#EDEN18 and the scholarship of TEL

 

The 27th EDEN conference brought technology and research together. I haven’t seen the phrase ‘scholarship of technology enhanced learning‘ before so am claiming authorship because #EDEN18 was research, pedagogy and technology all rolled into one.

It’s the pedagogy wot matters!

Too often pedagogic design for optimum learning is treated as a disparate topic. People teach as they were taught, or as their colleagues do, with or without technology. The time it takes to change and develop new practice is barely recognised  in workload models while education research has never been highly REF-regarded, to the extent the scholarship of our practice has been described as the Cinderella of academia.

How inspirational to be at #EDEN18, where TEL-ology and pedagogy collide. Several times I heard the question ‘Which VLE did you use?’ and realised it hadn’t even been mentioned because it wasn’t central to the message.

As someone researching the nature of digital shifts, and how academics conceptualise their practice in a digital age, it was a pleasure to be reminded of what matters i.e. the values and philosophies of higher education which brought us to where we are and keep us working in the sector. Too often these risk getting blurred or buried beneath the associated strains of ever increasing work loads. Lest we forget, higher education remains a privileged place of employment despite all the government attempts to marketise, monetise and destroy its heart.

The conference was held at the Albergo dei Poveri building of the University of Genoa.  Here, there was a shared language, albeit in multiple tongues, for example Alan Tait, Professor of Distance Education and Development at the OU, began his keynote with a reference to the Sociological Imagination and making the familar strange. good to see critical reflective questioning as core to the higher eduation experience. The keynote theme was sustainability as the new responsibility of higher education, alongside social justice and inclusion. A timely reminder of how the university was always intended for the public good, not a passive experience for consumption.

How do students learn? Through active engagment with content and context, not passive didactic pedagogies. Sessions left me inspired and tired and it wasnt just the heat. Where to find the energy to keep these values constant against a tide of capitalist consumerism and relentless state orchestrated change. These attempts at the commodificantion of knowledge have to be resisted.

The core messge from EDEN18 was even more change ahead. Increased demand for flexible chunks of learning, the breaking up of traditional degree programmes, the provison of micro-credentials through badges and certificates, the unbundling and out-sourcing of services. Think it’s bad now?  It would be easy to get scared, very scared but – I have every confidence – despite all the pressures – it remains possible to keep higher education as we want it to be. An experience for students containing all the possbilities of transformation so they leave as different people – in the best possible way – to how they arrived at the start of their journey.

Conferences are unique experiences. They offer fresh perspectives on old topics as well as exposure to alternative ones. Most of all, you’re reminded how your little spot in the world – no matter how much it can feel all-encompassing – is just one of zillions.

Then there’s the travel. Different countries take you out of your comfort zone. Arrive in Europe and everything is different; currency, food, language. You forget how much you take for granted like using a PC. I went into the room to load up my presentation. It was early and no one was around. right click is universal practice but what’s Italian for cut, copy, paste? I was sure to avoid ‘elimni’.

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be a challenge but nearly always good for you. Travel is the best educator and when combined with your research topic, not only are you exposed to new ideas in your field, there’s opportunities for validation as well. Win win. Just look at these workshop themes.

  • Developments in digital learning methodology
  • Sociocultural aspects of digital learning
  • Social media, digital collaborative learning
  • Learner needs and attitudes

Yay!

My presentation was titled Connect Disconnect – Academic Identity in a Digital Age. This was placed under the theme Learning Theory and Implementation Practice.

I talked about digital shifts and the need to reach those more digitally shy and resistant. One way could be through improved understanding of digital literacies as situated knowledge practices and the application of existing research into print and text. There’s also the power of the experiential and reflective practice to challenge and transform. My data is confirmation this can be transformational but it takes time and there’s never ever enought time.

The conference theme was Macro, Meso and Micro Exploring the dimensions of the digital landscape. This mapped well onto the institutional, pedagogic and individual framework of my research. Thanks Janita Poe (@PoeCommunicate) for the photos. Love how Patrick Lynch is looking over my shoulder!

The presentation was followed by some challenging questions and good discussions. I’m still pondering the influence of ‘ontological uncertainty’ and after meeting Emma Gillaspy (@egillaspy)  from Salford am seeing useful applications for applying coaching approaches to our Design for Active Learning Toolbox (more about this next week).

