Lincoln blog 2012

 Happy Christmas

December 21, 2012 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

christmas card 2012

Do a MOOC. The experience of the loneliness of the long distance learner is one of the best staff development activities for teaching and learning in a digital age.  There are multiple options to choose from (see previous blog posts) and Udacity have five useful tips for getting the best out of any online learning experience. There are no surprises here but they do reinforce the need for strategic approaches to virtual learning and how social networks really can offer viable alternatives to face to face collegial support on campus.

Inevitably MOOCs are bringing with them a new language for learning. In Five Steps to Success in a MOOC Cormier recommends participants Orient, Declare, Network, Focus and Cluster.  Again, this emphasises the value of using social networking tools to find and engage with like minded people and create online communities of practice. Here is the power of the internet in action with real potential for offering alternative access to teaching and learning opportunities.

FutureLearn Ltd is the brand name for the twelve UK universities getting together with the The Open University to provide free online learning opportunities – now commonly referred to as MOOCs. The MOOC twelve are BirminghamBristolCardiffEast AngliaExeterKing’s College LondonLancasterLeeds,  SouthamptonSt Andrews and Warwick. It’s early days with little information about business models or other structural essentials but FutureLearn Ltd will be majority owned by the OU who are providing initial funding and technology. With their long standing experience in delivering education at a distance, the OU are in a good position to make this happen and exert influence over the processes of design and delivery of materials. UK universities in online launch to challenge US from the BBC tells us courses will be offered on the FutureLearn online platform next year with the twelve universities being responsible for their own content, quality, accreditation and cost of courses. Cost? Not truly open then?  The article goes on to say there will also be social networking-style communities for students and materials will be designed for portable devices, such as iPads or mobile phones.

All of this represents a huge shift from traditional HE with massive implications for curriculum design, content production, teacher education, learning development and ICT support. Not to say this shift isn’t already happening, but those universities taking the lead will be those who already have already taken steps to ensure support is in place. Online distance education is so much more than filming a 50 minute lecture and uploading a powerpoint presentation. It requires a different approach to constructing content and social networking-style communities don’t just happen, they require shaping and supporting if they are to have relevant form and function. If open education is to work it needs appropriate support and resources around digital scholarship and digital literacies. MOOCs are the word of the moment and care needs to be taken so initial enthusiasm for the affordances of online learning are not disguising some of the potential problems underneath.

UK e-University and MOOCs; polar opposites in philosophy and practice

December 7, 2012 | open educationTeaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA)  |  Leave a Comment

Moocs are in the news again. They are dominating Guardian Online Education where the latest  headline is UK universities are wary of getting on board the mooc train.  MOOC should win a prize for the unlikeliest, and possibility ugliest, acronym of 2012. Putting that to one side, MOOCs, and the philosophy behind them, cannot be ignored. The speed at which MOOCs are developing makes it almost certain the Massive Online Open Course bubble is going to burst but it’s not yet clear what will make that happen.

Hindsight is enhanced with time and it’s now over eight years since the closure of the UK e-University. Two key documents tell the story; The real story behind the failure of the UK e university  by Richard Garrett and Lessons to be learned from the failure of the UK e-university by Paul Bacsich.

Times have changed. The UK e-University was complex involving massive amounts of investment, partnerships, market research plus the building of a new technology platform, all with multiple drivers including hefce and the government. Compare this with MOOCs. User generated content and social media networks have revolutionised the internet in a very short space of time. Uploading content and enabling platforms for discussion and collaborative working has never been so easily achieved while the production and distribution of multimedia has been democratised.

We live in changing times and MOOCs reflect this. In 2004, an e-university was conceived of as a company following traditional organisational structure and practices. In 2012 that model has been thrown out of the window. Open education is becoming a reality for those with means of access. Open Educational Resources and publishing is making quality content freely available online. The UK e-University and MOOCs are polar opposites in philosophy and practice. Somewhere between the two is a workable model but we haven’t yet recognised quite how that will look.


MOOCs are everywhere. This week sees the start of a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from the OER Foundation. Open Content Licensing for Educators runs from 3-14 December and is an online workshop designed for educators wanting to learn more about open education resources, copyright, and creative commons licenses. 293 people are currently registered from 58 different countries. You can register at

If you prefer a home grown MOOC, the Open Learning Design Studio’s ‘Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum’ is a 9 week course starting 10/01/13. Designed with further and higher education professionals with an interest in curriculum and learning design, the course has been funded by JISC as part of a benefits realisation programme and is intended to build on the success of the Open University Learning Design Initiative (OULDI) and other JISC funded curriculum design and delivery projects. Go to to find out more about the course and to register.

If you prefer a wider choice of subjects, Open Culture has a list of 185 MOOCs offered by leading universities. Most offer ‘certificates’ or ‘statements of completion.’

MOOCs are currently getting media coverage and the only way to have an informed judgement is to try one. As well as the links above, MOOCs are also offered at Udacity and Coursera. There must be something somewhere for everyone.

At last the government acknowledges digital exclusion is about more than access to technology – it is also about the quality of that access. Digital literacies are moving centre stage. This is reassuring. For too long the focus has been embedding technology into systems or attention to early adopters pushing the boundaries. It’s time the user experience received some attention.

This past year the JISC Developing Literacies Programme has funded projects designed to embed core digital skills into the curriculum. JISCs definition of digital literacy is those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. Within HE they give examples of using digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; PDP and showcasing achievements. But it’s not easy to package digital literacies into any single box and this makes strategic approaches to supporting their development a tricky task.

A report commissioned by Go On has concluded 16 million people in the UK lack basic online skills; defined as using a search engine, sending and receiving emails, completing online applications and accessing information online. Organisations are pledging to train their employees in these four areas. This barely scratches the surface when the full implications of digital engagement are set out. Broader digital literacies have become essential life skills for example personal and financial safety online, the permanence of digital footprints and hard criticality with regard to online content. In an unmoderated environment, the evaluation of authenticity and authority lies with the individual user. Distinguishing between knowledge information and personal opinion is an increasingly essential art – and not always an easy one.

Being let loose on the internet can be exciting and inspiring. It can also quickly become a nightmare. Digital literacies have moved on from the skills required to access virtual environments, although there is a danger these are assumed more than are in evidence.  However, I’m not sure they have moved far enough. There are broader issues around living in a digital society which are surfaced less often. Any attention to digital literacies is good but the attention has to be focused in the right places for it to be truly effective

A recent Edudemic post addresses the non-use of teaching technology.   The reference to teachers who are ‘not comfortable with technology’ resonated. They may be more of them than is often realised. Change is always a challenge and adoption of technology for teaching requires major shifts in practice. Support for the process is essential, either through staff development or teacher education.  The Edudemic post claims the amount spent on technology for schools in the US is rising while professional development budgets are decreasing or non-existent. Here in the UK, it can sometimes seem resourcing for staff engagement with technology is not sufficiently prioritised. Competition for funds has never been greater yet digital literacy has not only become plural it’s become complicated. Keeping up to date with is hard enough when you work with the technology. For those at the far end of the digital spectrum, it can seem impossible to even know where to begin.

