Lincoln-blog 2015

January 11, 2016 | 2 Comments

I now have a new permanent WordPress blog called the Digital Academic at https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com

Digital Academic blogsite at https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/

Interim blog…

Tumbling towards Ecstasy

November 14, 2015

Tumblr blog home page

Another corner of  the internet 

I needed a new blog and Tumblr seemed to offer another corner of the internet – with my name on it – so I took it. For the time being I am at http://ammonitie.tumblr.com/ My new blog is a subpage called TEL it as it is http://ammonitie.tumblr.com/lifeinhull a play on my new role as Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor – or is the subpage Life in Hull? It’s hard to tell with Tumblr. Like most things in life, when it comes to WordPress I’m learning more from its absence than I did from its presence!

Having a blog is essential.  You can’t support TEL unless you’re in there, using it for yourself. Otherwise it becomes like those obligatory PGCert technology sessions delivered face-to-face in the classroom, which works out fine because most participants are not great TEL users in the first place. The internet may have changed life as we knew it but in many HEIs everything goes on much as before.

TEL advisors and education developers need to be into TEL but not too much otherwise you risk becoming so TEL-evised you stop seeing the analogue roots and practices.  TEL – and there should be a TET or a TELT too (technology enhanced learning and teaching – you read it here first!) – TELT is about the impossible balance. Namely being in two places at once and seeing both sides of the story. But as confortable and familiar as it feels to be back in my original work blog again, sadly this is no longer the place for my reflections.

I’m not a fan of Tumblr. It ‘s not as flexible as WordPress . It feels hidden away from my higher education networks and I don’t like the recommended sites which come up on my home page. Tumblr feels more like wasting digital space than using it authentically but I’ve still enjoyed setting it up, constructing a different identity, playing with new ideas and exploring how content management systems have changed, in particular the extent to which they assume digital knowledge and experience.

Blogging is promoted as a serious educational tool but the learning curve required to get started with platforms like WordPress and Tumblr is huge for anyone new to  working with digital media.  Tumblr is giving me the space I need at the present time and is also giving interesting additional insights I didn’t expect.

I’m still on Twitter as @suewatling and my new email is s.watling@hull.ac.uk

Pooh bear and piglet image from http://quotespictures.net/pics/winnie-the-pooh-2

I’ve become a grandmother to Duke, a 3 year old American bulldog. Quiet, affectionate, nervous in crowds, Duke was taken in by dog rescue in Manchester.  We haven’t yet met but I’ve seen him on social media. He’s white and brown with an endearing heart shaped patch on his back and has already demolished his bed and eaten a monkey. New father is my youngest son, and tells me this is as close to a grandchild as I will get.  I have step grandchildren and have had dogs but this is my first grand-dog. I’m as thrilled about Duke as all other new entries into my life. duke2  pictures of Duke, an American Bulldog and my new Grand-dog

So far Duke’s Facebook debut has 176 likes

Social media has been on my mind.

For me this is a time of change; endings and beginnings but social media offers continuity regardless of time or place.

Thesis Whisperer published Know Your Limits last week, a piece I wrote about my experience of doctoral supervision.

The social media buttons beneath the post track the power of Twitter and Facebook for dissemination. The digitally shy risk being excluded from opportunities like these to link up with like minded people sharing similar interests and experiences.

Social media citations

Know Your Limits was submitted last December. Much has happened since then. I’m leaving Lincoln to become an Academic Advisor for Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Hull. I live in Hull so looking forward to a shorter commute and getting my hands digital again. I know where my virtual heart lies and it’s online.

I joined the University of Lincoln in 2000, working on what we called the Cottingham Road campus, now the University of Hull Business School and Hull and the York Medical School. Many years before, aged 17 and still at school, a friend and I signed up for a night class through Hull’s Continuing and Adult Education. Called Witchcraft in Melanesia, we misunderstood this was cultural anthropology and not the black hats and cats we expected. Later, in 1985, I took a ‘Return to Learning’ course there. It introduced me to Sociology, Psychology and Linguistics and led to enrollment on my first degree at Hull College of Higher Education, While I was there the College became Humberside Polytechnic. I graduated from the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside.

2003-22003-6

In 1998 I studied part-time for my first Masters degree at Hull. For the past five years I’ve been on a p/t degree in creative writing there. So me and Hull uni – we go back a long way. We have roots. I know my way around.

This move will be home from home in so many different ways.

I will miss Lincoln colleagues who’ve become friends but it’s only a 100 mile round trip. I should know. I’ve doing it since accepting my first post at Brayford in 2005.  We all share common themes around education development in a digital world and will keep the digital flags flying on social media. There will be a new blog and in the meantime I can be found on Facebook, which I use for fun with family and friends. I tweet as @suewatling and am scattered across the internet via LinkedIn, Pinterest, Flickr, About me and multiple others which will vanish as the Lincoln email address I’ve had for the past 15 years is deleted. I will be digitally dead at Lincoln but digitally alive and kicking in Hull.

Looking forward to the future :-)

resized

crossing creative concepts and learning to be brave #creativeHE

October 24, 2015

This has been a ‘concept crossing’ week on the Creativity in HE course.

I’m in a subgroup looking at creativity and emotions. Two words I wouldn’t have previously put together. Before this course I ‘d have associated creativity with areas like art, music, dance, theatre and knew Einstein had described scientists as artists. It seemed creative approaches to knowledge were needed in order to see connections which hadn’t been seen before but I’m realising this was a surface approach. I’d accepted other people’s views about creativity but hadn’t questioned or reflected on them for myself.

In terms of engagement Week 4 has been a bit fractured which can be a risk of extra-curricular activity. I adopted a strategic approach to the task and waited for others go first. A good example of how staff regress to student behaviours, like sitting at the back of the room on my night class – because I can.  Not entirely entirely sure if I should be participating or facilitating with the task – or both – I was feeling a bit lost. Another good reason why prospective online teachers should try to have some online student experience first. Knowing I was still struggling with defining creativity, rather than listing ways it manifested itself, I did some reading.

In the paper Carl Rogers, Creativity and the RSA, Rowson (2014) ) refers to creativity as a novelty which is initially a subversive activity – because it’s different and goes against the norm. So with regard to creativity and emotions, confidence is required. Being creative involves not being afraid to be different. I realised I hadn’t been thinking about creativity from the inside. I could recognise how personal styles, e.g. impressionist art, were examples of innovative ways of seeing the world, but hadn’t made the leap from knowing to understanding. When I wrote my blog post about being less creative than I thought I can see now this was also saying I’m less brave than I’d like to be.

image from http://melosa-fanati-oc.deviantart.com/art/Bakugan-Oc-Bravery-542047707

Creativity is much more connected to emotions than I’d realised. It’s about having personal courage, confidence and conviction so is intimately connected with individual identity. I enjoy the power of words to describe, resonate and challenge. I like writing performance poetry;  tricky line rhymes in iambic pentameter for speaking out loud. But I get nervous about performing. In my head I’m always looking for creative ways to do presentations. I get ideas but don’t put them into practice. Instead I stick to what’s worked before, believing it’s more likely to work again. I don’t take risks so my performances don’t stand out as much as they might if I was more brave.

I can see how being authentically creative, or taking a creative approach, requires emotional as much as cognitive expertise. It’s having the passion and personality to go public, because creative agency is validated by the structural processes of institutions and the media. As well as the ability to think laterally, creativity is about what you do with the outcomes. We are all creative but we deal with it in different ways. Thanks to taking part in this fascinating open online course, I’m starting to see how ultimately being creative is about being human.

Amoeba image from http://www.enchantedlearning.com/paint/subjects/protists/amoeba.shtml

The open online course Creativity and Higher Education is making me think.  Chrissi asks what is the difference between face to face and online? I say it’s the pedagogy of uncertainty – there’s so much you don’t know and can’t predict. Then Chrissi asks what is the difference between traditional online and open courses? Even more uncertainty. The open structure – emergent ideas – changes in direction – we’re creating as we go along – responding to the unexpected – like an amoeba the course is alive and moving about, ever changing its shape. How exciting is that? We are ‘creativity’ in action.

Last week I blogged about feeling less creative than I thought. This week’s activity reaffirmed it. Identify 3 things you would not use in your teaching.*  It was so difficult. I thought everything could be used to demonstrate some point or other. The best response was Jonathan Purdy (from Australia but distance means nothing online)  who used categories. What do his teaching tools need to do and does the object support it. I took the question literally and thought Jonathan’s more lateral approach was a perfect example of creative thinking.

In  my early HE days as Widening Participation Project Officer I worked with John Knowles who coordinated a Day at University for school pupils in Hull and Lincolnshire. These days were creativity in action. I still remember counting in Japanese! The #creativeHE activities remind me of De Bono’s Hats and Buzan’s paperclips from those days. It was the turn of the century – 2000-2004 – when the internet was new and social media hadn’t happened. How much has technology changed what we do? Have VLE encouraged or dissuaded creative approaches to learning and teaching?

Google site header

On the course I’m setting up a group looking at digital creativity (yes that’s right folks – feel the google-fear and do it!) At the SRHE Conference in December I’m presenting on the the Digital University  and at Bett Technology in January I’ll be talking about TEL adoption. One of my themes is the creative use of VLE – or the absence of anything posing a serious challenge to the dominance of the Lecture – so this might be a useful opportunity to share ideas.

Lectures remain the commonest teaching activity in higher education. Often accompanied by presentation slides – usually powerpoint, for many this is the limit of their digital discoveries. Lecture content might make it onto the VLE – before or after the main event – but there are still those who believe if they put their lecture notes online their students won’t attend.

The commonest word in the literature of VLE is transform e.g. the transformative power of elearning and VLE as transformers of higher education but we’re still waiting. Most VLE resemble digital document dumps. Examples of the creative digital campus are isolated in pockets with widening divides between those who do and those who don’t (i.e. get the whole digital thing).

butterfly transformation image from http://quotesgram.com/quotes-about-growth-and-transformation/

I feel for anyone who teaches or supports learning and is told here’s the VLE, get on with it. Affinity for digital education is not intrinsic. If tech is not part of your life or subject-expertise how can you be expected to develop digital confidence. It’s a question which has taken a long time to be asked. The risk is those with the answers are not those who understand what techno-fear feels like. We need more creative ways to manage digital adoption.

Next week in the group I’m going to ask for member’s thoughts on creative digital environments. Discussions might go off in directions I haven’t even considered. This is the challenge, the fun and the power of digital education. For a short period of time we have come together in a virtual collaboration. When the course is ended we’ll go off in our separate ways, but hopefully richer and more creative for having taken part in this unique learning experience.


Activity – name three things you would not use in your teaching

Alcohol – during my first degree a psychology lecturer asked for a volunteer to drink vodka so we could assess the influence on cognitive abilities – during the hour she became more impaired and struggled for the rest of the day. It felt wrong then and still does – I like a glass of wine on a Friday night and another one (or three) over the weekend but for me alcohol and work never go together.

creepie crawlies and slidey slimies – I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying them around never mind having to study them close up – yuk!

Unlike Mrs Heerkens in Holland, I won’t be stripping down to latex body suit any time soon.

My Past Present and Future Activity from the course

Creativity in higher education course logo

The course Creativity for Learning in Higher Education #creativeHE ticks a lot of my boxes. It’s about higher education in 21st century, teaching online, creative thinking, using social media, its open, free and above all is about the digital – which at the end of the day has always been my research and passion. This blog post is my cause memory jog as much as a reflection; a questions without answers approach. Online education supports postmodern bricolage styles of learning – much of which can go unrecorded so this is an attempt to catch some of the transient experiences.

I arrived a week late! Not the best of beginnings but a well thought out course like this from Chrissi Nerantzi can take it. A good course is like a dot to dot picture. Each dot is a link. A place to go. An activity to engage with. A paper to read. In my case I haven’t yet joined them up. But I don’t have to in order to participate and learn. I’ve been selective and this is typical of the student centred approach online learning environments have to support. Capacity for multiple approaches and pathways is essential. Online design needs a holistic structure where the parts really are greater than the whole. Teaching online is about facilitation (with a capital F), about providing a mix of opportunities and supporting exploration through them. Any online teacher who tries to replicate traditional face-to-face teaching practice is likely to fail. Any online student who expects to be taught will be disappointed.

Online courses also need to understand how digital ways of working are unique to each individual taking part. Digital literacies are like fingerprints and we all have our own distinctive styles of engagement. I haven’t done as much as others but I’m not looking for accreditation which maybe supports a more fractured level of engagement. For me this is a learning experience and within the first week I have learned the following:

  • I may be less creative than I think.
  • Creativity is a social construct.
  • Online communication is open to a variety of interpretations.

The video by Jess Haigh demonstrated the power of multimedia for online introductions. I learned so much more about Jess from seeing and hearing her than from reading text. This was a creative approach I wanted to copy. It was interesting to see the response to my comment to the group ‘Would like to post a video too but hit barriers of place, time and noise levels (excuses!)’ . It appeared to be interpreted as lack of confidence rather than lack of opportunity and demonstrated the vagaries of online communication where we see what we think rather than what is being said.

I’ve skimmed some of the reading around creativity. My first thoughts are how it sits between the subjective and objective spheres. We might produce what we consider to be creative outputs but their acceptance depends on the interpretation of others. Through the course I picked up on the #twistedpair invitation from Steve Wheeler to make unlikely pairings and relate them to teaching and learning, in my case Klimt and the Venus of Willendorf. Whether this demonstrated creativity or not can be measured by likes and tweets – but in turn these are related to access parameters and the subjectivity of others. I’ve ended the week thinking much more about creativity as a social construct and how to ‘know’ if I’m a creative person or not; I suspect I may be less creative than I think!

I have learned a lot so far and this is why I do it. Evenings, weekends, early hours of the morning. I’m a learning addict but I also want to discover how the digital can support the student learning experience. The one thing I know for sure is the process is helped where staff who teach become online students themselves first.

Still processing last week in Vienna (culture and cake – what’s not to like?!). Reflecting on the art and history, my #twistedpair are Klimt and the Venus of Willendorf.  I’ve used them as tools for considering the nature of knowledge – in particular the need for information literacies (of the digital kind) in order to support the validation of online search results.

All over Vienna the gold bricolage style of Klimt can be found on fridge magnets, plates, cups, bookmarks and note books. Klimt led the group who built the Secession in Karlsplatz; a building designed to provide gallery space for alternative artists with the phrase To every age its art, to every art its freedom above the entrance. Born in Vienna, Klimt died there in 1918.

image of Klimt art from souvenir shops in Vienna

We know he was an expert draftsman who could paint faces like photographs but chose to develop a unique style which has become widely recognisable, for example the stylised collage construction of the Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer 1. Personal letters, photographs and contemporary records contribute to a knowledge base which helps recreate his ambitions, motivations and inspiration. Today, the internet makes it possible to gather a mass of Klimt information which can be confirmed or rejected through access to academic peer reviewed literature and documentary films. In this way differences between facts and personal, maybe biased, opinion can be explored.