People ask why I keep a blog. There’s lots of reasons but mostly it’s to keep a record of what I do. My blog is a diary, scrapbook, journal and photo album all in one.

It’s for analysis and reflection as well as questions I can’t yet answer. It’s my CV and my research log. Occasionally non work/research issues slip in like my allotment. One of these days I’ll get the Digital Academic hosted and restore the plugins I used to have. I miss the photo album which made it easy to have a gallery of thumbnails and the freebie version doesnt support basic functions like tables.

This post doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything particularly unique or special but it pins down a week in June when I travelled to Genoa. These words and photos will always take me back there. It was my first visit to the Italian port town on a hill and what a hill – steep in every sense of the word. I want to be reminded of this and a blog with its tags and categories is a perfect place.

Italy is a country which bleeds history. The university building of thick stone walls around a courtyard seemed little changed since the day it was built.

Strip out the electricity and overhead projectors and you’re left with the original floors, doors and windows, staircases and fireplaces.

It didn’t take much imagination to see it as it would have been.

Being Italy, the lunches were magnifico, down to the expresso hits during the breaks and chilled Pino Grigio in ice buckets.

 

I missed the conference dinner at the Aquarium but called in on my last day.  I saw the room where it was held – next to the dolphin tanks so as you’re eating they’re swimming around behind the plate glass wall, watching you.

How did I feel about that?

Not comfortable to be honest.

It seemed like a lot of dolphins in the available space and shouldn’t they be out in the ocean anyway?

 

Hull has The Deep and I was curious to see how they compared.

The Deep is smaller but has a better feel plus seems more geared up for education and conservation. The cbildren of the future, who might one day be our students in years to come, need a healthy, sustainable planet. It’s the best legacy we can give alongside the hope they continue conserving the earth. If places like The Deep and Genoa’s Aquarium can help this, they justify their existence – but I’m still not convinced keeping dolphins in captivity is a good idea.

Genoa felt more like a working city than a tourist hot spot. I expected a smaller version of Florence but its catherdral di San Lorenzo or UNESCO badged Palazzi dei Rolli in Le Strade Nuove were definately under-advertised. Genoa seems more a stopping off place for cruise ships or for passing through to other destinations. Cheap flights from the UK (my suitcase cost more than I did) gives you easy access to fast trains to Turin, Milan, Florence and Rome.  For myself Genoa lacked the art/history impact of its Italian neighbours but is still worth seeing. It claims to be the birthpace of Christopher Columbus and the Galata Museo del Mare: (Great Nautical Museum) looked interesting with its 17th century galley ship dominating the harbourside.

The venue for EDEN19 hasn’t yet been announced but whereever, it will be worth consideration. Alongside  SRHE, SEDA, ALT, UCISA, and JISC I’m adding EDEN to the list of conferences to look out for.


Recorded Keynotes available here

Plenary session livestream – Monday – Airina Volungeviciene, Georgi Dimitrov, Fabrizio Cardinali, Claudio Dondi

Plenary session livestream – Tuesday – Antonella Poce, Alan Tait, Teemu Leinonen, Anthony Camilleri, Joe Wilson

Plenary session livestream – Wednesday – Wim Van Petegem, Sarah Guri-Rosenblit, Tom Wambeke, Claudio Dondi, Airina Volungeviciene, Sylke Vandercruysse


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Hull City of Culture and the digital shift

2017 is Hull City of Culture. In 2003 we were trashed as the top Crap Town   What does culture mean? Let’s take a look because language matters – it really does…

Cultural Studies programmes show a variety of specialisms; media, sociology, anthropology, identity, languages and more. So culture can be context specific.

Is 2017 about the culture of Hull or Hullensian exposure to external  icons and events? Six months into our year it appears to be a combination of both.

How do we experience culture? Is it something you do, something done to you or a blend? Does cultural exposure lead to change or after the intervention do we carry on as before.

Do you see where this is heading?

When it comes to changing attitudes and practice, cultural shifts rarely happen without rebooting existing ways of being and seeing. Wider social or institutional incentives are needed to bring about change. When talking about digital capabilities, we shouldn’t forget (although we do) in the same way DC’s are personal, change is ultimately about people and their individual thoughts and feelings.

