Being on the edge of things

In an archive edition of Monitor (1964) Philip Larkin talks about Hull being ‘a little on the edge of things’ and how he ‘quite liked being on the edge‘.  Hull is my home. I know about being on the edge and when it comes to my PhD it’s the same story. I need to  find a research community and when it comes to my subject, Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), I don’t know where that is.

So who am I and what am I doing? it’s back to the TEL People. In previous posts I’ve written about their tribes and territories in terms of identity and language.  Today I’m reflecting on TEL research. Who’s doing it and where do TEL People go research support?

a plant surviving behind barbed wire

It was no surprise I was the only one at the University of Northampton’s postgraduate induction week to be researching online education or how out of 6 of us within the School of Education, I’m the only one researching outside of the compulsory sector. I call my research educational but the educational research discipline has never felt like home.  For years I’ve been writing about the loneliness of the long distance learner and already at Northampton I feel like I’m on the edge of things again.

For the PhD this week I’ve been reading the disciplines and discipline of educational research by David Bridges. As assessor for the REF, Bridges looked at the diversity of disciplinary approaches to educational research (ER). He asks if ER should be seen as a single subject or are there more benefits to adopting a multi-disciplinary identity. Applying either to my own research assumes it already sits within a discipline but I don’t know where to find it.

image of a maze

The word discipline carries the idea of unique qualities. This is where Becher’s first work on academic tribes and territories began. Based on research carried out in the 1980s, it was a time when you were defined by your subject. You were a sociologist, psychologist, archaeologist. If you didn’t have an …ology you were a chemist, physicist, geographer or historian. Your ideological home then shaped the ways in which you conducted research inquiries. The second edition (2001) looked beyond the traditional hold disciplines had over research epistemologies. It brought in influences from learning and teaching alongside the shift to more practice-based as well as interdisciplinary programmes. This reflected the changing HE landscape and by the 3rd edition (2012) Trowler was suggesting epistemological essentialism no longer suited the complexity of HE.

So the idea of a single disciplinary community is dead. Or is it? Bridges concludes by asking if the disciplines themselves contained intrinsic research validity which is weakened by adopting a multidisciplinary approach. The debate continues but where does TEL fit in?

finding-a-home-pixabay

Finding a home for my PhD has always been a problem. In spite of it dealing with sector-wide issues around blended learning, no one has wanted it. It’s a touch ironic how a 3 year study of the attitudes of academic staff towards digital pedagogy and practice is so unloved. Maybe if TEL was recognised as a discipline in its own right it might gain more respect. As it is, TEL People tend to be classified as techies (when we’re not) and our outputs seen as less valuable than the related disciplines like education and computing science where we’re most often shoehorned in to fit.

It’s clear there’s more to read and reflect on with regard to disciplinary difference and the location of TEL. Trowler (2014) writes about strong and moderate essentialist approaches while Neuman, Parry, and Becher (2002) allocate disciplines into Pure, Applied, Hard and Soft; binaries which inevitably contain implications of preference. In this taxonomy, Technology is Hard Applied while Education is Soft Applied an TEL crosses both boundaries so straight away there’s an epistemological clash.

house on the edge of a jetty

I’m sure that where ever I find my TEL home, it’s still going to be on the edge of things.


Bridges, D. (2006) The disciplines and discipline of educational research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40 (2) pp 259–272

Neuman, R., Parry, S., & Becher, T. (2002). Teaching and learning in their disciplinary contexts: A conceptual analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 27(4), 405–417.

Trowler, P. (2014) Depicting and researching disciplines, strong and moderate essentialist approaches. Studies in Higher Education. 39:10. 1720-1731


All images from pixabay


TEL-People, language and poetry

social media icons pixabay

With regard to TEL-Tribes I’ve gone a bit anthropological. Not as in going back through the centuries because TEL-People are relatively new but other defining features of an anthropological study include physical characteristics, environmental and social relations, and above all, culture.

Two previous posts The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL-People and Why don’t I speak French explored what it means to be afflicted blessed with the acronym TEL. The story continues and today’s post is about communication.

TEL people speak a number of languages.

There are layers of technology language starting with code and ending with Help-desk-speak. TEL-People might be positioned anywhere on this continuum. Then there are the languages of teaching and of how students learn from multiple perspectives i.e. staff who teach and support learning, everyone else and students themselves. TEL-People need to be multi-lingual and segue from one to another in chameleon fashion. The problem is how the language of technology tends to align to a positivist view of the world while everyone else tends towards more interpretative approaches.

Compare these.

  • Illegal object
  • Address violation
  • Bad Command
  • Abort – Retry – Fail

with

  • Well, it all depends what you mean by
    • technology enhanced learning
    • student engagement
    • pedagogic innovation
    • excellence in teaching

aw-snap

Where language complicates issues the TEL-People can get caught up in the misunderstandings of others.  In a sector where words matter, there is a tendency for some to seek out a more obscure vocabulary in order to demonstrate their academic significance. At a time when more people than ever are being offered the opportunity to experience a higher education, should we not be seeking to simplify communication. rather than complexify  it.

