying not Flapping was led by Ale Armellini, Director of the Institute of Learning and Teaching in HE at the University of Northampton. Ale introduced a mini CAIeRO (Creating Aligned Interactive educational Resource Opportunities) which is ‘time to talk’ about learning design (LD). CAIeRO can be applied to modules, programmes, short courses, anywhere which involves structured learning. Rather than a technology focused intervention, it addresses the learning activities of students which might or might not involve TEL. If TEL-People want to increase their reach and success rates an approach like CAIeRO is worth investigating.

TEL-People do tend to preach to the converted and can rely on the same faces turning up to events. It’s a fact universally acknowledged that labelling an initiative with ‘digital’ or ‘technology’ can be an instant turn-off. Rather than TEL first, it’s helpful to adopt learning design first. Not as snappy but design for learning should be something we all have in common – how can learning be enhanced without it?!

A full CAIeRO  usually takes two days so a mini one has to be prescriptive. It goes like this – choose a blended six week course from a given selection, create a mission statement and two key learning outcomes (revisiting ye olde Bloom in the process), decide the topics to cover, the activities the students will take part in (examples on Monday included critically assess, reflect, peer review, evaluate), build in assessment points, formative as well as summative (bearing in mind they don’t need to be all bunched up at the end) and… breathe.

trianble shwing blooms taxonomy stages

When it came to choosing activities most  included different TEL-Tools like blogs, portfolios and discussions. Just because CAIeRO isn’t technology-first doesn’t mean it gets missed out – it’s just a different way to bring it in.

There’s an emphasis on shifting culture. CAIeRO critiques content-delivery and asks students to take part in activities. You often hear staff say ‘students won’t do that‘ but if they’re arriving expecting to be lectured and given content then maybe this expectation needs to be challenged.

image showing a full lecture theatre

Adopting a LD approach is also fresh opportunity to join up the different elements of HE; to embed learning development, employability, Internationalisation, even TEL. The aim is to offer an inclusive as well as holistic experience through the programme rather than as disparate bits and pieces where students risk missing out by not realising skills support is in the library, or employability awards are in the building at the back of the campus. When you know your way around it’s easy to forget how mysterious and intimidating a university can be.  LD is about linking subject expertise with opportunities to become creative, critical and reflective while also encouraging staff to be scholarly i.e. research informed and engaged, look for evidence of impact, evaluate their teaching practice and be reassured they are doing a good job.

Poster showing full CAIeRO process

Like it or not we’ve moved into the arena of teaching excellence. Agree or not with the measurement criteria, the TEF offers a rationale for revisiting and reviewing the learning design of programmes. The T in TEF isn’t Technology.

We have to be brave to be different and TEL-People can lead the way. We can start to reach the hard to reach by leaving tech behind and talking about design instead. Find new ways to share practice. Move away from determinist approaches where technology is seen as the answer. Forget force feeding content; it isn’t going anywhere so we can focus on what students can to do with it instead. Introduce activities which involve searching, selecting, sharing and summarising content rather than being handed it on a plate like a roast dinner. Knowing what’s coming can get boring. Learning should be exciting and – dare I say – value for money. As soon as we start to see students as customers buying a degree rather than investing in a learning experience then all is lost.

Ale worked with Gilly Salmon (of emoderating and etivities fame) at the University of Leicester where the idea for CAIeRO was originally conceived as Carpe Diem. To find out more about CAIeRO at Northampton visit this blog post by Julie Usher Demystifying CAIeRO. At Hull we’re planning to put something similar in our Toolbox for Leaning Enhancement.

cards used to develop designs for learning

The cards used during the session (originally called Course Features Card Sort can be downloaded from the OULDI Learning Design Toolbox on the Jisc Design Studio   Jisc’s take on LD is a few years old but still well worth a browse around.

Jisc Design Studio logo

It feels like LD has taken a back seat in recent years, or at least gone under cover, but if you scratch the surface there’s the 7 C’s model of learning design, the D4 Appreciative Inquiry approach  and Learning Design at the OU for starters. They all involve technology – it should be hard to find learning which doesn’t in 2017 – yet you don’t often see LD on the ALT Jisc mail list or TEL on the SEDA list suggesting there’s still a divide between the worlds of education development and TEL-People.

computing technologies

TEF may be the opportunity to narrow the gap between them, prioritise scholarship and highlight the importance of evidencing impact. A LD approach to TEL could tick the TEF boxes as well as enhance the learning experience for students. Watch this space. We’re developing some exciting new ways of working and will be sharing them here.