Have we been looking in the wrong place all along?

When it comes to imposing the move from face-to-face pedagogic design to online activities – tell to TEL – does a lack of attention to the broader context reinforce the gulf between rhetoric and practice?

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations model remains a useful visual representation of the adoption phases of new technologies.

TEL World is on the left. This is where TEL-People live. On the right is everyone else. The black line represents the chasm. Geoffrey Moore writes about the gap between the early adopters and early majority as being the most difficult transition. My research explores the chasm. I’ve renamed it the on-campus digital divide which is less about access and more about usage*.  The divide is where reluctance and resistance to change is situated, with deep roots and foundations. Strategy and workshops are not enough to cross or close the gap. DIY is never going to cut it. If TEL-People are serious about reaching the nonTEL-World they need to talk, find time to talk – and to listen.

sculptured people with their ears pressed up against a wall listening

I’m getting repetitive.

I know.

What can you do?

In 2004 Grainne Conole wrote a paper called e-learning: the Hype and the Reality which called for more research informed theory and practice to develop an e-learning framework. In May 2017 Claire McAvinia has asked Why hasn’t Online Learning Transformed Higher Education? Claire has researched the adoption of learning management systems/virtual learning environments because ‘the story of their introduction and use can help us to learn some valuable lessons for the future’ . For more from Claire see Chapter Two, Challenges and Disappointments from the associated book Online Learning and its Users

Like Grainne and Claire, I believe we need to understand the reasons why the the digital shift hasn’t happened. Getting ‘digital’ isn’t a light switch. It isn’t something you can be ‘trained’ into. Digital shifts require cultural shifts which in turn need fundamental changes to attitudes and behavior. How many institutions have changed their VLE but not their VLE practice? How many have pockets of innovative digital interaction between staff and students rather than whole campus changes to learning and teaching? Should we tear up existing approaches and start again.

In 2017, Claire writes about ‘assumption based’ issues which contribute to the recreation of ‘cycles of disappointment’. In 2004, Grainne called for more research informed theory to develop a framework for e-learning. In between are a thousand other publications which cite digital education as the new revolution or claim the virtual has failed. It’s a literature of hope and despair.

scrable tiels spelling hope and despair

Which side are you on?

Learning online can be a transformational experience. There, I’ve said it! The OU’s MA in Open and Distance Learning taught me well.

Hope, I always have hope!

But hope is more than uploading text files and opening a forum.

montage of images all based on Hull City of Culture

What will happen when Hull’s year of culture ends? Has it only attracted those who would have come anyway or is it reaching out to others? Is it making any permanent difference?

The questions can be applied to TEL projects aims at creating digital shifts.

Lets make hope happen.

Any ideas?


The original conception of the digital divide was about access to computers and the internet. This is still an issue for over 6 million in the UK and hundreds of millions in the world. Existing categories of social exclusion align with digital exclusion. When the UK government shifted its digital policy from promoting lack of access to the lack of digital literacies and skills they effectively hid the figures of those who are digitally excluded and who demonstrate a unique 21st century form of disempowerment and discrimination.


Reading suggestions 

Bennett, S. and Oliver, M. (2011) Talking back to theory: the missed opportunities in learning technology research. Research in Learning Technology 19 (3) 179-18

Clegg, S., Hudson, A. and Steel, J. (2003) The Emperor’s New Clothes: globalisation and e-learning in Higher Education. British Journal of Scoiology of Education 24 (1) 2003 39-53

Conole, G. (2004) E-Learning: The hype and the Reality. Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2004 (12)

Friesen, N. (2008) Critical Theory Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-learning Ubiquity Volume 2008 Issue June Article No. 2.

Gunn, C. and Steel, C. (2012) Linking theory to practice in learning technology research. Research in Learning Technology Vol 20 (2012).

Kirkwood, A. (2009) E-learning: you don’t always get what you hope for. Technology, Pedagogy and Education 18 (2) 107-121

Kirkwood, A. and Price. L. (2014). Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, Media and Technology, 39(1) pp. 6–36.

Latchem, C. (2005) Failure—the key to understanding success. British Journal of Educational Technology Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 665–667.


Diffusion of Innovations image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_adoption_life_cycle#/media/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png and edited under the permissions of its CC license.