There is a growing need to support staff to use technology effectively. Without investing in resources to bridge the divide between teaching and technology, staff cannot develop the prerequisite confidence with virtual learning environments.  Embedding OER Practice at Lincoln, now in its final weeks, showed how staff engagement with the internet for teaching and learning doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens with appropriate targeted support, customised to suit individual disciplines and personalities. It works best within small groups of shared practice and requires initial scaffolding which can be withdrawn for use elsewhere as the affordances of being online are realised and the necessary skills and competencies embedded into day to day practices.  The review into the future of the institutional VLE offers an appropriate opportunity to also review the way in which digital literacies are defined and resourced across the university.  The internet and all its associated tools for learning are not going away any time soon. The more we invest in their use the better that use will be.

Rory Cellan Jones, BBC Technology Correspondent, went 24 hours without the internet, concluding he was unable to function without being hooked up to the online world. Most of those he spoke to during this time agreed with him. Later, on reflection, Cellan Jones concluded disconnection might not be a bad thing after all. I have sympathy for this view.  At Brayford this morning the internet was dodgy for about an hour and then disconnected for ten minutes to be fixed. That was bad enough. At the time. But what disconnection highlights is our addiction to being online in general and to social media in particular. We have become dependent and it has happened in a very short time. In less than a decade the internet machine has taken over.

What would Christopher Lasch have to say? In his book The Culture of Narcissism he claimed American society was out of touch with past and future and overly absorbed in the present. People were afraid of nothingness and, in order to fill the void of themselves, had become totally focused on the moment seeking immediate self-gratification through consumerism or entertainment. In an echo of Neil Postman’s  critique of mainstream US television, everyone was in danger of amusing themselves to death.

Both Lasch and Postman were wOiting before the internet revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century. The internet is probably the biggest void filler of all. It enhances opportunities to block out reality and encourages retreat to a parallel digital universe, one which responds to the screen swipe or a key click. The more we become dependent on accessing information online, and living out our lives via digital versions of social forums and media, the greater the risk of being unable to function in a disconnected world. Adopting an hour a day or a day a week when the internet is turned off might not be such a bad thing after all.

Autumn Grape Vine

The presentation below was created to introduce students to the availability of free open educational resources and courses. It refers to the OU’s Open Learn, MIT and Coursera.  As I was recording the audio, Open Culture published a list of new courses, or MOOCs  (Massive Online Open Courses), for 2013 at If this were not enough to choose from, Open Culture link to a further 550 courses here

I’ve been looking at Coursera’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (see and recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about the history of US poetry from the 19th century onwards. There are a thousand alternatives including E-learning and Digital Cultures from the University of Edinburgh which starts in January 2013 and will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice. Learning has never been so flexible or such fun!

The presentation below is best viewed with speakers or headphones.

The ongoing VLE Options Appraisal is a useful opportunity to look at the wider issues around virtual learning environments.  VLEs have come a long way since Dearing* but in terms of keeping up with wider developments on the internet, in particular the move to openness and connectivity, they can sometimes look a little out of date.

Open academic practice and the rise in content management systems are examples of formidable challenges to the VLE. Compare a locked down password protected environment to contemporary social media and you’ll soon find support for the VLE critics who say it is a staff driven content store, low on genuine pedagogical interaction and pretty ugly too.

So has the VLE failed? No, I don’t think so. It might never be the number one choice of personal learning environment but it has untapped potential. Rather than be critical of the tool, it may be worth investing more in research not only on the way it is – and could be – used within  the institution, but exactly what staff need to get started – as well as to get innovative.

Over the past decade a giddy variety of technologies have been personalised for education. Their mix is both widening and deepening the gap between active users and those who are less confident with online practices.  Innovation tends to be led by those with digital thought patterns who sometimes find it hard to conceive of worlds where paper and pen are preferred.  The word learning needs to be added to technologist. Learning technology describes roles which can bridge the gaps between technical support and pedagogical design for teaching and learning in a digital age.  Outputs from the JISC Digital Literacies  programme will be useful but how broadly they’ll be disseminated to those who have yet to move beyond uploading content and horizontal browsing remains to be seen.

Unless we shift from the tool to the user then the full potential of any VLE cannot be realised.  The VLE Options Appraisal is an opportunity to look beyond decisions based on the cost of the technology towards how best the university can resource the use of the technology. Digital scholarship in 21st century should include confidence with utilising the affordances of ANY virtual learning environment. To do this will inevitably improve the quality of use of those learning tools which are institutionally supported and maintained.

* Report of the National Committee on Inquiry into Higher Education  (1997)

Keep up to date at the 2012 VLE Strategy blog 

Digital Literacies in Action?

Web Accessibility for Designers infographic with link to text version at



Remembrance Sunday commemorates British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in world wars and other conflicts. British forces across the world, including 9,500 soldiers on duty in Afghanistan, will also pause to remember the fallen. This year Remembrance Sunday falls on 11 November itself, the date of the armistice which brought World War I to an end.

Poems for Remembrance 

The Council for the Defence of British Universities  have formed a coalition to defend universities against the erosion of academic freedom and the marketisation of higher education. They are highlighting, among many things, the lack of space in the curriculum for ideas. Maybe ‘higher education’ should be rebranded as ‘wider education’. The goal of employment is valid but not at the expense supporting students to think creatively, critically and to reflect – preferably through exposure to different ideas and concepts behind a broad range of arts and sciences.

My first degree offered a wide mix of subjects all under applied social science. Modules included introductions to philosophy, criminology and psychology and the examination of various sociologies behind work, gender and education. This eclectic mix offered multiple tasters of different ways of seeing the world; it enhanced the experience of getting to know yourself and the difference you wanted to make in the world.

If it hadn’t been the late 1980s when colleges and polytechnics were merging with universities I might never have been there. I left school twenty years before – dropping not so much out of education as out of life. When it came to defining widening participation students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds I ticked every box on the page and probably a few more which hadn’t at that time been invented.

Since then I’ve worked in adult and community education, widening participation and now educational development. I support the open access movement (while worrying about exclusion for those without the means of digital access. Digital inequality is fast becoming fundamental to social inclusion and all public institutions should be tasked with highlighting this.)

Times are hard. I accept that cuts have to be made and budgets squeezed. For some people this is the attraction of open education but we need to avoid the danger of marketising openness.

Open access has the potential for broadening knowledge; to dip in and out of a wide subject range and taste an eclectic mix of disciplines – which applied social science used to do so well.  One possible way to challenge the move to marketisation might be a first year module on diversification and digital scholarship. This could include weekly tasters of the very best in topics as wide as philosophy, architecture, engineering, drama, chemistry, poetry and social justice. Adopting the principle of Ted Talks, it would show how the internet supports critical reflective practice, for example searching and evaluating online content, while also introducing the concept of learning for life.  Although the module would be delivered face-to-face, it would  provide guidance to quality open educational resources and courses freely available at places like the OU Open Learn and Coursera.

