The Empowered Learner #SocMedHE16

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Friday morning. 6.41 train from Hull. Heading to Sheffield Hallam University. It’ll be dark and cold but well worth it to attend the second Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference ‘The Empowered Learner

I’m helping facilitate a ‘socially mediated workshop about developing a social media workshop’ The repetition is deliberate and the workshop will be using the UCISA Social Media Toolkit as a baseline. The Toolkit offers a useful guide for universities using social media tools. what ever the reason; learning, teaching, research or administration – it preempts some of the questions which might be asked and contains a wealth of advice and support from those who’ve already tipped their digital toes in the social media waters.

UCISA Social Media Toolkit front cover

The rest of the programme looks interesting – as always, the perennial problem is selection – which to choose and which to miss.

The Keynote has been retitled Key-Not. The rationale for this intriguing name will be revealed on the day. If you can’t gt to Sheffield there’s an online option. The conference website says ‘If you are free between 9.15 and 11.15, will be online and like a challenge you are invited to participate directly in our online version of the Key-Not.  Please email socmedhe@shu.ac.uk with ‘Key-not’ in the subject line and we’ll fill you in.  Otherwise, watch out for a million tweets in the morning, and keep an eye on this page.’  The Twitter hashtag is #SocMedHE16 and some of the sessions will be periscoped – see the conference website for further details.

Yesterday there was an announcement. To coincide with the national event, this year’s conference would also celebrate the Great British Christmas Jumper.

Ooops – I don’t have one.

The closest I get is a little Ode written last month when colleagues were starting to discuss the annual CJ – so in the spirit of Christmas Jumpering, and the absence of one of my own (not to mention taking advantage of social media!) I include it here.

Have a good conference everyone.


ode-to-a-christmas-jumper


 

It isn’t technology it’s learning design

communication-pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

digital-tech-pixabay

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

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

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

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


images from pixabay.com 

the truth is out there somewhere

image of a magnifying glass over the word truth and the words lies appearing beneath the glass

Critical digital literacy should be embedded throughout the higher education experience. We all need effective ways to tell the difference between truth and lies, not just for ourselves but those around us. In 1970, Alvin Tofler called our information explosion the Third Wave, the next greatest social movement following the Agrarian and Industrial ages. What would he say if he could see us now – not waving but drowning in information overload!

Yet the quantity is the least of our problems. It’s the quality which matters. New genres have appeared, in particular since since Brexit and Trump.

Da da!

introducing

Post Truth and Fake Truth.

image of the word truth as a jigsaw with missing pieces

They sound similar but there’s a difference. Post truth, most often used in connection with politics, appeals to emotions rather than presenting factual evidence. With Post Truth, what is true is secondary to getting that emotional hit, appealing to the personal and turning it into political action. Fake Truth or False Truth is another way to describe spin. Also known as Fake News/False News, it describes not so much the misinformation but the spreading of it via social media. Like Chinese Whispers, the story changes, getting further away from the original sources, picking up more emotional overtones as it travels on through digital space and time.

black and white image of a pile of books demonstrating different genres

A genre is born when new ways to structure and present information are created. Genres can be different styles of creative writing such as the thriller, detective or horror novel or it can be categories and styles of non-fiction news. Today we have what could be called genres of lies; deliberately false information masquerading as truth with the sole purpose of persuasion.

George Monbiot writes about the misinformation machines. He claims huge amounts of money are spent on setting up international and corporate think-tanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Their objective is swaying the hearts and minds of the electorate over big issues like immigration, employment and climate change. (Monbiot also refers to Trump and hyporeality which sounds to me ike Baurillard’s hyperreality nightmare come true – I think this may be is next week’s topic sorted!)

Falsity is not new. The internet has always been full of lies as has the world of advertising. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Edward Bernays applied the psychoanalytic ideas of his Uncle Siggy to persuade young women to smoke and increase the popularity of the colour green. His techniques were called Public Relations or Propaganda, depending if you were on stage controlling the show or in the audience watching it. Century of the Self by the brilliant documentary film maker Adam Curtis tells how America learned to take control of its population. Using archive footage, he tells the story of how Bernays, nephew to Sigmund Freud, laid the foundations of mental manipulation by the media, showing how ‘desire’ was created and blurred boundaries between truths and lies were established.

Control of the media equates with control of the people. George Orwell portrayed this as ‘Big Brother‘ in the novel 1984 and showed how deliberately  vague or meaningless language was used to conceal the truth in his essay Politics of the English Language.  In Understanding Media The Extensions of Man, (1964) Marshall McLuhan predicted the medium as well as the message would influence attitudes and behaviors while Neil Postman claimed we would be Amusing Ourselves to Death (1984) as the platforms of the public sphere were taken over by cable tv’s multiple channels leaving no place for discussion and critique of political discourse.