Hull City of Culture images from Hull Daily Mail, all other images from Pixabay


 

hatching the golden technology egg

golden egg in a nest

I’ve been reviewed and restructured. Again. It’ happens a lot. This time I’ve been shifted from technology to academic practice. Sounds good. Our new role is teaching enhancement – which might or might not involve technology – but unlike TEL Advisor colleagues, my role at Hull was ‘Academic’ TEL Advisor so ‘pedagogy first’ from the start.

Over the years, through research as well as practice, I’ve tried to understand where the TEL promise went wrong. Because it did. It has. To this day, TEL remains the domain of the few rather than the many.

image showing a crowd of toy people

It’s 20 years since the The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (1997). The Dearing Report presaged the influence of the internet on HE in terms of globalisation, employability and virtual learning environments. From the start VLE were for the ‘acquisition and delivery of electronic information [including] techniques to improve the management of the teaching and assessment process’ (13.16)

Which words jump out at you? Delivery? Information? Management? If you replace Techniques’ with pedagogy then it could mean active learning but the sentence still reeks of things teachers do rather than students. Language matters so much. Discourse analysis is dead. Statements are accepted at face value (think social media + elections) while the final remnants of postmodernism are smothered by a return to positivism. A rant is brewing. I digress…

signpost showing Hope and Dispair

Dearing offers pockets of hope e.g. VLE require ‘a radical change in attitudes’ (33) because ‘… many staff still see teaching primarily in terms of transmission of information, mainly through lectures’ (8.14). The shift from passive to active pedagogies is welcome, as is development of an effective strategy which involves ‘…guiding and enabling students to be effective learners, to understand their own learning styles, and to manage their own learning.’ (8.15) The concept of ‘learning styles’ has been rightfully challenged (Coffield, 2013) but the principle of autonomous, independent learning remains a keystone of higher education today. However, the problems outlined 20 years ago remain. The internet influences attitudes and practices, employers want digitally capable graduates and institutions continue to make massive investments in technology, chasing that elusive golden technology egg.

basket of coloured eggs

There is a mis-match. An on-campus digital divide. Witnessing reluctance and resistance towards digital ways of working is a common occurrence. The technophobes outweigh the technofans 100-1. When it comes to developing ‘digital capabilities’ (the latest buzz-phrase for digital competence and confidence) there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-model’.  To become ‘digital’ involves a cultural shift, a deep-rooted change in attitudes and beliefs. Filling in a survey or attending a workshop isn’t going to cut it. Neither is the practice of offering online resources to the digitally shy.

cartoon showing a person fighting a wall of technology

Last week I posted a photo of my phd-floor with the hundred plus papers at the core of my literature review. Annotated, highlighted, torn at the edges, covered in coffee stains – I have digital devices, including a Kindle, but this is my preference. The papers are the tangible, visible evidence underpinning my thesis chapter.  They help me ‘see’ the structure and content in a way a table of contents doesn’t.

piles of paper across a floor kindle like device

Yet I believe VLE have the potential for genuine HE experiences which challenge and stretch.  Section 8 of the Dearing Report Students and Learning outlines the C&IT future for higher education. Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is prescient reading. VLE can support ‘…tutorials, simulations, exercises, learning tools and educational games can be highly interactive and provide activities that students need to develop their understanding of others’ ideas and the articulation of their own.’ [8.21) From my own experience, in particular the OU’s MA in Open and Distance Learning, I agree with this and with the list in section 8.2 of the potential affordances of computer-based programmes. But I don’t like this phrase.

Digital education is about the person against the machine. So far the Turing Test remains unpassed. Education is fundamentally a social experience yet Dearing acknowledges ‘…personal contact between teacher and student, and between student and student, gives a vitality, originality and excitement that cannot be provided by machine-based learning, however excellent…individuals are likely to choose to receive information and experience in the company of others, rather than alone.’ (8.21)

computing technologies

For me, the phrase ‘machine based learning’ brings home the reality of TEL in HE being a human v technology binary. Highly rated teaching is interpersonal. Popular staff get votes because of their effective communication skills. No one ever votes up a VLE or module site as inspirational. Looking back to Dearing I wonder if the technofans expected too much from the start, influenced by the rhetorical promises of the sales pitch – or if we simply misread the evidence.

three medals bronze, silver and gold

HE has moved into an era of ‘teaching excellence’. Regardless of our frustration at the metrics, the TEF is here. It underpins our new team remit of teaching enhancement and I welcome the opportunity to revisit the designs of the student learning experience.  Pedagogy first not technology first. Maybe this is where it went wrong. HEFCE’s eLearning Strategy (2005) tried to address the technological determinism of the Dearing Report but it was too late. The digital horse had bolted.