In contrast, knowledge about the Venus of Willendorf statuette poses a challenge. Currently residing in the Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum, Ms Willendorf is a case of once seen unlikely to be forgotten. Breaking a number of 21st century taboos around female nudity, in much the same way Klimt broke conventional expectations around art, both Klimt’s stylised images and the Woman from Willendorf have become iconic images of their age.

image of the Venus of Willendorf statuette in National History Museum in Vienna

Named after the place of her discovery, a village above the banks of the Danube between Vienna and Spitz, she is just over 4 inches tall and carved from oolite limestone with a physical curve which suggests an intention to be held against the palm of a cupped hand. The latest dating is 30,000 years BCE but her original purpose is unknown. Debate continues about the lack of face, the apparent braiding covering her head, the absence of feet and any meaning which might have been originally attached to her body shape. Most of the knowledge we have is speculative and  can be seen to be largely influenced by the social capital of the writer. For example, compare the description by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe with the information from the Brooklyn Museum.

Unlike Klimt, there is less of a reliable knowledge baseline about Ms Willendorf but an internet search will bring up a number conflicting opinions about them both. Unless distinctions can be made between peer reviewed offerings and personal opinions, it can be a challenge for the digitally naïve to distinguish between what is reliable and what should be discarded.

To be digitally capable involves understanding the potential limitations of digital knowledge. Higher education institutions are looking to find ways to support students develop digital graduate attributes, for examples embedding digitality into curriculums as in the Making Digital Histories work at the University of Lincoln   (follow @MakDigHist and https://www.facebook.com/makingdigitalhistory). One way to encourage critical reflection on the validity of digital knowledge is setting tasks like these – unlikely pairings and reflecting on how to authenticate what is known about them. Not forgetting the need for institutional support for academic staff to develop their own digital pedagogies and practices as well.

all images my own…

cartoon showing a newly hatched chicken reverencing a paradigm shift

Doug Peterson says ‘One of my first questions when I meet an educator is what’s the address of your blog?’ Doug’s JISC piece lists reasons for having an online presence. These include blogging for research, employability and simply yourself. One of the reasons I hear for not blogging is not having anything to say. Really?  Nothing? Doug says there’s no such thing as a bad blog. Well, with respect, I disagree. There are plenty of blogs which are too long, too wordy and plain boring but I get his point. Better to blog badly and have an online presence rather than not at all. It’s about digital engagement. Social media are creating niche networks within higher education. Activities like blogging and tweeting emphasise divides between those who do and those who don’t. The gap is getting wider but it’s largely invisible. Like attracts like. If you do it’s with others who do. If you don’t you are less likely to be reading this in the first place.

This week I picked up from a tweet a piece in THES by Bob Harrison about making FE more of a digital experience. Here is the same old language of technology transformation. ‘Hopefully says Bob, ‘this time the transformative potential of technology for learning will be recognised rather than ignored’ People have been saying this since 1997 and the Dearing Report into the future of higher education. Today’s use of technology is mostly limited to uploading documents to a VLE. While this offers 24/7 access to information, the VLE can do so much more in terms of collaborative interaction. The problem is shifting from a repository approach to an activity one. Bob says we need ‘critically, refreshed workforce skills’, a ‘paradigm shift in how learning programmes are designed, delivered and assessed’ (cue favourite image!) and it’s ‘important to remember technology-enhanced blended learning is not a cheap option.’  We know all this. It’s the doing it which is the problem. The article linked to an Opinion piece in the TES about teaching digital literacy.

(This is the risk of social media – one thing leads to another and another until an hour is gone – does this make me digitally literate, a champion procrastinator  or internet addict?)

Matt Dean says ‘FE needs to work out how to teach digital literacy.’  It was reminiscent of the 2007 blog post about technically illiterate teachers. The question for Matt is not should we teach digital literacy, but how to do teach it well. Good question but Matt is writing about students. The academic staff perspective is missing. HE have the same issues. I think we need to go back further and look at how teachers develop their own digital skills and identities in the first place. To see digital capabilities as ways of being and seeing as well as knowing which buttons to click. Digital divides are growing but for most institutions, access has become less of an issue than meaningful engagement. This is where help is needed. Rather than ‘teach digital literacy’ in isolation, it should be embedded in the curriculum to help ensure digital graduate attributes. In staff development and teacher education programmes to support staff trying out digital pedagogies and practices in safe supportive environments.  We not only need to change what we do but change how we think and this is the challenge.

image from http://irish-guards.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/diy-your-home.jpg

B&Q have announced a shift in emphasis from DIY to DIFY. Rather than  DIY and do it themselves people are now setting themselves as DIFY – encouraging other people to pay them for doing it instead. I imagine many colleagues being relieved if HEIs adopted a similar attitudinal shift and instead of having to manage their VLE  and TEL experiences themselves, they could have someone else to do all that ‘digital stuff’ instead.

A teaching role contains assumptions – an expectation you will know how to use the technology – but practicing at home is never the same as being centre stage. It’s still common to see conference presenters struggle to put PowerPoint onto full screen especially when Microsoft moved the icon from left to right. Environment changes make the familiar become strange. The digitally confident can take change in their stride but less so the digitally shy. It has less to do with age and more with context – a point usefully raised by Steve Wheeler’s ALTC15 Keynote.

I’ve been watching this on YouTube and reflecting on ‘Lecture Capture’. I can stop, start, rewind, extract images, leave it and go back to it. If the auto-generated captions had been edited it would have been a complete learning experience. Multimedia too often leads to a surface approach. To gain a deeper understanding, to make connections with what is already known and create the fuel for reflection, I need to work with words. I like to have the transcript as well, to be able to annotate it, transfer key points to a mindmap. We all learn differently and effective pedagogies need to enable and support multiple learning requirements.

Back to DIY and DIFY. Too often the DIY approach means not only creating our own digital content but creating it for ourselves.  What I’ve called the MEE Model. We use a Mouse to navigate, our Eyes to see the monitor and Ears to listen to content and how it’s easy to assume everyone else uses a computer and accesses the internet in similar ways. We need to shift from DIY to DIFY. Consider we are creating online content for someone else – who might that transcript you think you haven’t got the time to do or content in a  customisable format so they can change its appearance to suit their own preferences and needs i.e. Word rather than PDF.

It’s the context which matters. Steve Wheeler and his students, Kate Bartlett and  Becca Smallshaw, talked about how adopting the role of teacher brings assumptions of digital competence, the expectation you know what to do, reinforced by two slides comparing the difference in attitudes between staff and students with regard to TEL.

These reinforce how digital divides on  campus get constructed. This week I heard someone defend staff not getting to grips with ‘wizzy’ powerpoint. Not a term you hear so often these days but if presentation software is a challenge, then using app based social media or developing interactive virtual learning experiences is less likely to happen. PowerPoint is a useful digital competence baseline. Too often it’s not a good experience; too much text, too small to read, words over graphics, content flying in with noisy transitions.

Steve made great use of slides with images. When done well this is great to watch. Here’s some examples of how Steve used pictures to tell stories. But it’s a brave step to take. Easy to suggest but harder to do.

There’s a risk digital basics are getting forgotten. We ‘train’ staff on using the technology but don’t ‘teach’  digital pedagogies and practice. Changing practice is never easy and when it comes to digital ways of working – which are personal and individual – most people cling to what they already know. If it’s worked before it’s reliable and can be trusted to work again.

Change is needed, Learning technologists become teaching technologists. Technology ‘trainers’ be technology educators. Then we could focus on context. Bring in accessibility and inclusive practice. Promote interaction rather than repository style models of usage.   DIY is about the singular educational experience. It limits knowledge and understanding of how people manage online whereas DIFY is about others. It incorporates diversity and difference and when is comes to the digital, this is possibility the most important step towards an equitable education.

baby ipad

My thoughts have turned to a book from my Phd thesis. It’s ambitious I know, in particular as the only place the thesis exists at the moment is in my head and there it’s more like a broken jigsaw than anything complete. But it’s a plan. The title would be – eteaching; pedagogy and practice for a digital age – so I’m laying claim to that now!

Advice on doing this is plentiful. There’s the phd2published site and Pat Thompson‘s blog posts as well as lots of doctoral writing support in general including Patrick Dunleavy’s Authoring a PhD and Kamler and Thompson’s Helping Doctoral Students Write. The key message seems to be a thesis is not a book. It needs rewriting for a different audience. Fair enough. I’ve always thought the strongest point of any research is the narrative which emerges from a qualitative data collection process and I prefer words to numbers. It’s everything else. Like head-space and time constraints which hamper the process. My never ending and never far away twin excuses!

The summer didn’t go quite as planned. Although I read a couple of research books and managed five interviews and transcripts, the dust on NVivo has remained largely undisturbed.

I thought a book plan might spur me on but recognise it could also be an avoidance technique. I’m good at those. I’ve repotted the house plants and my laminate floors are the cleanest they’ve been, even behind the settee and the sideboard. However, a book on e-teaching appears to fill a gap. There are books about online education but mostly either theoretical rather than practical or aimed at primary and secondary school. I had more of a research informed higher ed narrative in mind; one which combined pedagogy and practice of virtual learning environments and followed a number of different academics as they worked through the TELEDA learning blocks. Chapters would include Activity Based Content (ABC) Design, Introduction to Open Educational Resources and Social Media for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

The framework would be one of educational inquiry and the scholarship of teaching and learning. It will also contain guidance on essential areas like accessibility, inclusive practice and copyright with TELEDA participant comments threaded throughout. All identities would be protected. My data is so anonymised even I’m not sure who said what and when, and I also thought about inventing a hypothetical learning environment so there’d be no worries about corporate branding. All VLEs do the same things and the whole point of educational technology is the generated learning  opportunities rather than the tools which deliver the content and interaction. So eteaching; pedagogy and practice for a digital age. You read it here first.

——————————————————————————————————————

image from http://www.icolortype.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Baby-with-iPad.jpg 

I was asked this week for my top tip for moderating online discussion forums. It reminded me of a conference presentation I gave last year which offered Seven Top Tips for e-teachers. Here is refreshed and revised version.

Tip 1: banish myths of digital confidence

When it comes to digital ways of working everyone has different approaches. Many staff who teach and support learning might be less confident than you think but disguise it well. Incorrect assumptions about digital capabilities lie at the heart of most VLE failures. To teach effectively online requires more than technical competence, there are social , emotional and pedagogical challenges too so avoid making assumptions about attitudes and practices with regard to online spaces.

Recommends. Build in time for an online course induction. Have a draft or practice activity before the real one. Get students to interact. Encourage sharing aims and feelings about working online. It’s helpful for new e-learners to know others might also be nervous about what lies ahead and beneficial for e-teachers to know about these hopes and fears. Avoid seeing social media like Facebook as indicator of  the prerequisite digital literacies required or effective use of VLE.

Tip 2: avoid mis-communication

We’ve all had emails which leave you thinking ‘What do they mean by that?’ The absence of face to face clues makes it easier to misinterpret virtual messages. eteachers need to know how online communication has different rules. You can expect expect silence through reluctance to engage or over-enthusiasm dominating a forum. Be prepared for the possibility of receiving mixed messages and always think before you click the send option in particular if the subject is sensitive or  contentious. Better wait an hour if feasible or ask a critical friend to look over it first. Once online always online.

Recommends. Discuss the advantages of digital text with students, for example how you can practice, reflect, edit, check spelling then paste the finished content into the Text Editor when ready. Have a net-etiquette guide, either given or constructed during induction. Include the standard advice such as  avoid ‘shouting’ with capital letters, using emoticons convey emotions and not being rude or offensive. Make it clear if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face don’t say it online and if you would say it face to face it still might not be appropriate within a learning environment.

Tip 3:  expect 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 as high as it should be considering the skills required for managing it effectively. e-teachers have a shift in identity from ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’; the loss of accustomed status and practice can take time to get used to.

Recommends. eteaching is complex and challenging but a valuable expertise in its own right. It requires revisiting pedagogies and practices and for some this may require an exploration of the scholarship of teaching and learning . Done well, VLE offer powerful tools for widening participation and enhancing the student learning experience. Be proud of your e-teacher status and take every opportunity to share your new knowledge and skills with others.

Tip 4: use activity based content (ABC)

Online resources have to work hard to guide, motivate, enthuse and excite students as well as retain them through to the end of the course or module. Blended or flipped learning requires a redesign of the curriculum along socio-constructivist principles with lots of opportunities for interaction and activities. Creating opportunities for communication and collaboration are essential for maintaining and completing an effective online learning journey.

Recommends: set up groups with forums, blogs or wikis and offer a choice of activities based on key texts or issues. Get students doing what they do in social media such as searching for and sharing resources. Ask them to comment on the contributions of others and synthesise core ideas. Do this through posters or mind maps. Create presentations with slides, audio and video. Allocate students to groups and ask for peer reviews and feedback summaries.  Avoid replicating lectures with 50 minutes of talking heads, coughs and sneezes. Instead, chunk lecture content into smaller pieces interspersed with formative assessment questions. Be inclusive and always provide multimedia transcripts or text equivalents to suit all learning preferences.

Tip 5: put up effective signposting

eteaching and e-learning are different experiences to being in seminars and lectures. elearning is often carried out in isolation and it’s easy to forget how a VLE like Blackboard might look like to a new user accessing it alone. Without the physical presence of tutors or peers, it becomes easy to misread instructions or get lost and then confused in a mass of links and resources, so effective signposting through content and activities is essential.

Recommends. Be clear about learning outcomes and ways to demonstrate them through formative and summative assessment. Be sure your students know what is expected from them, in particular with regard to their online interactions. Give contact details and appropriate times to get in touch through the VLE. Agree response times. Arrange some synchronous activities. Have a weekly virtual drop-in session.  Check links are not broken. There is nothing worse than seeing a 404 message. when you want to access a key document.   Post weekly summaries which look backwards and forwards. Do this at the same day and time.  Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page.

Tip 6: go do a MOOC

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to see other eteachers at work as well as experience first-hand the loneliness of the long distance learner. You can dip in and out of courses and observe ideas for designing content and enabling communication. Make notes on the diversity of presentation formats and their quality. How important is a professionally produced video compared to the knowledge being disseminated. A webcam might be as effective as a TV Studio.  Open Educational Resources (OER) are also worth investigating. These are educational materials made freely available through a Creative Commons licence.

Recommends.  Build activities around discovery of open educational resources. Ask students to explore MOOC in their subject area, write a short critical review and share their findings. Visit CourseraKhan AcademyUdacity or FutureLearn for MOOC and JORUM or MERLOT for OER.  JISC offer OER information as well as lists of repositories. Look up Creative Commons licences. Some support re-purposing as well as re-use. Build activities around searching and evaluating free online content. Use social bookmarking like Delicious or Diigo tor a Twitter hashtag to collect links and share them with others.

