words, words, words…

Two supervisions in 72 hours. How did I manage that? Not enough to be finishing a degree and a Phd at the same time, I booked meetings with both supervisors in the same week. Supervisions are not dates you mess with. Like the sun, everything revolves around them. Appointments are sacrosanct. I’ll be fine, I said, there’s a day in-between, it could be worse.

There’s also the full-time job. A team of four is currently two. I call us 50%. To say we’re stretched is an understatement. Fortunately  we like what we do. Also (again) we’re under review and have a rare opportunity to influence the future direction of our work.  We’re going to be ghostbusters but shh….. we haven’t told anyone yet. It’s a secret. Watch this space. Or choose the Learning Design and Learning Analytics session, 11.15, Day Two at Jisc Digifest next week. Back to the supervisions.

ghostbusters logo

One

For some time I’ve been working on the doctoral questions. Explaining has always been an issue; the elevator pitch escaped me. I wanted to bridge transitions between face-to-face and digital pedagogies and practice but an early supervisor told me my research was not about helping staff  use the VLE, it was about academic labour. I disagreed so it all became confused for some time. However, the TELEDA courses remained the core of the data collection and now, having transferred to the University of Northampton with Prof Ale Armellini, it’s fallen beautifully into place. It was about learning design all along.

This week we examined the questions in fine detail, down to the level of individual words. An interesting experience which hit the heart of previous TEL people blogs and how TEL language can pose issues with interpretation. When it comes to influencing attitudes and behaviours, search language for potential barriers and change agents.

magnitic words for making poetry

Two

It’s the sixth year of my p/t degree in creative writing. For the past five years I’ve managed to hang on in there. It supports my lasting love for words, in particular the art and craft of poetry. To be picked up for incorrect use of words in my research questions, and actively re-think the possibilities of meaning, was the point where both supervisions collided. Both involved stepping back to analyse potential impact of text.

Bourdieu’s concept of social capital can be partially understood as embodied beliefs and biases which we don’t recognise. Seemingly inherent advantages and barriers can generally be deconstructed to show social roots of imperatives and influences. Language is where these come together, how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Research questions have to avoid potential misunderstandings. Poetry has to strip language down to the essentials yet still create resonance and impact. Both need to avoid disappointment.

sad looking puppy

We don’t consider language as much as we should. This week I also swapped sides for a supervision meeting (research module of the pg cert academic practice) with a colleague looking at developing visual literacy in students. Again, this involves social capital and opening up often unchallenged beliefs. For me, this is integral to the heart of the HE experience. As well as the ‘what’ of learning it should be the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ alongside lifelong skills of critical and reflective thinking. Image is a great place to start but at some point we have to turn to text.

Some blog posts percolate for weeks. This one arrived ready made. During the first supervision I was told to get back to the thesis, produce some extended writing rather than ‘blog’ style posts, but I don’t see why they can’t coexist. The blog serves multiple ends. Friday posts are generally about some aspect of life as a digital academic, recording events and exploring ideas. The log pages are a record of my research progress since it all began. Blogging is a useful form of CPD as well as a writing discipline. Producing 600-800 words a week about some aspect of my work shouldn’t be too hard to do.

It’s all about words. Things as disparate as dreams, American Art and T. S. Eliot are still understood via language yet how often do we stop to consider it. I’ve had a week of words and ahead of me a Friday To Do list which includes producing even more of them. I still love words and rarely admit to word-overload but there are times – and I think this may be one of them – when I just want to close my eyes and listen to some music instead!

head phones and sheet music


All images from pixabay except ghostbuster logo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostbusters_(franchise)#/media/File:Ghostbusters_logo.svg

does learning design + TEL = the future?

typeset image from pixabay.com

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

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

question mark from pixabay

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

data image from pixabay

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

scrabble tiles from pixabay.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

opening slide from lin Norton assessment workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

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

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

digital-tech-pixabay

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

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

red question mark on a keyboard

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

tweetchat-tweet small

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

media-studies

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

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

So where is it?

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

magnifying glass


footnotes

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

** examples of TEL critique

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

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

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


images from pixabay except tweet from #lthechat


 

 

The problem is not ignorance, it’s preconceived ideas

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

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

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

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

Hans Rosling presenting on a stepladder

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

hans-rosling-digital

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

USB PLUGS
https://pixabay.com/en/network-connector-network-cables-494651/

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

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

digital number display
https://pixabay.com/en/nixie-tube-electronics-voltage-1501592/

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

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

magnifying glass
https://pixabay.com/en/magnifying-glass-hand-glass-magnify-29398/

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

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

2017 looks like an interesting year

2017

2017 will be an interesting year. The Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight. Penguin order a 75,000 reprint of Orwell’s 1984. Council for the US President invites debate on the nature of ‘alternative facts’ while the alleged influence of social media during the US election suggests ‘critical digital literacies’ warrants attention.