The open education movement is attracting some of the best educational institutions and educators to share their practice online. The principles of free access to learning are in place; we now need to encourage wider excitement about open education opportunities. Openness need not be a substitute but an additional strand – one which could enhance the learning experience for all and offer hope for a return to some of the best of traditional attitudes to learning in these challenging times.

I write about digital identity and the permanence of our digital footprints, but it seems the government has no problem in making digital content disappear. All links to the Government’s Manifesto for a Networked Nation are redirecting to  Go On at

Go On is the replacement for the Race Online 2012 website, designed to champion digital inclusion, but none of the content has transferred across, including the Manifesto. This is unfortunate. It’s now difficult to find ‘official’ reference to those sectors of the population considered up until recently to be digitally excluded.

google page showing links to Digital Manifesto

Early research data can be found in the Labour government’s Digital Britain reports; these can still be found in the national web archives. The Manifesto has vanished. It’s not the first time I’ve had problems revisiting content online. Last year a new report targeting ‘hard to reach’ sections of the population divided digital exclusion into three categories; young, old and those in between. It rightly identified cost and motivation as drivers but omitted disability or assistive technologies, which cut across all age ranges and constitute a major cause of exclusion from increasingly digital lifestyles. This ‘hard to reach’ document is currently living up to its name.

In George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Winston Smith is employed as a government bureaucrat tasked with rewriting history. What was true one day was changed the next, along with all references to the event. It’s not a fictional fancy to see how those with the relevant levels of access and controls could write the scripts which alter history at the click of a key. Now, if anyone can find a digital link to the manifesto….

Sleepio online sleep management website

Sleepio is an online sleep improvement program based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The site includes videos hosted by Vimeo and they all have the standard user control bar with stop, play and pause buttons enabling the user to – stop, play and pause. This makes all the more frustrating that the Sleepio animated environment itself has none of the these essential components. The only way is exit.

sleepio screen with text options

You can’t jump back to listen again, increase the animation text size and there are no alternative format such as subtitles, captions or a transcript.

Sleepio program costs

Sleepio wants your money. There are a number of ways to pay for the program. Costs include an online community and online tools, all of which appear within the animation format. But it is only available to those with the prerequisite means of access.

This site is an example of the inaccessible nature of the world wide web/internet and how discriminatory online environments are becoming. This isn’t a case of being pedantic, or poor use of time in scoping the images on the site, it’s about fundamental equality legislation which is increasingly invisible in the design and delivery of online information.

The Guardian today carries an article on insomnia which is a thinly disguised advertisement for the Sleepio product. Maybe the Guardian itself should adopt a position of greater responsibility and refuse to promote websites which fail such basic accessibility requirements.  It’s time someone in a position to be influential addresses the issue of digital literacies which fail to address digital exclusion.

Being involved with promoting open education for over a year, I read with interest the news about Edublogs and Pearson.  As the name suggests, Edublogs is a free blogging service for educationalist with, at the time of writing, 269,055 subscribers and, according to BBC News, 1.5 million blogs. Pearson are educational publishers, with a keen eye on licencing and copyright, who noticed a blogger had made the Beck Hopelessness Scalequestionnaire (current cost $120) freely available to a group of students without permission from the copyright holders – Pearson. Upon request the Edublog administrators altered the visibility of this post so it was no longer publically available but the host, ServerBeach, saw it within the Edublog software; not publically available but still in existence and allegedly infringing copyright. Claiming they received no response from Edublogs, ServerBeach shut down the entire site. One rogue blog and 1.5 Million blogs are made unavailable. Resistance to open education  and open education resources is to be expected. The concept of giving away for free what has traditionally been hidden behind closed locked doors can be a major paradigm shift and not one to be achieved overnight. The World Wide Web was designed as democratic space but that freedom has inevitably been taken over by the multi international publishing corporations who have transferred their existing restrictions into online environments. Even those totally against the principles of open education, must surely not be in agreement with this sort of power – especially when the offending item was hidden from public view in the first place.

Creating opportunities for online collaboration is easy. Ensuring collaborative activity takes place is much harder. The challenge is establishing communities of practice where by students take on the learning process through shared discussion and debate. I’ve recently completed a two week online course called Designing for Collaborative Learning. The course was part of the JISC-funded  P2.0PLE project (Peer-2.0-Peer Learning Enhancement) at the University of Leicester. There were a number of drivers to my participation. I’m involved in writing a short postgraduate module which will be offered as part of the university’s Teacher Education Programme. The working title is Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and it’s designed to give staff the experience of being an online student while engaging in contemporary approaches to digital pedagogy and open education. It’s been several years since I completed my MA in Open and Distance Learning so this seemed a useful reminder of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the medium. Also the course was being delivered through Coursesites; Blackboard’s contribution to open education. This is a free platform for constructing and delivering online learning. Very similar to Blackboard in look and style it offers a professional look and feel to academic study at no setup cost; see

Based around Gilly Salmons five stage model, the course proved an effective application of theory to practice with additional unanticipated learning curves. The first week I had a poor, at times non existent, internet connection. Frustrating as this can be, it remains a valuable reminder of the reality for students in low broadband areas and all education developers should have the experience of working under these conditions at least once a year. The course ‘e-tivities’ all contained learning opportunities with the most effective being the sharing of practice which is an inevitable by-product of a group of professional practitioners getting together. Overall the most striking part was my hesitancy in contributing to discussions. this is often under estimated yet barriers and resistance to online conversation are well documented by Salmon in her books Etivities and Emoderating.   These books are nearly a decade old but the issues remain the same. The permanence of online comments can be a formidable deterrent; on the one hand you can practice and cut and paste into the forum but it must take extreme amounts of confidence to never be concerned about potential mistakes and responses.

One the most useful discussions was around assessment for contributions. This concluded the motivation factor overcomes any potential diminishment in quality. The moderator is often key to effective collaboration and again Salmon’s advice has never been bettered in terms of setting up and maintaining online groups. The current interest across the sector in transferring face to face courses to online delivery should also be opportunities to remind us this is never an easy process. The one hour lecture format works poorly online but lecture capture is still seen as a key tool for content creation. Not everyone can access video yet too few examples include transcripts and its the same for audio files. The technology that enables learning is always the same technology which can exclude it unless inclusion is first and foremost in people’s minds. Discussion forums are these days supplemented with blogs and wikis which offer powerful tools for learning but providing them is not enough. Too often a forum is created and nothing happens because there is no moderation process. Designing for Collaborative Learning was a useful reminder the key issues to establishing effective online learning opportunities have changed little over the past decade. Until staff become students it is unlikely the current view of online learning as transference of content to Blackboard will be challenged. Hopefully the new course, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age will go some way towards achieving this.

Embedding OER Practice is HEA/JISC funded project with a dual nature; one part has been engaging with the philosophy and practice of OER and the other looking for ways to embed OER practice as a whole institution strategy  At Lincoln we’ve been looking at making units of learning freely available under a Creative Commons licence, while elsewhere in the world the principles of open academic practice have extended into full courses (OUMITStanford) and free online learning platforms (P2P , OERu)

The move from individual learning activities to modules and courses is an inevitable transition and, as with all educational content development work, it’s valuable apply theory to practice and have the experience of being a student.  These past two week I’ve been taking part in Designing for Collaborative Learning, an online course for members of the JISC community. The course has come out of the P2.0PLE project (Peer-2.0-Peer Learning Enhancement), led by the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester and was free, although the small print says the University of Leicester reserves the right to charge a fee of £100 to any individual who registers and fails to take part. Run through Course Sites ( which is Blackboard’s contribution to open education, students are given evidence of participation (no HE credits) and the course materials (including all e-tivities) are open educational resources, released under a Creative Commons BY (attribution) licence. A blog about the experience of being a p/t online student will follow shortly.