Were these writers prescient? Do we recognise the world they predicted?

digital divide with a page and an ipad

Early founders of the internet claimed it was a tool for social democracy because it offered equal access to information. Instead we have digital exclusion as the new but invisible category of social and economic discrimination. The development of user generated content via sites like Facebook and Twitter was hailed as a tool for the revolution, giving voice to minority groups and bestowing powers of resistance and subversion. Instead, we have a mess.

image showing social media logos from pixabay

For vast swathes of the population, social media has become the single source of truth. Mobile digital media supports speed swapping of news, presented in soundbites and video clips. Adjective heavy headlines and sensational straplines frame news stories telling the reader how to emotionally approach them. Reality TV confuses truth and fiction, magazine industries are built on ‘true’ confessions while multi-channel news is invaded by false news stories. As well as Monbiot, this weeks’ Guardian also has Roy Greenslade on Post Truth and the art of lies citing Barack Obama and his observation the morning after the US election that how the ‘new media ecosystem‘ of social media means ‘everything is true and nothing is true‘.

It seems this is the week for talking about truth.

But of course, after reading all this, you may not believe a single word I have said.

Being on the edge of things

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

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

a plant surviving behind barbed wire

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

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

image of a maze

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

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

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

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

house on the edge of a jetty

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


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

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

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


All images from pixabay


Where there’s emotion there’s poetry

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The media has been promoting poetry. On both sides of the water. In the US a piece called Still, Poetry Will Rise in The Atlantic claims Americans are seeking solace and wisdom in verse. The most popular poem last week was He Tells Her by Wendy Cope. A coincidence because this was already chosen for PoetryFeedHE. You can read it here. In the UK Words for Solace and Strength in the The Guardian suggested a page full of poems for people in times of stress. None of these appear in this weeks PoetryFeedHE. To have the coincidence twice over would be too much of an… er…well… coincidence.

Why do we turn to poetry in the first place?

sunset-pixabay

Wherever there’s emotion there will be poetry. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is recited at weddings. Canon Henry Scott-Holland’s Death is nothing at all at funerals. Poetry honours birth as in Sylvia Plath’s Morning Song and remembrance in Seamus Heaney’s Digging. Then there’s the fantastical Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, the alliterative Night Mail by W.H. Auden and bleakness like no other in Remembrance by Emily Bronte. Writing from the University of Hull, I have to include Philip Larkin so here is Aubade and An Arundel Tomb. All that is left of us is love.

lc

This week Leonard Cohen died. Many will have paused to recall thin tatty volumes of poems read by candle light and scratched LPs with achingly familiar covers. The voice, oh that voice, dragged across broken glass, late at night, thick blue smoke of french cigarettes and thin spirals rising from patchouli incense, the ashes falling dangerously onto the floor cushions. Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967. Songs of Love and Hate 1971. Music blurring the lines between poetry and song.

leonard-cohem-poems        leonard-cohen-songs

The news reminds us there will always be winners and losers. The world is built upon binary opposites; dark and light, sweet and sour, sickness and health. Sometimes we need one to appreciate the other.

Poetry mirrors life. Poems seek us out and present universal truths. They are hands to hold onto. Always there in hard copy of digital text, torn out, printed out, framed, slipped between the pages of albums and books. Then forgotten. We move on but the words remain. As the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem says The world goes on being round.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then he gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind
And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind
Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen Suzanne lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Images from pixabay and amazon

Panopto Power and the American Dream

As a team we’re askedimg_1845 to feed back on conferences and other excursions. This week was my first Panopto Conference and I headed off to London. It was dark, cold and raining and the car park ticket machine was broken. The message said try another machine but at Hull Station there isn’t one. I leave a note in my car saying I have photographic evidence of being unable to pay and splash through puddles towards the station. It can only get better.

Registration is 9.00 for a 10.00 start. At 10.00 I’m at Liverpool Street trying to get to Tower Hill. I’ve already confused the Central and Circle line and nearly ended up in Berking. How can this be? I used to live here – I should know my way around better than this! img_1848

One disadvantage of being late is the limited view from the back but a crowded room is a good sign. Key messages throughout the day were on the theme of ‘video enhances learning‘ and supports making teaching memorable through emotional, entertaining or traumatic approaches.

Video can make possible what can’t be done in real time. During our digital storytelling workshops Chris Tompson played a video which included the death of a child. You don’t get much more emotional than that. I remember it to this day.

Entertaining is self-explanatory. We all like to laugh.

Learning through trauma is potentially risky but also powerful. In my previous institution a nurse educator would faint on a simulation ward round. The clue was in the word simulation but it was so well done as the co-lecturer called on the students for help and they were plunged from theory to sudden practice.

Video can show what you wouldn’t want to see in real life, for example disaster scenarios, or where the best laid plans can go wrong. We all prefer ‘health and safety’ messages when they’re presented in dramatic form on film. It makes it so much more real than talk or text. This is the power of Panopto. It supports a range of teaching resources which make it a useful tool for exploring the use of video and audio within learning design.

