The week the internet was 30

image showing Sir Tim Berners Lee
image from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-47524474

I’ve often wondered if what we call the internet keeps Sir Tim Berners Lee awake at night. Reading his open letter to the Web Foundation this week, it sounds like it might.

TBL writes ‘…the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.’ and calls for us to ‘…make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good….making this happen should be a ‘priority agenda of our governments’

image showing the earth surrounded by digital networks
image from https://pixabay.com/en/network-earth-block-chain-globe-3537401/

I would suggest higher education also has a role to play. The undergraduates of today are the citizens of the future, which will be digital in ways we don’t yet know or understand. They should be given opportunities to develop digital graduate attributes which not only develop confidence with online environments but include opportunities to raise awareness of the impact of digital practice. This should be critically examined and promoted in ways which are accessible and inclusive because the digital is political.

The internet is about power and all students should have time to explore questions about who holds this power and what is done with it to affect the lives of others.

social media icons on a tree
image from  https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/

Walk down any high street, take public transport, sit in a pub or a café and its clear how connectivity rules. The mobile device is ubiquitous. Not 100% but enough to represent social transformation.  In less than two decades we’ve become digitally connected, with everything done online being tracked, recorded and monitored. Data about our online activity underpins all internet transactions. Online lives are exposed through browser histories with all transactions leaving permanent digital footprints. Bentham’s panoptican has been reinvented for a digital society. The all seeing eye is virtual.

Orwell and Foucault were right!

image showing the panopticon
image from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault-disciplineandpunish-panopticism-html

The early pioneers of the world wide web saw it as an opportunity to create democracy and give everyone a voice, in particular those previously silenced. While  evidence shows there are places where this has happened, the fact remains that patterns of internet access mirror existing forms of marginalisation.  Digital exclusion is a 21st century form of discrimination where those without equitable access are disempowered. But this is not the only problem society faces.

TBL identifies three sources of dysfunction affecting today’s web:

  • Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  • System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of
  • Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

The Contract for the Web declares ‘governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone.’ It calls for everyone to commit to a number of principles. Taking a few minutes to read and sign up is to make a commitment towards understanding what you do online matters.

google icon seen through a magnifying glass

image from https://pixabay.com/en/magnifying-glass-google-76520/

The contract is not only aimed at governments and corporations, there are individual responsibilities for citizens who can agree to the following.

  • Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
  • Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

For every advantage the internet offers, there are disadvantages. The internet is a mirror of society with all its benefits and horrors. If we want to make a positive difference, we can commit to ensuring our use of the internet prioritises those values which promote public good.

As internet users, we all have a responsibility to ensure not only equality of access but attention to the ways that access is used.

As the web reaches the age of 30, this week is an opportune time to raise discussion and debate about these issues. Visiting the Contract for the Web would be useful place to begin.

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-coast-spray-surge-2530692/

On the development of digital practice…

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image from https://pixabay.com/photos/files-paper-office-paperwork-stack-1614223/

241 pages (without the front bits and bibliography)

77298 words (and rising)

My thesis is now in a single word file and beginning to look serious. But never mind the research; it’s the section breaks and captions which are defeating me.

In case you’re wondering, don’t rely on cross references transferring when you merge chapter files. The table links broke. Why? I have no idea but I have to recaption them again. As for trying to insert landscape pages within portrait ones or an Abstract page without messing up existing numbering or heading styles  – it isn’t happening.

My advice?

Good luck!

Each thesis will be different and if you don’t have a pre-formatted  template which expands and adjusts as you add content, then you’re on your own.

image from https://pixabay.com/photos/typewriter-mechanical-retro-vintage-407695/

I’ve been word processing since the DOS version of Wordstar and WordPerfect 5.1. Pre-windows. I thought I knew my way around the ribbons and menus of Word which I’ve been using since Windows 95 but I don’t.

l couldn’t achieve my aims, couldn’t keep asking colleagues for help, and could feel my confidence levels dropping. This reinforced how digital literacies are situational. We know what we need to know and this knowledge is only transferable if we want to do the same thing somewhere different. Even with the help of google, and years of working with programmes like Flash, Dreamweaver, and WordPress, I’ve struggled to format this document the way I want it.

