Winter is the time of alternative beauty. I love the patterns of ice. The cold chills and I miss the sun on the allotment but there’s one more task to do; I always cut my grape vine at this time of year.
The tradition of pruning on Christmas Day is based on science. The wood should be cut when the sap is not rising and the coldest, deepest part of winter is the solstice around 21/22 December.
Astronomically, this is the when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. This is also science. The earth takes approx 365 days to travel the ecliptic orbit around the sun. Every day since mid summer, in the northern hemisphere the sun appears to rise about 1 degree further south of east. This weekend the sun will appear to rise at the same point for three mornings; days are short, nights long, darkness appears to have overthrown light. Then – on 25th December – it rises one degree north of east and the celebrations begin. The sun has risen, been reborn, returned, light of life, conqueror of darkness, sun of god. Winter solstice is where science and culture merge.
In older times, the movement of the planets were interpreted as a celestial clock marking the optimum times for planting and harvesting. Some people still garden by the moon, many following the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. Again this is science. No one can deny the gravitational pull of the moon on the tides so the relationship between planting and lunar phases makes sense. As the levels of ground water in the soil are pulled upwards during the full moon this is the optimum time to plant. Seeds and seedlings reach for the light and benefit from increased hydration. Cutting, pruning and harvesting all depend on the type of plant but it’s a biodynamic fact grape vines bleed so should only be cut when the risk of infection and death is lowest.
Too often the older wisdoms have become lost. This is sad because we all need ways to connect with the earth beneath our feet. I like the space at the end of the year when email goes quiet and I love swapping presents with friends – but don’t buy into the surface presentation of self decking the halls in glittered tinsel. Holly and ivy is fine, tied with red and green ribbons, and never have artificial lights been so easy and pretty. See, I’m not all bah-humbug! My perfect day is on my terms. For me this time of year is about taking advantage of the lull to look back, look forward and take the opportunity to be myself. I love Christmas but I love it for the deeper significance of the turning wheel of the year. Best wishes for 2014. Blessed be.
“Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own.” Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot
Doug suggests eight elements of digital literacies. If we interpret elements as characteristics this gives some idea of their complexity but not what they are. Maybe we need to look at categories. For example media digital literacies, information digital literacies, web digital literacies etc. But there are also digital literacies at subject level where the requirement for arts, science, food manufacture, nursing and social work might all derive from different learning styles and professional ways of working. Add digital scholarship, digital pedagogy and digital identity and it’s clear you can have too much of a digital thing – there are too many digital literacies. We need an alternative taxonomy; a way to simplify the complexity.
‘Digital literacy is a condition not a threshold.’*
Doug repeated this several times. But it’s only a condition if you are in the right place and time for it to happen. A shared starting point is necessary to begin the conversation. We might need thresholds after all. In Social Work in a Digital Society, I use threshold concepts to present digital literacies as social practices Social Work in a Digital Society Threshold Concepts Here each successive layer of understanding increases knowledge and alters practice. A threshold is like a starting line – a place to begin.
I think I get the concept of digital literacies as a condition – being prepared to accept a digital dimension to your life and having the confidence to explore new digital landscapes – but access and support is necessary as are specific goals and outcomes. In the way you need the alphabet to read, so you need basic tools to become digitally literate. The tools are the thresholds. We need to look at the building blocks of digital literacies like file formats and management, attachments and file sizes before RSS, building mashups and remixing code.
Maybe the best way to grasp digital literacies is to see them as the online equivalents of everything we do off-line.
To encourage and support confidence with digital ways of working means engaging with the affordances, finding the tipping points or thresholds which make a difference. These will be different for everyone but they are already out there. We just need to find them; like Doug’s quote from William Gibson ‘ The future is already here, but is unevenly distributed.’
* Martin, A. (2006). ‘Literacies for the Digital Age: A Preview of Part 1’ in A. Martin and D. Madigan , eds, Digital Literacies for Learning. London: Facet Publishing, pp .3–25.
I’d forgotten I had this Badge although I thought there were more. I stayed with OLDS-MOOC eight weeks before my group faded and there was no one left to talk to. My OLDs MOOCing is still on Cloudworks http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2743 So are the badges. I’ve retrospectively applied for some additional ones hoping no one will notice the time warp.http://backpack.openbadges.org/share/e7f1d70c27db05a8ba1d6c3d9c8e4579/
The range of badges has expanded since OLDS-MOOC. I hadn’t appreciated their full functionality so learned a lot from listening to Doug Belshaw at Lincoln today. Most of Doug’s views on digital literacies I agreed with; there’s no one single definition – they are plural, individual and should be co-produced. I liked the Mozilla pedagogy; learning through doing and making and thought the Mozilla X-Ray Goggles http://support.mozilla.org/en-US/products/webmaker/x-ray-goggles was a cool way to get up close and personal with coding. Doug has an impressive online presence from his blogsite, Phd thesis, Essential Elements of Digital Literacies eBook and all his presentation text and graphics from today http://bit.ly/lincoln17dec13
Tomorrow is a workshop with Doug looking at the development of a digital literacies module. It will be interesting to see how many aspects of digital literacies participants bring to the session eg media, information, text, web etc. The eclectic range of subjects covered by the phrase reflects the difficulties involved in trying to enclose or shape them in anyway. Yet it needs to be done if we are to move away from an assumption model which overestimates individual confidence and competence working in digital environments. The longest journey begins with a single step and tomorrow may well be the first footprint.
TEDxWarwick – Doug Belshaw – The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies (17.29)
The human need to create, manage and control information and communication remains constant. It could be said books and Blackboard sites are different ways of doing the same thing and the gap between Gutenberg and Google is not as wide as it might first appear. In 370 BC Plato has Socrates bemoaning the introduction of writing as damaging to human memory. In 1981 Neil Postman predicted the rise of cable television would result in us all amusing ourselves to death. Back in 15th century Europe the printing press caused such alarm the Catholic Church introduced censorship; all books were to be approved before publication. It’s not unusual for new technologies to be heralded with doom and gloom.
Marc Prensky’s concept of Digital Natives Digital Immigrants could come into this category. In 2001 he offered a provocative but enduring image of technology as the agent of changing brains and behaviors of young people. While his ideas have since been challenged the myth of the digital native remains persistent. Young people are imagined to be tech savvy while older ones struggle.
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) begins with Prensky’s Digital Natives Digital Immigrants paper. Online discussions get lively because everyone has a view on Prensky. Even colleagues initially unsure about contributing to virtual conversations find their nerves are partially overcome because they have something to say about the need to support individual digital literacies and how they cannot be taken for granted.
Confidence and competence with learner technologies cannot be anticipated. Early, mid or late career is no predictor of Blackboard use and engagement. There are older people comfortable with online collaborative working and younger ones unsure of how to insert a picture or attach a file. All roads lead to the same place. Digital literacies are too often assumed rather than addressed. Where technology plays a prominent role in people’s lives, it can create digital closeting which prevents awareness of the full spectrum of digital engagement. This is the myth of digital competence. More meaningful communication is needed between those who support, maintain and mandate the technology and those who use it as a part of their day to day teaching practice.
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives Digital Immigrants. Available from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Following my confession on the breakdown of my relationship with technology, these are the messages Web Outlook are giving me this morning.
It seems to have broke in the night although it’s probably my laptop. The most common response from colleagues is a variation on one of the themes below:
- I’ve never seen that error message before.
- It’s working ok for me.
- It must be you.
- Have you checked your leads?
- err nerr? you got a right ‘ull accent!
When you’re disconnected you realise the enormity of your net affair. How it affects every thing. This is only a partial break; not like when the network’s down and there’s nothing to do but tidy desks or wash up. Looking at the piles of unread papers on my floor, I could probably do with a few days network-free. But am careful what I wish for.
I’ve mobile options but not everyone has. Last week a colleague was surprised to find three students in their class were dependent on campus computers for internet access. The TELEDA Induction forum contains references to not wanting smart phones, fearing work/life balances would blur. Some make a point not to connect evenings and weekends. Others find devious means to send sneaky email on Saturdays while for many Sunday evening is the new Monday morning. The time of an email reveals the owls or early birds. Colleagues stay up late, get up early, some seem not to go to bed at all. How many times do you check your mobile phone? Is it the first or last thing when you get up in the morning? Do you take your phone to bed with you?
Opinion is divided. Some say it’s professional to keep a permanent eye on email, others want a work/life divide which is a sacrosanct. Like all digital literacies there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model; everyone needs to decide for themselves the most appropriate management of email or social media used for work purposes. There’s also the Blackboard discussion boards. If you’re moderating a group of students participating in an online activity, how often should you contribute? Is tutor input wanted? Can it be a blessing or a curse on the delicate process of encouraging shared practice online?
My email is back. Before catching up, here’s a video I might not have come across otherwise. A useful reminder of the value of virtual communication for sharing what really matters; how in the middle of terrible conditions the human spirit and the power of music survives.
The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra
It’s been a digitally illiterate week. Personally and vicariously. I’ve empathy for colleagues in buckets. Professional accreditation as a learning technologist (I’m ‘certified’ by the Association for Learning Technology) means nothing when something doesn’t work. In case you didn’t know, it’s a truth – universally acknowledged – where computers are concerned, if they can go wrong for me they will – and invariably do. ALT accreditation is – fortunately for me – more about pedagogy than hardware!
Is it me or the technology? Why are MobiGos all different? What controls the sound when speakers are activated but silent? Between a blank projector screen and your resources is the loneliest of places. There isn’t always time to check everything is working. Sometimes you have to go on a wing and a prayer. I’ve had videos refuse to play, files refuse to open and colleagues report similar experiences. You want to use multimedia in public to enhance and engage but it can be risky. Stick with text I tell myself after each technical disaster and invariably ignore my own advice.
This week I tried to join an online meeting from my laptop. I forgot to check the hardware. As the meeting opened found I couldn’t use the webcam. Here is the message.
Sometimes you can go into online meetings with sound only but not this time. The link to the meeting wouldn’t let me in. Ping! An email asking where I was. How embarrassing to suggest an online meeting and find yourself excluded. About 11 on a scale of 1-10. Ping! A text this time. Skype was off, nothing was running in the background, I shut down, restart, same error message. In the meantime the meeting is going on without me and I’m feeling stupid.
The next day I want to demonstrate a WordPress blog in front of staff and students. I can’t log in. The error message has a yes/no option. I guess it’s asking if I want my details saving and say no. Try again – and again. Then I click yes and get to the dashboard, select the blog, have to log in again and the same error appears. By now time is running out. I log onto WordPress most days but where it mattered it wasn’t happening. Belatedly I realise it’s probably a browser issue but haven’t time to run advertised programmes to install Chrome. Again I feel stupid.
The scariest story this week came from colleagues who’d designed an interactive lecture using an online voting system to encourage participation. Everything worked fine during practice but not in the lecture theatre. The software needed Chrome which wasn’t downloaded. Fortunately they had a Plan B. Unfortunately Plan B is a necessity.
Browser issues are increasingly common. Not everyone is browser aware. The response to the question ‘Which browser are you using?‘ is often ‘I don’t know‘. It’s easy to think you should but how? Where do we draw the baseline of digital competence? Digital literacies are assumed yet the opposite is more often the case. The majority use a computer like they drive a car. Switch on the engine and go. Petrol in the tank and air in the tyres but that’s about it. Where do digital literacies belong? Are they an institutional or individual responsibility? Staff and students may be the best people to ask. Searching for the correct spelling of Mobigo I found this from student Stephen Fisher on http://ictadev.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/projects/mobigo/
“There are alot of potential solutions and maybe asking lecturers what they feel most comfortable with and would want from the MobiGo’s could prove beneficial cause as computing students we tend to think about what we know about computers and such whereas the average user may be confused and not fully aware / trained in optimal use of systems.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
PHd crisis? I don’t think I can manage another one The process of narrowing down my research focus is taking forever. I’ve enough dead ends to populate a cemetery.
The solstice is coming. The coldest, darkest place in the year. This is the time…. for reflection. Reading my PhD log back to 23 January 2013 has depressed me. It confirms the absence of essential literature on digital pedagogy and staff development. Surrounded with piles of books I haven’t read, and hundreds of thousands of words I’ll probably never use (I am prolific in one area at least), my reflection on the year’s progress isn’t reasuring. In spite of evenings and weekends of clandestine relationships. Me and my laptop. Me and the internet. Me and the accusations – Oh god, you’re not working again.
A year of trying to find myself philosophically. I have to face facts. My PhD has got lost. I need to rethink and restart.
My research is like water. It spreads. Isn’t contained. I may have said this before. For the past year I’ve been trying to get a foothold. An ontological and epistemological position. Some of it has been positive but I haven’t got there yet. My feet are still looking for their philosophical standing place.
Positives include rediscovering postmodernism. When academics began their deconstruction of reality, the internet didn’t exist, Today digital reality is endemic yet few people talk about postmodernism. I’d like to apply a postmodern lens to the presentation of self online, to reconstruct my 3P model of Professional, Personal and Public identities, but this would be a research byproduct, not the primary function. I need a practical solution to embedding research into my practice.
Times change. I shifted my PhD focus from the community (year 1) to the HE sector (year 2) to my practice (year 3). Maybe I wrong footed myself from the start because with every passing year the panic has increased. Maybe I’m simply not good enough. I wanted a research topic which informed and enhanced my practice. What’s wrong with that? Not finding my doctoral feet feels like a failure. I’ve read the books, gone to the workshops and study schools, but still can’t find a fit. I talk about digital exclusion and people switch off. Maybe it’s the way I say it. I don’t know. But exclusion and its invisibility is my thing and at the start of this year I thought I’d found a research space to slip into.
With regard to teaching and learning, I knew engagement with a VLE was an under-researched area. The VLE is unpopular, maligned as clunky and linear, unfairly compared to more visual software like Wordpress, used predominantly as a document repository and largely ignored as a tool for enabling and enhancing learning. Embedding virtual pedagogy into my PhD would not only shift my practice from being research-informed to research-engaged, it would show case the VLE’s pedagogic potential. I’m pragmatic. I work in the present where the application of theory to practice matters. As does the day-to-day experience of staff and students doing the best they can with the tools they have.
Recent discussions around digital education and the VLE at Lincoln seem to confirm I’ve got lost in the PhD landscape – again. The sense of loss is reinforced through Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) which stretches use of Blackboard and reminds me of a need to embed digital literacies into staff development and teacher education as well as the curriculum. This is where I want my research to be focused but I’m not sure how to get there. My action research methodology needs grounding in the relevant literature. It’s looking like I need the end of year break to begin a new review with a focus on staff development in higher education, on the pragmatic and pedagogical aspects of digital education rather than the political. What value can be extracted from failure? Once more, I’m about to find out.
Hello laptop. Hello internet. Do you come here often?
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) begins with a reading of Digital Natives Digital Immigrants. Written in 2001, Prensky’s paper offers a provocative but enduring image of technology as the agent of changing brains and behaviors of young people. I’m interested in the persistence of this myth of the digital native. In particular the conceptual leap it assumes between access and understanding. It reminds me of the medieval helpdesk video (2.44) direct link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ
I like the line at 1.38 ‘When you’re used to paper rolls it takes some time to convert to turning the pages of a – book.’ Consider the conversion from pen and paper to a keyboard and screen. Technology is about people not machines. the problem is those promoting machines forget they’re the minority.
Put the word native into a thesaurus. It offers citizen, inhabitant, dweller, resident. Language is like yeast. It grows. Meaning can be cultivated but the surrounding conditions must be right for change. Today the term native can be defined as to live in one place, to be positioned or located. Today we are all digital natives. One way or another we engage with technology. Prensky’s distinction needs revision. The dividing lines have changed.
The physical ability to use a computer and access the internet, the cognitive knowledge of how to maximise usage and stay safe online are 21st century literacies. Society evolves. It rarely jumps. The gap between Gutenberg and Google is not so wide after all. They are different ways of doing the same things. Communicating. Disseminating. Excluding.
The risk of the myth of the digital native is less about young people born into a technology enabled world, it’s about what happens when they grow up. It’s less about education having to shift its parameters to cope with changing brains and behaviours. It’s about remembering and respecting human diversity and difference. The risk is those who work with technology are losing this memory. As Prensky’s digital natives become creators of 21st century reality, the risk – where technology is concerned – is they might not have the memory in the first place.
If technology has a prominent role in your life, and the lives of family, friends and colleagues, you become protected behind digital walls. This digital closeting prevents you from seeing how the daily struggle with technology is the rule not the exception. This is particularly evident within higher education where those who teach and support learning are employed for their subject specialisms not digital literacies.
Prensky calls for the world to adapt to the requirements of the digital natives but I think this needs to be reversed. Those born into the world of google specs not gutenberg text, whose digital parameters mean they’re unable to see beyond a browser window, need to go and talk to real people face-to-face and find out how the other half live.
Half? Maybe more. Those for whom technology is a daily challenge and struggle probably accounts for most of us.
This blog post will come as no surprise. Hull won City of Culture 2017 and I’m feeling local and proud. Hull had an excellent chance. It has heritage and history in buckets and its solid working class tradition makes it one of the friendliest places in the world. It was unfair in 2003 when Hull was named number one crap town. The headline stuck, even when it had dropped out of the top 50. To gain City of Culture represents a turn in public opinion to be proud of – but no surprise for those of us who call it home. Hull has a lot to offer and it’s about time we got chance to show it off.
Hull is what it is. A town on the mid-north eastern edge of England. Geographically unique, situated in the basin formed by the Humber and Spurn Point, Hull’s history is the wool trade and fish, There isn’t much left of either. You have to travel to Grimsby to visit the Fishing Heritage Museum but it’s well worth the journey. You’ll find a mirror of Hessle Road and the docks which gave Hull its reputation and infamous smells. The trawlers have gone but Hull lives on. As the promotional video states, Hull belongs to everyone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXJkDgBUR9c
I’m loving the attention. It makes a change to see positive reports after decades of negativity
I like these:
- Reasons to move to Hull http://metro.co.uk/2013/11/20/9-reasons-you-should-move-to-hull-immediately-4194392/
- Hull coming out of the shadows http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/nov/20/hull-chosen-city-of-culture-2017 and
- Ten things you might not know about Hull http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-25018146
My favourites include:
- Hull is a City of Poets http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10462063/City-of-Culture-Hull-is-a-city-of-poets.html
- Hull Cultural Icons http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/10461925/Hull-the-cultural-icons-you-never-knew-were-from-there.html
- this from the BBC 2005. Err Nerr – it had to be included
The bottom line is – Hull’s unique. Our accent and dialect set us apart as much as our location.
Crap Town, Chav Town, now we’re going to be Cultural town – and about time too. We can hold our own with anywhere else in the UK; we have the Museum quarter, High Street, the Deep, Town Docks Museum, Ferens Art Gallery, Fruit, the university, college and more. Bring it on and let’s hear it for ‘ull!
Every year I revise my sessions on digital identity. There is always something new to say. Last week two students from Chester misjudged their choice of fancy dress. Without social media this one night in their lives might have gone unnoticed. Now potential employers putting their names into google will see information not included on any CV. The incident has gone viral. All around the world. While some media commentators blamed the DJ for awarding them first prize, thereby increasing the chances of publicity, others have been scathing about the young women themselves. It looks like poor judgement rather than any in depth intention to offend but the damage is done.
Erving Goffman’s 1959 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was one of the first to suggest social identity is a performance. Like actors on stage, we wear costumes, have fixed props and adopt roles. Through these roles we present ourselves as having a specific persona which in turn is recognised by others. From here it is a small step towards attribution and stereotyping whereby assumptions are made based on appearance.
Goffman was writing long before personal computers and the internet but I find his work useful for considering the presentation of self online. Digital identity is something we don’t take seriously enough. In an increasingly digital society, turning to the internet is one of the first steps taken to find out more about other people. What turns up can be a surprise. I advise students to google themselves. It isn’t being egocentric or narcissistic. It’s a 21st century necessity!
Problems are caused less by the information we put out there and more by what other people do with it. I take in horror stories from the Daily Mail. Not because I’m a DM fan but because it show students the reality of personal information going viral. The accidental email sent to all rather than one person, inappropriate comments forwarded on, a holiday photograph shared by a Facebook ‘friend’ or simply stupid behaviour which pokes fun at vulnerable people. Whether innocent or cruel, once online it’s permanent. Our digital footprints are impossible to erase. Dressing up as the twin towers might not have been the best career move but will always be a useful reminder of the perils of presenting the digital self online.
The picture on the right is the original tomb, the one on the left is the replica.
King Tutenkamun’s tomb is being recreated. The copy will be next to Howard Carter’s house on the hill at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. Initially tourists will be asked to choose which one to visit; the real or the fake. I wonder how many will make the journey to Egypt then opt to visit a replica of the most famous tomb in the world, when the real one remains open less than a mile away. The intention is to protect the original, damaged by the impact of tourism. It makes sense to appeal to the fragility of ancient burial sites, sealed up with the intention they would never be visited again, designed for darkness. It also raises questions about the difference between the real and the imitation.
In France the prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux were discovered in 1940 and opened to the public in 1948. Visitor exposure created rapid air change. Body heat and breath were blamed for rapid growth of fungal mould threatening the 17000 year old pigments. The caves were closed within 15 years and the replica Lascaux II built nearby. Tourists can experience the colour, size and impact of the paintings without damaging the quality of the original.
What happens next? Maybe a tomb or cave for tourists to visit which isn’t a copy of an original but a synthesis passed off as authentic. Here is a way to alter history. A gradual seepage from the real to the artificial, in the name of preservation, with visitors no longer knowing the difference. Signs and simulations encourage us to feel we familiar with places and people we know nothing about. Consumers are saturated with media images of significance rather than substance, continually pressured to buy a product or engage in activity for what it represents rather than what it is. I think visiting a replica must be preferable to not having access at all. Education substantially depends on text and images which are facsimiles. I’d visit Lascaux II for the experience and probably not over-think the reconstruction. Soon I won’t even have to go to France because there are talks about Lascaux III which will go on tour.
I’ve stood in King Tut’s tomb and doubt the ability of any fake to replicate that sense of awe. Tut is a plain place. The tomb of Ramses VI is far more visually stunning. With Tut it’s the history which bestows the meaning. Knowing this is the place where the most fabulous of all Egyptian treasure was found. Authenticity like this can’t be duplicated but authentic experience is not sustainable if it risks destroying it. There are no easy answers; least of all what happens to the original? Preserved and protected, visited by a privileged few, secreted away behind locked doors and security systems. What price will be put on an original experience? Sounds like two-tier tourism in the making.
As the TELEDA Induction period comes to a close, the discussion forum is feeling the linear stretch. Participation has been high. It’s a long way to scroll down on a single thread. Future discussions will use different techniques but colleagues don’t know this yet. One of the intentions of TELEDA is to explore Blackboard; not only the hardware itself but the ways it’s used by colleagues on the course. There is no one size fits all model. We are as different online as we are off it. The aim of TELEDA is enhancing teaching and learning – like the old TQEF mantra for those who remember the days of the Best Practice Office – but it’s not without risk. New course nerves are high. I know what lies ahead but colleagues don’t. I know the different effects the learning blocks aim to achieve and how activities are structured to demonstrate poor practice as much as good – we learn as much from errors as successes – don’t we? but at the moment no one else knows this. There’s always the risk of the risky going wrong.
The pressure for retention and completion on blended and distance courses is high. In spite of elearning’s failure to live up to its rhetoric, the echo of the promise remains. MOOC are creating renewed interest in blended and distance delivery but e-paths are strewn with lost intentions. ppt and doc files don’t constitute motivation and excitement. T&L can be difficult to achieve face to face – online they’re ten times harder. Blackboard can’t smile or be empathetic. The human aspect of teaching and learning is seriously challenged by digital technology.
I hope TELEDA – with its stress on experiential learning – shows what it’s like to be a distant student with all the work overload, competing priorities and inevitable technology blips (these are not intentional I promise!) I hope the potential for loneliness and frustration is balanced by an eclectic mix of resources and the sharing of practice through discussions and activities. I look forward to seeing how the interaction on the first learning block develops. One thing I’ve learned about having your own programme is you can’t see it for the first time. Like missing your typos when someone else spots them immediately. Writing online resources is like authoring a paper or a poem. You reach the point where you have to let go.
TELEDA is an exercise in the pedagogy of uncertainty. I can’t predict participation or responses to my methodology. Staying out of the online introductions was deliberate. I worried it looked like I was ignoring everyone when in reality I’ve read every post and journal and found it hard not to respond to the funny, relevant and thought provoking comments. What will colleagues do in their own practice? Will they join in the initial introductions or stay away? What was it like to go into an online discussion for the first time? How can you design for students unless you can walk in their shoes?
On the cusp between Induction and Learning Block One I’m holding my breath, looking forward to summarising the induction discussions, commenting on reflective journals and getting in there. This is TELEDA on Blackboard. An experiment in teacher education. An idea which, with the help of PGCE tutor and colleagues, grew into a pilot and is now standing on its own digital feet, raring to go.
Septet is seven poems of seven lines, each with seven syllables. Today is 31st October. Hail All Hallows Eve – let the shadows through…
October is the gothic
Hail All Hallows Eve, when the
The wheel turns. Icy Mabon
Come back my love, look I’ve set
|5 Sprinkled with frost diamonds the
earth sleeps, its cold, quiet rest
undisturbed by growth, only
brassicas bear witness to
the intricate complexity
of sugar-peppered iced loam
topped with tiny cabbages.