I’ve also registered on Open Content Licensing for Educators a week long course in December.  OCL4Ed is available through Use this link to register

Designed for educators who want to learn more about open education resources, copyright, and creative commons licenses,  OCL4Ed is sponsored by the OER Foundation, the COL Chair in OER at Otago Polytechnic, the UNESCO-COL Chair in OER at Athabasca Universityand Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand  The collaborative development was enabled by volunteers from the:WikiEducator community, OpenCourseWare Consortium and Creative Commons. This should be an interesting first hand experience of what international open education is all about.

Anyone who works close by knows computers don’t like me. I have no idea why hardware breaks or software corrupts. IT just happens. The game between me and my desktop at the moment is Shut Down.  Sometimes I know its going to happen – the screen freezes before pixellating into pretty  patterns – or it just dies at least once a day.

bugs in my computer

Today it was my laptop’s turn. It wouldn’t connect via wifi. In fact, it never has done on campus. I get a message saying further details are required for authentication. Windows 7 is very polite these days. Only one step away from adding the word please. Systems are finally moving on from the language of Fatal Exceptions, Illegal Operations and Internal Errors.

The Authentication window was no help because there was no clue as to what it wanted.

wifi authentication box in windows 7

Nothing seemed to work and I get nervous about calling the helpdesk. No one else seems to have the same problems . It’s no good telling me how the screen should look or behave because if it did I wouldn’t be on the phone in the first place. But today the response couldn’t have been more helpful. Not only explaining what the problem was but talking me through the solution (I needed to clear out my browser history) and making sure I knew how to avoid it in the future (choose Legacy wifi). Out of the conversation came two pieces of information. Firstly there are the ICT User Guides at and secondly ICT has a Support Desk at where under Quick Answers there are more help materials (although I have to say none of the wifi information addressed this particular problem – but I’m trying not to feel paranoid).

Working in a central support capacity, I’m used to staff sometimes being unaware of central sources of information, but here I was – unaware of all this online support. It was a useful reminder of the need to have a range of communication systems for getting the message out there – not just once but on a regular basis – and not just for students but for all staff as well, even those of us who – as I was told today – have been around for a while! :-)

The HEA have confirmed approval of the project proposal ‘Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students’. Under Phase 3 of the UKOER Programme, proposals were invited which set out to devise and implement institutional policy to promote previously created OER to an international audience and show how OER might support international engagement.  The project outcome will be a case study on ‘the identification of relevant resources to use for promotion (internationally)’. The HEA will concurrently look to fostering relationships with the British Council in order to collectively showcase the outputs of the twenty HEI’s selected for funding.   At Lincoln, this project will build on the existing Embedding OER Practice as well as Getting Started, the university’s program for transition support.

There is increasing evidence that support for transition for students new to higher education actively supports retention and Getting Started has been informed by existing research and literature in this area*. Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students will focus on the provision of support prior to the start of a course or module utilising a ‘bottom-up’ approach to institutional change. This recognises adoption of new pedagogical practice is most effective when led by staff directly involved in teaching and learning who are offered support to undertake their own investigation into new ways of working. A survey is being sent to international students asking them to comment on how they feel their own learning experiences may have benefited from a range of academic study resources and can be made available to anyone who would like to participate. Please contact Sue Watling for further information.

The Preparation for Academic Practice for International Students proposal is available here. HEA OER INT proposal form-2012

* Literature on transitionAction on Access (2003) Student Success in Higher Education. Bradford: Action on Access.Cook, A., Rushton, B. S. and Macintosh, K. A., eds (2006) Student Transition and Retention (STAR). Northern Ireland:University of Ulster.Harvey, L., Drew, S. With Smith, M. (2006) The first year experience: a literature review for the Higher Education Academy.York: HE Academy.Lefever, R. and Currant, B. (2010) How can technology be used to improve the learner experience at points of transition?University of Bradford.

National Audit Office (NAO) (2007) Staying the Course: the retention of students in higher education. Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. London: The Stationary Office.

Quinn, J., Thomas, L., Slack, K., Casey, L., Thexton, W. and Noble, J. (2005) From Life Crisis to Lifelong Learning, rethinking working class ‘drop-out’ from higher education. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Reese, M. (2010) Bridging the gap: supporting student transitions into higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34 (2), 259-251.

Warren, D. (2008) Thinking and Writing History: an integrated approach to learning development, in Crosling, G., Thomas, L. and Heagney, M. (eds) Improving student retention in higher education: the role of teaching and learning. London: Routledge.

Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2008) The first year experience of Higher Education in the UK: final report.York, Higher Education Academy.

front page of website fails to enlarge without overlay


Being poorly connected to the internet is so frustrating. I have my usual collection of mobile technologies in a place with no wifi and a weak phone signal. A dongle and a wifi hub are offering intermittent connections but the laptop doesn’t like the wifi and the dongle offers one bar out of a potential five. The mouseover message informs me connection is poor.  As if I need reminding. Sitting in the furthest corner of the smallest bedroom, next to the window, I can access email.  If I’m patient I can get onto the university blogs. That should say very patient. Downloading sites reminds me of the days when you could click a document link, make a cup of tea, and it would still only be two thirds of the way through. Images reveal at the rate of one pixel line at a time. But I’m lucky. These frustrations are temporary; inconvenient but not permanent. To be honest, this needs to be a compulsory staff development activity for everyone who works with educational technology and takes fast connections for granted. One a year for at least a week they should be forced into digital wastelands and made to try and do their work in places like these.   The more we become dependent on reliable internet access, the risk of exclusion being invisible increases. Ultimately the only way to remind ourselves of the tragedy of digital exclusion is to experience it.

In this weekend’s Independent on Sunday, Dom Jolly says he’s giving up Twitter, His reasons include Twitter is full of twats wasting their 140 characters on smug dullness, ‘Celebrity Twitter’ is the place for dull egos and the PM joining the Tweetfest confirms it is no longer the place to be. These are not Twitter tracks I follow. For me the joy of Twitter is tweet control. I think Jolly’s use of #betterthingstodo in relation to Twitter could be a little misleading.

On the subject of trolling Jolly does give good advice namely Do Not Feed – and there’s no doubt the current fad for Trolling is despicable but to cite ‘revolting/antisocial/shocking’ comments as a reason for abandoning the challenge of 140 characters or less is to miss out on its potential. Like all digital tools, it’s not what they are but the ways in which they’re used which increases their value.

