We need to talk (and do pedagogical research) #lthechat #heachat

pixabay educationHE Teachers as Pedagogic Researchers was the final #lthechat for this academic year. It’s also the title of the pre-reading by Dr Abbi Flint on the HEA blog https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/blog/higher-education-teachers-pedagogic-researchers An appropriate choice before the summer chat-break. In these TEF times the topic of excellence in teaching is raising interest in scholarship. Valid questions are being asked, albeit with contentious answers but what matters is the conversation. Like the role of TEL in 21st century higher education – We Need to Talk!

The theory-practice divide between research and teaching is still a predicator of attitudes. There are many barriers to breach. Researchers say they don’t have time to teach and teachers don’t have time for research and those of us with TEL heads are caught in the middle where neither have time for our technologies.

So the #lthehat was spot on although they sneaked in an extra hashtag. #lthechat and #heachat took up 17 characters and space counts on twitter where brevity is part of the challenge fun. Browse through this beautifully presented Storify by Kandy Woodfield @jess1ecat for an overview of the session.

Like #lthechat I’m taking a break from the Friday blog this summer. It’s back to my research. Changing institutions involved  a PhD gap year. Part-time doctoral study with full-time work is always a challenge (alert -danger – warning) but to move as well verges on impossible.

alert

Yet it’s been unexpectedly valuable because time is integral to the learning process. Pause. Step away. Return. See how different everything looks. Change the context. Alter the view. When I look back over my PhD journey, which has been like a roller coaster on rocky rails, this is the year it coalesced. My research is about pedagogies and online environments, about supporting staff to become digitally confident and also about my own teaching practice. As practitioner-researcher I applied action research evaluation loops to inform the development of a teacher education programme.  This enabled me to work with pedagogic theory and examine the difference it made – or not.  It also opened the door to the research literature on digital education which is full of aspiration and magical thinking. Nowhere is the gap between theory and practice so wide and my research has positioned me in the vast open spaces in between.

teleda

Adopting a pedagogic research-mind forces critical examination. What did you do, why did you do it, how, where, when – all those questions which can be so difficult to answer. It’s like looking in a mirror and mirrors don’t always feel like friends.

Reflection is like technology. If you find it easy you risk forgetting what it’s like for those who don’t. Where courses have reflection built in, like practice placement, students can struggle with shifting from writing descriptive accounts to more crucially reflective ones. The research literature reinforces the value of reflective practice, both for learning and for life, but too often it’s another example where we tell students to do what we don’t do ourselves. Like using TEL, going to the library, or carrying out research projects.

dots

Too often we don’t draw the lines between the dots. We use TEL but don’t consider how it might be evidence for accreditation. We carry out our own inquiries into learning but don’t see it as a pedagogical research activity. It comes back down to sharing practice and the need to talk. For people who spend most of their working lives talking with students we can be less good at talking to each other.

So thanks #lthechat for the reminder and timely insight into the thoughts and experiences of so others across the sector.  It’s time to open up the research diary again, download NVivo and blow the digital dust off my data. Hello Phd. I’m back.

Smiley research trasnforming tweet

 

book and glasses image https://pixabay.com/en/phone-screen-technology-mobile-1052022/ 
danger image https://pixabay.com/en/animals-black-and-white-bomb-boom-985500/ 
Dots image  https://pixabay.com/en/polka-dots-blue-background-pattern-953366/ 

On innovative pedagogy; looking behind as well as forwards #lthechat

Simon Rae’s illustration from the #lthechat Innovative Pedagogy

What does pedagogical innovation look like? Q2 from this weeks #lthechat on Twitter has stayed with me. Share an example of pedagogic innovation you experienced as a learner. I don’t remember many individual lessons or lectures but what does come back is learning by doing. Making butter in milk bottles. Spinning frames of honeycomb. Growing crystals in Chemistry. The effect of alcohol on individual response times in Psychology.  Visits to factories and fishing docks. Geology on the coast and Geography on the Wolds. Then I look at VLE and think how can pedagogic innovation be experienced via a laptop or other mobile device? While digital media offers useful alternatives to plain text, virtual learning experiences continue to risk being flat and isolating which in turn means they are too often ignored.

red sign with the message wrong way in white letters
image from https://pixabay.com/en/false-worse-off-shield-note-98375/

The phrase pedagogic innovation reminded me of the annual Innovating Pedagogies reports produced by the OU   These suggest ways digital technology can extend and enhance learning. After this week’s tweetchat I revisited them looking for inspiration. It’s always interesting to look back with hindsight. Badges, MOOC, BYOD, ebooks, gaming and big data all make appearances. The word ‘learning’ is prefaced with seamless, crowd, event based, flipped, storytelling, context, computational, incidental, embodied and rhizomatic; all presented as examples of innovation. I’m looking for ways to transfer repository models of VLE use to more interactive learning opportunities but while there is theory in abundance the practice is less easy to achieve. I set up a discussion forum but no one used it so I didn’t bother again is an often-heard phrase. It’s a familiar scenario yet social media and mobile devices are making digital communication common and every year more of our lives are being lived out online so why does effective pedagogic use VLE remain so challenging?

black and white image o the Matterhorm mountain
image from https://pixabay.com/en/matterhorn-switzerland-mountain-918442/

When it comes to barriers to digital engagement, VLE are high on the list. They’re not always attractive and, like it or not, appearance matters. Many resemble digital depository dumps when long lists of links can be a deterrent. Most staff are not learning technologists or designers so the expectation they will create interesting, interactive sites may be unrealistic. Too often VLE themselves are presented as solutions to student diversity, retention, access and attainment when they are simply content containers. It’s how they’re used which makes the difference and this not only requires pedagogic knowledge and experience, it demands higher levels of digital capabilities than are too frequently assumed to exist.

