#digifest17 asks if digital technology is changing learning and teaching

computing technologies

We all know determinists. Excited about the new. Putting tech in place. Waiting for transformation. Any failure is blamed on it being the wrong time, place or connections, but there’s much more than this to digital education. We have to go deeper.

Enthusiasm for education technology comes in waves. Last century it was CBA, CMC, VLE, then web 2.0 and social media, followed by oer and mooc, mobile devices, big data and dashboards. There were the go-to reports. Paul Anderson’s What is Web 2.0? (2007), or Peter Bradshaw’s Edgeless University (2009). Back further to Oleg Liber’s framework for pedagogical evaluation of vle (2004), Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design by Conole et al (004) or Death of the VLE by Mark Styles (2007). These are just a few and how many more predictions  from these times remain more promise and potential than fact?

advertising from jisc digifest17

I didn’t go to Digifest17 but followed as much as I could online. For me the star of the show was Amber Thomas from the University of Warwick. In conversation with Neil Morris from the University of Leeds, Amber dared to refer to digital technology as pixie dust and snake oil, suggesting what matters more are the non-digital aspects of education, namely the design of learning experiences.

There’s more than a little synchronicity here. My ex Lincoln colleague Andy Hagyard is now Academic Development Consultant at Leeds while Kerry Pinny is Academic Technologist at Warwick. Spot the similarities. We should form our own SIG. In the meantime, we’re under review at Hull and top running for our new job titles is learning enhancement rather than TEL. Amber was spot on. The future is less with the technology and more for the people.

looking for evidence cartoon

Predictions of tech-adoption are rarely realised in the way we expect. We look in the wrong places. It’s not the tech innovators or early adopters (who can be pedagogically astute but remain a minority), it’s those who self-exclude from technology events and opportunities. Who – dare I say – care more for the EL in TEL than the T itself. The solution to learning enhancement is not rocket science. It’s as simple as this. We need to talk more across our different sides of the fence.

Make the conversations less driven by technology and more about evidence of success. How do we know what works and why? Where is the scholarship of learning technology? The research informed practice? I’ve referred to existing literature critiques before in TEL-ing Tales, Evidence of Impact and Learning Design+TEL=the Future. These critiques can be powerful drivers and all the more reason for change. The brave new world of TEF and learning analytics is an optimum time to review the design of learning and how to evaluate its impact. Not just at the end, when students are moving on and it’s too late to change their experience, but by building iterative loops of feedback throughout modules and courses which tell everyone how they are doing when it most matters.

suggested list of criteria for learning design

Digifest17 was bold. …we’ll be celebrating the power of digital, its potential to transform and its capacity to revolutionise learning and teaching.

Transformation and revolution is the early language of BECTA  – remember the internet super highway? It’s worth revisiting HEFCE’s 2005 and revised 2009 elearning strategies, the Towards a Unified eLearning Strategy Consultation Document (2003) and the National Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education, otherwise known as the Dearing Report (1997). The text from the past is scarily similar to the text of the present.

rosie the riveteer

We’re still talking transformation and revolution, yet as Diana Laurillard said nearly ten years ago – ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’ (2008: 1)

Maybe technology isn’t the answer. The literature around Inquiry based learning stresses the need for fallibility so I have to admit I could be wrong. However, if technology is the answer then I’d suggest a more critical approach is needed. Here’s some suggestions. Andrew Feenburg’s Ten Paradoxes of Technology or Questioning Technology, Norm Friesen’s Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-Learning, Neil Selwyn’s Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology or Distrusting Educational Technology for starters. Then lets have conversations. Let’s start reading groups which discuss the pros and cons from wider social and cultural perspectives. Let’s ask questions like why are we investing in technology in the first place? How useful is data counting footfall and logins? Where is the evidence of enhancement?

quote from Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011)Slowly but surely places are emerging where education technology is aligning with academic practice. It seems a promising way forward. Why wouldn’t we want to introduce scholarship and pedagogy, build learning design around experiential loops of action research and appreciative inquiry? Lets shift the emphasis and make the future for higher education one which is more shaped by people rather than by machines.

groups of students


Images from Learning Analytics & Learning Design Digifest17 presentation by Patrick Lynch (p.lynch@hull.ac.uk) and pixabay.com. Jisc image from Jisc