I’m not a prolific Tweeter but when I check it’s rare not to pick up at least one link which is useful. Emails notifications saying someone is following me are checked out. It takes a couple of seconds. Anyone sounding commercial or just downright dodgy is blocked. I don’t know if that keeps the nuisance tweets down but there’s nothing worse that people boasting x thousand followers and at least of half of them being on the a commercial or enterprise bandwagon. The people I follow are those who might be genuinely useful in an educational capacity and who use Twitter professionally. Sometimes Twitter is an email substitute. There are two advantages. I know the tweet will get read and the space limit makes for concise communication. It sounds a bit like Jolly has let Twitter take control. Rather than castigate its dark side, it would be better to focus on the benefits to be had.

open dyslexic font alphabet

Openness has become part of the language of higher education. Open academic practice includes open educational resources, open source and open course ware; all examples of the affordances of the internet for supporting equality of access. One of the most recent additions to open opportunities for participation is OpenDyslexic. Developed by Abelardo Gonzalez, this is a free font designed to improve reading content online.

Digital data’s inherent flexibility to support a diverse range of access requirements has long been promoted. TechDis and Dyslexia Friendly Text  from the British Dyslexia Associationhave offered a range of alternatives but there has been no one size fits all solution. OpenDyslexic attempts to overcome this. It reflects how ebook readers are making digital the choice of text for many users while also supporting the philosophy and practice of openness. The font has bottom-weighted characters, designed to reduce letter-swapping and increase the differentiation between similar-looking letters. this may improve readability not just for people with dyslexia but those with low vision might also find this font useful with large chunks of text.

OpenDyslexic can be downloaded here Adding the font to Chrome is one of the options (if you use Chrome) but you need to know about extensions to remove it. Only some environments allow the font change and where the default font size is 10 or under the text has a tendency to blur.  There is always a technology gap between the theory and the reality and all to often those who would most benefit from the additional  support are those who fall down it. OpenDyslexic is an example of a potential bridge but I think there’s still much to do with user testing and participation.

Join the digital literacies conversation here

Background: digital literacies are difficult to define. They describe many different things and this flexibility can be a strength or a weakness. The strength is the opportunity for drawing attention to key issues around digital ways of working. The weakness is the potential for misinterpretation; digital literacies can be different things to different people. When it comes to describing them where is the best place to begin? JISC says they define those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.  If you’re looking for a pragmatic approach this isn’t very helpful but it does offer the scope for a broad view and with something as fundamental as communication that wider analysis is crucial.

The shift to digital practices has happened very quickly and the associated confidence and competencies have become complex. Digital literacies are much more than the ability to word process an assignment or access email. These are important graduate attributes but the management of digital lives and the presentation of our selves online are important too. If we’re to provide appropriate support and resources, we need to know where best to target them.

You are invited to use the comment box below this post to say what digital literacies mean to you or if you prefer a less public option, click this link   I look forward to hearing from you.


September 24, 2012 | Uncategorized  |  Leave a Comment

A new academic year is the time for new year resolutions. These are like the promises you make for January 1st only more work focused; in theory at least. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. They still involve lifestyle changes. Drink less coffee. Take the stairs. Make a packed lunch. Alongside organise email. Maintain the tudo list. When asked if ok say ‘Fine’ and smile. Don’t even begin to list the 101 reasons why you might not be fine that moment, day, month or year.

One resolution is to return to blogging. Regularly. Blogging is an art. I’m not sure if I do it well. A poor blog is easy to spot but it’s harder to apply the rules personally. The Triple S of blogging is Short, Sharp and Succinct. There are times when a blog is the only way to get the message across  yet the message  fits poorly into the Triple S framework. Therein lies the skill. And herein lies the resolution.

This is work blogging. As opposed to project  ( or fun ( blogging. It’s also my research blog but not much has been happening there. I link to other online places – a central station sort of approach. But the reality of maintaining an up-to-date social media presence is loss of the face-to-face dimension to your life. They run contrary to each other. As one increases so the other decreases and vice versa. There’s a name for that sort of balance. I can’t think what it’s called. All comments welcome.

Social Media = LEO. Life Experienced Online. A premonition of the future but not one I fully buy into – contrary to what family and friends seem to think.

So welcome to a new academic year and good luck to everyone in the months that lie ahead

Digital ways of working are changing the way we communicate and manage information. The implications for higher education include more virtual management of teaching, learning and research, greater online collaboration and more steps towards openness. The open education movement with its emphasis on using, reusing and repurposing is an inevitable consequence of the internet and one we have to accept. As VC of the OU Martin Bean said in his excellent opening  keynote, the internet is here to stay, students have increasing expectations of openness and sharing, and OER is an ustoppable force.

At Lincoln we are embedding OER practice and investigating the use of OER to support generic aspects of the student experience; transition, reflection, graduate attributes and eportfolios. We are developing a postgraduate online course called Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age which will be offered as part of the university’s Teacher Education Programme. This will be based on content released as OER, include activities which encourage staff to search for OER in their own discipline and consider releasing some of their own content as OER. All this within the context of the shift from classrooms to virtual environments.

The Creative Commons website http://creativecommons.orghas information about the six different OER/Creative Commons licences and a tool for deciding which to choose. OER don’t have to be all singing all dancing multimedia. They are about learning experiences. One single learning activity, designed as a package with alternative formats and information about the level it is designed for and how it has been used, can be more powerful than any amount of expensively produced high end content.

The Embedding OER Practice blog is at our Twitter hashtag is #openlincoln. On 21st June we held a conference called Sharing Practice: Open Approaches to Teaching and Learning  This is the language we are using to take the project forward. OER don’t exist in isolation. They are part of the bigger picture which is about sharing practice and about open approaches to the way in which we manage pedagogy in a digital age.

Sharing Practice; Open Approaches to Teaching and Learning is a one day event, taking place in the Main Admin Building, Brayford, on 21st June, 9.30-4.00. The event will be showcasing the best practice in open education and open educational resources (OER) at Lincoln, including sharing outputs from the HEA/JISC funded project ‘Embedding OER Practice’ which is currently ongoing. For more details about the project and to book a place on the Sharing Practice event please go to

Keynote speakers are Steve Stapleton, Open Learning Support Officer, University of Nottingham, talking on Integrating ‘open’ throughout the University, the Open Nottingham story, and Paul Andrews Head of the Centre for Digitally Enhanced Learning (CDEL), Newport University, Wales, talking on OER Signposts: Tools and Techniques for getting started. There will also be presentation from Pam Locker – Principle Teaching Fellow from the School of Architecture – who is the creative force behind the Pencils and Pixels resource – if you ever wanted to draw but felt you didn’t know where to begin – then these instructional videos are for you. After Pam, Jose Gonzales Rodriguez, Reader from School of Life Sciences, will be demonstrating Chemistry FM, a full first year module which has been licensed as an OER – is you ever thought chemistry was not for you then this is guaranteed to change your mind. The event will close with a Question and Answer Plenary with Steve Stapleton, Paul Andrews and other presenters.

Embedding OER Practice’ is running in parallel with an HE Change Academy strand.   On the one hand we’re looking at promoting the philosophy and practice of OER  while on the other we are looking at ensuring the sustainability of project outcomes. When the project comes to an end the practice of sharing open educational practice continues.  The aim the day is to provide time and space to begin wider discussions around open education and the use of open educational resources.