There’s an art and a skill to clear writing. Not dumbing down but looking for ways to transmit messages unambiguously which don’t have the reader reaching for a dictionary or simply giving up. TEL-People tread a fine line between the binary approach of technology, black or white, yes or no, and the endless shades and permutations of educational research.

creativehesimonlancaster
Image by Simon Rae 

Academia is an environment which is always looking for new ways to say old things. On the CreativeHE Community this week  the topic is Exploring Creative Pedagogies and Learning Ecologies. One question asked was the difference between ‘pedagogies‘ and ‘ecologies‘ compared to ‘creative teaching methods‘ and ‘learning environments‘. As a TEL-Person I thought they were different ways of saying the same things. Crossing disciplines in my work I see this often. Maybe by re-framing what we already have in new sets of clothes we can encourage people to review and rethink what has gone before. Or maybe it just alienates. This is the problem with language. Meaning and interpretation are not always the same and when it comes to learning and teaching the TEL-People have to be at home within the full range of potential possibilities.

It’s not too far a leap from the elitism of words to poetry. Yes, TEL-People can be poets too…

School nearly killed verse for me.  Alexander Pope did not translate well to an inner city comprehensive.  The curriculum today is more contemporary but for too many people school was the beginning and the end of poetry for pleasure and fun.

mouth1

Sam Illingworth and I aim to change this. Every Friday lunch time we will be bringing you a poem to have with your sandwiches or chips. Subscribe to our site https://poetryfeedhe.wordpress.com or find us on Twitter #poetryfeedHE for opportunities to read, reflect and share your thoughts. Yes, PoetryfeedHE begins today.

‘You could do much worse than have lunch with a verse.’

We hope you’re hungry!

Why don’t I speak French?

page of french text

Why don’t I speak French? I learned it at school and went to French night class – twice. For 10 years I car-shared with a colleague who was fluent in French. What can I show for it today other than  un, deux, trois, and Je m’appelle Sue.

There’s a connection with speaking French and my PhD.  I’m at the University of Northampton’s Postgraduate Induction week. UoN are moving to a new Waterside Campus and changing their learning and teaching. Leaving behind the traditional f2f lecture, they’re adopting a blended approach via greater use of digital tools. Sounds exciting but it would do wouldn’t it – I’m a VLE advocate and at risk of extinction. There aren’t many of us left.

I’ve met my PhD supervisors; Ale Armellini and Ming Nie. Ale is the Director of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in HE and both Ale and Ming worked at Leicester with Gilly Salmon in the days of the Media Zoo. They have digital provenance and talking to Ale is like sharing a language – in a good way. He gets what I’m doing and this doesn’t happen often.  Ale suggests learning online involves a move from literacy to competency to fluency and we should aim to be bilingual, seamlessly transferring from one environment to another. Online. Offline. Online. Bourdieu comes to mind. A habitus binary. Digital fluency as a form of cultural capital. Digital capital.

Parlez-vous francais? written in chalk on a blackboard

So why don’t I speak French? I don’t have to. I don’t want to. If I were lost in France it would be different but I’m not so I don’t.

My PhD is about technology enhanced learning (TEL). It explores how staff transfer their f2f practice to online environments. Based on my TELEDA courses, it shows how resistance to VLE can be reduced by adopting immersive approaches to TEL support.

The irony is this research into digital resistance has been so difficult to home. One institution changed my role, wiping off ten years of  TEL work  and ending my TELEDA courses. Another rejected my PhD along with three years of data saying they had no supervision. It’s a year since my Thesis Whisperer debut on how supervision issues have haunted me (Know Your Limits). Ale is the first supervisor in five years to have a relevant TEL background. There’s another irony in how all these blocks on the PhD journey reinforce its message; digital divides on campus continue to separate the digital and non-digital speakers.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

The motivation for my PhD was to explore staff resistance to TEL. My approach was to put them into a digital environment and use that medium for critical reflection. I believed a supported immersive experience would make a difference. A bit like taking them to France with a phrase book and a fluent French speaker to intermediate if necessary. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the TEL-People and how we are a unique tribe with our own territory. https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-invisible-tribes-and-territories-of-the-tel-people Maybe there is something about our language which I need to consider too.

dandilion growing out of parched ground

TEL-People are fluent with TEL-Speak and TEL-Beingness. We show, tell and demonstrate from our digital positions but where do we involve?  I have an ongoing battle with the use of the word ‘training’ with regard to technology. We do not train we teach. If we don’t have knowledge about how people learn then we should do.  TELEDA was built around sharing, discussion, collaboration, synthesis and critique. It was much more time and resource heavy than providing workshops and helpsheets but made a real difference to how participants changed their own TEL practices.  TELEDA was rejected just like my research has been. The buzz phrase today is digital capabilities. The Jisc model (below)is not perfect. I’d like to see digital inclusion made explicit as as one of the elements, but it’s a good enough place to explore the multiplicity of being digital in 21st century.

jisc digital capabilities model

Twice this month I’ve stood in front of rooms of teaching staff and no one has heard of it. I would suggest TEL-People are using a language which is only spoken by a minority. Yet our role is to encourage the majority to change how they teach.  We need to ask more critical questions about what we do. We work in institutions of higher education but how well do we apply the rules of teaching and learning to our own TEL practices? Should we be looking to the teaching of languages for ideas? Meaningful adoption of change requires a cultural shift and here governance plays a part. Without it there is no impetus for change. I would learn French if I had to, just as staff at Northampton are turning to the digital because their current ways of working are changing. It’s a dramatic move and one I’ll be watching with interest.

image showing python programming language

In the meantime I’ll take back to my own TEL-People the suggestion we consider a linguistic route and approach TEL as being ‘Digital’ for speakers of other languages. Rather than see pedagogical practice as being online or offline we should see it through a bi-lingual lens as Ale suggests. After all communication is at the heart of learning and teaching wherever it takes place.

‘si au début vous ne réussissez essayer somthing diffrent’


images from https://pixabay.com