Mark Styles 2007 paper Death of the VLE has not aged. It remains relevant today and maybe more so, as social media offer alternatives. Likewise Oleg Liber’s Framework for Pedagogical Evaluation of eLearning Environments which is usefully read alongside Jisc’s Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models by Mayes and de Freitas.  Meanwhile the monolithic VLE rampages on. Blackboard grows larger, Moodle continues to hold its own and Canvas is emerging as a serious contender. VLE remain centre stage of most institutional digital education strategies whereas it should be pedagogy at the top. VLE useage mirrors existing practice and so long as this continues to follow traditional transmission and knowledge replication  models, online environments are unlikely to be anything different.

The questions asked on this weeks #lthechat would be a useful basis for any education development workshop but as they showed, innovative pedagogy is about looking behind as well as to the future. When it comes to technology enhanced learning, innovation is good but the advantage of hindsight means looking to what’s already happened can be even better.

Tweetroot of #lthechat
Tweetroot of #lthechat

#lthechat pedagogic innovation questions asked by Professor Ale Armellini (@alejandroa) 01/06/16

  • Q1: What does “pedagogic innovation” mean to you?
  • Q2: Share an example of pedagogic innovation, which you experienced as a learner.
  • Q3: Share one criterion that, in your view, innovative pedagogic practice in HE should meet or exceed (for example innovation should enable x or make y possible)
  • Q4: Share 1 example (initiative, trend, new concept) hailed as pedagogically innovative. Does it meet the criterion identified in Q3?
  • Q5: Do you agree with the message conveyed in the attached slide? What is that message, exactly?

two column table comparing past and present approaches to learning and teaching

  • Q6: What will your next pedagogic innovation be? (Please be uber creative here! no pressure…)

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

ten tips for neat tweets

large blue tweet bird omage

Wednesday  17th February 20.00 – 21.00 I’ll be hosting #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. With tweeting on my mind, this blog post feels appropriate 🙂

As rumours of changes in tweet length continue, the art of the ‘neat tweet’ may be under threat. This would be a shame. Good tweets are like poetry. Crafted to a sharp point. Lexical limits should be welcomed. There are enough blurred boundaries as it is. 140 characters is a useful restriction when some digital voices go on….and on….and on……. If Twitter limits change I hope another platform is waiting, one which enables the ability to say something worthwhile quickly and with style. As well as a guide to succinctness, this post is also a plea to leave our tweets alone.

Ten Tips for saying more with less in twitter-speak.

  • Don’t use a long word if a lesser one will do. A Thesaurus will list synonyms http://www.thesaurus.com/ Pick the shortest one possible.
  • Make use of symbols. Take out linking words and use ampersands (&) or the plus (+) sign. Punctuation such as exclamation or question marks, can say more for less while nose-less emoticons : ) or : ( add meaning for just two additional characters.
  • Ditch pronouns like That and The. They’re over-used anyway. Trimming them from tweets may improve writing overall. Take out personal pronouns too. It’s usually safe to drop the I and you might get away with dropping They, He, She etc. Try it and see.
  • Avoid full URLs. Shorter ones save space and look neater. Tiny URL  http://tinyurl.com/ has a quick button you can add to your browser. BitLy https://bitly.com/ claims to create the shortest links and supports the additional of a plus sign to the end of the shortened URL; this creates a preview of the destination page so users can check it’s safe.
  • Forget the rule of using numbers 1-10 and words thereafter.  Where every character counts, numbers rule. Unless the meaning is critical, it might be safe to drop the commas in larger numbers too.
  • Contractions are in! As a rule, contractions are frowned upon in academic writing but it would be a waste of character space not to use them in tweets. Instead of ‘’it is’, ‘you have’, ‘they will’ etc. you can brush the dust off your apostrophes and go for ‘it’s’, ‘you’ve’ and ‘they’ll’ instead.
  • Take advantage of the growing number of acceptable tweet abbreviations e.g. RT (retweet), DM (direct message), BTW (by the way), TBH (to be honest) and IMO (in my opinion). Know the difference between abbreviations for professional communication e.g. x (extra), b/c (because) and text-talk e.g. U, UR, M8, GR8, etc
  • Images say more than words. They can be useful additions to text tweets but they take up characters. Upload the image to the tweet editor box before writing the tweet.
  • Wherever, possible substitute initial letters for names, in particular if it’s someone well known within the context of the tweet.
  • Craft your tweet in Word (or other word processing software). Not only can you can apply the spelling and grammar check, it preserves work in progress. There’s nothing worse than crafting the perfect tweet when the internet connection blips and you’ve lost it all. The same applies for any direct work in an online text editor.

Happy tweeting.

image of a blue twitter bird

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images from https://pixabay.com/en/twitter-bird-fat-tweet-turquoise-152404/ and https://pixabay.com/en/tweeting-twitter-bird-blue-peep-150413/