Digital Exclusion, a research report by the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, tells us digital strategy across government continues to prioritise online channels creating a digital divide and ‘…urge the government to ensure that no one is left behind.’  It sounds promising, except this was published in April 2012, and is nothing new. Some of us have been raising awareness of digital exclusion for some time. Until the right people say the rights things in the right places, nothing will change, and while this report is a step forward, it is flawed by confusion.

The report recognises digital exclusion is about far more than access (i.e. provision of cheap-off-the shelf laptops), the quality of access is critical in particular where exclusion is compounded by inaccessible design and delivery of online content. This is good. But then we get reference to Offcom’s Stakeholders  eighth annual Communications Market Report which concludes digital exclusion is caused by resistance, finance and geography and fails to name and shame the inaccessibility of the internet.  Also quoted is the Communities and Neighbourhood’s Understanding Digital Exclusion report which links digital exclusion with social disadvantage. Here is a key issue with huge implications for the government’s digital by default policies, but is followed by the broad misconception  ‘It is widely recognised ….those with disabilities are digitally excluded because technology is not developed with their needs in mind.’ ( p17)  This is ‘wide recognition’ is simply not true. Assistive technology (AT) for computers exists – barriers are the high costs, lack of learning support and the inaccessible design and delivery of online content. Where such barriers are later mentioned, it is easy to suspect the text has been pasted from a report on independent living as there is no specific reference to enabling internet access. The confusion continues.

Awareness of impairment preventing the use of public terminals fails to say why (i.e. they cater for mainstream not diversity) and the promising reference to  inaccessible websites is diluted by the statement ‘standard web accessibility guidelines focus on visual impairments and are less useful at addressing the needs of users with cognitive or motor-control impairments.’ (p19) This sounds as if those with sight loss have access  – when they don’t. Issues of digital exclusion affect all users of AT which are designed to enable access but are defeated by inaccessible design – regardless of the impairment.

There is more;  inaccessible PDF formats and inappropriate selling practices of AT providers are both familiar issues but while these well known problems are being made public, where are the solutions? Not in this report. It only offers questions and issues requiring further exploration. The same questions and issues already raised by the previous government’s Digital Britain reports, now digitally archived and only a broken link away from oblivion.

We have to hope that someone someday will care enough to start to make a difference. Until then, all we can do is to carry on chip, chip, chipping away…

Perceptions are shifting with regard to digital literacies. The phrase is now taking on much broader professional and public dimensions as well as personal ones.

Recently the Guardian Higher Education Network published twenty ways of thinking about digital literacy. Helen Beetham calls for ethical responsibilities in environments where public and private are blurred. This is the professional aspect of digital literacies; recognising the need for multiple identities and knowing where to draw the lines between them. Presentation of self online to family and friends is different to the presentation of self in work environments. Digital interaction with clients, customers and service users differs from interaction with students, colleagues and management. Understanding the permanence of digital footprints and the speed at which digital content can be taken out of context and spread across world wide networks is too easy to underestimate, as is the unpredictable behaviour of strangers online. We don’t know what other people will do with our content making it critical to think before uploading and bear in mind the limitless breadth and depth of digital landscapes.

Sue Thomas says nothing exists in isolation. We need to consider a range of information and communication media and adopt holistic and inclusive approaches to transliteracies. However, inclusion means more convergence across than multiple forms of expression. Inclusion is the public aspect of digital literacies. It refers to the dichotomy of digital practices where the technology which enables access can also deny it unless steps are taken to ensure barrier free ways of working. The university of the future needs to be many things and one of these is the producer of students who are aware of the parameters of digital divides and know how to recognise and challenge instances of digital exclusion.

The triad of the public, the professional and the personal lies at the core of higher education with its focus on critical reflective practice and social responsibility. If the relevant and appropriate digital literacies for a digital age are to be embedded as whole institution strategies then their public, professional and personal dimensions must be recognised and supported too.

Blackboard is now marketing itself as a multiple learning platform, one which supports both commercial software and open source content. Blackboard CourseSites, launched in  2011, is a free, cloud-based opportunity for releasing teaching and learning courses as OER. Register for free at and start building your course. Alternatively try a free course. Blackboard is promoting CourseSites with Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success led by Dr. Curtis Bonk which focuses on successful strategies and approaches to online learning, course design and facilitation.

Making education ‘open’ is a current trend and the release of OER under a Creative Commons licence takes full advantage of the affordances of the Internet to offer any-time any-place access to information and knowledge. Blackboard is a corporate giant in the world of commercial education and its not immediately clear if this move into the ‘free’ world is an example of genuine altruism or if there is a hidden agenda. On the surface it looks good. Instructors can post course materials, communicate with students and manage grades, but what are the disadvantages?

You are restricted to five ‘live’ courses although if you need more, then old ones can be hidden creating space for additional new ones. CourseSites cannot be integrated with existing systems and it isn’t clear how you would package up your course and export it somewhere else. Looking at the available literature online it seems the best way to find out the pros and cons is to use CourseSites to create a course so I’m experimenting with making some of the Getting Started transition materials available as OER in this way.

There is mention of a planned Blackboard Building Block to enable institutions to showcase courses that are open for learning. Instructors will apparently be able to share OER courses via Facebook and Twitter, but whether or not this Building Block has been released is unclear.  For now you can use the Publish Open Resource link in Packages and Utilities which offers space for keywords and gives you the course URL with a BY Creative Commons licence attached.

 ‘Attribution CC BY: this license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Blackboard meets open education – this could be an interesting space to watch…

Blackboard and open education Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference Plantijn Hogeschool, Antwerp Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference Plantijn Hogeschool, AntwerpBlackboard Teaching and Learning Conference Plantijn Hogeschool, Antwerp

HEA have updated Pedagogy for Employability, first published in 2006. The report distinguishes employment as a graduate outcome from pedagogy for employability, where the knowledge, skills and attributes which support continued learning and career development are embedded in the teaching and learning curriculum.

There is no mention in this report of the word digital (as in digital literacies, digital graduate attributes)  and only one single mention of Internet which occurs in a list of employers employability skills namely the application of information technology which contains the following:  basic IT skills, including familiarity with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and use of internet search engines.

Considering the social impact of the Internet and the prevalence of digital ways of working, it could be suggested this is a low level set of expectations with  no mention of the critical evaluation of online content, boundaries between public and personal online identity or behaviour, professional standards with email or the principles of data protection. Employers must prefer employees to demonstrate digital graduate attributes such as these but where are they supposed to develop them?

The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme recognises the need for embedding them in the curriculum for all staff and students in UK further and higher education, saying ‘many learners enter further and higher education lacking the skills needed to apply digital technologies to education’. Where 90% of new jobs require excellent digital skills, improving digital literacy has become an essential component of developing employable graduates so it’s disappointing to see a 2012 document looking at Pedagogy for Employability where the only digital literacies mentioned are those listed above.