Should Media Studies be taken more seriously? Narrowly escaping Gove’s bonfire of the subjects the MS GCSEgives students the chance to develop a critical understanding of the role of the media in daily life’  while MS A level includes ‘understand and evaluate how meanings and responses are created’ alongside ‘develop and formulate… its influential role in today’s society.’ The only thing wrong with a well taught Media Studies programme is it isn’t mandatory!

media-studies

It’s not too far fetched to suggest truth and knowledge are under attack. The internet is awash with speculation and fake news masquerading as truths. To counter balance this we may need to re-frame ontology and epistemology in everyday language, encourage examination of media beliefs and interrogate preferred sources of news – be it the BBC, Daily Mail or Twitter. Words like ideology and discourse can be challenged but should at least be discussed. A baseline dose of Foucault with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World wouldn’t do anyone any harm.

Following the US election I blogged about the media in The Truth is out there somewhere . Today, just 8 weeks later, it seems even more important to address issues of truth and knowledge. Regardless of personal politics, the US election is a wake-up call.  Who do we believe and why? Suroweiki’s Wisdom of Crowds and Gladwell’s Tipping Point have supported the development of Communities of Practice – where relevant knowledge is situated within the connections we make  – and these concepts remain true; the risk is when wisdom and tipping points are based on fakery rather than evidence.

community

2017 will be a busy year.

I’ve begun to let go of wider commitments to create space for the PhD and shhh…. complete the dissertation for my p/t creative writing degree which no one knows about so far! The timing is not perfect but when it comes to doctoral research there’s no such thing. A time-table is mapped out for the PhD transfer process to the University of Northampton, a week with NVivo booked for April and I’m loving the educational research conversations with my supervisors, Director of Studies and fellow students.

On the work front there’s an exciting new focus on Learning Design. This will inform development of a digital capabilities framework for staff who teach and support learning and I want to develop the world of the TEL-People. The only downside is withdrawing from projects like #creativeHE and it was really difficult to put #poetryfeedHE to one side – albeit temporarily – but something had to give.

Lastly – the allotment lies waiting – as it did last year, and the year before that. At some point I need to find my allotmenteering hat and wear it again.

So here’s to 2017.

Did I say it looks like an interesting year? 🙂


 

 

Reinventing lurking as working #socmedHE16

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Last week I attended The Empowered Learner; the 2016 Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference (#socmedHE16) at Sheffield Hallam University.

The Keynote for last year’s conference was Eric Stoller with his amazing Star Wars effect opening.  You can make your own this Christmas.  Eric was always going to be a hard act to follow and the conference organisers didn’t try. They offered a Key-Not instead.

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A Key-Not translated as an activity. We were divided into four groups depending on the colour cup we’d chosen. Sneaky – I didn’t see that coming! The task was to use a social medial tool(s) and collaboratively build a resource for the ’empowered’ learner. My group – the Yellow Custard Stirrers – used Adobe Spark to show how to set up a Facebook Group and invite participants. We won! Well done fellow Stirrers – may your custard never go lumpy!

img_1989 img_2017

The Key-Not was followed by two traditional style presentations. After the frenetic activity of the previous hour, it felt strange to be back in passive audience mode. The mobile devices came out and people slipped back into isolation from each other while remaining connected to the virtual. What saved it – for me – was these were two of the best presentations of the day.

I want to blog about Andrew Middleton’s presentation separately. ‘Social Media as a Critical Future Learning Space’ resonated on lots of different levels.

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I blogged about space earlier this year in a post titled Simultaneous Existence and want to go back to the subject, in particular the ssignificance of interstitial space.

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The first presentation by Sarah Honeychurch was about lurking. Now I lurk, you lurk, we all lurk but the word has negative connotations. Traditional definitions include sinister, threatening and unpleasant while its latest linguistic incarnation in relation to discussion forums suggests to lurk is an incorrect or inappropriate thing to do.

I want to re-imagine lurking as working.

In these days of information overload through TEL, email, cloud computing and social media, we are mostly not waving but drowning I would suggest just being there online – long enough to register what’s happening before moving on to the next task – is about as much as anyone can manage.  If we re-invent lurking as less something negative, more a positive affirmation and recognition that we managed to get there in the first place, we could then change attitudes to ‘didn’t we do well!’

There’s lots of ways learning and teaching in HE use social media e.g.#lthechatTLC webinars#creativeHE community – and I’m sure these are all places where lurkers lurk, simply to keep up to date and check they’re not missing anything useful. Social Media is the single most valuable network of curated content which can be customised by choosing who to follow and which events to attend – even if it is in a lurking capacity. To lurk is better than not being there at all. It really is time for a linguistic turn.

laguage matters inside a blue speech bubble

Language matters. I don’t like to hear training or skills being used in relation to my TEL work and try to avoid the words lecture capture. Words like these carry connotations which don’t sit well with the objectives of enhancement and innovation which sit within my own interpretation of TEL.

So here’s to lurking as working. Remember – I lurk, you lurk, we all lurk. To lurk is a coping mechanism. It means we care enough to make the time to log on and check what’s happening in our own spheres of interest while also – apart from anything else – not everyone wants to be in the digital spotlight. Lurkers should be proud of their background activity and online bloggers, tweeters, and activity creators be pleased to have them there. A silent audience is better than no audience at all. Remember – as the email goes quiet and the festivities begin – it’s good to lurk and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


postscript

On the BBC News today people are advised to take a break from social media over the Christmas period as lurking may make them miserable and depressed <sigh>


 

The Empowered Learner #SocMedHE16

Social Media Conference Banner

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