Success depends on ‘…appropriate technology, adequate resources and staff development’ as well as ‘…the effective management of change.’ (13.10).  Maybe of necessity, the Dearing Report has a technology first focus. Today it’s different. VLE (meaning all virtual tools and platforms) are here, embedded and present. The golden tech egg is sitting in its nest and the time has come to hatch it. So let’s start shifting from the ‘how’ to use the tech to the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘why’ instead.


Coffield, F. (2013) Learning styles: time to move on. National College for School Leadership. http://www.learnersfirst.net/private/wp-content/uploads/Opinion-Piece-Learning-styles-time-to-move-on-Coffield.pdf 


images from pixabay except golden egg in a nest from http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/download/golden-egg-nest-03-hd-picture_166586.html 

does learning design + TEL = the future?

typeset image from pixabay.com

Language matters. Whether its training or lecture capture instead of teaching or recording resources, the words we use and the ways we interpret them are full of unconscious bias. When designing learning, one of the first steps is to bust the jargon. Ask the questions. What are we saying here and what does it mean?

This week I attended a workshop on Marking and Feedback with Prof Lin Norton. Lin spoke about final vocabulary, a term used by philosopher Richard Rorty which refers to words containing deeply held beliefs and assumptions without the necessary explanations. For example feedback comments like good, excellent, exactly what I’m looking for. The marker knows what they mean but it isn’t clear to the recipient. Lin says final vocabulary leaves students no room to manoeuvre. Markers need to make comments which open up conversations rather than close them down. Like active listening or going back to Socratic questioning. Those ancient Greeks really knew their stuff.

question mark from pixabay

The tendency to make uncritical use of language is common. We’re often more subjective than we realise. I think I’m a critical reflector but there’s always something new to learn.  I don’t have a data driven approach to practice. A bit dyscalculic as well as suspicious of quantitative data sets. No matter how the figures are presented, I want to know the stories behind them. But – I’m also an action researcher and promoter of experiential learning. I like critical reflection loops which take you on a journey of change.

data image from pixabay

Recently I’ve come to realise I do have a data driven approach; it’s my interpretation of what data represents which is skewed. Phrases like Big Data or Learning Analytics made me think randomized controlled trials or NSS scores and VLE dashboards. I knew data didn’t  have to be numbers – I’m doing qualitative research for heavens sake (Doh!) but my subjective interpretation was linking the two together. It’s only by developing a learning design approach to TEL with an expert data-king colleague which has uncovered a bias I wasn’t consciously aware of.

scrabble tiles from pixabay.com

How often do we act without questioning that we do? Last week I blogged about the impact of research on TEL and the literature TEL people use to inform their practice. I’m still searching for answers. Let’s broaden it out. Where’s the evidence base for learning and teaching? Is there a contemporary equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1987)

  • encourages contact between students and faculty,
  • develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  • encourages active learning,
  • gives prompt feedback,
  • emphasizes time on task,
  • communicates high expectations, and
  • respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

The authors claim these support ‘six powerful forces in education’

  • activity,
  • expectations,
  • cooperation,
  • interaction,
  • diversity,
  • responsibility.

Spot the gaps. It would make a useful online activity. I’d add the need for critical thinking, reflection and creativity as well as having an evidence base. Let’s put scholarship in there. Being research informed and engaged.  This week my colleague and I have scoured the UK literature  around L&T in HE (e.g. Knight, Biggs, Prosser, Trigwell, Trowler, Race, Baud, Nicol, Moon, Brookfield etc) but can’t find anything so succinct or contemporary.