While the soapbox is out, this seems an appropriate point to mention the new Admissions Guidelines for social work students. At a time when the Social Work Reform Board have been reviewing social work education, and the existing QAA Subject Benchmarks for social work offer the best model across the sector for ensuring digital graduate attributes, a new set of competencies have been devised. Future applicants will have to demonstrate they are in possession of the appropriate information technology skills prior to the start of their programme  namely they have the ability to use basic IT facilities, including word processing, internet browsing and use of email. 

At some point the phrase basic IT skills needs to be redefined to include the commonly used definition of digital literacies namely’ those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society’. These are far more than file management, email and the use of internet search engines.

Google’s privacy laws affect all users of google accounts. It’s impossible not to be a user if you have an android phone or tablet or been invited to work collaboratively by a colleague via google docs. Inspite of recent media claims the new information sharing systems break European law on data protection,  Google has gone ahead with plans to target concentrated advertising based on individual interests and search history. No matter how small the garage or spare room you start out in, most people buy out to capitalism in the end and advertising is how Google makes money. From 1st March – – more than ever before – we’re all products to be bought and sold –with our worth based on information given away online. Random advertising is one thing but this is getting personal. We’re all now being followed with adverts for places we’ve been to online. As soon as we enter the google domain we are recognised – only of course it isn’’t us, – its our digital transactions the google sharing machine is interested in and how best it can persuade us to spend spend spend.

If you read the new privacy regulations  you’’ll have seen the rationale that google wants to understand what you’re searching for and get those results to you faster. Carry on aggregating information like this and google will know your visible life better than you know yourself. Once more there are echoes of Orwell’s insightful vision of the years beyond 1984 – where ‘thoughtcrime’ might be the only privacy we have left.

It’’s too late to turn back but why would you want to? Isn’’t Google actually making your life easier? Can you imagine no longer having instant information in seconds? No longer accessing the affordances of the Internet without leaving your home? Digital connections are addictive and, if digital footprints are the price we pay to google for enabling this, then I think I can accept that. Nothing has really changed. We were always tracked and recorded and it’’s naïve to think it is something new, it’’s just become more intense through increased linkups between programmes in the google family.

Information is power and it works both ways. Check out your relationship with google. Log into your google account and go to the latest information on data sharing, visit the dashboard to review the places where you and google have connections and check your default account settings; many of these can be turned off. If you really don’t want to stay with google there are still alternative ways to reconstruct your online life such as bing, mozilla, safari ect – if you can be bothered to start all over again.

Personally I accept I’’m tied into google. I like the convenience of my online life. Google and me? It’s a long term relationship and we’re in it for the duration.

In February 2012 the RNIB held a Hackathon event. Android, iOS and HTML5 developers came together to find out more about the importance of accessible apps and to talk to blind and partially sighted users to find out what really matters to them when it comes to mobile apps. The developers worked through the night to collaboratively build programmes and applications that could make a difference in the app market. Watch this video to see some of the outcomes. As Steve Jones from the RNIB Innovation Team says – for people with visual impairment the outcomes of events like these are life transforming.

Part of the Team Six Workshop, OER, Copyright and Licencing, looked at Creative Commons licences. Creative Commons is the infrastructure built to allow content creators legal controls over the copyright of the their work. More information about Creative Commons can be found on the Creative Commons site and the Lincoln Academic Commons site at There are six different Creative Commons licences, each one giving the conditions under which the content can be shared, re-designed and re-licenced either commerically or non-commercially. Each licence can be identified with a relevant logo.

CC logo CC BY

Attribution. CC BY. This licence means other people can use and reuse the OER, including commercially, as long as the original author is credited. This licence is recommended for ensuring content is most widely shared.

CC logo CC BY SA

Attribution ShareAlike. CC BY SA. This license includes the same criteria as Attribution but anyone re-purposing it must license the new materials under identical terms.


Attribution-NoDerivs. CC BY ND. This license allows for commercial and non-commercial redistribution but it cannot be changed and the original author is credited.


Attribution-NonCommercial. CC BY-NC. This license is for non-commercial use. It allows others to re-use and re-purpose content. The original author must be cited but the new work does not have to be licenced under identical terms.


Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. CC BY-NC-SA. This license is for non-commercial use. It allows others to re-use and re-purpose content. The original author must be cited and the new work must be licenced under identical terms.


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. CC BY-NC-ND. This is the most restrictive license. Work can be downloaded and shared, the original author must be credited but not changes can be made and the work must not be used commercially.

The Creative Commons site contains more information about background and development of these licence and also has a licence choosing tool designed to help you select the right licence for your own work.

Because the creator has the control over the copyright, sharing and distribution of their work, this is sometimes referred to copyleft.

Team Six OER Workshop Team Six OER Workshop

OER Copyright and Licenses was the first Embedding OER Practice  workshop run by Paul Stainthorp, Julian Beckton and Joss Winn. The session introduced the complexities of copyright legislation. In a world where the internet has become the first destination of choice when it comes to creating teaching and learning content, it offers an infinite source of materials and there are many common myths about their usage  

  • “It’s OK if it’s in a closed environment like Blackboard.”
  • “If people put things (e.g. images) on the WWW, they can’t mind me using them.”
  • “No-one’s going to sue the University over it.”

All of these are incorrect. It’s worth bearing in mind that in the copyright world everything belongs to someone. So although taking and reusing online content is easy, there are a complex set of rules and regulations to be aware of. Unfortunately there is also no single answer as to what can or cannot be taken but some guidelines are more fixed than others. For example you can reuse content if:

  • You are the originator therefore you have the copyright
  • You have the permission from the originator to reuse their materials
  • The materials have a creative commons licence stating they are freely available
  • The content is covered by a university licence to be used
  • The content copyright has expired (usually a 70 year time span)
  • The amount copied is not considered substantial
  • You can claim a defence of fair dealing

The last two are where the complexity begins. Substantial is undefined. For example a square taken from the face of the Mona Lisa would be more substantial than the same sized square taken from the bottom right of the picture. The face would be more recognisable than her dark clothes so has a different significance in terms of copyright legislation. The defence of fair dealing is also an arbitrary ruling. While the work of others can be copied for criticism or review – e.g. teaching and learning – we can’t rely on this as a defence in law that the action was justified. There is no exception to copyright for education purposes in the UK as there is in other countries and the concept of fair dealing is less applicable in law than is often realised. When we take content there is always a risk and individuals have to consider the level of that risk.

Everything belongs to someone. A colleague gave the useful example of wanting to use the London Underground tube map in a book and having the publishers request permission. London Transport agreed but with restrictions on the artwork and a fee of £300. This applies to logos and trademarks and was relevant to me – when I talk about the digital divide I use the slide below.

illustration of the digital divide

How illegal is this? What is the risk level of stealing all these logos for educational purposes? Scary stuff if only because this illustrates how easy it is to do this without thinking through the potential consequences.

What all this does do is reinforce the value of Creative Commons licences which will be looked at next.

