Troubling boundaries (and cats)

Where my research is concerned, I have trouble with boundaries

I’ve said this before (Know Your Limits) and am likely to do so again. It’s nowhere more prevalent than this blog. I start new posts all the time but finish them less often. Too many ideas in my head and not enough boundaries.

There it is again!

It’s getting worse as the research progresses. The more I reduce the data for analysis, the more I feel the need to give contextual background. I save in one place I but increase elsewhere. On reflection, this might show how digital shifts themselves are inextricably linked to all aspects of higher education. Show me what doesn’t involve a digital agenda and I’ll eat my blog.

baby wearing a large hat
image from pixabay – no attribution required

This week I’ve taken leave and allocated it PhD time. the intention was at least one research-related (and completed) post. The boundary issue is becoming critical. This blog was about Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). It’s not core to my research but is related (I rest my case!) in that I’ve a partially-generated theory which suggests DIS might underpin digital shyness and resistance.

Reluctance to engage in online activity is well documented, for staff as well as students. Colleague Patrick Lynch and I facilitate Module Two of the PG Cert in Academic Practice (PCAP). We introduced it as a blended module because the group only meets 5 times in 10 weeks but our online activities were – I think it’s fair to say – not widely or enthusiastically adopted. We want to explore why not.

We’re told there’s too many competing pressures but in a  200 hour Level 7 module with only 15 hours contact time, we didn’t think it unreasonable to allocate a similar time to developing an online PCAP community. My previous TELEDA courses (Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age) were experiential (offering staff a student view of the VLE etc) and although successful then, it seems a similar approach may not work this time around.

Again – why not?

cartoon of single person facing a wall of technology

At this stage, I’m not suggesting the answer is Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). Evaluation may well reveal we set about it all wrong or made mistakes we’re not yet aware of. However, from an overall perspective, something prevents staff and students from contributing to online forums, blogs, wikis or other interactive google logo under a magnifying glassplaces (when the same people often communicate through social media). This is against a discourse of education technology transforming – even revolutionising – higher education.

Houston – we have a mismatch.

Is it nerves about negative responses? A recent event on student blogging revealed individual URLs being deliberately obscured to prevent the blogs being found by google, the rational being to reduce potential trolling or flaming. Another person went through their student posts editing out typos to prevent the department being associated with poor writing. Digital attitudes and practices vary, tend to be unique to individuals as well as vast in nature. To become ‘digital’ is to change behaviours in hundreds of different ways and I found it useful for my research to have a catch-all phrase like ‘digital shifts’ to refer to any or all of the component parts.

I’m gathering the themes for my data analysis and was wondering if iI should add Digital Impostor Syndrome to my list. Of all the reasons for keeping a blog (and there are many – which is another post!) the opportunity to condense something large into a smaller space can be a meaningful challenge. It not only forces critical reflection but the ensuing post becomes a useful reference.

So I began a post on DIS. Firstly, it needed an explanation of what Impostor Syndrome was, then an explanation of ‘digital’ in that context. This involved a detour into ‘literaries’ as socially-situated practice with situated learning inevitably segueing into communities of practice (I’d been wanting explore misconceptions around Wenger’s work for some ing time) and before you could say Tweet, another 500 words were written. I drew a line, but not before the Browne Review of HE and teaching accreditation for academics -which was no surprise – much of my work revolves around the teaching/research nexus and the professionalisation debate – definitely another blog post for the future!

blue twitter bird

This deviation was highlighted the recent HEA change to ‘Advance HE‘ and the new Academic Professional Practice Apprenticeship Standard (outlined here). Having done some work around Degree Apprenticeships (inevitably blended therefore requiring attention to online design and delivery) I watched this video which included an outline of Epigeum’s new resource University Teaching: Core Skills: a new online training programme.

The language of ‘Skills’ and ‘Training’ in association with T&L in UK HE are like spontaneous combustion. 500 words later my thoughts on marketisation, neo-liberalism, metrics and competency checklists have hit the page, Taking a deep breath, I return to the concept of professional academic development. Comparing the Epigeum content and our Design 4 Active Learning (D4AL) approach reminds me the rationale blog for D4AL is long overdue (draft outline here).

By now I’ve Tweeted , uploaded photos to Facebook, re-watched the grandcat playing a board game and am so far from the starting point I have to go through my notes to see what it was.