Maybe the subject is too complex to be reduced to bullet points. Maybe it reflects its late arrival. In many ways pedagogic research in HE is still the new kid on the block. It’s not a happy partner to the REF and HE staff having an ‘appropriate teaching qualification’ is a relatively recent requirement. The HESA returns for data on academic teaching qualifications was only introduced in 2012/13 with many  institutions still returning a percentage of ‘not known‘.

opening slide from lin Norton assessment workshop

Events like Lin Nortons are welcome opportunities to ask questions and discuss answers, as in the slide image above. I think they’re useful for TEL people. Marking and feedback are foundation elements of the student experience. Sometimes it can help to separate them out from the technology – which in itself risks becoming a distraction – in order to examine more closely the fundamental principles of assessment practice. Not all TEL people come from a teaching background so it helps to make TEL about learning as well technology. The problem is the language. Again, language matters. Too often when you say you work with TEL or in a TEL Team you’re instantly categorised into a techie box.  This is one of the reasons I believe TEL needs to be reversed. Less of the T and more L please Bob.

There’s a phrase associated with the early days. RTFM stood for read the ******** manual.  All computers came packed with a doorstop of an instruction book. RTFM soon came to mean don’t ask me how the bloody thing works, go and look it up yourself.

Today the technology has (allegedly) changed to a more intuitive click and play  approach – as well as being introduced almost from birth – and the internet has replaced the manual. Today we know how it works. We need to be asking where it’s being used and why. What do we know about how people learn? What is the equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s principles for 21st century TEL? If we’re promoting digital feedback then lets look at Lin Norton’s research or have a TEL Team discussion around the HEA’s Marked Improvement or visit outputs from the Oxford Brookes ASKe project or REAP.

I believe the design of learning is an essential part of TEL and we should adopt a scholarly approach to our practice by being more research informed and engaged. In which case maybe RTFM is not redundant but needs updating to RTFL. Read the ******** literature.

Now the HEA Subject Centres have closed and the HEFCE funded CETLs have come to an end who is promoting research into learning and teaching practice? Students are paying huge amounts of money for their time at universities where traditional teaching methods are still evident and VLE resemble repositories. Lets take a fresh look at the TEL people what we do because it looks a lot like learning design + TEL = the future.

TEL-ling tales – where is the evidence of impact?

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

Research is complex. It can be a messy business, but it matters. Higher education revolves around research and student degrees yet when it comes to the REF, pedagogical research in HE has a poor showing. A recent HEA funded investigation found critiques of submission quality* while back in 2002, Jenkins described it as having Cinderella status. A paper by the HEA researchers (Cotton, Miller and Kneale, 2017suggests pedagogical research in HE remains the Cinderella of academia.

If pedagogical research in HE is struggling for recognition where does this leave the field of education technology or Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)? The critiques are plentiful** so where is the evidence of impact?

digital-tech-pixabay

I have great respect for the expertise of TEL colleagues so wearing my curiosity hat, I headed off to a closed learning technology mail list. Citing Surowieckis ‘wisdom of crowds’, I invited members to point me to evidence of enhancement via technology.

I don’t know what I expected. Maybe references to the OLDS mooc project, a NMC Horizon Report, the OU Innovating Pedagogy series or anything from the Jisc elearning projects.  Maybe the application of a model like Laurillard’s conversational framework or her work on teaching as a design science, how Salmon’s Five Stage model of e-moderating was used or Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry.  At home I have an old fashioned plastic box full of printed papers from my TEL research literature reviews, some by well known names and others less so but all with a variety of methodologies and results. Admittedly, much is aspirational – revealing potential for scaling up rather than the results of broader adoption, but they’re evidence of intervention. They represent hope. My plan was to scope the most popular ‘go to‘ pieces and collate them for sharing.

red question mark on a keyboard

The response was not quite what I expected. Maybe I asked the wrong question. Maybe my view is different and maybe this is a Hull issue – in the nicest possible way! As Philip Larkin said, we ‘re on the edge of things rather than the centre and being on the edge can give you a different perspective. Whatever the reason, there were lots of ensuing discussions, some tweets and a couple of blogs – all showing a variety of reactions – Show me the Evidence by James Clay and In Defence of Technology by Kerry Pinny – but no links.  There was also an #LTHEchat invitation to host ‘Establishing an evidence base for TEL’  which will take place on Twitter, 3rd May, 8.00-9.00 (diary date!) If the questions were wrong at least they generated some positive consequences.