Because I’m dealing with editing tools I havent used before.

I used to proofread research papers for medical journals. I didn’t understand the words but was good at spotting inconsistent spelling and although my supervisor might be surprised, I always thought my punctuation and grammar was good enough. When it comes to text I know my way around the alphabet but give me a page of numerical data and I break out in a cold sweat.

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image from https://pixabay.com/photos/calendar-date-time-month-week-660670/

We know what we know.

When it comes to something new, education theory suggests effective learning comes through applying new knowledge to what is already known, in ways which make sense to us as individuals. Success comes from situations which are contextual.

I believe experiential learning is key to becoming digitally fluent.

For some time, I’ve been immersed in data. NVivo has been another challenge. Anyone whose used it will be familiar with ‘Environment Change Down East’, This is their in-package training programme. It’s well made and shows what can be done with regard to data analysis. However, the chances are your data will be different and applying the principles from these tutorials is not always as seamless as they suggest.

I never want to see NVivo again!

image showing sets of black words on a white background
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/social-media-media-board-networking-1989152/

My research is practice-led. Participants were enrolled on my online teacher education courses; Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA). This meant researcher and researched were all embedded within the environment being studied, which was digital practice. How do staff teaching and supporting learning conceptualise higher education? What influences their attitudes and actions? I was particularly interested to work alongside the later adopters of learning technologies, whose voices and experiences are often excluded from a literature privileging the innovators and early adopters. How did participants negotiate shifts in their digital practice? What could I do to encourage engagement in the digital world of teaching and learning in 21st century?

A 12 month HEA Change Academy programme exploring the adoption of open educational resources showed me how the most resistant of colleagues found new ways to engage with digital tools and platforms. Approaching digital development from a contextual position, and directly working alongside students, rather than an isolated technology-first training approach which focused on the how rather than the why, proved to be transformative. TELEDA emerged from seeing first-hand the power of experiential learning to support change.

image showing the words 'the next step' chalked onto a blackboard
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/board-step-each-other-following-1273117/

In these days of review and restructure, it seems investment in the digital practice of staff teaching and supporting learing is first to go. There appears to be a growing assumption that digital literacy is a given. After all, we live in an increasingly digital society, where public services are digital-by-default and everyone is going online to manage all the aspects of their lives. The need to address digital skill sets seems to be less of a requirement.

I get this.

My research suggested participants were in possession of digital capital. The later adopters could communicate and collaborate in online environments and were aware of the advantages for students of any-time, any-place access through devices of choice. But specific application of this digital capital to pedagogic development was not seamless.  My recent experiences with NVivo and formatting a large and complex document appeared to reinforce the situational nature of digital practice.

cartoon showing a person facing angry technology with the caption The Battle we all Face

If, with all my digital experience, I was struggling with section breaks and cross referencing because they represented areas I was unfamiliar with, then how can institutions expect their staff to make use of virtual environments for anything other than what they already know.

The literature of digital education speaks of independent student-centred learning through the construction of activities which support the co-production and co-construction of knowledge, but the scholarship of teaching and learning appears to be lacking a digital domain.

It seems there’s a gap between what could be done and the reality of day-to-day practice, while investment in the development of digitally confident practitioners appears to be returning to technology-first approaches.

There’s an increasing focus on measurement of engagement through counting logins and downloads of recorded lectures rather than creating time and opportunities to explore questions such as what do you want your students to do and which pedagogic approaches are best suited to achieving this – with or without technology but it’s 2019, the tech is going to be in there somewhere. It just needs a more situated view of developing digital practice, one which is embedded within individual context.

image showing technology and coffee
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/technology-tablet-digital-tablet-792180/

Experiential learning works but it takes time and resources. It needs a sociological imagination, one which makes the familiar strange through critical, reflexive questioning. We’re all digital citizens but with citizenship comes a responsibility for  to ensure equality.

I think the principles of inclusion can be usefully applied to digital development within higher education. Access appears to be a given but what’s too often missing is relevant and meaningful opportunities to critically examine the ways in which access is used.