I think the boundary problem is self- evident.

I also think it can be explained.

My work has always been eclectic. As Senior Lecturer in Education Development, I didn’t have a single subject specialism and now, like others working across institutions and disciplines in what’s been called third space for professionals, I’ve acquired a variety of responsibilities and skills. I’ve been teacher, student and researcher, often at the same time, while also writing for publication and generating external income. If I had to identify areas of expertise I’d suggest transition to HE, open education, blended and online distance learning and inclusive practice. Oh – and my PhD on digital shifts.

Which – surprise! – is the subject of another post unpicking what ‘digital shifts’ might cover. Here’s a link to the draft I began earlier Digital Shifts

So – my problem with boundaries…

The edges of work responsibilities and interests overlap and blur. Colleagues say you can’t talk about T&L in 21st century without assuming it has a digital dimension but I find digital engagement is unique to individuals. There’s always a need to dissect what being ‘digital’ actually means in different contexts. It differs hugely and positivist, non-critical approaches miss the mark every time.

letter tiles spelling digital shifts

The complexity of digital contexts are partially to do with language, where the same phrases mean different things to different people, and also connected to the independence of HEI against a lack of central guidance or conformity (observation not a critique!). The tradition of academic tribes and territories going their own subject-specialist ways contributes while I’ve written elsewhere about education technologists creating their own TEL-world which is mutually exclusive. See The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People and TEL People, Poetry and Language 

The boundary issue is also about personal identity.

I don’t know where I belong.

jigsaw peices in the shape of a brain with some missing

Is it a school of education because of my research, a technology enhanced learning team through my CMALT accreditation or a CPD/academic practice unit via my Pedagogy-first approach with D4AL. There will always be a digital dimension and I’m about how technology can be used rather than how it works or what to do when it breaks – so at least I know I’m not in ICT!

This lack of confidence in my identity takes me back to Digital Impostor Syndrome – which takes me back to the themes for my data analysis – and hey presto – I’m back with my research.

Did I tell you – I have a problem with boundaries…

barbed and wire fencing


Digital Moments because digitality is no longer optional

black and white alarm clock

Traditional technology training workshops can be frozen in time. Useful for networking and gaining inspiration to try new ways of working, once participants return to their desks it’s too easy for the initial excitement to become diluted by demands of the day job. Exclusion is another problem and when it comes to workshops of the digital kind, those who most need them are often those who never attend.

The ‘digital’ can no longer be avoided. Research matters. The quality of teaching and the student experience matters. As does the expectations of prospective employers for graduates who are digitally capable*. Whether students choose pushing the knowledge boundaries in their chosen discipline, becoming teachers, engineers, health care professionals or any other career path including self-employment, their ‘digitality’ also matters. It has become a universal requirement.

drawing of blue digital people

Digital Moments is a fledgling idea which reverses the ethos of the 1, 2, 3 or more hour workshop. Digital Moments are one-off chunks of information based on FAQ. They start at one minute in length (How do I shorten a long URL? What is a QR code? Where can I get copyright free images? What’s an App?) Once the idea is established they can be extended to 5 or 10 minute blocks of learning (How can I design a collaborative online activity? What data analysis software should I use? How can social media help me network?)

Put together 50 DM’s which share a theme (communication, collaboration, audio, video, qualitative methodologies, professional profiles) and they become the basis for a workshop or drop-in session with a difference – eclectic, wide ranging and relevant, based on what you wanted to know but were unsure about asking. There’s nothing like digital shyness to stifle the confidence to admit lack of knowledge, in particular when it feels the world around you is digitally racing ahead.

DM’s will be online and promoted through social media. Like traditional workshops, this risks exclusion so a poster and leaflet campaign will bring DM’s into the physical world of corridors, cafes and other communal campus spaces. Community will be a core part of DM’s as staff and students can contribute, suggest topics and provide answers.

apple with a bite removed

Bite size sessions and short bursts of learning are not new concepts. Underpinning this Digital Moments idea is the transfer of responsibility for becoming digitally literate. Digitality is no longer optional and more DIY style approaches are required. Workshops can be invaluable but limited in their reach. Digital Moments offers a blend of learning, one which mixes the experiential with face to face and offers a proactive, practical approach to developing essential digital cultures.


See the new Jisc Technology for Employability Report (2016) 

Alarm clock image from

Apple image from

Digital image from