tweetchat-tweet small

I think Kerry was closest to my position when she described asking questions as scholarly practice. If we’re not research-informed and engaged how do we know if we’re having impact? Familiarity with the literature and taking time for critical reflection is about thinking academically and we work within academic environments where TEL is promoted as an enabler and enhancer of student-learning. Pedagogical research might not be scoring 10 out of 10 with the REF but it’s our daily bread and no reason to ignore what’s out there or not adopt a scholarly approach to evidencing our own practice – in particular with TEL matters. Institutions are investing huge amounts of money into digital platforms supporting learning and teaching but less into supporting staff to develop the digital capabilities and confidence to use them.

media-studies

It’s now twenty years since the Dearing Report into the future of higher education which preceded the arrival of the VLE. Since those early days we’ve shifted from a read-only environment to user generated content, file sharing, mobile devices, social media, apps, virtual reality etc etc yet there’s still disparity of adoption and a widening divide between the innovators and those yet to climb aboard the TEL train.

What came out of the discussions (and what I see every working day) was how resistance to TEL remains high. Also it’s clear what’s missing includes the time, space, reward and recognition for staff engagement. We’re grappling with this at Hull and to make our case to SMTs requires evidence of impact on student learning and staff well-being. To find the evidence we need the research.

So where is it?

What do other TEL people use as their rationale for TEL matters?

magnifying glass


footnotes

* critiques of pedagogical research in higher education include small sample sizes, localised research not capable of wider dissemination and limited contribution to theory. This is similar to the examples of critiques of TEL shown below.

** examples of TEL critique

 ‘Our analysis of articles published in two leading journals [these were the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology) and ALT-J (since renamed Research in Learning Technology)] found…poorly conceived or poorly applied methodologies, limited reference to theory, weak results, incomplete descriptions, uneven presentation of data and overblown and unsupported claims of impact and importance.’ (Gunn and Steel, 2012:11)

‘….where the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning practices does not appear to have achieved substantial uptake, this is because ‘the majority of studies focused on reproducing or reinforcing existing practices.’ (Kirkwood and Price 2012: 24)

‘The majority of papers published in BJET and the other educational technology journals are in the form of small-scale, unconnected trials and applications which can have little influence on policy making.’ (Latchem, 2014: 2)


images from pixabay except tweet from #lthechat


 

 

The problem is not ignorance, it’s preconceived ideas

https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/
https://pixabay.com/en/binary-code-man-display-dummy-face-1327512/

Data is never neutral.  This is my social science background talking. It’s made me suspicious! Or should that be critical?  Not everyone agrees but I’ve always distrusted the ability of stats to tell the full story.

This week it was announced Hans Rosling has died. A sign of the internet age is the videos we leave behind. This link to a TED Talk (2006) The best stats you’ve ever seen begins with his trademark introduction ‘I’m a statistician – No – don’t switch off!

Rosling set out to show the changing world through the visualisation of data.  The concept was simple. Most good ideas are. Publically funded statistics exist but are not presented in ways which are educational and accessible. Rosling founded the Gapminder organisation to create software linking data with presentation tools, thereby making it visible and searchable or in this own words – liberated. Helped more than a little by a narration owing more to a sports commentary than traditional academia, graphs have never been so entertaining or eye-opening. Mission accomplished.

Hans Rosling presenting on a stepladder

Over the years Rosling moved from overhead projector, with his trademark stepladder for reaching the high parts, to more sophisticated forms of digital touch screen representation. The technology was wizzy but somehow wasn’t the same.

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I saw Rosling present a couple of times. Mostly on the international health and social care arena where he spoke about the world and what really matters;  fertility rates, child mortality, family planning, distribution of income and the power of social change. There were always a number of key messages. Data is better than you think; there may be  an uncertainty margin but the differences revealed are larger than any weakness. Data can be structured e.g. revealing the importance of context an highlighting diversity, sometimes within single countries. Most relevant to educationalists, Rosling maintained problems are not caused by ignorance but through preconceived ideas.