Wet snow kisses melt like dreams
This is the time clairvoyants
I’m all for fighting cancer but something about this breast cancer awareness activity doesn’t feel right. It could be the generation gap I’ve been fighting since my children became teenagers. Or maybe I’ve gotten older than I feel without realising it. All I know is this image of four young men competing against each other to eat a breast-shaped cake the fastest, hands free, to gain the title Boob King is discomforting. Partly, it’s the wrongness of all-you-can-eat food competitions. A quick Google search will return a host of them. But there’s another layer which bothers me. It’s to do with the signification of the words. This isn’t being pretentious about language; it’s the way media promote cultural ideology.
The female body is currently undergoing objectification in a way not seen since the 1950’s backlash against women. Rosie the Riveteer, the symbol of women’s liberation in WW2, was pushed back in the kitchen, her waist squeezed in, breasts stuck out and independence crushed under the weight of domestic appliances and patriarchal attitudes.
We see a 21st century version of this control over the female body with the cult of celebrity thinness; the promotion of unrealistic and false body images – most worrying is the current obsession with post-baby skinniness. It isn’t natural and ultimately it can be dangerous for your health.
Reading Man vs Boob in the Lincolnite http://thelinc.co.uk/nl2013/10/man-vs-boob/ made me realise I’m out of date on the charity front. Younger people reading this will think I’m out of date full stop, When I worked for British Epilepsy there were a handful of ‘big’ names. Content management systems mean smaller organisations with smaller budgets can now have a prominent web presence and it’s interesting to examine their ‘newer’ identities. The name of a leading charity for penile cancer is http://www.orchid-cancer.org.uk/ The Testicular Cancer awareness charity is http://www.yourprivates.org.uk/ Compare this to the name of charity behind the Boob King event http://www.coppafeel.org/ I know I’m years from their target audience of 18-30 year olds – I have children older than that – but I remember when the expression ‘copping a feel’ was something you wouldn’t hear anywhere other than behind the bike sheds.
I know about breast cancer and the importance of early discovery. If this event saves the life of one person it will be worth while. I’ve attended too many cancer caused funerals not to support anything which raises awareness of this devastating disease. If I’d passed the SU event I would have donated – but there ‘s still something about this which worries me. Of course, an equivalent held for Testicular or Penile Cancer awareness with four young women competing to eat the appropriate shaped cakes would be ok – wouldn’t it?
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) is the university’s first online teacher education programme. It offers 30 M level cats and a second course is being designed to create a PG Certificate in Online Education for commencement next September. Exciting times ahead!
TELEDA 2 opened with a ten day induction period on 23 October. Participants are virtually gathering. Induction is the first step of any online learning experience. It’s time for settling into the course and introducing the tools and outcomes. TELEDA is heavy on reflective practice as well as communication and collaboration. Underpinned with the principles of staged interaction based on Salmon’s Five Step Model and Laurillard’s Conversational Framework, TELEDA has evolved from my experience supporting virtual education as well as being an online learner with the OU.
The new updated Blackboard is an improvement aesthetically. Visual elements influence participation and I find the discussion boards look better. I’m not saying the new Blackboard is perfect but poor design can contribute to resistance and these forums are easier on the eye, have a neat link to unread items plus a facility for bunching conversations. I also like the notification feature which gives an overall indication of new content.
Contrary to what the rhetoric of elearning would have us believe, online education is never an easy option. Garrison and Anderson identify three key presences; teaching, cognitive and social which need to come together, venn diagram style, for successful digital pedagogy. Building an online community (a la Wenger) for sharing practice can create powerful learning experiences. Over the years I’ve seen courses which build online participation through discussions and activities have the highest retention and completion rates.
TELEDA evolved from Embedding OER Practice as well as being a concious decision to multiple-task in resource strapped times. Rather than advise colleagues about creating online environments, I thought the experience of being an online student might be more effective. Using the same principle, I’m designing online workshops for the School of Journalism to precede discussions around developing blended and distance learning. Stepping out alone is challenging but feedback suggests experiential learning as professional development has potential. The internet is here to stay. VLE’s are not going anywhere – regardless how some days we wish the technology might get up and leave the building! For all their problems and difficulties, the vle supports widening participation. The policy worked for me. Now it’s my turn to support whatever any-time any-place any-where format needed to ensure widening higher education experiences remain achievable aspirations rather than impossible dreams.
I thought Italy didn’t get better than Venice or Rome but I was wrong. Florence tops them. Anyone with a passion for art and history will feel at home walking in the footsteps of Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo. Galileo, Rossini, Brunelleschi worked there. The piazzas are unchanged. The same church bells ring the hours and call for mass. Cobblestones are original. If ever you wanted to kiss the ground, go to Florence where the essence of the renaissance spirit is alive and well. Although the practice of attribution makes me nervous, I risk suggesting people unaffected by Florence have no soul.
The 19th century author Stendhal, pseudonym of Henri-Marie Beyle,wrote the travelogue ‘Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio’ in 1817. Stendhal described his emotional reaction following a visit to Santa Croce, where highlights include frescos by Gaddi and Giotti dating from the early 1300’s. The frescos did it for Henrie-Marie. I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul…I had palpitations of the heart..Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling. In the 1970s, Dr. Graziella Magherini at the Santa Maria Novella hospital, observed tourists overcome with physical and cognitive responses to the Florentine experience and named this Stendhal’s syndrome.
I didn’t suffer SS but did contract my own version. Now known as Florence Face, FF is to be open mouthed while lost for words. It was sensory overload. Accustomed to a world of digital simulations, which can dilute the impact of a ‘first-time’ experience, standing in the Uffizzi, inches from Botticelli’s Venus, or seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Academia, were useful reminders of the power of authentic objects. Iconic imagery fails to capture the essence of the original. The Other is not the same as the Real. For someone who lives too much life online, where anything is available in digital format, being in Florence was to experience the impact of reality.
The virtual experience of teaching and learning can never be the same as a one-to-one tutorial or small group seminar. We have to accept the limitations. The rhetoric of the 1990’s was over ambitious and doomed to disappoint. Technology can’t smile but has definite advantages. Content can be accurately repeated. It doesn’t get tired. Links open new doors. Make unexpected connections. Reflective journals can be as comprehensive as necessary while remaining private. Cut/copy/paste commands make it easy to edit. Tools like blogs, wikis and discussion forums support online discussion and collaboration. Online assessment is neat and tidy. Online feedback legible. 24/7 access across traditional boundaries of time and distance widens participation. There are lots of positives to offset the downsides of mechanisation. While the virtual can never have the impact of the real, this doesn’t mean we should dismiss it. I still have my photographs and postcards of Florence. They are permanent reminders of what can only ever be a transitory experience.
I liked the NetGen Gallery WordPress plugin for photos. When you’ve had an event or been to a conference it’s useful to have an easy way to show pictures, especially if you’re a snapaholic blogger. It seems there’s no longer anything reliable for creating WordPress albums. I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Digging around my computer drive revealed a folder of images dated 2008. They included this one which seems to have escaped all my backup strategies. I haven’t seen it since possibly 2008. This is relevant because it reinforces the risk of image loss. I backup my photos-to-keep on cd and external hard drive but only print out a few. There are no guarantees our digital images will survive. I used Flickr but the increased data limit separated my old and new sets – the newer ones have recently vanished! I tried Picasa but didn’t like the way it controlled image display on my computer. I dabbled in Pinterest but take a lot of photos and there aren’t enough hours to continually recreate image galleries in different places. Facebook albums offer a useful solution; they can be made public to non-Facebook users but the link won’t get through Firewalls where Facebook is excluded. Keeping all my images together on WordPress would be ideal.
The Oxford Internet Institute world usage map shows the dominance of google. We’d all be shocked to see our online profiles. Google makes Orwell’s Big Brother look simplistic. Like digital exclusion, no one talks enough about data protection and it’s probably too late. The damage is done. The Oxford Internet Institute’s Cultures of the Internet report suggests more than half of British people use the Internet ‘without enthusiasm’. They go online because they have to rather than choose to, reporting problems with privacy, frustration and time wastage with a decrease in the usage of social networking sites.
A government with Digital First policy and practice should take notice. Multiple public and private agendas drive us online yet an Office of National Statistics (ONS) report shows over 7 million people have no internet and 16 million lack the skills and confidence for effective use. Digital exclusion has many levels from disconnection to disinterest. The primary issue with exclusion is it’s inherently invisible. Exclusion from digital platforms for discussion and debate makes you voiceless. Powerless. The silence is increasing. Research data is consistent. The ONS say of the 7.1 million people offline, the elderly and disabled are least likely to be connected with 3.7 million adults with a disability having no internet access. Barriers to access for users of assistive technology remain highest of all. Yet society has the technology. The latest SCOPE report Enabling Technology shows what is possible, but government enthusiasm and allocation of resources to make it happen are invisible too. Google domination is not complete but for all the wrong reasons.
The Cultures of the Internet press release contains the worrying suggestion digital exclusion is self imposed. ‘In the past, academics studying the internet tended to focus on the digital divide, examining why certain people did not go online: whether it was to do with choice or lack of access. This study shows that a small percentage of the population (18%) still have not used the internet and it suggests that most non-users have made the choice that it is not for them.’
Within the report (page 22) this disturbing direction is partially countered with the statement ‘While disabilities…are a continuing source of digital exclusion, over half (51%) of people with a disability use the Internet. This is a rise of 11 percentage points from 2011 (from 40% to 51%). Unfortunately, 51% is still considerably less than the 84% of non-disabled respondents who use the Internet, leaving a major digital divide for the disabled.’ [my emphasis]
There are mixed messages here which fail to recognise the diversity of the category ‘disabled’. They fail to pull out the specific issues of inaccessible internet design which cannot be interpreted by a screen reader or navigated by a non-mouse user. The category ‘disability’ lumps sensory, physical and cognitive impairment together with no acknowledgement of the range of different access issues individuals face through costs and learning curves of assistive technologies as well as poor online practice which discriminates against anyone operating outside a narrow range of access criteria i.e. the ME Model. Mouse. Eyes.
Cultures of the Internet makes interesting reading. We should take time to pay attention to the consequences of the shift to online ways of working. It isn’t being paranoid to highlight the social effects of a digital society, most of all the varying patterns of exclusion and engagement. If the higher education curriculum included critical reflection on internet implications rather than unquestioningly accepting changing digital cultures, it would be a start. If ‘digital’ graduate attributes were an expectation this would increase awareness of the social consequences of digital exclusion. Without this awareness attitudes which suggest it’s a life style choice rather than an act of discrimination will continue to be replicated and reinforced.
Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA) is coming. The virtual doors open 25 October for 9 days of online induction. Learning Block One commences 1 November. TELEDA is a 24 week M level course (30 CATS) designed to give participants experience of being a virtual student as well as examine issues raised by digital education, in particular open educational resources and inclusive practice. There is emphasis on critical reflection through a choice of digital diary formats with evidence of reflection required for the assessed eportfolio.
One course isn’t enough to cover all aspects of teaching and learning in a digital age and a second 30 credit module is under discussion. Together these will constitute a postgraduate certificate in digital education or teaching and learning online.
TELEDA is as much about the impact of the internet on education as about how people learn in virtual environments. Most of the resources are freely available. While the new cohort are completing application forms and getting head of school/department approvals, participants have been given links to a short video clip and a paper which cover one of the themes running through the 24 weeks; digital literacies.
Digital Natives Digital Immigrants by Mark Prensky was written over a decade ago but the dichotomy has stuck in public consciousness and the idea of young people being inherently digital – while older people are getting left behind – remains influential. While some people find the language of the paper contentious, and Presnky himself has revisited the original ideas, the issues around the appropriateness of educational systems – designed in a pre-internet age – offer valid discussion points. http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
The TELEDA pilot was a step in the dark for everyone but if you don’t try something new you don’t know what might come out of it. As more programmes consider blended and distance delivery, I remain the confident the opportunity to be an online student is the best mode of discovery for resources and activities which work – or don’t work – in virtual environments. What is increasingly clear is the original rhetoric of elearning has not lived up to its promise. Learning online is not a case of doing more for less. Retention requires resources. Of the human kind as much as a technological infrastructure. There is currently renewed interest in research into digital education; research based on the practical as well as the theoretical. We live in interesting times where virtual learning is being revisited and reassessed. I’m proud and excited to be part of the process.
Mills and Boon landscapes are places where alpha males strut and lesser females submit. M&B were about submission long before 50 Shades of Grey turned domination into a supermarket sex word. In the literature world they might not always be taken seriously but there’s gold in them there pages.
I was given a M&B for homework. The genre being romance, I expected Bridget Jones meets Catherine Cookson. ‘The Return of the Stranger’ by Kate Walker was more the visceral stuff of archetypes. All the classic M&B ‘ingredients are there. Lust. Revenge. Money. Power. Men portrayed as testosterone driven heroes. Women submissive. ‘The words shrivelled on her tongue as she saw the dark frown that snapped his black brows together over his blazing eyes, the sudden ferocity of his anger shaking her.’
M&B men have control over women who appear to want to be controlled. ‘He could have her now. Kiss her into submission….one day she would leave all her pride in the dust and she would beg for his touch’. Scary stuff. Women in M&B might have careers and social status but underneath they’re quivering psychological jelly.
I’m reminded of the heroes of ancient Greece who cared only about themselves. Theseus – who promised to marry Ariadne in return for a ball of thread to guide him out of the labyrinth – then snuck off in the night abandoning her. Odysseus – who took ten years to return from Troy, having affairs with Circe and Calypso on the way while Penelope kept house, weaving tapestry through the night to deter her suitors. When Odysseus came home he had all her maidens hung in the yard for the crime of sleeping with the suitors’ servants. Arrogance on legs. Plato’s utopian idea of a Republic contained three categories of people – the philosopher, soldier and artisan. All male of course. Women didn’t get a mention. It looks like patriarchy continues to thrive on a 21st century M&B booklist.
I turned to the M&B company for the advice they give to authors. There is acknowledgement the alpha hero has become somewhat politically incorrect yet the message given to M&B aspirants is ‘the success of Modern Romance proves that many women still fantasize about strong men’ The woman is the heroine but only as primary she-character rather than another Lara Croft or Grace Darling. An M&B heroine only finds her destiny or what M&B call her ‘journey of fulfilment’ via the hero. More scary stuff. ‘He takes control and drives the story; he has the power to make things happen! He is the key driver of the romance – he is the aspiration of the story’s heroine (and the reader) The Alpha Male is a celebration of strength!’ [their italics]
Glossing over the stereotypical images and clichés (I hate clichés) it’s my M&B had a story (albeit a reworking of Wuthering Heights). The author was skilled with the formula. For me there was too much description of what the characters were thinking in between their sentences. Many pages were all thought and not enough action. Descriptions of eyes like ‘shards of black coffee ice’ were original (at least to me – I may need to read more M&B to make an accurate judgement).
The best stories are those with space for the reader’s imagination. Writers need to show not tell and there isn’t much showing in a M&B. You’re given all the detail rather than the space for producing it yourself and in most places the detail is too much. M&B is primal stuff – driven by power and desire. M&B call this genre Modern Romance but it could equally well be Fantasy.
The word radical is not one I use often. I’m not political or revolutionary and don’t think of myself as activist. I like to work behind the scenes – preferably behind a screen. I’m a critically reflective practitioner, using action research to explore my course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and don’t much like speaking in public. Radical was not how I saw myself. Until I found Radical Research by Jill and John Shostak (2008). The book presents ‘radical’ as a mirror where I can see everything I do reflected; raising awareness of digital inclusion, developing online communities of support, exploring how critical reflective practice can emerge from virtual communities and spaces.
Radical Research is bringing together the different elements of my travels in philosophical places. More notes are over on the PhD page. For a book which only mentions postmodernism once, it contains multiple ways of seeing and a respect for alternative world-views which could easily be described as postmodernistic. For example, fragmentation of the social order, reconfiguration of forms of expression and an emphasis on language. ‘Just as the multitude overflows the boundaries of power so language slips from its bonds with content and opens up the possibilities for reconfiguring the visible, the audible, the real according to desires, interests, needs.’ p 10 Data is not given as fixed but is open to configuration and, thus, alternative ways of seeing while ‘…language itself provides the means for the destabilisation necessary for a reframing that includes the excluded.’ P 11
Radical research includes in its designs the means through which voices can be heard. It can do this through the reflective process of action research and collection of narrative which includes voices which have been silenced. ‘Writing difference into the ways in which the world becomes meaningful is itself a radical act.’ P12 As a writer with interest in slippages between the sign and its signification, I liked the book’s emphasis on the power of writing within the research process. This is an area I don’t think is sufficiently addressed. Like the prerequisite digital literacies for engagement with virtual learning environments, there’s an unspoken assumption all postgraduates can write and critically reflect through their writing. ‘Radical research is itself a writing project at every stage. With every interpretation of what the research ‘really means’, a new writing of it emerges. Through the process of writing, the radical becomes embedded in ways of seeing and acting.’ P12.
Chapter 10 W/ri(gh)ting fashions contains much which would not look out of place in a postmodernist text for example the ‘…parading of positions over the truth of a text invokes a catwalk of intellectual, cultural, social, political fashions. Each calls to an audience: look at me; take notice; my interpretation is right. But where in all this is the writer’s intention?’ P 244 Derrida appears in this chapter, Barthes is present elsewhere but there is no sign of Foucault in spite of the book’s attention to power structures, bodies and (Ill)legitimate knowledge(s). Deleuze, Negri and McCluhan make an appearance but Marx, is absent. I can’t position this book – as befits a postmodernist text. Maybe I haven’t read widely enough but I recognise much in these chapters which bring together the disparate range of books and papers I’ve worked through this year. If radical research is about writing as an emancipatory practice, and the making cases for the inclusion of difference, it looks like I may be more radical than I realised.
The phd is taking shape. The biggest challenge is time. Progress is slow because of the vastness of the project versus scarcity of hours. Each week I give up sleep and half my weekend. At the CERD Awayday 60 hour weeks were reported and accepted as normal. It shouldn’t be but it is. You can’t support, develop, meet, teach and commute without overspill. thankfully, doing a PhD is beneficial. I’m good at positive thinking and I love words but suspect if there were more time to immerse myself in texts I’d progress faster.
I’m still not fluent with matters ontological and epistemological. I don’t feel comfortable with the jargon. What I feel/believe to be true (ontology?) and my understanding of the nature of knowledge (epistemology?) is developing but I haven’t read enough. I don’t know what is enough. There’s been some progress though. I’ve positioned myself in the post-modern with regard to O and E. From this side, the dark side for the positivists, meaning is both contextual and contested. The inside interests me. Personhood is both external and internal facing. Grant me the serenity to know the difference between what I can and can’t change – and all that. I value experiential learning as the ground for scaffolding knowledge construction and see the process of critical reflection is the catalyst. Adopting an essentialist objectivist standpoint wouldn’t work for me.
One valuable aspects of doctoral research is the opportunity to position yourself; locate your ‘being-in-the-world’. It’s a bit like DIY psychoanalysis. Or the messages on the Brayford Pool Bridge. Where have you been. Where are you going. The answers are more complex than you might think. I’m interested in the digital identity. How online text – anything from a tweet to a tome – is interpreted by the reader. Barthes message in The Author is Dead, reinvented as reader-reception theory by Stuart Hall, offer useful starting points for considering the ‘presentation of self’ online. Virtual reality is the ultimate replication of the real; the simulation. The internet epitomises the postmodern condition.
Regarding ‘being’ I’m still not entirely sure where I am. Which could be expected from someone dabbling in postmodernism. Identity contains multiple contradictions. Is open ended and unfinished. We’re all products of our background and location with little certainty about what lies ahead. Berger and Luckman write about social reality hanging on a thread which can be cut. Most people have experience of thread cutting. I think this is what open ended-ness refers to. We can’t write the future. Or rewrite the past. We are what we are. Postmodernist theory is an attempt to capture the late 20th century human in an age of the machine and information overload.
Mike says I need to look at the slippage from modern to postmodern. Take care not to characterise them as all of one and none of the other. This is useful advice. Marshall Berman in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air insists the world remains a modern one; ‘We might even say that to be fully modern is be anti-modern’ (1981: 14). Anti-modern or post-modern, I need take ownership of my social reality.
What’s an ammonite got to do with it? I’m thinking about my pilot phd interviews and wondering about the process. As a research activity, my PhD offers the chance to explore the interview in more depth. I’m adopting a postmodern standpoint which challenges traditional ways of working. Opens up alternative possibilities. Nothing is fixed in postmodernism. I need to think spirals not squares. I don’t do numbers very well but I know the ammonite is formed in a Fibonacci spiral. As the developer of Walking the Labyrinth circular thinking suits me. My mind is an unfinished map full of links and connections. If I’m researching my practice in teaching online, maybe I should be researching the practice of interviews online too.
The word interview comes from early 16th century French entrevue, from s’entrevoir ‘see each other’, from voir ‘to see’, on the pattern of vue ‘a view’ http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/interview Their face to face nature is implicit but this is the digital age as well as a postmodernetic one. What’s interesting is I’ve been here before.
In theory, a truly postmodernist researcher would probably talk themselves out of existence but I find the mental gymnastics useful. The bricolage of postmodern ideas matches the eclectic nature of my thinking. Linkages keep appearing. In the way Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age brings together my work on open education and digital inclusion so the phd is bringing together a decade of teaching ICT in adult and community education with widening participation and my first Masters degree. In 1999 I used the internet – via a dial-up modem, dot matrix printer and 5 and quarter inch floppy disk – to collect first person narratives for my MA dissertation. I didn’t know anyone else doing this at the time. It generated in depth responses from people across the world. It also created ready made transcripts in digital format ideal for analysis; when studying part-time the pragmatics become significant.
I want to get personal. I’m interested in attitudes to technology for education. Like it or not, virtual learning is the future and I want to find out how to do it better. Explore the relationships between individuals and their machines. It may have more influence on engagement than has previously been acknowledged. Online interviews are flexible in terms of time and distance and the process would be more manageable for me as the researcher. The key question – and I don’t yet have the answer – is how participation through technology might compare with participation away from it? Would an email interview dilute or enhance responses?
It’s no secret how my own relationship with technology is fractious. I’m convinced the network conspires against me. My computer behaves inexplicably. I log on and trigger a fault switch. Irrational but true.
Yet I value the capacity of digital education to create meaningful educational endeavour. Virtual reality has limitations but so does face to face. How effective is a 50 minute lecture? A seminar group where no one’s done the reading? Group work with variable degrees of interest? I meet with Mike most weeks for 30 minutes. I test my ideas. Say where I am and how I’ve got there. Most of the time we don’t agree but it doesn’t matter so long as I can theoretically ground myself. We swap readings. My head spins. If I could lie down afterwards in a darkened room I would. You don’t get that sort of experience online – but you get a different one – equally valid – just different.
When it comes to postmodern research method, writers like Scheurich, Stronach and MacLure have useful things to say but they predate the internet. Classic action research texts from McNiff, Whitehead, Reason and Bradbury are great for method but have a focus on face to face. Where newer editions of these and of qualitative research manuals address the digital there is less about the postmodern. I haven’t yet found the published research into the links between postmodern theory and contemporary online educational and research practice. Which intrigues me. I’m either going off on a terrible tangent or have interesting times ahead
The phd machine lumbers on. Like Howl’s castle it’s clunky, noisy, blowing steam, neurons going off in all directions (I’ve stopped questioning how my mind works). Miyazaki’s moving castle is creepy but fascinating. Machine and magic together in a steampunk world. Weird but I like the blended eras – the juxtaposition of historical fact with present-day fantasy. Steampunk is a postmodern phenomenon.
I’m reading Lyotard. I wouldn’t begin to claim any expertise but Mike says I need to read original texts. The Postmodern Condition is 80 pages thin and there is something special about the connection. Me and Jean-Francois in the library with coffee and cake. There must be loss in translation and cultural difference to take into account, but the trick – I think – with postmodern theorists is to look for what they’re saying rather than get hung up about the way they say it. Sort of instinctive deconstruction. Part of the postmodern condition is fluidity where language becomes a conduit for impressions and ideas. Meaning is felt as much as spelt out but in this lies all the madness associated with the P word. Has any other movement been so universally hated? I think one of the reasons postmodernism became the scapegoat for everything associated with academic eliteness was because it was taken out of context. We live in a postmodern world of pic n’ mix and virtual realities, where knowledge is diffused. It’s as if postmodernism was ahead of itself – and would love the irony if that was so!
Once you get used to an idea, it can be hard to contextualise its initial impact. Lyotard says technology affects the nature of knowledge. Research and the transmission of ‘acquired learning’ cannot survive unchanged – it has to fit new media channels. Writing in 1979 – pre internet – Lyotard is referring to computers. The connections are not original – McLuhan was there before him – followed by Postman (was ever a name more apt for a postmodern era?) but Lyotard ‘s questions go deeper into language and the crisis of representation. The link between technology and knowledge has relevance to the implementation of the Digital Education Strategy (DES) at Lincoln. You wouldn’t want to bring Lyotard to the table, but the triangulation of machine, knowledge and user is useful for rethinking the purpose of technology in teaching and learning. There are many questions to be asked. If technology is the catalyst why do lectures and seminars remain dominant modes of transmission? How best can the institution support change? Are the words ‘digital education’ an oxymoron? How do we keep the language accessible? Reading Lyotard is easier than Baudrillard or Butler but still a challenge. I’m sure postmodernism would have made more friends if it cut the polysyllabics. There are lessons to be learned.
Anime is a postmodern pastiche where styles blend and convention upended; the depiction of Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle is a typical example where a young girl becomes both old woman and hero. Taken from the book by Diana Wynne Jones, the story is a fantasy made real. Postmodernism suggested the real is a fantasy. Academically, postmodernism was a disaster. It tried to tell us nothing can be fixed and found itself anchored. It promoted parody and found itself parodied. It was taken seriously when it told us not to believe in anything.