 Tip 7: experience the Pedagogy of Uncertainty

Sometimes e-teaching can feel like communicating with a big black hole. A major challenge is not knowing what to expect. eteachers don’t always know who their learners are – other than their names – or whether or not they will engage with activities. If not, you have to figure out if they’ve got lost or simply lost interest. Either way you need to bring them back to the VLE. Disengagement might be through miscommunication or misunderstanding. Following the these tips will help avoid common errors. Check out the recommendations below.

Recommends: Be honest from the start. eteaching isn’t an easy option but the rewards are worth it. VLE offer inclusive opportunities to widen participation in higher education, in particular for those with multiple time commitments. They can enhance on-campus experiences through encouraging independent and accessible learning at times which suit individual students.  Revisit pedagogical approaches to virtual learning. Try Salmon’s Five Stage Model and broad range of e-tivities. Look up Laurillard’s Conversational Framework between tutors, students and peers. Consider the Community of Inquiry approach of Garrison and Anderson, built on the Community of Practice model put forward by Lave and Wenger. Explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning  through a digital lens. The future of higher education will be increasingly digital and e-teaching a more essential craft and skill, one which is well worth persevering with.

Looking back looking forwards and some future dust

August 28, 2015 | PhDTeaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA)  spending your annual leave ill in bed. When is a fail not a fail? Maybe when a plan changes trajectory. More research interviews this week. Interviews mean transcription – on average  half a day for each one – but I can’t think of a better way to get research re-engaged.

The challenge of digital competence has concerned me for some time. The sector wants to see technology enhancing student learning. Which is fine. I passionately believe in the affordances of VLE to widen participation and accessibility, but while the literature is full of accounts of elearning and student digital expectations, the eteaching aspect is all too often missing. Decisions around Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) rest on assumptions of digital capability – I call these the myths of digital competence – and like attracts like leaving few opportunities to expose the true diversity of digital practice. TELEDA brought together the sure and the less-sure when it came to learning technologies. It highlighted digital divides on campus where academics have traditionally viewed ICT as a burden and a barrier to practice or  managerialist tools for the 3 e’s – economy, efficiency and effectiveness (Becher and Trowler, 2001:13) but  TELEDA’s stress on reflective practice encouraged deeper approaches to what digital pedagogy and online collaboration really means in unchartered places where theory meets practice face on.

Transcribing the interviews I’m reminded of just how much digital attitudes and practices are as individual as we are. In the way handwriting and fingerprints are unique, so are the ways in which we approach and utilise online environments. This makes a one size fits all approach impossible and with so little common ground, the process of data analysis also gets complex – this is qualitative research in 50 shades of grey compared to the more quantitative black and white binary.

The research is progressing – albeit slowly – and there is a growing sense it is making a difference. The soapbox will soon be travelling again. I’m presenting on the digital university at this year’s SHRE Conference, at the Higher Education Stream at BETT in January and have been invited to give the Keynote at the Making Research Count Network for North West England.  Meanwhile the summer draws to a close and a new academic year is in sight. All over the country digital devices are being purchased and prepared for learning, staff know Blackboard is ready and waiting for them to log on and the inevitable dust is waiting to gently settle on the PhD again.

 

miserablah from Joe Heller at the Bable Post http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/the-flu/

#Phdfail on massive scale! For four days the laptop stayed shut. I couldn’t face it never mind open a research book. Wot No Internet? Yes, that’s how bad it’s been.

Shivers and shakes with a throat like splintered glass.  The only bonus is there’s considerably less of me than a week ago. I blame the flight home. I’m susceptible to flight flu. I catch it coming back and usually within a week of being home. Going out there’s the excitement of being on the move, new places and people ahead. On the return you’re tired and more likely to succumb to the bugs which thrive in pressurised cabin conditions. I landed on the Sunday and knew the Tef-Talks were in London on the Wednesday so kept going. Once back in ‘ull again, with the research calling loudly – to no avail – the descent was gradual at first – then it got faster – and faster – until the only thing submitted was me to my bed, in a haze of olbas oil and snotty tissue – so glamorous – so much fun – so not what I had planned for a week of annual leave.

I can’t remember when I last was as poorly as this.

I think it was 1997.

Today I’m back downstairs in another unhealthy pose, laptop on knee, feet on coffee table. All around me are the books and papers which have been there all year. Nothing much has changed. Including the research. It’s no further on. I’m another week older with nothing to show for it.

But it has to be done and I’m the only one who has to do it.

Image from Joe Heller at the Cable Post http://www.cagle.com/2013/01/the-flu/

image showing impossible can become possible from https://threatpost.com/chertoff-reminds-enterprises-there-is-hope-in-security/109195

Blogging is a bit like therapy. You bring it up and out and in theory leave it all behind. The synthesis of a problem’s component parts is a mix of catharsis and reflection. A mental tidying up of your neural drawers and networks. Drawing a line and moving on. I wish!

It’s day five of the #PhDPlan. Another fail. This is like naming and shaming. A verbal purge.

But stay with me. There is  a happy ending.

I’ve thought this week about keeping a work diary. It’s like I feel guilty; worried it might look like I’m taking annual leave for – well, annual leave. Where does it come from? The continual need to justify my time – prove I really am ensconced with laptop, chasing the consequences of email. When I do stand up, I have to take care to manoeuvre around the paper piles which have reappeared on the floor. I don’t want another accident but am painfully aware (in the literal sense) the last time I made any progress was when my ankle was broken. My ‘trip-slip-snap’ experience was the last opportunity to make progress – sad but true. I haven’t really got back to it since. That was February. This weekend is August. There has to be a way to fit more hours into the day.

smiley face image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/coolchaser.com/thumb-24428211.jpg

But a few more interviews and the data will all be safely gathered in. That’s progress and this is the breakthrough. I realise as I write how part of the problem is I’m looking forward rather than backwards. If you focus on how far there is to go you don’t see how far you’ve actually travelled.

Pat Cryer has good advice in the chapter ‘Keeping going when you feel like giving up’ in the excellent book The Research Student’s Guide to Success.  Apart from the welcome empathy, the chapter helps put my problems into perspective. I’m not bored or disillusioned, I haven’t lost my way. I know good-enough is enough, no one has beaten me to it and – dare I say – there are no external emergency situations demanding my attention.

Pat Cryer book The Research Student's Guide to Success

Best of all this is all in chapter 21 of 25 – that’s 20 chapters I’ve survived. The remaining ones are about thesis writing, the viva and afterwards (love the instruction to take a holiday – travel and disconnection always work well for me!)

So the process and practice of blogging works again. The alchemy of reflection in action. Using words to make the mental shift from where I am to where I need to be. This is do-able after all. I know I’m not on my own and there are others out there who are grappling with the challenge of part time postgraduate study. It will get better. You will survive. At the end of the day you’ll have your own little bulge on the circle of knowledge as Matt Might so wonderfully explains inhis pictorial representation and what’s more, it will have your name on it.

Monday is another week, so good luck to me, and good luck to you all too :-)

Second edition (2000) of Pat Cryer’s book is available online

digital woodcut

What is the TEF? All we have so far is Jo Johnson’s Teaching at the Heart of the System speech and a mass of speculation – some of the best being the SEDA thread which Sally Brown has developed into a SWOT analysis.

Yesterday I attended a Building the Teaching Excellence Framework Seminar organised by the University Alliance in the Deans Yard precinct of Westminster Abbey. The event was an open TEF discussion. After four activities, three speeches and a contribution from Charlie Roper (politics student at UWE Bristol) we’d surfaced multiple issues but no firm conclusions other than highlighting the difficulty of defining what teaching excellence might look like.

The TEF idea isn’t new. There are references to a renewed focus on high-quality teaching in the 2011 Higher Education Students at the Heart of the System white paper. The issue is more about defining what ‘quality’ means and constructing any model which fits the eclecticness of the higher education experience. Is quality the same as inspirational? If they are linked then the paper by Katherine Jenson at the Learning and Teaching Institute, University of Huddersfield, might be a good place to start. What is Inspirational Teaching? Working Paper 3

In terms of focusing on teaching quality, I’m reminded of the days of the TQEF. Funding was provided to support learning and teaching which supported national areas of priority. These included widening participation, fair access, retention, employability and encouraging and disseminating good and innovative practice in support of high quality learning and teaching. The last point may be worth revisiting in these TEF-ful times. The TQEF at Lincoln was managed by the Teaching and Learning Development Unit and the legacies from the Teacher Fellow awards which emerged from these funds can still be seen today (link to follow).

I think appropriate choices of pedagogy lie at the heart of a ‘quality’ education. The gap between traditional transmissive modes of delivery and constructivist teaching and learning needs to be narrowed and crossed with appropriate bridges. Like digital scholarship. Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (image below from James Atherton’s Learning and Teaching site is worth consideration. It requires interaction and collaboration with content, teachers and peer groups and can be applied to both online and offline environments.

Conversational Framework

Put staff development, digital pedagogies, scholarship and the internet together and you have a way forward. Activities which encourage students to explore OER and MOOC, staff to transfer lecture content via free software like the new Xerte, and peer review practices across both staff and student experiences all offer ways and means of interaction.

Tell me, teach me, involve me proverbs froom http://www.slideshare.net/jgigante/projectbased-learning

The EDEU Sharing Practice videos have ideas for engagement in particular Valeria Carroll on student led assessment. Rather than treat VLE in isolation we should use them to take a fresh look at how teaching excellence might appear. Make or break: the UK’s digital future report notes that the higher education sector “has not responded to the urgent need for reskilling” and calls for institutions to develop courses to give the students the skills they need. This won’t happen unless staff receive appropriate support to get digital in the first place. Digital graduate attributes need digitally competent teachers. SoTL needs an ‘e’ in the way that e-learning already has one and e-teaching should have one!

My suggestion is teaching excellence can’t happen in isolation from the adoption of appropriate and meaningful teaching technologies.

 

Woodcut image from http://oldweb.cecm.sfu.ca/personal/tstanway/MKM/thesis.intro3.html
Tell Me, Show Me, Involve me image from http://www.slideshare.net/jgigante/projectbased-learning 

 

wot no internet

On Day 1 of the PhD plan I wrote a blog and made myself a Don’t Panic poster. It was a start.

Today full panic mode kicked in.

How do people prioritise a part-time Phd when the non-Phd workload is also high?

I tweeted this question to the #PhD community on twitter where there are numerous phd hashtags #phdlife #phdadvice #phd #phdconnect #phdchat

Thank you to everyone who responded to my tweet of despair. This is the power of social media – the linking of strangers through empathy. It’s the realisation of the dreams of early WWW pioneers like Tim Berners Lee who wrote about the potential power and universality of digital connections. I’m not sure about the suggestion I turn off the internet though.

Part of my #PhdPlan was to review how I use social media.  A part-time doctorate is tough. It gets lonely too. You need all the support you can get. I’d thought if I reached out to other postgrads spending their summer with their laptops, I might build up some digital motivation and support. What I hadn’t planned was the panic attack when I realised – in the midst of my post conference blues – the amount of non-phd work I’d come back to.

Prioritising research is not easy. I’ve spent the day trying to create some space, ticked a few tasks off the ToDo list and accepted an invitation to talk at the Learn Live for Higher Education event at Bett in January ’16. Opportunities to disseminate represent incentives so this was a positive – and the closest I’ve got to my research all day – apart from visiting PhD Comics – for inspiration not procrastination you understand.

dantesinferno

Tomorrow is Day 3 of #PhDPlan and I’m in London.

Here’s hoping Day 4 is when it all starts to happen.

Keep Calm and Carry on the Phd Sue

Self motivation!

I had a great time at the Blackboard #BbWorld15 conference last week. Now I’m back ‘ome in ‘ull and this is the plan. I’m taking annual leave to work on my PhD. With no plans to break another bone, and no dedicated space for this since the pot came off in February, the time has come to make some serious PhD decisions. After three years of development and data collection, to withdraw simply isn’t an option so I’m using my leave for getting on with it instead. The whole Phd journey is about so much more than wearing a silly hat – my research is validation of everything I believe in with regard to online education. The TELEDA courses show the value of evidence based digital practice and now I have to show it to the world – or at least those who share my passion for virtual learning opportunities.

So hello laptop – we’re going to get close-up and personal – not to mention the possibility of over-emotional and over-heated again – during the next few weeks.

To keep up the momentum I’ll be blogging and tweeting using the hashtag #phdsummer (and any other one which might be followed by fellow doctoral researchers). I can’t be the only person stuck in the Phd doldrums this summer and it would be great to feel part of a community rather here on my own – with my laptop – and the rain…

What ever happened to Summer? No, don’t answer that Sue – get back to your conceptual frameworks instead.

Our internet enabled lives brings everything to us via the screen. This makes it easy to forget the delight of an original experience.  Delight was a BBWorld word. Not an adjective I’d have associated with VLE but Jay Bhatt used it a number of times in the opening keynote. Does Blackboard delight me? Probably not. Frustrating and at times upsetting maybe – but not delight. I tell myself affordances matter more than appearance.

However the association does reinforce how we’re all in relationships with our technology.  If in doubt, go to work without your phone. Analyse what this feels like. The relationship between you may be more deeply complex than you realised. Today, free public wifi is increasingly available and we take connection for granted but in the convention centre I couldn’t log on (frustrate, upset etc!) so decided to go solo, aware that wherever I was, at least 75% of people were head down in active engagement with the internet, dividing their attention and multiple tasking. I describe myself as having analogue roots, realising as I get older, this is something unique. Soon no one will be able to tell it like it was at the beginning – in the pre internet days. I find this more alarming than delightful.

Conferences are only ever a brief visit to a different place. Your experience of any cultural difference is limited but often there’s a gap between registration and the opening session plus a night flight home gives the best part of a day to get out and about. BBWorld seemed a long distance from Washington DC although maybe through US eyes it was next door. I met people from mid and western states who’d hopped on a plane to be there like we’d catch a bus. The hotel ran a shuttle to Union Station so I did my homework and bought a map.

I tend to believe the real is an improvement on the virtual copies we’re becoming accustomed to in particular with art, for example any painting by da Vinci or Botticelli has a quality which gets flattened out in the digital or paper versions. During a brief sprint around Washington’s National Gallery of Art I looked at Wind from the Sea by Andrew Wyeth and realised the digital copies  I was used to seeing had the opposite effect. The painting looked better online than face to face. I’ve been trying to analyse this ever since.

It’s an image of net curtains blowing in the breeze. Being net they’re translucent making it easy to see the countryside beyond. In the virtual versions I’d been struck by both the simplicity and photographic quality of the image. Seeing it in the real was like gestalt in reverse. The whole was less than the individual parts, in particular the fine, thin brush strokes of the net curtains foregrounded in black lines. As a photograph can focus on what is closest to the lens and blur what lies beyond, so this had the same effect. The virtual gave you the overall the image while in the the real, this foregrounded layer stood out and prevented me from taking in the whole picture; an effect which is completely invisible in the copy.

Virtual environments  widen opportunities for educational participation, student centred choice and life long learning, but making the most of internet enabled education requires sophisticated digital literacies. Not only do we need the skills to authenticate what we find online, we also need to know the difference between the real and the virtual. Both my analogue roots and digital inclusion soapbox keep me grounded  with continual reminders of the socially constructed nature of digital connections. The impact of the internet is a subject we’re all involved in with regard to education but the extent to which we reflect on it is less well documented. Digital capability frameworks are bringing in issues of digital identity and the permanence of digital footprints, but the attention we give to cultural change is still minimal. Few curriculums include critical reflection on the social impact of the internet on their subject discipline or how individual digital practices exclude rather than include participation.

The value of conferences like #BBWorld15 is the time and space they give individuals to engage with their own areas of expertise. What they could do more of is give time and space to the wider implications of teaching and learning with regard to the implications of working with the virtual versus the real. At the National Gallery of Art there was an exhibition by impressionist painter Caillebotte which included The Floor Scrapers, a painting which first showed me how art could substitute photography. This was an unexpected surprise and – to use Jay Bhatt’s word – a total delight – an experience very much improved in the real over its copy in the virtual world.

Washington DC landmarks are iconic to a degree you feel familiar with them. It must be similar for people visiting London for the first time. Using the virtual/real duality I’m reassured that for me (with the exception of the scaffolded dome of the US Capitol) the instances of the real had a more powerful effect than the virtual. The challenge for us all is to ensure virtual learning experiences are equally powerful – with affordances which at times exceed – the experience of learning in traditional environments which are face to face.

This is the end of BbWorld15. My home has been the largest hotel, resort and convention centre I’ve ever seen. It’s a glass and steel bubble. For days I didn’t step outside. Apart from being too hot – in the mid thirties – you didn’t need to. Everything was on the inside including the trees and gardens although the glass lifts were not for the faint hearted! Also outside there wasn’t a great deal to see or do.

But on the inside it was was busy. Over 3000 delegates and dozens of parallel sessions, even going full pace you only scratch the surface. Already the conference is starting to blur but I have the key points loaded into these blog posts. They’re a bit rushed.  Some of the pictures aren’t too good and not all of have alt text but they will be my reminder of the privilege of being here.  Blackboard is one of the few conferences which crosses the boundaries and brings together this peculiar hybrid breed of academic developer, learning technologist and researcher.  What unites us is the value we place on technology to make a difference to the student experience. What separates us is the work we do supporting the late adopters and digitally shy academics whilst promoting the need for inclusive practice so ensure no one gets shut out or left behind.

Adoption was a core feature of many presentations. There was a distinct shift in emphasis from what could be done to how to encourage and support engagement through sequential stepping.

I’ve got some new ideas. Maybe developing a rubric for universal design; capturing the core content of the four TELEDA learning blocks – learning design, open education, social media, working with audio and video –  and releasing them as OER; continuing to find ways to apply the essential criteria of higher education – communication, critical thinking, deeper approaches to reflective practice – and applying them to technology training.

Underpinning it all is the affirmation I’ve received this week how core to all adoption just might be the shift from training to teaching – seeing e-teaching as the corollary to e-learning. While one of the messages of BbWorld  is to put the student first, it’s increasingly clear how some people are starting to consider the changing attitudes towards digitally shy academics. Overall, attitudes to ‘faculty’ were not hugely sympathetic and this is part of the problem. If ever I needed evidence of the digital divides on campus between technologists and teachers there was plenty to choose from. Looking back over the years it’s difficult to find many attempts to rethink how digital support is provided and now we’re in a time where everyone is stretched and squeezed, the suggestion to invest more resources into digital staff development will not be popular. It needs more people to recognise and accept the adoption of digital technology is problematic. What troubles me is how those who promote, support and maintain it are often those who find it easy to use. They forget or have never experienced what it feels like to be digitally lost and confused.

The phone on the hotel room has a button called Consider it Done.

It’s linked to your room so you are greeted with your name and what comes across as a genuinely meaningful-sounding question ‘What can I assist you with today?’ Once I’d experienced this response I actually felt ok about using the service again. It made a difference to how I experienced not knowing something or not understanding how things worked. This is the effect we need to generate and make happen.

At #BbWorld I presented and took part in a panel on Institutional adoption of technology; a double opportunity to disseminate early research findings. Last year on the west coast for BbWorld14, an 8.00 a.m. slot was considered an advantage but not on the east coast, as I was told afterwards. Here people take time to get going first thing so we suffered a bit from numbers. Having said that, it was a large room and there were lots of questions, plus what has been really rewarding this week is the general interest from everyone I spoke to about the subject of institutional adoption.  In the panel session I talked about TELEDA, how its multiple layers offer opportunities to experience Blackboard from the student perspective, while the stress on critical reflection – transferring the experience to individual teaching practice – appears to be developing an evidence based shift in the way academics view Blackboard as a technology for enhancing the student experience.

I recorded the presentation the night before using Camtasia Relay on my laptop. This is available to everyone on the University of Lincoln network. Download it from the Software Centre and it’s a quick way to record a narrative over PowerPoint slides. I opted for providing captions because apart from being inclusive, I appreciate their value. I find it hard to learn by sound or image and prefer words instead. There lots of reasons why alternative formats benefit the learner experience but creating captions take time – there ‘s no way  around this. It demands a shift in attitude and practice. In the same way you wouldn’t upload a textual learning resource with half of it missing, audio and video transcripts are an integral part of the whole resource. Relay provides automatic captioning but you only have to switch on YouTube captions to see the nonsense voice recognition generates and Relay is the same.

cartoon showing an individual fighting with a wall of technology

This is the first slide of my presentation. I tell people this is me because as anyone who works with me will confirm, if the technology can go wrong its me it goes wrong with.

Right now I’m experiencing familiar frustration. The video is stuck in Relay. I can’t find a way to embed it into WordPress. Maybe I can’t? I don’t know. There’s no one to ask for help and I’m feeling pressured. I know what I want to do. I know it should be achievable but I can’t see how to do it and I’m running out of time. Does this sound familiar?  If you are a digital education developer then you’d probably be ok. If you are an academic who views technology with a mix of awe for its capabilities but fear and dread with regard to your own confidence then you’ll identify with this. It’s part of the massive shift needed to adopt VLE. Without empathy then support is useless.

cartoon showing a newly hatched chicken reverencing a paradigm shift

So back to the presentation. This is what I did with the how and the why of it.

 Plan of my research into digital adoption

I’m three years into the data collection, on the final set of interviews. Digital adoption is complex and involves at least three criteria; capabilities, competence and confidence.

3 C's of digital adoption, caababilities, competence and confidence

Underpinning these three C’s are other findings which the data analysis appears to support. These are listed in the image below. It’s the final bullet point which I think lies at the heart of on-campus digital divides between those with the three digital C’s and those without. The literature shows how e-learning and the student experience has been privileged over the staff experience. While some say e-teaching is implicit in e-learning, I would argue than unless it is made explicit there is a risk of making assumptions about baselines and starting points, which in turn will lead to initiative failure. TELEDA research findings
PS Finally worked out the connection between Relay and WordPress and embedded the code below – which gives me the message ‘Security Error’! If the technology can go wrong then it’s me it goes wrong with….

https://hml.lincoln.ac.uk/player?autostart=n&fullscreen=y&width=320&height=260&videoId=4559&quality=hd&captions=n&chapterId=0

The focus on reimagining education to fit broader cohorts – reshaping itself for students rather than students reshaping themselves to fit traditional offerings – is making tangible differences to approaches to virtual learning and a number of presentations at BbWorld15 included digital accessibility. The sessions were well attended and offered pragmatic frameworks where the rationale for changing practice was a given. Sessions had less emphasis on the ‘why’ and more about the ‘how’. It’s like the reality of widening participation to an eclectic student base, including people with varying disabilities and impairments, is accepted almost without question. Of particular note was the high profile given to veterans returning to education. Diversity was not openly questioned. Instead I found a genuine interest in how to ensure inclusive practice with online learning resources.

Henrietta Spiegel offered steps to make Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF formats accessible and included useful examples of the rubbish generated by YouTube’s automatic captioning system. Come on Blackboard. Invest in voice recognition software and you’ll be onto a winner. Marlene Zentz, from the University of Montana, had student Aaron Page demonstrating Jaws screen reading software. Thanks Aaron. For anyone not understanding the value of technology for visual impairment, you may have taken them over the learning threshold with your real life examples of what happens if Heading Styles and meaningful text links are not used. It isn’t technically difficult. It just means use Heading Style 1,2,3 etc in MS Word and avoid the words ‘click here’ in a URL. No pictures unfortunately.  I’m hoping all the presentation slides will soon be available online.

David Rathburn from the University of Cincinnati was a allocated a 5.15 slot but it was still well attended. This was the only session I saw which provided a handout – a useful reminder of how helpful this when information and experience overload in developing! I nearly cheered out loud (but I’m British) to see the quote from Tim Berners Lee on how the ambitions of the early internet pioneers was to create a digital democracy.  Sad therefore that nearly 30 years on, digital divides are wider and more invisible than ever before. However, if digital educators can ‘get it’ then the future is is potentially a more inclusive one.

For me, accessibility sessions like these are inspiring. Digital inclusion is not difficult, it just needs a shift in alignment from assuming everyone operates in digital environments in the same ways you and your immediate colleagues do and a more critical ‘think before you link’ approach when uploading content to VLEs.

Closely associated to the subject of inclusive practice is multimedia. Many of these sessions were standing room only which emphasises the value being placed on audio and video learning resources. I liked the idea of using a video in site announcements and discussion threads. Blackboard have recently acquired VoiceThread so it would be useful if some of VT’a simplicity was incorporated into Bb. My TELEDA courses have raised a number of multimedia type issues. Many academic staff don’t have access to a webcam or a microphone or even a quiet place to make recordings; something reaffirmed by others here this week.  (One session I missed was about developers carrying their tools in backpacks – not ideal but maybe a potential solution.)

A Poll carried out within one session – image on the right below – also reaffirmed the on campus digital divides I’m looking to narrow and bridge with my research showing an almost nil representation at the conference from academics/faculty.

A multimedia explosion has been created from the affordances of user generated content, the shift of media production from professional to amateur and from fixed studio to mobile (and personal) devices. Blended delivery and flipped learning are all creating pressure for more interactive resources. A starting point is to raise awareness of OER content and efficient ways of embedding multimedia into Blackboard sites. The next step is to look at creating our own. You don’t need to be a professional – content can be ‘good enough’ to still be effective. It’s the learning design rather than technical expertise which makes the difference.

Part of the problem is the need to rethink the traditional boundaries between ‘technology training’ and ‘teacher education’.  This was the subject of my presentation and there is more information on this in #Bbworld15 Part Four.

It was publicly suggested Jay Bhatt should smile. I wouldn’t have noticed but looking at the photos you can see why it was suggested.

Blackboard is in town. A small town. Blink and you’d miss National Harbour. There’s a couple of streets, one giant eye of a wheel and the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Centre. That’s all folks. The only similarity with Washington DC, where you might have expected to be if you didn’t do your homework and read the small print, is they’re both on the south side of the Potomac River. Squinting through the heat haze from my window I can just make out the Washington memorial on the horizon – but the country is flat and it is the tallest stone structure in the world.

The Convention Centre exists in a bubble of plate glass and steel. Over three floors – no maps provided – I walked miles down endless carpeted corridors and up complex marble patterned steps where each one merged into the other. National Harbour is underneath a flight path. Every minute a supersize-me passenger plane descends along the line of the river. That’s a lot of people flying into one single city every day. Multiply by all the cities in the US to feel small and insignificant. America does this to you.

Meeting Blackboard face to face can be daunting. They’re a multinational corporation. Education is their business and profit the name of their game, but underneath all the razzmatazz you can always find people like me, who believe in the power of VLE to make a difference to the student experience. Choice about time and place of access, widening participation, student centred independent and lifelong learning – these are the thoughts you need to hang onto, especially when you’re full of flight flu and your eyes are blurred because your eye drops have leaked all over your suitcase.

The official Blackboard messages contain few surprises. Metrics, data, analytics, even bigger data, more analytics, workflows, leverages, income streams – but there were some great presentations (more in #BBWorld15 Part Three), cool demonstrations (Collaborate is looking good!) and two excellent panels.

The student panel was given a main slot. Great idea! Coming from the University of Lincoln, where students as co-producers and contributors of their own education and wider institution (see http://edeu.lincoln.ac.uk/student-as-producer/ for further information) it’s easy to take a high level of student engagement for granted. It’s only when you hear it being talked about it as something new and innovative you realise not everyone has moved as far down the ‘students as partners’ path as Lincoln. Panel members were

  • Zak Malamed, Founder and Executive Director of Student Voice,
  • Joelle Stangler, Student Body President at the University of Minnesota,
  • Aaron Wagner, Georgetown University,
  • Ifetayo Kitwala from Baltimore School for the Arts
  • Kunal Bhadane, University of Maryland.

Kudos to all of them for presenting such different but important views of the student experience. All should be well with the world if these are its future leaders.

The second panel the next day consisted of

  • Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology in the US Department of Education,
  • Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director, Education Policy, New America,
  • Kent Hopkins, Vice Provost for Enrolment Services, Arizona State University
  • Kris Clerkin, Executive Director, College for America at Southern Hampshire University.

One of the resources on an early TELEDA course was Richard Culatta’s TED talk – Reimaging Learning.

Key points I took away from the second panel were to ditch the phrase non-traditional  and use post -traditional student or new learners; as they now represent the majority of higher education enrolments. Education should fit around the learner because life happens and gets in the way of locked down routes and expectations.  I liked the phrase ‘This is a wind me up and watch me go question‘ – it reminded me of my digital soapbox which is always ready to make an appearance – and technology should be like GPS  i.e. give a choice about the road ahead and then seamlessly replot the route if the driver takes a wrong turn.

Lastly, the keynote by Adora Svitak was inspiring and the examples of Adora’s speaking style on YouTube show why https://www.youtube.com/user/adorasvitak 

What I liked best was how she was one of the few people during the week to actively engage the audience, encouraging us to take out our phones and tweet answers to her questions which she then tracked live on stage. The surprise was the  low number of people who put up their hands to say they would join in – maybe most were like me and couldn’t get onto the Blackboard wifi which effectively silenced me digitally – but did mean I was one of the few during sessions whose head was positioned at 180 degrees.

More about the presentations in #BbWorld15 Part Three.

Keynotes and panels are available to watch on http://www.bbworldlive.com/ 

 

You think your world is big. Then you travel and realise it’s small. You think you’re open to new ideas and ways of being. Then you come face to face with the future and realise how little you know.

At last year’s Blackboard World Conference, the closing keynote was given by Geoffrey Canada. I thought it would be a hard act to follow but Blackboard managed it. Peter Diamandis (XPrize Foundation,  Singularity U and much, much more) called his talk Innovation and Disruption on the Road Ahead. Opening up to how exponential technologies are changing our lives – now as well as in the future – this video from YouTube is an example. 

In the book Abundance, Diamandis includes the development of AI by the name of Watson. Like millions of others, I watched Watson play and win Jeopardy.


That was four years ago. Today Watson has moved on from downloading Wikipedia and is now on the cloud, moving into medicine. The plan is a partnership with medics so they no longer need to memorise a mass of information but can ask Watson instead.

We’re told the difference between Watson and Google is Google offers information, while Watson represents knowledge. Soon everyone will be able to connect to Watson via a mobile phone. How scary is that! What are the safeguards Hal? What will this mean for the future of higher education?

We are living in a world of perfect knowledge. A data driven world. LEO satellite constellations orbit the earth, watching and recording.  Drones are getting smaller; more inconspicuous, anonymous and disposable. Google cars carry a LIDAR device on their roof to gather and interpret data. There is no such thing as privacy. Diamandus tells us robotics will displace 48% workforce. Will they displace me? What will happen to art and creativity? Only a few weeks ago the Guardian ran a piece on the neural networks of software;  Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep

3D printing is turning abstract ideas into concrete realities in 300 different materials. How many more will be available by next week, month, year?

3D cars have been printed.

In China, Winsun have printed 3D houses.

Biometric devices like the Google contact lens can test glucose levels in tears for diabetics.


Virtual Reality is the next educational revolution. Oculus have been bought by Facebook. The future is Microsoft Windows Holographics where the virtual and the real come together.

This is not science fiction. It is already fact.


If this is what we know, how much more don’t we know? Where does this leave virtual learning environments like Blackboard and the traditional ideas of school, college and university – already being challenged by the internet.

BBWorld15 offered extremes.  On the one side Diamandis tells us to disrupt before we are disrupted, while on the other presentations called for attention of digital divides.

99% of the conference involved 3000 delegates sitting and passively listening. We might have the technology but how much difference is it really making to way we operate, in particular within the educational sector? More thoughts on this in BBWorld15 Part Two.

I’ve finally uploaded my presentation for the Blackboard International Conference #BbWorld15 taking advantage of the time difference to interpret Thursday US as Friday UK. Phew! It’s been a bit of a rush. I’ve adapted two of my favourite slides to talk about institutional adoption of technology – this time drawing on TELEDA to explore the academic perspective. Not everyone views technology in the same way. Some colleagues who teach and support learning are fine with exploring and experimenting  – they use a range of technology and understand how it enhances and empowers the student experience. Others are a little less enthusiastic and I know how they feel. Anyone who works with me can see if the technology can go wrong it’s me it goes wrong with. Me and the Digital don’t go together too well. It’s hard work but generally worth it because for me the benefits outweigh the challenges.

TELEDA has shown the value of experiential learning when it comes to getting up close and personal with VLE like Blackboard. Internet access has posed a challenge to traditional notions of what it means to be an academic. It isn’t enough to put content online and hope for the student to arrive and engage with it. To create successful online education involves relearning the pedagogies of face to face teaching and applying them to the digital environment instead. It can be done but it takes time and time is the one thing we are all short of.

Many people still make assumptions about digital capabilities. This risks initiative failure for example when establishing baselines of digital capabilities we need to talk to the digitally shy and resistant – not just the innovators and adopters- and it would help to shift from a technology-training  approach to a teaching-pedagogies one. Blackboard support needs to be contextualised so it’s relevant and meaningful – one way is to apply the experiential learning cycle – relocate staff as students on VLE – give online tasks and build more critical reflection. Opportunities like TELEDA suggest more explicit ‘teaching-not-training’ links with CPD/staff development activities could be useful. The TELEDA research indicates this aids the shift from Blackboard as repository to Blackboard as generator of learning activities. Bring on Blackboard World2015. Lets see if anyone else agrees!

proverbs

Flipping the Institution at Greenwich #uogapt defined the post-digital age as taking computers and the internet for granted because they’ve always been there. But there are risks. The internet is exclusive. Digital access parameters replicate and reinforce existing categories of disempowerment.  While those who are connected are increasingly tracked and monitored those who are disconnected are digitally discriminated and increasingly invisible. The post digital world is surveillance heavy and divisive.

Flipped learning ‘s focus on placing digital resources online provides timely opportunities to revisit what it means to develop digital literacies for all users; students and academics. Digital literacies have morphed into digital capabilities, the Jisc seven elements reduced to six and no one mentions SCONUL’s digital literacy lens anymore – which is a shame because it was explicit about the risks of digital divides.

Teaching decisions can constitute barriers to access and engagement and speakers Jonathan Worth, David White and Helen Beetham made reference to the risks of being digitally connected and disconnected.  Their presentations reinforced the value of events like these.

Here are my key takeaways from the day.

If you are not on twitter you are excluding yourself from relevant conversations.

The first waves of technology was plugging it in and using it. The second post digital wave is using it innovatively.

Open education demonstrates the facilitation of learning through the use of social media for example Jonathan Worth’s open access photography course http://phonar.org/ #phonar

Other links worth following: Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab http://dmll.org.uk #disruptivebytes and Speaking Openly http://speakingopenly.co.uk/   #speakingopenly. Visit Audrey Watters  and Hack Education Read Dragnet Nation by Julia Angwin on the  world of electronic surveillance

Digital Wellbeing means taking steps to know mobile devices track and store data about us. Quick surveillance check for iphones – go to Settings > Privacy >  Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations to see how you are monitored.

Questions to reflect on.

  • What does inspiring teaching look like in a post digital age?
  • Will the TEF include a measurement of digital engagement?
  • How can reluctant and resistant academics be encourage to engage with virtual learning as more than an electronic repository of content?
  • One outcome of post digital is the expectation people will be available online 24/7 in particular for work responses to emails. Is this right, fair or sustainable?
  • Staff and students need to know how to construct and maintain professional digital identities and reputations. What we do online today in the digital world may influence future opportunities. How do we support digital responsibility?

Teaching decisions can constitute barriers to access and engagement.  The digital amplifies existing inequality. We should all take personal responsibility within digital practices to recognise the potential for exclusion.  Tackling digital exclusion needs awareness which leads to action. Digital exclusion is being rebranded by Jisc as social responsibility. There is a risk the reality of digital divides and exclusions will get lost in this change of language. Those within the digital sector might be aware of the inner meanings, but those outside will not.

The employability agenda is turning students into products for employers. This commodification reinforces the need to focus on ‘sense of self’ in the post digital age. We need to be equipped to live in a digital world. Like Media Studies taught students to deconstruct images to see the hidden discourse beneath, students now need to understand how social media frames them.

Multimedia is the new measure of digital literacy with video replacing text and image as preferred means of communication.

PechaKucha are short, sharp bursts of creative energy which challenge you to be concise and digitally capable. The format at Greenwich was ten slides in ten minutes which was fine; developing presentations like these would support digital confidence.

The student voice at Greenwich included a set of mini dramas showing the student side of ‘post digital’ education and a final reminder of how it’s the face-to-face experience which still has the power to educate and entertain.

photo (6) I left Greenwich reinspired. Conferences do this to you. Fill your head with new ways of thinking and seeing the world. You’re enthused and want to capture and share the experience. I left with ideas about how to be more creative, make greater use of multimedia, re-engage with Twitter, turn blog posts into videos, recreate TELEDA as a MOOC, then went back to work and was reminded of the divide between thought and practice. Developing digital capabilities and competencies takes time and there is never enough. The early rhetorical promises of educational technologies to cut costs and increase efficiency missed completely the need to learn and polish new ways of working.

The 13th Academic Practice and Technology Conference was at the University of Greenwich on 7th July. The location was unique – the only university to be on a National Heritage site – The Old Royal Naval College – built by Christopher Wren on the side of the River Thames and next to the Cutty Sark, now encased in an ugly glass visitor surround and box.

The naval college consists of four courts. The famous Painted Hall in King William Court was closed to visitors because Kiera Knightly and Joan Collins were filming so I stood under an open window in neighbouring King Charles Court, home of the Trinity Laban School of Music and Dance, and listened to Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition played on a solo piano instead. It was magical.

The conference was in Queen Anne Court. Titled Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post-Digital Age, the welcome text included reference to not all students being comfortable or sufficiently skilled to engage in post digital environments. I was there to say the same about academics and how the subject of staff digital confidence has become a case of elephants (in the room) and emperors (new clothes). We don’t talk about it but we should. I presented some themes from my literature review and data analysis:

  • The focus of the educational technology literature is on the student as elearner rather than academics as eteachers – yet eteaching is the corollary to elearning.
  • The literature of elearning is predominantly about success stories – yet we know there’s more to be learned from studying failure
  • The experience of those who are not great technology advocates is missing – resistance and reluctance are not being explored
  • Making assumptions about digital ways of working is risky and may lead to failure The diversity of different starting points is rarely recognised
  • Digital literacies are complex – they mirror us as individuals, everyone approaches virtual environments in different ways, so models and frameworks need to be flexible to accommodate diversity (and start from zero)
  • Academics need time and space to become e-teachers and engage with digital pedagogies as well as gain digital confidence – not good news when everyone is squeezed and stretched but staff development has to protected in particular when it comes digital ways of working 
  • Everyone wants students to have the best possible experience – but not everyone sees technology as a way of achieving this
  • It would help to shift from training models of competency to teacher education programmes; TELEDA shows the value of an approach which is structured around experiential learning and critical reflection and  TELEDITEs take their TELEDA experience into their practice.

One of the outputs from the three years of TELEDA development has been what I call the Myths of Digital Competence. They go something like this:

  • Not everyone owns a mobile device or has access to an up to date computer off campus.
  • Not everyone realises apps like BB mobile don’t give full functionality
  • Common technical support advice is to use another browser but not everyone knows what browser they’re using or how to change to a different one
  • Not everyone can get photos off their camera or phone onto a computer
  • Not everyone can use a text editor or turn text into a URL
  • html view is useful for tweaking, trouble shooting or getting the embed code from YouTube but not everyone knows you can do this or how to do it
  • The majority of academics don’t have access to a webcam or microphone – or a quiet place to record a narration

More about the presentations by Jonathan Worth, Robert White and Helen Beetham in elearning, eteaching, eliteracies part two.

Preparation for conferences requires boundaries. Limits on minutes and slides demands conciseness as key messages are extracted and difficult decisions made about what to leave behind. The parts you present are only ever a fraction of the whole story.

Flipping the Institution is at the University of Greenwich on 7th July. The deadline for uploading presentation slides is 29th June. As always it’s a tight squeeze.  Not only in terms of preparation but because the guidance says ten slides only. I confess to not counting the  introduction and conclusion and hope I will be forgiven.

Not being a fan of the Prezi slide and glide style, I’ve stayed with PowerPoint, using pictures rather than all text. I’m not sure how it will work but will find out on the 7th!  Preloaded presentations are being made available in advance for participants to decide which sessions to attend. My concern is if the pictures will tell the story out of context so I’m hoping the preload includes note fields. It’s like making lecture content available before the event. It takes away any elements of surprise so in spite of the value I understand reluctance to do so.

I often think of presentations as a journey; beginning with who are you, where you’re from and why you’re there, followed by the problem, what you did it and why you did it, then the results, their implications and lastly a summary pulling it all together. That’s the plan and these are the headlines from each slide.

Introduction

1. For many people working with technology can be a challenge.

2. technophan or technophobe – digital divides on campus.

3. The literature identifies a need to support academic staff to engage with digital ways of working.

4.. Introduction to my research using the poster from a recent Show and Tell event.

5. Four key themes from my literature review of the field of educational technology.

6.  To move forward sometimes benefits from looking back, in this case to the NCIHE report into the future of higher education (Dearing Report 1997).

7. Data analysis suggests four key themes emerging.

8. Myths of digital confidence influence how support is provided.

9. Data surprise; unexpected findings.

10. Quotes from the data analysis.

Summary and conclusion.

Looking forward to 7th July :-)

 

Back to Reality!

June 19, 2015 | PhD  |  Leave a Comment

It’s PhD time again. P for Positionality, H for higher and D for danger. Put them together and what have you got? Something scary and exciting in equal measures. My days are stretched to their limits but I have enjoyed the mental aerobics. Juggling different ways of seeing the world. 50 shades of perception and all that!

It’s been a while since the incident of the plastic folder and snapped fibula. The Phd has slid silently under the surface again. Now it’s back. My life is on hold. The dictionary is out. I’ve been re-reading social theory. The ‘…ologies’ have returned and once more the task of defining the nature of knowledge is keeping me company up and down the A15.

The last bit of data analysis I did was August 2014. My last grapple with critical realism was February when I completed the first three chapter drafts. These are PhD-bergs. What you see on the surface is nothing compared to the mass of work underneath. It’s the nature of a part-time PhD. The visible bits bob about, surfacing, sinking, swimming around your consciousness like guilt.  You never quite get rid of them. The invisible parts are best kept hidden. Angst, sweat and lots of tears. But there are advantages to gaps in study. They offer perspective. Ignoring the trauma of last weekend when I looked at my nodes in NVivo (!) and couldn’t recall any thinking behind them, revisiting the social theory has mostly been ok. What does sometimes depress me is the complexity of academic text.

I support widening participation and inclusion. To achieve these requires acknowledgement of the interplay between complexity and risk of exclusion. I understand some knowledge needs specialist language but I’ve always seen the challenge of teaching in higher education as making complexity meaningfully accessible. Much of my reading at the moment is the opposite.

Maybe I’m idealistic and/or naïve to think doctoral study can be anything other than difficult with regards to language but there comes a point where deliberate use of academic jargon excludes engagement or worse; the case of Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity by AD Sokel comes to mind.

Borrowing from Lord Lieth effective writing should inform, educate and entertain.  This was my plan. A Thesis with style. I’ve been told it’s not meant to be engaging but why die over production if no one is going to enjoy reading it.

Adding to the body of knowledge – no matter how small the contribution – will be meaningless unless it can be understood. My research is about practice. It seeks to explain the divide between the rhetoric and the reality of e-learning, to explore why technology is quite probably a deterrent rather than a gift for the majority of colleagues. I could wrap it all up in jargon but it isn’t meant to be an exercise in obscurity. Education should be inclusive. It’s a far greater challenge to make complexity accessible than to add to all the obscurity which is already out there.

visual impairment logo

A new phrase has appeared in JISC World. Print impairment. It describes difficulty with accessing text-based resources. Alistair McNaught writes ‘Between 10-13% of people in the UK … have difficulty accessing text-based resources, varying from dyslexia through to visual impairments and motor difficulties.’

The source of this figure is uncertain. 2020 Vision is cited but they have no reference. The RNIB estimate over 2 million people experience sight loss  while Dyslexia Action say approximately 10% of the population is thought to be dyslexic with a total of two million people severely affected. There will be cross overs between these estimates and also all those who’ve not been counted.  Print impairment is likely to be more prevalent than we realise.

The JISC post is about digital exams. Rather than extra time, extra readers, extra rooms or DIY digital versions of exam papers, the Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) now  requires ‘awarding bodies to offer digital copies of exam papers for print-disabled learners’. Here the language reverts to the D word which is a shame. More on this at later.

Digging through the literature the initiative appears directed at schools but the JISC paper Making the most of accessible exam papers highlights potential problems which are applicable anywhere technology is used for education. The files provided by awarding bodies will be available as PDF so the onus is on the institution to ensure compatibility with assistive reading tools and support for the accessibility features of Adobe Reader. As with all things digital, this is not without complications. Laptops used during exams must meet the security requirements of awarding bodies and staff who teach and support learning will need confidence with operating in assistive technology environments.  While JISC suggest ‘Extra time taken in updating staff skills and giving learners good technology training should be outweighed by the reduced support needs of learners.’ anything which involves additional work load plus digital engagement is likely to be unpopular. The paper recommends disability support teams  ‘train learners to make the most of examination papers in PDF format.’ The term ‘train learners’ is terrible. What happened to educate? But aside from the pedantics, this suggestion replicates and reinforces what has always been wrong with disability education – the responsibility for accessible practice is seen as belonging elsewhere. It’s something which is done by a few for a few rather than inclusion being a mainstream philosophy and practice. The term print-impairment offers hope but print-disability takes us right back where we started from.

At least the post re-acknowledged the value of digital environments. It isn’t possible to over emphasise these.  Digital text provides the ability to change colours, magnify text and images and navigate swiftly through a document – things that significantly reduce the barriers for people with print impairments. What isn’t mentioned is content has to be designed inclusively for this to happen!

These are key messages which are still largely unheard and unacknowledged. As always the message from JISC World looks good on the surface but dig deeper and the potential for inclusive practice risks erosion from a lack of understanding about the inclusive value of digital resources and the wider – even greater – challenge of resistance to change.

 

Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post Digital Age  happens July 7th at the University of Greenwich. It’s the 13th Academic Practice and Technology (APT) Conference and the focus is on the challenges facing the post digital university in the post digital age. My presentation is ‘e-learning, e-teaching, e-literacy; enhancement versus exclusion’. Like my ASCILITE paper on e-teaching craft and practice, it takes the staff rather than student perspective, much of which has derived from the TELEDA courses. These offer a privileged insight into the influences on colleague’s attitudes and behaviours towards technology. Not only have they highlighted the divide between the technology innovators and the rest of us, they have reinforced how our use of technology is personal – it reflects how we are – which makes the development of any consistent approach a challenging prospect.

I don’t claim to be an innovator or early adopter to use the language of Rogers (2003 5th ed). Anyone who works with me knows if the technology can go wrong then it’s me it goes wrong with. I’m an advocate because of its potential  for widening participation, for flexible 24/7 access and for users of assistive technology. Digital data has the potential to be customised to suit any individual requirements but in order to achieve this, resources and environments have to support inclusive practice and the principles of universal design.

TELEDA2 – Social Media and e-resources – is nearly over.  The Learning Blocks are finished, portfolios have been submitted and as the whole TELEDA experience draws to a close, I’m looking back over the past three years. It’s been a roller coaster trip full of highs and lows which I guess is in the nature of innovation.  Each course included an inclusive practice learning outcome:

Reflect upon, and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice in relation to online teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students

This was my way of raising awareness of the value of online learning. Sometimes this worked. Sometimes it didn’t. TELEDA has given much to reflect on with regard to my own practice. It suggests a key challenge facing the post digital university in the post digital age is the amount of resistance towards the use of virtual environments as anything other than electronic pin boards as well as widespread misunderstandings around issues of accessibility.

e-literacy is complex. It’s personal and political. When it comes to technology for education I realise I’m in a different place. We all are. The way we see and use technology is an extension of how we live and everyone is unique.

If e-learnng and e-teaching are to have value there needs a shift in ethos towards seeing virtual environments as enablers rather than chores. Technology fads arrive driven with the enthusiasm of the few. Always there is the hope of a magic key which makes a difference to perception and use.  I started out seeing the flip as an opportunity to revisit enhanced use of VLE like Blackboard. Not I’m not so sure. I wonder if the risk is to return to seeing the VLE as a place to store content, rather than the interactive, collaborative and equitable learning experience it has the potential to be.

Four weeks on and my Chinese adventures are fading. The folder of digi-pix on my laptop and shared memories with friends are all that reminds me of my amazing journey. I saw and heard the China of my imagination and childhood dreams; the traditional music, stick puppetry, Sichuan opera and a changing faces display with real fire where masks  and clothes were switched in a blink of an eye – in less than a breath. Too quick to photograph.

I loved the calligraphy, the visual style of writing with images instead of letters, and the art of paper cutting, a simple idea made complex. It makes 19th century English silhouettes look primitive.

I saw China as it is today; a rapidly developing country with massive construction projects, overcrowding, air pollution, limited sanitation and bad water.

The colour green surprised me; it was green in the parks and gardens, paddy fields, bamboo forests and tea plantations. Traditionally the Chinese have always lived in harmony with nature. It was Mao who said nature was there to be dominated and controlled. Today the Chinese say Mao was 60% right. They are renewing their relationship with the natural world. New cities incorporate public parks and gardens. Chengdu, which has adopted relaxation as its mantra, promotes recycling and green attitudes.

The Yangtze river was 57 shades of green, reflecting the sides of the wooded gorges, which used to be the tops of mountains.A stark white water line was a permanent reminder of how the Three Gorges Dam represents one aspect of nature still very much under control.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the pandas yet.

My closest previous encounter was Chi Chi who lived at London Zoo. By the time I saw her she was stuffed behind glass in the Natural History Museum. In China I saw my first living pandas at the Breeding Centre outside Chengdu.

Pandas get up, eat bamboo, then sleep. You have to be there early. Bamboo is hard as rock, and so tough it’s used as scaffolding poles. Their powerful teeth and jaws crunch it like sugar. You hear the panda before you see it.

Pan Da translates at Fat Big and generations of emperors killed pandas for their pelts. In 1949 the Panda was put under protection. A 2014 census found 1864 giant pandas in the wild. The WWF claims this is an increase of 17% from the late 1970s. The black and white panda is from the bear family; the red panda from the racoons. At the breeding centre we were surprised by a red panda which dropped from the trees onto the platform, staring at us intently before turning its back and walking away.

Another traditional symbol of Chinese culture is the dragon. They are everywhere. Old and new. Past and present. Dragons are the heart of myth and legend. Like great floods and creation stories, they exist across countries and cultures, each with their own version, The dragon is the only mythical animal in Chinese horoscopes. It’s the sign of rulers and leaders. Everyone wants to be a dragon.

We all left something of ourselves in China.  My new panama hat was accidentally abandoned  in Beijing. One friend mislaid her raincoat in Chongqing while another put her valuables in the hotel safe in Chengdu and left them there. At least they were secure and retrievable. Not like the fellow traveller who lost his passport and had no idea where it might be. He also lost several days of his trip applying for the essential paperwork for our internal flights – which was manageable – and to leave the country – which was not. At the end we left him behind, still waiting for the replacement visa and papers needed for a temporary passport, hoping to transfer his tickets to a different flight. Losing your passport is never advisable but losing it in China is probably the worst place of all.

My credit card was hacked. 48 hours after Xian, its details were being used in Saudi Arabia. The NatWest fraud squad sent texts asking if this was legitimate and blocked the card. Pin codes on transactions were uncommon. Most places asked for signatures. It showed the value of taking a backup card and keeping your phone switched on.

Two people got lost. Unable to read the signs or speak any Chinese, they couldn’t find their way back to the meeting point. We understood then why the guide was so insistent we had her phone number at all times. It emphasised the vulnerability created by our lack of linguistic skills.

I returned home with renewed respect for our Chinese students dealing with the complexity of English language and custom.  I realised the difference some Chinese signage around the university would make, and recalling fellow travellers carrying forks in their backpacks, I wondered why there were no chopsticks in the Atrium. I felt I gained a better understanding of the potential for confusion with our self-service style food and how easy it was to misunderstand the difference between gravy and custard. While I was away the Quad Diner opened a King Asia Noodle bar; its menu including noodle broth, Szechuan beef, Char Siu pork, Gyoza and Wantons.It reminded me how strange it is when food is unfamiliar.

All I knew about China was through books and films but this type of knowledge is only ever based on simulation. Anderson (1983) and Baudrillard (1994) have much to say about the nature of reality. In times east and west collided. One restaurant served us a plate of pale limp chips, a concession to dietary expectations. It looked out of place but was pounced on with cries and sighs of relief. The reality of travel is to leave behind the familiar and step out into the strange but sometimes the strange is dealt with badly. We can’t always help it. I’ve been asked several times if I would go back and I think I would – but there are other countries to visit first!

Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities.  Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism,  London and New York, Verso

Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, translated by sheila Faria Glaser, Ann Arbor The University of Michigan Press

Without a common language, food can be a challenge. You can’t be sure what you’re eating. In the restaurants meals were served on lazy susan style glass circles. Plates of vegetables and meat would arrive with no indication of what they were. Some were easily recognisable like pakchoi or green beans while others were often unguessable. It was food but not as we knew it. Except for the rice, which was always white, sticky and rapidly cooling down.

Local diners had heaters under their dishes to keep them hot. Our food arrived mostly warm but by the second spin of the circle it would be cold. Meat was cooked on the bone and served in small pieces with the bone still attached. Necks and heads remained on the ducks and chickens. Rabbit heads were served as snacks.

We regularly had huge dishes of wobbly egg custard sprinkled with peas and corn kernels. Most meals included giant tureens of lettuce soup which tasted like warm water. As the circle turned so sticking out serving spoons knocked over anything they passed – meals included at least one spilt drink – and the expectation we’d use chopsticks led to some surreptitious sneaking in of forks.  Some found it difficult to adapt to the difference, but it was fundamentally healthy eating. A chunky spoon of rice went in the bottom of a small white bowl then small pieces of meat with vegetables on top. Eating with chopsticks is slow and mindful. You could fill your bowl as often as you wanted but the process is more drawn out. You eat less because physiologically, you feel full quicker.

Everything was cooked from scratch and appeared to be sugar, salt and fat free. Puddings were rare. Chunks of water melon ended meals. Where there were ‘sweet’ dishes in some hotels, they looked pretty but were mostly bland or unpleasant. Breakfast was the same as other meals – rice, noodles, fish and meat with steamed or stir fried vegetables and hot dumplings; filled or empty, the texture of rubber and tasteless. There were cartons of natural yoghurt but no spoons; the expectation was to drink through a straw. Coffee and tea came in many varieties but never tasted as expected and the only milk available was soy.

Out on the street, food was fast and furious. White slabs of curd simmered in large steel pans over gas flames while the accompanying fish still swam in plastic bowls on the floor. Noodle dough was bashed through sieves, caught, cut and cooked instantly in pots of boiling water. The colours and smells were weird and wonderful.  I was shy about taking pictures. It felt like being judgemental which in a way it was. Seahorses and scorpions on sticks is a shock. Not knowing your food brings out primeval instincts while social conditioning plays its part too. Dogs are bred for food in the same way we breed chickens and turkeys but dog brain soup is not part of my world. The Chinese say they eat anything with legs except a table and use every part of the animal except its voice. Maybe we are too fussy – and privileged.

We were given warnings about not drinking the water and avoiding street food but mistakes could still be made in the restaurants where the our lack of language skills was part of the problem – although not insurmountable. Menus with pictures helped as did fingers for numbers. We smiled a lot and were sometimes rescued by customers who spoke English, but still managed to get it wrong, in particular with quantities. It was so easy to misunderstand the different Chinese ways of being and eating. Your own cultural references are stronger than you realise. Just once we got it right. The Mongolian  clay pot of beef and rice arrived with a flourish; it was big enough for a party and a case of phew, at least this time we’d only ordered one to share!

Chinese is a dangerous language. It’s the tone which matters. There are four of them with the power to change meaning – get the tone wrong and you could be in trouble. China and England are so culturally different their translations can be problematic too.   Before Mao’s policy of controlling the natural world, traditional Chinese philosophy had been to live in harmony with nature. This often shows in the language.  For examples, after their wedding young couples retire to the bedroom. Where the English say love or sex, in China it’s ‘two ducks playing in the water enjoying the spring time.‘  Ducks have a special significance in China. They are considered a symbol of freedom with Mandarin ducks representing love and life long devotion. (Peking ducks are a variety specially bred to be eaten!)

The chinese greeting Ni Hao (Nee How) translates literally as You Good which seems to ask and answer at the same time. Thank you is Xie Xie  (Shay Shay) and needs a smile to catch the correct tone. This  gives a lovely nuance to the phrase.  Chinese calligraphy, the transfer of spoken to written language, is an art as well as an industry.  Street calligraphers use water to write poems in public places or sell messages of good luck and blessings with brushes ranging from miniscule to enormous. The script seems a mystery until you realise the images are pictures not letters and then you can begin to recognise individual  symbols like person and country.

Another cultural difference was around nature calling. Toilets were a challenge on every level with the chinese euphemism of happy hour being a source of much amusement with local guides who knew too well how our toilet trips were more often than not unhappy occasions.  Also known as ‘singing a song’, the experience was a great leveller. It separated the stoic from those who hadn’t done their homework. Cubicle choice was the first challenge and here the visual was often more useful than attempts at English. Once inside there were no hooks for bags or coats, no andrex (labrador puppies dancing in the water?) and no helpful (for westerners) instructions like ‘face this way’. Door or wall became a debating point as not all squatties were equally spaced and positioned although a good sense of balance was always essential.

Finding the public toilets was never a problem. You just breathed and followed your nose. It was particularly easy on the road. People don’t travel from place to place unless their work involves transportation and motorway services were basic to say the least. Directions to the public conveniences were unnecessary and privacy wasn’t highly rated either.  In the cities, there was sometimes a western toilet which was identified by the queue. First off the coach developed a new significance. Occasionally the sit-on loos had an additional arm to one side. Toilet bidet combo’s with multiple options. These included spray, massage and oscillation, with a choice of hot or cold shower-pressure and air temperature. Ideal Standard have a lot to learn. Maybe this is where ‘happy hour’ comes from?

Conversion from Chinese to English was less a case of ‘lost in translation’ and more about enhancement. Praise for arriving on time at an agreed place was greeted with ‘thank you for your excellent cooperations’, to stop talking was ‘keeping your silence’ and any sadness caused ‘my tears to come out’.   Our only point of linguistic disagreement was environmental. We called it smog. The Chinese called it mist. Explanations for the haze included being in a valley, being between two rivers and ‘at night the lights shine right through so you know it’s clean.’ Whatever the cause, a smoky cloud covered the cities and countryside. It was like wearing dirty glasses and having the onset of a chest infection. West and east, the landscape was permanently blurred which in itself was a language of a different kind.

Favourite translations included the elevation of railings to cultural relics,  signs on escalators which warned against frolicking and instructions for not potting tap water. More seriously, an explanation for the flooding of the three gorges valleys, in spite of its errors, was a chilling reminder of the loss of life and lifestyles.

In places there were suggestions something more was going on for example the single word Quiet required four main characters and twenty subsequent ones!  Overall, I liked best the translations with a more philosophical message. As well as my photographs and a renewed appreciation for western sanitation systems, these pieces of public advice were well worth bringing home.

April in China

May 9, 2015 | Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

IMG_1175

Where to begin? Chengdu, Chongqing, Xian, Beijing were all unique. Chengdu is the relaxed city, its parks designed for leisure, drinking tea and playing Mahjong. Chongqing is an eastern Manhattan, high rise buildings squashed on a thin peninsular between two rivers. Xian is an old walled fortress, home of the terracotta army while Beijiing is all about business and money, host to the 2008 Olympics, famous for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Linking west to east is the Yangtze River, its valleys flooded by the Three Gorges Dam, viridian waters mirroring green forested mountains, lost towns and villages drowned below. Urban and rural landscapes were smoky, covered by a smog blanket. New concrete highways contrast with areas where villages tend their own bit of road. These range from smooth tarmac to bone shaking rubble. Every bit of space is utilised for food. Gardened patches grow under massive flyovers. Paddy fields line the side of huge motorways while tea grows on terraces cut into every hillside. Roads are congested but bullet trains and internal flights remain slick and efficient. The toilets were a culture shock. Food was low fat and dairy free with no sugar; instead it was rice and vegetables with small amounts of chilli’d meat or fish eaten with chopsticks – every meal served with chilled local beer. Drinking water was bottled while drinking tea both ceremony and art. You swirl and sniff before downing tiny tumblers or use the lids of larger cups to scoop the leaves to one side.  A covered cup means this place is taken. An uncovered cup says fill me please.

IMG_0417

Besides walking the Great Wall, it was the unexpected which most surprised. The Huguang Guild Hall at Chongqing; my first experience of old China was a delight.  I loved the Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera in Chengdu and the Shibaozhai pagoda on the Yangtze, the ‘purple rain pavilion’, preserved as river levels rose so it was no longer the top of the mountain but now just above the water line. Old China has been recognised as a cultural heritage to be saved rather than destroyed. This has created unexpected juxtapositions and occasional confusion between real and imitation. History seeps from every arched roof and curved dragon. These old buildings breath a lost culture and lifestyle. The Winter Palace itself was amazing. I had no idea of its size. Like a Russian doll, every courtyard opened out onto another and another – each more ornate – with whole villages of buildings and squares on either side. This was the China I’d hoped to see.

But what about the problems? I remember 1989, the images of the lone protester in Tiananmen Square and subsequent action by the military. Before I left, I read up on the Cultural Revolution and all the facts I could find on restrictions to human rights, none of which are unique to China. They exist in one form or another in other continents and countries around the world. There are no excuses for cruelty wherever it’s exposed but I don’t regret going. My lasting impression is the friendliness of the Chinese people, their curiosity about us as westerners – with big noses. We were stared at and asked to be photographed. I think what touched me most was the acceptance of everyone we got to talk to about their life experiences and hopes for the future. Always there is hope for something better. In the most difficult of circumstances, life goes on in  universal cycles and of all the wonderful places I visited, the best thing about China was the people.

Apps image borrowed from http://www.sassyjanegenealogy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/apps-image.jpg

Technology is a great change-agent. Over the past two decades internet access has influenced teaching and learning, some would say disrupted it, by challenging traditional pedagogical patterns and relationships.  Students can be directed to information sources rather than their teachers being that source, offering the potential for more autonomous learning. Traditional text and images are being supplemented or replaced by audio and video while investments continue to be made to educational technology infrastructures. Yet evidence of impact on learning itself remains scarce.

Now there’s a new kid on the block. Apps for supporting education. Jisc is taking a lead on promoting mobile and linking it to inclusive practice.

‘…the ability for learners to personalise their device, to have it constantly set up for their use, removes a barrier to learning. Far from providing a hindrance, therefore, mobile learning is a great boon to students with disabilities. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/mobile-learning/mobile-learning-myths

At a time when institutions are needing to consider their duty to make reasonable adjustments, in particular with regard to the provision of teaching and learning resources due to proposed changes to the DSA, JISC are suggesting APP-Awareness might help.

‘Smart phones and tablet devices can provide students who have physical, cognitive or sensory limitations with a portable alternative to specialist hardware and software.’ http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/are-you-using-mobile-technologies-to-support-inclusive-practice-10-apr-2015 

Aside from personal views on determinist approaches to educational technology and the danger of BYOD being digitally divisive, I see this as a step in the right direction. Jisc have created opportunities to talk about accessibility and the app-potential for ‘personalisation features that can be changed to suit learner preferences’ (op.cit.)

For Apps to work, the content they’re working with has to be inclusive. This means barriers to App-access have to be identified and removed. To be App-aware is to consider accessibility and take it seriously.  Apps might even be the way to reconsider the whole issue of access and digital divides.

So I’d say Go JISC. Go Mobile. Let’s all get Appy.

image of Martha Lane Fox Dimbleby Lecture on BBC iPlayer

In the 2015 Dimbleby Lecture, Martha Lane Fox called for de-commercialisation of the interne (transcript) and setting up an independent body, informed by the ‘….original promises of the internet – openness, transparency, freedom and universality…’  This may be too little too late; I think the damage is already done. Amazon brings the high street to our mobile devices and we love the convenience. Twitter not only keeps us in the loop, we become the loop-makers. Whether artists, scientists or humanitists – the internet offers resources on a previously unimaginable scale. Like having a Britannica set behind every keystroke. That’s 32 volumes. RIP Britannica – 1768-2010. The day knowledge stopped for the digitally excluded.

MLF extolls the advantages of being online and says ‘Crucially, we must ensure that no one is left behind; that the 10 million adults who can’t enjoy the benefits of being online because they lack basic digital skills, no longer miss out.’ Sounds promising but… digital divides are not new. They need less talking and more genuine opportunities for challenging and bridging instead. MLF said nothing about exclusion through lack of access. Instead digital exclusion now equates to poor digital literacies iinstead.

The discourse has changed and this has been happening for some time. The focus of the Go On UK website has shifted from promoting affordable and usable technology to the quality of access without even a mention of poor broadband. The digital debate has become personal rather than political and is now about individuals. Go On replaced Race Online, also setup by MLF, with the aim of getting the nation connected for the end of 2012. At least it contained acknowledgment of digital divides. The Go On vision only addresses the lack of basic digital skills, calling this a ‘significant social issue’ – which it is – but even more crucial is the lack of internet access in the first place!

After watching and reading the lecture by MLF I signed the Dot Everyone petition calling for a public institution for the digital age. I’ll sign anything which offers opportunities to raise awareness of digital divides and exclusions. On clicking sign I was immediately asked for money in order to share my signature with others.

<#Sighs> So much for MLF’s lecture call for de-commericalisation of the internet!

image showing dot everyone petition page

The IDER (Inclusive Digital Educational Resources) Working Group meets again this week. It’s time to think about making recommendations. The process will be helped by recent agreement on the Blackboard Required Standards which include Accessibility but what will this look like in practice?

Accessibility is not a popular subject. Already there are comments about this representing more work. I’m trying to say it’s not additional – it’s more like a different way to do what’s already being done. The loss of TechDis has further diminished the status of accessible online content. The Excellence Gateway Toolkit for Accessible Learning Materials has been archived,  as has the BBC My Web My Way site  while the RNIB’s Web Accessibility Centre seems to have got lost, along with the University of Salford’s Skills for Access which promoted accessible multimedia. The second set of guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative are less intuitive than the first and British Dyslexia Association and AbilityNet appear to be the only organisations still offering specific guidance on font, colour and contrast etc. The move is towards personalisation; the idea being individual users will customise their browsers to suit their own requirements. It makes sense but content creators need to ensure this can happen for examples one of the problem areas is PDF. People like PDFs because they are uneditable and the format looks the same on all applications but locking it down makes it less flexible. You need Adobe Acrobat to make visual changes, which is not free, and using it is neither easy nor intuitive

There is also the problem of web resources which are not downloadable. I have a problem with grey text on a white background. It seems increasingly popular and I’m not sure why. The British Dyslexia Association’s advises us to use dark on light e.g. ‘Use dark coloured text on a light (not white) background’ and ‘Most users prefer dark print on a pale background.’ AbilityNet say ‘If using a light-coloured type, make sure the background colour is dark enough to provide sufficient contrast.’  BDA also say ‘Avoid white backgrounds …White can appear too dazzling.’ Yet B/W is ok for me. I can tone it down using the screen brightness. It’s grey on white which is the problem.

This reinforces how there’s no one size fits all solution. One answer may be to raise awareness of the diversity of ways users might want to access digital resources and support that diversity with inclusive practice guidelines while also promoting how to change browser settings. I’m not a huge fan of the DIY approach. The image below shows some of the steps needed to change text colour . There are multiple windows requiring local knowledge, for example how do you know if you need the Colours, Font or Accessibility button on the Internet Options menu and once you’ve made the change for one website, it can create inappropriate changes for others.?

BATA grey text changes

I don’t know what the answer is and with the gradual dilution of sector wide support for inclusion and accessibility, I wonder if anyone does. I’ve over 20 years of experience with ICT and can still get lost online. It seems too easy an option to say appearance can be configured in your browser, or expect people to understand the need for providing alternative formats. Unless you’ve experienced the frustration of digital exclusion for yourself, persuading colleague to change behaviour is going to be a challenge. However, the proposed changes to the DSA, and the need for institutions to revisit the duty to make reasonable adjustments to the provision of information and resources, means someone has to do it and for me the IDER Working Group is in an ideal position to explore these issues and reach some workable conclusions. In  the meantime, if anyone has any useful suggestions around promoting and achieving inclusive digital practice please do feel free to get in touch. All suggestions are welcome :-)

UCISA LOGO cmyk_correctPantones

The UCISA Digital Capabilities survey summary recommendations include Creation and embedding of holistic, relevant and creative digital curricula and training opportunities for students and staff.’ Highlighting the need for staff development opportunities is long overdue.

Less than a decade ago UoL hosted diagnostic tests on the VLE and ICT ran workshops on a range of different software packages. Today, anyone wanting support is directed to online help from Microsoft or WordPress or even the more personalised Blackboard support videos.

For a while the myth of the digital natives prevailed.  When Getting Started went institution-wide 5 years ago, it was suggested guidance for using Blackboard was unnecessary as new students could find their way around any online system. Yet recent Getting Started evaluations ask for help with Blackboard – because it’s not Facebook which would probably be the VLE of choice – after all it supports file sharing and chat – what more could anyone want? Yet when it comes to digital confidence, even the relatively unsophisticated Facebook can pose a challenge.

Lincoln EDEU have developed Blackboard Site Standards for September 2015. These will go some way to renewing essential conversations around engagement with VLE. The standards include online submission, having meaningful navigation structures and filenames as well as accessibility – ‘all content (text, images and multimedia) to be in an appropriate format and follow accessibility guidelines.’  Yep – that one was mine! :-)

Support material will be developed alongside a  series of workshops. EDEU maintains the value of face-to-face contact. Our Digital Educational Developersrun Drop-in Sessions twice a week; they can build workshops around programme team or school requirements or answer any of your digital questions. Just get in touch via edeu@Lincoln.ac.uk or http://edeu.lincoln.ac.uk/about-edeu/edeu-staff/

Digital confidence is not only technical support. It’s a behaviour shift which is cognitive as much as kinaesthetic and spatial. VLE have more potential than simply giant electronic notice boards or file repositories – they offer opportunities for connection and collaboration which are rarely utilised. Digital adoption takes time, which is always in short supply, but also demands answers to pedagogical questions around the value of technology for teaching and learning.

For too long a DIY approach has caused confusion about the purpose of VLE. The new required standards offer ideal opportunities to rethink the use of technology for teaching and learning. UCISA are right. We need to create  ‘holistic, relevant and creative digital curricula and training opportunities’ and EDEU are already looking to start discussions with staff who teach and support learning about how best to make these happen.

 

Scott Davidson and Patrick Crookes at the EDEU Coloquium on SoTL March 2015

Professor Patrick Crookes, Wollongong Academy for Tertiary Teaching and Learning Excellence (WATTLE), spoke at a Colloquium event this week about teaching scholarship i.e. ‘taking teaching seriously’. Conversation on the difference between Scholarly Teaching and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) was useful. For me, they align with being research informed and research engaged. Both are the language of Student as Producer and EDEU’s new MA in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (MATLHE) which goes for validation on 20th March. These are interesting times for scholarly debate.

To be research informed, or engage in scholarly teaching, is to be aware of pedagogical research, theory and literature, to evidence reflection on practice as an individual and in response to feedback, and be involved in the production of knowledge at a local level. The Scholarship of teaching and learning is about being research engaged, actively involved in the production of new pedagogical knowledge which is peer reviewed and publically disseminated. SoTL might not involve teaching and this brings the theory-practice divide to mind.

My research is positioned in the gap between e-learning theory and the reality of e-teaching. Theory might join the dots and suggest conclusions but unless it emerges from practice, it will do little to sustain links between the student and their VLE. It will always be harder to log on and engage than walk into a timetabled lecture or other learning experience. Five Step Models and Conversational Frameworks look hopeful on the page but initiating and sustaining virtual interaction remains a challenge. You could say the SoTL with regard to VLE has been responsible for some of what Feenberg calls the failure of e-learning*.

At the Colloquium we talked about Boyer’s definition of scholarship which referred to teaching and not learning. How we teach and how we learn are the pedagogical yin and yang. They belong together, are two halves of a whole. This is why Action Research is so relevant. It links teaching and learning, involves collaborative inquiry and represents a pedagogy of partnership.

Yet taking an action research approach to a doctorate, means addressing the research community’s concerns it will not be replicable, generalisable, robust or valid. My practice is an integral part of my research. Not only am I becoming a better online teacher. I’m discovering how students prefer to be taught in virtual spaces. The research has already generated guidance, been presented at conference and had its first peer reviewed publication. Action research is a powerful tool, not least because it involves reflective critique, one of the hallmarks of SoTL. But as insider research, it’s status is tarnished.

Different decades see different themes. It used to be widening participation, then enhancing the quality of teaching and learning with technology, and now it’s student engagement. Who knows what the next theme will be. What is clear is the need for more bridges between theory and practice. SoTL could be a useful opportunity to encourage and support research into the real world places where teaching and learning happens.

———————————————————————————————————————

Feenburg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf

Student as Producer Wheel whosing the principles of the Student as Producer framework

Think of the Wheel. Think of Student as Producer being co-constructed for present and future cohorts at the University of Lincoln. Think of the new Educational Development and Enhancement Unit. If you missed EDEU’s first cross university event on Friday 6th March you can still contribute to the conversation about taking Student as Producer into a new phase – Beyond the University. Just email edeu@lincoln.ac.uk or fill in the form below and get involved.

SasP15 stage in the Engine ShedEDEU's Digital Education Developers preparing for SasP15 Karin Crawford EDEU Director  MaryStuart and Scott Davidson at SasP15

The Wheel contains the key elements of Student as Producer. It has four quarters; Collaboration, Discovery, Engagement, Production, and eight directions; Assessment, Citizenship, Employability, Resources, Pedagogy/Curriculum, Skills, Space, Technology. The Plenary Session of the event involved working in table teams to explore linkages between these component parts. Padlet was used to collate comments which were projected on screens for dissemination and further discussion. The future doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is always a product of past and present. Events like Student as Producer: Beyond the University are opportunities to explore where we’ve been and where we are going.

Examples of feedback from the Padlet Plenary activity  Examples of feedback from the Padlet Plenary activity

Student as Producer will always be about student engagement in their higher education experience and the merging of teaching and research. It will always have multiple layers of interpretation ranging from active involvement in learning like giving presentations, taking part in peer review or providing support for learning through schemes like PASS (Peer Assisted Study Scheme). It’s about developing students as partners in the university, not only in real-world research activities, exemplified through UROS  but also as RecruitersReviewers and Students Consulting on Teaching (SCOTs). Student as Producer has the flexibility to work across subject disciplines and be applied to individual, teaching team or school interests but fundamentally it’s a single message – come to Lincoln for opportunities to get more than a degree. The range of potential transferable skills available is huge and not restricted to student life on-campus but also beyond in the wider community. As with all University of Lincoln initiatives, the future of Student as Producer is is being co-constructed. Everyone has an opportunity to be heard and this week’s event was part of the conversation.

Student as Producer event 6 March 2015 Engine Shed University of Lincoln Student as Producer event 6 March 2015 Engine Shed University of Lincoln

A ‘Student as Producer; Beyond the University’ conference is being held Friday 6thMarch in the Engine Shed. This is an opportunity to explore where Student as Producer at the University of Lincoln has been and where it is going. It’s an internal event for staff and students and the exciting programme includes current and future initiatives to embed the principles of ‘Student as Producer’ across three areas of practice:

  • Students as producers within the curriculum;
  • Students as producers of the University and of the curriculum;
  • Students as producers beyond the University.

To book a place and find out more visit http://edeu.lincoln.ac.uk/event/student-as-producer-2015/

The full EDEU team will be there supporting the event. If you haven’t already met us then do come up and say hello. To check out our roles and faces visit http://edeu.lincoln.ac.uk/about-edeu/edeu-staff/

The hashtag for the event is #SasP15 so even if you can’t be there, you can follow us on the day.

spotlight image from http://www.clker.com/cliparts/Y/O/W/O/P/J/spotlight-md.pngAccessibility is no longer backstage but now waiting in the wings. It can’t be long before inclusive practice steps centre stage under the spotlight. The DSA is changing and the government says it expects higher education institutions to cover additional costs through their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

These are interesting times. The soapbox is out from the corner, getting dusted down, ready for action.

In 2000, the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) was taken to court for failing to make its website accessible to people with sight loss on three grounds; lack of ALT text associated with images, lack of alternative text for image maps and the use of JavaScript for navigation.

Some vision-impaired users could not access ticketing information, event schedules or postings of event results and SOCOG was found to have acted in a discriminatory and unlawful manner. http://itd.athenpro.org/volume9/number2/arch.html

No cases have reached court in the UK. When the RNIB served BMIBaby with legal papers in 2010 for failing to ensure its website could be used by blind and partially sighted users they settled out of court. It’s hard to find any mention on the internet of the time Tesco took down its accessible website overnight, excluding those were homebound and dependent on shopping online. The general view is a successful court case is required to set the precedent. Until then it’s business as inaccessibly usual. But the situation might be turning.

A week ago, ‘Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T. saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.’ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/education/harvard-and-mit-sued-over-failing-to-caption-online-courses.html?_r=0

At the same time, in the UK,  the Irwin Mitchell law firm is seeking permission for a Judicial Review of the proposals by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to limit the support offered by the  DSA on behalf of two students, one is hearing impaired and hoping to begin university in September 2015 and a current student with autism, who receives DSA and claims be able to provide ‘invaluable information to the Secretary of State about the impact of changing DSA on disabled students’. Both claim students themselves should have been consulted about the changes while Secretary of State Vince Cable has said he has “no such duty to consult individuals” even though they will be directly affected. http://www.bataonline.org/news-events/Legal-challenge-to-DSA-cut-backs

There is renewed interest in the provision of digital information. The proposed changes to the DSA offers opportunities to revisit the arguments for inclusive practice. It may be enforced compliance with the law rather than being adopted voluntarily but sometimes the means is worth the ends and digital inclusion is worth it – isn’t it?

cadbury creme egg image from http://www.subbyscent.co.uk/2014/04/how-do-you-melt-yours.html

This week the Inclusive Digital Resources Working Group met for the first time. The aim of this group is to make recommendations for ensuring all students/staff have access to accessible and inclusive digital resources for learning and teaching. One of the drivers for the formation of this group is changes to the DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) which will remove additional technology support for students with dyslexia and other conditions. Peter Willetsannounced the changes in April 2014 saying ‘The need for some individual non-medical help (NMH) may be removed through different ways of delivering courses and information. It is for HEIs to consider how they make both anticipatory reasonable adjustments and also reasonable adjustments at an individual level.’  Greg Clark in September 2014 added ‘alternative provision in the form of university provided services such as printing services and books and journals in electronic format to be considered as alternatives’ and included the reminder ‘Universities should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students.’ The changes will come into effect for September 2016.

Neither statement mentions the principles of universal design whereby changes for some create improvements for all.  This is a shame because inclusion lies at the heart of the matter. It involves thinking beyond your own experience and considering diversity. Access to digital resources is a bit like the old Cadbury’s crème egg question How do you eat yours? We all have our own ways of working in online environments. The problems arise when assumptions are made which don’t take into account individual difference.

The key to reasonable adjustments is choice. Digital data supports personalisation. There is no one size fits all way of designing documents and presentations so the best alternative is uploading versions which can be customised to suit individual preference. The user should be able to change the size, shape and colour contrast to whatever works for them Where users can’t adjust content, it’s down to individuals to make reasonable adjustments like not placing text over an image and providing textual equivalents and user controls to multimedia.

Design is a political act. Putting content into the public domain involves decisions which determine access. This is power and with power comes responsibility. Reasonable adjustments to the provision of teaching and learning resources is not just about students with disabilities, its about maximising the affordances of virtual learning environments and improving access for everyone. The Inclusive Digital Resources Working Group will be contacting student reps, collating advice on best practice and making recommendations to the Learning Development and  Environment Standing Group which reports  to the Education and Student Experience group.  The principle of reasonable adjustments is an opportunity to go back to basics, to review the minimum requirements for digital content and rethink what its means to be digitally literate.

So, on the question of reasonable adjustments – how will you be making yours?

 

Multiple ‘ologies…

February 6, 2015 | PhD  |  Leave a Comment

mickey mouse and ghost image from blog.wdwinfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/lonesome.jpg

The spectre of the Phd has moved in. Taken up residence. Where I go it goes; car, office, home. There’s no escape. I’ve reached the stage the ‘DIY PhD’ books tell you about. I hate it! Last week I wrote about the funnel effect, the logistical nightmare of having too many words and not enough space. This week it’s been the question of validity or the doctoral dilemma – how do I know it’s any good? The sad answer is you don’t – not until someone else passes judgement.

Validity includes lots of positivist measure of excellence like reliability and replicability; the ‘integrity of the conclusions’ (Bryman 2003:30). But the concept of validity itself is contestable. In the red corner there’s the quantitative view of reality as observable, measurable and infinitely knowable while over in the blue corner qualitative reality is more vague, forever open-ended and uncertain.

The Methodology chapter is a challenge. This is where it all comes together or falls apart. It’s a matter of pinning yourself down philosophically – for the purpose of the dissertation at least. There are so many alternative constructions. They can’t all be wrong so it’s a bit of a winner for the blue corner although the reds won’t have it. To a positivist we’re all as predictable as time and tide. Richard Dawkins versus Karen Armstrong. I know who I’d rather have dinner with.

Taking up a position midway between the corners, with an ontological realism and epistemological constructivism (see, I’m learning the language), there is a critical realist approach where the world is knowable but knowledge is fallible. This suggests a possible answer the crisis of validity where ‘There is no single interpretive truth [only] multiple interpretative communities, each with its own criteria for evaluating and interpretation’ (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000:23). Which in itself is something of a certainty, because one thing you can be sure of, another new philosophical lens for viewing reality is likely to be coming along quite soon.

box image froom http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-stnAzKsT8Ss/TnoBBXG_gYI/AAAAAAAAAEg/ALWGaOkQErw/s1600/stick_figure_tight_quarters_800_clr.png

I’m calling it the funnel effect. The process of writing up my dissertation is like fitting an umbrella the size of a planet into a box the size of an ant. Every day I find new pieces of information which weren’t there before and I gather them up – that’s me in the corner – with a Phd head and increasing sense of panic. How to know which words to use? Not find them in the first place, I’ve 100’s of 1000’s of the pesky things in 50 shades of font design. It’s more about how to identify the ones I need.

Then – instead of narrowing them down – I get side tracked and end up adding even more. Today it was phenomenography which is one of those linguistic research tricks to see if you can pronounce the word never mind produce a description of what it means. For some reason, known only to the deep web part of my brain, I decided action research was like ethnography because as the researcher I was in the position of observer – so maybe I wasn’t doing action research at all. Affliction of doubt is a common doctoral disease. Somehow, and only google history can explain this one, I ended up in a phenomenographical paradigm and another hour had passed. At least by then I’d forgotten about the ethnography .

Now I’m blogging which is another diversion and distraction technique. I’m good at D&D’s. In a previous life I would clean the oven rather than get on with the task in hand. It became a joke how a clean oven signified an assignment deadline. Today I have the internet. It’s amazing I get anything done at all. I’ve a weakness for cute kittens and babbling babes– have you seen the one about….

I get up early, make coffee, greet the laptop and begin. Three hours later I’ve done nothing of any value towards my dissertation other than add a few more hundred words which I’ll probably take out again tomorrow. Oh, and a blog post, aspirationally tagged PhD but in reality it should be the other P for Procrastination. They could give me a doctorate in that ten times over!

In my writing class we’re looking at adapting text for radio. The most talked about adaption of the moment is Wolf Hall. The BBC have allegedly spent £7 million to make 6 hours of television. If I was a licence payer I’d complain. There must be lengthier returns on an investment of that kind  while still retaining some quality. Six hours isn’t even half a day.

Last week we listened to Casablanca. A 1943 radio broadcast. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Dooley Wilson are all there, plus additional explanatory text and a reduction in time from 102 to 25 minutes. You get to hear all the famous lines:

  • Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine.
  • Here’s looking at you kid.
  • Play it again Sam.

Only the last one is a misquote. No one says it. Both Rick and Elsa say play it Sam not play it again. When it comes to the difference between truths and beliefs, this shows how easily wrongs get privileged over rights.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plSKtjfSjrA

I did my homework and watched the film before so it was fresh in my mind. For me the radio version didn’t work. Too much of the story, of necessity, was missing while those who hadn’t seen the film reported confusion about the plot and characters.

When you make an adaptation, like Wolf Hall and Casablanca, something has to go. The question is how much can the parts of a whole still offer a holistic experience.  For me, Hillary Mantel has the art of preciseness, is expert at using the minimum of words for the maximum effect. I liked reading Wolf Hall but two episodes in and 4 to go, I’m feeling disappointed with the TV series.

The media reports a drop in viewing figures for episode two of Wolf Hall. The critics are out; they don’t like the darkness, the flashbacks, the slowness, the history. Condensing large books into small chunks of film was never going to be easy and it isn’t yet clear if the BBC has financed a success or a failure. The attention to authenticity in terms of clothes, props and locations is no substitute for inadequate attention to narrative.

It’s possibly impossible. Maybe Casablanca was made to be watched and not listened to. Maybe Wolf Hall was written to be read and not watched.

Disability in the built environment

I love the WAI part of W3C. The language is user-friendly, the layout intuitive and above all they talk about what matters, the accessibility of digital design.

I love it even more because the WAI have changed their definition of web accessibility. It now says

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities. For example, a key principle of Web accessibility is designing Web sites and software that are flexible to meet different user needs, preferences, and situations. This flexibility also benefits people without disabilities in certain situations, such as people using a slow Internet connection, people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm, and people with changing abilities due to aging. {their emphasis] http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

About time too!

When it comes to web design, it would be really good if we could stop categorising people into dis-abled or abled and just think about inclusive design being a prerequisite for all online content. When it comes to digital resources we are all designers. Whether its lecture notes, presentation slides, handbooks, images or a letter to your Mum, it involves decisions about layout, text, file size, name and formats etc. There is useful advice out there but most people design for themselves and miss the diversity of ways in which other people use computers and access the internet.

We need to remember, you don’t have to fit the government definition of disabled to have visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological difference.

Lest we forget, we are probably all dis-abled in some way or another.

habit image from swarajyamag.com

Habits can be hard to break. It took me years to stop smoking. The line between addiction and habit is blurred. I’ve blogged for years. It was my soap box, work record, window on the internet, my weekly reflective habit. Then it stopped and now I’m struggling to get the blogging habit back.

It’s not as if I’m short of words.  Me and my laptop have bonded these past few weeks. In a threesome with the settee, I’ve written tens of thousands about VLE, critical realism, digital education, e-teaching and more.

But the blogging habit broke.

As I fell – slip – trip -snap – into the world of broken fibulas and fracture clinics, my life fell apart too. Become immobile in the winter and your world shrinks. I couldn’t even get to the allotment. My grape vine still needs pruning! In theory, this loss should have created space for blogging.  I could have become a blog-a-day woman. Instead of scrabbling to fit a blog post into Friday mornings I had blog freedom. And I used it to stop blogging.

It was as unexpected as the trip itself. A trip of the non-travelling kind. You can make a metaphor out of most things in life, but I’m not too sure what to make of this. I missed the pin point where something sticks. A blog is a map; it’s where I pin things down each week. Usually with regard to digital inclusion, TELEDA, my PhD, or some digital scrap which has intrigued me.

Something magic happens when you take a thought and reproduce it in words. It works verbally – a la rubber duck syndrome – and it works when you recreate an experience in writing. There’s a flash of insight or resonance which is part of the whole learning experience. A regular blogging habit is an alchemical opportunity to focus on something which has happened and study it more closely.

I need to break the habit of not blogging and get the blogging habit back!

Happy New Year

January 15, 2015 | PhD  |  1 Comment

my work in progress

Work in Progress

A broken ankle supports the development of a conceptual and theoretical framework for my PhD!

Advertisements