The event was held in the basement of the America Square Conference Centre in central London. This is where the streets are tiny and have names like Crutched Friars, Savage Gardens and Seething Lane. Refreshments and lunch were in a room containing a stretch of original City of London wall. Either London has risen significantly or the wall foundations were amazingly deep.

Everyone I spoke to from other institutions had cameras installed in their teaching rooms and an opt-in policy. Many had been using Panopto for some time. At Hull we’re at the start of the journey. The plan is to introduce it from the perspective of learning design and digital story telling but there’s still the question of technical confidence. Digital capabilities are never far away.  The challenge is to find the balance between the how, the why and the where and to keep the pedagogical reasons why Panopto might support learning and teaching near the surface of all our conversations.

The conference included a student panel answering questions on the value of video as a teaching tool. Students spoke of a range of ways they were introduced to video before, during and after face-to-face sessions. Students also recorded themselves for observation and feedback on performance.

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Like all technology it seems Panopto is often used on a surface level with less people engaging with features like the synchronous and asynchronous notes or the search feature. One student said I just go in there and do what I need, I don’t look around. This reinforced the risk of making assumptions about how learning technologies are used. Also, similar to complaints about VLE, students didn’t like inconsistency of use across modules because it created an uneven learning experience. Direct recording lectures was the least mentioned activity. With regard to these affecting attendance, students were unanimous in agreeing it made no difference. Fee paying students were even more likely to go to lectures and students who stayed in bed would miss them anyway – regardless of whether or not they were recorded.

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This is what the research literature suggests but it’s always reassuring to hear it directly as it’s the most commonly repeated comment from academic staff.

The  TEF gets in everywhere these days, in this instance the question being ‘will the TEF drive more use of technology enhanced learning?‘ something all TEL-Teams should be asking. How can TEL support undergraduate students in having an excellent experience?  We might argue about what teaching excellence is and how to measure it, but TEF is an opportunity to revisit how teachers teach and learners learn. There is little doubt the internet is changing how content is produced and consumed and one suggestion was to take note of how students use Facebook and You Tube to gather and share content, then build this into our learning designs. Back to digital capabilities. You need to be digitally active in order to understand learning design in the 21st century.

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Panopto’s CEO flew in from Seattle to present a road-map including a host of new features:

  • More accurate recording of system audio
  • Highlight mouse cursor
  • The ‘middle-way’ – using phone or tablet app, log in with SSO  and recording goes to your own folder
  • Rewind and pause on the webcast using HLS technology so users can pause, walk away, resume etc
  • Discussion tab enabling live chat on webcast
  • Access controls on subfolders
  • All users have their own folder/sandbox
  • Curated home page on cloud based Panopto with grid layout to look more like You Tube
  • Moved away from silverlight on editing, now HTML 5 and going to eliminate all Flash in the future
  • Subeditior now more precise for cutting
  • Undo button with sequence of changes
  • Can rename video streams
  • Changes to how captions are displayed colours etc to improve access and going to offer choice to user
  • Can designate sign-in rather give users a choice

Overall it was a useful event although I’d have liked more opportunity for Q&A sessions. It’s not often academics and learning technologists are in the same room aquestions-pixabaynd it’s the sharing of practice and asking ‘How did you do that? which is so valuable.

Coming home from London on Virgin Trains East Coast is always the opposite to arriving on First Hull Trains. The wi fi was poor. I didn’t get the home page for my free 15 minutes until Doncaster and the plug socket gave up after 7%. Standing room only meant no coffee. I like the quiet coach but was sat next to someone who liked it even more, to the extent he pointed out to everyone how the sign on the window saying quiet was the opposite of what they were doing.  An argument ensued as to whether quiet mean mobile devices or any conversation. When the catering trolley finally got through – after Grantham – my fellow traveller, who had told everyone he didn’t want to listen to their conversations, chose crisps. Hardly a quiet option but hey ho – this is life.virgin-trains-east-coast

After Newark Northgate the Hull effect kicked in and the train started to empty. By Selby I’m the only one left in my compartment and can make as much noise as I like. It’s cold. I guess they’ve turned the heating off, and I feel for Bob the Driver whose flat northern tones announce every stop and end with ‘thank you for choosing to travel with Virgin trains’. I’m not sure how the only through train between 3.40 and 7.10 constitutes a choice but I get back safely which is all that matters and I don’t have a parking ticket. Just an iced up windscreen and no de-icer. Hey ho. I listened to the radio while the ice melts and conclude President Donald Trump is the epitome of the American Dream. just as it was outlined in their Declaration of Independence. Be careful what you wish for. It might come true.

I get home 15 hours after setting off and pour a large medicinal brandy – it’s chilly out there and I don’t want to catch cold.

TEL-People, language and poetry

social media icons pixabay

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

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

TEL people speak a number of languages.

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

Compare these.

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

with

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

aw-snap

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

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

creativehesimonlancaster
Image by Simon Rae 

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you’re hungry!