We live in postmodernity but struggle with language to describe it. Lyotard is worth revisiting, in the original, and applying to the present. Postmodernism may have more relevance than its critics would have us believe and Howl has more to do with the postmodern condition than you might think.
image source http://blog.ezinearticles.com/2013/03/new-ezinearticles-wallpapers-to-freshen-up-your-background.html
Make it New was a Modernist slogan, in particular for Ezra Pound. Early 20thcentury poets challenged the loose flowing vocabularies of Tennyson and Longfellow, preferring directness, a minimum of words for maximum effect. Modernist poetry is epitomised in Pound’s Station of the Metro and William Carlos Williams’ Red Wheebarrow. There’s a lot to learn from poets who are constantly making it new and doing things differently.
For a few months MOOC made it new. The MOOC front is quiet now. When the BBC News reported last week’s launch of the UK consortium FutureLearn the hype and fanfare were missing. Yet MOOC are valuable learning tools for higher education. All staff interested in blended or distance learning should do a MOOC.
For myself, poetry and MOOC connect through Modern and Contemporary American Poetry; a Coursera MOOC. It began its second run a few weeks ago. ModPo was my first encounter with MOOCing. I revisted the ists – imagists, modernists, confessionalists. I’m hanging around again, seeing what’s changed. Similar resources. The assessments seem more structured – peer review and comprehension-type multiple choice which require engagement with the content. ModPo uses a range of different materials; text, image, video, audio, discussion and live webcasts (available afterwards through You Tube) and is run by Al ‘You can call me Al’ Filreis (He really does say this!)
The University of Lincoln Academic Workload Model 2014/15 (draft) contains six categories of academic activity. Under Formal Scheduled Teaching Duties (FSTD), the eighth category is ‘scheduled time spent on distance learning supervision and guidance’. None of the seven categories under Teaching Related Duties (TRD) mention online, nor does the word appear anywhere else in the documentation. This suggests the reality of online learning in terms of preparation and practice has not yet filtered through to process at Lincoln. I’m searching for data comparing workloads between face to face and online teaching. One paper suggests online instructors spend three times more time than face-to-face instructors evaluating student work. but this doesn’t take into account preparation, facilitation, admin and performance tracking (got to love the language of a VLE!) I wonder if the apparent scarcity of literature reflects the lack or the nature of online learning. Either way, MOOC show possibilities. With the current shift toward blended and distance learning they have much to teach us – for free – about how to construct and facilitate virtual learning opportunities. MOOC praxis challenges what it means to learn; turning tradition up side down.
Digital Education is not about replicating what is already being done but rethinking and reinventing how we might teach and learn in the future. ‘The challenge is to systematically explore the integration of pedagogical ideas and new communications technology that will advance the evolution of higher education as opposed to reinforcing existing practices.’ (Garrison et al., 2010, p. 31)
As the gap between the rhetoric and the practice of digital education widens, questions are being asked about the failure of virtual learning to fulfil its promise*. In this space, MOOCs offer valuable opportunities to engage with alternatives. To do it differently. Make it new. Call on Al…
Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Fung, T. S. (2010). Exploring causal relationships among teaching,cognitive and social presence: Student perceptions of the community of inquiry framework. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 31-36.
* Feenberg, A and Freisen, N. (eds) (2012) (Re)Inventing the Internet: Critical Case Studies. Rotterdan: Sense Publishers
Feenberg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society. Lecture to the Course on Digital Citizenship, IT University of Copenhagen, 2011. http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf
Freisen, N. (2008) Critical Theory. Ideology, Critique and the Myths of E-Learning. Ubiquity vol 9 issue 22
Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65
Saljo, R. (2009) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (2012) 26, 53-64
Contemplating social reality needs head space, time, wine and useful points of reference. It’s a tough job. I’m not entirely sure I want to do it, but rediscovering postmodernism keeps me going. The virtual worlds I co-inhabit offer alternative realities postmodernists could only dream about. You can’t hold the internet in your hand but it exists. Being online connects us. The limitations of time and distance get lost. We become ethereal. Virtual reality is performances within a world wide web of forms; a replica, a simulation of the Real. The Other becomes us. We become the Other. Wow!
Cultural eras have retrospective names; renaissance, enlightenment, modernism. As the 20th century evolved into an knowledge network society, we became post-industrial and post–modern. Technology has taken over, integrating humans and machines. When will we become Posthuman? If only Marshal Mcluhan could see us now! Public information, welfare, health services all follow ‘digital first’ policy and practice. Education, finance, leisure, retail have moved online. We live virtual lives.
The postmodern condition was inevitable but postmodernity got hijacked by academics. Those working with postmodern concepts invented new ways of understanding social reality and their theorising became obscure and difficult. Yet no amount of intellectual posturing can change the fragility of the world; academics provide more ways of seeing and being but can’t answer the big questions. No one can.
I’ve been reflecting on archetypes. There are few certainties in life but ageing is one of them, as is death (shhhh….cultural taboo) and I wonder if the consistencies of archetypes can suggest anything about what it is to be human. In the postmodern world of machines, and the cultural condition of postmodernity, archetypes shouldn’t work. They suggest qualities which are innate, constant, universal; the dark side of positivist essentialism. But you can’t count or quantify them. They’re slippery and difficult to grasp. Conceptual. Abstract. Yet we all recognise the hermit, hero and trickster. The tarot’s major arcana is full of instinctive archetypal images; strength, justice, priestess, pope, wheel of fortune, fool. Archetypes exist beyond culture; similar to Plato’s Forms and Aristotle’s Essence. Philosophers have been arguing about them ever since and this is where I need to lie down in a darkened room. My head isn’t big enough and there so much else to do.
Archetypes are constant but interpretation is individual, personal. The way we think about the fool or the trickster is culturally influenced which is in turn historically situated. The separation of the signifier (word) and the signified (attached meaning) creates the space where postmodern social reality is located. Where alternative interpretations are abstract yet real for each of us as individuals. This – I think – is how a postmodernist lens works. The world becomes fractured and full of possibilities for meaning, which can’t be fixed or finished, but within that fluidity there are always the archetypes; shared ways of understanding the human condition. I’ve had enough now. My head hurts. Where’s the wine?
The the new academic year begins. The days shorten. I see the sun rising as I drive across the Humber Bridge. It makes everything ok On the allotment I’m pulling up plants and digging, getting ready for the winter.
Commuting and digging offer head space. I’m thinking about technology. What it means to be human in an age of the machine. It’s a pragmatic reflection. I spend too much time online. Too many hours connected to the internet. I think I may be addicted to google. Instead of exercising my brain to recall a name or place, I search for it instead. My browser history bears witness to cognitive laziness.
This new academic year will see the implementation of a digital education strategy for the university. Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) will run again. I will live, sleep and breath virtual reality. Open educational resources, inclusion, digital divides, eportfolios, shared communities of practice – I love it but I also worry I ask too much, the university asks too much, we all expect too much of what at the end of the day is a machine.
Soon I will be inviting staff who teach or support learning to give up an hour of their time to talk about digital education. Technically it will be an interview and be recorded. This is my data collection but I think of it more as a conversation about the relationship between humans and their digital technologies. I want to ask practical questions like:
- Why do we need to reinvent lectures for online delivery?
- How would you define being digitally literate?
- What can the university do to support your virtual learning?
I also want to know how how the internet has impacted our lives as well as our careers and professions. If we stop to think about the difference ICT is making; the divides it’s creating, the shifts in practice required by unprecedented access to knowledge, or is it information, or is it someone’s unsubstantiated personal opinion.
Saljo says ‘…[digital] technologies do not merely support learning: they transform how we learn and how we come to interpret learning. The metaphors of learning currently emerging as relevant in the new media ecology emphasise the transformational and performative nature of such activities and of knowing in general.’ (Saljo 2009:53)
I want to create space for conversations about the future implications of the internet for the university. There are calls for flipped teaching but how can this happen when lectures last 50 minutes and are delivered to 100 plus students? How can time and space be reinvented to suit an alternative education – a digital one? Where technologists across the sector lead on policy, how can non-technologists keep up? What happened to MOOCs. Why don’t we talk about accessibility any more?
These are the limitations of face to face communication compared to the timeless boundary-less landscape within my laptop. What does it mean to stay human in the age of the digital machine?
Saljo, R. (2009) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (2012) 26, 53-64
I’ve spent the week up close and personal with eportfolios. I love them! What a challenge. I can’t imagine a better way for demonstrating evidence of learning outcomes on a course designed for teaching and learning in a digital age. eportfolios step you outside the confines of a Word document. Hyperlinks and multimedia bring your assignment to life. This is creative non-fiction at its best. Neither frivolous nor irrelevant but bringing students and tutors face to face with digital literacies and digital scholarship. Higher education needs to loosen up. Explore the affordance of digital communication. Engage students in the application of their digital worlds to education.
As far back as 2008 JISC’s Learner’s Experience of elearning showed students arrive on campus with a variety of digital tools but little idea of how they can be used for learning. The Great Expectations of ICT report in 2007 found use of the internet and social media was the norm for those planning to come to university. The tools are all in place. We need to reinvent how we use them for teaching and learning. The divide between those comfortable with the technology and those still resisting engagement continues to widen and deepen. As learning curves get steeper individuals stay within their comfort zones. I understand. I cant use refworks. I get lost in GoogleX. As for the Blackboard Grade Centre I might as well give up and go home.
Coming face to face with the reality of using eportfolios for assessment has been a shock, a surprise and a revelation. More difficult than I anticipated but this is what happens when the theory hits the fan. Properly resourced and supported, eportfolios, may be an answer to encouraging toe dipping into digital waters, extending what is known, exploring what isn’t. I’ve been impressed with my eportfolio experience. It hasn’t been easy but nothing worth while ever is. I think there ‘s scope for revisiting how eportfolios can support digital graduate attributes, teacher education and staff development. I for one would be happy to take this forward.
C W Mills in the Sociological Imagination says sociology lies at the intersection of history and biography. People and the Past. What a great location. Mills says to think sociologically is about making the familiar strange. This requires thinking critically about the social world. Adopting a different way of seeing. Challenging conventional wisdom.
Questioning what is presented as social reality can change it. A sociological lens is a powerful way of seeing.
An interpretative worldview is supposed to be a flexible one. You’re not fixed within an objective reality but can be influenced by new knowledge and insight. This is the theory. I wonder how much interpretivists are still bound to their individual interpretation of the world. In quite a positivist way. Yesterday I was told teaching is a face-to-face experience. Teachers want to see their students. Make eye contact. Get to know them as people, not avatars. We go online because we have to. Reach more people, do more with less. The only reason we turn to virtual solutions is for real life problems.
We talked about the student experience in large lectures where the lecturer is a dot in the distance. How well constructed multimedia resources can be revisited, revised, reused, reach people who can’t be on campus. Widening participation. Creating genuine higher education experiences – online. Isn’t there a case for digital education? But we’re not technicians was the answer. We can’t create those sort of resources? What do we know about the pedagogy of teaching and learning online? Where is the institutional support for content development?
My participatory action research will involve face-to-face interactions like these. I’m going to be challenged on all fronts when it comes to my position on digital education. This will be good for me because I know I’ve become an online person. I hide behind my keyboard and computer screen. I prefer email to telephone. I hate Skype. My work involves positioning staff in unfamiliar virtual places, inviting them into my world of browser difference and multiple platforms, making their familiar worlds of lecture halls and seminar rooms strange. While I know their criticisms of Blackboard are not direct criticisms of my work, and as Feenberg says, ‘considerable progress has been made in using online education to support new forms of interaction among teachers and students.'(Transforming Technology, 2002:125), it will still always feel like I haven’t done enough.
Making the familiar strange is not only about how we see the world. It’s about how other people see us and the work we do. I have been usefully reminded how making the familiar strange is a personal as well as a political process.
Critical theory recognises there are multiple, often contradictory, claims to knowledge. A diversity of ways for seeing and being. Critical theory challenges dominant world views, mediated through discursive practices, managed and controlled by those with the political and economic power to control, and disguise their control, of the media and platforms of the public sphere. To adopt critical theory is to set out to uncover oppression, work towards emancipation and freedom to access resources and challenge discriminatory practice. Critical theory is a political choice.
Critical pedagogy calls for teachers and students to be aware of the politics of education. Freire says teaching has a political agenda and staff bring political notions into the classroom. Promoting awareness of the inclusive/exclusive parameters of virtual learning environments is a political action. It draws attention to alternative ways of being and gives sound to excluded voices. In an increasingly digital society, to be shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere is to be marginalised and excluded. Higher education offers possibilities to ensure graduates seek out and challenge exclusion rather than replicate and reinforce exclusive behaviours.
Critical pedagogy ‘…may refer to anti-capitalist education, anti-racist pedagogies and feminist pedagogies; training in social activism and mastery of social theory; individualised education in critical thought and community problem-solving; studies of language and of social structure; education for raising consciousness and for dismantling social boundaries; and pedagogical work inside the classroom and in other public spheres.’ (Amsler, 2010: 21)
Critical theory as technology critique.
Feenberg calls the relationship between technology and ideology the technical codes. Deleuze and Guattari (1972) refer to codes being the organised social areas where capitalist systems ‘territoralise’ desire and creativity for example gender, psychiatry, law, finance, consumerism, the family unit. Desire is attached to production and consumption but Deleuze and Guattari claim social class is not the site of repression and revolution; it is a strand of social relations but not the only one. In the same way they challenged Marxism they challenged Freudian views of the unconscious claiming it was not innate but socially produced; continually rewritten by society and history. This is Foucauldian territory but back to Feenberg who calls for a philosophy of technology via the ten paradoxes which suggest ‘…most of our common sense ideas about technology are wrong.’ (2009:3) and a critical theory of technology or critical constructivism saying ‘…technology is not universal or neutral with respect to values. Technology is value laden like other institutions that frame our everyday existence.’ (Feenberg 2011:6)
I’m looking for the places where critical pedagogy and technology come together. In my reading I have been encouraged by the following:
Freisen says the theory of the relationships between technology, media, education and social change have not been recognised in eLearning research. Freisen calls critical theory a ‘philosophy and a research methodology that focuses on the interrelated areas issues of technology, politics and social change.’ It’s central purpose is the destabilization of ideology in order to ‘…generate alternative knowledge forms, specifically, those shaped by social interests who are democratic and egalitarian.’ (Friesen 2008:1)
Saljo calls for learning technologies to have ecological validity ‘…[digital] technologies do not merely support learning: they transform how we learn and how we come to interpret learning. The metaphors of learning currently emerging as relevant in the new media ecology emphasise the transformational and performative nature of such activities and of knowing in general.’ (Saljo 2009:53)
Keri Facer looks to learning futures and says if education is no longer about autonomy but has become a site for interconnections between human, cultural and technological resources then ‘…the need to work towards the creation of an educational encounter that makes visible these diverse resources and works actively to overcome the inequalities and injustices they may cause, is increasingly urgent.’ (Facer, 2011:55)
I’m sympathetic to postmodernist theory; in particular when applied to virtual representation and have been encouraged to find I’m not alone.
Giroux says ‘…postmodernism’s central insights illuminate how power is produced and circulated through cultural practices that mobilize multiple relations of subordination….Instead of assuming postmodernism has vacated the terrain of values, it seems more useful to address how it accounts for how values are constructed historically and relationally. And how they might be addressed as the basis of ‘precondition of a politically engaged critique’. (Giroux, 1994:5)
‘A resistant or political postmodernism seems invaluable to me in helping educators and others address the changing conditions of knowledge production in the context of emerging mass electronic media and the role these new technologies are playing as critical socializing agencies in redefining both the locations and the meaning of pedagogy.’ (Giroux 1994:3)
Giroux calls for greater flexibility between approaches ‘…educators need to avoid the modern/postmodern divide that suggests that we can do either culture or economics but that we cannot do both…cultural politics matters because it is the pedagogical site on which identities are formed, subject positions made available, social agency enacted and cultural forms both reflect and deploy power through their modes of ownership and mode of public pedagogy…[with reference to Adorno and Marcuse] the most important forms of domination are not simply economic but also cultural and that the pedagogical force of culture with its emphasis on belief and persuasion is a crucial element of how we both think about politics and enact forms of resistance and social transformation.’ (Giroux, 2004:32)
On research design or the construction of effective pedagogy for virtual places
‘Although educational design has a twenty year history going back to 1992, most educational researchers confound research goals and methods… Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programmes and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among researchers with multicultural, gender or political interested, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology.’ (Reeves et al 2010:60)
It is Feenberg who offers a consistent and contemporary account of the fullest social impact of internet technology; one which supports the social construction of technology (Bjiker et al) and recognises how the coercive mechanisms of power are threaded throughout the internet alongside potential for subversion and resistance.
In (Re)Inventing the Internet (2012) Feenberg and Freisen describe how the internet has remained a contested technology between utopian and dytopian rhetoric, but which supports agency and enables challenge and change through connection, interactions and recipocracy. ‘If technology is neither a realm of rational consensus nor is it a mere tool of its owners and managers’ it cannot be seen as an ‘…independent variable’ but one ‘co-constructed’ by the social forces its organises and unleashes.’ (Feenberg and Freisen, 2012:3)
‘What is most innovative and politically significant about the internet is its capacity to support collective reflection on participant interests.’ (Feenberg and Freisen, 2012:15)
These seems these are places where critical pedagogy and technology critique can most usefully come together.
Amsler, S. (2010) Education as critical practice in Amsler, S., Canaan, J. E., Cowden, S., Motta, S. and Singh. G. (eds) (2010) Why critical pedagogy and popular education matter today. C.SAP: Higher Education Academy Subject Network for Sociology, Anthropology, Politics.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1972) Anti-Oedipus. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. London and New York: Continuum, 2004. Vol. 1 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 vols. 1972-1980. Trans. of L’Anti-Oedipe. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.
Facer, K. (2011) Learning Futures. Education, Technology and Social Change. Routledge.
Feenberg, A. (2009) Ten Paradoxes of Technology. Presented at the 2009 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Technology. Techne 14:1 Winter 2010
Feenberg, A and Freisen, N. (eds) (2012) (Re)Inventing the Internet: Critical Case Studies. Rotterdan: Sense Publishers
Feenberg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society. Lecture to the Course on Digital Citizenship, IT University of Copenhagen, 2011. http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf
Freisen, N. (2008) Critical Theory. Ideology, Critique and the Myths of E-Learning. Ubiquity vol 9 issue 22
Giroux, H. (1994) Slacking Off: Border Youth and Postmodern Education. Journal of Advanced Composition. Vol 14, no 2 pp347-66
Giroux,H. (2004) Critical Pedagogy and the Postmodern/Modern Divide: towards a pedagogy of democratisation. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter 2004.
Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65
Saljo, R. (2009) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (2012) 26, 53-64
I really need to move on to my data collection. The reading will continue but I must start the pilot interviews. My action research methodology is participatory and I need these conversations to help construct the research process.
It’s been a struggle to locate myself. My worldview is a bit blurred. I hold multiple beliefs and don’t want to lie. But a phd has to have one of these Weltanschauungs or perceptions of the world so I’ve settled for a constructivist ontology – an interpretative rather than a positivist approach to the question of what constitutes social reality. I agree with Berger and Luckman’s 1967 treatise on the sociology of knowledge: the Social Construction of Reality suggests social reality is produced and can be perceived in multiple ways. This applies to my epistemic position on the nature of knowledge which I would suggest is also socially constructed. How we understand and explain what we know or come to know rarely happens in isolation. It is more often a mediated process requiring communication and reinforcement (see Vygotsky’s Sociohistorical Learning Theory or Sociocultural theory and Zone of Proximal Development).
It terms of understanding the control mechanisms which shape social reality, I find Foucault useful for his work on coercive power structures in particular its historical origins and diffuse, embodied and thereby constructed nature. It’s a much debated approach but remains valuable. Foucault described power as discursive and flexible saying ‘We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production’ (Foucault 1991: 194).
A taxonomy of world views is nothing new but it’s helpful to compare the key differences between positivist and interpretivist world views, and everyone constructs or plagiarises one. I made this myself but its almost impossible to be original.
|Natural science||Social science|
|value free||Value laden|
|ways of seeing are built on universal principles and facts||Ways of seeing are personal and culturally/historically situated|
|The world can be known, measured and explained||The world is constructed from social agency|
So far this post hardly does credit to the amount of reading I’ve done but at least it locates me on the subjective side. Neither does it reflect the impact of the internet on our processes of knowing and understanding – which in themselves may need to be re-defined. I wonder what Vygotsky would say. A theory of sociovirtual learning?
Also, I haven’t said anything about disempowerment, marginalisation or discrimination. I haven’t mentioned technology. I need a paradigm of inquiry which critiques the role of technology in higher education through examination of the social relations between staff and their tools for virtual learning. Something which involves the agency of individuals to subvert the massification of education and resist an uncritical acceptance of the automation of teaching. The P word will be in there somewhere – sshhhh….it’s p for postmodern.
So the next step is to get critical.
Warning – longer than usual blog post – quite apt considering the title!
These past months I’ve known information overload. The era of abundance. The smallness of my blog in the massiveness of digital landscapes reinforces my insignificance. Ionesco’s ‘God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself’ sums up my existential angst at the impossibility of finding a single phd path with my name on it. My theory has to fit. The choice is important. This summer, as well as work overload, I developed inthereority complex, suffered headaches, blurred vision and keyboarditis. It seemed everyone else had their theoretical place and I was the only one lost, still struggling to find my philosophical home. Theory envy is not a healthy place to be.
Then I came across a paper called The ‘Weariness of the Flesh’. Reflections on the life of the mind in an era of abundance *I very nearly didn’t. Biblical references don’t do it for me but it was Solomon and he was wise so it couldn’t do any harm could it? Bible texts depend on translation – much has got lost over the years – but the authors used this (unreferenced) version ‘Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’(Ecclesiasts 12.12) What the old king was saying 3000 years ago, when presumably books were in short supply but who am I to be pedantic, there is certainly such a thing as having too much information.
The paper assumes internet access. Statements like ‘everyone who so chooses will be able to….’ P 44, it will be ‘technically and economically feasible for everyone [to document their existence online]. Seizing this possibility will simply be a matter of choice.’ P45 had me reaching for the highlighter pen. Then I read the following:
‘The issues in the first decades of the knowledge-driven era concern a new abundance and a new and perhaps growing disequilibrium between then raw materials of learning production (information resources) and the other factors [staff and their learning technologies] of learning production.’ (Gandel et al 2004: 46)
Writing pre Web 2.0 and the development of user generated content and file sharing though blogs, wikis and other forms of social media the paper calls for a more holistic approach to scholarship and learning in an internet age, one which addresses individual engagement. The metaphor used to describe this holistic approach is to view information systems as a form of ecosystem.
‘Therefore, we need to take a more holistic approach, one that recognizes the interconnection of information resources and of the individuals who create and use these resources. A metaphor that has been used to describe this holistic approach is to veiw information systems as a form of ecosystem – an information ecology.’ (p46)
I’d noted the recurrence of ecology in a number of papers (Saljo, Selwyn, Facer etc). I liked its emphasis on relationships and the interconnectedness of things. For me it’s the social relations between staff and their technology – where digital literacies are individual and personal like an extension of our personalities – which was not only an under-researched area but the one I wanted to explore through participatory action research. What’s also missing from the research into learning technology are greater connections with the social impact of the internet. There seems a need for re-examining what it means to learn in an age of abundant information. As Saljo says, in this new ecology of digital technology, perhaps ‘…what we need to learn and remember, and how we do it, will be different to what we are used to.’ (2009:57)
After reading about the weariness of the flesh, I felt less tired. Links began to appear. The abundance paper referenced Nardi and O’Day’s 1999 book, Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart.
‘The word ecology is important here because it conveys the sense of urgency about the need to take control of information systems – as Nardi and O’Day explain, ‘to inject our own values and needs into them so that we are not overwhelmed by some of our technical tools.’ (Gandel et al 2004:46)
Chapter 4 of Information Ecologies can be read on FirstMonday Location of technology is described as its habitation, its suggested the word ecology represents diversity rather than sameness (diversity being integral to inclusion) and with information ecologies, attention is less about the technology but more about the human relations the technology serves. So far, so promising. Then I noticed a reference to Neil Postman, quoted many times in these online ramblings for his suggestion the rise in ‘entertainment’ media will result in citizens amusing themselves to death – unquestioning their death by media. I don’t have a television. My small act of resistance. Postman, founder of the Media Ecology Association and influenced by McLuhan, made explicit the relationships between media and social control. He described the media as imposing certain ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, specifications which were more often ‘…implicit and informal, half concealed by our assumption that what we are dealing with is not an environment but merely a machine.’ (Postman. 1970)
Postman says media ecology sets out to make these ideological specifications explicit. This is achieved through uncovering the ‘…roles media force us to play, how media structure what we are seeing, why media make us feel and act as we do.’
Calling for critical thinking to be taught in schools, Postman writes ‘Let us suppose as Jefferson did, and much later John Dewey, … that the best way for citizens to protect their liberty is for them to be encouraged to be skeptical.’ His five suggestions for teaching critical thinking included the ‘art and science of asking questions’ and to teach ‘technology education’ because:
‘…in the next ten years, everyone will know how to use computers. But what they will not know, as none of us did from everything from automobiles to movies to television, is what are the psychological, social, and political effects of new technologies.’
Reading Freiere, Giroux and bell hooks, I was inspired by idea of education as the practice of freedom. Since writing Chapter 6. Invisible Publics: Higher Education and Digital Exclusion in Towards Teaching in Public: Reshaping the Modern University I’ve seen higher education as a primary awareness raiser of digital exclusion with social responsibility for promoting digitally inclusive practice. I knew my approach to my phd was via critical theory but I wasn’t sure what this would look like. There have been a number of calls for critical theory to explain the gap between the rhetoric and practice of elearning (Feenberg, Selwyn, Hall, Freisen) but also calls for examining the performative nature of learning (Saljo), critical pedagogy through a postmodern lens (Giroux) and a need for redesigning the education curriculum to make it appropriate for a digital age (Facer, Saljo, Giroux).
I am drawn to the words resilience and hope. For me, the pedagogy of online learning is a Pedagogy of Uncertainty. As always, these are reflections on my reading and subject to change. What interests me is the linkages, often unanticipated and found in unexpected places. Eventually I’m sure my theoretical approach will take shape. It’s already lurking within the writings of Feenberg, Giroux, Saljo and Freisen and of course Gandel et al – without whose reflections on the weariness of flesh in an era of abundance these connections would never have occurred.
* Gandel, P. B., Katz, R. N. and Metros, S. (2004) Weariness of the Flesh’. Reflections on the life of the mind in an era of abundance Educause Review. March/April 2004:4151.
Nardi, B. and O’Day, V. (1999) Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. MIT
Postman, N. (1970) The Reformed English Curriculum. in A.C. Eurich, A. C. ed., High School 1980: The Shape of the Future in American Secondary Education
Postman, N. (1885) Amusiing Ourselves to Death. Methuen
Postman, N. (1999) Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future. Vintage; First Trade edition
I’ve feel I’ve misused my time. It’s the ‘…ologies’ wot dunnit. I can’t find my epistemic position. I’ve gone round in circles – ending back where I began every time. I can’t get started with my data collection because I can’t position myself. As soon as I look at positivist/interpretivist paradigms I glaze over. Whichever approach I adopt there’ll be someone, somewhere telling me it’s wrong. I don’t have a problem with theoretically underpinning my research topic; it’s what lies underneath is missing. The broader definitions of social reality are getting me down.
I’m investigating the social relations between staff and technologies for teaching and learning. My rationale derives from theories supporting the social construction of technology and the potential for resistance against dominant ideologies which create inequality – in this case digital exclusion. Rather than dismiss the technology of the digital diploma mills, lets explore how usage can be more socially responsible and appropriate for an equitable higher education. I want to get critical but I’m not sure how to adopt critical theory without being Marxist and I can’t find a non-Marxist space which fits. As soon as I look at the Frankfurt School; Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Benjamin etc I don’t know where to begin. The literature is full of reinterpretations of their work. The School was predominantly white, western and male, located within a specific culture which has since moved on. They were products of their time. Like Freud.
Reading One Dimensional Man (Marcuse, 1964) Amusing Ourselves to Death (Postman, 1985) and the Culture of Narcissism (Lasch, 1969) I can see persuasive political, cultural and psychoanalytic theories – each manifest in the internet which postdates them – but still I can’t pin myself down. I like Butler, Foucault and Baudrillard too. As a writer, the calls for an alternative feminist language from Irigaray and Kristeva influenced me in the 1990’s as did discourse analysis. I’m critical of the social construction of inequality, be it through gender, race, disability, age, religion, but nothing exists in isolation does it? Everything connects as the postmodernists claimed it did. In a fragmented, bricolage sort of way. Where are the socially responsible alternatives to Marxism? Does every critique have its roots in Highgate cemetery?
There’s no getting away from it. I have to get philosophical.
Ontology and epistemology go together. You can’t have one without the other. Ontology is about reality; it refers to the subject of existence or the nature of the world. All the heavy stuff!
Epistemology is how your ontology is understood. This is knowledge itself; what constitutes knowledge and how new knowledge is created. The good thing about a phd is this can be personal; no one insists on a single answer – or at least they shouldn’t. The idea is you find your own, a bit like deciding on a religion but instead of a traditional deity, it’s the academic philosophers who adopt the role of defining existence. The trouble is there’s so many of them and they all have different ideas.
The starting positions are interpretivist or positivist. Interpretivism privileges individual ways of being in the world while positivism can be seen as more of a mass market approach. Our choice becomes our theoretical perspective. This duality is a simplification. There are cross overs. When Edward Bernays adopted his Uncle Freud’s understanding of individual psyche to create and promote mass consumerism – using psychoanalytic techniques to persuade people to respond to want rather than need – he blurred the lines between positivist and interpretative approaches. Bernays created propaganda; the science of persuading individuals to behave as a single entity. The nature of reality can be complex.
To capture ontology and epistemology on the page we choose a research methodology. Here is another duality – the qualitative and quantitative debate. Our methodology is informed by our theoretical perspective. Now it starts to get heavy because this is where philosophy has complicated the available alternatives. It’s no wonder the ancient greeks were so sure of themselves; they simply had less choice. The enlightenment philosophers have a lot to answer for.
It’s not enough to rely on instinct or intuition with regard to the nature of existence; you have to back it up too. I can’t go into a viva and say my allotment proves to me the existence of something beyond the power of science to recreate. When people challenge my chosen theoretical perspective, I have to be able to counter it with…… what? More theory?
If my perspective is theoretical then ultimately there are no correct answers. For every possible theory, there’re a whole host of people dedicating academic lifetimes to pointing out its weaknesses. At this point it would be easy to adopt a postmodern standpoint – but the danger with postmodernism is it can theorise itself into non-existence. If there’s one thing I ‘m sure of in my phd travels, it’s this. I’m critical about social inequality. Most of all I’m critical about discriminatory structures which create exclusion in a digital society. I’m with Tim Berners Lee. The world wide web and the internet contains the potential for democratisation of access – through the flexibility of messages carried via digital media to be customised to suit personal need. Herein lies issues of power. Of possibilities and resistance and the role of higher education to create social futures where digital public spheres are built on inclusive practice.
To get critical I need a solid theoretical perspective. To avoid getting lost in research jargon, which in itself can become a language of exclusion. I need an analogy – a personal, interpretative and qualitative viewpoint. As always for me, nature has the answer. In the way I understand binary constructions of language – where meaning derives from what an object is not – as in a tree is a tree because it is not a bush, a shrub or a hedgerow, I turn to the woods. Without individual trees there would be no forests. I have to find my favourite birch in among the oaks and ash, knowing I love them too. Poplars and cypress are out. So are the massive sequoias. I prefer trees offering shade with branches and leaves which rustle in the wind. Then I have to find others who agree and support me in my world view of trees. Here is a starting point. Lets walk in the woods.
This research should not be about ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’ but being critical about the role of the university as a site of knowledge production and negotiation. HE is accommodating new technologies but of necessity the process needs to be critiqued. (supervisor feedback earlier this year)
After a summer of discontent with theory, I’ve decided where my research is located; it will be pedagogically as much as critically informed.
The relationship between the university and learning technology is open to critique but my research remains within the discursive practices of ‘teaching educationalists to use technology’. Digital-first policies are increasing pressure to shift to blended and distance learning. There is an urgent need to find ways to adapt traditional lecture and seminar formats to online delivery. Not the passive transmission model of powerpoint and word repositories, but the building of genuinely experiential learning based on shared practice and collaborative group work. Time to argue about the politics of alternative technologies is running out. We need to make better pedagogical use of what we already have; to reinvent design and delivery which supports critical thinking and reflective practice while acknowledging internet access is changing what it means to know and to learn in a digital age (CIBER, Wolf, Saljo) Ecology as well as pedagogy is required.
I get nervous about calls for a radically different approach to education. While agreeing the need for curriculum resilience within fluid knowledge landscapes, I have less confidence in alternatives such as Edupunk’s contested DIY model as portrayed by Kamenetz Pathways and guidance might be more effective than freedom in an unfettered internet. Rather than move away from the university in Edufactory style, my research will investigate how to do different and better with what is already in place. Revolution is not the only response.
TELEDA was designed to be progressive. Resources include signposts towards critical pedagogy and social inclusion, learning activities are collaborative and communicative and technology is presented as potentially divisive. Participants are continually encouraged to consider inclusion. My approach is embedded in existing critiques of technology for learning. These include Feenberg’s call to analyse technologies as historically situated (1999) and restructuring the dynamics of technological design and development as social and political processes (2005) and Selwyn’s theorising of educational technology as a profoundly social, cultural and political concern (2010) Time again this summer I’ve returned to Foucault and distributed flows of power through discursive practice. I’ve discovered the places where Giroux has applied postmodern ideas to teaching and learning and where education represents the practice of freedom and a pedagogy of hope (Freire, hooks, Giroux). The work of Warshcauer, Seale, Selwyn and Facer, van Dijk and Seyeart on critical approaches to digital divides and exclusions continue to inspire me.
My PAR will interrogate TELEDA, for better or worse, It will focus on how virtual engagement for staff and students need not represent the automation of teaching but offer support for the higher level thought processes integral to a university education. Here I find Friesen’s critical approach to the myths of elearning and the work of Reeves and Harrington on research into learning design to be useful. The growing recognition of space between the rhetoric and the practice of elearning (Conole, Oliver, Feenberg, Reeves, Harrington etc etc) is supporting a rethinking of the translation of subject disciplines from the face to face to virtual design and delivery. Reeves et al suggest six possible theoretical bases for this research. I have chosen this one
‘Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programmes and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among researchers with multicultural, gender or political interested, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology.’ (Reeves et al 2010: 60)
So here it is. For over 20 years I’ve worked with technology for education. I was there at the beginning – from pre internet to dial up, MOOs and MUDs to Second Life, Twitter, Flickr and Facebook. I’ve lived and breathed in the spaces between the rhetoric and reality of virtual learning. Those spaces are now being made public and while the critique is essential, so is the need to find new ways to move forward. I believe this research will combine all the essential elements. I’ve gathered the work of critical theorists who speak of social responsibility and inclusion and am ready to construct my PAR framework for establishing a foundation for truly inclusive virtual teaching and learning, one which may appear more pedagogical than political but which nevertheless enables the rethinking required to build progressive online higher education appropriate for a digital age.
see PhD page for full references
On Friday 30th August, it all came to an end. The University of Lincoln Hull Campus closed. Its final year in rented space on the University of Hull campus finished. Nothing seems to have marked the occasion.
So… lest we forget
The University of Lincoln has history north of the Humber. It’s heritage is a direct line to the Hull School of Art which opened in 1861. In 1976, the School of Art merged with other colleges to become Hull College of Higher Education. This became Humberside Polytechnic, gaining university status, between 1990 and 1992 when it was known as the University of Humberside. Renamed the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside in 1996, it became the University of Lincoln in 2001.
- The Virtual Campus – precursor to Blackboard, Web CT et al – was built there, pioneering the concept of virtual learning environments long before they became famous.
- Work Based Learning was developed there.
- Achievers in Excellence and Aim Higher set the standard for widening participation with local schools and colleges.
- Getting Started began on the George Street city centre campus.
Colleagues with memories longer than mine will no doubt remember more than I do. Please feel free to comment.
So many people like myself were supported to return to education at Inglemire Lane and Cottingham Road as well as Queen’s Gardens and the Old Town. Our lives would be very different without the opportunities to study and develop in these places.
I feel sad to know it’s all come to an end, not with a bang, not even a whimper.
Shhh…. don’t tell anyone but I have postmodern leanings. I’m a writer. Words matter. Barthes has always been important to me. However much I craft I know I have to let go. Interpretation is personal. All words are imbued with alternatives yet language is all we have to produce meaning.
‘We are suspended in language in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down.’ *
Postmodernism was always going to be contentious. It doesn’t even exist in any graspable form. It’s more a lens for seeing reality – or challenging what we might think is real in the first place. A postmodernist lens has value for viewing digital realities – which are always second hand and can only ever be simulations of the real. Virtual reality and postmodernism go well together. Each time we log onto we become cyborg. We exhibit increasingly hybrid identities. The internet encourages performance. No one knows you’re a dog or a cat. You can have one persona or a dozen. Be anonymous. Be whatever you want to be. The categories of social attribution are empty. Fractured identities and the bricolage of digital communication platforms epitimise the postmodern condition. I fell for these ideas long before new digital stages for performativity were invented. Researching gender through a postmodern lens taught me how to think in spectrums, understand the social construction of sex. When it comes to social reality, I’ve never been one for fixed meanings.
Political sociology and revolutionary Marxism has no time for postmodernism. The harsh economic realities of 21st century favour the resurgence of popular politics. The dismantling of the welfare state and digital-first policies are creating new dividing lines where social difference is stark. ‘Postmodernism is dead!’ claim those who never liked it in the first place. It has fallen out of favour. I know this. Criticisms include being pretentiously intellectual, elitist, a showground for those with nothing better to do than climb inside themselves – anally.
Chomsky is one of many who has viciously attacked postmodernism Just a month ago he called it nothing more than the inflation of humanities, where advocates set themselves in competition with the theoretical physicists and mathematicians, the practitioners of real science as opposed to the ranting polysyllabics of the postmodern scholar’s empty posturing (Chomsky’s words – not mine). You have to ask what lies behind such a savage indictment. Chomskyesk polemic appears to be saying science is the only method when there is as much to be learned from myth as math.
When it comes to the day to day social realities of the use and abuse of learning technology, postmodernism isn’t going to hold up. Its strength is more philosophical than practical. I need to be grounded in social reality. I’m reading Feenberg’s critical theory of technology – instrumentalisation. I’m not sure what Chomsky would say to its polysyllabic title but it holds promise. I’m working my way into the gap between rhetoric and the practice of digital education, the space where technology is the site of tension between freedom and restraint. It feels like the road less travelled. I retain my postmodern roots. Academia is a world of parallel universes. Contradictory theories compete. Diametrically opposed ideas clash. There is room for everyone. Digital education as the practice of freedom has to be multidisciplinary, multi theoretical. There is space for all ways of seeing. Activism for social equality and justice should be a secular enterprise.
* Neils Bohr Quoted in Philosophy of Science Vol. 37 (1934), p. 157, and in The Truth of Science : Physical Theories and Reality (1997) by Roger Gerhard Newton, p. 176
Philosophy is tough stuff. We all experience life but when it comes to the consideration of knowledge, reality and existence, we tend to hand responsibility over to others. Instead of thinking it out for ourselves, we let those considered to be expert advise us on the nature of our own scientific and social reality. The P in PhD changes this. It’s about getting your hands dirty. It involves research into yourself as much as your chosen subject.
How do you know what you know? Seven is a magic number. These seven single-syllable words sum up the hugeness of doctoral research. Deceptively simple, they’re a doorway to a different world. A multi-syllable landscape with different ways of seeing and being. Working out your ontology and epistemology and defending your position in the face of opposing views, creates confidence. A PhD is an opportunity to confirm your world view. It does this by shifting you from what Larkin calls the unique distance of isolation – with all its subjective connotations – to a more objective reality, one shared by those with similar ways of being in the world.
There are no definitive answers. The first thing philosophy teaches is how life views differ. The choice is confusing but you need to find a path through the philosophy forest. A PhD is an authenticated journey. Taking up a position and defending it. Locating yourself with authority; becoming research engaged and informed. At first, if you want to explore a seemingly practical topic, like online learning, the P for Philosophy feels like the wrong direction. If you lean towards a world view diametrically opposed to your supervisor, you’re in for a bumpy ride. But when you read something which resonates, discover similar but authenticated interpretations of the complexity of social reality, it begins to fall into place. Althusser writes about appellation; the process of recognition whereby we are hailed by a subject position. It’s a bit like this. You collect similarities and discard differences. Eventually you’ll reach a place where you can justify your own approach. It takes time. The literature review will help but ultimately you’re on your own.
It can be useful to think of the PhD as a ritual or rite of passage; one where enough people have survived to be reassured it is possible.
This has been the summer of my discontent with theory. I’ve read myself into a black hole. Dipping into this, that and other. Getting lost and fed up. Nothing fit. The problem was caused through tension between education technology as affordance or automation. I have sympathy for both views but I’m more postmodern than Marxist. Above all I’m pragmatic.
There is a need to analyse technologies as historically situated (Feenberg 1999) and theorise educational technology as a profoundly social, cultural and political concerns (Selwyn 2010). I don’t deny this. But digital-first policies are putting increasing pressure on digital engagement. Shifts to blended and distance learning mean we have to adapt traditional lecture and seminar formats to online delivery – now! There is an urgent need to do better with what we already have.
This has been called ‘business as usual’; an uncritical approach which risks ‘co-option of technology as progress to a neoliberal educational agenda’. Business as usual is a failure to see how ‘…promises of educational technology clouds or ignores the complexity of socio cultural realities.’ (Hall, 2011:275)
I would suggest a different interpretation. There is choice. Rail against ‘the consumption of a specific set of tools that are owned or celebrated by dominant players’ (ibid) or revisit those tools to ask how best can they offer opportunities for engagement in a knowledge based society. Debate ‘socially necessary labour time and commodification of human activity’ or choose to make the best of what we have; focus on building a digital education which is pedagogically informed, scholarly and inclusive (Seale, Selwyn, Facer, Feenberg, Freisen, Saljo, Garrison, Eubanks, Reeves, Laurillard, Giroux – full references to follow in PhD blog page),
Business as usual is welcoming new and existing cohorts of students onto campus to start or continue their higher education experience. Business as usual is exploring ways to transform lecture and seminar content to online environments for students unable to attend in person. Business as usual is about working within the limitations of institutional vles to enhance tutor practice and student learning. Business as usual recognises digital education is an opportunity to rethink and redefine pedagogy for the 21st century.
This is not a well trodden path but it’s one we need to take. The technology of the world wide web is changing what it means to learn. The internet offers alternative ways of knowing and being. We need to know more about these. We need to increase awareness of digital divides and their implications. Higher education is where a difference can be made. Teacher education is where the difference begins.
The rhetoric of educational technology was always wrong. It does not cut costs, will not transform, do more for less, or improve efficiency. Effective digital education is time consuming, resource heavy and expensive. It’s challenging and demanding. But I believe it can work. It doesn’t have to impact ‘…skills and productivity in the production of surplus value, which can then be used to reproduce capital and capitalist social relations.’ (ibid:277) For me, digital education can in itself be the practice of freedom (hooks, Freire, Giroux). Critical of digital divides. Supportive of equality of access, inclusive design, awareness of diversity and difference, digital education can widen access to genuinely enhancing higher education experiences. The technology is a tool. It’s how we use it which counts. Educational design research is where my Phd is located and this is where it stays.
Electronic is the commonest answer. Which is misleading. It implies the two go together when they don’t; electronic has nothing to do with learning. elearning requires a new pedagogy. An inherent problem is the way existing educational theories have been moulded to fit. They won’t. They can’t. Not only does face to face practice not sit well within virtual environments, to create workable online educational experiences is to accept the reality of elearning engagement is the diametric opposite to how elearning has been presented.
Conventional rhetoric tells us elearning has the power to transform. The HEFCE ‘E’ could well include easy, efficient, effective, extended, economic – effortless? I made that last one up but the promotion of elearning as the answer to reducing costs and doing more for less implies a seamless transition from the traditional classroom to a virtual one. The anomaly – and the true reality – is elearning means increased costs and doing much much more – in terms of the design and delivery of learning activities as well as the technical, administrative and professional support systems which are all part of an effective elearning framework.
What would I call elearning?
Enigmatic? Exacting? Exigent?
The complexities of managing online learning are enormous, even Elephantine – as in the problem of the Elephant in the room. The resourcing the time, space, place and skillsets – all essential components. The real costs of elearning are so big no one dare address them. You could call it Expensive learning. Without a dedicated team containing a blend of technical and pedagogical understanding of digital literacies, digital scholarship and digital ways of working, elearning will continue to appeal to a narrow student base, retention will remain poor and the quality of online resources be an ongoing cause for concern.
As if this were not enough, elearning privileges those with means of access and the capability of using that access appropriately. If you are limited by an outdated browser, run an old operating system, live in an area with a poor connection speeds or depend on assistive technology, elearning will be problematic.
Out of all the possibilities the biggest e of all remains E for EXCLUSIVE.
Theory has layers. You have to get into it. Up close and personal. It’s not enough to be an observer. You need to read, reflect, write, read some more, and more, and more….
From no where has come a ‘blast from the past’. A memory from The Teachings of Don Juan. Finding a theory is like finding your spot on the porch. Carlos Castaneda writes:
He [Don Juan] asked me to remember the time I had tried to find my spot, and how I wanted to find it without doing any work because I had expected him to hand out all the information. If he had done so, he said, I would never have learned…. If, however, he had told me where it was, I would never have had the confidence needed to claim it as true knowledge. Thus, knowledge was indeed power. (1968: 20)
Theory isn’t fixed. It’s like wearing glasses. My prescription won’t work for you – yours won’t work for me. I don’t like your choice of frames but I can see how they suit you.
Theory offers explanations but I’ve found it difficult to pin myself onto the theory map. So I turned it round. Instead of trying to find a theory for me, I started to read about the theory searching of others. Here I discovered the layers. A triad of them. I like threes. They’re manageable and magic.
When it comes to research on learning technology, approaches range from theoretical absence, theories about learning and theories which adopt critical social perspectives. Within each layer are strata; multiple perspectives, all with their own separate theoretical approach and continually evolving and reforming – like amoebas. As you read, reflect and read some more… certain stands begin to emerge as structures. These form a framework enabling you to position your reading. Here, there, and everywhere – into the different perspectives – individual, institutional, national. All contained within visible and invisible discursive practices through which power and control are exercised. Yes, it does all comes down to power and control. Foucault remains relevant.
Once the layers take on a broader social and cultural identity, the PhD begins to take shape. Ontology makes sense. The being, seeing and positioning of yourself has to happen. You need to decide who you are. Find your purpose. Locate your spot of power.
Castenada, C. (1968) The teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui way of knowledge. London: Penguin; New edition (22 Feb 1990)
I learned about feminism the hard way. Through divorce. There’s nothing like custody to make you appreciate where discrimination lies. Today we face a mass of social and economic problems. Capitalism takes as much as it offers. The state of the NHS, the future of higher education, the media manipulation of welfare claimants are all cause for concern. Yet a life in the UK remains an aspiration for people across the world. We have space to campaign. Call for greater equality and social justice. Higher education can challenge and change. Maybe not the world but enough small parts to make a difference. The danger is seeing class as the only discrimination. A Marxist framework was useful for rising awareness of gender divides, but gender continues to divide society, deeply and silently. Economics is only one strand of the ideological oppression of women.
My feminist education was less work based than home based. Women find it hard to separate historical materialism from biology. Divorced, I faced the dual predicament of childcare plus the one issue feminism has never answered – toilet cleaning. The reality of women and work rarely sit well together. Work is problematic for mothers – regardless of their status. Whether married, single, divorced or widowed, without a support structure, usually made up of other women, the greatest load of childcare, housework and toilet cleaning is in the female domain. It has always been like this.
I fell out with feminism in the late 20th century because it denigrated the role of motherhood. In prioritising career opportunities and equal pay for women, the status of stay at home mother was downgraded. When it came to domesticity as a career choice, there was no sisterhood. I was lucky. I worked because I wanted to as well as needed to. At the same time I returned to my own education. These were the days of Women’s Studies where feminism was often theoretical. Political activism is safer on paper. In terms of bringing issues of ideological oppression of women into the public domain, there is much to thank the academics and campaigners for, but feminism took away the woman’s right to choose. It privileged work over housewifery. If feminism had invented, patented and given away self-cleaning toilets – every home should have one – it would have been a significant step towards gender equality. For every man who claims to be a toilet cleaner there are a thousand who’ve never wielded a loo brush in their lives. Power politics are played out not only in government but in the rooms of the home; the bedroom, dining room, kitchen room, bathroom.
Cultural attitudes have deep roots. Men still patronize. Women still get paid less for doing more. The ideology hasn’t changed. Gender discrimination is a powerful social tool and I don’t see how Marxism will change this. Who will clean the toilets after the revolution?
At this time of year, when colleagues are applying for staff development funding to do postgraduate research, I look back on how far I’ve come on my own PhD journey. If words were miles I’d have crossed the world by now. But they’re not. In the PhD landcape I haven’t gone very far.
The vastness is unimaginable. Every layer brings reading of a scary proportions. Like dreams with too much to fit in the suitcase, a new PhD seems uncontainable. You have to learn to live with overspill. Books on the floor. Papers in the bedroom. Hard drives get confused. Dropbox overflows. All topics of conversation are miraculously related back to your research topic or some quirk in a paper you’ve read which resonates. You can’t get it out of your head. It needs to be shared. Like a martini. Any time, any place, anywhere. While everyone else has a life, you only have an uncompleted PhD future.
To anyone starting doctoral research part-time be warned, you will regret it – and unless the subject is close up and personal, you’re unlikely to complete. Strategic management of time and subject is your only hope for survival. Focus, motivation, incentive and very understanding family, friends and colleagues are essential. The PhD will move in. Take over. Your head will have two compartments. One work. One PhD. Everything else will be evicted or move out on its own accord. Think of it like a partner – always there but sulking in the corner because you’re not paying attention.
Like a dog, a PhD is not for Christmas, it’s for life and August is the cruellest month. The end of July is full of colleague-speak about time off; vacations/staycations or chill. The start of September is review and reflect on said time off. August is miserable. August has become the busiest month. VLE upgrade, Getting Started and TELEDA eportfolio submissions all arrive together. There is much work to be done.
I don’t research well at work. I prefer the home office. Getting on the read-think-write cycle without encountering real world distractions. Did I say a PhD is the most anti-social of occupations? The problem is the process of engagement is cumulative. When the going gets tough (is it ever any different?) it can take days to get your head in the right place. It’s a cognitive thing. Fitting the world inside a brain the size of a grapefruit is hard work. There is never enough time. Never enough of the right time. Which is where this post began. Time and distance travelled. Not enough of either. I should be chasing my still elusive theories rather than blogging…
When people tell you part-time is tough they’re not exaggerating. The chances are they’re not even being tough enough. The only way to find out what it’s really like is to do it. But there is hope. In spite of the ever-increasing circles, setbacks and frustrations, I know it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. When you read something which resonates or talk to people who care about the same things it reinforces your sense of purpose. Get the power balance right and doctoral research offers real opportunities for advocacy and working towards sustainable change. It really is about being what you want to see in the world. A PhD is one way to experience this. So good luck. Because you’ll need it and I hope you also have a fantastic journey getting there. Just don’t wear a pedometer.
Theory. A lens to see the world. A framework for making sense. I’m ok with the theory of theory. But whose theory is it and how ‘big’ should it be? All encompassing or subject specific? Reinventing the university or enhancing teaching and learning? Does education have to be critical? Should I be aiming to change the world or can I start with a smaller part of it? My research topic is teaching and learning online. It’s small in the scheme of things – but with potential to grow, be subversive, challenging, empowering. Social justice concerns me – but my research seeks to improve virtual practice – for now. I can write issues of digital division and exclusion into the curriculum, make inclusive practice part of the business of content development and online delivery. This is power. An example of a Freirean approach to the politics of education, where the enabling and disabling affordances of technology constitute my political agenda. In an increasingly digital society, to be shut out from the platforms of the public sphere is to be marginalised. Disempowered. Where the university is a place for critical knowledge production, a platform for debating oppositional ideas, it is also the place for raising awareness of silence; a platform for knowing and challenging exclusion rather than replicating and reinforcing exclusive behaviours.
Questions with no answers. Should my theory address wider discursive frameworks of power or focus on contemporary perspectives in elearning research? Do meta narratives and philosophical giants need a place, or are the experts in my field of study enough? What does the macro in a PhD look like? How macro can I go? Higher? Lower? Ground myself in the changing relationships between people, technology and knowledge? The commodification of education? The future of the university? Or is the rationale for participatory action research enough?
elearning research is a young discipline; not yet fully matured. Researchers have applied an eclectic mix of positivist and constructivist philosophies to underpin a range of learning theories. This should be liberating. It should instil confidence to know there is freedom to rethink and reframe what has gone before. I don’t know why I’m finding it so difficult. I’m Libran though. Good at balancing multiple sides of different stories. Identifying strengths and weakness. I sit well on fences. On either side of multiple possibilities. I’m more postmodern than Marxist but even this doesn’t help – the social impact of the internet reflects powerful capitalist roots and most literature on the VLE refers to the commodification of knowledge
This has been going on for long enough. I need to get brave, be decisive, ground myself in a theoretical approach which works on all levels. It’s not easy. Does the theory relate to the educational process or should it frame the wider society in which the pedagogy is located? Do I select a theory because it fits or because the words dance on the page shouting me! me! me! How do I know the best direction to take?
This is the problem with freedom.
Every time I turn a corner it’s like a new beginning – but not in a good way – more oh **** another focus shift needed. I guess each move is a step closer but appreciating it will take the benefit of hindsight. At the moment my sight is limited, the future hidden and the progress I think I’ve made is never enough. I have pilot participants ready to talk to me but it seems I’m not ready for them.
I can’t position myself epistemologically or ontologically, never mind axiologically – which is possibly the key of the three. When it comes to technology for learning my criticality is driven by my values. It seems these run in ever increasing circles of contrariness to the majority view of pushing the frontiers. I believe we need to look the other way – compare where we are to where we’ve come from. The distance may be less than received wisdom would have us believe. I think closer attention to resistance is called for. A realistic approach looking to the past and the present. Technology has not transformed teaching in higher education. It might enhance on-campus delivery – it can improve part-time and distance learning – but it cannot transform. Not without attention to the time it takes to produce tasks and facilitate activities or surface the ways it excludes as much as widens participation.
Back the phd. I don’t know how to get theoretical enough. I don’t know how to align myself. I support approaches which offer multiple realities, identities and positions. Grand narratives which scoop everyone into a single overarching structure are less attractive. Pluralities appeal. I met postmodernism in 1999 and I liked it. Within the messiness of postmodern ideas, structures can be identified; hidden agendas and power mechanisms. I can adopt a critical approach in order to uncover these; to show the social underpinning of technology, education and knowledge in a digital age. But I can’t link this with the deeper philosophical language of doctoral research. I can’t move forward from where I’ve been stuck for months. I can’t talk theory.
There are two sides to every story, sometimes three, four or more. Experience influences interpretation and a university should contain oppositional views. Negotiation is the name of the game and there is nothing like educational technology to polarise views. As the new academic year brings discussions around implementing a digital education strategy, I feel a growing sense of unease. The VLE is mostly a repository of attachments to module guides, lecture notes and powerpoint presentations; it has become an information conduit not a communication facilitator.
Adoption remains patchy. Early promises of transformation have not been fulfilled. Rather than blue sky thinking around what might be possible maybe we should begin with what we know. Using technology can take more time than it saves, it’s likely to break down, disconnect, not be there when needed, involve steep learning curves, operate through an ever diminishing set of access criteria and is ultimately a poor substitute for human face to face interaction.
I continue to support teaching and learning online. I believe it enhances distant and blended learning and 24/7 mobile access to relevant content and procedures can only be an advantage to busy people living busy lives. So why the distance between the users and non users, the early and late adopters? Rather than prioritise innovation, should we pay attention to resistance? Not everyone is comfortable interacting with a machine. One reason is time. Promises of efficiency are diluted by the reality. Managing teaching and learning online requires significant amounts of time to adapt content, facilitate collaboration and group work, moderate communication, and respond to students on individual basis by text or video. Technology is not always efficient. It breaks down. It confuses. Why cant I find anything on the portal?
In a recent editorial for Learning, Media and Technology, Neil Selwyn* asks how technologies which arrived on promises of a ‘freer and fairer education’ have had the opposite effect. What happened to ‘…pre-millennial expectations of the cyber-campus and seamlessly ‘blended’ learning?’ Where are instances of digital technology which are ‘…genuinely enabling and empowering for those that use them?’ Promises of transformation go on; mobile learning – flipped classrooms – more open educational resources and courses. The voice of the academics are seldom heard. Digital divides by their nature silence those who are late adopters or lag behind.
Unless we listen to staff who are teaching and supporting learning – rather than being driven by interests outside of the lecture theatre/seminar room – we’re not going to achieve bottom up sustainable change. I still believe in the affordances of virtual learning environments to widen participation and offer genuinely authentic learning experiences. I still believe ICT can disrupt and democratise – but the essential workloads need to be acknowledged and shared. I agree with Selwyn who suggests digital technology for university educators should be developed by the same university educators. Greater resources for courses and those who teach on them has to be worth revisiting as digital futures for teaching and learning are planned.
* Selwyn, N., 2013, Digital technologies in universities: Problems posing as solutions?, Learning, Media and Technology [P], vol 38, issue 1, Routledge, Abingdon Oxon United Kingdom, pp. 1-3 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439884.2013.759965#.UgM0jdLqmSo
As Blackboard faces upgrading and the procurement process grinds on, Getting Started offers its annual overview of the ways the VLE is used across the university. On a scale from good, less good to not at all. Getting Started has always had differential levels of participation. I believe the disparity has less to do with attitudes to transition and is more a reflection of the way Blackboard is used across individual practice. As a T&L Coordinator supporting the use of technology, the gaps suggest I’m not doing a very good job. My current downer on all things virtual continues. Students like their VLE but workshops and surveys suggest differential use between modules and courses is an increasing cause for concern. The question of minimum standards has been mooted although how this would be mandated or policed is less clear. I get despondent over exclusive practices, but there are bigger issues around initial engagement in the first place. Feenberg * may be right. The technology has failed. As Laurillard ** says we are on the brink of transformation – but have been there for some time.
Maybe if we took the technology away?
My MA in Open and Distance Learning with the OU was delivered online. Four of six modules used a variety of tools and assessment activities. I chose the last two from social science. Resources were delivered in traditional distance learning style; cardboard boxes full of cds and books. No online element – not even a discussion. Assignments were posted and returned hand marked. This was not long ago. I learned as much about the affordances of technology to enhance learning, and the power of online communities of shared practice to create new knowledge, by their absence as their presence.
Getting Started is a useful snapshot of VLE engagement. I call for inclusive practice but if Blackboard is not being used, or is a holding place for a collection of Word documents, conversation around TechDis Accessibility Essentials or the DDA/Equality Act is doomed. The gap between my conception of virtual learning and the reality of a VLE as a repository for Word and PowerPoint requires rethinking. Discussions around the Digital Education Strategy need to focus on the low end-user and non-user. Pushing up to blue skies will not address resistance.
Is resistance to Blackboard political or personal? Is it indicative of broader attitudes to internet enabled communication and information? You may as well ask if exclusive practice is deliberate or inadvertent? No one intentionally sets out to exclude. There is innovative and exciting use of Blackboard across the university but they remain in pockets. The problem with technology is the divide between those advocating use and those who are the users. The digital divide has less to do with access and more the way access is managed and the continual problem of content being presented in single formats based on assumptions the user can access it. I don’t have the answer in the present economic climate. All I know is in their relationship with technology, people will find their own level and stay there. It might not be effective or inclusive – but without increased human resource and ring fenced funding to support change – the current situation of good, less good or not at all is probably about as good as it gets.
* Feenburg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf
** Laurillard, D. (2008) Digital technologies and their role in achieving our ambitions for education http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/628/1/Laurillard2008Digital_technologies.pdf
Failure is not an Option! http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/06/02/failure-is-not-an-option/
Diversity is what makes the world go round. Or at least it should. Experiments of conformity must fail. Equality of opportunity is the fairest system; not being squeezed into narrow behaviour ranges or receiving privilege simply because you belong to a dominant group. One of the largest ever examples of discrimination is being created by the shift to digital practices and lifestyles. The design and delivery of online content increasingly privileges a narrow range of access criteria – the MEE Model – based on the assumption all users operate with a mouse, eyes and ears. This fails to reflect the diversity of ways people do use computers and access the internet but it is successfully excluding those who rely on assistive technology or non-standard methods.
Inclusive practice with digital content can directly challenge exclusive behaviours. The Web pioneers campaigned for accessibility “…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.” (Dardailler, 1997*)
I’ve been reflecting on increasingly exclusive web design and contemplating the failure of guidance from the WAI and Equality legislation; asking the question what lies at the root of exclusive digital practice? I’m coming to the conclusion its more to do with psychology than technology. We look for the quickest option, the easiest route, familiar ways of working. But as the social shift to digital ICT continues, so does the need to raise awareness of what digital exclusion looks like.
The new e-learning package Bribery Act and Anti Money Laundering on the HR Portal elearning page https://portal.lincoln.ac.uk/C11/C0/Online%20Training/default.aspx is an example of how commercial companies appear to be unaware of the principles of inclusive digital practice. Here are some examples.
The narration starts with no warning. There are no user controls to stop, pause, restart, move backwards or forwards. The narration is only on a few slides, each time starting unexpectedly. This sequential use of audio can’t be an alternative format so it’s not clear why it’s included. The audio can be toggled on or off in the Accessibility controls but you need to open the menu to find this. The volume can also be controlled here but the option is mouse operated (no sliding scale – one click for every number between 1 and 100). There is no ‘save settings’ button. The only way out of the Accessibility menu is to close the window. Close equates Exit more than Save.
The standard keyboard command Ctrl and + to increase magnification doesn’t work; it does reveal the zoom icon in the top right which runs up to 500x in digits but makes no difference to appearance. To customise appearance to preference is through line spacing and text size in the Accessibility panel. This was not successful. Images run over text
Buttons don’t resize.
Colour contrasts don’t all adapt to my choices as well as text frames not resizing.
Text boxes merge.
The background colour can be changed but this lost the content on certain slides offering a green screen.
There might be a clue on slide 28 which contained images and suggests the background layer may be positioned on top of the graphic layer – only a guess but something somewhere is not right.
The keyboard controls appear to be only for moving through the bottom bar buttons; not offering alternative navigation which should be standard practice.
There are no alternative ways to navigate through the slides nor click on text which is bold or part of an image and links to additional information
Tab and Shift highlight essential structures but moving from slide to slide in this way is slow and laborious. Shift also brings up the Contents menu which Esc doesn’t close – only a mouse click will do. These keyboard alternatives are unrealistic for navigation. There is no information about how to access the content without a mouse.
The accessibility window has an image of a wheelchair. I wonder why?
This image associates accessibility of digital content with disability and disability only with wheelchair users; neither fair nor accurate assumptions and going against the principle of inclusive practice which is achieving improved assess for all. It’s like saying transcripts are only for people with hearing difficulties – which ignores those with no speakers or headphones or who simply prefer text to audio.
There are other design issues which are questionable. External links take you into a new window with no warning and closing the window returns you to the elearning menu page – rather than the last slide.
Where a name is given as a source of further information, the name is hyperlinked to Outlook which assumes the user has Outlook installed; I don’t have Outlook on my home laptop – so without any details such as an email address or phone number there is no way of contacting the person.
The use of transitions to load pictures is reminiscent of death by PowerPoint. Slide 7 has an spelling mistake in the answer window. This suggests not only was the resource not piloted for alternative usage outside the dominant MEE model (Mouse, Eyes and Ears) it also hasn’t been proofed for errors.
I’m not responsible for this resource but it’s indicative of how inclusive practice with digital data is a dying art.
I wonder if anyone else caring about equality of digital opportunities is also contemplating failure.
Screech, scratch, scrape – this is the sound of the soap box being dragged out again. For years I’ve been a lonely voice for digitally inclusive practice. Advocating the TechdDis Accessibility Essential series for making electronic documents more readable http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/resources/ae Supporting the principles of inclusive practice as improving access for all. In the beginning I’d be encouraged by all the ‘I never thought of that’ comments but recently I’ve begun to feel a failure – because nothing’s changed.
Being resilient is what matters. Equality of access to communication and information technologies matters. I’ve tried to adapt. One of the learning outcomes of the new Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age online course
‘Reflect on and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice on relation to inline teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students.’
Here is an opportunity to give the soapbox centre stage on a validated teacher education programme. My phd is moving towards the inclusive practice aspect of digital literacies and scholarship with the opportunity to develop a participatory action research project on, in and around the subject of digital inclusion.
But on the outside nothing’s changed.
The editorial from the Journal Research in Learning Technology’s special edition on digital inclusion (Vol 20 2012 available free online http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/issue/view/1432) starts optimistically. It identifies how ‘current digital inclusion research has failed to produce a detailed critique of what constitutes empowering support from educational institutions and their staff’. How the ‘lack of open and reflexive accounts of practice’ is hindering identification and understanding of the ‘essential empowering practices’ which are so necessary for challenging the prejudice, stereotypes and risk-aversiveness – all of which contributes to digital exclusion. Here is the language of my sessions with staff and students on the values and ethics of a digital society but the ultimately the Journal only points out old problems and suggesting new solutions – calling for a ‘bolder approach’ by policy makers and funding agencies – precisely because so far nothing has changed!
The reason for this blog is the UL HR elearning packages. It got off to a bad start with the image on the Portal page https://portal.lincoln.ac.uk/C11/C0/Online%20Training/default.aspx Here is an example about nothing changing. Text over images is never good practice – especially when advertising ‘e-learning!
Looking at the Staff Learning and Development Poster page http://posters.lincoln.ac.uk/group/sld it seems this one slipped through – or looking at the dates on the poster archive page – may be the sign of things to come.
Could I suggest the use fo text over images quietly slips out again or the new designer visits http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/inclusive-communications/channels/publishing.php for some useful guidance on creating accessible posters.
My sense of failure was heightened with the new e-learning package Bribery Act &/and Anti Money Laundering (I hate ampersands!) Faced with the question of taking time to highlight the issues or ignoring them – I decided to take time out to climb on the lonely soapbox and register another solitary protest.
See Contemplating Failure Part Two…http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/08/01/contemplating-failure-part-two/
I’ve been criticised for calling myself a pragmatist. It has connotations of neutrality. It isn’t political enough. Politics is my weakness. I don’t really have any. It’s not I don’t care about social justice or equality of opportunity. It’s just I’ve adopted a practical philosophy. My approach to life is ‘I can’t change the world but I can work to change my little part of it’.
I didn’t think I needed politics to do a phd. I expected to have to think about knowledge, learn the difference between epistemology and ontology. I thought I’d have to locate myself on the educational spectrum but I didn’t expect my lack of political acumen to be such a barrier to progress.
It’s not enough to want to research my own practice using virtual learning environments, to better support others use of education technology. I have to demonstrate I’m against those with vested interests in automating teaching. It’s not enough to be aware of hidden power structures and work to raise awareness in others so they can adapt their practice accordingly. I have to advocate the failure of education technology in the first place. Which is a bit like telling me the past 25 years of my working life have been misguided and misplaced.
Not everyone has political bones. My political apathy doesn’t come from privilege. My background is economically poor and socially marginalised. I know how capitalism creates inequality, how it privileges those with financial security and disempowers the poor. I’ve seen how capitalist systems replicate disadvantage, how they construct social ghettos of low opportunity and aspiration. I believe higher education offers opportunities to raise awareness of inequality, to understand the construction of power and control, to uncover the replication and reinforcement of inequality, to support social justice. This is as political as I get. But it’s not enough.
My theory is not deep enough. My criticisms not founded, my arguments too weak and my opinion not important. Without being grounded in theory, I haven’t earned the right to speak. I thought where I was and what I did was enough. Actions speaking louder than words and so on. Unless it’s for a phd. Where it seems the words matter more than the actions.
I understand the rationale for theory. The need to avoid the risk of applying theory rather than critically engaging with it. I knew a phd was about questioning, about accepting or rejecting theoretical approaches. But I thought my reading and reflection was enough to get started on my data collection. It seems not. I’m still floating. Not grounded enough. All of which makes it feel like I’ve hardly begun. So if I stop now, while I’m closer to the starting point than I realised, it won’t be such a waste will it? I could keep the politics in a box. Stay pragmatist and proud. Alternatively, I could investigate the possibility of being both pragmatist and political at the same time.
‘We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.’ This sounds like Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Message,1967) but was written McLuhan’s friend, John Culkin, who also said ‘a lot of things have happened in this century and most of them plug into walls.’ (quoted in Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman Charles Weingartner, 1971 p 10)
The plug referred to television. Today we plug into the internet, taking for granted all the multiple channels of mass media which so concerned McLuhan, Culkin and Postman et. al. 40-50 years ago. The process of logging on may be shaping our working practice but any modification of behaviour can’t be directly attributed to the technology. The development and integration of machines in our daily lives ultimately derives from the external social landscape, one which positions us within the dominant political economy of the time.
Postman and Weingartner called for education to be subversive. Young people should ‘…question, doubt, or challenge any part of the society in which they live, especially those parts which are most vulnerable…schools must serve as the principal medium for developing in youth the attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism.’ Schools should also be capable of instilling in students – a la Hemmingway – a built-in, shockproof crap detector! I guess that’s one way of describing critical pedagogy which sets out to uncover the power structures disguised as ideology and culture.
One of my favourite words is resonance. It describes universal significance but resonance can also be personal; a poem has resonance when it ‘hits home’ and reader ‘hears’ what is being said. The stab of recognition might not be shared by all. The act of naming is individual. Althusser wrote about appellation and identity; how cultural discourse offers a variety of subject positions which ‘hail’ us; we recognise what fits and adopt.
Education needs the principle of resonance. To learn requires the application of new to existing knowledge in order to integrate and understand. Resonance happens when something makes sense. Resonance can be applied to crap as well as to meaningful synchronicity and validated knowledge. What matters is distinguishing between them and knowing what matters to you as an individual.
All roads lead to my PhD and this is no exception. Where there’s no resonance there’s less interest. Part-time doctoral research is a tough choice and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m having an existential moment. I know what I want to research and how I want to manage the process but I feel the tools are shaping me in directions I don’t want to go – where there’s no resonance. I’m being positioned in the wrong place. I don’t want to change the world, just my own tiny little part of it. I’m thinking I might give up. The only sense of direction is backwards.
Stickers on apples are annoying and un-organic. They don’t decompose and sit in landfill sites for ever. As if the perfect shape and wax coated skin was not evidence enough of human interference in a natural process, they have to have a sticker on too!
Why does every apple have a sticker? Once you know it’s obvious – but I didn’t
It’s about the automation of shopping. About user-managed self-service checkouts with only one apple type on the screen. If you have a different apple then key in the user code which is on the label. Simples.
At 6.00 in Asda his morning there were no check-outs operating only the self service ones. How much money does Asda save by automating the shopping process? It still needs the human on hand to sort out issues but one person manages multiple self-service stations. This is the automation of shopping. DIY. Or don’t do it at all.
Is this also the future of the VLE? Choose your course, work through the onscreen instructions, interact where required, pay and walk away with the product.
I’m still reflecting on the issue of power, since the lack of it was commented on in my EA2 (see politics and power) This weekend I revisited ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’ (Adam Curtis, 2011). The 3-part documentary examines how power is perceived and distributed. I’m writing about resistance to virtual learning. Both are connected to the 1990’s. Curtis revisits late 20th century dreams of a cybernetic utopia with freedom from social controls and conventions. Dearing’s 1997 landmark report into the future of higher education claimed the internet would transform the university. There is more…
Underneath, I’m interested in the social construction of identity; how society controls gender expectations opposed to how we interpret ourselves and ways of resistance. The commodification of gender expectations is a powerful and invisible social control. I’m drawn to Edward Bernays application of his uncle Sigmund’s psychoanalytic ideas to public relations and marketing. I also like postmodernist ideas on subjectivity, in particular Baudrillard on simulation and social manipulation of confusion between the Sign and the Real. Power is the thread which pulls this altogether and digital media the channel where power operates most persuasively. In Propaganda, Bernays describes PR as the ‘conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses’. He claims this is an important aspect of democracy and ‘‘Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.’
It’s a small step to social controls through corporations and governments. These excursions into power soon encounter Foucault who explored the power and authority of institutions and the state, how it became anonymous and embedded in bureaucracies. For all his ideas have been supported or critiqued, the Foucaultian view of hierarchical surveillance is alive and well and living in Google.
We have become accustomed to digital ways of working, but resist digital pedagogic practice. The lecture and seminar remain the most popular form of transmission and debate. The virtual in learning environment remains largely invisible.
Visions are rarely neutral and with technology they are mostly utopian or dystopian. In 1999 Daniel Nobel wrote Digital Diploma Mills attacking the distribution of digitized course material online, seeing this as a regressive trend towards mass production and standardization in the favour of commercial interests. In 2005 the HEFCE first elearning strategy promoted technology enhanced learning as leading to transformation through radical and positive change. In 2011, Feenburg (author of Questioning Technology, 2001)claimed the promise of virtual learning in the 1990s has come to nothing – and ‘the automation of learning has failed’
The embedding of the university VLE affects everyone who works or studies there but it is not universally loved; more tolerated or even hated. It’s possible the sector is still in a state of transition. Socrates complained the written word would damage education if people no longer needed to meet up and discuss philosophical ideas. After Gutenberg, there was concern the book would harm the educational imperative. Resistance to teaching and learning online may be an extension of academic culture shock. Or resistance may run deeper, indicative of caution from critical thinkers and reflective practitioners.
The joy of a digital education strategy is the potential to enhance teaching and learning. The recognition we are under-resourced to support digital engagement is welcome. The fear is the starting place. Blue sky thinking is visionary. Before looking to something out of reach, some brown ground work is needed first.
When the word transformative is applied to technology I get nervous. In the beginning, twenty years ago, transformative was common. HEFCE’s first elearning strategy (2005) promoted the ‘transformative potential of technology’, following government ambitions for the internet to transform society – no less. In 2009 HEFCE published a revised strategy. Transformative is still in there but the word enhancing dominates. Enhance is a better ambition. The TQEF of those times was aptly named – Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund. The university’s Best Practice Office, renamed Teaching and Learning Development Office, was funded through the TQEF and its Teacher Fellow Scheme a great example of how education development funds support innovative digital practices in teaching and learning, led by teachers not technologists, who sought to enhance not transform.
- efficiency (existing processes carried out in a more cost-effective, time-effective, sustainable or scalable manner)
- enhancement (improving existing processes and the outcomes)
- transformation (radical, positive change in existing processes or introducing new processes).
I think we need to be positioned on the middle ground of enhancement where technology is an additional pedagogic layer – not a replacement. Virtual learning cannot automate the higher education experience. Blue sky thinking is not the way forward at the present time. We need to ground strategic thinking in what we have and what we know.
I’ve always worked where nervousness and excitement combine. Fear of technology is a serious condition. We should take more notice of it. There’s much to learn from resistance. Nervousness has many forms; you might not even see it’s there. Quite often, the realisation of how technology can support/enhance existing practice pushes the nervousness away. But like an addiction, it always back. In particular it strikes when you’re alone in front of the computer and something doesn’t work as you expected or you’ve forgotten what to do next. This is the point the technology gets put to aside and traditional methods of working re-emerge. Most people prefer the comfort of the familiar and the secure. The danger/thrill seekers are the minority. Digital practices are much less about the hardware/software/workshops – they are human and individual – and as such there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
A digital education strategy has to recognise the person behind the machine, the pedagogic differences between subject disciplines, the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet and above all the nature of help. This is brown ground stuff. It’s the bottom line. The starting point. Unless we have empathy for resistance, digital divides can’t be seen. Unless we acknowledge the work to be done in encouraging, supporting and resourcing the late adopters, digital education will always be unequal and exclusive.
There are so many places to be online and I want only one. Ideally this blog is my one stop shop. A snapshot of who I am and what I do. So this needs to include photographs. But my relationship with WordPress and images has always been fractious. The NextGEN Gallery tool did what I wanted. Then something broke and instead of fixing it a new media tool was added. Now I have to start from scratch when hundreds of pictures of projects and colleagues are already uploaded through NextGEN. The Media tool contains the promise of linking to NextGEN but when I try nothing happens.
I used to like the Social Homes Widget link to my Flickr Photostream. Then Flickr changed format and my account settings split into old and new. Both with the same url. I can move between them in Flickr but the widget only showed old images when I wanted new ones. I added a NextGen Widget to the side bar instead. It gives me the thumbnails I want but they open onto a blank page. I wonder why the tool is still there when it doesn’t work. A Jet Pack image widget only gives a broken link although everything looks like it’s filled in correctly. Maybe it only takes certain URLs and not others.
This is about digital literacies. I could do better but I do try and I’m not digitally illiterate. WordPress frustrates me; it always has done. It offers multiple ways to work with images but none of them do what I want. Linking the different elements of your life online should be easier than this. Plus it takes time. There is never enough time and when you can’t achieve your aims it feels time is wasted. I never know if it’s me or the technology but either way the result is too often not doing things because you can’t make them work.
I’ve stuck with this for several reasons. The assessment for the short course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is an eportfolio and there are a few other projects across the university looking at WordPress as an eportfolio tool. Text only blog posts are boring. Images can ‘educate, inform and entertain’. They are essential components of any eportfolio environment and I’m interested in how we support eportfolio construction at Lincoln. WordPress is ok. I like it a lot but when it comes to usability I think it could be better. Plus it’s Monday morning – never the best part of the week – and sometimes it’s cathartic to start the week with a good grumble!
My Ethics approval (EA2) was resubmitted and conditionally passed with comments to be addressed. One was about the issue of power. There was not enough of it.
Power is not often on my mind. I know my place. I don’t manage – I scaffold. I liked participatory action research (PAR) as a methodology because it enables collaboration. PAR will test my theories around online learning; namely the student knows themselves best. When it comes to finding ways to support staff engagement with technology for education, the students will be teaching me. I have a toolkit of online learning activities but without participation they won’t get used and learning will be limited. Virtual learning is a partnership. Without communication and collaboration it simply won’t work. Online tutors need to be skilled in creating opportunities for learning at a distance when all the evidence suggests successful teaching is fundamentally a social activity. It’s a challenge and this doctoral research will aid the development of teacher education at Lincoln. So what did I need to say about power?
I’ve had to reflect on this. The Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) course is heavy on reflection. It’s a teaching tool in itself. Revisiting Freire, I was struck again by the fundamental simplicity of critical pedagogy. The ancient greeks had it sussed. From Socrate’s the unexamined life is not worth living to the words above the Delphi Oracle ‘know thyself’ – politics is and always has been ultimately personal. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we teach? Is it to replicate and reinforce or to challenge and change?
The move towards incrasing blended and fully online courses has the potential to widen participation but also reduce the quality of the experience. Retention figures evidence the difficulty of engaging learners online. Who talks about MOOCs these days? It took less than a year for the bubble to burst. There are important lessons to learn from MOOCing. Back to power.
I have a problem with the idea I might in some way be disempowering. I’d interpreted PAR as willingness to give power away – after all, it’s inviting critique of my practice. Then I thought about TELEDA’s resources. As well as critical evaluation of the philosophy and practice of open education, I’m insisting on a critical awareness of digital exclusion. TELEDA is my platform for drawing attention to alternative ways of being and raising awareness of excluded voices.
In an increasingly digital society, to be shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere is to be marginalised and excluded. Higher education has a responsibility to seek out and challenge exclusion rather than replicate and reinforce exclusive attitudes and behaviours. The subject of digital access is challenging and uncomfortable. I’m asking participants to examine their own practice for barriers, knowing they will find them and perceive removing them as additional, often unnecessary, work. Who provides audio and video content in alternative textual formats? No where near enough!
I believe inclusion is an essential component of effective digital scholarship and integral to teaching and learning in a digital age. If higher education doesn’t address the causes and mending of digital divides it is failing society. TELEDA is my way of making a difference. I can’t change the world but I can change my part of it.
I can see myself and my PhD may be more political than I realised.
A phd is like a dog – not just for Christmas – it’s for life. It needs feeding, watering and taking out at least twice a day. The advantage is I don’t have to scoop the poop and there’s no dog hairs on my settee. The disadvantage is it’s sneaking in and taking over – although I don’t mind really. Like dogs have a way of getting through to you, me and my phd are starting to get on. The relationship’s improving; it could be getting serious and it might last for some time.
Over on my PhD page there’s the public side of my PhD journal. It tracks my regular meetings with supervisor Mike Neary; references my reading and contains reflections on the process of engaging with doctoral research. The entries aren’t blog posts but they do sometimes raise issues which are bloggable. At the moment I’m considering my position. Feet on coffee table, laptop on knee is not enough. I have to know where I’m coming from. In phd-ology language this is my ontology and epistemology. In my head it’s contextualization. How much of myself do I put into doctorate?
The answer is more than I anticipated.
I’ve always lived my life in layers. I compartmentalize. Have multiple identities. What’s exciting is the way the phd process is creating linkages between these layers, in particular how the theme of authorship and text keeps reappearing. I need some time out to explore this.
So excuse me please, I have to walk the dog. I may be some time.
Conferences highlight the value of shared time and place. Mike Neary opened Day Two of the Student as Producer Conference. Disrupting traditional keynote presentation style, sitting behind a table with a hand written notebook, Mike talked about the layers of Student as Producer. It’s been three years. In that time, the eloquence of Student as Producer has become refined. There is strength in layers and Student as Producer has multiple levels of engagement. It’s also startlingly simple. Involve students in their education. Invite academics to rethink their teaching. Discover how the relationship between teaching and research can be made less dysfunctional.
The thinking needs to be critical. Critical as political, as well as personal. Political thinking takes time. I’m not sure I’m political enough. Engaging with change isn’t easy. Not because changing practice is difficult – it’s the other, often invisible, requirements. Time. Motivation. Confidence. Change is resource heavy. We resist less through dissensus over new practice principles, but the weight of workloads, bureaucracy, administration. We rarely live in isolation and our others might not acknowledge the social and institutional crisis or ways to protect, defend and reinvent the idea of the university as a radical political project.
I’m a pragmatist. I want to make a difference – who wouldn’t – but I’ve stopped trying to change the world. These days I focus on my little part of it, using education to raise awareness of digital divides and social necessity for digitally inclusive practice. I’m not a revolutionary Marxist, but the social impact of the internet drives me to challenge digital discrimination as a road to social justice.
Digital scholarship is a strand of Student as Producer. The University is developing a Digital Education Strategy. Mike talked about the Reinvention Centre at Warwick; its absence of chairs and tables designed to destabilize expectations of an educational environment. There was no power point. Mike says the teacher is the point of power. Today, an internet connection is the point of power. Re-imagining scholarship for 21st century also requires attention to the digital aspects of education, in particular the parameters of access, exclusion and use. Maybe we’re not talking about this aspect of Student as Producer as much as we could.
With hindsight I should have done a workshop. There were more questions than time to ask them. I halved the session; planning 15 minutes to raise issues and 15 minutes to talk about them. On reflection I should have done a pecha-kucha; a mini presentations of 20 PowerPoint Slides with 20 seconds each to talk about them (6.40 minutes in total). A PK would probably work with Prezi. Once, back in 2009, I saw Prezi used well – but never since. Prezi is a classic example of the technology leading practice. It has potential but too often the effect is sea sickness – not what you want to be remembered for.
My presentation suggested Boyer’s strands of scholarship; Discovery, Application, Teaching and Integration now required a layer of digital literacies – only then can we talk about digital scholarship – one of the strands of Student as Producer. I showed how Embedding OER Practice http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk had created the time and space to talk digital, share digital practice, create enthusiasm for creative commons, for the reuse and repurposing of content, and now the project is over, how I’m trying to preserve some of the energy and enthusiasm for digital ways of working with TELEDA – the new Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age short course 30 M Level CATS – delivered and assessed entirely online.
Maybe my ending should have been my beginning (apologies TS Eliot); the challenge of student use of technology, in particular social media and mobile devices in seminars and lectures. I always try to fit too much in – but there is too much to talk about.
It’s been three years since the start of Student as Producer; now the organizing principle of the University of Lincoln. The Student as Producer Conference (26/27 June 2013) marks the end of the funded phase of Student as Producer. Opening the conference, Mike Neary, Dean of Teaching and Learning, described the layers of Student as Producer philosophy and practice.
The classroom layer where Student as Producer has influenced the curriculum and its delivery, changing the ways new knowledge is created.
The institution layer where Student as Producer challenges and critiques the purposes of the institution in order to develop and progress an alternative vision of what a university should be.
The broader layer where Student as Producer is a political movement, protecting and defending the university as for the public good; Student as Producer is an act of resistance to students as consumers and the pedagogy of debt.
As Day Two of the conference begins it can be followed on Twitter #saspconf or via the live conference blog http://saspconf13.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/live-blog/
Xertes 2 has lost this. I’ve been told this is now html5 rather than Flash but the Tooltip function on the images isn’t working – not is the magnifier – at least, not in Chrome and I haven’t seen any browser preference specified. whether I select Default, Full Screen, or Fit Window, the size remains 800 x 600 – unless I alter the Embed Code (see second example). I may need to experiment more with sizing when creating content – I worry this is another example of the invisibility of digital divides and prevalence of the tripartite MEE Model of computer access; Mouse, Eyes, Ears. Accessibility features need to be visible and at first sight this looks like a loss rather than gain.
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) Learning Block Four covered online communication and collaboration. It was clear from the discussions the issue of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour is contestable. Personally, I incline towards old fashioned strictness! The internet increasingly supports environments where almost anything goes but this needn’t be the case for virtual learning environments. With my tutor head on – I’d suggest discussion forums are not chat rooms. Unless they’ve been set up for social purposes, they’re forums for discussing issues around teaching, learning and research and guidelines should be in place to maintain that focus.
It’s never too early to encourage students (and staff) to think about appropriate online identity and boundaries between the personal/private and public/professional ways we present ourselves online including the language used. Students in particular need support in developing digital graduate attributes and awareness of the permanence of digital footprints. Establishing a code of conduct at the outset of any online discussion is good practice. It reminds participants of the purpose of the forum and can clearly state how any explicit or implicit personal criticism is unacceptable. With this in place, and a reminder to adhere to the code with each new topic, the ground rules are set and mark the point where intervention is required. How to manage that intervention is also contentious with different people having different ideas. There’s no escaping the fact managing online communication and collaboration is a challenge. It is also time consuming. Yet when it works well, online discussion can offer powerful learning experiences through communities of practice where links between participants can remain active long after the course itself has ended.
There’s a new thread running through my PhD reading and reflection; how little has changed with ‘e-learning’. In the digital education world, innovators and technologists have raced ahead – buoyed with project funding – reinventing multiple wheels and embracing the new affordances of social media, demonstrating their connectivism from tweeting cliques – while many more staff remain excluded from the mysteries of social media and virtuality, following the traditional lecture/seminar models and wishing learning technology would quietly leave the building. I find myself somewhere between the two. I’ve been reading Feenburg (see the PhD page) In the ninth of his ten paradoxes of technology, the co-construction of technology and society and resulting feedback loops are demonstrated through Esher’s print ‘Drawing Hands’. Like a Mobious Strip, or the chicken and the egg question, the print confuses our expectations of order. It reminds me of the VLE – the only way to learn it is to use it but how can we use it without supporting the learning?
When VLE’s were first embedded into university systems there were expectations of adoption and use e.g.HEFEC’s Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy full of the rhetoric of transformation. Over on the Phd page I’ve quoted Feenburg who said in 2011 ‘the promise of virtual learning in the 1990s has come to nothing and elearning within the university has failed’. I’d suggest it hasn’t failed; more not worked out as well as it could have done. I’m a learning technologist with a remit to support virtual pedagogy. Failure is not an option. I still believe in the affordances of technology – access beyond the barriers of time and distance – and the potential power of online communication and collaboration to create communities of shared practice where learning takes off and runs. The best way forward is working directly with teachers and learning developers on how best to enable their own digital scholarship and literacies. There’s no secret to effective online learning. We know what works. Give staff time, space and incentivisation to adopt digital ways of working alongside a reliable knowledgeable support system – and they will – the TELEDA course shows enthusiasm and interest is there. What’s missing is the time, space and incentivisation – and a support system robust enough to reach across the schools and departments. The reason the OU do it so well is the resource they put into it. The reasons other institutions do it less well is their DIY approach to technology; elearning hasn’t failed, it just needs a different strategic approach to innovation.
Reading the literature around technology and society is to visit some gloomy, pessimistic viewpoints. I agree technology is devisive. Access to technological resources can be seen to replicate wider social structures of disadvantage and marginalisation. But I need to be optimistic. I don’t see technology for education as necessarily essentialist – or as Douglas Kellner says in his response to Feenburg’s book Questioning Technology –‘…having a primary dimension which is functional…instrumental, decontextualizing, reductive, autonomising and determinist.’ P161-2. Those who interpret it this way miss the creative potential of the user. I remain positive. Given the time, space and incentivisation to integrate and contextualise the use of technology, it can be enriching rather than dominating and reductive.
This is my motivation for adopting an action research methodology for my research one which invites staff to participate in a process which seeks to improve relationships with an institutional VLE. I believe without investment into the staff who use it, who are best placed to say how they could use it more effectively, there can be no freedom from the loop of resistance. Without participatory research into the staff experience, resistance to the VLE will continue, it will be negatively critiqued, and used on a ‘needs-must-if-at-all’ basis. I do believe VLEs can be used effectively to enhance teaching and learning for on campus students and provide a valid alternative for those learning in isolation at a distance. I also believe staff are excited by the potential of new digital media but lack the opportunities to develop the new ways of thinking and managing their practice. The pilot run of Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is already suggesting this. The challenge now is to investigate how best to manage this process before the next academic year.
Feenberg, A. (2010). Ten paradoxes of technology. Techné, 14(1): 3-15.
Feenburg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf
Kellner, D. (2001) Feenberg’s Questioning Technology in Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 18(1): 155-162, 2001.
We all have different stress warning signs. The one which works for me is not blogging. The realisation I’ve missed not one, not two but three weeks – and scarcely noticed – is a signal my work-load needs attention.
Writing is my favourite form of expression, so long as it’s digital. Give me a laptop with a word processor and I’m happy – most of the time. Having a ‘To Do’ list which is always on the increase, regardless of how much gets done and crossed off – is not so good.
Workload is a contentious topic. It’s excessive for everyone. The idea of 9-5 with work-free evenings and weekends is no longer an option. The challenge is to manage the work/life balance and normally I do it well; using weekends to catch up with friends with a walk on the beach, with family over a dvd and bacon buttie – plus life on my allotment – this gives me everything I need – so what’s gone wrong?
Is it – dare I say – the phd? I suspect this has tipped the balance yet I know I’m incredibly lucky. My doctoral research is around my primary work interest – digital education – and my reading has been a fantastic opportunity to revisit old studies on the social impact of technology, in particular through culture. It’s all good but I’ve reached the point where what needs to be done is greater than the time I have to do it in – and I feel guilty writing this blog post when there are so many other tasks I should be getting on with instead.
It takes a brave person to admit to work overload. So often it’s seen as a reflection on poor time-management or self-organization. I’m not even sure this blog post is a good idea – but I realise if I’m not blogging then I’m not reflecting, and if I’m not taking time to apply some critical thought to my practice, then I’m no longer being effective, and that’s no good to anyone
It can be time consuming to search through the mass of content labelled as OER. Where quality resources exist, they are most likely to be professionally produced and supported, for example through the OU’s Open Learn. This raises the issue of the extent to which academic and professional service staff can be expected to be content creators.
Absence of appropriate subject level OER this led to opposing approaches – some felt it was an opportunity to release content as OER while others felt this might detract from interest in taking the course. ‘Open Educational Resources: An Introduction for Managers and Policymakers’ from the Higher Education Academy includes the VC at Lincoln saying “The most compelling argument for the release of OER is the Marketing opportunities that it provides. The more you release, the more people know about you.” The OU use this approach in Open Learn; offering ‘tasters’ from full courses which have to be paid for, yet as this activity shows, this approach to OER is not universally accepted and OER as undermining the market base should be taken seriously.
Experience with MOOC was mixed. Most found useful content either for work or interest – but expressed concerns about design and delivery. The media hyped ‘threat’ to the future of higher education was not generally supported by observations. MOOC can be useful for training purposes and introducing subjects like maths where there are a higher amount of ‘fixed’ answers but their application to ‘flexible’ subjects like philosophy and the humanities requires different approaches. There is still much development work to be done to show how MOOC can offer viable ‘free’ alternatives to the university experience and certification of learning. However, this is not to say they should be ignored.
The open education movement takes familiarity with online environments for granted. As society moves ever closer to ‘digital by default’ policy and practice, the voice of the digitally marginalised is becoming invisible. When the majority of platforms in the public sphere are digital, those without the means of participation are effectively silenced. Web designers and developers are building increasingly inaccessible learning environments depending on a MEE Model of computer access which assumes all users have a Mouse for navigation, Eyes to see the screen and Ears listen to content. This does not reflect the diversity of ways in which people operate online but as a result of the MEE Model, provision of content (especially multimedia) in alternative formats and with appropriate user controls is not always evident. The OU resources generally follow accessibility guidelines, although broken links to essential transcripts are evident. Outside the OU, a major problem with repository content is the lack of evidence of inclusive practice or minimum quality standards. In many cases, ‘exclusion’ is not deliberate but results from the current low profile of digitally accessible practices.
The recent media MOOC hype has not only overshadowed OER but in some cases MOOC platforms are blurring the boundaries between them. There are tensions around the quality and quantity of OER and at the present time, MOOCs are producing more questions than answers in particular around issues of quality, inclusion, accreditation and cost. Opening up access to online education aligns with the philosophy and practice of early internet pioneers such as Tim Berners Lee (http://www.w3.org/1998/02/Potential.html) but with freedom comes responsibility and the higher education sector has a valuable role to play in shaping the future of open practices.
My first GS5 progress report represents another PhD milestone. This doctoral research looks at embedding digital scholarship into teacher education programmes. The rationale is the increase in virtual learning environments across the sector in the past decade and the drive towards flexible work-based modes of online learning within higher education at the present time. Academic and professional service staff have historically been unsupported in developing digital ways of working yet attention to digital scholarship, and having individual confidence and competence with digital literacies, is essential if virtual environments are to support quality teaching and learning experiences.
The PhD page of this blog contains my reflective journal since changing supervisors earlier this year. I have found the process of blogging an essential motivator and opportunity to record my background reading. On the advice of my supervisor, this literature has broadened to include the social impact of technology over the past century, not only from an academic perspective but also how technology has been represented within art, fiction and film. I have found this process useful not only in contextualizing the development of the internet and world wide web but also in understanding human responses to technology, in particular the roots of resistance in areas where technology is challenging traditional practices such as education.
I am currently looking at the literature on digital scholarship in order to better locate its role within the university and identify the effect it has on teaching and learning. My methodology has shifted from a qualitative approach through open ended questionnaires and interviews with staff to an action research approach. This will use my tutoring practice on my 30 credit M Level CATS module, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA-PG) which is delivered and assessed entirely online. The module aims to support digital scholarship and literacies through giving staff the experience of being an online student exploring the different element of virtual education including pedagogical approaches to learning online, resources, communication, collaboration, assessment and feedback. The module is currently being piloted with a group of critical friends with plans to recruit from internal staff twice a year from September 2013.
The nature of working in digital environments involves ongoing CPD in order to keep up to date with changes in internet based tools and media. This module is offered as part of the university’s portfolio of teacher education programmes and will need to be inherently organic with the capacity for adapting to external digital changes as well as student/tutor evaluations. Bryman (1989) says change is seen as a useful way of learning how something works and as TELEDA has multiple theoretical and practical levels, it has the potential to be a useful subject for an action research methodology. Denscombe describes Action Research as being essentially involved with practical issues and arising from activity in the ‘real’ world (Denscombe: 125) so action researchers focus on ‘aspects of their practice as they engage in that practice’ (Denscombe: 128) Integral to the module is a stress on critical reflection and the application of the course principles to individual practice. Both tutors and participants are encouraged to adopt and share professional self-development through critical self-analysis (Schon 1982) and as tutor plus action researcher I would be well placed to enhance the reflective process through research techniques. I believe this situates action research as a methodology particularly well suited for my practice-based doctoral research. I will continue to develop this as a viable methodology during the rest of this academic year, looking at how best to involve course students/staff in the action/reflection cycle, evaluating the influences of action, and disseminating and sustaining ideas and actions in the light of these evaluations.
Bryman, A. (4th edition 2012) Social Research Methods OUP Oxford.
Denscombe, M. (4th edition 2012) The Good Research Guide: For Small-scale Social research projects. Open University Press.
Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think In Action, Basic Books.
Milestone image from http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/66925
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) Learning Block Two Discussions were based on Connectivism by George Siemens (http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm). This paper suggests digital networks are making fundamental changes to education and new theoretical approaches are required.
It was clear from responses, the world has changed less than Siemens would like us to believe. Education has always been an evolving discipline, one which has taken advantage of ‘the technologies of the time’ and while Siemens’ ‘networks, chaos and complexities’ may be useful ways ‘to identify some characteristics in the digital age’ you see many of the features of connectivism as already part of our learning designs.
‘the chaos is life(!)’ A fantastic way to describe the complexity of day to day living as well as teaching and learning in a digital age. Problem-solving and decision-making are long standing examples of ‘networks of learning’ and ‘thinking, reasoning and reflecting’ are still essential. There was consensus attention to digital literacies. Students believe ‘the net holds all of the information they could possibly require’ and ‘resources will be available at a click of the button or by typing the question into a single search box’ The critical issue being‘They might find the answer… but do they understand the answer and how to correctly apply it?’……‘Context is king! So cue the tutor…’ Exactly! In this age of MOOC the role of the tutor remains vital because ‘the knowledge base is increasing at an amazing rate but just how much of that “knowledge” is real thing?’ students need guiding and supporting students to make the ‘all-important distinction between knowledge and information. Otherwise known as wheat and chaff.’ The problem can be a mix of resources and attitudes ‘…some teaching teams don’t have the time, and sometimes the inclination to change the module guide, to reflect on what tools are available to enhance the learning experience in their subject area.’
Conversations showed how the risk over exposure to virtual worlds is leading to lack of confidence with real world. ‘Many students need more encouragement and help with the social skills…[the] natural interaction that students miss because of all the social media’. Here is the irony of teaching and learning in a digital world – how do you achieve the relevant balance digital graduate attributes when students need to be skilled in all the social media because it plays such a large role in people’s lives? The internet is a technological product of our time. We only have to read The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth Eisenstein (1980)http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Printing_Press_as_an_Agent_of_Change.html?id=5LR1SrkIrocC or The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage (2009) http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Victorian_Internet.html?id=vPVbi6GVodAC to see how the inventions of the Gutenberg Press and the Telegraph did not happen in a vacuum. Instead they evolved out of the social conditions of their time amid a mixture of much contemporary alarm and excitement; just like the internet in 21st century!
However, the internet poses challenges across the sector. On the one hand students (and some staff) may appear cyborgs, permanently connected to their mobile devices, and the quality of that interaction may suggest they are ‘amusing themselves to death’ (see Neil Postman’s analysis of television culture on 1980s America), but on the other it’s clear how making the shift from face-to-face to virtual interaction is one which needs prioritizing and resourcing rather than taking for granted online learning design is absorbed through some magic process of osmosis!
For summing up, I couldn’t say this any better. Firstly with regard to learning theory for a digital age: ‘The characteristics of connectivism theory already exist….Perhaps we just don’t call it connectivism’ – excellent insight – but the most important point of all: ‘However, we do spend a great deal of time ensuring that they [students] know how to deal with human beings – they are still the ones that really matter.’
Says it all!
I get protective about Blackboard. As a system administrator and advocate of the potential for VLE to cross boundaries of time and distance, I’m easily irritated with comments like ‘VLEs are being used as a tool for social control by post industrial capitalism’. I was given this blog post Zombies, Technology and Capitalism http://digitalscholar.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/zombies-technology-capitalism/ in a phd supervision meeting; I guess to see my response. Here it is.
Grounds for the statement? It seems VLEs ‘…replace face-t0-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching….have rapidly spread across the sector (virally?) without being explicitly demanded by either teachers or students….the embedded pedagogy of these VLEs is restrictive and they offer a level of social control and conformity not possible with more traditional teaching practices’.
Mmmm….quite an indictment of my role as Learning and Teaching Coordinator, supporting staff to make effective use of technology to support their students. The author is writing a book chapter for an interdisciplinary anthology Zombies in the Academy: living death in higher education. http://zombieacademy.wordpress.com/cfp/ which seeks to offer ‘critical accounts of the contemporary university as a living dead culture.’ So, extending the referential signifier of a cultural trope into a previously unused location? Or alternatively, finding a new way to package and sell a product?
‘I hope our chapter doesn’t fall into a lazy F2F good/ online bad dualism.’ writes the author in reply to a comment supporting VLEs.
Me too. I hope the language of technological determinism is used to praise as well as condemn. I hope it recognises the problem is less about how VLEs weren’t ‘explicitly demanded by either teachers or students’ and more about how we were simply expected to know how to use them. From the start, priority was given to embedding the systems. The poor practice, which gets dragged out repeatedly, derives as much from insufficient access to specialist learning-technology resources, and support for the shift from f2f to digital pedagogy, as any desire to impose social control and conformity.
We need to be reminded of potential affordances alongside over-publicised failings. People are quick to criticise and slow to praise. Focusing on the ‘level of managerial control afforded by VLEs over F2F’ is to miss their opportunities for flexible and distance learning, widening participation, crossing boundaries of time and distance, sharing practice and creating networks for knowledge collaboration and exchange. The blame is unfair. Saying the VLE replaces ‘face-to-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching’ is to criticise the daily reality of thousands of academic and professional service staff across the sector, making the best of the tools in their hands to enhance learning opportunities for their students. Effective online learning is a specialism yet staff are expected to demonstrate competence regardless of their own subject expertise. There are answers such as embedding digital scholarship into teacher education programmes, offering small amounts of development funding for digital enhancement, treating digital literacies as equal to text literacy and numeracy. What doesn’t help is to replicate and reinforce the same old tired arguments. Alignment with zombie culture is neither clever nor witty; it’s discourteous and unkind.
Here are some useful reminders of how it all began.
Flying not flapping: a strategic framework for e-learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions by Gilly Salmon (2005) http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/mediazoo/media/Flying%20not%20flapping.pdf
Implementing a learning technology strategy: top–down strategy meets bottom–up culture by Bernard Lisewski (2004) http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/coaction/index.php/rlt/article/viewFile/11250/12943
Of all the arts, poetry suffers from dependency on personal opinion. I’ve been re-reading Saussure for my phd and reflecting on its application to poetry. Early 20th century Structuralists suggested meaning derives from subjective interpretation rather than any externally fixed truth. Semiotics , the science of signs, was key to Structuralist belief in the possibility of uncovering the multiple ‘truths’ of social reality. In a ‘Course in General Linguistics’, Saussure challenged realism (the world can be known) with linguistic relativism (the world can only be known through the structures of language). Structuralism revealed language as a system of signifiers (the word) and signified (the idea the word conveys) where connections between them are cultural and arbitrary rather than innate or fixed. Single meaning is replaced with multiple possibilities or references eg roses have become associated with cultural images of love, passion, beauty, valentines, romance, gardening etc. None of these describe the flower but are all part of the agreed consensus of meaning around the signifier Rose.
This stress on referential reality complicates the challenge of poetry to create maximum resonance with minimum words. Resonance is personal and subjective. Barthes understood this when he challenged modernist notions of authority and knowledge production by suggesting the author is dead. In his 1977 essay Death of the Author, (http://www.tbook.constantvzw.org/wp-content/death_authorbarthes.pdf) Barthes says the author no longer has authority and there is no such thing as a singular narrative. Instead the interpretation of text becomes a collaborative process between author and audience: ‘…a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue…but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader’ Barthes concludes ‘Classical criticism has never paid any attention to the reader…the writer is the only person in literature…it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author’. The poet has to work twice as hard to find the words. Not only must they say what they want but will also say something similar to reader. In a world where truths are subsumed with multiple possibilities, the challenge is irresistible!
Cartoon by Donald D Palmer 1997
This weekend I visited the John Rylands Library in Manchester; a beautiful building in multiple ways. There’s the soft red brickwork, slim gothic vaults and arches, venetian glass windows and unexpectedly genuine Victorian plumbing and tiling in the basement facilities. The Burning Bright William Blake exhibition was a bonus, as was the visiting group of Steampunk enthusiasts. Their Victorian costumes blended with the environment so well it was those dressed for the 21st century who looked out of place.
The University of Lincoln Library is getting an extension as part of the University’s Estates Masterplan. This will provide more space for computers, laptops and bookable rooms – but not books. http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2013/03/university-of-lincoln-begins-work-on-library-extension/ The idea of a library build to house books appears to be a dying one, if not already dead. Excepting the British Library, there can’t be many new library builds being planned these days. Amazon says sales of its Kindle e-books overtook those of printed books in 2012, although they’re unlikely to say anything different. http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240160961/UK-eBooks-outstripping-printed-books-says-Amazon There were a few lucky souls working in the John Rylands building this weekend, but the majority of people were visitors. The atmosphere was much more museum or church than library. For most of us, the faceless internet has become our library and it isn’t a beautiful place. Dominated by advertising, we can’t be far from being offered a premium rate ad-free service. Those who can afford it will get a clean, improved experience while those who can’t will be reduced to searching in an environment looking more like the pages of a shopping catalogue than anything meaningful.
I travel with a kindle but never use it at home. They’re probably easier to read but it’s not the same. A book is a kinaesthetic experience as well as a cognitive one and there’s something symbolic about opening the covers, turning the pages and releasing the memories contained within them. To reinvent libraries as museums or churches would be to acknowledge their social and cultural importance but it loses the lived experience. In these days of keyboards and touch screens, this is what we need to hold onto, less we wipe out from history the sensory reality of books.
TELEDA’s Learning Block One discussion was around two views on education technology presented by Prensky and Selwyn in these papers
- Digital Natives Digital Immigrants (2001) by Mark Prensky (2001) Part One http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf
- Educating the ‘Digital Natives’ (2011) by Neil Selwyn available here http://www.continuumbooks.com/CompanionWebsites/book-homepage.aspx?BookId=158591 under Student Resources.
plus the video Digital Natives (3.08) from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwKD-GuKkFc Below is a summary of comments and responses.
Prensky’s conception generational digital difference was absorbed into early research into education in the 21st century as well as continuing to exist within popular culture. Selwyn offers both an overview of this research and a calmer perspective. Where young people are born into digital ways of working this does not determine a) the ways in which they use technology nor b) suggest the need for dismantling the curriculum. The focus should be less on the tools and more on the way in which the tools can be used.
The discussion were quick to point out how the ‘principles’ of learning carry on regardless, the technology may be changing the way we do things – but not the nature of things we have to do. The ‘fundamentals of education remain the same’, students may sit in lectures tweeting and texting or have Facebook open in class, but there is still the need to grasp concepts and apply them to practice. Comments suggested the image of the competent digital native does not match the reality – some students embrace technology more than others but it is used to varying degrees, competence with Facebook does not equate with being ‘techno savvy’ and any group contains a mix of users, those adopting new technologies and those needing support and encouragement.
Divides are less between Prensky’s natives and immigrants but constructed from access parameters and the differing ways access is used. Selwyn adopts a critical approach to technology for education; one which relates access and use to existing ‘social fault lines’ suggesting ‘…some social groups of young people appear to be as ‘digitally excluded’ as older generations, albeit in ways which are less apparent to adult commentators (p 14 ref Selwyn and Facer 2009). Situating educational technology within a broader social, cultural and political framework lies beyond the scope of this short course, which is fundamentally about the practicalities of teaching and learning in a digital age. However, the social impact of the internet and the relationship between digital exclusion and existing structures of marginalisation and disadvantage should not be ignored.
Learning Block One offered opportunities to consider how technology fits within individual practice. Comments suggest participants were not persuaded by the view of technology as determining change but the opportunities for enhancing teaching and learning were recognised. Within this is a resource implication. Where workloads are already stretched to capacity it can be difficult to absorb new ways of working and to learn new skills and competencies. Once way to manage this can be online communities of practice which is the intention of the course; to provide a place where the practicalities of teaching and learning in a digital age can be shared and discussed while not losing sight of the deeper structural issues underpinning adoption and use.
More about Prensky in this blog post here: http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/02/17/revisiting-the-digital-nativeimmigrant-debate/
The Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age pilot had an excellent start last week. A traditional open introductions thread on the discussion board surfaced a range of reasons for taking the course, including wanting to work smarter online, discover more about how online environments can be used to support learning and how to develop effective online engagement. There were also an interesting number of ‘fears’. Uncovering the perceived challenges of teaching and learning in a digital age can be are useful indicators for planning, design and delivery so it’s always useful to offer the opportunity for surfacing them. Losing the relationship and emotional dimensions of face-to-face learning is a common concern. One solution is to try to ensure the affordances of the VLE (e.g. 24/7 access across boundaries plus the flexibility of asynchronous communication) and the disadvantages (e.g. the potential loneliness of the distance learner) are balanced by factoring in support and interaction on a regular basis.
Reaching students who don’t engage naturally with online forms of communication is another issue. Digital courses which lose the nuances of face-to-face engagement tend to privilege the techno-savvy and those who prefer a more ‘invisible’ form of interaction. The question of ‘lurking’ (being there silently) can pose a delicate balancing act between encouragement and scaring off!
We’re all becoming accustomed to having infinite amounts of information in our lives but the fear of being overwhelmed by content is never far from the surface. TELEDA offers pic’mix approach to content ingestion Resources are divided into Core and Extended. Activities derive directly from Core reading and all materials are presented in a format which offers brief overviews with signposts for further information to suit individual requirements and interests.
The issue of supporting digital literacies was raised; a key aspect of any online learning experience as so much of the way we manage ourselves online is to do with individual confidence and competencies in virtual ways of working. Digital literacies and digital scholarship are essentially integral to the whole course which recognises how managing effectiveness within online learning environments is problematised precisely because there is no ‘one size fits all’ model of engagement. We don’t (yet) embed digital literacies into the curriculum or teacher education and the lecturer often has little support in the shift from front of classroom to invisible facilitator of faceless students online.
The TELEDA learning blocks cover different aspects of design and delivery with attention to digital ways of working and opportunities to engage in collaborative online activities. I hope the opportunities for sharing practice will be a strength of this course which aims to support the exploration of different ways of working online and to assess their effectiveness in a constructive, collegial environment. TELEDA offers a fundamentally pragmatic approach, one where experience is recognised as the best way forward for application of the theory
Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is a short course (30 M Level CATS) delivered and assessed entirely online (12 weeks teaching/12 weeks eportfolio construction). This course is an output from the 12 month HEA/JISC funded project ‘Embedding OER Practice’ at the University of Lincoln http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk. OER (Open Educational Resources) are teaching materials made freely available under a Creative Commons licence http://creativecommons.org. OER are stored in repositories e.g. JORUM at http://www.jorum.ac.uk/ and MERLOT at http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm Open courses are called MOOC, Massive Open Online Courses, and leading platforms are Coursera at https://www.coursera.org who offer free courses on Arts, Sciences, Humanities, Maths and Stats and other subjects. MOOC platforms include Udacity at https://www.udacity.com/ and the Open University Open Learn site at http://www.open.edu/openlearn/
MOOCing is an excellent way to explore a variety of online learning designs and collaborations. Like OER, MOOC raise important questions of authenticity and certification as well as the future direction of higher education in a digital age. A comprehensive understanding of the open education movement, and a scholarly approach to the development of teaching practice in open and online contexts, are integral to T and L in a Digital Age, which also looks at online learning design, online communication, assessment and feedback and digital scholarship and literacies with assessment by eportfolio.
Effectiveness within virtual environments derives from experience of learning online. Education Technologies have been around for over a decade but adoption only comes from applying the tools to practice. Too often technologies are promoted without first hand experience and this course is designed to offer that experience in a supportive, collegial style.
The pilot begins on 4 March with no cost to UL staff. If you are interested in joining the pilot, or would like further information, please contact Sue Watling, firstname.lastname@example.org
Prensky’s polarisation of students and teachers into digital natives and immigrants was simplistic, but the KIS (Keep It Simple) approach can be an effective stimulant for debate. Prensky has been responsible for a lot of debate. Dig underneath the surface and the core of Prensky’s polemic remains relevant. The question of how can the social shift to digital ways of working best enhance teaching and learning remains unanswered. Prensky was right. Those with Britannica feet are being replaced by generations whose only reference source is Google. The image below is simplistic but contains a valuable message for anyone wanting to see digital literacies and scholarship embedded into the curriculum. How can an institution manage change and adapt to the digital impact of technology?
Neil Selwyn* offers a realistic appraisal of Prensky, usefully reminding us of the social shaping of technology and how usage mirrors existing social structures. The literature of digital divides should underpin all policy and strategic approaches. In the meantime digital technology is becoming more pervasive. Soon won’t need the T in ICT; it will be taken for granted. It’s ironic how the strata of digital engagement has ‘shallowness’ as the deepest and widest layer.
The key problem is the solid curriculum. It seems unable to flex enough to incorporate essential requirements for the century, namely individuals who can tell the difference between knowledge, information and personal opinion – online. The skills to manage vertical searching and differentiate between authenticity and conspiracy theories are the core basics of digital literacies, alongside the presentation of self and parameters of access. However, embedding all these into the curriculum, and focusing on digital graduate attributes, is only part of the answer.
It isn’t only about student education, it’s about teacher education too. In 2001 Prensky was saying ‘today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach’ but a decade later no one is saying today’s education system is no longer training the teachers it needs for a digital age. Calling people natives or immigrants drew attention to digital technology for education, but as well as redesigning the curriculum for students, we need to revisit support and resources for the teachers who are implementing it, something Prensky, Selwyn and other contemporary commentators appear – so far – to have missed.
* Educating the ‘Digital Natives’ (2011) from Neil Selwyn’s Education and Technology, London: Continuum –available from Continuum (now Bloomsbury) Companion website http://www.continuumbooks.com/CompanionWebsites/book-homepage.aspx?BookId=158591
There isn’t a great deal happening over in DIY Multimedia. This is no one’s fault. I feel we’re casualties of a learning design which made assumptions about its participants. The designers may have failed to take into account the diversity inherent in massiveness and assumed what worked for them would work for all. Failure is never easy. I’m sure the OLDsMOOC designers would not want anyone to feel overwhelmed or defeated by their OLDsMOOC experience but I’m equally sure I’m not the only one all MOOCed out. Disengaged but somehow feeling inadequate at not seeing it through.
MOOCs remind me of the complexity of digital divides. These are not just about access to computers and the internet but the ways in which that access is facilitated. MOOCs require you to have access plus the prerequisite knowledge and experience to ensure you swim not sink. There is no one-size-fits-all model for digital inclusion and the same applies to effective participation in a MOOC. One set of learning materials is not going to fit everyone.
OLDsMOOC has been a challenging experience. I thought I was coping with unfamiliar landscapes, self-selection, self-grouping plus all the social media, but ultimately it hasn’t worked for me and I need to understand why. It’s easy to blame the multiple demands of the day job but OLD is my role so this was important to me. However, I think fundamentally I misunderstood the purpose of the course. Whereas I interpreted it as designing for online learning, it increasingly appeared to be about learning design using online tools – two very different things. Consequently the majority of discussions across the MOOC related to classroom/client groups rather than virtual situations. Also the mix of participants from training as well as educational sectors clearly had strengths in terms of sharing practice, but the theoretical nature of the course content raised the question of how OLDsMOOC approached one of the first rules of learning design – know your audience. This comment summed up the feelings of many:
Plus, I’m not a teacher, so some of this stuff starts even going over my head … I need to adapt the course activities to my level of experience and field.
The idea for DIY Multimedia emerged from a lack of central resources in my institution for staff wanting to create short video clips and podcasts. One positive outcome from OLDsMOOC is seeing the benefit of developing a similar DIY approach to Online Learning Design. In cash strapped times, reusable support and guidance are becoming necessities but they have to be flexible for a diverse audience. In the beginning, I had many reasons for engaging with OLDsMOOC, and have taken from it many valuable insights, but as week 6 rolls on, I’m not sure if any of this will be enough to see me though to the end.
The collapse of the Coursera MOOC Fundamentals of Online Education (#foemooc) with an alleged 41,000 students, has raised mixed opinions. It’s clear many students were satisfied with their initial learning experience, claiming those without the prerequisite digital knowledge and experience were being disadvantaged. The design and choice of technology appears not to have suited everyone nor the requirement for students to structure their own learning with peers. This self-direction is similar to OLDsMOOCwhich is now in week 6. There have been similar difficulties with self grouping and establishing learning projects. Looking at the noticeable decrease in emails to the main OLDsMOOC list, there has been a significant drop-out suggesting much is still to be learned.
MOOCs are too new to have found their feet. Many of the free courses contain poor quality materials with the standard of discussions not conducive to effective learning. Quantity is often achieved at the expense of quality and the massiveness of open online courses is no exception. MOOCs also draw attention to the diversity of individual digital literacies. OLDsMOOC has been a challenge through its use of unfamiliar software like Cloudworks and Google Groups as well as its reliance of individual motivation and self-directed learning. Failure is often the best teacher and from the Coursera collapse will come new knowledge about MOOCing. The blog How Not to Design a MOOC and its follow up post The MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity are early examples. These offer three key pointers for institutions considering going down the MOOC path.
- The instructional model is shifting to be student-centric, away from an institution or instructor-focused model
- Sound instructional design is the; key to supporting self-directed learning experiences.
- Prepare students for the Learning Experience.
No surprises here but they seem to have been missing from Fundamentals of Online Education; an irony not lost on those who participated and commented on its sudden and unanticipated demise.
Today is the start of Flexible, Distance and Online Learning (FDOL). This is an open course designed and delivered by two educational developers; Chrissi Nerantzi from the University of Salford (UK) and Lars Uhlin from the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden). Chrissie was one of the HEA’s critical friends on Embedding OER Practice and it’s good to see so many principles of openness embedded in FDOL. The course aims to enhance understanding of the benefits and challenges online learners and facilitators are facing and will model the use of freely available social media tools and platforms for enabling connection and engagement.
These are interesting times for openness, in particular the development of online learning. It’s week 5 on the OLDsMOOC (Online Learning Design with the OU) and week 3 in EDC MOOC (eLearning in Digital Cultures with University of Edinburgh and Coursera). FDOL offers a useful choice between core course involvement or having peripheral status (that’s me on the periphery) and although registration is closed, it’s still possible to join as a peripheral group member and experience how social media can enable and enhance education using a Focus Investigate Share (FISh) model of Problem Based Learning (PBL) design.
There’s only so many MOOCs you can fit into the week but so far the experience has been well worth the stretched days and weekends. The concept of elearning has been around for some time but is all too often still understood as putting lectures online when it’s most effective through active engagement and shared practice. The best elearning experiences emerge from online inter-activities and related discussions. Learning online is not easy; it requires motivation, stamina and perseverance – fortunately this has become something anyone with access can experience for free with a MOOC. For anyone interested in online learning design I recommend it. Go do a MOOC today!
February 8, 2013 | digital exclusion, digital inclusion, digital literacies, digital scholarship, equality and diversity, social impact of the Internet, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA), Uncategorized | Leave a Comment
In Week 4 we’ve been sharing pedagogical patterns, engaging with the BOTWOO concept (Building On The Work Of Others), been patronised (‘This is what we all do as researchers, but do much less as teachers. Teachers don’t find it that easy’) and partially ignored (many in the DIY Multimedia group and in Cloudworld are learning designers external to education; I’m in HE but not a ‘teacher’. The diversity of participants seems unrecognised yet we’ve agreed on the importance of designing for your audience and learner context in week 3. It’s been a good week – honestly – but maybe not in terms of MOOCing. I don’t mean to be grumpy – but OLDsMOOC is reinforcing some of my attributions and I never like it when that happens. In Week 4 I investigated the PPC Pedagogical Patterns Collector using the Pedagogical Patterns Collector guide but didn’t get very far – other than finding myself here in Week 5 and looking at making prototypes of my learning activities. Now we have moved into the realms of fantasy. I don’t know how to access to a programmer but I know I want one!!!
As if this were not enough cause for frustration, then the Wk 5 video transcript simply depressed me. I wanted to capture the part of the Week 5 video where DL compares ‘...something you can do yourself like a PowerPoint or sequence in Moodle‘ to how you communicate your idea for a digital design to a programmer. I thought this was a useful reminder of the digital divide between technologists and the day to day experience of most academic staff, but got sidetracked on finding the transcript is an image and this defeats the objective of providing one. Week 4 transcript was pdf. Not ideal but it could be copied into Word albeit with inconvenient line breaks. Text as an image is useless and misunderstands the potential of digitally inclusive practice. http://www.w3.org/WAI/PF/HTML/wiki/Media_Accessibility_User_Requirements
In DIY Multimedia we’ve stressed the importance of alternative formats from the beginning and it’s been reassuring to share awareness of the importance of this element of learning design. Providing digital content in a single fixed format assumes the MEE Model of computer access where users work via a Mouse for navigation and their eyes and ears for images and sound. This fails to reflect the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet but the MEE Model underpins 99% of digital content. Learning designers have a critical role to play in challenging the limitations of single formats while championing the inherent flexibility of digital data to be customised to suit individual requirements.
One of my many problems with MOOCs is the divide between their potential and the reality. I blogged last week on the EPIC 2020 and Turning Point 2012 videos which present the threat posed through mass education by MOOCs. Back in the late 1980’s, the founders of the internet heralded the internet’s potential for democratic access. This isn’t happening and some days trying to keep inclusive practice high on the agenda feels like hard work.
Thinking is a quiet art. It was quiet on the PhD front last year. Lots of thinking but not much to show for it. I knew my approach would have to change and a few weeks ago created a PhD page on this blog. I would make visible my thinking, reading notes and progress. However, keeping a reflective log is not the same as blogging which is essentially an art in conciseness. So I made the page private giving access to my supervisor and anyone else who wanted it. The problem is, I don’t like having a private page without being able to explain why. WordPress doesn’t enable the passwording of part of a page; it’s either private or not. So I’ve opened it up. The current week’s notes will be visible. After each supervision they’ll be added to a linked document although I’m not yet sure where that will be located. On reflection, this will be another incentive to keep up to date!
At first it’s difficult to tell if EPIC 2020 is a promotion of MOOCs or a warning. Ultimately it may be both. The message is represent a one way direction with irreversible impact on higher education as we know it. EPIC (Evolving Personal Information Construct) 2020 offers a vision of a future where academia is no longer the gatekeeper of knowledge, tuition obsolete and degrees irrelevant. The reason is the MOOC. The shift has already begun with MOOC giants Udacity, Khan Academy, Coursera, MITX and TedEd supported by Mozilla Open Badges as alternatives to accreditation.
Like conspiracy theories the video offers a powerful argument but via a limited view of educational transformation, one which only sells a single side of the story. Bill Sams is behind EPIC 2020 and Tipping Point 2012 its partner video. Sams is a Commissioner on the eTech Ohio Commission and an Executive in Residence at Ohio University. He operates a locked down Twitter account but has publicly commented on the online universities blog saying ‘My objective in producing EPIC was to create a piece that would cause people to consider and discuss that there are dramatic alternatives to the traditional education system’
‘Traditional’ education is continually facing alternatives; not least digital technologies and affordances. The move to Open Educational Resources (OER) through the open education movement is one such inevitable product of the internet. The rationale for OER is strong; in particular enabling students to make appropriate choices of HEI as well as supporting the widening participation and life long learning agendas. MOOCs have been tried but are less tested.
I’ve been engaging in MOOC behaviours for a few months; initially thinking it was a bubble ready to burst but also watching the increase in MOOC collaborations become media headlines. Currently on Week 4 of OLDsMOOC, I’m confident (at the present time) there is more wrong with MOOCs than right. They are massive, open and online but with no ‘one size fits all model’they can only suit some types of learning and student preferences better than others.
What MOOCs are good at is stimulating debate around the wider issues of learning design and the role of higher education in the 21st century. It’s time to be more critical about MOOCs, and some of the possible drivers behind the MOOCing phenomena. EPIC 2020 and Tipping Point 2012 offer useful places for these debates to begin.
Condensing the complexity of digital literacies is always a challenge. At the recent Student Staff Conference on Future Learning, I reduced them to professional practice with social media and how SM might best support teaching and learning. SM and the use of mobile technology has relevance for learning design. It can be disconcerting when an audience appears engrossed in their digital devices but banning them is not the answer. Finding ways to maintain engagement with the subject matter while constructing an agreed code of conduct is more realistic.
This short video on the potential of digital technologies for education is a useful introduction to the concept of digital natives and immigrants. First outlined by Prensky in 2001, the digital dichotomy is now acknowledged as more complex than division by age and more related to use e.g. the CIBER report on the research skills of young people and Carr’s polemic Is Google Making us Stupid.
A decade after Prensky, learning design has shifted from constructivism to connectivism, with both support and critique, but also some consensus. When it comes to technologies, education is less about the tools and more how they’re used. With regard to social media the debate includes appropriate and inappropriate behaviours, in particular in lectures and seminars. Wherever learning design incorporates ‘real-time’ collaboration and/or interaction via social media it raises issues like shopping on eBay or personal tweeting irrelevant to the subject. This is part of the wider digital debate around personal versus public online identities, which in itself is only one component of digital literacies. An agreed code of conduct may be one way forward. Most discussion forums now include guidelines for appropriate use and behaviour and finding consensus on the use of mobile technology in teaching and learning is no different to agreeing capital letters equate to shouting and personal abuse will not be tolerated.
Digitally literacies are embedded in individual personalities making it hard to pull out a one size fits all model of use. New technologies amplify the affordances of traditional tones like pen and paper. We all doodle in learning situations. Doodling in itself can be a form of reflective practice. Today there are more choices on the formats that doodling can take and learning design learning needs to take the ever changing nature of ways of being, seeing and doing into account.
The design of learning is a continually evolving science, not least because space between users and non-users still exists. Replication and reinforcement of digital divides is less visible, but in the push to use social media to empower student voices and flip the classroom, technology remains exclusive. In an increasingly digital society enabling/disabling binaries are more relevant than ever. The potential for digital exclusion should not be forgotten.
Today is the Student Staff Conference on the Future of Learning, 10.00 – 3.00, in the MAB. Full Programme available here Student Staff Conference details The themes are to generate discussions around the use of technology in HE and showcase the research by Karin Crawford and Dan Bishop around re-imagining ‘Subject Committee Meetings’. Professor Scott Davidson, DVC Teaching Quality and the Student Experience, will open the event at 10.00 in the Jackson Lecture Theatre and I’m leading one of the parallel discussions at 11.00 (in MB1013) around digital literacies in particular the use of social media.
During the session, I’ll be referring to the documents below (with some copies to give away). I’ve also included the presentation slides.
- Marc Prensky (2001) Digital Natives Digital Immigrants http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf
- Nicholas Carr (2008) Is Google Making us Stupid? http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/
- CIBER Report; British Library Research into the internet searching behaviour of young people http://www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/research/ciber/downloads/
- SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy through a digital literacy lens http://www.sconul.ac.uk/tags/7-pillars
- Digital Literacies: Learning Futures Presentation slides Student Conference February 201
Baby image from http://babyurl.net/names/baby-domain-name/establishing-a-babys-digital-identity-by-registering-their-domain-name
Looking ahead is not always recommended. Comparing Week 3 tasks to do with available time to do them brings the word withdraw to mind. Stop now. Reclaim my time. With another five weeks to go, how much longer can I run to stand still while getting further behind the activities?
Time for some realistic appraisal.
In the eclectic world of academia, it’s a given that scholarship has no walls. It’s difficult to measure thought or reflective practice, keep track of those light bulb moments when solutions arrive in the bath or 3.00 in the morning. We commute ever further, looking for efficient ways to use travelling time, and regardless of the views of health health minister Anna Soubry, eating over the keyboard is common practice.
Virtual learning tools and technologies have intensified academic life and perceived efficiencies can be outweighed by the lived reality of learning curves and frustrations. Things are not always what they seem. So why MOOC – in particular why OLDsMOOC? If the resources are openly available what’s the advantage when to complete and collaborate is being squeezed into an already stretched week. Why do it?
For me, ultimately, it’s about the experience. The displacement in unfamiliar technology; a reminder what it feels like outside my comfort zone, how designing virtual learning has to take into account the diversity of digital confidence and competencies. OLDsMOOC usefully brings digital literacies centre stage. Designed and delivered by technology experts, it’s being received by people with an eclectic mix of digital skills. Like most people I’ve picked up digital literacies as I’ve gone along. Being around when it all began gives me a grasp of the basics but I’m a DIY’er, not an expert. This immersion in ed tech offers powerful learning and the mix of people external to HE is proving invaluable in broadening my understanding of DIY Multimediaproduction.
The Features Cards activity at OU Learning Design Initiative was timely. I hadn’t come across OULDI in my digital travels and this is also what MOOCing is about; signposts through the massiveness of the internet, like a scattergram of key stopping off points for content on learning design. If I left now, the learning would be worth it – but I won’t because what can’t be measured is on-going struggle to maintain participation in online distance learning, alongside everything else in my life, and when it comes to learning design it’s having this student experience which is the best tutor of all.
Great to meet up with Paul Andrews again today. Paul gave an excellent Keynote at the Embedding OER project’s Sharing Practice event last year (a reminder of the event here https://oer.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/wp-admin/post.php?post=789&action=edit) and returned to Lincoln to speak at the School of Social & Political Sciences Colloquia series where he presented ‘OER Signposts: Tools & Techniques for getting started’.
Paul’s fantastic site for all things free to do with creating online resources is here https://sites.google.com/site/technologyenhancedlearning/
If you missed the presentation today, or want to see again how lecturer Bob bought together text, images, audio and video to create his online teaching resources, The Kitten Site is here https://sites.google.com/site/intro2kittens/
Paul’s full Prezi presentation: http://prezi.com/dkb1bcpkdadv/oer-signposts-tools-techniques-for-getting-started-2013-edition/
Paul heads up the Centre for Digitally Enhanced Learning at the University of Wales Newport and can be contacted at paul.andrews at newport.ac.uk or on Twitter @pauls_elearning
eLearning and Digital Cultures is a collaboration between the University aof Edinburgh and Coursera. OLDsMOOC is three weeks old (five more to go!) and taking up more time than anticipated. Maybe one mooc is enough. However, the value of MOOCing remains the experience. In terms being thrown out of your comfort zone in a sea of digital information and communication it’s an invaluable reminder of how other people can feel when pushed into online environments out of necessity rather than choice.
The initial strangeness of Cloud Works and Google Groups over on OLDsMOOC was a barrier to overcome right from the beginning. EDCMOOC integrates with tools I already use. I’ll follow eLearning and Digital Cultures from a distance as a Lurker but already see how the trio of WordPress http://edcmooc.education.ed.ac.uk/wp/ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/edcmooc/ and Twitter #edcmooc show familiar tools have the potential to enhance engagement. I’m looking forward to some ‘compare and contrasting’ between them.
P.S. A tweet from Sian Bayne @sbayne at Edinburgh says there are over 40,000 participants; now that’s massive!
Still immersed in a sea of information and in mind of the Stevie Smith poem ‘Not waving but drowning’
Reflecting on the references to Learning Design omitting the prefix integral to course name i.e. Online Learning Design, has been interesting. Initially I thought this risked diluting the ‘Online’ specific requirements of Learning Design such as attention to the diversity of ways people use computers and access the internet (from mobile devices through to assistive technologies) and the associated need for inclusive practice such as providing alternate formats and ensuring users can customise content to suit their own preferences, but it turns out I may have misunderstood the concept of OLDsMOOC .
The Week 3 focus on tools and toolboxes suggests OLDsMOOC is more about the ways online environments support the development of generic Learning Design than how to customise Learning Design for Online environments. I hadn’t seen it this way. Which demonstrates aptly how learners bring their own ways of seeing and being to the learning experience and potentially affecting interaction. If I’ve misinterpreted the focus of OLDsMOOC I’ve learned experientially about the inevitable space between the production of online learning and the experience of the consumer. this suggests even if I stop waving and disappear totally under the surface of clouds, groups and a mass of other digital tools, it will have been worth while!
Learning and isolation are poor partners. Focus on the learner context enhances the process of OLD through revealing motivations as well as potential barriers. Context can reveal attention hot spots e.g. ease of access to materials, availability of support, the loneliness of the long distance online learner, guidance on specific design criteria e.g. the variety of activities, collaboration with peers and tutors, interaction with content, formative and diagnostic assessment opportunities etc. Context assists the designer make appropriate choices, in particular providing mechanisms for customising learning to suit individual preference e.g. providing information in alternative formats. All this runs in parallel to theoretical approaches to LD for example constructive alignment (Biggs and Tang, 2011).
Scenarios, Personas and Force Maps are useful approaches to OLD. Context can be presented in textual formats but also displayed through mind mapping or diagrams where a visual approach can offer an effective overview of key issues. Constructing context encourages sharing practice; drawing on own experiences and incorporating those of colleagues to bring key issues together. Doing this online rather than round a table can in itself reveal areas of online learning design which need attention.
For my own practice inclusion is a key concern. Without attention to access, the application of theory to practice becomes diluted. Effective OLD takes into account the diversity of ways people access learning resources and opportunities, this is particularly important where there are no face to face clues or opportunities for discussion. Identifying potential barriers to access and participation are key to retention and success.
In the future I will be looking to building a collection of contrasting scenarios for future reference and experiment with alternative ways of presenting these e.g. diagrammatically.
Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 4thed. OUP
Week 2 has been an exercise in balance. In stretching and being stretched. OLDsMOOC; where experience is all – this is learning but not as we know it. Context is critical to success.
OLDsMOOC operates on multiple levels; the challenges of the technology, the keeping up with comments and discussions, accessing the range of learning materials, making notes, critically reflecting and then – finally – actively engaging with the learning subject. Deconstructed in this way, it doesn’t look so different after all. What exactly is it presenting the challenge?
At the end of Week 2 I’m finding my way around; much the same as being on a new campus or in a new town. The strange is becoming familiar. The challenge has been working through the materials and learning activities. But there’s nothing new about this either. Any learning experience has content and OLDsMOOC is flexible, it’s not as though the assessment is critical so what exactly is my problem? Because there is a problem, and as Week 3 begins, I’m realising it’s more about me than the MOOC. It’s about how I manage my workload and respond to new experiences. In particular it’s about reaching a point where I’m no longer keeping on top of the essentials. I’m not blaming the MOOC; it just happens to be the activity skewing the balance to a point where some reassessment is required.
So why do a MOOC? Firstly, why not? The potential challenge of free open educational opportunities can’t be ignored. Media have hyped up the implications, presenting them as threats as much as opportunities. The MOOC word has embedded at a speed symptomatic of a twitter trend or viral email. Concepts associating worth with monetary value are being challenged by MOOC openness where are experts are seemingly giving away their expertise for free and networks of subject specialisms emerge out of nothingness. ‘Everything solid melts into air’ is reversed. Out of virtual space comes the solidity of connections, working groups, the #oldsmooc hashtag. Far from the self-destruction of modernity, MOOCs are creating realities at a speed and intensity which has to be experienced to be evaluated. No one knows there they’re going and to be part of the journey is exciting.
So I’m still MOOCing…
Hanging on in there…
Knowing some critical reflection on work load balance is required, but this insider experience of the digital revolution is too important to be ignored. I’ve might have only cursorily glanced at Personas, Force Maps and Ecology of Resources, missed the Google Hangout and not yet watched the Week Two video but in terms of learning, OLDsMOOC is invaluable. Bring on Week 3…
There’s distinct differences between Learning Design and Online Learning Design (OLD). When designing for virtual delivery, in particular for distance learners, the materials have to work much harder to sustain interest, motivation and retention. Transferring traditional content to an online environment can be flat and miss the potential for providing variety and interaction. Over in OLDsMOOC, there are many traditional theoretical approaches being surfaced but they also need adapting to virtual environments. I wonder if the Online in Learning Design needs to be seen as an additional layer. Theories within this layer would include Laurillard’s ‘conversational framework’ model; this offers a useful example of how OLD can stimulate dialogue and networks of learning. Garrison and Anderson suggest a Community of Inquiry made up of three presences; social, cognitive and teaching. In the past I’ve found enabling communities of shared practice (e.g. following Wenger) can create powerful learning experiences. Online discussion often takes time to set up and encourage (here Salmon’s five step model is worth following) but the directions it can go off into can be exciting.
On the practical side of OLD, chunking content up with formative assessment opportunities and using alternative formats such as audio which can be listened to ‘anytime anywhere’ are always worth building into the course or activity design. Inclusive practice is critical to reaching the widest possible audience; accessible content and alternative formats give students the opportunity to access resources in the way which suits them best. Pilot and evaluate as much as possible; it’s one thing to access course material on an up-to-date networked computer but try a range of old and new browsers and operating systems including mobile platforms. Students will use a far greater variety of hardware than you might expect and remember download times vary greatly across the country. Lastly, taking part in an online course – maybe a MOOC (there’s still time to call in and browse activity in OLDsMOOC) – remains the best way of all to discover how to put the online into learning design.
Example of Salmons 5-step model http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/5stage.shtml
Example of Laurillard’s Conversational Framework http://www.med8.info/cpf/laurillard_93/index.htm
Garrison and Anderson Presences http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ch11.html
Theory and Practice of Online Learning by Anderson is available free http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/contents.html
Wenger Community of Practice http://www.education.ed.ac.uk/dice/scrolla/resources/Harris_Community_of_practice_Symp3.htm
Last year I suggested doing a MOOC for Christmas. Participation seemed a good way to experience online learning design but after my first week with OLDsMOOC, I realise how passive my previous MOOCs have been. The challenge of OLDsMOOC is it demands action and integration. OLDsMOOC is too big for lurking. You need the sense of a group with a shared purpose. Otherwise it’s like being in a giant city for the first time; full of iconic landmarks and exciting to be there – but even better with map of the public transport systems and some familiar faces to share it with.
DIY Multimedia at https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/olds-mooc-diy-multimedia is taking shape and it’s exciting to be sharing everyone’s contributions in this way. Useful commonalities between OLD and the use of multimedia in teaching and learning are emerging. Both areas sit outside subject specialism. Multimedia is part of being digitally literate. The recognition that digital literacies would benefit from sector wide funding under the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme was welcome. However, funds tend to go to teams already embedded in digital ways of working with the risk of assumptions made by innovators and early adopters about individual confidence and competence with working in online environments. This also applies to OLD. Experts in face-to-face design and delivery can be left to work out OLD for themselves; this can result in a mass of content posted online with little variety or interaction. A common complaint is ‘I set up a discussion forum but nobody used it!’ Experience of an online course, or MOOC, in particular the loneliness of the long distance learner, or overload of information, is invaluable. OLDsMOOC is experiential learning at its best.
The strange becomes familiar: Facebook has arrived on OLDsMOOC!
Facebook has arrived! After the strangeness of Cloudworks and initiation into Google Groups, the OLDs Facebook site offers a welcome familiar face. Facebook for me has become a useful mechanism for keeping up to date with community groups and organisations as well as family and friends. To see OLDsMOOC appear here was almost a relief; at last, an environment I can integrate into my daily online routine. The link between familiar online environments and retention might be worth further investigatinon.
The OLDs calendar of w/b on Thursdays is another anomaly I’m finding difficult to adjust to. I can’t shift from feeling Mondays is the start of the week. Does OLD work best when operating on a traditional time scale? Another question to reflect on for future practice.
I’ve blogged about the ‘end of week one’ and earned a badge (:-)) but there is no end. Convergence is integral to this MOOC experience where boundaries are blurred and massiveness makes it impossible to follow everything. I’m having to get used to the idea I might be missing something interesting and relevant simply because I can’t get through the emails or browse all the clouds. It’s a lesson in setting and managing priorities; a useful reminder of the vastness of the internet in particular for people new to working online. I’ve MOOC’ed before but only, I now realise, as a passive participant, absorbing the content without getting into conversations. This is different; it’s overwhelming, frustrating and exciting! I can see the potential for collaborative group work, establishing communities of shared practice and real value in terms of feeding the experience into my practice supporting online learning – but eight weeks may be too long. OLDSMOOC is getting dominant. It’s overtaking my other work and non-work time. I’m having to turn off the clouds, the groups and even my email so I can focus on non-MOOC subjects. Then I realise even now, with it all turned off, I’m blogging about it!
It’s been a while since I was last awarded a badge
At the end of week 1 I’ve tried to follow the activities http://www.olds.ac.uk/the-course/week-1 It hasn’t been easy to find a way through the different technologies. This in itself has been an interesting experience. It’s good to step outside your comfort zone and one way to engage with new ways of working is to have a definite task in mind. My proposal is the development of DIY approach to Multimedia. This aligns with an on going project, so OLD with audio and video is relevant to me. My work role is to find ways to support people to use technology for education and I worry that here on OLDsMOOC I’ve been unable to translate the initial interest in my proposal into a working team. Cloudworks seems unnecessarily complex with too many ways of doing things resulting in information being scattered with no obvious mechanism for pulling it all together and establishing a single communication channel. I’ve tried to understand Cloudworks. My cloud profile and links to my clouds and cloudscape is here http://cloudworks.ac.uk/user/view/4427
I set up an alternative area for DIY Multimedia on Google Groups, this is here https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/olds-mooc-diy-multimedia
Open education is part of my role at Lincoln. Having just completed a 12 month JISC/HEA OER Change Academy programme, I’d suggest engagement with the philosophy and practice of OER comes before MOOCS. With OER you can have a more gentle and less public introduction but OER practice requires a sophisticated use of the internet and attention to specific digital literacies and MOOCs even more so. A key issue for me after this first week of OLDsMOOC is how many people may have tried and been defeated by the barrier of the technology. Rather than celebrating the affordances of online learning, this MOOC may have confirmed individual techno-fears and widened existing digital divides rather than helped bridge them. The spectrum of engagement with digital practices is wide. Many late adopters on the far side benefit from scaffolded approaches to increasing their digital confidence. Too often the technology is presented and users left to get on with it; reminiscent of early days of the VLE when attention was paid to the embedding of the technology and systems rather than the changes in practice necessary to shift from face to face to digital ways of working. OLDsMOOC has been a bit like these.
This is my OLDsMOOC story so far. I’ve been trying out MOOCs for some time and blogging about it herehttp://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk where there are also OLDsMOOC musings and reflections. I’m looking forward to Week2 and to working with colleagues who have found there way onto the DIY Multimedia Google Group. Those who made initial contact and are still out there – I hope our paths cross again in one way or another.
Having posted this on yet another cloud http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/7459 and added it to the Refelction Cloudscape http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2787, I’ve applied for my first ever MOOC badge – and am waiting for approval…
Working with teams of staff developing OER for the past year http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk) I find engagement with openess demands a sophisticated understanding of the internet so is useful for developing digital literacies, but also making work freely available under a creative commons licence encourages the revisiting of learning design principles and practices. The smaller scale of OER reduces the massiveness of the MOOC so can be a useful starting point with online design..
More and more people are using the YouTube caption tool in the belief it offers information in an alternative format but it doesn’t. If it wasn’t so serious, you could say it offers a laugh – like the example above which shows the caption for all Student’s Unions, Associations and Guilds – and there are many other examples in this video alone which demonstrate just how much the caption tool is tokenism.
Multimedia has great potential for teaching and learning. It suits a range of learning preferences and offers variety and interaction with content. However, to be inclusive it needs to be provided in alternative formats and this is the step most people miss. If you use YouTube captions take the time to check them out; the chances are they’ll be to poor to be of any real value.
Guide to Getting started with YouTube captions and transcripts YouTube http://support.google.com/youtube/bin/static.py?hl=en&topic=2734696&guide=2734661&page=guide.cs
Today I set up a DIY Multimedia Google Group at https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups=#!forum/olds-mooc-diy-multimedia My challenge has been bringing together everyone who has expressed interest in my proposal. The cloud profile template has space for name, homepage, department, institution and twitter hashtag but no email address. Contacts came through google groups, various clouds, email and blog comments with no obvious simple way of getting back in touch. I could post comments on some clouds but not others; some had discussion threads but no comment options and some users had a profile but not cloud! In the end I posted information on those clouds I could, on the OLDSMOOC Google Groups and on #OLDSMOOC Twitter. I’m finding the organisational functionality of the technology frustrating. Those familiar with the tools are at a distinct advantage and I wonder how many who have not used Cloudworks or Google Groups/Hangups are struggling. I appreciate the opportunity to explore their affordances but it’s at the expense of valuable opportunities for OLD collaborative working.
I don’t want to sound negative and am genuinely interested in the experience of being lost in new ways of working. It’s empowering to have this range of tools to choose from and make personal choices about forging a structure in which to work – very much an example of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) in action. I’m hoping everyone who expressed interest in my proposal to support staff engaging with audio and video will find their way into the Google Group or maybe someone will suggest an alternative more workable option. This is flexible learning after all.
My main concern is how technology overload creates potential barriers. OLD is important but so is encouraging and supporting staff to come online in the first place. I’ve worked with VLEs for over a decade but there have been occasions these past few days where I’ve wanted to run screaming from my laptop and mooc the mooc once and for all. It would be easy to stick with what I know and do something different – like put the laptop to one side and go and do something different instead – but I’m genuinely excited by the networking and opportunities to share expertise. Digital literacies are so important and the best way to develop them is to get in there. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, posting in the wrong place, or posting the same thing too many times, all of which I’ve done in the past few days! We’re all in this together and for all it might not sound like it – I’m having a lot of fun.
No weekend break on a MOOC. Activities were scheduled throughout Week 1 and by Day 5 (today) I should have a team, a study circle and be ready to brainstorm. (For anyone cringing at the use of the word brainstorm look here for the latest thinking).
So far I have:
- a profile on Cloudworks http://cloudworks.ac.uk/user/view/4427
- a proposal cloud http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/7042
- a proposal Cloudscape http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2743
- a Cloudscape Cloud proposal overview http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/7300
Are you keeping up? Over on Google Groups I’ve posted a new thread on my proposal https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/olds-mooc-open/xy_0GS1is74; I’ve also tweeted via #OLDSMOOC. I’ve tried to create a Google Hangout and failed so far.
My problem is linking interested people. Already I’ve had an gentle email suggesting some of my responses have been in the wrong place! I’m not sure on MOOC-ing protocols – should I chase people or wait for them to contact me? Up to now I’ve been proactive but have concerns about the time needed to keep on top; as this week goes on there will be even less time available. Actually getting started with the Online Learning Design seems a long way off. I’m still trying to get familiar with the clouds, groups and hangups. It seems unless everyone is in the same place it’s hard to make connections.
For me, the broad range of technology on OLDSMOOC is a barrier. Good learning curve but it replicates what often happens when technically competent people lead those further across on the spectrum of technical confidence. I’m not exiting the MOOC building yet; I think once the group is established with agreed lines of communication then contact with will be quicker and easier – but I haven’t got there yet!
If anyone would like to join my group, I’ve proposed developing a user guide to staff adopting a DIY approach to using audio and video in their teaching; this will cover the media capture and production and be aimed at the beginner – and my preferred mode of contact remains my work email email@example.com
Having a primary interest in the social effect of the internet, in particular on higher education, I’m running to stand still with the MOOC experience. Every MOOC I take – currently the JISC/OU OLDsMOOC on Online Learning Design and the soon to start Coursera MOOC on E-learning and Digital Cultures – is another step towards the future. The affordances of MOOCs are overwhelming in terms of building networks of shared expertise and interest across all boundaries of time and geography. MOOCs do what the internet does best. All the old clichés about harnessing the power of technology come to mind.
MOOCs are also providing opportunities to revisit the way virtual learning is constructed. I’m using the OLDSMOOC to explore online learning design with multimedia. This has now shifted from the professional studio and become a real possibility for everyone with the means of access. Yes, it takes time and there is a learning curve, but that curve has decreased significantly over the past few years. I want to build on the DIY approach at Lincoln where staff do their own media production to enhance their teaching and learning resources. I hope to produce a collaboratively formed set of guidance on DIY audio and video. Key to successful multimedia is inclusive practice where alternative formats are seen as an integral stage of pre-production rather than a bolt on post-production afterthought.
PBS Newshour examines the MOOC phenomena suggesting the current boom in online learning could change higher education. The video, ‘How Free Online Courses Are Changing the Traditional Liberal Arts Education’ is a perfect example of how learning online could look. It can be watched, downloaded and listened too. Best of all there is a full and complete transcript, provided as though it were totally natural. Which it should be. Yet it’s unusual enough for me to pick it up and write this blog post.
Multimedia should look like this. As MOOCs stimulate attention to online learning design, they offer a valuable opportunity to revisit our digitally inclusive practice.
MOOCs are great on so many levels. It’s hard to know where to start but already its’ clear that prioritising and organisation are key to MOOC success. How the tutors are managing to keep up with all the postings I don’t know; possibly lots of caffeine and late nights/early mornings lie ahead.
A key challenge is the proliferation of places to work in. It’s early days on the OLDs MOOC but already there is additional email traffic to manage and multiple new online places to explore (Cloudworks, Google Groups, Bibsomony etc). The summary of all the blog posts which mention MOOCs is a neat example of how the internet draws together shared interest. But is it all too much? Digital confidence directly relates to existing experience – in particular with finding your way around social networking platforms – for participants new to working online this in itself may pose a barrier.
When it comes to online presence, I prefer less to more – like single sign-on in reverse – one post appears in multiple places. I would be interested to know how other people manage their online lives and have posted this question in google groups – or was it my cloud in cloudworks? I’ve had so many MOOC windows I was getting confused. Friday activities included View and discuss the presentation introducing learning design for the OLDS MOOC. Somewhere I saw an instruction not to start a new thread but couldn’t find where I’d read it.. There didn’t seem to be one which fitted the instruction. It all got a bit messy.
Is OLDs MOOC is using reverse psychology where having a proliferation of places to post is showing less is best? Or an example of technology dominating the pedagogy and/or the user experience. OLD is open ended – there are always new tools and new ways of using them so by definition OLD can never be finished – but in terms of learning design there is a risk the practice gets lost in the process. For me, learning design has to focus on the affordances of the software and keep the interface simple. As tweeted on #oldsmooc this is a learning curve on massiveness.
My response to Friday’s activity was to comment on the use of automatic captions on the YouTube presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc9u91y0RJ0&list=PLmkRbbm6LeNWQl3AgFP2eKE1akOeN1jfB They are inaccurate and difficult to read.
The use of Multimedia in learning design offers powerful opportunities for meeting a range of learning preferences but all too often the provision of that information is limited to single or inadequate formats. It would be good to see OLDs MOOC following JISC TechDis advice on inclusive practice and setting an exemplary example with audio and video for others to follow.
My cloud – probably invisible in the cumulus mass – is here http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/6837
MOOCs ended last year and MOOCs begin this year. MOOCs are currently here there and everywhere, but under the surface the hype is being mixed with words of caution. This is welcome. So far I’ve been happy to promote the potential of MOOCs and post links to the different places where MOOCs can be found. It’s another rung in the affordances of the internet for the life long learning agenda. However, MOOCS should be seen for what they are – access to educational resources rather than access to equivalent university experiences. Sir John Daniel, previously VC for the OU, has written a perspective on MOOCs at http://jime.open.ac.uk/jime/issue/view/Perspective-MOOCs which offers an account of their sort history and appraises their usefulness.
‘This essay has taken a critical stance because the discourse about MOOCs is overloaded with hype and myth while the reality is shot through with paradoxes and contradictions.’ 2012: 18
Not a bad place to start. Meeting your critics is one way to success. The poor quality of MOOCs and the fragility of their free access is covered and attention drawn to their frequent reliance on old out of date behaviourist pedagogies based on models of information transmission. Where in the 21st century the internet enables interaction and networks, it is acknowledged how these rarely happen in isolation. Instead, the potential for collaborative communities of practice built around subject specialisms needs online intervention and presence; this can only come from a tutor experienced in this sort of distance online interaction between a group of eclectic strangers.
This reinforces the necessity for online learning to have a number of off line prerequisites in place. These include support for learning design and content development, in particular accessible, inclusive multimedia, and appropriate digital literacies for engaging with and operating effectively within online environments. MOOCs offer the incentive for universities to revisit how they already teach and learn on campus and re-examine their mechanisms for transferring this knowledge and skill to virtual platforms and for this reason alone their potential should not be dismissed.