In the meantime, I have section breaks to return to…

image showing the section breaks menu in MS Word

digital presence as an indicator of digital capital

image showing two sheet facing each other
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/sheep-bleat-communication-2372148/

The Community of Inquiry model suggests successful online education requires cognitive, teaching and social presences.  I’d agree that designing around this combination is a useful starting point for any online activity.

However, I’d also suggest another presence is essential.

Digital presence.

In a Community of Inquiry context, including digital presence would ensure staff and students were prepared for the digital dimensions of teaching and learning online, and in possession of the prerequisite digital capabilities.

But I see digital presence as more than practical knowledge because how we work online influences access to other resources. Opportunities for networking, publication, research, teaching and learning can all happen in ways which privilege those with digital connectivity and the confidence to use it. I’m still thinking it through – hence this blog post – but suggest digital presence can be aligned with digital capital.

image shpowing a hand holding a blue ball covered with social media icons
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/social-media-icon-hand-keep-2489594/

I use this in the Bourdieusian sense to extend his ideas around social and cultural capital to the digital domain. A digital society requires increasing amounts of digital practice, but how often do we stop and think about what is happening? How many times do we automatically log on without considering the implications of our actions, the extent of the divides being created or what might be missing through being digitally disengaged?

I have analogue roots. This means I don’t take connectivity for granted but I do appreciate the affordances of digital access at a time, place and device of choice, in particular how this offers genuine opportunities to widen participation. For all the ways in which higher education is changing, I still believe in its capacity for making a positive  contribution to individual lives, which in turn will influence the future society our graduates will make.

My career has been built around supporting digital education development. The lack of attention to the ways in which digital practice is understood has always concerned me. Digital diversity risks differential student experiences at a time when the development of digital graduate attributes should be at the heart of curriculum design.

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image from https://pixabay.com/photos/umbrella-yellow-black-white-1588167/

Considering digital presence as an indicator of digital capital may be one way to address this.

Digital difference has multiple layers in particular the ways in which online activity enhances or diminishes social and cultural capital, described by Bourdeiu as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.’ (Bourdieu, 1983: 249)

In other words, capital is the knowledge and skills which bestow status and power. Digital capital creates digital presence and in today’s society, this matters. Having digital presence creates tangible outcomes which relate to other forms of capital.

Society privileges the digitally fluent and marginalises others.

So digital presence is attitudinal as well as behavioural. It involves tangible qualities like identity and performance but also the ways digital practices are embodied, cumulative, transferable and potentially transformative.

Transformation in relation to digital practice is contentious. Claims which conflate them are risky. For too long, virtual learning environments have been presented as having transformational qualities when actual usage is more about management and control of administrative functions. In higher education, risk derives from focusing on technology-drivers rather than pedagogy-first pathways.

image showing a baby elephant being taught to go into the water
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/elephant-young-watering-hole-2380009/

Teaching is a complex, socially situated activity, dependent on multiple perspectives, skills and experience. Transfer the requirements of effective teaching and learning online and they multiply in ways which are not always fully addressed. The practical wisdom associated with the literature of educational practice requires digital dimensions which are too often excluded from traditional  approaches to supporting academic development.

Understanding and building digital presence could be a way to address this.

Bourdieu suggests the ‘peculiarity of cultural capital’ exists in forms which are ‘embodied, objectified, or institutionalized.’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 119). The word ’embodied’ always makes me think of Foucault and his conception of coercive power. Individuals appearing to willingly conform to social discourse through the adoption of daily practices and routines or ‘technologies of the self’ (Foucault, 1982).  even where these repllcate and reinforce disadvantage or disempowerment. Practice, in particular digital practice, is inextricably linked to the possession of social and cultural capital which in turn relates to power.

Back to Bourdieu who used the terms ‘habitus‘ and ‘field’ for this interplay between structure and agency. These relationships are often internalised. Like a fish takes water for granted, social and cultural positioning can be accepted because it operates below the level of consciousness. However, it can be known through critical reflection and analysis, which should be the heart of a higher education experience. .

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image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ball-http-www-crash-administrator-63527/

In 21st century, all social theory has digital dimensions and structures of power and control contain within themselves the possibility of change. Understanding the origins of discourse creates opportunities to challenge it. A society with increasing digital dependency should have equitable access at its heart. Teaching and learning is a great place to embed digitally inclusive practice which is not limited to accessing technology but is about the ways in which it’s used. Digital capital is made visible by degrees of digital presence.