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words, words, words…

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

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

ghostbusters logo

One

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

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

magnitic words for making poetry

Two

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

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

sad looking puppy

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

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

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

head phones and sheet music


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

Cracking the digital nut Jisc #connectmore16

cracking the digital nut

Tuesday, Liverpool and my first Jisc Connect event. What I like best about the Jisc advisors, apart from their digital expertise, is how they help you feel less alone. Developing digital capabilities is never easy. The innovators and early adopters don’t need me while the digitally resistant don’t need me either -because changing practice is not high on their agenda. This can be for valid reasons. I have sympathy for workloads as well as reluctance. Ask me to create a pivot table in excel and see the fear in my eyes. But sometimes it isn’t lack of skills or confidence, it’s lack of interest. Indifference can be  less to do with technology and more about adherence to traditional delivery modes like lectures .

What can we do about lectures?

Staff new to higher education expect to give them. New students expect to receive them. At Hull we’ve just acquired Panopto and the TEL-Team have banned the words lecture capture. We’re operating a fine system. One pound for each word. The problem is the connotations. We want to avoid the idea of passive replication of a didactic mode of delivery but it may be too late.

image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_university#/media/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_university#/media/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg

Thanks Phil Vincent @philvincent from YSJ for this quote “The uninspired label ‘lecture capture’ fails to convey the disruptive potential of this tool” (Russell, 2012). All technology has the potential to disrupt traditional ways of working but it can mimic them too.  When contact time with students is squeezed, digital environments can offer ways to extend and enhance learning. Collaboration and interaction beyond the time table might initially involve a learning curve but TEL-Teams can help make small yet incremental changes. But sometimes even a small change is a step to far. So lectures are replicated with little consideration if this is making the most of the opportunities offered by technologies which are tools and not enemies.

image from https://pixabay.com/en/army-blade-compact-cut-equipment-2186/
image from https://pixabay.com/en/army-blade-compact-cut-equipment-2186/ 

The gap between the possibility and the practice of technology is deep and wide beneath me. I spend my working days balanced between theory and reality.  It’s a tightrope above a chasm where learning technologists and digital educational developers fear to tread. Full of late adopters and those with no intention of changing, the walls echo with cries of  ‘but the students love my lectures’, ‘I don’t have time for digital stuff’ and ‘what’s a VLE anyway?’

What are we to do?

We need to talk about reluctance and resistance.  For too long the focus has been on innovation and pushing the boundaries. The divide between the metathesiophobic and the pioneer wearing an occulus or programming NAO robots is increasingly invisible. It’s a clever defense. The best form of protection is to hide.

IMG_0320 IMG_0322

Jisc are comforting. They reassure it’s not just me but a similar story in other institutions. Events like Jisc Connect are full of participants who smile with recognition, heads nodding knowingly. It helps temporarily but if the issue is endemic then eradication becomes more difficult and TEL Teams can find themselves in the thick of it.

metathesiophobia paradigmshift

What are the wider issues? What are staff afraid of? Are these fears evidence based?  What works well and why? Some institutions have digital leads at school and programme level, strategic direction, reward and recognition schemes, digital portfolios for CPD and staff development, others have put teacher education online, changed validation processes, resorted to bribery with coffee, cake and chocolate. TEL Teams need more opportunities to talk about sharing practice and the different possibilities for action. I keep my faith in the power of the internet to support student learning and educational opportunities but the digital nut is a long way from being cracked.

Cracking the nut image from presentation by Saf Arfam, VC Development and Innovation Salford City College

 

Digital Storytelling; not an end but a beginning

Digital Storytelling presentation slide

The first workshop introduced the craft of storytelling. We were sent away to produce a script for the second where we’d make it happen. It was bright and sunny on the outside but inside the computer lap it was turning into ‘one of those days’. Facilitator Chris Thomson must have thought it was sabotage. First there was no sound through his laptop. Despite the best efforts of an ICT technician it refused to play through the system. Meanwhile work had started on a new road. Just outside. Which more than made up for any lack of sound on the inside. We’d opened all the windows because it was so hot. Now the choice was heat up or shout out. The irony of Chris’s slides telling us audio was the most important component of a digital story and the need for a quiet location to record was not lost – that isn’t wine in Chris’s glass – honest!