USB PLUGS
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Data is big business and higher education has not escaped from the lure of using stats to review and refine the student experience. Within  institutions the VLE dashboard and NSS (National Student Survey) have been used for some time to wave red flags. Now the TEF is bringing data analytics to the forefront. The relationship between NSS scores, figures from HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) and DELI  (Destination of Leavers from Higher Education) and teaching excellence is still open for debate but there’s no denying how ‘Learning Analytics’ is now positioned centre-stage.

All my initial reservations about statistical data have come back. It’s one thing to collect and group figures into charts and tables but useful interpretation depends on wider issues such as identifying what you want to know and why you want to know it. Counting the times a student logs onto a VLE or walks into the library tells us little about the nature of their activity or quality of engagement.

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The biggest concern is the rhetoric. The Bricks to Clicks report tells us data has “enormous potential to improve the student experience at university” while the Jisc report Learning Analytics in Higher Education offers analytics as a tool with many functions. These include quality assurance and quality improvement, boosting retention rates and assessing and acting upon differential students outcomes – to mention a few.

We’ve been here before in the early days of education technology which promised much with regard to enhancement but with little evidence of improvement. Deterministic approaches see technology as the agent of change rather than focusing on the cultural context in which it’s positioned. Today it seems there’s an increasing risk of data being seen through a similar determinist lens.

magnifying glass
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Education developers and researchers want teaching interventions which produce the most effective learning environments. As it stands, I’m not convinced the collection, measurement and interpretation of all this data for the TEF will produce any meaningful information about what we really want to know. The Learning Analytics movement needs someone like Hans Rosling to challenge preconceived ideas and find ways to interpret data which are innovative, useful and accessible.

It would also be worth asking if the data we have is from the most appropriate sources in the first place.

It isn’t technology it’s learning design

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This began as a PhD reflection but turned into a blog post because the issues matter. We need to talk. What has gone wrong? Quite a lot.

December 1 was the first Graduate School Research workshop day. I thought joining in remotely would be a motivator. I’m self-funding so every opportunity for contact is welcome. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but couldn’t join in the activities. In the afternoon the sound was lost. I’m hoping the recording will be ok and wondering when it will appear on the VLE. The cognitive connection has already faded.

What is meant by the phrase ‘online distance learning?’ What did I get from passively listening and watching on my laptop? Not a lot to be honest. The common model of distance learning is still a delivery one. Recorded lectures are seen as progression and if you build in some formative MCQ then Hallelujah – you have an online course.

My PhD includes mandatory research and ethics modules. They’re produced by Epigeum, so expensive and considered gold standard. I’ve sat alone in my room clicking through linear screen after screen of content in order to take the test at the end. It’s lonely and my learning is surface recall rather than any deeper approach achieved by cognitive understanding via critical reflection or discussion with colleagues.

What has gone wrong with the promise of student centered, interactive collaborative learning – online? How can the principles of Social Learning Theory be applied to what is fundamentally learning in isolation?

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In the THES last month there was a piece called Mass Learning must mean web based study It claimed the elements exist to make online learning happen, but ‘institutional inertia’ creates lack of progress. Thinking this might refer to the invisibility of on-campus digital divides or lack of recognition of diverse digital capabilities I read on. Technology has its problems I’m told – and here the piece links to Distance and Discontent the Downside of Digital Learning – but it will continue to evolve, solving all the negative issues as it does.

There are barriers such as the need for more teaching hours (at last – acknowledgement it requires additional resources rather than less to build and run effective online learning environments) plus new forms of examination and inclusion of ‘the broader social and cultural benefits of higher education’ but hey the piece goes on – none of these are insuperable. No. The problem is the university itself. Over the past decades they’ve continued to expand their physical presence at the expense of their virtual one, to a point where they can no longer afford to go online. As the author says, Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but – don’t you know – technology is still the solution!

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As if this were not depressing enough, the Distance and Discontent piece offers two further narratives of online education failure. Against a sector which still shouts about the transformative power of digital environments, something isn’t fitting. The rhetorical promise of e-learning solutions continues to be promoted in headlines, straplines, Jisc-speak and conference halls. In the meantime research and anecdote speak of digital depository models of VLE usage, empty discussion forums and neglected project sites return broken links and 404 errors.

So often over the years I’ve seen digital layers added onto existing face-to-face practice. It rarely creates effective online learning because it isn’t about the technology, it’s about learning design.


images from pixabay.com