Rather than assume everyone has the skills and confidence of the innovators and early adopters, we should pay more attention to the later adopters and the parameters of resistance. There is much to learn from studying the diversity of digital practice and the extend to which digital presence is developed may be a useful conceptual tool for supporting these discussions.

 

References 

Bourdieu, P., 1983. Forms of capital. In: Richards, J.C. (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. Greenwood Press, New York.; Coleman.

Bourdieu, P., Wacquant, L.J.D., 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Foucault, M. Technologies of the Self.” Lectures at University of Vermont Oct. 1982, in Technologies of the Self, 16-49. Univ. of Mass­a­chu­sets Press, 1988.

 

 

 

The value of research into practice

image shows a jigsaw with a missing piece
image from https://pixabay.com/en/puzzle-missing-particles-654963/

The requirements of a PhD are straightforward. It should produce robust claims for an original contribution to knowledge. In other words, what does the research show which wasn’t known before?

I seem to be having a problem with articulating my findings. I don’t usually struggle with text but at the moment it’s hard to find the right words!

Often a side-step from stuckness can be useful.

To help find a path through the challenges of crafting a viable conclusion, I sidestepped and wrote about the defining characteristics of the research instead.  Initially, they seemed to be strengths which would contribute to the validity of the findings. Now I’m having doubts. Despite the extensive review of the literature alonside a methodology which appears appropriate, what if I’ve produced nothing original at all?

image showing a red, grey and black round stamp with the word original on it
image from https://pixabay.com/en/original-shield-label-characters-960525/

The first defining characteristic of this research is it’s situated within a qualitative paradigm. Qualitative research is interested in individual practice, the ways knowledge about practice are constructed and understood, and the processes through which practice is replicated or reconstructed. Qualitative data should be rich and deep with analysis leading to new insights.

So far so good.

Denzin and Lincoln, in the 5th edition of the SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research suggest ‘critical qualitative inquiry inspired by the sociological imagination can make the world a better place‘ (2018: xi).

I’ve always believed changing the world is a tough call but we have the capacity to change our own little part of it.

image shows 4 sad faces and one happy one
image from https://pixabay.com/en/happiness-positive-emotions-ball-2411727/

I wanted to address an issue I’d worked with for many years, as an ICT tutor for Adult and Community Education and during my time as Senior Lecturer in Education Development at the University of Lincoln.

The issue was digital diversity. At a time when teaching and learning was undergoing huge technology-supported shifts to more student-centred learning, I wanted to know what influenced the adoption of virtual environments. I believed this would inform my role with supporting staff as they negotiated shifts in digital practice, while also producing evidence-informed guidance which could be disseminated more widely.

Why did this matter?

The literature of digital education focuses on the impact of technology on student learning from the perspective of staff who, using Rogers Diffusion of Innovations model, could be described as innovators or early adopters.

image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png

The digital practices of staff who are later adopters appears to be under-addressed. Yet the majority of my work depended on encouraging the digitally shy and reluctant to not only take early digital steps, but to continue on digital pathways. I thought contributing to this knowledge gap might lead to useful insights for the development of digital education, in particular from the late-adopter perspective which seemed to be less well investigated or understood.

A qualitative paradigm appeared to offer the potential for deeper insights. However, I knew from experience how inviting participants to talk about digital ways of working risked a skewed sample of self-selectors i.e. those who were already early adopters. I needed a way to reach a broader proportion of staff, in particular those wanting to explore change but lacking meaningful or timely opportunities to do so.

This led to the second defining characteristic of this research.

It’s practice-led.

image shows a map, notebook, camera and laptop suggesting different modes of practice
image from https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-mac-computer-browser-2557615/

Participants were invited to take part in Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA). These were my online courses built on the principles of active and experiential learning. Driven by pedagogy rather than technology, staff were enrolled on the VLE as students and encouraged to reflect on the transfer of new knowledge to their own practice. In true qualitative style, participants were immersed in the environment being studied and I was immersed in the world of my participants. On TELEDA we could all be described as action researchers.

Research into practice is well established within schools of education. It was Aristotle who distinguished between making action (poiesis) and doing action (praxis). Within the social world, praxis involves making judgements, in particular for the human good (phronesis). This has been called ‘practical wisdom’ (Carr, 1987).

My analysis suggested new forms of practical ‘digital’ wisdom were needed alongside a better understanding of the constituent parts of digital capital. My research seemed to fit requirements in terms of literature gap and methodology. Rich, deep data was collected from TELEDA while the use of Braun and Clarke’s stages of Thematic Data Analysis supported the emergence of several dominant themes, alongside answers to the research questions.

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/detective-clues-find-finger-152085/

But are my findings original?

What constitutes originality in the first place?

I consulted Patter which I’d recommend to anyone who feels they’ve lost their postgraduate way.

I’ve been there often!

Pat Thomson suggests originality might be where PhD researchers present their own ‘…interpretations and categorisations. These arise from their particular question, sample, methods and analytic/theoretical approach. It is in the thinking-for-myself process that their originality lies.’ What is an original contribution? 

But is this enough?

I was influenced early on by the Illustrated guide to a PhD. This shows the size of an individual doctoral contribution compared to the sum total of knowledge. You need to look closely to see it!

visual guide to the knowledge prdocued during a PhD
image from http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/ 

Your research doesn’t have to change the world, but it needs to produce original findings.

So where am I today?

A 2015 paper by Ana Baptista et.al. looked at the relationships between originality, creativity, and innovation in the doctorate as an original contribution to knowledge. They suggest originality is not a  commonly understood concept. This didn’t help much, nor did the reminder of how ‘students at times work independently in an uncertain environment‘ (2015:57). Definitely a component of part-time distance learning! However, I found this useful.

‘Doctoral theses are expected to make not just an original but also significant contribution to the field, the implication being that there is little value in originality if it is not also significant. However, the determination of significance is context-dependent.’ (2015:58)

It was nothing I hadn’t read elsewhere but was maybe the right words at the right time. Context-dependency lies at the heart of qualitative research, which recognises the influence of positionality, as does my research framework which applies a critical realism lens and the use of social practice theory.  Contextuality is a thread running throughout. There’s something in there which I can’t quite articulate.

I think I’m stuck in the what, how and why of it. I need to put aside what I did methodologically and focus more on alternative ways to present the outputs which include two new models of digital practice. But on their own, the production of new forms of practical digital knowledge, alongside the evidenced value of practice-led research for understanding digital capital, are not enough.

I need different ways to describe my original contribution to knowledge.

How have others coped with this stuckness?

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/glass-explosion-shivers-shards-601569/

Digital practice

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/web-network-programming-3706562/

Mistakes can be useful learning tools but we’re rarely rewarded for getting something wrong.

Another way to learn is to have something you’ve become used to taken away.

My biggest learning curve with regard to digital practice was on the MA Open and Distance Learning with the OU. It was a fully online course with lots of different platforms plus we were piloting their MyStuff portfolio when such tools were still new. The MA was also my first experience of virtual meetings with audio and I still remember how I jumped when the tutor’s voice boomed out at me from my laptop as I entered the online room!

The course had an international cohort which was another fresh experience. Comparing education as I knew it with what was happening in countries like Russia and the US provided valuable knowledge but I learned most of all from the final two modules.

image showing an open book and pair of glasses
image from https://pixabay.com/en/knowledge-book-library-glasses-1052010/

I chose one from Psychology and one from Social Science without realising they hadn’t been transferred to online formats. Typically, I’d assumed all the OU units would be like the ones I’d just taken.  When the courier arrived with a box of books, papers and a DVD I realised my mistake. This was my course. There were no online forums, no virtual meetings and if I wanted to speak to my tutor I had to book a phone call.

The resources were good. I still have them. But the greatest learning came from not having the digital communication and collaboration I’d become used to. Without these I appreciated their value in a way I never would have done otherwise.

It was the same with the assessment centres. I had problems parking, arrived late, and struggled with the physical writing. I sent emails and used social media. I no longer wrote letters and did little more than sign my name by hand. For days afterwards my arm and shoulder ached and I still haven’t forgotten how it felt to be sat in a room with over 30 people all scribbling away in various states of stress as the clock ticked and the temperature rose.

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/empty-exam-hall-deserted-nobody-314554/

Students still take examinations in this style.

Many VLE still look like content repositories when they can offer so much more.

Technology-first approaches to blended and distance courses are still common when all the evidence suggests a pedagogy-first path for the design of teaching and learning online is a more effective method.

I’ve been thinking of these experiences as I come to the end of my PhD. We’re discussing eternal examiners and planning a mock viva in preparation for the final defence. The end is in sight but I’m not there yet. There are still hurdles to jump. In the meantime, I’ve learned so much.

My research is practice-based. Participants were enrolled on my online courses, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA). I was an insider, both at the university and as the developer and facilitator of the programmes.  Each of the three iterations of TELEDA were 30 level 7 credits and on the advice of the external examiner I had the validation booked for merging two modules into a PG Cert in Digital Education. A restructure halted those plans and instead TELEDA became a Diploma level option on a new MA in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  It looked good on paper but institutional changes prevented it from happening.

Last year, with my colleague Patrick Lynch, we developed a pedagogy-first approach to enhancement called Design for Active Learning (D4AL). With or without technology, we explained, but its 2018, the tech will be in there somewhere, we’re just choosing not to lead with it. Again, progress was affected by changes we had no control over.

CMALY accreditation badge
image from https://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/cmalt/

When I gained my Certified Membership of ALT (CMALT) there were less than 100 certified learning technologists in the country. Today there are many more and for the past few years I’ve been a CMALT assessor. The portfolio submission has to address the design of learning yet the majority of people who apply are technologists. This reinforces the on-campus divides between those who promote technology enhanced learning and those who practice it on a day-to-day basis with students.

How can higher education institutions do more to develop their staff who teach and support learning to become digitally fluent practitioners?

TELEDA was successful.  I have a mass of data which confirms the value of experiential approaches to digital practice, in particular for later adopters of online ways of working. I know many participants took their TELEDA learning and applied to their own practice which was the original intention. Staff were enrolled as students on the institutional VLE and for many this itself was transformational. Getting lost online helped them rethink their own practice as did the supportive introductions to social media and creating audio and video as supplements for text. TELEDA covered learning design and assessment. It introduced the philosophy and practice of open education. We read and discussed seminal papers around the digital native and digital immigrant debate and Siemen’s Connectivism. It was an ideal opportunity to introduce accessibility of content as being of benefit to everyone and show how VLE and other digital tools supported widening participation and increasingly diverse student cohorts.MS Office 365 logos

image from http://www.iconarchive.com/show/microsoft-office-2013-icons-by-carlosjj.html

All this is in the thesis and published in a range of books and papers. I’ve learned a lot over the years about digital practice and like to think TELEDA is remembered by colleagues as a worthwhile investment of their time.

I’ve also seen a lot of changes in higher education and, like many others, have concerns about the future.  I remain convinced that VLE offer genuine opportunities for participation in transformational higher education experiences, in particular for students who are unable to enjoy a full time on-campus degree.

However, developing the necessary digital practice of staff who teach and support learning needs more investment. This is likely to remain the biggest hurdle of all.

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Janus head

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image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus#/media/File:Janus1.JPG

Christmas is coming.

Under review, my post excluded from the suggested new structure, I don’t know what lies ahead. The process has paused for the seasonal break and uncertainty creates the Janus effect of looking back, looking forwards.

Where have I come from?

Where am I going?

This is the second time I’ve witnessed digital practice being sidelined. In the past couple of years, both institutions I’ve worked in have been through reviews which appear to equate education technology with ICT Departments, rather than an integral component of academic practice.

I admit I’m on the inside looking out, so maybe I’m missing the wood for too many trees.

imge of trees from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/forest-trees-rays-sun-light-690075/

What seems clear, is my approach to digital education is at odds with wider institutional views.

So in this final post of 2018, I’m reflecting on my own beliefs and looking back over the Digital Academic blog posts of the past years for clues.

It starts with ‘like attracting like’.

In the same ways different disciplines have unique signature pedagogies, those working in the areas of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) are unique tribes occupying their own territories.  This can result in digital divides between the early adopters and those late making digital shifts in practice. Universities are made up of more than Visitors and Residents, they also include a third option, the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets and reaching them has been a primary driver of my work. A number of blog posts address these divides specifically.

selection of digital tools and devices
https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-technology-computer-business-3244483/

TEL people put on digitally themed events where the majority of faces are those you know. The Friends of TEL. occasionally you see someone new, full of enthusiasm for the topic, and actively engaged in finding ways to apply new approaches to their teaching practice. A few months later you pass in the corridor and ask how it went. They study the wall behind you and mutter something about not having had time before moving on.

Time for digital development needs to be recognised and adequately workloaded. This isn’t happening. As a consequence, staff who are already overloaded and under pressure to achieve ever-changing targets are unable to prioritise new working practices.

image from https://pixabay.com/en/paper-messy-notes-abstract-3033204/

My response to this was to apply lateral thinking. Rather than find new ways to attract people to use technology, I put the tech aside and focused instead on learning design. Staff might say they don’t do technology, and I’ve heard this said on numerous occasions, but they can’t say they’re not interested in student learning. So during the past year, my colleague Patrick Lynch and I developed a Design for Active Learning (D4AL) approach to enhancement. We promoted D4AL as being with or without technology and discovered in 2018, it was always in there somewhere. It just needed a pedagogy-first rather than than a technology-first approach to reach it.

Digital divides take many forms. One of these is made explicit by the practice of lurking. Traditionally understood as a negative behaviour, lurking was the topic of a number of blog posts back in 2016.

letter tiles spelling the words sounds of silence

During 2018, there’s been renewed interest in rethinking lurking as valid learning, a form of legitimate peripheral participation. It received wider interest via the Digital Researcher course and a number of online forums including #lthechat plus Twitter responses to these blog posts.

Lacking digital confidence is the path less travelled. Their absence is reinforced when TEL people are genuinely unaware of the parameters of digital exclusion, or how low literacies are contributory factors. Inclusive digital practice is not talked about enough but this might change in 2019.

closed padlock on a shut dor
image from https://pixabay.com/en/castle-chain-completed-shut-off-to-3788999/

The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 calls for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to meet accessibility requirements. However, realistically I wonder how much real difference will it make. Already we are seeing interpretation  through a technology lens with VLE suppliers offering ‘checking’ systems focused on table headings, alt text etc. This is not addressing individual changes in practice. The Design for Diversity project set up with colleague Lee Fallin tackles these with poster guidelines for all staff creating and uploading digital resources. The poster can be downloaded from here – Keep the Diversity Flag FLying here

Digital inclusion is like critical digital literacies – both are needed in theory and digital scholarship but are less often evidenced in practice. Yet ignoring the issues only results in widening the divides between those with easy unproblematic access and means of use compared to those without

Finally looking back pedagogically these blog posts offer new ways of reinterpreting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Blooms Taxonomy for a digital age. I’m convinced pedagogy-first is the way forward.

MAslow Hierarchy of Needs pyramid
repurposed image original from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.svg

Some posts have been a bit political this year but only with regard to highlighting those issues which matter if society is to become a more equal and inclusive place, something I believe a ‘higher’ education should have as an underpinning philosophy and is integral to digital scholarship.

There’s been positive responses from conferences I’ve presented at this year, which included these issues, for example

presnting at the UCISA conference

And there’s the Lego with feedback showing real value in building, sharing and asking questions.

lego bricks from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/lego-colors-toys-build-up-disorder-688154/F

Plus, in relation to innovative approaches to learning and teaching, there was the work on using labyrinths as aids for reflection as detailed in Walking the Labyrinth and my Classical Allsorts Radio Show for Siren FM which explored the Mozart Effect while promoting music for studying to.

So – looking back – I should be ending 2018, and maybe my career, on a high but I don’t know what 2019 has in store and the ‘not-knowing’ casts a shadow over what’s usually a happy time of year. However, I’m a huge believer in closing doors leading to new ones opening and I like the idea of fresh and different opportunities ahead.

Also, the allotment has been much neglected this year.

Closing down for 2018…

image from https://pixabay.com/en/christmas-star-background-backdrop-2894952/