IMG_0169 IMG_0170

Digital stories make great teaching tools. We all tell stories or anecdotes in one way or another. They can help explain something complex or show a different point of view. Contextualising knowledge within a story helps understanding and makes it more memorable while digital stories can be more engaging than a page of text or a report. They’re reusable and if you have the original materials they can be re-purposable as well. As you can probably tell, I’m an advocate. As well as learning and teaching aids, they’re useful development tools. To build the story you have to be critical and reflective; make decisions about what to put in and take out. Above all they’re opportunities to be digitally adventurous and creative. While the story itself can be about anything, the one rule was keep it short. Three minutes was the suggested maximum.

clock

At Hull we’re developing a digital capabilities framework for the university and I’m looking for original ways to support staff with exploring new digital ways of working. Story making offers opportunities to work with a range of artifacts and software. I often hear people say they can’t do audio or video because you need a professional studio with high end kit. My approach is DIY can be ‘good enough’. Phones and digital cameras take ‘good enough’ images and video and free software can  help you make a ‘good enough’ video. We used Audacity and Audacity Portable for recording and WeVideo for editing.

For me, digital stories tick all the boxes for learning development, digital CPD. You get something usable at the end and leave with the skills, knowledge and ideas for creating them in the future.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#686306411

Above it was fun. Completed stories will be showcased at the Learning and Teaching Conference in July and we plan is to repeat the workshops at School and Department level next year. Although the Jisc workshops have finished this is not the end of digital storytelling at Hull. It’s the beginning.

https://www.wevideo.com/embed/#687165951

keep digital storytelling personal

Digital storytelling is like blended learning. It fuses the traditional oral craft of story telling with 21st century technology. As TEL Teams support staff to bring VLE into their traditional f2f forms of teaching practice, so digital stories merge past and present. This week was the first digital storytelling workshop at the University of Hull. facilitated by Chris Thomson, Jisc Advisor. Details of the day can be accessed here https://sway.com/leZaeMETBElB1zVM The workshop included the following examples which show how digital media extends what was once a primary mode of communication; the telling of tales.

In My Alaska Story Julia Fuer shows you don’t have to be a video expert or use professional software. Monochrome images overlaid with a narrative offer memorable visual experiences. Click the image below to go to the WeVideo site

alaska journey

Participant/Observation is a powerful (and potentially upsetting) story from a research project in Pakistan.

Cheese sandwich from workshop facilitator Chris Thomson told a personal story which can be related to on multiple levels. Who hasn’t found themselves hungry and faced with limited options for food?

Cheese Sandwich by Chris Thomson from Curiosity Creative on Vimeo.

Rummaging around the internet I found an archived blog post by Chris. Responding to a challenge that this style of digital storytelling is too static in an internet age, Chris lists examples of more high-tech interactie style digital stories such as these:

I liked these less. The problem for me is they shift into the realm of professional digital media. I believe the craft of digital storytelling should be within everyone’s reach. Working with photographs you’ve taken, capturing video on a mobile phone, recording a narration on any personal device. As soon as you critique the common form of the digital story promoted by Chris and colleagues, saying it fails to take advantage of the affordances of the internet for interaction, then you take away the personal power we have to tell our own stories in digital ways.

Like  an open fire, storytelling taps into our collective unconscious. Stories can have multiple levels and an impact which stays with you. They can be about individual or institutional success, sharing pedagogical and other forms of practice or be a record of personal memories. The best stories will always be those about human lives and experiences. However, their greatest value is keeping the telling within the realms of our own digital capabilities and comfort.

Tweet-tips on #lthechat digital inclusion and accessibility

This post follows Wednesday’s #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. The tweetchat rationale is here http://lthechat.com/2016/02/15/lthechat-no-46-sue-sue-watling-digital-inclusion-and-accessibility/ and there’s a list of the shared resources at the bottom of this post for those in a hurry.

If you have a little more time, then freed from the limitations of 140 characters or less, I thought it might be useful to give some background.

It was around 2010 when I first experienced vision impairment. I thought it’ll be fine. I work with technology. I know the theory. The internet is fully accessible – right? I could enlarge text, change contrasts, use text to speech and train my Dragon. It was the beginning of a new journey which included volunteering with a local organisation for people with sight loss and seeing first hand the frustrations of digital exclusion. I worked with VLE but had no real practical application of the principles of accessibility. Now it all changed. I began to write about the risks of what Ellen Helsper at the LSE had called a Digital underclass. I knew how the social impact of the internet was as potentially exclusive as inclusive. It all depended on how you used a computer and accessed the internet. I devised the MEE Model of digital exclusion. This reflected common usage. I  refers to using a Mouse for navigation, Eyes to see and Ears to listen. When all around you follow the MEE Model it becomes easy to assume everyone else does too. The MEE Model has sequential layers of barriers.

  • The high cost and narrow market of alternative navigation devices or adaptations to make the best use of existing physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. You can’t buy assistive technology (AT) at Tesco.
  • The need for specialist training and support. AT can involve a steep and unique learning curve and it can be challenging to keep AT aligned with sequential developments in operating systems and browser controls.
  • Even with the AT plus training and support in place, if online content has not been designed and delivered with inclusive access in mind, you will remain excluded. Try using iTunes with a screen reader. Try any online shopping site with text to speech. You may be able to browse, select and move to the payment section then find it’s an add-on where text fields are not labelled and drop down menus don’t work. Turn off the volume and use YouTube with automatically generated captions, or any subtitled video where the titles cover the picture rather than sitting in a separate footer. Try zooming in (Ctrl+) and watch frames overlap , fail to resize or left to right scroll bars disappear. The list goes on.

In an increasingly digital society, where public information, health, welfare, retail and leisure are moving online, to be digitally excluded is to be marginalised and disempowered. The vision of the web pioneer for a digital democracy has simply not happened.

 ‘… it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities.’  (Berners Lee, 1997)

‘…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.’  (Dardailler, 1997)

So when asked to facilitate an #LTHEchat it seemed natural to bring out the digital inclusion soapbox in relation to learning and teaching.

image of a bar of soap and an empty box representing a digital soapbox

Over the past year or so, I’d been feeling a bit disillusioned. I’d already shifted focus from trying to change the world to making smaller changes such as building accessibility outcomes into my online TELEDA courses e.g. 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.  I still accepted any opportunity to raise awareness and did visitor slots for staff and students on a range of courses. Maybe I was imagining it but it seemed audiences a little bit more disinterested every year. Last month I gave a keynote on the social impact of the internet looking through a number of critical lenses, making sure these included digital divides; the hidden millions who had never been online in the UK and those with access but not the means to make essential use of it. One of the follow-up emails said it all.

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

A consequence of legislation (Single Equality Act) is tokenism as displayed in this photograph. It shows a perfect example of the law being followed but with no apparent awareness of the impossible situation created.

disabled parking road sign next to a postbox

Digital accessibility in learning and teaching is not always the most popular of topics. The response is often raised eyebrows, dismissive comments and barely concealed sighs.  So I wasn’t sure what to expect Wednesday at 8.00 pm but the fantastic #lthechat community come through in great style and by the end of the hour I felt reinvigorated again. This is the power of social media, adding Connect to the BBC mission to Educate, Inform and Entertain.

There are only a few months until the government’s proposed changes to the DSA come into place. This will remove a layer of digital support for new students and shift the responsibility for making reasonable adjustments back onto institutions. The topic of ensuring equal access to online learning resources should be at the forefront but in a way, the DSA itself has contributed to the notion that accessibility issues belong to someone else, somewhere over there, wherever student support is managed  We’re further away than ever to the idea of individual responsibility for ensuring accessible design of digital documents.

But there is hope. At a time when low levels of digital capability among staff who teach and support learning is coming to the forefront, accessibility can be built into new digital baselines and frameworks but the first step is raising awareness of why this matters in the first place.

LTHEchat offered lots of useful reminders and advice for moving forward as captured in this Storify https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthechat-45-with

#LTHEchat questions:

  1. Why does digital inclusion matter?
  2. Who is responsible for accessible L&T content in your institution?
  3. Audio and video need transcripts. Discuss.
  4. Where to go for help? Share an online source of advice.
  5. Share a tip for creating accessible digital documents.
  6. What does accessibility mean to you?

Shared #LTHEchat resources list 

Lastly, a timely reminder of how a simple zoom can go wrong. Trying to get to the image only succeed in making it appear further away!

black screen with large text and tiny image

Thanks to everyone who makes #LTHEchat happen. Although this week’s session is over, I hope the conversations and sparks of interest and enthusiasm will be lighting bigger fires 🙂

 

Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

(Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org