the language matters of digital pedagogy and learning wheels

I’ve said it before…

……….will say it again…

             …….language matters!

Neil Postman – not from the prescient Amusing Ourselves to Death –  but a later book Technopoly (1993) called language ‘pure ideology’ and claimed ‘It instructs us not only in the names of things but, more important, in what things can be named …of course, most of us, most of the time, are unaware of how language does its work’ (p123)

Postman goes on to assert the ideological agenda of language, while hidden from view, is nevertheless deeply integrated within our personalities and world view. ‘The great secret of language is to appear as natural and neutral.’ (p124).

So – think before you speak.

Language matters.

This week I was asked what ‘pedagogy first‘ means.

In TEL-World it’s the heretical alternative to the determinist ‘technology first‘ approach. Rather than make the practice fit the tech, pedagogy first is about starting with the design of the programme, module or activity. What are your learning outcomes? How will you assess them? What activities are most appropriate?

A pedagogy first approach, which  might or might not be enhanced by technology, is appearing here, there and everywhere. Notably the QAA Subscriber Research Series 2016-17 which looked at the relationship between digital capability and teaching excellence. This integrative review explored ‘what infrastructure and strategies are necessary to support effective use of technology enabled learning ’. Findings were presented as seven overarching principles:

  1. start with pedagogy every time
  2. recognise that context is key
  3. create a digital capability threshold for institutions
  4. use communities of practice and peer support to share good practice
  5. introduce a robust and owned change management re strategy 3
  6. develop a compelling evidence-informed rationale
  7. ensure encouragement for innovation and managed risk-taking.

Adopt a pedagogy/learning design first approach and everything else will follow. The HEPI report Rebooting learning for the digital age, appears to put technology first,  but cites the QAA report and says ‘TEL initiatives will only lead to excellent teaching if they are applied with a focus on pedagogy, aligned with strategy, and suited to the institutional, learner and discipline context.’ (p16, my emphasis)

If all linguistic comprehension is framed by context, where can pedagogy and technology be most effectively aligned?

The Amazon locker at Hull has delivered The Learning Wheel; A Model of Digital Pedagogy by Deborah Kelsey and Amanda Taylor. A slim little volume which packs a lot into its chapters. Well referenced and illustrated, it takes the core concepts of the Learning Wheel – Collaboration, Communication, Learning Content and Assessment – and applies them to the principle of digital pedagogy.

So what is digital pedagogy?

Debbie and Amanda tell us ‘Like most things in the education system, is a fluid and emerging concept’ (p2) For me, it’s acknowledgement of how – with some thoughtful adjustment – pedagogy and technology can be aligned.

Digital pedagogy acknowledges and accepts the changes technology is making to academic practice.

…or if it isn’t – and there are still places where the digital has yet to arrive –  it should be.

image taken from the film close encounters of the third kind showing a spaceship over a mountain

I’ve had a close encounter of the technophobic kind.

It left me wondering this…

  • How long can you
    •  ignore the presence of the internet/world wide web?
    • refuse to acknowledge the changes in traditional modes of communication and collaboration
    • insist on analogue models of teaching, learning, research practice?
    • resist the digital shift?
  • How many more reasons do you need when…
    • employers are looking for digital graduate attributes
    • offering a choice of digital format supports inclusivity
    • none of us want to sit and listen to stuff we can get online
    • most students prefer active, situated, constructivist activities

For those yet to make the digital shift, the learning wheel model of digital pedagogy is a useful place to start. The idea is you adapt the basic wheel model to suit your own practice.  Then – if you want – give it a creative commons license and share – see the Learning Wheel website for examples.

image from http://procatdigital.co.uk/learning-wheels/

Sometimes it’s hard to understand my non-digital colleagues who

It’s hard to accept how some academics continue to ban wikipedia rather than introduce it via critical digital literacies. My ‘learning design’ advice would be don’t ban but invite students to create their own stubs and peer review them.

If I were to set some digital shift tasks they’d look something like these

  • Discuss the potential for diversity of digital resources and access.
  • Compare and contrast transmissive pedagogies with constructivist ones.
  • Analyse the difference between  constructivism and constructionism.

Just saying.

Sounds like another blog post is born.

Back to pedagogy in a digital age.

Back to digital shifts.

american west covered wagon with large wheels

The learning wheel is a great analogy. Wheels go round. Again and again. They get you places. They’re open, continual, and universal. I was thinking of digital shifts as a chasm to be bridged and crossed but maybe it’s more about wheels and progression.

So thanks Deb Kellsey @DebKellsey and Amanda Taylor @AMLTaylor66  – both part of my social media network. It’s another sign of the digital shift when you meet people at an event with ‘I follow you on Twitter‘ or ‘I read your blog‘. Those not digitally connected are missing so much with regard to sharing knowledge, ideas, support and fun. Social media really is what you make it so make it work for you.

blue twitter bird

I think overall I prefer ‘learning design‘ to ‘pedagogy‘ (and avoiding the whole andragogy/heutagogy debate) but I do quite like the phrase ‘digital pedagogy‘ (maybe partly because my preference is ‘digital‘ rather than ‘technology‘) and I’m thinking the concept of the wheel might also have further mileage (!) as a research metaphor.

Part of my research is how the Community of Inquiry model of learning design might influence the development of digital capital. I’ve been considering developing digital capabilities as analogous to language learning and the processes of becoming digitally fluent.  When it comes to language –  as Postman reminded us – it’s the context which influences interpretation and the Learning Wheel model of Digital Pedagogy provides all the context anyone should need.

Let me know if you agree/disagree…


images – book covers my own – others not cited in text are from pixabay