The celebration of diversity and difference continues to be erased from social history. The new edition of the DSM-5, Psychiatry’s behaviour classification manual, suggests the parameters of social control are continuing to remove responsibility for behaviour from the individual to the state. The DSM has always been controversial, not least because of the relationship between naming behaviours as symptomatic of mental illness and drug production; ADHD and Ritalin being a prime example.  New labels in the DSM-5 (due out in May 2012) include shyness in children, loneliness, grief and serial rape. Each one of these deserves attention, not least because of their un-holistic nature, but the one which horrifies me the most is the possibility that uncertainty over gender could be labelled a mental illness.

Sex and gender identity is still informed by a cursory glance towards the genitals at birth. There is no routine testing for chemical imbalances such as complete or partial androgen insensitivity syndrome in spite of hormones being the key triggers of foetal development from female to male. Intersex is an established medical condition and any search on ‘Gender Dysphoria’ will evidence the medical acceptance that individual ‘uncertainty over gender’ deserves scientific attention not any drug induced ‘normalisation’ process.

The movement towards acceptance of transgender identity, e.g. the lobbying group Press for Change, has empowered transgendered individuals to live authentic lives. This is how it should be. Identity is a fundamental component of our lives and history is full of horror when this clashes with social imperatives for order and control. The disjuncture between internal and external gender perception needs support. The worry is labeling gender dysphoria as a mental rather than a physical condition will mean it becomes a process of ‘normalisation’ rather than one which addresses its physiological roots.

Psychologists fear US manual will widen mental illness diagnosis. Mental disorders listed in publication that should not exists, warn UK experts.

The Web Access and Inclusion for Disabled People A Formal Investigation was conducted by the Disability Rights Commission in 2004.  Amongst its findings were 81% of sites failed to satisfy the most basic Web Accessibility Initiative category and website designers had an inadequate understanding of the needs of disabled users and how to create accessible websites. Many websites had characteristics that made it difficult, if not impossible, for people with certain impairments, especially those who are blind, to make use of the services provided.

Not much has changed. Working with people with sight loss I would say all the websites we try to access are, if not fully inaccessible (like iTunes) have sections (such as payment pages) which remain inaccessible to screen readers.  In 2005 the RNIB issued this statement

“A disabled person can make a claim against you if your website makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access information and services. If you have not made reasonable adjustments and cannot show that this failure is justified, then you may be liable under the Act, and may have to pay compensation and be ordered by a court to change your site.”

The Act they were referring to was the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now superceded by the Equality Act 2010). To date there have been two cases of website inaccessibility which the RNIB have taken to court – each one settled out of court and the names of the companies not revealed.

Last week the RNIB launched a case against Bmi-baby for their inaccessible website. It’s unusual for the company to be identified in this way – but it’s what needs to happen.  Until there is a test case and inaccessible websites are shown to be illegal then people will carry on with bad practices and users of assistive technology will continue to be digitally excluded.

Today is the start of a HEA Change Academy programme. This is part of the Embedding OER Practice in Institutions project here at the University of Lincoln. The project is looking at the philosophy and practice of open education and the use and reuse of OER and embedding that practice across the whole institution. The Change Academy is about supporting institutional change by working with staff and students to create those conditions most conducive to change. Engagement with OER is part of a much wider picture of the use of technology for learning which includes VLEs, Web 2.0 style tools and social media –as well as familiarity with the open education movement in general and open educational resources in particular. Even higher and wider to this is the individual need for confidence and competence working within digital environments and understanding what makes effective digital learning experiences. All of this involves change – in particular the adoption of digital literacies – those skills and understandings which are essential to teaching, learning and professional practice in a digital age. The Change Academy will help ensure individual project outcomes can be sustainable and identify ways for  embedding them  at departmental and Faculty level while overall project guidance to OER practice within teaching and learning aims to bring in all other academic and professional support staff from across the university. Watch this space for further developments…

If you haven’t heard of SOPA today is a good time to look it up. Try Wikipedia today (18 January) and you will be directed to information about  SOPA and PIPA  instead.

Wikipedia blacked out in protest against SOPA and PIPA

Briefly the 24 hour blackout by Wikipedia and a number of other web presences is in response to proposals by the US Congress  –  the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)  and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) – which are designed to control user generated content. This is allegedly about infringement of copyright. Instead of reviewing existing copyright legislation in the light of an Internet age, the media giants have chosen to reinforce their monopolies with a cast iron boot approach. This directly opposes  the original ‘openness’ of the Internet while hiding behind claims of piracy and thievery aimed at users who are refusing to be customers. Google, Twitter and EBay are also allegedly opposing this legislation although not with Blackouts – maybe they should – but at least two of the three carry advertising.

The fear is the US will have the power to control information and close any websites which contain disputed copyrighted materials. Should it come about I suspect DRM will inevitably be extended as commercial companies use this as an opportunity to protect their brands and products. Capitalism is fighting back and the only surprise is that it has taken this long. There are two issues; firstly the debate over copyright itself and secondly the exposure of the frailty of our digital connections. We take them for granted but they are more vulnerable to attack than we realise. Once the ways and means of imposing controls begins then the Internet will become just another commodity and all its potential for democratic access will be lost. These attempts to control the Internet should be opposed.

For more information see See Stop SOPA Now! by Dan Gilmour and Wikipedia Blackout Looms b  Mark Sweeny.

See my post on Embedding OER Practice for more details about the HEA/JISC funded project to look at the use of  open educational resources for teaching and learning. Here are some more reasons why this is going to be an exciting opportunity to put the spotlight on virtual  teaching and learning experiences. Embedding OER Practice will draw attention to the role of online learning  across the university as well as highlighting the effective use of digital resources.  The project will promote the advantages of the open education movement and support staff in becoming more familiar with terms like Creative Commons Lincoln Academic Commons,  public copyright licences Shuttleworth Foundation,  Capetown Open Educational Declaration and the  accessing and contributing to repositories of learning content

As well as offering experience with finding, evaluating, using, repurposing and replacing open educational resources, the project is an ideal opportunity for addressing the wider issues around supporting the digital literacies of staff and students.The term digital literacies is popular at the moment. The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme is currently funding a number of projects across the sector, all aimed at promoting digital literacies strategies and approaches. This is a necessary step forward. For too long those with technical competence have made assumptions about those without. The result is a widening digital divide, exacerbated by a determinist view of technology having transformative potential, not only for access to learning environments which cross barriers of time and distance, but to cut costs and increase efficiency. All this underpins investment in the digital teaching and learning platforms promoted across the sector as a means for institutions to achieve key strategic aims (HEFCE 2005, 2009*). The missing element from these grand schemes has always been the human one; how best to scaffold support for the necessary changes in attitudes, behaviours and practice. Promoting digital literacies is an ideal way to address these issues full on.

The term digital literacies is defined as ‘the confident and critical use of ICT for work, leisure, learning and communication‘ or  ‘the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology’.  Focusing on the embedding OER practice offers multiple opportunities to ensure digital literacies is on the agenda – and from there it is a small step to include awareness of exclusive and inclusive practices  with digital environments and critical reflection on the boundary lines between private/personal and public/professional online identities and behaviours.

Oh yes, 2012 is going to be a very exciting year!

Follow the OER project blog here 


* Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) (2OO9) Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology. A revised approach to HEFCE’s strategy for e-learning.
* Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) (2OO5) Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology.