Lincoln blog 2014

The National Centre for Food Manufacture (NCFM) at Holbeach was in the news this week The NCFM hosted one of a series of workshops on PicknPack dissemination. Funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme, PicknPack is a flexible robotic system developed to automate food processing and packaging.

The role of food packaging is a thankless one. Designed to be functional and attractive, it ends up in the bin, destined for landfill, but I guess you’re not meant to think of it that way.

fields between Lincoln and Holbeach  fields between Lincoln and Holbeach fields between Lincoln and Holbeach  fields between Lincoln and Holbeach

Travelling between Lincoln and Holbeach is to journey through a showcase of local production. In spring the fields are full of daffodils and tulips; in September there are leeks, sweetcorn and cabbages, always cabbages. Colours range from wheaten gold to ploughed-earth chocolate brown; all under the broad, deep Lincolnshire skies.

This week two Digital Education Developers joined EDEU and it was a pleasure to include a trip to the NCFM as part of their induction. Chavan Kissoon was e-learning guru for Work Based and Distance Learning in the Business School at the university and Marcus Elliot joins us from Grimsby Institute. Chavan will work with the College of Social Science and Marcus with the College of Science. I’m still waiting for my DED (apologies for the acronym) for the College of Arts. A third Senior Lecturer in Educational Development or SLED (we did slightly better with that one) will also be joining EDEU. By January 2015 we should be complete.

The move to the edge was eased by the facilities at One Campus Way; continual supplies of coffee and a special welcome from EDEU Director Dr Karin Crawford; for picky eaters like me the fruit was welcome :-)

shared facilities in one campus way  welcome from EDEU Director Dr Karin Crawford

Week One has been good. The rest of the team, Dan Derricottand the Student Engagers, arrive on Monday. Next week is our first full team Awayday.  EDEU is taking shape.

That's me in the corner That’s me in the corner. The door to the meeting room is locked making the space into a 3-sided room.

There’s no direct light shining on my screens and I have my own bookcase (already filled with a cunning plan to encourage book returns)

piles of books packed ready to move to EDEU

Duck and Spider have arrived. I’ve yet to introduce the wider EDEU team to the phenomena of Rubber Duck Debugging  That will come. As for Spider, it’s 14 years old and interesting to reflect on the changes since I first built the Achievers in Excellence website in 2000. In 2014 we weave with modules and plugins from content management systems rather than direct html. I’m left wondering if any other generation has seen so many changes happen so quickly. EDEU are in an excellent place to take the university’s remit for digital education forward.

The rubber duck and web weaver have arrived

You can tell it’s the last week in August. The phone is quiet. No scam emails. Even the comments from mightyviagara and powershower dot org saying they just dropped by and my blog posts are awesome – have stopped. All is quiet. Falsely so. There’s a sense of movement under the surface, an awareness of imminent change. Next week it will start. Staff will return. The bubbles are there, waiting to burst into Blackboard enquiries; I can’t see my sites, will you enrol me, where is my…how do I…..please can you help?

From now on, requests for assistance need to go through the ICT Service Desknot individuals. This represents a change in practice but one which makes sense. Here is a way to track the length and breadth of the support side of our work. The quick and the complex; the easy and the more challenging shades of assistance. We haven’t been good at monitoring what we do and as a result, much of our work is invisible.

Also, we are moving…

My boxes are packed, I’m ready to go. I’ve locked the office for the very last time. Goodbye Bridge House. Portocabin Heaven. Don’t slam the door or the floor will shake. I’ll miss you. Too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter but everything else was fine. Hello One Campus Way.  Out on the edge. Above the launderette. Every move takes me further from the centre. On Monday 1st September I’m hoping my computer will be attached to the network and phone working, so I can unpack ready to welcome our new staff. Introduce them to Blackboard. They’ll be getting to know each other over the next few weeks as staff and then students arrive.

September is always a special time. This is what higher education is about. New beginnings, the promise of learning and all that entails; raising awareness, critical thinking, reflecting on practice, on prior experience or a difficult phrase in a book or paper. Asking questions. What does that mean? Why did that happen? Who said that? I came into higher education as a mature student. Pre MS Windows – computers had arrived but they ran on DOS and there was no internet. It wasn’t that long ago! I’ll never forget the pains and joys. Queuing up to enrol on my very first day with no idea of what lay ahead. The sense of discovery as I found the library, had my first lectures, met other students juggling family and multiple commitments. My first degree was a challenge but one of the best things I ever did. It’s a privilege to work in an environment which offers such potentially life changing opportunities.

September is the new year, time for resolutions and plans. There will be changes but positive ones. I’ll have further to walk – will need comfy shoes – and although we remain a central unit, we’re each aligned to a college. I’m with the College of Arts – which everyone says suits me – I hope that bodes well!

We are EDEU. The Educational Development and Enhancement Unit. Most of the team are pictured here http://edeu.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/edeu-staff/ We have an embyronic  website http://edeu.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk, our own mailbox edeu@lincoln.ac.uk and twitter moniker @LincolnEDEU. We have arrived. Although not formally launching until October, from next week we are a team, located in the same place, working towards shared goals for fostering excellence and innovation in student education and engagement, supporting academic staff in developing their teaching practice and programmes and supporting professional services staff in working with students to enhance the quality of services.

The future is bright. The future is EDEU shaped. Bring on the new academic year :-)

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During August, a labyrinth was chalked onto the stone floor on Lincoln Cathedral and visitors invited to walk the twisting path into the centre and out again. In the arches on the right were a series of information panels. My connection with labyrinths goes back many years. The interest led to Walking the Labyrinth, set up to document their use within higher education, in particular as tool for learning development. What we know about labyrinths is contentious and for me this is part of the attraction. Because they’ve kept their secrets around their origin and use so well, they have become a vehicle for a number of different interpretations.

When I wrote the text for the labyrinth festival, my aim was to bring together what is known based on what can be evidenced. I wanted to emphasise a labyrinth is not a maze, despite what the Oxford and other dictionaries say, and to reveal how the symbol is old, more ancient than the church itself. I thought I was writing with accuracy and respect but with hindsight I think I may have been naive. The experience is helping me rethink my research, in particular  how we know the world. The ologies of Ont and Epist, which I’ve struggled with since the beginning, are best understood through application to daily life.

From the start I wanted the panels to narrate the story of the labyrinth, step by step, from past to present. In my mind the words would run from top to bottom and be supported with appropriate – but secondary – images. Instead the images were given priority and the text squeezed into a block; positioned too small and low to be easily read while the plan to reproduce this as an information leaflet to take away didn’t happen.  Other panels, laid out in the style I had imagined, were more accessible and stressed the connection between the labyrinth and christianity. Reading these, I saw how my text could appear as if  I was trying to do the opposite.

Critical Realist Roy Bhaskar (1978) wrote about an ontological distinction between three domains of  reality:  empirical (observed reality),  actual (interpreted reality)  and causal (generative reality or mechanisms of change). We bring to empirical situations our existing knowledge which in turn shapes our expectations; but knowledge is fallible and constantly open to change. I walk into Lincoln Cathedral with the expectation I’ll be surrounded with design appropriate to the Christian religion. This interpretation derives from the sum experiences of my life (my actual domain of reality) which are reinforced whenever my expectations are confirmed. The labyrinth text introduced a causal reality i.e. something different and possibly unexpected within the context of the cathedral. For me labyrinths can be both secular and sacred and I set out to bring the two dimensions together. I don’t feel I succeeded but maybe I have a better understanding of why this was so.

To often we can’t ‘see’ from the inside. It takes the alchemical process of reflection on action to produce insight. With hindsight I may have been blinkered by my  own ‘actual’ reality. Excited by the possibilities of promoting the labyrinth symbol within the cathedral walls, and able to rationalise the secular/sacred duality within my own mind, I failed to grasp how this might constitute  a challenge – however small – to the institutional ideology of the church. The reduction of a message which was outside of doctrine – albeit in my mind running parallel – diluted the opportunity to pass on this knowledge.

Regardless of the faux pas-panels, the highlight for me was the central position of the labyrinth itself; precisely chalked across the nave, and seeing people take the time to walk the circular paths. Solvitur Ambulando. It is solved by walking. There was a moment when the sun shone through the stained glass windows and cast coloured patterns across the stone floor, lapping onto the outer paths of the labyrinth.  I’m not sure I’ve been in a church when this has happened in such a spectacular manner. Maybe God was working in a mysterious way after all.

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academic obscura

Advice for finishing a PhD - don't diet (until it's all over)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is back in October. This is Part Two; a short in-service course (24 weeks, 30 M level cats, @300 learning hours). It contains two learning blocks; social media for teaching and learning and e-resources; developing and using online content.

To help prepare, I’ve been putting myself out there, so to speak, into digital space. Apart from this blog, I was a dabbler.  Facebook for photos,  a tweet here and there and a bit of collaborative working on Google Drive was the extent of my S&M adventures. TELEDA1 stayed within Blackboard for communication; one reason being when it comes to group work, social media can be exclusive. Not everyone wants to sign up and engage. TELEDA2 is different. It’s being advertised with the expectation colleagues will use Twitter and create a profile on LinkedIn or other  ‘professional’ networking site like Academic.edu or ResearchGate.  It will be a challenging e-teaching experience. I hope I’m better prepared since I took SM more seriously.

It started with BBWorld14 in July; summarised in a series of reflective blog posts* on the experience of one of the biggest education conferences in the world. Using Storify I created a synthesis of my social media usage https://storify.com/suewatling/bbworld14-sue-watling-1 

During August I’ve taken Twitter seriously, with some useful outcomes. My numbers of retweets, favourites and followers have increased and my advice on surviving the write up of a PhD, begun by the Guardian Higher Education @GdnHigherEd, was included in #AcademiaObscura’s Finish That PhD in Twelve Steps https://storify.com/AcademiaObscura/finish-that-phd I’m in there at Number 6 with the meaningful advice Don’t Diet!

So what have I learned? Focusing on Twitter, where the tweet limit of 140 characters or less  makes it one for the more challenging platforms, here is my top twitter-advice for anyone wanting to adopt it as a professional networking tool.

Using Twitter takes time, imagination and confidence. That’s it!

It might not sound much but the learning curve was steeper than I expected. The first thing I noticed was I could tweet from home but not the office. To start with I simply forgot. To be consistent meant a shift in on-campus working behaviours to incorporate Twitter into daily routines. It takes time to follow, retweet, say something meaningful in a sentence – this is where the imagination comes it. You need a collection of aphorisms, proverbs or even terrible puns to tweak and adapt if you want to get noticed and confidence is required in buckets. It might just be me but linking to other people – like cold connecting – still feels a bit like gatecrashing. The internet is a mirror and using social media reflects your professional online identity. To be a non-user is to be invisible and risks exclusion in an increasingly digital society. It’s best to take control of the medium before it takes control of you. Benefits include discovery and connections which can be really useful.  Ultimately social media is like the Lottery, you have to be in it to win it!

I can’t wait to get started with TELEDA2 :-)

* Blog posts from July synthesising my social media adventures.

Lost in transcription

August 17, 2014 | PhD  |  Leave a Comment

lost in the translation transcription

When time is tight and research squeezed into whatever’s left of the working week, it’s a case of learning on the job. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! There’s little time for being pragmatic or always having pre-event reflection. It’s more act first, think later. When it came to the interviews and transcriptions I made some mistakes but hopefully learned from them too. In June I listed ten tips for managing p/t doctoral research  http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/06/05/ten-top-tips-for-managing-part-time-doctoral-research/  Regarding interviews I can now include – with confidence – the following advice:

  • Test the volume, speed and microphone connection – every time.
  • Don’t rely on the recorder to preserve your data – back up back up and back up again
  • No biscuits – eat and talking don’t pair well.
  • Allow for pauses; the verbal gaps are not spaces for you to fill.

Transcribing my interviews was also an action orientated process. I slowed the recorder speed and typed. For hours. Every repetition, deviation and hesitation all faithfully reproduced. Apart from aching hands and an overheating laoptop it was ok. A folder of MP3 files and transcripts felt like real progress. Then I started DIY NVivo and realised I’d done it again. Gone in head, hands and feet first without reading the literature.

NVivo was a good point to break the habit and do some preparatory reading on text analysis and coding. Here I came across guidance on transcription.  Steinar Kvale says beware of transcripts – or was that be aware. The change of medium from verbal to written means within the process things risk getting lost or taken out of context. Transcripts are not transparent but can mislead – which will come as no surprise if you’re of the interpretivist persuasion. What was surprising were attitudes towards the process. Tedious, boring, onerous, time consuming – 1 hour of interview often compared to 5-6 hours transcription. I heard one lecturer on You Tube advocating paying to get them done, claiming he hadn’t transcribed for the last ten years. Silverman lists common mistakes made by external transcribers, many confirming the need to be aware or beware e.g. ever for never, formal for informal, was for wasn’t etc. I didn’t mind the transcription at all.

There’s no better way to start the process of getting to know your data than transcribing an interview. If it’s tedious and boring then something’s wrong.  The transcript is the first read through and a valuable opportunity to begin the mental mind map. A transcript is a verbal snapshot of the moment so should be verbatim, include all repetitions, deviation and hesitations, and be carried out by the researcher.   In the way photo-shopping is frowned on for misrepresenting the truth, so transcripts should contain attention to detail.  The transcription process is the end of the interview and the beginning of the data analysis stage. Not getting anything lost in the translation from speech to text is critical. Researchers are in positions of power and have a responsibility to record with accuracy everything that was said.

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Silverman, D. (1997) Qualitative research: theory, method and practice. London: Sage

Women Against FeminismWomen Against Feminism on Tumblr suggests feminism. is dead. It seems the feminist movement has divided women against women . The future doesn’t look good for the F word. It’s getting difficult to separate feminist fact from fantasy.

Last week Women’s hour gave airtime to some feminist issues. The 9 minute clip can be heard online.*  Ellie Mae O’Hagan argued a gender pay gap exists (see Guardian CIF) while Laura Perrin from The Conservative Woman blog claimed the only reason women get paid less is because they take time out from work to have children. Childcare has always been a a feminist issue. Women Against Feminism was cited as an example of anti-feminist feeling. 

Messages on the Tumblr site are mixed. In a world where the internet exposes all aspects of life around the planet, it’s hard to see what appears to be insulation against the greater global picture of gender inequality. Part of this could be Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism and how social media encourages a society of self, but the legacy of early feminism is also to blame. A niche occupation; the stereotype was butch man basher, but the reality more single, childfree, educated, white, western female. Feminism failed to support the role of mother, wife and home-maker. In the 80’s I thought I was feminist until the day I was denied access to a local Women’s Centre because I had my sons with me, while women with daughters could enter. This was the day I thought F**k Feminism, you’re not for me.

I think partly I was relieved. Having halted a career for my family, the unsympathetic portrayal of feminism in the media was unsettling. Early press coverage focussed on negative images and feminists were mocked unsympathetically. Outed as bra-burning, men-haters, female friendships became suspect as men were taught to hate these strident dykes with more hair on their bodies than heads. The labelling of women as feminist soon carried undertones of threat and violence. For evidence of structured inequality of the patriarchal kind, you didn’t need to look much further than this. Feminist calls for political and economic parity came with a price which disguised any genuine ambition for social change and the backlash continues. The female body remains subject to scrutiny. There has never been a more image saturated age and a young girl quickly learns her value is associated with her appearance. It needs sensitive parenting and educated curricula to change dominant cultural attitudes but you can’t call it a feminist agenda any more because feminism is being rewritten and gender discrimination reinvented as victim-hood as evidenced by Women Against Feminism

There are many signs lessons haven’t been learned and the F word is still a dirty one. As a political movement feminism continues to be divisive. Yet fighting gender discrimination is no different to fighting against marginalisation by age, religion, disability or any other cultural category. To make a difference to structural inequality based on  sex and gender, feminism this time around needs to be different – for a start it has to cater for all women and include men. But then it wouldn’t be feminism and that is the problem.

* In a perfect example of exclusive and inaccessible practice, The BBC offers no introductory text or transcript. You have to listen.

Great British Bake Off banner from Twitter

The wisdom of crowds degenerates at speed into unwise slander and lies. Who’d have thought the Great British Bake-off could result in such vitriolic bile towards contestants  that this year’s bakers have been warned not to take part in ‘negative exchanges’ on social media and advised not to ‘read, engage or focus’ on any comments on their performance.

After all, it’s only cake.

Er nerr – the truth is baking doesn’t get more complex than this. #GBBO14 is much more than ingredient alchemy. If the adage ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is true, then even the nasty Twitter Trolling is part of a bigger picture which includes generating publicity which feeds into potential book deals, celebrity status and stashes of cash – all for avoiding soggy bottoms and burnt bits.

Social media gives you a voice at the end of your fingers; tap, touch, swipe and you’re on Twitter, squeezing insults into 140 characters or less or setting up Facebook pages where personal, biased opinions, can be sieved, shaken or stirred. Say what you like online about the Great British Bake Off and large numbers do. The GBBO Facebook page has 404,916 likes – and rising – while @BritishBakeOff on Twitter is followed by 177K and more by the hour. This year includes the spin off show An Extra Slice which extends the pleasure or agony – depending on your views – as well as offering another twitter hashtag #AnExtraSlice. Here’s a show about a show. With a live audience and celebrity panel it’s stretching the brand. With photographs from viewers and contributions from audience members, it was cake, cake and more cake all the way home. A 30 minute bricolage of bake-related innuendo, clips from GBBO programmes (some you’d seen, some you hadn’t) and gender stereotypes stretched to their edge, it proved you can have too much of a good thing. For me the extra slice was one too many.

It’s sad to think social media has to come with warnings. Like calls on the news this week for wine bottles to carry messages about the dangers of alcohol and harmful effects of drinking. How much difference does it really make when abstinence is the only safe direction. Yet withdrawing from social media is not a practical answer; it has to much value for us to disconnect. The worry is taking steps to stay safe online and construct appropriate digital identities is not enough to protect from abuse as shown by the experiences of GBBO’s Ruby Tandoh in series 4 and Claire Goodwin from series 5 last week. The online trolls are massing and the remaining GBBO bakers will be the target.

Logo for the Office for National Statistics

The Office of National Statisticsissues an Internet Quarterly Update. The Summary from Internet Access – Households and Individuals, released  7th August,  begins with the sentence ‘The Internet has changed the way people go about their daily lives.’  Well, not everyone although the point was tipped some time ago. ONS tell us 22 million households (84%) have Internet access this year. These statistics are not lying, they’re just not telling the whole truth. Apart from the 16% which don’t, access does not always equate with effective use. Digital divides remain. They’re getting  deeper as the prerequisite learning curves get steeper and this inaccessibility is also invisible thereby silenced more than ever before.

This week the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) announced the Empathy and Trust In Communicating ONline (EMoTICON) funds. The University of Lincoln will manage CuRAtOR (Challenging online feaR And OtheRing), a £750,000 project exploring social media and discrimination. As well as CuRAtOR, UoL will feed into Loneliness in the digital age (LIDA) led by Loughborough. Up to £3.7 million pounds was available under a cross-council Global Uncertainties, Digital Economy and Connected Communities Programme.

Also this week the crowd-funding platform Zequs launched a new appeal from UCANDOIT, a charity teaching people with disabilities to use computers with focus on the Internet and email. For examples of their work visit the UCanDoIT YouTube channel. Their appeal for public donations is called Getting People with Disabilities Online and Surfing. It aims to raise £5000 by 29th September and at the time of writing still has £4970 to go.   

It’s clear from the ONS Survey, people with disabilities are one of the most discriminated against sections of the population when it comes to internet access.

The 3.5 million disabled adults who had never used the Internet represented 30% of the adult population who were disabled. Of those adults who reported no disability, 7% (3.0 million adults) had never used the Internet. (Internet Access Quarterly Update, 2014:5)

In 2010 the Single Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act, making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of eight protected characteristics including disability. It also broadened definitions of discriminatory behaviours to improve and extend protection.  Individuals with disabilities, in particular users of assistive technologies, are among those excluded from equitable internet access yet their digital discrimination is rarely discussed and even more rarely addressed.  The disparity between research into internet use compared to tackling digital exclusion is clear and itself serves to widen and deepen those increasingly invisible digital divides.

 

NVivo software logoAugust is the busy month. I’m mostly on my own at work. There are advantages; I get the printer to myself and there’s no queue for the kettle.

I’m solo commuting. Playing the same cd over and over, loving the early morning colours of the corn fields and finally discovering leaving at 7.00 pm does guarantee an easy run home!

If you don’t read the detail of the OoO emails ……I’m away…. in Madagascar  ….sooooooo sorry…..back next month……..it’s ok. I’ve had the first meeting with my new supervisor. It went well. I have enough data. Maybe too much but that’s ok because in the PhD quadrant I’ve seamlessly segued into the third section; lit review and data collection behind, looking at data analysis and writing up. Wow! This is beginning to take shape.

Is it darta or date-a? Is this the castle and bath debate?

There’s been some reassuring pieces in the Guardian’s Academics Anonymous. I liked the one on older Phd study in particular the comments. Thank you strangers :-) Your reassurance towards late life postgraduate education was very comforting for this middle of the quoted age range academic.

  • I got my PhD at the age of 52
  • I completed my DPhil at the age of 57,
  • I got my PhD two weeks before I was 66
  • I met a man who was in his mid-80s and doing a PhD…

From here I slid into neighbouring pieces – like you do – click click….. another year older… I was drawn to a piece titled How to stay sane through a PhD: get survival tips from fellow students, but it was a bit depressing.

‘From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t matter much what discipline you belong to or which university you go to when it comes to developing chronic unhappiness.’

My PhD journey has not been easy but not chronically unhappy either.

‘We have to start by being honest with each other and ourselves, admit when we are struggling and then seek help.’

So it’s no coincidence the initial caps of this Anonymous Academic series are AA?  My name is Sue and I’m doing a PhD…

It’s interesting how the URL for this piece calls it mental-health rather than survival tips http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/mar/20/phd-research-mental-health-tips  I guess I’m lucky. My mental health is ok. Or as well as it can be – all things considering – and I think it’s one of the advantages of being er, um…. a little older. Hopefully, with age you learn how to deal with the less pleasant aspects of being. My Phd is a new learning experience but it’s also reinforcing what I always suspected about how knowledge is constructed and known, I just didn’t have the theoretical lens for expressing it. For me, this is a privileged position and I’m sure I couldn’t have appreciated any earlier in my life.

Moving onto data analysis will be interesting. Hello Hello NVivo, we’re going to get to know each other very well. In the meantime its back to the piste of epistemology, ontology and conceptualising the hundreds of thousands of what I love best – words!


“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.” Mark Twain


TELEDA Top TipsFollowing #Bbworld14 advice to including audience takeaways, I synthesised TELEDA into seven top tips, supported by quotes from colleagues and recommendations for e-teaching practice.  I’ve already blogged about the value of stand-out titles when competing with high numbers of parallel sessions http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/07/25/bbworld14-re-imagining-education-and-the-importance-of-presentation-titles/  The size of #Bbworld14 emphasised how headline titles are an art worth collecting :-)

Seven Top TELEDA Tips

TELEDA tip 1 busting myths of digital confidence

TELEDA Tip 1: busting Myths of digital confidence means not making assumptions about the use of technology

Everyone works differently. They might be less confident than you think but just disguise it well. The quote shows VLE are not only about technical competence  but have social and emotional challenges. Don’t make assumptions about how people feel psychologically as well as cognitively.

Recommends: build in time for a course induction. Have activities which encourage sharing aims and feelings, it’s good for e-learners to know others might be nervous about learning online and good for e-teachers to know what students are thinking about.

TELEDA Tip 2 awareness of text mis communication

 TELEDA Tip 2: awareness of text mis-communication

We’ve all had emails which leave you thinking mmm…. what do they mean by that? The absence of face to face clues makes it easy to misinterpret messages. The quotes reinforce the value of learning design and how online communication is different, sometimes scary. e-teachers should expect reluctance and be prepared for the possibility of mixed messages.

Recommends: discuss the advantages of digital text; how you can practice, reflect, edit, check spelling then paste when you’re ready. Have a net etiquette guide, either given or constructed during induction. Include the standard advice e.g. capital letters are shouting, emoticons convey emotions :-) :-? 8-) and don’t be rude or offensive. If you wouldn’t say it f2f don’t say it online. If you would say it f2f it’s still not appropriate here!

TELEDA Top Tip 3 experiencing identity blur

TELEDA Tip 3: experiencing identity blur 

What do you call an e-teacher? It sounds like a bad joke but is a serious question. You hear tutor, trainer, moderator, facilitator, instructor but never e-lecturer. The status of teaching online isn’t high. e-teachers have to shift identity from  ‘Sage on the Stage’ to less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’.

Recommends: knowledge is power so be prepared. e-teaching is complex and challenging but also an expertise in its own right. Done well, it’s a powerful tool for widening participation. Be proud of your e-teaching status and take every opportunity to share your practice.

activity based content

TELEDA Tip 4: adopt activity based content

Online resources have to guide, motivate, enthuse and excite students as well as retain them. Face to face sessions need to be redesigned on constructivist principles through an activity based curriculum. Interaction with content as well as other e-learners and e-teachers is essential for maintaining and completing the learning journey.

Recommends: set up online groups with forums, blogs or wikis and a choice of activities based on key texts. Ask for synthesis of core ideas through posters, mindmaps, presentation software, audio, video. Ask students to peer review and feedback summaries. Avoid replicating lectures with 50 minutes of talking head. Chunk content, be inclusive and always provide multimedia transcripts to suit all learning preferences.

TELEDA Tip 5 effective site signposting

TELEDA Tip 5: effective site signposting

e-teaching and e-learning are very different experiences to campus based education. They are often carried out in isolation and it’s easy to forget how a VLE like Blackboard might look like to a new user. Without the physical presence of colleagues or peers, it’s easy to get lost or confused so effective signposting is essential.

Recommends: be clear about the learning outcomes and ways to demonstrate them. Make sure e-learners know what’s expected and how they’ll be assessed. Give them your contact details and times when you’ll be available. Check links aren’t broken. Write weekly summaries which look backwards and forwards. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page.

go do a mooc

TELEDA Top 6: do a MOOC

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to see other e-teachers at work as well as offering first hand experience of the loneliness of the long distance learner. You can dip in and out  and they’re great for ideas for designing content and enabling communication. Open Educational Resources (OER) are worth looking at too. These are educational materials made freely available through a Creative Commons licence.

Recommends: visit Coursera, the Khan Academy or Udacity for MOOC and JORUM or HUMBOX for OER. SCORE have a list of repositories. Look up Creative Commons licences; some encourage repurposing as well as reuse. Built activities around searching and evaluating free online content. Use social bookmarking like Delicious or Diigo  to collect links in one place.

TELEDA TIP 7 be prepared for a pedagogy of uncertainty

 TELEDA TIP 7: be prepared for a Pedagogy of Uncertainty

The challenge of e-teaching is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know who your learners are, or if they’re going to engage in your activities, and if not, you have to figure out if they’ve got lost or simply lost interest. It might be miscommunication or misunderstanding but following the six tips above will help avoid some of the commonest errors.

Recommends: be honest. e-teaching isn’t the easy option but the advantages outweigh the negatives. VLE offer genuine opportunities to widen participation in higher education, in particular for those with multiple time commitments. They also enhance campus experiences through encouraging independent and inclusive learning.  The future is digital and e-teaching is an increasingly essential craft and skill.

Quote from Blackboard conference on supporting digitally shy to become digitally confident

The post-conference reflections continue…feeling more like a dream, snatches of memory here and there as the event fades under ongoing work weight.  My presentation title was ‘e-teaching; moving from digitally shy to digitally confident with Blackboard Learn’. The message was shifting institutional investment to the technology users rather than its maintainers or managers. Evidence from colleagues who teach and support learning, who’ve taken part in Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA), suggests examining the e-teaching element of e-learning has the potential to make a real difference.

“…I realise now how naïve I was in the past to simply open the discussion board with a question and expect the students to participate. As a tutor I have to make it possible for my students to participate through the design of my tasks…”

“… It seems obvious now that the lack of student engagement with my online resources was due to inappropriate design. I placed too much emphasis on text based, self-directed learning and  didn’t recognise the important roles of self and peer assessment, interaction between students and probably most importantly, investing time in building solid foundations and helping students develop skills for online learning.”

“…Being an online learner is confusing and disorientating. There is no tutor to check what you are doing ‘is right’…”

“As a tutor in the classroom you can be on hand to make connections for students or clarify activity instructions. This is less easy online, you have to almost pre-empt questions…”

In the beginning there was a triad of technology, students and teachers. The technology has been promoted as transformational, the student as in need of engagement, the teacher as…….errr…..well, maybe their time will come through the growing realising e-teaching is the missing link. With technology playing an increasing role in design and delivery of learning opportunities on and off campus, assumptions about digital confidence have to become more realistic.

Digitally shy teachers need to be digitally confident before they can teach online

The Blackboard people posted the first comment during the conference but it could just as easily have said the second :-)

 

Book cover for Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn

Do you remember the great calculator debate? My trigonometry was learned with little books of Sine, Cosine and Tangent tables. It might have been the last century but it wasn’t that long ago. Did manual mental maths make me a better learner? No. It just used different parts of my brain. Progress through O and A levels was influenced by wider factors. My initial education was as socially divided and culturally defined as it is for millions of children today. One difference is the degree to which technology is now used for teaching and learning.

One of the books I took to #Bbworld2014 was Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn. Travel is good for prolonged reading and Selwyn’s critical approach has always resonated. Calling on academics to question the perceived inevitability of technology, Selwyn writes how ET appears to do little to ‘…challenge or disrupt the prevailing  reproduction of social inequalities that characterise contemporary education’ (2014: 164). In the book, four areas to distrust are virtual,  social, open and gaming. On route to one of the biggest educational conferences in the world, presenting on e-teaching and ambivalent towards Blackboard, the chapter on distrusting the virtual seemed a good place to start…

…there wasn’t much good news.

Key issues in Chapter 3 Distrusting ‘Virtual’ Technologies in Education (pp 43-63) included the following:

  • VLE are being used for governance and performance management with active surveillance being presented as helpful and benevolent. The panoptican of analytics fits well with Foucauldian views of discipline and self-regulation. It’s not difficult to see how monitoring student clicks reveals less about their learning ‘experience’ and more about strategic approaches to assessment. I liked the expression the ‘silences of VLE’ or what is not known because it can’t be seen or monitored – mainly the human aspects of education which technology has been been good at replicating :-(  Another risk of analytics is highlighting norms and privileging them, which in turn reinforces the power of the designer to replicate majority expectations of behavior.
  • VLE mostly replicate existing pedagogies rather than challenging or reinventing them. A reliance on transmission models privileges content production. Once resources are in place their delivery can be seen as something anyone can do which might raise questions about the need for qualified teachers in the first place.
  • VLE also raise issues of status, not only lack of it for teaching online but the liminal nature of virtual environments and identities. Many times on TELEDA and in the research interviews, colleagues have said it was challenging to conceive the person behind the digital name. Nearly all described how the virtual was less privileged and easier to neglect during busy times. In terms of working with others, group members (and myself) were perceived as Un-Real or Other. Despite all best efforts, the virtual teaching space remained an artificial one. Lack of status is further reinforced by the absence of an agreed name for e-teachers. Tutors, trainers, faciliators, moderators, instructors but never e-lecturer.

One inevitable conclusion is maybe ET doesn’t have all the answers after all and early promises of transformation through VLE were lies!

Later in the book Selwyn cites Braverman* on deskilling, Machines were introduced into factories under the guise of being improvements for workers when the reality was loss of human labour. Braverman sits within a specifically Marxist approach and there is a problem with politics which fall into the trap of critique from a corner. For me, challenging ideology is best achieved through working alongside existing structures rather than in opposition to them. Investing academic effort into highlighting problems without offering practical solutions is not helpful.

Aside from this, Selwyn is always worth reading. He reminds you technology is never neutral but represents value laden sites of unequal power relationships. We’ve all been seduced into accepting technological progress as unquestioningly positive. So much so, even voices suggesting elearning has failed can only offer solutions within the paradigm promoting belief in the magic if we could just find the answer – like application of more  rigorous theoretical approaches to content design and delivery*. Selwyn says those working with ET genuinely believe in its affordances. They are unable to see the underlying politics disguised as promises to cut costs, increase efficiency and choice, support diversity of access and produce self-directed learners. ET’s ideological foundations have to be revealed through critical thinking and reflection before we can see its shaping by dominant interests which seek perpetuation.

What’s the solution? Selwyn calls for bottom up approaches towards ET, giving voice to the marginalised and silenced, including those who teach and support learning. While technologists and managers make key ET decisions, the experience of day-to-day users often gets missed. TELEDA tries to bridge some of these divides by creating space for critical reflection but, understandably, most colleagues are focused on how to use ET to enhance the teaching of their subject and their students’ experience. While this is no reason to abandon the soapbox on digital exclusion and broader thinking around the adoption of ET, distrusting it seems likely to remain a minority occupation.

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research. Proceedings ASCILITE Sydney 2010.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

At BBWorld14 CEO and President Jay Bhatt talked about a ‘new era of education in a learner-centric world’. How Blackboard is challenging conventional thinking and advancing new learning models through their ‘product and solutions innovation agenda’. In short – Blackboard are reimagining the education experience.

BBWorld14 image for reimagining education

I’m not convinced the ‘problems’ are so different today. Education has always been socially divided and culturally defined. The Blackboard machine is promoting a view which suits its purpose and in a digitally divided world seems to be missing opportunities to ensure equitable access. Selling a technology dependent on the internet provides ideal opportunities to draw attention to digital exclusion and fund projects which ensure connectivity where it doesn’t exist or is problematic. Blackboard as a company could make a real difference. At BBWorld14 I saw several presentations around accessible content but nothing on issues of exclusion from Blackboard itself. The ways forward seems to be data driven approaches to improving performance through analytics; monitoring who clicks what, where and for how long.

Presenting education as problematic also offers opportunities to provide solutions and the list of Blackboard promises is a lengthy one. They include increasing enrolments and retention, addressing multiple learning styles, preferences, and requirements, coping with changing student needs, engaging active learners and reaching non-traditional students. Phew! There are also the economic drivers; keeping institutions competitive with new business models to grow enrolments, improving yield (? whatever that means) and reducing the cost of recruitment.

These were the messages but what was it really like?

BBWorld14 was a conference on multiple levels. Techie, K12 and HE all in one place made for interesting casual conversations. Beyond personal politics or philosophy, Blackboard at institutional level is about enabling teaching and learning and the best part of BBWorld14 was sharing cultural variations on practice. With over a dozen parallel sessions there was plenty of practice to share. I stayed with the practice theme, looking beyond the hype and marketing to the differences of virtual environments. The choice challenge reinforced the value of headlines. Stand-out titles included 50 Shades of Data, Blackboard Ate My Homework, Tame the Dragon! Whip Your Course into Shape and Nightmare on LMS Street. The next layer of persuasion were those which promised takeaways; Secrets Exposed, 10 Steps, 5 Ways, 3 questions.

The session which combined them all was A Mission NOT Impossible: Teaching How to Teach Online with Blackboard with an abstract inviting delegates to share how this was done during which ‘Chocolate will be served!’ but I missed it – there was too much to choose from.

At times choice was influenced by distance. The Sands Conference Centre is huge. Comments on TripAdvisor say wear comfy shoes, there’s a lot of walking. I should’ve checked this out before not after. It could take every one of the 15 minutes between sessions to move between some locations. TA also advises warm clothes. With an outside temperature of plus 40 degrees, by Day 2 I was cold from the over ambitious AC. Plenty of shops but no cheap ones and everything  at the lower price range was pink and sparkly which might be appropriate for Vegas but  less so for work or the allotment.

Sands Conference Centre

I took mixed messages away from BBWorld14

On the one hand the corporate Blackboard razzmatazz was a long way from the realities of supporting staff and student shifts to virtual practice. It’s a global industry promising solutions to educational problems. many of which might benefit from a human touch as much as a keyboard.

On the other hand, conferences like BBWorld are full of people who care about education and the opportunity to meet and discuss cultural difference and similarities across this shared passion is invaluable; it reinforces why you work in the sector in the first place and extends and enhances the ways in which you function around online environments.

What was missing was strategic attention to the e-teaching component of e-learning

Blackboard’s claims to be learner-centric can miss the experience of staff who teach and support students. My presentation on e-teaching was informed by TEL reports from UCISA, HEA and MNC Horizons which all call for investment in resourcing the digital confidence of teachers as well as students. The Blackboard focus on technologists and management who drive and buy the technology, with the student as incentive, misses those who are digitally shy. These are daily users who’ve never been centre stage yet the relationship between learners and teachers is inseparable. If Blackboard is serious about reimagining education, it would do well to rethink the virtual experience of staff and faculty as much as the students they teach.

Storify of the event https://storify.com/suewatling/bbworld14-sue-watling-1 

With hindsight there were similarities between the layout of the presentation room and this slide I used in my presentation. The stage was higher than it looks on this picture – or maybe just seemed it – that lectern was very close to the edge…

similarities between 21st and 14th century lecture spaces

image of 14th century lecture   from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism#mediaviewer/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg 

social media selfies from #BBWorld14 – the moral of storify is think before you link!

July 25, 2014 | #BbWorld14digital literacies  |  Leave a Comment

Twitter is the ultimate in contagious self-promotion. With over 2500 delegates at #Bbworld14 it was a challenge to stand out from the crowd. Social media is one of the few ways to achieve a permanent  ‘presence’.  In every session I attended the majority were heads down working on a mobile device. I understand this. Apart from the ease of making digital notes, the tweeting  motivation was strong. You don’t travel all that distance to be invisible.

There are multiple layers to social media as well as a multitude of options and #BBworld14 made good use of them, as you would expect. Even the Twitter Wall was huge!

Twitter Wall at BBWorld14

In the world of social media your audience is often singular and cen be seen in the mirror. My Twitter stats from the event might be derisable to some, but for me they’re now a challenge to emulate!

BBWorld14 Twitter Stats

This tweet was picked up by one of the Storify collections which inspired me to make my own very first Storify Story using tweets and photos from the event. I was impressed with the ease of the software. It does all the work for you and easily brings together any content with your name on across a whole range of social media. I linked it to Twitter and Fickr to produce a useful reminder of the event.

Storify at BBWorld

Lastly, I became 4130th person to be followed by @Blackboard!  :-)

BBWorld blog mention

Our digital identity is integral to digital literacies. Social media platforms make it easy for mistakes and the permanent nature of digital footprints mean errors made in haste can truly be repented at leisure. Whether Google will agree to taking down something you later regret is another issue but for the majority of people ‘think before you link‘ is essential. Sometimes it’s less about your own actions and more about the social media actions of others. Storify listed everyone who appeared in my #BbWorld14 story with an option to contact them and it was surprising how many faces showed up which I’d forgotten I’d included in tweets.  Not all social media does this. Maybe they should.

Talking to the duck really does help!

Last month I wrote about social media and the question of blogging has continued to call for answers. Why blog? What’s a rubber dock got to do with it? A comment on the post Imagine Baudrillard on Twitter suggests blogs may soon be old news – too long too boring :-( This was food for thought on the haul up and down the A15. Commuting is a great place for head space.

I’m MOOCing again. This time it’s e-leaning ecologies with Coursera. Dipping in and out with curiosity, looking for ideas for TELEDA and swapping notes with other e-learners interested in e-teaching. It strikes me how similar the resources promoting the benefits of educational technology are to those written over a decade ago, like Diana Laurillard’s Rethinking University Teaching (2001) or Garrison and Anderson’s e-learning in the 21st century (2003).  I’ve just read an article by Graham Rogers on the use of technology in History written in 2004. Cited by Sage* as the second most read article in 2006, it could have been written today. Maybe blogs have some answers to promoting shifts to virtual practice.

Light bulb moment The blog derives from web-log – lists of ‘interesting’ websites for sharing. It supports reflection. What did I do, how did I do it, what did I learn?  Blogging helps make individual thought processes visible. A bit like having a mirror on the internet; one which surfaces your reflections on connections between new and existing ideas. Known as deeper approaches to learning, the process can reveal new ways of seeing – the ‘I get it’ moment which is meaningful on an individual level. While early adopters were making claims for the promise of technology to harness more effective ways of learning, they were heralding the potential of virtual space for what the Coursera MOOC has introduced as collaborative/reflexive rather than didactic/mimetic education. What has the duck got to do with it?

Rubber ducking is the epitome of blogging. It works like this. You have a problem. You ask a question. As you’re talking the answer comes to you so rather than constantly revealing what you don’t know or have forgotten to colleagues, you talk to your duck instead. The phenomena belongs to the process of debugging programme code and demonstrates the magic of verbalisation. The mind gets crowded. Sometimes you have to extract the problem from its cognitive space and put it into reality. In doing so the answer becomes clear and the duck never laughs at you.

Blogging is like rubber ducking. It’s a place for cognitive extraction. The process of fine tuning edits the superfluous to reveal core insights. It’s also about writing discipline.  Set a word count and get your point across in x words or less. Or ramble in a text document then extract key issues. Blogging can be a powerful tool for introducing virtual spaces, supporting interaction and demonstrating evidence of learning – good for building digital literacies too. I hope blogging stays. It’s got a lot to offer. Honestly, talk to the duck. It works every time :-)

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http://alh.sagepub.com/reports/mfr7.dtl

References

Garrison, R. and Anderson, T. (2003)  E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. Psychology Pess.

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies. London: Routledge

Rogers, G. (2004) History, learning technology and student achievement: Making the difference? In Active Learning in Higher Education  Nov 01, 2004 5: 232-247

Who says conversation was that good anyway?

Restoring the lost art of conversation – what a sweetly quaint idea :-) In the world of texts, tweets and emails, this piece from BBC News suggests conversation is on its way out. Social commentators is they often have a narrow frame of reference. After all, how much ‘conversation’  was ever meaningful in the first place?

Maybe we haven’t ‘lost’ anything. Maybe it’s just got replaced.  Blogging is an alternative conversation, albeit to an audience of two and a cat.  A tweet is still a voice,  albeit speaking to no one in particular. Times are changing. They always have.  The power of words is their existence more than their mode of delivery. We recall the song not the singer, the lines from a poem, not the poet. It’s the words that matter.  Conversation has always been elusive. Pinning it down on paper or screen has a value of its own.

In the BBC piece Professor Sherry Turkle warns of the danger of losing the power of speech as we once understood it. This is where my analogue roots are useful. I remember Turkle’s enthusiasm about MOOs and MUDs in the dark ages of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) via America Online and CompuServe. When digital communication was freed from barriers of clocks and geography.

This was hypereality. Experimentation with alternative ways of being. It was the time for reconsidering traditional, unitary concepts of identity. Step aside for postmodernism. Nothing reinforces a PM world like the internet. It’s such a shame the timing wasn’t better. Imagine Barthes and Baurdrillard on Twitter!  The internet had no limits. Physical barriers were being dissolved and simulation was offered on a global scale.  Adopting the ‘other’ opened the brave new world of Dona Haraway’s cyborg manifesto. These were exciting times because they were new. We’re all more cynical now.

Today being anything ‘other’ online risks the wrong kind of attention. Digital media has become the crucible of egocentricism but it’s no different from the me, me, me of face-to-face conversation. Online our thoughts, comments, observations can be put out safely with no arched eyebrows, frowning brows or tightening mouth to indicate disapproval or boredom. It’s easy. What’s not to like? The internet is where Christopher Lasch and Neil Postman collide.The egotistic personality is amusing everyone else to death.

Thinking abut the early forums in the 90’s reminds me of a story of an academic who wanted to discuss their research with a colleague 9,000 miles away but the chat forum for their topic got crowded and argumentative so they arranged to meet in American Patchwork Quilts instead. It was usually empty and here their  conversations on theoretical quantum physics could continue uninterrupted.

Times are changing. Maybe it’s less about relearning conversation and more about learning how to talk online effectively instead.

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image from http://www.brian-downes.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Art-of-Conversation.jpeg 

image of baby with ipad from http://proservicescorp.com/wp-content/uploads/ipad_baby.jpg

I’m guilty of image theft. Digital images in general and this baby one in particular. Gimmicky I know but illustrative of the social impact of the internet; in particular on digital literacies and education. I cite a url to show I’m not claiming ownership but frustratingly, this might not be enough. The protection offered through the concept of fair use is not as much as we might think. EDEU futures need to include the C word – shhhh……..copyright.

At the Making Digital Histories ‘Talking Xerte’ workshops this week, it was suggested managing copyright requirements by DIY. Digital technologies make content production feasible and this is an interesting idea. Given time and a heap more creative talent, I’d be happy to adopt a DIY approach but it’s not without challenges and reinforces how guidance on using visuals in teaching resources would be a useful development area for the new EDEU team; maybe we could build a TELEDA or EDEU image bank. Digital pix are fun ways to develop digital literacies staff and students on the Making Digital Histories  team can demonstrate.

I attended both ‘Talking Xerte’ workshops with presentations from Sarah Atkinson and Adam Bailey, University of Brighton; Bob Ridge-Stearn, Newman University, Birmingham and David Lewis, University of Leeds* all sharing experiences of students producing learning objects with Xerte – a free tool from the University of Nottingham. We talked Xerte, used Xerte and had lunch. A perfect model for any practical professional development event aimed at enhancing digital literacies and knowledge :-)

Xerte is a resource which brings digital content together. Text, images, multimedia and hyperlinks can be inserted into pre-designed Xerte template pages. It isn’t arguably the most exciting of environments but like Blackboard, Xerte is about active learning; using tools to generate interaction with content and facilitate learning opportunities.

Xerte is free. At Lincoln it lives at http://xerte.lncd.lincoln.ac.uk Sign in with network name and password; examples and help resources on the login page. As with all things digital there’s a learning curve but once colleagues had a go, getting their hands Xerte (sorry, couldn’t resist!) they all saw potential.

The example below is one I put together to demonstrate different template page styles. It’s part information and part guidance on using Xerte. Quick tip – the size can be customised in the embed code. Direct  link https://xerte.lncd.lincoln.ac.uk/play.php?template_id=2267

Xerte is a great tool for developing and enhancing digital literacies. It ticks all the essential skills identified by SCONUL in their digital lens for information literacies. Identify, Scope, Plan, Gather, Evaluate, Manage and Present digital information  http://www.sconul.ac.uk/publication/digital-literacy-lens A key message from last week’s Festival of Teaching and Learning was to have a list of supported software for generating teaching resources. My suggestion is Xerte has an evidence-based and well deserved place on it.

https://xerte.lncd.lincoln.ac.uk/play.php?template_id=2267

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* All projects funded through HEA/JISC Digital Literacies in the Disciplines.

baby with ipad image from  http://proservicescorp.com/wp-content/uploads/ipad_baby.jpg 

 

Guilt TripMy blog is an exercise in disciplinary reflection plus an increasing need to write things down less I forget. Which happens a lot. I blame the Phd. Poor thing – gets blamed for everything. I blog under no delusions of fame or fortune, believing most bloggers write or an audience of one – themselves. This weekend I read a paper by Liz Bennett and Sue Folley from the University of Huddersfield called A tale of two doctoral students: social media tools and hybridised identities

Excellent advice for aspiring doctorates (thanks Jim Rogers) is to visit EthOS to see what’s been written in your area. I found Learning from the early adopters: Web 2.0 tools, pedagogic practices and the development of the digital practitioner by Liz Bennett which was definitely my area, so I approached the paper with interest. I share a blogging habit with a PhD log page and social media is a component of TELEDA2 so I was grateful for the paper’s references. I also tweet  but am not good with hashtags. They feel like gatecrashing but #phdchat which sounds helpful. I might not be the only one struggling with guilt and fear!

The key message I took from this ‘insider’ account was using social media risks fear of exposure and loss of credibility but it was references to insecurity around academic identity which most intrigued me. I hung my ontological despair on the public blog line thinking it was safe. My epistemological challenges and PhD meltdowns were between me and the screen. I’ve had no problems laying bare my doctoral troubles – until today. I started to post a research paper and was overcome with doubt. I must have absorbed ‘experiencing social media as exacerbating [our] feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and exposure.’ (p6)  All I could think was what if it isn’t good enough?

I’ve  read scary accounts of PhD researchers becoming parents to their project, experiencing all the angst of letting go. It’s true. It happens! But what’s missing from the literature is the guilt of of carving out time to do PhD things like read, reflect, blog, write papers. There’s always a feeling I have to justify the time I spend on research activities during the working week. Like today. Blogging on a Monday?  My to-do list is next to me and Blog isn’t on it. Neither is write the paper in the first place. I have more affinity with Liz Bennett and Sue Foley’s account of doctoral studies and social media than I realised but not only fear – for me it’s more about feeling guilty. Blogging and promoting your research emphasises time away from the ‘day-job’. Despite the fact it enables me to be research-engaged and informed, I’m feeling guilty – like my research isn’t important enough to spend time on unless its evenings and weekends.

The Tale of Two Students paper also describes how social media can help overcome the isolation felt by PhD students. I wonder if this  is the same, better or worse for part-timers. Maybe somewhere on the internet there’s a support site for us. We’re the ones hanging on by a thread a la Berger and Luckman’s social construction of reality. One little snip and we all fall down.

This is my paper which is a culmination of my research so far. The asterisks denote reference checks required and the layout is preordained:  four pages including references with single line spacing in times new roman 11pt eteaching – a pedagogy of uncertainty and promise 

Phew – is it only Monday?

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 image ‘borrowed’ from http://michellesteinbeck.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Guilt-Trip-Sticker.jpg

On Friday 20th June Scott Davidson, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Teaching Quality & Student Experience), opened the Festival of Teaching and Learning by announcing EDEU. The wheel has turned. From Best Practice Office to the Teaching and Learning Development Office, followed by a period as Educational Research and Development, I’m now in an Educational Development and Enhancement Unit. What’s in a name? Quite a lot because everyone has their own interpretation of what this new Unit represents and the Festival was a welcome opportunity to begin the conversations.

More events like these please!

Sharing practice, discovering what else is happening, putting faces to names all help ensure conferences develop and enhance teaching and learning. Presenting, listening, networking and reflecting on an eclectic mix of information reinforces the reasons for being involved in education. As an educational developer, I appreciate opportunities to identify new directions and themes and festival participants also asked for more events more often.

There was clear interest in developing and exploring the use of multimedia. Following Embedding OER Practice, I used project funding to purchase copies of Camtasia Studio. Entry level software for capturing and editing video, it’s not as sophisticated as Premier or Avid but good enough to record narration over powerpoint, create talking heads, do screen capture and import video. Based on staff experience, I’m confident this is appropriate software to promote across the network and invest in support and guidance.  A single licence copy is @£100. Multiple educational licences are cheaper.  I’m also a fan of the free Audacity recording software which offers edit and export functions rivalling paid-for equivalents. It needs administrator rights to download. I show staff how to run it from a data stick. A request to have it installed on the network was turned down. Between them, Camtasia and Audacity offer ‘do-able’ potential to enhance text with video and audio. Other benefits include increases in transferable digital literacies and opportunities to raise awareness of inclusive practice. I hope EDEU can take issues like these forward.

At the festival I presented on the TELEDA course (now courses!) and the development of online workshops – mini TELEDA experiences which can be customised.  TELEDA is about establishing online communities of shared practice and inquiry based learning, but is also about developing the confidence and competence to teach in virtual environments. Appropriate scaffolding is essential for this and I hope EDEU can take this forward. An online resource supporting digital practices and pedagogies would be useful. During Embedding OER Practice a repository was built for sharing content. OPAL (Open Practice at Lincoln) should still exist in some dusty server corner alongside the OERL (Open Educational Resources at Lincoln) resource centre. How good it would be to revisit and revise these unfinished projects :-)

The prospect of being part of a central resource supporting teaching and learning at Lincoln is exciting. It will be challenging too. On the one hand, it’ll be business as usual. On the other it will take time to embed as a team of old colleagues and new. First, we need to move. I try not to mind how each change takes me further away from the centre. It’s good to walk. The new office space has air conditioning and is above the launderette. A pragmatic mix which will serve us well.  The new Director of EDEU is Dr Karin Crawford. An inspirational choice which will work on many different levels; not least it means we can hit the ground running with no need to explain our history. It’s good to talk and there’ll be lots of conversations about the future for teaching and learning at Lincoln, one which incorporates the virtual as much as the real.

Did I say I was excited?

I can’t wait to begin!

photo last

 

 

In April Mr Willettsannounced on changes to the Disabled Students Allowance. Claiming these  will ‘modernise’ the system, he calls  HEIs to pay  ‘…greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support’ which should include ‘…different ways of delivering courses and information.’  The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 will be the new guideline for access to DSA. This states you are only ‘disabled’ if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

At the present time, DSA is awarded to a broad list of criteria including students diagnosed with dyslexia. Support for these students is being withdrawn. Reasons cited include ‘technological advances’ and ‘increases in use of technology’. Clever technology!

What Mr Willets is describing is inclusive practice. Taking advantage of the flexibility of digital information to be customised to suit user preference i.e. adjusting font shape and size, altering colour contrasts, listening to content read out loud and providing transcripts or textual alternatives to all forms of multi media.  Institutions are being asked to ‘…play their role in supporting students with mild difficulties, as part of their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.’ In other words. taking personal responsibility for providing accessible content.

If it were as easy as that Mr Willets, it would already be happening.

Back in 1997, Berners Lee and Daniel Dardailler, internet and www pioneers, had altruistic aims for information democracy. These two quotes are important. We need reminding lest we forget.

“Worldwide, there are more than 750 million people with disabilities. As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities. The W3C is committed to removing accessibility barriers for all people with disabilities – including the deaf, blind, physically challenged, and cognitive or visually impaired. We plan to work aggressively with government, industry, and community leaders to establish and attain Web accessibility goals.”  Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

“The users in our project are the Web users with a disability, like visually or hearing impaired people. The needs for these users are to access the information online on the Internet just as everyone else. The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, 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, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal.Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIDE/f1.htm 

In principle, I understand what Mr Willetts is saying but I doubt we are coming from the same place. I’ve tried to raise awareness of digital inclusion for some time. In practice I believe attitudes like these risk knee-jerk and exclusive reactions. Like lecture capture; sticking a 50 minute recording of a lecture online without content being made available in  alternative formats.

Digital engagement mirrors ourselves as individuals. The provision of accessible online resources involves changing behaviours from unintentionally exclusive to inclusive when the affordances of technology are managed by individuals who all interact with it in different ways. The process of developing digital literacies is complex in particular when it comes to inclusive practice.  History shows how the principle of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is often seen as the responsibility of someone else. It isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds in this statement.

Barriers to a higher education just multiplied and the principles of widening participation diluted.

Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done?

Last year I successfully bid for a small learning development grant from ALDinHE (Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) to support international students making videos about their experiences at the university. This was the same time as I was completing a HEA/JISC funded project under the OER Programme to look at transition for international students. Preparation for Academic Practice with OER for International Students- University of Lincoln  Both projects fitted well with Getting Started; the university’s programme of transition support for new students which gives them access to Blackboard prior to enrolment. My interest in transition is preparation for studying in higher education.  Research into the first-year experience of higher education in the UK (Yorke and Longden, 2008) gives lack of preparation as a key reason for withdrawal and the history of Getting Started, which began in 2005, can be found here http://gettingstarted.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/what-is-getting-started/history/ 

Students were given cameras and asked to talk about their own experiences as if they were giving advice to new students thinking about coming to Lincoln. The seven films were put together in their final form by Ray Wilson, CERD’s Media Intern. All of them are around one minute in length and are presented below.


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf


http://myplayer.lincoln.ac.uk/ulplayer/ULplayer.swf

survival ringsAfter several false starts (three to be exact) I feel this giant research project is coming home. Getting lost has taught me a lot. I’ve learned from each encounter but never felt I was making progress. I realise now, my ideas about doctoral research were too hazy. I jumped in feet first not knowing where to begin but expecting all to be revealed in the next book, the next paper, the next person I spoke to – when it isn’t like that at all.

The research doesn’t take shape at the beginning. It develops as you read, reflect and read some more. Most of all, it emerges from conversations, with colleagues, family, friends – because only by talking about it – getting it out of your head and into the ether, can it become clear. Answering questions from others surfaces what you’re doing.

The process isn’t easy. Evenings, weekends and bank holidays have all been swallowed by a huge doctoral shaped hole. It’s lonely too. Developing survival tips and techniques is essential.  What’s worked for me might not work for others outside the field of qualitative educational research, or even some of those within it, but these are the lessons I’ve learned so far:

– Your research has to be personal; you need passion to stay the course, even when all around you seem less sure of your convictions.

– The subject has to inform your day job and make a difference to what you do. There’s never enough hours so a p/t Phd must have relevance to the greater part of your working week.

– If your passions lie outside work, re-consider a work related subject. The chances of completing are increased by the connections between research and daily practice.

– A doctorate is about learning to use the tools. Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for small changes in your chosen area instead.

– A PhD isn’t a mystery. There are set rules underpinning the process. Learning these will lay the foundation for research in the future.

– The regulations of doctoral research are laid out in dozens of books. Find the book which ‘speaks’ to you. Don’t be afraid to keep looking. When you find it, you’ll know it’s ‘yours’.

– See the component parts of your research holistically. A doctoral project is elastic. Like a cat’s cradle, its shape can move and shift so the component parts are best understood as linked rather than separate.

– Be confident. Develop the sense you have something worthwhile to say. Feel proud of the hours spent copying, cutting and pasting, losing files and feeling you’ll never get there. You will and your subject is unique, otherwise you wouldn’t be researching it.

– Practice talking about your research. Learn to explain succinctly to anyone who’ll listen. Take every opportunity to present in public. Feel the fear and do it. The experience will be invaluable.

– The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.

It’s no exaggeration to say your p/t Phd will be a challenge and will dominate your life. You have to let it move in and take over.  Other advice includes join a research group, write a blog, give yourself deadlines, create targets then give yourself rewards for reaching them.

Sounds like another top ten tips in the making!

Amazed I managed 10,000 GCC  steps on a home-working rainy day. Without the GCC incentive, I wouldn’t have splashed around on the allotment for soggy flower pics. The wet feet were worth it!
Lupins in the rainraindrops on foxgloveslimnanthes in the rain wet grass on the allotment

I’m stepping out with Global Corporate Challenge.  Take Two. Last year my sedentariness was a shock. 10,000 steps a day can be a challenge when you’re desk bound. Being sofa bound’s even worse. On a home working day, I struggled to make 1,000 steps never mind x10.  So I made changes. Kept moving. Gained my digital trophies. Lost a few pounds. Between then and now I ended up back where I started. 10,000 steps? You must be joking!

This week  the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) called for overweight people to be sent to slimming classes. Lose a little keep it off. If only it were that easy. I’ve lost a little all my life but keeping it off is impossible.

Obsogenic is the new word.  It refers to environments which encourage people to eat unhealthily and not do enough exercise. Good food is an issue. Everywhere you go it’s high fat, high sugar. If you’re lucky you may see a few tired pieces of fruit at exorbitant prices. Transit food is the worst; airlines, ferries, motorway services. It’s all burgers, fried chicken, chips with everything. Cakes and biscuits with your coffee. Bread and crisps for lunch. We’re spoilt for choice but it’s the wrong choices.

The strapline for Global Corporate Challenge is Get the World Moving. A bit of a misnomer when half the world has a problem with starvation rather than obesity, but the underlying message tackles a key issue for the more prosperous half. Fat kills.  Over the years, various foods have been blamed. Saturated fats. Processed carbohydrate. Refined sugar. The food industry is not helping.  Films like Forks over KnivesThe Men who made us Fat and Cereal Killers are all worth watching but they offer conflicting views. Being active helps. Yet so does being inactive through mindfulness or meditation.  The duality of opposites and mixed messages is confusing.

I’ve come to the conclusion it’s energy expenditure which matters. Our bodies are designed to be active rather than sedentary. It’s Day Two of GCC and I forgot to wear my pedometer until mid-morning. The online recording of GCC steps is unmonitored. I can estimate the steps I missed or make an effort to build in additional ones. I’m going for the latter. Choosing this suggests it’s working. A self-regulation of the body in the Foucauldian sense.  Discipline and Punishment. Where the gaze is our own and self-monitoring has it’s own rewards. Maybe lose a little and keep it off this time around :-)

PelargoniumWet red poppy petalsBee on chive flowersCornflower blue

 

I can’t help myself. When I read suggestions like these have to drag out the soap box.

I tweeted but there are times when a tweet isn’t enough.

Only a blog post will do.

soapbox

The Policy Exchange Think Tank says Internet access and training would cut pensioner loneliness and the BBC have picked this up http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27577143.  With no link to the original report (nor can I find it on the PE website) my knowledge is limited to this piece which reinforces skewed ideas of how digital divides are constructed. The BBC should know better. Here is an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of their complexity, in particular for older people, who often have specific requirements with regard to access.

Digital exclusion is now generally understood as being about usage as well as access. This is a step in the right direction. What gets missed is the linkage between users of assistive technologies – who need alternatives to mouse and screen based hardware and software – and the design and delivery of web content which fails to be accessible enough for devices like screen readers.

Nothing in this piece acknowledges research around the multiple reasons older people are at risk of digital exclusion in the first place. It’s  deterministic to suggest technology can cure what is fundamentally a social problem. For example ‘Eddie Copeland, author of the report, said learning basic computer skills would stop pensioners becoming vulnerable to loneliness.’ What’s being suggested? Here’s a laptop, you’ll fine now – dear. After all, who needs a warm living person when a keyboard will do?

The internet and world wide web have been amazing inventions but ultimately are mirrors of the wider society in which they’re created, managed and used. Assuming technology is the answer to social isolation is not the answer. We need less Digital First policies, in particular with regard to the provision of information, welfare and health services. What’s needed is investment in people not machines.

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Recent research into digital divides and exclusions

Across the Divide – Full Report from the Carnegie Trust  http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/2013/across-the-divide—full-report

Cultures of the Internet from Oxford Institute
http://oxis.oii.ox.ac.uk/sites/oxis.oii.ox.ac.uk/files/content/files/publications/OxIS_2013.pdf

Age UK Digital Inclusion Evidence Review
http://www.ageuk.org.uk/Documents/EN-GB/For-professionals/Research/Age%20UK%20Digital%20Inclusion%20Evidence%20Review%202013.pdf?dtrk=true

 

Twitter Colleagues are a cross selection of twitterers. Some follow but don’t contribute, others make non-work updates only, some tweet a bit around their practice, while others don’t use it at all. None of us (or are not admitting it) follow Justin Bieber or those with over 30 million fans which social analytics tool followerwonk names as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Colleagues have differing views about twitter’s use and value and this reinforces the notion of digital literacies as digital mirrors.

Partially thanks to celebrity endorsement, Twitter division of opinions could all change. According to THES, the University of Lincoln’s Twitter account @UniLincoln has been ranked the 22nd most influential in the UK. This means the university has social authority.

Social authority sounds Orwellian. Big Google is watching you. I was surprised how few references were made to Orwell’s 1984 and the rewriting of the past in recent media coverage on deleting digital history.  There are now generations without knowledge of pre-internet life. After gender, the largest social divide is digital. I’m on the side with analogue roots. In half a century there’ll be none of us left.

These days I’m a technology DIY’er. On twitter, linkedinflickr, I use deliciouspinterest and get edgy if I’m not online. I’ve crossed the digital divide. But there are times when the internet feels like it’s going off in directions I can’t – and am not sure I want – to follow.

Social authority is an example of the hip new language evolving out of social media use. According to http://followerwonk.com/social-authority social authority is ‘More than just another self-focused metric, Social Authority helps you discover influential tweeters.’  It’s no longer enough to tweet, you have to be influential too. The THES article links to the Moz blog  for explanations of the score components for calculating social authority. These are:

  • The retweet rate of a few hundred of the measured user’s last non-@mention tweets
  • A time decay to favor recent activity versus ancient history
  • Other data for each user (such as follower count, friend count, and so on) that are optimized via a regression model trained to retweet rate

I’m not sure I fully understand this new vocabulary, but apparently the half-life of a tweet is 18 minutes. Users who haven’t recently tweeted get their score ‘aggressively discounted’.  Retweets are a scarce commodity and we know what happens to those! An average user needs 10,000 followers before 25% of their tweets are retweeted so popularity bestows social authority. What Moz calls a ‘secret sauce‘ (which means ‘retweet bait‘ which means….)

The social impact of the internet has an increasingly linguistic element. The presentation of information  is changing too. It’s becoming more visual through infographics and sites like pinterest. The tweet’s requirement to send messages in 140 characters or less is encouraging brevity. Being succinct has value but higher education involves deeper more considered approaches through reflection and critical thinking.

Moz says social media is a ‘what have you done for me lately‘ medium. This reminds me of Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book the Culture of Narcissism. Like Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, it’s in my top two of dystopic non-fiction must-reads. Cultural historian Lasch offers a chilling pre-internet prophecy of egotistic social media. The subtitle includes ‘… an Age of Diminishing Expectations’. Social authority suggests the word diminishing could easily be replaced with digital.

Digital Education Developer

Educational Development and Enhancement Unit

Location:  Brayford
Salary:   From £25,759 per annum
Please note there are three Developer posts available.
Closing Date:   Monday 02 June 2014
Reference:  EDEU008A

To support the implementation of its ambitious new Digital Education Strategy, the University of Lincoln is seeking to recruit three Digital Educational Developers. These permanent posts will be based within the newly created Educational Development and Enhancement Unit (EDEU), designed to provide co-ordinated and innovative support and deliver the University’s research-engaged teaching and learning agenda.
This is an exciting opportunity to join a dynamic team, working at the forefront of educational and technological innovation. The successful candidates will have good experience of the design and delivery of programmes for online and blended delivery, as well as a proven ability to support users in the effective use of educational technology, including Blackboard or a similar environment. You will have good technical skills, particularly in the use of web-based, multimedia and mobile technologies, allowing you to create high quality, pedagogically-informed learning resources.
Go to  http://jobs.lincoln.ac.uk/vacancy.aspx?ref=EDEU008A  for job description, person specification and to apply online

2014 is the year of change. The Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD) is becoming an Educational Development and Enhancement Unit (EDEU) and a School of Education. The dividing of the ways marks a return to where we came from, when the Teaching and Learning Development Office (TLDO) merged with the International Institute for Educational Leadership (IIEL).

To mark the occasion, my blog has a new look. Changing templates is a big deal and finding an appropriate one has been a challenge. I’m still unsure about all the Blue but like the sidebars. The About Me… page now contains bits and pieces from previous Research and Creativity pages. Digital Inclusion stays, as does the PhD log, but there is new page for Academic Writing and also The Digital Literist which invites reader contribution.

Our digital ages are determined by what we remember. There’s an advantage to being err, um…. a little more mature. I can legitimately say I was there at the beginning. When cd-roms were  the cutting edge of digital information and the internet – once it finally arrived – came via dial-up modems.

So age is measured by familiarity with this sound. How old are you?

Digital Exclusion

So many people don’t get it. The nature of exclusion is to be invisible and digital divides are no exception.

7.2 million people in the UK have never been online and an estimated 8.5 million don’t have the skills to get any benefit from the online world. Social exclusion is linked with digital exclusion.

The message from Helen Milner, CEO for The Tinder Foundation who manage the UK Online Centres and Learn My Way; introductory guidance to getting started with computers. The UK Online Centre website figures an estimated 11 million in the UK don’t have the digital skills to benefit from the online world, and nearly 7 million of these people have never been online before. Those already at a disadvantage – through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment – are most likely to be missing out.

DIGITAL EXCLUSION is a new category of social discrimination

The CfBT Education Trust tell a different story. Beyond the Digital Divide: Young People and ICT, a report from SSRU, Social Science Research Unit, claim the issue of access in now irrelevant. Debate over the ‘digital divides’ centering on whether or not school students can access the internet is redundant – internet access is all but universal…the digital divide is a myth….Digital Exclusion

An accompanying report, Providing ICT for Socially Disadvantaged Students  says  ‘…findings clearly indicate there is little evidence of a digital divide in the UK. They suggest the lack of access to ICT is not really an issue for school students, particularly those who are disadvantaged.’  The problem is the ICT is  ‘often readily accessible’ but is not being used in an effective way from an educational point of view to enhance learning and increase attainment.

If you have BOB access, PLEASE watch this 1 minute 30 second clip from BBC4’s These Four Walls, broadcast 2 February 2014, the Joseph Rowntree documentary by Peter Gordon. These  ‘stories of aspiration set against a background of poverty and austerity, with the aim of finding the real people behind familiar media stereotypes’ include digital exclusion.

It’s long been recognised digital divides are complex. Quality of access links to quality of use, but to suggest access is no longer issue goes against all the evidence from the community which shows the opposite. The invisibility of digital divides continues to trouble me. As does an apparent inability of researchers and educators to acknowledge this new category of social discrimination; an insidious exclusion because it renders people unseen and unheard.

If you’re a user of assistive technology the problem is magnified by the increasingly inaccessible design and delivery of internet content; from web builders who are inadequately taught and trained on the need for inclusive design, who are unaware of the diversity of ways in which people use computers, access the internet and need to customise their digital experience to suit their own requirements. The root of the problem is assumptions about computer use. I call this the MEE model. People using a mouse to navigate, eyes to see the screen and ears to listen to content. It’s all about MEE and very easy as Helen Milner says “…to be in a bubble and think that everyone is like us.” 

Figures from the UK Online Centre suggest of the 7.1 million people who have never used the internet, 3.8 million are disabled. Someone with a disability is just over three times more likely never to have used the internet than someone with no disability.

In the Guardian Online April 22nd 2014, Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, said:  “Even surfing the web is still fraught with difficulties since 85% of websites and 80% of digital devices do not have accessibility features built in.”

None of this is new. Back in 2009, the Consumer Expert Group report into the use of the Internet by disabled people reported urged the information to address these issues. Little has changed except the report is hidden in the national archives and unlikely to surface – except here.

Consumer Expert Group report into the use of the Internet by disabled people: barriers and solutions at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/CEGreport-internet-and-disabled-access2009.pdf 

Read it and weep.

Digital Exclusion

 

Recipe

Ingredients

One twitter feed.

Method

1. Go to Settings and Help and select Settings.

2. From the Account menu on the left select Widgets.

3. From the Widgets menu select Create New, choose settings click Create Widget button to reveal the embed code.

4. Copy and paste this into the HTML page of your blog or website.

Twitter Settings menu    Twitter Account Settings menu  Twitter create new widget menu

It will look something like this :-)

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New YorkImagine you are not alone.

Once more Thesis Whisperer is a mirror. Last time supervisor stress, this time the need for academic resilience in the face of rejection. I was low after being turned down for an opportunity to talk about my research then Raising the Risk Threshold appeared on my feed. I read the first line… When you get rejected from a journal or conference, or your grant doesn’t get up… and was hooked!

The post is about being unsuccessful and dealing with it. Tseen Khoo calls it academic resilience. I call it Academic Aptitude. AA to the rescue. You have to get good at dealing with rejection. It’s a learning curve. An exercise in positive thinking. Finding something you’ve done is not considered good enough hurts. Moving on takes guts but it has to be done. The easy option is to think I’ll never do it again but risk taking goes with the research territory. There’s no substitute for conference presentation, publication or a successful funding bid. Even when you’ve accepted you can’t change the world, but believe you could alter a tiny bit of it, getting your story out there and networking with like-minded people is a necessary part of the academic game.

No!

No matter how you say it, the word ‘no’ never sounds good in the context of rejection. It makes you feel vulnerable. Not good enough. You beat yourself up over the smallest detail and end up doubting the whole research package.  We all deal with rejection differently. Responses are complicated by gender, age, career status, existing workloads and colleagues.  It takes one to know one. Empathy comes from experience. I know who I can and can’t talk to. I’ll get over it and by next week will have moved on. It’s the here and now which is uncomfortable but it’s been a busy week and I’m tired. Two time zone changes and 15 hours with Virgin Atlantic in 5 days.  But now it’s back to business!

Academic Aptitude is an essential skill, right up there with critical evaluation and reflective practice.  AA is not just being gifted in a specific discipline, it’s about attitude; in particular towards research and being dedicated to the research process. It’s about looking ahead, moving on, knowing bruises fade and other opportunities will appear.  It’s about a special kind of strength and being prepared to temporarily skew the work/life balance.  I was down but felt better for reading Raising the Risk Threshold. Whether face to face or online, there is always consolation in sharing failure.

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Technology Alphabet image from https://sd36edtechlead.wikispaces.com/March+2 I’ve been promoting e-teaching as a partner to e-learning.  A colleague shared a paper which referred to e-teaching and I thought they’d beaten me to it,  but the authors opted for Digital Practitioner. At seven syllables a time, I don’t think it’s going to catch on.

Being an e-teacher is part of the wider conversation about online identity.

On March 28th I asked ‘When it comes to online ‘tutoring’ what should we be called?’  The term e-learning has become part of the vocabulary of education but e-lecturer is less common.

Who are we online? Teacher, Tutor, Trainer. Lecturer.  Facilitator. Moderator. Instructional Designer. Just passing through…

We should bring back the ‘e’ as in e-learning, e-resources. e-literature. e-teaching, e-practice. The e’s have rhythm. e-ducation.  e-scholarship.

Research suggests there are no clear benefits to educational technology; any difference made relates to the environment as much as the machine. This runs contrary to the rhetorical promise of ‘e-learning’ which mostly ignores the role of teaching. Recent literature has called for greater attention to educational design – as if that will make a difference. I hope it will. I still believe in the VLE.

I love Blackboard #iloveblackboard

I also believe in promoting the role of the e-teacher. Learning online is no easy, cost cutting option. An authentic experience takes time to build; it requires community, through interaction. My ABC model of Activity Based Content uses collaborative tools like wikis, blogs and discussion boards. There’s an absence of powerpoint. Learning online is tough. The loneliness of the long distance teacher/learner has to be experienced to be believed. I’m not sure you can teach online if you haven’t learned there. Which comes back to identity. To be an e-teacher is a skill. Subject specialism isn’t enough. You have to be digitally literate as well and this part is often missing. The gap between SEDA and ALT is more like a chasm.

VLE make great content containers. While teaching has moved on from behaviourist pedagogy, the VLE is still primarily used to support a transmission model of education. Recent online ‘training’ sessions with Blackboard Collaborate reinforce the dominance of the active teacher/passive recipient dynamic.

Looking back, VLE were embedded into university systems and staff told to get on with it. I remember. I was there. The advantage of being er…um….a little more mature… is the benefit of hindsight. There’s been insufficient attention paid to the reality of teaching online. Focus has been on technology and students. Now the time has come to privilege the teaching. The status of the e-teacher needs raising; it’s e-lementary and e-ssential to put teaching first.

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Image from https://sd36edtechlead.wikispaces.com/March+2

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lifebelt

In an idle moment, I word counted my phd files. Sad but true. The total was a shock. Notes on the literature review, action research log, TELEDA reflections, random thoughts, unfinished blog posts – all amounted to hundreds of thousands of words. Like googling yourself, it was an experience both positive and negative. Trying not to think about the life I could have had, it raised issues like how many backups are enough, do I trust the cloud and why can’t I have a bigger H Drive?  The real ‘omg’ moment was realising I’ve already written my thesis – at least seven times over.

I have the words. I’m sure most of them are the right words. Now they need putting in an acceptable order.

I’ve never been good at boundaries. Fridges not made for half empty bottles. For me anyway. Better not open the box of chocolates or uncork the wine unless you’re in for the duration. I’ve started so I’ll finish. Although it works less well with words. For me, they just go on and on and on….

There’s a danger my thesis could ramble on indefinitely so I’ve been giving some thought to containing it. I like structures but I’m an activist. An atypical contradiction. Always diving in without enough preparation. My writing is rarely planned. It just happens. I know it’s not the best way to work but I also know some drastic decisions are needed. THE END needs to be in sight. There are other writing projects to do. My PhD moved in and for a while it was ok but now it’s like a house guest who’s outstayed their welcome. The relationship is not so good. Nor salvageable. I’ve done everything I can. Examined the literature (never enough) collected my data (not quite what I expected). Now I need a plan. Something which turns all this work into chapters. I need a thesis road map. From here to there. With clear signposts and a vehicle which matches the terrain. Without some clearly definable direction and limits this will go on and on….

Somewhere in all the How To Survive books, I’ve read a Phd is a means to an end. A lesson in getting up close and personal with research tools and tribulations. It’s about finding your own perspective. There’s no escape from the ‘…isms’ and ‘…visms’ or exclusive language of onts and epists but I’ve spent long enough grappling with the ‘…ologies’ or getting deliciously sidetracked*.  Every time I go online I find a path less travelled. I have to STOP NOW and think about putting together what I already have.

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* For example The Craft, Practice and Possibility of Poetry in Educational Research by Melisa Cahnmann in Educational Researcher for an alternative approach to academic writing.

Image borrowed from http://dickstaub.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Drug-Rehab-Center-Help.jpg

evening sun on the allotment April 2014

Easter is a movable feast. Scratch the surface and older traditions connected with moon phases and the spring equinox soon emerge. Like Christmas and the winter solstice. I love Easter. Not for the choc-fest and crossed bun bonanza, but because it’s time to open up my allotment. I use the winter months for reading, writing, reflecting in firelight. During Easter, I’m unlocking the heavy metal gates again. Squared by a dual carriageway and back yards of terraced houses, I garden to the percussion of falling glass from the recycling plant and buzz of trains on the main line from Hull to London. If I stand on my the roof of my shed, I can see the bridge. This is my baseline.

Last year, my postmodern lens got a bit scratched. There were raised eyebrows, disparaging comments; it was lonely in my po-mo world. While colleagues were asking why I would want to go all postmodern in the first place, I was looking at its attention to diversity and difference and thinking why wouldn’t you? In particular, with educational technology where exclusive practice is rife, access parameters decreasing and digital divides widening (invisibly) every year.

Lyotard’s report on the condition of knowledge arrived in a blaze of cynicism and critique. There was outrage at Baudrillard’s suggestion the Gulf War didn’t happen. A lot of people enjoyed poking fun at postmodernism. Then it sort of vanished, Chomsky’s diatribe on po-mo’s polysyllabic meaningless echoing in symbolic ears. It was all a bit French but if Foucault  were alive today, he’d be saying I told you so. Wikileaks?

Postmodernism introduced words like participatory and emancipatory into the research agenda, helped reveal hidden mechanisms of social control. The word ideology has become associated with political science but it’s wider and broader than economics. From ancient Greece, as most things are (if only they’d been less patriarchal and dropped their attitudes to disabled babies and slaves…) ideology is about ideas and ‘logos’ – which has a dozen definitions (in a postmodern way) but is fundamentally about communication.

So under the sun on my allotment, I’ve been pondering the short lifespan of the postmodern academic, thinking maybe it was too ambitious, took on too much. Denying grand narrative theories was always going to be risky. No winners or losers; a grudging draw at best. Then between the digging and backache, I read about the coexistence of ‘ontological realism‘ alongside ‘epistemological relativism‘ (the ivory towers of doctoral research) which was a bit like – postmodernism. Symbolic realms, the Real, Other, fluidity of language, a continual need to renegotiate meaning, the impossibility of establishing what Putnam called a God’s eye view all sounded familiar. Hello Critical Realism. Are you the acceptable academic face of postmodern theory  for the 21st century?

My allotment is a treasure trove. It offers poetry and magic as much as sore muscles and splinters. It can be an analogy and metaphor for anything, not to mention my sanity and respite. Over the last year, grappling with my ontology and epistemology,  as befits a PhD, it all got easier when I considered its permanence. My allotment exists regardless of my presence. It isn’t an abstraction. I don’t bring it into reality. It just is. But when I show it to others, they all see it differently. It has an ontological realism but is epistemologically relative; people apply their own meaning. Beautiful or boring. Relaxation or hard labour. Envy or disinterest. There is no fixed way of seeing it. Take my allotment neighbour. Stan has a plan. He grows in straight lines,  measures, records, has neat paths and the frame he’s built for his chrysanthemums is bigger than our greenhouses put together. We have the same 250 metres square, touch the same earth, feel the same rain. We share an ontology but epistemologically we are worlds apart.

I like how – when you’re reading – certain words jump off the page. This is resonance. Jung would call it meaningful synchronicity. The process of writing a thesis is – I think – about finding synchronicity, joining up the relevant dots to form a new way of seeing, a different way of knowing. My phd will be a tiny sand-grain of knowledge with my name on it. In the meantime, my allotment waits…

Callendula and Honesty on the allotment April 2014 cowslips on the allotment April 2014 Red Campion on the allotment April 2014 MArigolds and Cornflowers on the allotment April 2014

Chapter One: What is Realism and Why Should Qualitative Researchers Care? from A Realist Approach for Qualitative Research by Joseph A. Maxwell (2012) Sage http://www.uk.sagepub.com/upm-data/44131_1.pdf

 

Learning Development @ Lincoln menu structure

I’ve been looking for supporting materials on critical writing and reflection for Getting Started and they’re not jumping off the page. Like digital literacies, I wonder if competence with these skills and practices are being assumed. Yet conversations suggest support would be useful. As CERD divides and EDEU* begins to form, I’m looking back. Learning development was part of CERD, until Helen Farrell, our Learning Development Coordinator, was an unfortunate loss through redundancy. The work Helen and I did lives on in the [unmaintained] Learning Development@Lincoln website, now evolved into a library lib guide page.

Maybe bringing academic and digital together under a title like ‘Learning Literacies’ is a new way to represent them. I’d like to bring these aspects of learning development into EDEU because I’ve been here before. Digging around in my archives shows how the content is relatively unchanged over the years.

In 2007 I created the Academic Writing Desk. Home page image below.

Academic Writing Desk homepage

Here is the Academic Writing Desk home page for Essay Writing.

Academic Writing Desk on Essays

In 2009 I developed Snapshot specifically for Getting Started. This was designed to introduce new students to academic practice; namely academic writing, reading, thinking and a bit on reflective practice.

Snapshot (introduction to academic practice) home page

Here is the Snapshot page on academic writing

Snapshot page on academic writing

Helen Farrell and I created the Learning Development@Lincoln website. The Writing page is shown below.

Learning Development at Lincoln Writing Page

These are all different ways of presenting similar information. An interesting insight into life in 2008 is the lack of reference to digital literacies in the Learning Development@Lincoln resources – but this could easily be put right.

EDEU will be new but not so new. Before CERD, we were the Teaching and Learning Development Office with a remit not that dissimilar to EDEU. The difference is how times have changed, how the university and the sector has changed. Internationalisation, social media, online submission, multimedia communication etc. With additional resource the new unit will provide capacity to pick up on some of the learning development aspects of these areas. Time to get critical. Get digital. Get EDEU. Bring it on!

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* EDEU Educational Development and Enhancement Unit

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on the internet no one knows you're a cat photographThe current iteration of TELEDA is over. I shall miss it. Nothing is as effective as applying theory to practice and when it comes to e-learning – there is a lot of theory out there. I learn more about the challenges of teaching and learning in a digital age every time and I hope colleagues do too. Feedback suggests it’s a useful experience but what can’t be predicted are the outcomes. This is what I’ve started to call the Pedagogy of Uncertainty. When you begin to teach and learn online, you are up close and personal to the unknown and very soon get to understand there is nothing cost cutting or time saving about digital education.  Retention within virtual courses is traditionally poor. It’s easy to see why. Without the physical timetable of lecture, seminar and workshop events, online learning is invisible. Easy to ignore. Without the face to face stimulus of personal communication, you are dependent on text. One of the first lessons is how easy misunderstanding occurs when the only language is letters.  Not everyone is comfortable with writing rather than speaking.

Online its more difficult to get to know people. Over time, virtual colleagues develop a unique voice and personality but it takes a while for online community to develop. The risk is people leave before this tipping point occurs. It isn’t easy to teach or learn online which reinforces recent calls to recognise elearning has failed. The early promises of transformation were never based on real world experiences. Rather they evolved from the techie experts or those who mandated use without getting their hands digitally dirty. What’s always been missing is the lived experience of staff who teach and students who learn in physical classrooms. When they find themselves on a virtual brick road instead, it’s where the problems begin. The theory was never written with them – only for them by others.

Face to face offers clues to identity but online we are reduced to text. Now TELEDA has a sister. TELEDA1* and TELEDA2** both have learning blocks which focus on communication and collaboration. TELEDA1 is text based. TELEDA2 will use video like Skype, Google Hangouts and Blackboard Collaborate.  I want to keep it this way. Part of the TELEDA1 process is to encourage colleagues to reflect on the limitations and advantages of text. It’s about stripping communication down to the essentials. I suppose it’s a bit indulgent on my part because I’m intrigued with subjectivity – postmodern style – in particular how we see and present ourselves online.

Postmodernism has always been contentious and it’s brief period in the spotlight was prior to the rise of social media. elearning might not have lived up to it’s early hype but if anything has had its transformation promise realised, it’s social media. Instant, continuous connection across all boundaries of time and distance. Is there were a way to combine the two – or are the words social and educational always oxymoronic.

no one knows your a dog online cartoon

Postmodern theory suggests we are the products of ideology; located within discursive power structures, giving away our social position through language, replicating and reinforcing our own oppression. I’m not a Marxist. There are more forms of oppression than one.

The body is a powerful delineator of social position. Cultural attitudes towards gender, ethnicity and disability produce marginalisation and dis-empowerment which cut across class difference and economics. But online no one knows who you are. Without visual clues, the identity game is played differently. This is a layer of TELEDA which offers the potential for equality. By keeping the video out of it, I hope it also offers a valuable transferable experience.

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* TELEDA 1 – Teaching and learning in a digital age; design and delivery

**TELEDA 2 Teaching and learning in a digital age; eresources and social media

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Digital Gander, Digital Abuse, the dark side of the net

This week I rediscovered my feminist roots. Behind Closed Doors was a student led Conference at the University of Lincoln which tackled the subject of domestic abuse. With colleague Jim Rogers, I ran a workshop looking at Digital Danger: the dark side of the net. Jim and I co-authored Social Work in a Digital Society a book examining the impact of the internet on higher education and health and social care professions, in particular those involving social exclusion and disempowerment. For me digital literacies have to include identity and inclusion but now I’m thinking they need another element – awareness of digital abuse.

Preparing the presentation was a consciousness raising experience. So far I’ve escaped serious digital danger but I’ve been lucky. For many, the insidiousness of internet connections offers new tools for exercising power and control. Think before you Tweet is the least of it. Online there are no walls, no doors, no boundaries, nowhere to hide. Text messages, social media statuses, emails, photographs and video are all ways to hurt vulnerable victims, sometimes with fatal consequences. Whatever you call it, cyberbullying, stalking, harassment, it’s when the fun stops and the hating begins.

Stop Cyberbullying

Stolen identity, threats, blackmail, rumours, abusive comments, inappropriate images – the permutations are endless. Myself and colleagues talk to students about the difference between personal and public online identities but digital abuse frequents private places as much as open ones. In 2011 the Guardian claimed Cyberstalking by strangers was ‘now more common’ than face-to-face stalking but it’s frighteningly common from ex partners – with or without a history of domestic violence.    

Digital Stalking: a guide to technology risks for victims by Jennifer Perry is a free publication downloadable from Women’s Aid who have other supporting resources about staying safe online. Twitter and Facebook offer advice about online safety. The Digital Stalking website has a range of free materials to help victims of digital abuse.

The internet is a virtual mirror, reflecting the good, the bad and the ugly. Free from traditional boundaries of time and place, it’s the most powerful communication and information tool ever, with infinite capacity for supporting the darker aspects of human nature. What it means to be digitally literate should encompass the affordance for evil every bit as much as the positives. Staying safe online is fast becoming the most important literacy of  all.

Behind Closed Doors Conference

Student led conference Behind Closed Doorsrevealed the reality of domestic abuse. A tough topic but someone has to do it. In this case it was Julie Burton, Programme Leader for the Health and Social Care degree, and a fantastic crowd of students who made it happen. It was a brilliant example, not only of student engagement but real world activism. Raising awareness is the first step towards making a difference. Talking is where it all begins.

Keynote Julie Bindel spoke about domestic violence from a feminist perspective. I grew up reading Betty Freidan, Adrienne Rich and Kate Millet. My first MA was Gender Studies; the limitations of gender binaries my research. Julie Bindel made it clear it was not men she was against but the sexism which underpins patriarchal customs and values. It was a blast from my past. All babies are born equal. Society empowers boys and constrains possibilities for girls. Gender specific expectations the most powerful social delineators, kicking in at birth following a cursory glance at the genitals.

Where is my feminism now? Reflecting on the keynote, I can’t remember the last time I labeled myself as feminist. I live it instead. Which is maybe a little too close to taking it for granted.  It was useful to be reminded how this is a position of privilege. I’ve worked hard but my independence as a woman of er… um…a certain age is only possible through the feminist campaigners who fought for equal rights and a life in the public domain.

Who is standing up for young women today? I look at the handmaidens of the cult of celebrity; their false tans, nails, hair, breasts, whitened teeth and impossibly thin bodies – and I think this is the retaliation. Like the 1950’s dream of perfect homes and families was a backlash to the war years where women took the male work role – and did it well – before being pushed back in the kitchen, sedated with valium. The latest oppression is the current reshaping of a young girl’s dreams. It’s not enough to be famous through WAG-hood or reality TV, you have to  exhibit a post baby body after childbirth as well. No signs of pregnancy allowed. As if fecundity has become something to be ashamed of.

We can’t escape hormonal difference. Women have babies. Children need to be looked after. Toilets have to be cleaned. Someone has to wipe the shite. For too long these roles have been designated as female. Yet evidence suggests early civilizations were matriarchal. Women held positions of power and authority. Revered for the same reasons they are now being reviled. Bleeding but not dying. It’s clear from history how femininity was once privileged. Before Lilith was demonised. Before Eve was framed.

Sometimes I wonder if most women have some experience of domestic abuse. Vicariously if not in person. It isn’t limited to men abusing women although research proves this is the dominant model. There are no excuses for harm. All abuse is wrong. It’s perpetrated through an ideology which condones male dominance while trivialising feminist politics, labelling activists as man haters, when this simply isn’t true. It’s the violence we hate. Victims need to be shown how knowledge is power. There is help available. The force of feminism can be with you. This is why conferences like Behind Closed Doors are so valuable and speakers like Julie Bindel should be listened to. The doors need to be pushed open to reveal the horrors within. Alongside information about the help and support which is available to everyone.

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Behind Closed Doors website list of organisations who can help victims of domestic abuse http://behindcloseddoors.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/information/

University of Lincoln Behind Closed Doors conference Press Release  http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/news/2014/04/874.asp

goodbye TOOC14

I miss my mooc. It was good to feel part of the TOOC14 learning community, in particular from the student point of view. It’s a sign of positivity when you feel sad about an ending but I reached the point where something had to give. In this case it was the mooc. For the tutors at Oxford Brookes on TOOC14, here’s my feedback.

  • I always felt my contributions were valued.
  • I liked the individual-ness of responses.
  • It was helpful to have additional questions built in. I felt tutors were interested in what I had to say. These questions also stretched my thinking and enhanced the learning.
  • What I really liked was knowing tutors had experience and expertise in managing online communication. As a consequence I felt it was ok not to know something, ok to get it wrong or even not get it all.
  • On TOOC14 I felt a real sense a community of shared practice and inquiry was building up.

It was a mooc but not as you might know it from coursera, udacity or khan academy. Not all but mostly, they can be impersonal. You feel like a grain of sand on a beach.

Online education is never an easy option. It takes time and commitment for staff and for students. Resources need redesigning. Retention is low. Text talk easily misunderstood. The advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning environments are about even. I think the team at Oxford Brookes have got it right.  I’d have liked to complete.

I’m using the phrase tutors but am not sure this is the right word. When it comes to online ‘tutoring’ what should we be called? When the pay scale says Lecturer, how does that translate to online environments. I’ve submitted a conference proposal  this week suggesting greater attention be paid to the role of e-teacher. The word e-learning has worked its lexographical way into the vocabulary of education but we rarely come across e-tutors or e-lecturers.

Who am I online?

Teacher, Tutor, Trainer? Lecturer?  Facilitator? Moderator? Just someone passing through?

The pedagogy of uncertainty which underpins all online courses is also one of invisibility with regard to participants. I wonder if this is indicative of the lower status attached to virtual learning environments. It feels like they remain the second best option. Learning online is what you do if you can’t get on campus. Supplementary. Other. Students are students where ever they are but the identity of those who virtually teach remains much more of a mystery.

Action Research

Educational Design Research

Educational Design Research (EDR) looks like Action Research (AR) by another name. On first encounter it’s not easy to tell them apart.  EDR aims to produce useable knowledge. AR to produce actionable knowledge. Both are essentially practical rather than theoretical; aiming to find solutions for real world problems. Both take time. They share an action reflection reaction process which can’t  be rushed. It’s as long as it takes. No short cuts allowed which conflicts with publish or perish imperatives driving academic research. No quick wins which is good because reflection on practice can’t be rushed and if research cuts corners it isn’t worth it.

So what about their methodologies? An ED Researcher typically identifies a problem and uses a framework of analysis (to understand the problem), design (to literature review and create a potential solution) and evaluation (for testing and revising the design accordingly). An Action Researcher identifies a problem, develops a potential solution, practices, evaluates and reflects before revising and repeating. The theory generated by both is based on empirical rather than hypothetical practice. They look so similar you have to dig deep to separate them.

Digging deeper I find a paper by Wang & Hannafin, 2005, saying EDR ‘…advances instructional design research theory and practice as iterative, participative and situational rather than processes ‘owned by operated’ by instructional designers.’ So rather than designing instructional techniques and methods in isolation, EDR is a collaborative process taking into account the real world environment of the classroom. The teacher identifies the problem. Calls on the ED researcher. They devise the research project in collaboration rather than isolation. Sounds promising. Especially if it narrows the divide between the technology and the pedagogy.  Techies and teachers should walk a mile in each other’s shoes. I’m sure it would help.

Digging deeper still, I fins a paper by Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2005, which claims EDR emphasises content and pedagogy rather than technology. If your research involves educational design and it’s using technology for education, I’m not sure how you can separate them. The original problem of elearning remains i.e. rifts between the technology and the teacher. I can only think the authors are dismissing the technology because they’re so familiar with it, they don’t see it an an issue whereas for most teachers, it’s the technology itself which is the barrier.

It’s possible this is pedantic rather than paradigmatic difference or comes down to continental linguistics like you say instructional I say educational. We have virtual learning environments, you have technical solutions. Like Blackboard Learn™ is an education technology platform and we call it a vle.   

This is fine detail but research is as much about the small as the large and the similarities and differences between EDR and AR are relevant. While both offer academically rigorous paradigms for the empirical study of teaching practice, one is research into your own teaching practice while the other is research into the teaching practice of others.

So by this definition I am an AR not a EDR even though both address existing significant problems (rather than research for its own sake), define pedagogical outcomes, develop learning solutions and emphasise interaction and community (Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2005: 110). The primary difference for me, I think, is AT can address any social situation whereas I’m applying the principles to educational practice and this reinforces the parallels with EDR.  It’s necessary to spend time interrogating the differences and similarities. Part of the process is finding connections and using them to highlight and confirm my research questions. In the time stressed environments we all work in, I think this has been time well spent.

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Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2005). Design research: A socially responsible approach to instructional technology research in higher education. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 16(2), 97-116.

Wang, F., & Hannafin, M. J. (2005). Design-based research and technology-enhanced learning environments.Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 5-23.

back pain image

A bad back has been useful. I wouldn’t recommend it but enforced rest has been an opportunity for a phd catch up. I can see how doctoral pauses are beneficial. Without realising it’s happening, your brain continues the research process, which includes reflection as much as reading, noting and data collection. Reflection itself is a bit mystical.  Like meditation, you know it works but are not entirely sure how. Since my last burst of phd activity, there have been three areas of work which – with hindsight – I can see have been subconsciously influencing my progress.

TELEDA is reaching the end. The taught period is over and colleagues are compiling their eportfolios for submission in three weeks. This is the time for me revisit the discussion forums and activity wiki. Not only as course evaluation, but as reflection-on-action which is integral to my action research methodology. The second TELEDA module has been approved. This will cover social media for teaching and learning, e-resources and synchronous communication technologies, so as well as concluding TELEDA1, I’m gathering content and revisiting learning design for TELEDA2.

All of which connects nicely with my MOOCing. I’ve been dabbling with Oxford Brookes First Steps in Teaching and Learning FSLT14 and Teaching Online Open Course TOOC14. These have been invaluable for repositioning me as a virtual student with all it entails; getting lost in Moodle, misunderstanding instructions, tackling my own digital shyness and virtual discussions with staff who support teaching and learning online.

The third area is the ongoing VLE Implementation Project. I find myself in a situation familiar from discussions with colleagues in other institutions but new to me – of being project managed. I’m not entirely sure what this involves other than a different way of working and additional staff but all departments other than my own. It seems to be about containers rather than content. A bit like the search for a perfect eportfolio which focuses on function over pedagogy.  But it’s ok. I know everything will be fine. We’ve been here before, have always survived and will do so again. The synchronicity is relevant and useful.  I’m writing a paper revisiting the early rhetorical promise of elearning and how it failed. Because I’m…er… um… older, I remember Dearing and early VLE embedding. Having a formal implementation project is reminiscent of those days when techies talked to techies and staff were told here it is, get on with it. I think, looking back, VLE have always been the technologist’s dreams and the stuff of teacher nightmares.

All this is helping my phd to settle down. Themes are repeating which suggests I’ve found my research area. The pilot interviews have helped too. They’ve reinforced how an information repository model dominates vle use. This view is supported by the Blackboard stats. My research is investigating the influence of teacher education on the shift from campus to online delivery, from inaction to interaction on Blackboard. Upgrading, adding Mobile, Collaborate, Connect and other bells and whistles is fabulous for me. I love the affordances of synchronous communication over traditional barriers of time and distance. I enjoy the challenge of teaching online. What’s missing are the bridges between the technology and the teachers. As Donald Ely wrote in 1995 about the challenges of education for 21st century; technology is the answer – but what was the question?

The answers lie not in the technology itself but in the people who decide about the purpose of its use, the way in which it is used and the manner in which we evaluate the consequences of our decisions. (p16 author emphasis)

Determinism has frequently been the primary driver of technology enhanced learning across the sector. TELEDA and the new Educational Development and Enhancement Unit (EDEU) at Lincoln are opportunities to prioritise the user experience instead. We need to move from inaction to interaction and prioritise e-teaching as much as e-learning.

phoenix rising engraving

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phoenix image from http://murraycreek.net/return/book2/wilderpt2.htm

Most times I drag the soapbox out to challenge the idea of technology cutting costs. Any perception of money being saved can usually be offset against the resource needed to support its use. But I was wrong! Today I have found a technology which is saving money. It’s called e-expenses.

e-expenses; the technology that saves you money

I find the site eventually having managed to look down the left and right columns for Expenses (where it wasn’t) and missing it in the centre column (where it was). Two out of three ain’t bad.   On arrival I then find I’ve forgotten my login details. It wants the name of institution, user id and password. It’s been some time and I can’t remember what these are. The relevant email has been archived and my computer won’t open archived emails. See proof below.

archived email message - sorry, I can't open for you. Tough luck!

By the way, the browser tab says Welcome. It doesn’t mean it.

Welcome to Expenses - it is lying!

I click on’ add new expenses’. So far so good. I want to claim expenses for a 100 mile round trip beyond the 100 mile a day I already do. It’s near the end of the month and I’m broke – and tired. It’s been a long week, and just as I feel my patience being tested, it tells me I don’t have a car registered.

You have no active cars - what? I

So I head off to the car registration details. Make, model and chassis number later, I get the darling little message

Waiting for approval? What? You can't be serious!

I’ve already seen I need to submit a copy of my paper driver’s licence and photo card along with a copy of my private car insurance confirming cover for business use. Which means providing them in digital format. The DVLC haven’t quite got there with e-licences.  But I have a wander round my details and find my car already registered and approved.

Told you it was already registered!

Do you know what?  I give in. It’s worked. The conspiracy to make it so difficult to claim expenses you decide not to bother has won. Here is a technology which truly cuts costs and saves money for its owners.

I’m going home. I’m two hours and 50 miles away from a Friday night glass of wine.

Have a good weekend :-)

buses - waiting for ages then two come at once image from www.routemasterbuses.co.uk -

Like buses – you wait for ages then two come at once. I’m MOOCing again, still with Oxford Brookes and this time with the Teaching Online Open Course #tooc14. It’s been a busy week but what a great start for the tutors and TAs.  77 individual posts in the new arrivals lounge with more likely to be browsing around seeing what a MOOC looks like and wondering about joining in. It will be interesting to see how many make it through to the end but with MOOC I’m not sure completion is the name of the game. Participation is what counts. Getting theMOOC experience, dipping in, dipping out, a taster for – or reminder of – what online learning is about.

TOOC14’s first subject is induction. Something close to my work-life heart. It’s been nearly ten years since the idea of pre-arrival support for new students via the University of Lincoln’s VLE was first suggested. Today, Getting Started is a whole institution initiative led by teaching and learning, the student engagement office and made technically possible through the enthusiasm and expertise of Matt Darch in ICT. So it’s with great personal interest I’ve been following discussions and taking part in the best ice breaker activity I’ve ever seen.

But what a challenge to the digitally uninitiated this ice breaker is. First of all you need a google account. We’re not yet at the point where google registration is ubiquitous like a national insurance number. If google has its way, the day is not far off. There’s something spooky about collaborative working on google docs where everyone can see what you’re doing. Like digital text stalking. A taste of the mighty google’s omnipotent eye. Every digital step you take, Big G is watching you. Digital footprints are permanent. Online has no boundaries, no secrets, nowhere to hide. This is digression into a my digital danger sessions – or less digression and part of the social impact of the internet. This covers OER and MOOC as much as digital identity and the ways we present ourselves online. The start of any online course is a test of digital competence and TOOC14 is no exception. It highlights how virtual participation requires digital capability. I’ve learned to be brave in online environments but it’s taken time and practice and I mean brave rather than confident. The screen which protects me also creates a virtual mirror image, one which doesn’t go away. A digital slip is a lifetime online and for many this awareness remains a barrier to be overcome.

Of all the comments I’ve read this week, the one which has stayed with me is nothing to do with induction or MOOCing – at least, not directly. It was from tutor Greg Benfield who wrote: ‘Our general line on this is that we tutors and TAs try to have a life. So participants in our courses should not expect us to be around on weekends. One of us will check on things from time to time but we won’t actively intervene on weekends except in some kind of emergency.’

Wow, an off-line weekend. No catching up with email or the tasks you meant to do last week but haven’t found time for. No – dare I say – research activity, or paper writing or transcribing interviews.

A life.

Do I still have one which is not in some way or other work related?  If I take anything from this MOOC it should be this reminder – weekends are not workends – so tomorrow I go to the beach with my camera to reflect on sea, sky and fossils. Sounds like a plan!

Get off line and get a life message from www.jucoolimages.com

eportfolios

Eportfolio. The name needs to go for a start. How remote are the chances of a five syllabic moniker catching on?

TELEDA has reached its penultimate teaching week and eportfolio is a word of the moment. These collections of digital artefacts challenge the monopoly of traditional text based assessments. You can’t submit a multimedia assignment through Turnitin (yet). How do you assess differential digital literacies? Which platform do you use? The TELEDA answer to the last question is anything you want.

An eportfolio is a digital narrative – a journey – a story – usually from the past to the present with directions for the future. It’s about the content more than the container. How it’s presented is less important than the message it carries. There are two components to an eportfolio. Reflection on –  and evidence of – learning with hyperlinks between them both at appropriate places.

Eportfolio have been around for some time. Conceptually at least. They represent everything wrong with elearning over the past decade. A perfect example of trying to find a one size fits all technical solution to digital ways of being. One platform to rule them all. The perfect capture of digital identity in a virtual world. A place you can keep for all time with control over visibility of its different components. The search has been on for ever yet google have been doing this for some time.

Impossibilities seem to be centre on the transfer of digital content from a password protected network into the hands of individuals. A pack up and go solution with total protection built in. But nothing online is secure. Nothing is more nor less safe than the real world. Eportfolios have overtaken the needs of the individual. They represent the clash between private and corporate ownership of information and communication technologies. It’s time to rethink the eportfolio future, in particular where it’s a tool for teaching and learning or professional practice. In the war to find an all-singing-dancing technical answer, the battle of critical thinking and reflective developmental practice is being lost. This obsession over a new, as yet undiscovered, answer to collecting artefacts detracts from the purpose of a story being told, the narrative of a learning journey and the personal over coming of obstacles and challenges along the way.

The power of the internet to enable digital story telling is immense. Those who want to push their creative digital boundaries can do so through the mass of free multimedia software. Personal information can be anonymised. This is the evidence. The core of an eportfolio is reflection; a synthesis of learning. This is the text. Keep it simple.  We have the tools. Let’s start using them and work forwards from there.

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image from image from http://www.scieng.ed.ac.uk/LTStrategy/eportfolio.html 

Bb mug

I was in a Blackboard session this week. The plan to show case good practice, to be inspiring, supportive, but the plan failed. Examples of innovation were overshadowed by negative comments about the technology. At great speed the focus turned from positive enhancement to lets knock Blackboard.  It spread like a virus. The potential affordances for learning were unable to break through the Blackboard attack.

Maybe I should have expected it. Lulled with TELEDA and the FSLT MOOC at Oxford Brookes, my immersion in the advantages of VLE have imbued a false sense of security. I worry my ‘I love Blackboard’ campaign will be equally infected.  I’d forgotten the extent to which Blackboard is unpopular.

I love Blackboard #iloveblackboard

No one likes it.  I feel like a lone champion in a world of resentment and frustration. I can quote the negatives; unattractive, clunky, boring, confusing, difficult and students prefer Facebook. I can count the positives on one hand with fingers to spare. Er, um, well, maybe not even that many…

Discussing this with colleagues it was suggested Blackboard is an easy target. It can’t answer back or defend itself so is a useful scapegoat for wider dissatisfactions, not just about the role of technology in higher education but also life, love and the universe.  Sounds possible. Surveys and focus groups tell us students would prefer more consistency across modules but they like rather than dislike their VLE. The anti-Blackboard movement is staff led. I have to ask myself apart from the politics, the rage against the machine and anti-automation movements, what is it about Blackboard which causes hostility and can any of it be changed? Can we get beyond form to function?

I agree some things about Blackboard are a pain. I’m not immune to its failings.  No matter how well you format a course or group email it arrives with odd spacing – this annoys me. It looks like I don’t know how to lay out text. There are still formatting issues with the Content Editor. The notifications don’t pick up new activity in groups. You have to grade a wiki to get notified of new content and this can’t be applied retrospectively.  The blog tool is dull. So is the reflective journal.  Forums aren’t great for large numbers of participants and like most people I think Blackboard could do with a make-over. It doesn’t look as good as it could.

BUT…….

….the majority of UK HE institutions have teams of people managing the Blackboard experience for staff and students. We don’t. This is changing but it will take time to reverse the damage. We have to focus on what matters – the student and staff experience, one which takes the affordances of internet connectivity and utilises them for off campus access to teaching and learning experiences.  Like not judging a book by its cover, we need to move beyond the appearance to what it does.  An ugly pen still writes. Blackboard is accessed by thousands of people every day (including Christmas) and keeping it running takes priority. Once more resource is available we’ll be able to test and pilot tools like Mobile and Collaborate. Maybe reinstate themes so individual appearance can be customised. Explore templates. Enhance the DIY model with central support for content creation. Revisit the social media tools. Promote discovery through case studies and lunch time drop-in sessions. Increase online help and support. And listen to what everyone has to say. I’m happy to hear about all the things which are wrong with Blackboard but let’s make it a two-way communication.  It’s not all bad. The future is virtual and one of its names is Blackboard.

 

The future is Blackboard on a assortment of mobile devices

digital exclusion denies access to the internet

I’ve got a bit FSLT lost this week. I don’t understand the virtual conference. I keep trying to get my head around it but it’s been a long week (excuse) and it’s nearly the magic Friday hour (best excuse of all!). As an exercise in reflection I’ve been exploring what I don’t know and it isn’t helping – I still don’t know it.

Is the Doodle Poll for presenting or viewing? Why the 8.00 am slot? Is this for early birds? I’m at my desk by 7.30 but will I be presenting to no one or viewing nothing? Why have some people signed up for multiple slots? If we’re uploading to a wiki what is Collaborate for? What are Creole and NWiki formats? What classes as html?  A multimedia online exhibit could be mp4 or wmv. Does this mean saving powerpoint or Word as htm?

I’ve got in a mess. Missing something and I don’t know what – other than brain cells. This is the loneliness of long distance learning. You feel you’re the only one in the world who doesn’t understand what’s going on. FSLT14 has been quiet this week. I don’t know if anyone else is struggling. It’s easy to imagine they’re confidently competent while I feel digitally illiterate and dumb.

I tell myself this is a useful experience. Which it is. Muddles like these are the reason people turn away from virtual environments in favour of real ones. It’s a digital turn off. Not only a reminder of what students go through, it’s a timely memo of what students need. I don’t want anyone telling me it’s easy or simple because it isn’t. I don’t want to be told I should know this because I don’t. I’ve learned to be brave in online environments but I’m not feeling brave at the moment.

The problem is – as tutors we know the environment and the form. There’s a divide between our knowledge and the students. At the moment I’m on the wrong side of the divide and not sure how to cross it.  The divide is the foundation of digital resistance and the part of the problem is its invisibility.

I did have one last try. Thought there might be examples from previous virtual conferences. Somewhere I’ve seen a link for FSLT13 but can’t find it again. On my travels I’ve just discovered a notifications page but now it’s got lost. When colleagues complain about Blackboard I try to have empathy and right now I have it in buckets because FSLT14 is on Moodle. Similar but different enough to fool me.

This is such a valuable learning curve I feel I should be enjoying it but I’m not. Instead I’m frustrated with myself for not understanding what is straight forward. For now I’ll put it down to tiredness, after all it has been a long week and is now well past the magic Friday hour. Have a good weekend and Cheers!

http://www.powtoon.com/embed/g44oOlfaLdR/

The advantage of creating mini-animations like this is the need to identify key points. Long v short has been on my mind. along with application of theory to practice and the value of reflection. TELEDA Learning Block Three set out to recreate an online seminar. Colleagues were asked to read two papers before signing up for group discussions. Participation was good and highlighted positive effects of virtual learning. Time to think about responses. To post and read when convenient. Reflection on practice was encouraged. There were exchanges about wider issues around group work and useful advice for facilitating similar activities in the future.  So far so good.

But not all of it was positive. Blackboard came in for criticism again. Some colleagues find it unattractive and difficult to use. There were unfavourable comparisons to Facebook. These are valid points. Blackboard at Lincoln could look different. It has alternative communication modes which are not yet enabled. Not all tools are pretty. But for me, the activity highlighted a key problem with forums themselves. They are text heavy environments. If text is not your thing, then online learning is going to be a daunting experience.

For years I’ve promoted digital data as your flexible friend, inherently inclusive through text to speech and speech to text software. Expensive to buy, a challenge to use, but the technology for inclusion exists. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place. Maybe digital text is itself the barrier.

For education developers the standard advice is to chunk text up, use bullets, paragraph breaks, images, formative assessment questions, activities – anything  to avoid lengths of dense prose. I don’t always follow this. The best feedback I got from the TELEDA pilot was how I had interesting things to say – but there was so much of it!

Learning block three has been a learning curve. I ask colleagues to participate online with no guidance or advice. It’s only when I started to read the posts I realised I wasn’t being helpful. I could give word limits. Raise awareness of the audio and video alternatives. Just because I’m happy with text doesn’t mean it applies to everyone.

Creating the PowToon animation while reading through the discussion forums has highlighted the long and the short of it. This PowToon presents in 49 seconds what I might have taken pages of text to describe yet it contains the key information. Aphorisms abound. Brevity is a virtue. Less is best. Keep it simple. Powtoon was also fun. After the first one they will be quicker to produce. Story board first. Keep under two minutes. Visit http://powtoon.com.

I need to engage online not create barriers. There is no substitute for reflection on action. I need to remind myself to reflect in action as well.

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The two papers were :

Roberts, T. S. and McInnerney, J. M. (2007) Seven Problems of Online Group Learning (and Their Solutions) Educational Technology and Society, 10 (4), 257-268 http://www.ifets.info/journals/10_4/22.pdf

Highton, M. (2009) Encouraging Participation in Online Groups (Originally written 2005 for University of Leeds. Updated 2009)https://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/teachingwithtechnology/encouraging.pdf

FSLT map

#FSLT14 is doing what MOOC do best. Sharing practice. I’m learning so much. And having fun. My brain is boosted and bursting. Reluctantly, I’ve dragged myself out of Week 2 Reflection but the Week 3 forum on learning is no less inspiring.  Part of the knack of MOOC  – I think – is not do it all but focus on a section. Make it manageable. I’m practicing what I preach – for once – and am still in there, four weeks on. Must be a record. Here’s a snapshot of the language from my MOOCing experience.

…learning as ‘insatiable curiosity’, teachers as ‘perpetual students’, a ‘patchwork text’ for online discussions, double and single learning loops, transformations, the issue of unlearning,  loving learning, being curious,  and best of all – a discussion around information, knowledge and wisdom triggered by TS Eliot in Choruses from The Rock:

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

A passionate teaching and learning community and Eliot too – what’s not to like!

This is an interesting time. FSLT14 is splitting me between teacher and student. Over on Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) the last learning block; online assessment and feedback started today. Teaching and learning online is a challenge – for students and tutors. But – TELEDA is one of the best learning initiatives I’ve been privileged to be involved in. The seed was sown in 2012 during Embedding OER Practice http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk piloted in 2013 and is now up and running with a second module under development.

The student experience on FSLT14 is like an echo from TELEDA. I find myself thinking the same things colleagues are expressing on the course. Too much text, can’t find my way around, sorry it’s late, the link’s broken, don’t like the VLE, it doesn’t look nice, I’ve fallen behind, sorry again and in the middle of it come the highlights  …this is great – I’m so glad I enrolled, it’s really making a difference – thank you.

Reflecting on the duality of FSLT14 and TELEDA I’m concluding learning works best when the learner wants it to. Where people are disinterested and disengaged, learning is unlikely to take place.

Unique distance from isolation - reflection in a mirror

Week 2  of #FSL14t was reflection. The activity – submit a reflective piece on teaching and learning. I find myself reflecting on the way I did it. In a rush. Full of typos.  I didn’t agree when FSTL14 Facilitator Neil Current wrote For us as tutors, we feel it is more important to share than worry too much about trying to craft the perfect response. So we hope that you won’t mind typographical errors….’ I wasn’t sure about condoning typos. What about spellcheck and taking time to make sure the text is good? Huh! Isn’t it always the way – you disagree with something then find yourself in exactly the position you disagreed with. My reflection wasn’t crafted. It was Bitty. Disjointed. Like my mind on Fridays – my busiest days – and it was full of errors.

A useful life lesson is learning more from mistakes than perfection. I lay no claim to being perfect – but admit to many bloopers over the years. When learning styles were in vogue, they didn’t fit. We had a Honey and Mumford questionnaire which used Cadbury Crème Eggs. The question being ‘How do you eat yours?’ New to education development, I found the analogy a helpful example of matching new information with existing knowledge. It was a light bulb moment. I remember this – and how the questionnaire confused me. I was Activist, Reflector, Pragmatist and at times a Theorist. I ate my egg in four different ways.

cadbury creme egg lies on a therapists bed

Today I still jump in and am more pragmatic than theoretical, but over the years I’ve learned to learn through hindsight and adopt an experiential approach to CDP. Brookfield says a way to evaluate your teaching is the “… extent to which teachers deliberately and systematically try to get inside students’ heads and see classrooms and learning from their point of view.”  (Brookfield, 1995. p.35) This is a good a reason as any for MOOCing.

On FSTL14 I’m in an unfamiliar place. I think it’s Moodle but I don’t care. I don’t know my way around, it’s easy to miss things, get lost, feel panic. What’s obvious to the site builder is less clear for me. I’m getting frustrated because I can’t find a forum, am not sure where to post the assessment or how to sign up for peer review –  maybe it happens automatically. I don’t know. The loneliness of the long distance learner – a unique distance from isolation – alone but connected – is the challenge for all online learning design.

I don’t think we can teach online without continual reminders of what a strange virtual environment feels like – and to reflect on the process of disorientation. Also it’s one thing to say reflection helps learning – but unless we practice ourselves, the pragmatics can be forgotten. Week 2 has been good for me. On multiple levels. I knew reflection was an issue for some colleagues on my TELEDA course. It’s not enough to present it as a core component. It needs more support and Week2 has given me ideas to try out in my own practice.

In Learning by Doing Graham Gibbs offers useful ideas; using video and audio, sharing the reflective process in groups or online discussions, dividing pages in a reflective diary into columns for recording events and reactions to them. Gibbs also advises immediacy. Recollection of detail fails after 24 hours. This can be tricky. If the process of reflection isn’t presented as manageable students will think they can’t find the time. Reflection must be seen as beneficial.

reflection must be seen as a positive process

It’s important to distinguish events which are learning opportunities. Like dismissing a suggestion its ok to have typos in contributions to online environments. Then – on reflection – understanding how unrealistic I’m being to think everything I upload should be perfect. I know where it comes from. Brookfield says our autobiographies are “one of the most important sources of insight into teaching to which we have access.” (1995 p.31). We are products of our life experiences; creators of our own realities.  I’m asking the impossible. On reflection…… I realise the need to be more forgiving of insignificance in order to make time for what really matters.

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‘at.this unique distance from isolation’ comes from Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

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no one loves me because google says so

The best conversations about online discussions happen face to face. Those with the most interesting things to say don’t say them online. They don’t want to. I’ve said it before but it needs saying again. We can’t assume everyone has the confidence to put themselves out there digitally or – dare I say – even wants to. Which leads to the question ‘is the choice to be digitally inactive a valid one?’ At a time when the university is implementing a digital education plan and its VLE procurement has resulted in enhanced Blackboard provision, how long can resistance to digital ways of working be condoned?

There may be trouble ahead. The causes of resistance are complex. Instinctual, intellectual, personal, political – there’s much to be learned from self-chosen digital divides. While one side forms cliques of tweets and blog posts the other relies on email and face to face meetings with coffee and biscuits. East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Resistance is mostly invisible. In the online world of RSS and social media-ness, like clings to like. Resistance through choice is interesting. Often it’s about being human in the age in the machine or in Lee Siegel’s words being Against the Machine; Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob (2008). Siegel continues the anti-internet diatribe of Andrew Keen in the Cult of the Amateur (2007). Both writers follow Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985 revised 2005) and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1993). Throw in Nicholas Carr with his 2008 question Is Google Making us Stupid? Add the JISC and British Library CIBER report into the research behaviour of young people and put all this alongside Jaron Lanier’s manifesto You Are Not a Gadget (2010) to be afraid, very afraid, of ever logging onto a virtual environment again – although of course we will continue to hook ourselves up, cyborg-like, for as long as the connections make it possible. It’s more than an addiction, it’s become a way of life, but within our mass of digitally enabled lifestyles there remain those who resist, who don’t have internet-enabled mobile technology through choice, who wouldn’t consider enrolling on TELEDA and who value their self-chosen non-internet lives.

Perhaps we’ve all been fooled by google. Persuaded by easy access to information and the duplicity of google+ hangouts. We’re all living in the negative utopia of Huxley’s Brave New World. The internet has become a digital Soma-like alternative where we communicate via a machine which monitors and records every interaction for ever. Unless of course we don’t have a digital identity in the first place. Sometimes I feel like Kassandra – tell truths but don’t be believed.  Once you’ve sold your soul to google it’s too late to do anything about it.  You can’t delete a virtual self. Even after death it lives on. Sometimes I’m afraid resistance may prove to be the wisest choice. But only time – and a google database – will tell.

google rules the world

MOOCing again MOOC

I’m  MOOCin again. In danger of becoming a MOOCie Groupie. Possibly risking a reputation for being a starter not a finisher. MOOCs encourage a dip dip out way of working. It’s all part of the vagueness of the virtual where you’re known only through your choice of gravatar or what google discloses. Plus the vagaries of digital text which can so easily be misconstrued or misconstructed.

The experience of designing and delivering the course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) is as much a learning experience for me as I hope it is for colleagues. I feel we’re all in this together. We are a Community of Inquiry into virtual learning; one with no boundaries. The learning about learning online just goes on and on and on……MOOCing is an important part of this discovery process. In an environment where there’s no-one-size-fits-all model of how to ‘do’ the digital – be it literacies, scholarship or pedagogy – we need all the practice we can get. The First Steps into Learning and Teaching MOOC with Oxford Brookes  is a valuable opportunity to mix virtually with others journeying across unfamiliar digital landscapes.  Online teachers need to be students. Without this experience it’s impossible to understand the complexities of digital education.

There are four ‘online teachers’ on First Steps into Learning and TeachingThe language of virtual learning intrigues me. Lecturers on campus become tutors, moderators, facilitators, teachers – but rarely lecturers. Does this represent a demotion of status and if so, could it partially contribute to resistance to digital education? Or is it the beginning of a new category of educator, one where boundaries between the learn-ed and the learn-er are blurred. Like TELEDA, are we all in this together?

I wonder how much the identity of a lecturer is tied to their face-to-face performance in front of students? the personality or to use the word in its ancient sense – the glamour? Online we’re all invisible. Communication becomes a challenge. Not everyone is comfortable with creating video or eloquent with a communicative style of text which engages all and offends none.

I inducted but missed the start of Week 1 on First Steps into Learning and TeachingToday I’ve looked at the contributions to the discussion forum and felt overwhelmed by the amount not to mention the quality which draws me in and makes me want to read everyone and comment. In the meantime the Outlook bell continues to ping new mail and I’m feeling guilty about everything I haven’t done. As is the nature of all things digital my workload is largely invisible – measured only by my Sent folder. I don’t even know how much of my online endeavour has been received or if it’s made any difference. In this is – I think – another barrier to shifting practice from stage to screen. It’s the silence. The unknown. The dependence on a digital response to take the place of a smile or eye contact or just a few words like I understand, that’s great, thanks, see you all next week.

I love Blackboard #iloveblackboard

TELEDA has reached its half way point. I hope colleagues are getting as much from the experience as I am. TELEDA is unique. It works on so many different levels. As much as colleagues write how it helps them understand their student use – and non-use – of Blackboard, it also offers a privileged insight into staff attitudes and behaviours around the institutional VLE.

Poor Blackboard has an identity problem. It’s going to be a challenge to overcome this but underneath its plain exterior is a powerful digital technology for supporting teaching and learning. We need to rethink Blackboard. I’m starting a ♥ I love Blackboard ♥ campaign #iloveblackboard. It’s not that bad. Try it and see. Look beyond the appearance to its affordances and use. Think in terms of pedagogy. Compare sharing thoughts and practice through discussions and wikis with reading a plain text document. Explore the addition of images, sound and video. Try the quizzes (the word Tests needs to go), get students signing up for groups with tools like group email and file exchange.

I don’t think all the antipathy is directly related to Blackboard. Sometimes it’s what it represents. Teaching is traditionally a face-to-face occupation. A virtual learning environment comes with connotations about the automation of teaching and replacement of teachers. VLEs have not been helped by the early rhetorical promise of elearning to cut costs and be more efficient when the reality is a steep learning curve and never, ever enough time to engage fully with the shift from class-room to online-room. Then there’s the increasing problem of digital literacies – the issue everyone is aware of but no one wants to take on. How do you manage ‘teaching’ good online practice; like appropriate file names and formats, document management, best use of Outlook, Word Tables of Content, Footnotes, References, Excel basics….the list goes on and on…… but back to the VLE whose case is not helped by the nature of Blackboard Inc; a multinational US corporate mega business which people object to on principle but in doing so exclude themselves from the day to day reality of the majority of staff and students on and off campus. Sometimes we need to be pragmatic. I try to get a sense of perspective by thinking of the first year students, many away from home, in the UK and from across the world,  for the first time, paying for a higher education experience hoping for a helping hand into the work place, to get into or upwards in their chosen subject or profession. Anything which enhances this must be worth consideration and the flexibility of a vle is a bonus when you’re juggling and balancing multiple commitments and busy lives.

My ♥ I love Blackboard ♥ campaign will look at the positives and raise awareness of successful practice. In the year ahead, with implementation of the Digital Education Plan and new Blackboard software such as Collaborate and Mobile, I look forward to the essential additional resources needed to promote and support our vle. We need to focus on the pedagogy rather than the technology in order to truly enhance the student experience and make Lincoln proud to be first and foremost an effective  digital university.

After all, 9 out of ten cats – when asked – said they prefer Blackboard.

even cats prefer Blackboard

digital exclusion denies access to the internet

 

 

 

It’s been a while since I blogged about digital inclusion. In the meantime the Government Digital Service team have produced a checkliststating ‘if we do these things, we’re doing digital inclusion’. Looks like they’re starting out all over again. Excuse me while I yawn. Honestly we’ve been here before and nothing – yet – has changed.

It’s January 2014. All that’s happened since the Digital Britain report is the internet has become more inaccessible, assistive technology more expensive and digital exclusion increasingly invisible and silenced.  The GDS checklist appears positive and realistic. I have genuine hope this may signify change.

  • Services need to be built for the user, not government or business
  • Provide simple, low cost options for those socially and economically excluded
  • Bring digital into people’s lives in a way that benefits them
  • Make it easier to stay safe – online safety is a basic digital literacy skill
  • Better coordination between public, private and voluntary sectors
  • Reducing digital exclusion is not about the number of people who log-on once

Words are easy and if they’re digital too, you need to be online to comment.  The government has a ‘digital first’ policy with regard to public information. Do they not see the irony? There’s no mention of disability in the checklist and when Leonie Watson points this is out, the response is a link to a post from August 2013 titled Meet the Assisted Digital Team with the comment: ‘We’ll get down to the detail on assisting all sorts of disabilities soon. But at this stage all any inclusion tries to do is have (design) principles which apply to every citizen. How they are applied, and to whom, will always depend on particular departments.’ [my emphasis]

Already there are signs this new (and yet another) digital inclusion initiative will fall apart. In 2009 the Consumer Expert Group reported on the Use of the Internet by disabled people: barriers and solutions.  The research is out there. It isn’t rocket science. If you are already socially and economically excluded you are likely to be digitally excluded as well. The checklist recognises this but so did the Labour government a decade ago. What is less well publicised is the two-way nature of digital access. It’s as much about the inclusive design and development of the internet as it is about the individual hardware and software required to get online in the first place. I can see a situation like the processed food industry which continues to produce low cost high sugar/fat/additive junk while the government makes comments about individual responsibility to make healthy choices – as if it were that easy. Equality of internet access? Just be more responsible about the sites you choose – go for the ones with inclusive design – they’re better for you.

Tim Berners Lee dreamed about democracy of access. ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ * Before Microsoft Windows came along there was a distinct chance this might have happened but progress has gone backwards ever since. Whether this latest initiative will make any difference remains to be seen.  Somehow – sadly – I doubt it.

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http://www.w3.org/Press/IPO-announce 

codeacademyFirstLessonAchievementCode Academy Badge    codeacademyWebAchievementcodeacademy Exercises10Achievement

I’ve been badging. Like buses, there were none for ages then they all come at once. I can’t embed my javascript animation on this page but to prove my new found skills here is the code.

var red = [0, 100, 63];
var orange = [40, 100, 60];
var green = [75, 100, 40];
var blue = [196, 77, 55];
var purple = [280, 50, 60];var myName = “suewatling”;
var letterColors = [red, orange, green]
if(15>5) {bubbleShape = “circle”;
}
else {bubbleShape = “square”;
}
drawName(myName, letterColors);
bounceBubbles()

It was an interactive template so not as clever as it looks. But it does look clever! Here’s a screenshot. Thank you Code Academy for the illusion of skill. Click here for the full animation.

Code Academy screenshot of animated name

The language of code intrigues me but this post is about badging. I gained my rewards for working through the first Code Academy lesson. They’re badges but not as I know them; these are PNG images with no metadata. Mozilla woz not ‘ere. Since Doug Belshaw’s visit in December I’ve dug deep into Cloudworks to find my OLDs MOOC site:  DIY Multimedia for Teaching and Learning and made a retrospective claim so my Mozilla Backpack now looks like this.

mozilla backpack

Not much is it? I’m not really a collector. The ultimate question with all collections is what to do with them? The language of badging hasn’t caught on. My Thesaurus only recognises ‘badgers’ as animals or 50 shades of botherance – such as bedevil, beleager, bore, bother, break and bug. I entered ‘badging’ and was asked if I meant bagging, banging or bandaging. The art  of badge collection has a long way to go before it reaches linguistic maturity.

Will virtual badgery catch on? Who can tell. Virtual reality is a slippery substance. There’s a risk a proliferation of badging will dilute their impact and create confusion. When is a badge not a badge? To badge or not to badge? Why badge in the first place? Alternative accreditation is a serious issue. Badging a serious attempt to create an authentic assessment system. But it’s open to people taking advantage and awarding badges here, there and everywhere for all aspects of human endeavour like arriving on time or breathing.  My Code Academy badges were fun but that’s about all. The OLDS MOOC badges may have more credibility but are not fully mobile and can only be shared on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook or through my personal Open Badges URL  I can’t put them where I want them which is my LinkedIn Profile and this WordPress blog.

So I’m relinquishing badge collecting in favour of…….well, I’m not sure. There’s something irresistible about gaining rewards without tears and at least they don’t have nicotine, calories or alcohol units. But like a virtual stamp album, there isn’t the appeal of something you can hold in your hand or stitch on your sleeve or backpack. When badges can be anything you want them to be then – to be honest – who’s really going to be that interested?

mozilla badging

When badges can be anything you want them to be who is going to be interested?

14th Durham Blackboard Conference Life of i

I didn’t expect to encounter Freire at Blackboard conference. It was a passing reference in the context of lifelong learning and mature students – but enough to get me thinking about the production of actionable knowledge. At Lincoln, Blackboard is about to have a second coming. This is a good time for all things virtual to be reconsidered.

Freire says education should be transformational but the problem with transformation is the challenge of change. It isn’t easy to do things differently; especially if the way you’ve always done them still works. Most of us understand education as a classroom rather than computer activity and the transfer of teaching from face to face to virtual environments can represent a fundamental shift in consciousness. Close encounters of the digital kind require a paradigm shift. Moving from lecture theatre to laptop screen can feel like all your threshold concepts arriving at once. The challenge of the VLE shouldn’t be underestimated.

Several times at Durham I heard technology referred to as ‘easy’. Attitudes like these need to be challenged. Assumptions about use are not helpful but divisive. Let’s try meeting resistance to technology with more sympathy. The parameters of digital engagement are a complex mix of financial, cultural, educational and political issues. Digital divides tend to be invisible and in a world of techno-plenty, the discovery of low or non-usage can be a shock. Several people at Durham talked of the difficulty of supporting low technology users and it’s clear we’re running out of answers. Solutions maybe more deep rooted than providing additional helpsheets. Online support is not tackling the heart of the problem. As well as getting up close and personal with digital divides and exclusions, a better understanding of the nature of teaching practice is needed.

The VLE can be conceptualised as a machine for the automation of teaching, I prefer to see the affordances of the VLE as access to higher education opportunities. For me, Blackboard is exciting – it holds the promise of life enhancement in the same way lectures on my first degree opened up ways of seeing I never knew existed. If self-selection is a barrier we need new bridges. If teachers won’t go to the technologists, maybe technologists should go to the teachers – with tea and biscuits (or coffee and cake) on the table – for some frank and honest discussions about the perceived disadvantages of virtual learning. Rather than focus on positives – let’s be critical and ask whose positives they are – then turn it upside down and surface the negatives instead. What is the root cause of techno-resistance? If we don’t understand this how can engagement be extended?

Freire emphasised the value of dialogue between people who are working in partnerships of mutual benefit.  He promoted raised awareness of oppression and resistance; the situating of educational activity within the lived experience of participants as the basis for informed action or praxis. It wouldn’t be difficult to do this on campus – create dialogue between those who manage the technology and those who use it for teaching. So long as it came from bottom up initiatives which took seriously the perceived negatives of virtual learning. I didn’t expect to come back from a Blackboard conference wondering if a Freirean approach to engagement with Blackboard might be worth consideration.  But I did and I am.

 University views of Durham Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral 

Durham Cathedral from Durham University  Lincoln Cathedral from the University of Lincoln

I belatedly saw the pun potential between conference title Life of i and my presentation calling for greater attention to digital i-mmigrants. I could have made more of that – or maybe not :-(

14th Durham Blackboard Conference Life of i

Reflections from the past two days…

I’d have liked a copy of the Wordle of the presentation abstract texts where Learning was the largest word; I can’t remember the size of teaching. It’s essential to focus on how technology supports student learning but teacher engagement and education should be high on the agenda too.

MOOC made an appearance here and there, in passing, with no mention of Blackboardian ventures into open education e.g. the DIY CourseSites or CourseSites MOOC Catalogue.  Keynote Patrick Carmichael compared MOOC with Thomas Hardy’s Jude. When ‘top’ universities provide material for free it’s like looking through a window on something you can’t be part of. Today we live in media rich, digital communication worlds and visually access more than ever – but often only on the surface as an observer. Interesting analogy but I’m not convinced. Keynote Robin Goodfellow said he thought MOOC never were a threat. I have to agree. MOOC were always more of an experiment; almost an inevitable evolutionary internet experience. Robin quoted recent research on MOOC retention rates. Disparities between initial enrolment figures and ongoing interaction appear to boost some MOOC bubbles whilst potentially creating new ones. I think one of the best thing about MOOC remains their snapshot into online learning design. Browsing around the MOOC platforms offer free examples of structuring resources and experiments with peer assessment. Anyone interested in the transfer of face to face practice to online environments should take advantage and get MOOCing while they can.

The ongoing emphasis on analytics intrigued me. Numbers always do. This is a shame considering my number dyslexia. Give me a Word document and I’m happy. Send me a spreadsheet and I break out in a cold sweat. Tracking and statistics represent increased quantification of learning – making education a measurable commodity, never easy with creativity and higher order skills of critical thinking and reflective practice. There’s the sense of applying a ‘one size fits all’ model to what is essentially a unique experience. This also risks misinterpretation of perceived engagement and fails to explain resistance.

I was intrigued by ‘busy-ness’ of the conference environment. Lincoln can’t be the only university with differences of opinion over the use of mobile technology in lectures and seminars, but in a conference it’s ok for the audience to be multitasking. Presenters speak over a click clack clatter of laptop keys while sitting at the back gives a clear view of the range of email, twitter, facebook and report writing activities going on. Feels uncomfortable, a bit like virtual stalking, but impossible not to do. It’s symptomatic of how ICT are changing the way we work, rest and play – although the issue of students and their use of mobile technology in lectures and seminars – from the point of view of staff who teach and support learning – remains unresolved.

This was my first Blackboard Users event. I wasn’t sure who the audience would be. A delegate list would have been useful to see how many attendees were teachers rather than technologists and if there were any students there. The conference reinforced a sense of layers. The closest relationship between the technology and the technologists, then the technology advisers (known by many names), administrators, students and others with teachers last. Do we need to turn this round? With Embedding OER Practice at Lincoln, having those who supported the technology on the same teams as those who used it for teaching led to useful insights. As with all project funding, it came to an end. We planned for sustainability but motivation and enthusiasm inevitably diluted. I’ve come back from Durham convinced we need to revisit the principles of the OER project, and do more to develop, build and cross new bridges between those who manage the technology and those who use it for teaching – or not…

Durham at night

durham 1 durham 4 

 

Conferences are always valuable opportunities for reflecting on practice and networking with like – and lesser like – minded people. The 14th Blackboard Users Conference at Durham University 9-10 January ticked all the boxes, including one for the most hidden parking place ever (if you get Bay 25 I’ll give you directions but it’ll cost) – not to mention the challenging climb between car and the Calman Learning Centre. Working at Durham would be all the training I need for Camino Santiago next year. Must practice on Lincoln’s Steep Hill more often!

The Blackboard Roadmap was a useful presentation by Jim Hermens Rather than words, the key future developments are shown in images below. Intended more as a personal memory aid than for publication, but for the sake of clarity I must sit closer and use less zoom next time :-)

Eportfolios continue as hot topic. The problem seems to be searching for a one size fits all solution when it might not exist. If anyone can find a workable answer you’d think Blackboard would have done so but it’s clear from the road map they haven’t stopped trying.

Lots of interesting ideas to think about with much context to reflect on. Conferences are a bit like teaching and learning. Doing it virtually is not the same. I’ll get the information from the conference website but it won’t be like being there. You can’t replicate the chance meetings or the buzz of an interesting presentation – yet face to face is more transient. Here today, gone in 50 minutes, the inspiring lecture or seminar is over and it’s back to virtual reality for capturing the experience and making it available 24/7. It’s clear we could do a lot more with Backboard at Lincoln. It could look different and have wider functionality. As the future signals change for how teaching and learning is resourced at the university, this is also an opportunity to look ahead in virtual terms. The past two days have offered lots of ideas. Thanks #durbbu 2014 – it was a good one :-)

 

bursting bubble from https://digitalacademicblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/c11bf-burstbubble.jpg

The MOOC bubble is bursting. See Online Revolution Drifts Off Course or Completion data for MOOC For some time there’s been evidence of a shift in MOOC attitudes eg MOOC Star Professor defects and Professors Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC  It will be interesting to watch FutureLearn; the UK HE MOOC consortium’s 36 free online courses.

MOOC have been good for online education. They’re raising key issues around the value of VLE where VLE can be institutional like Blackboard or any combination of free software.  Bursting MOOC bubbles mean it’s time to talk about the big questions. Like do VLE enhance learning? How best can face-to-face practice be transferred? What might digital pedagogy look like?

For me, one of the strengths of the VLE is in widening participation; opening up potentially 24/7 opportunities for those unable to commit to a campus based education. But this can’t happen without appropriate support for the shift of traditional lecture and seminar content to online delivery. VLE need investment in digital literacies, scholarship and pedagogy. UCISA reports into Technology Enhanced Learning show since 2010 the top two barriers to TEL development are lack of time and money. The JISC Digital Literacies Programme released the Summary of the Professional Association Baseline Reports last year showing the main challenges for professionals becoming more digitally expert were lack of time, speed of change and training not being available, timely or relevant.

A lot of staff who teach and support learning at Lincoln have a DIY approach to technology; learning to use it effectively and integrate it into their lives. There are also those who are less confident. The adoption of a DIY model privileges the innovators and risks excluding those unsure about digital change.  Taking the time to do things differently using Blackboard might not seem a viable option when it works doing it without. The issue of self-selection poses a risk. If you’re unsure of your VLE you’re less likely to go to digital workshops or seminars, attend digital technology conferences or apply for research funding in the area of education technology.

Often there simply isn’t enough time, resource, or role recognition attached to developing digital expertise. One way forward might be to highlight the development of an ethos of support and resource for shifting to digital ways of working.  The University of Lincoln has a new Digital Education Plan. The VLE procurement process has highlighted the need for additional support for virtual teaching and learning. Thanks to the MOOC bubble bursting, there’s renewed interest in what works well and less well in online education. One thing is clear; ‘Staff expertise is the most important asset in a university and without it literally nothing can  be achieved.’ (Blackmore and Blackwell 2003: 23) I cautiously predict exciting times ahead for Lincoln next year with TELEDA at the heart of discussions about all things pedagogically digital.

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Blackmore, P. and Blackwell, R. (2003) ‘Academic roles and relationships’ in R. Blackwell and P. Blackmore (eds) Towards Strategic Staff Development in Higher Education, Berkshire: SRHE and Open University Press pp 16-28 

image from https://digitalacademicblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/c11bf-burstbubble.jpg

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Thesis Whisperer is a bit Schadenfreude then you realise it’s your reality.

January 2, 2014 | PhD  |  Leave a Comment

thesis whispererThe Thesis Whisperer

 

 

 

 

I’m not a fan of online self help. In fact I’m starting to wish the internet had fixed opening hours like 9-5 and closed early on Wednesdays. If it wasn’t available outside work I’d have an analogue life again; one with real books and paper. Maybe I’d write better if I had to think about every sentence, rather than throwing words at the screen, using cut and paste to chop – change – delete and start all over. I love words. I’m a Gutenberg whore. My kindle is full of freebies. When I travel the classics come with me but I download more than I finish. I’ve always had problems with boundaries. Good at setting them for other people; giving advice on what’s essential, optional or unneeded, I’m less adept at applying them to myself.  My phd year has not ended well. Part-time doctorate is an oxymoron. Like Fun Run. I knew the health of my PhD was getting critical. I tried resuscitation but it wasn’t having it.  Thesis Whisperer has been the one consolation.

Thesis Whisperer is an online support site for doctoral students. It’s every blogger’s dream. A success. The pieces are short, succinct and act as mirrors. In the depths of doctoral despair with a work pile larger than my motivation, I found the Valley of Shit. I’m not a fan of four letter words. Hate them on screen. If it was my piece I’d have added an e or found a different word all together. But somehow it didn’t matter. Thesis Whisperer is a bit Schadenfreude until you realise it’s become your reality.  Someone somewhere has been where you are now; even in the depths of doctoral despair they have words of support, advice and comfort. I think about writing a piece but doubt they need another account of doctoral doom. Although when it comes to despair I am there at the top; my despondency cup runneth over. It’s true what everyone says. You will want to stop the pain now! Give up. Walk away. What real difference will it make? And you know even as you gather the D words – doom, despondency, despair, drugs – deep down you have to continue, you need to find a way to make this work, make sense of the text, because this is what it comes down to. 80,000 words to describe the journey; where you went, why, how you got there, what you took, what you found. Think of the phd as a travelogue to a new country. I love to travel.

There are two ways of dealing with detritus; sweep it under the carpet or get down and dirty with the mess it’s made of your life. Somewhere in all these pages of words was a moment when it fell into place and made sense. Once I had a direction, knew what I was doing and why. Now I just need to find it again.

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