The Other Side of Lurking Part Three – rethinking digital practice

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As I prepare to leave my current role, my visible digital participation has reduced to an occasional retweet. I’m now watching from the sidelines, observing and thinking about future directions.

I’ve become a lurker.

The Other Side of Lurking: Part Three follows others* on the Digital Academic blog, all addressing the issue from a range of different perspectives. You might think there isn’t much more to say, but if lurking practice is more common than active engagement, there’s a need to focus on what digital silence means for the future of online education.

The OER19 conference at Galway included a workshop titled Three Lenses on Lurking. It was facilitated by my online colleagues Leo Haverman, Suzan Koseoglu and Caroline Kuhn.  Along with Aras Bozkurt, we’ve been discussing lurking for some time. Participating in this investigation into lurking behaviors was valuable experience but over the past few months I’ve become the lurker in the group. Distracted by an institutional review and the final stages of my PhD, my active participation faded. Lurking made it possible to continue to follow discussions and reflect on ways forward, but it excluded my voice.

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Yet, we know lurking is common practice. Applied to online participation, Neilsen’s  90-9-1 rule (2006) and the 80/20 Pareto Principle (1971), quoted in Sarah Honeychurch et. al.. (2018),  reminds us how more people adopt lurkish stances than proactive ones. Other papers such as Preece and Shneiderman (2009) reinforce how reading dominated leading, with passive access more frequent than interaction. These authors cite Kollock (1999) who calls lurking an activity which does not produce a visible contribution. Like watching and listening.

Can these practices still be as influential as active participation, here and now in 2019?

From decades of experience supporting online education, alongside all my research into digital practice, I would say No. Yet many can give examples where passive engagement has been valuable. My education developer head underpins effective pedagogic practice with social constructivist theory, but the reality suggests there’s times and places where access-only appears to be enough. If digital shyness is more common than digital participation, then clearly it should not be ignored. Rather than perceive it as resistance, we need to work with it instead.

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I’d suggest lurking matters because it highlights the under-addressed gap between theory and practice in online education. For the past two decades, learning and teaching has been filled with the promise of technological transformation. However, all too often the digital experience remains a case of ‘I set up a discussion forum but no one used it, so I didn’t bother again‘.

For many years I’ve believed finding ways to encourage and support online interaction lies at the heart of effective teaching and learning. But it seems regardless of what you do to encourage online activity, digital practice remains a personal choice and lurking the majority response. Maybe instead of trying to change this, we should find ways to reconceptualise it as having value.

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I lurk. You lurk. We all lurk. Lurking has intention and purpose. If lurkish behaviors are to be understood as legitimate choices, do we need to review the construction of online resources and rethink pedagogic practice to support less visible activity?

This would involve exploring the causes of silence and accepting not everyone learns best through active engagement. Contribution should not be mandatory for those who feel less comfortable with online collaboration. Lurking might result in digital absence but as digital developers and facilitators of online learning, maybe we have a responsibility to listen and understand the ways this silence can contain its own messages.

If we need to design for legitimate lurking, what would this look like?

It seems a problem with advocating lurking as legitimate learning is how the approach challenges digital education theory. We’ve been told education is social and been offered communities of practice and inquiry, zones of proximal development, conversational frameworks, social, cognitive and teaching presences, all requiring interaction, the binary opposite to inactivity.

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21st century digital practice has called for cognitive shifts. Promoters of online learning have advocated adopting models such as Salmon’s Five Stage approach to moderation and the establishment of e-tivities, Laurillard’s Conversational Framework or Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry. All based on the theory of social constructivism but as frequently happens where change is involved, these processes are situated within liminal spaces, where new approaches and knowledge can be perceived as troubling.

My doctoral research suggests digital practice is diverse and troublesome. Participants teaching and supporting learning, in particular the later adopters of learning technologies, need to make fundamental conceptual changes alongside the acquisition of digital capabilities and confidence. These involve shifts from didactic transmission to student centred co-construction of knowledge, approaches which contradict the suggestion lurking as valid  learning.

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However, without opportunities to watch, listen and read, those who are nervous and hesitant about online interaction are less likely to engage. The divides between the digitally confident and the digitally shy are wide and deep. My research findings suggest digital practice is more troublesome than the digital advocates might realise. The use of the internet challenges existing ways of working. It attacks academic identity and beliefs about knowledge in the way open education challenges the conception of publishers as gatekeepers. Individual response to these approaches cannot be assumed to be positive.

Digital practice is like other forms of physical skill such as riding a bicycle. It needs practice. But if you’ve been doing it for years its difficult to remember how it feels to be a novice. It’s the same with virtual environments. If you’re comfortable with online navigation and interaction it’s easy to forget what it feels like to lack digital confidence and be nervous about venturing into online spaces.

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Advocating lurking as valid learning can feel like a backwards step. Everything I’ve done since entering higher education at the turn of the century has been focused on promoting and supporting online interaction. The literature speaks of developing relationships with students and building curriculum designs around collaborative approaches. We believe higher education is about more than acquisition. Using Laurillard’s six types of learning experiences, adopted by UCL in their ABC Currciulum Design work, it involves collaboration, discussion, investigation, practice and production.

How can this be achieved online where lurking is the preferred behavior?

If you can take a horse to water but not make it drink, maybe we need to begin looking at the water rather than the horse.

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*  previous blog posts addressing lurking


 

 

 

 

On the development of digital practice…

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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.

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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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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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digital presence as an indicator of digital capital

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Digital practice

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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.

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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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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.

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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

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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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Tips for part-time PhD research

tangled mess of pink and green wool

A part-time doctorate is a challenge on many levels.

In 2014 I posted my top tips for surviving a part time phd Looking back, I think they’ve stood the test of time and would still recommend the following;

  • Make your research personal; you need passion to stay the course.
  • There’s never enough hours so make the topic inform your work. Chances of completing are increased by the connections between your research and daily practice.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for making small but beautifully crafted changes instead.

However, I’d extend this one

‘The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.’

I now realise doctoral research is not only about creativity – it’s about being brave. You need courage to put yourself out there in the public domain with all the risks of negative feedback and challenges. It’s part and parcel of being a doctoral researcher but part-time PhD students often lack opportunities to practice defending their choices.

Confidence and courage are two essential PhD attributes.

Wizard of Oz and the Lion who needs courage

Alongside the top tips, I’ve also been thinking about a ‘doctoral development’ list. Learning Development is an established field, thanks to the excellent work of ALDinHE but seems primarily concerned with undergraduate provision. Resources like Vitae require institutional licence, and although there’s helpful projects like SUCCEED@8 project (Supporting Community to Collaborate and Emotionally Engage in Digital Shifts) from University of Northampton, generic support for postgraduate research seems less visible. Based on my own research, I’ve found the following approaches really useful.

Action Research loops and spirals of reflective practice: I’d add ‘researchers’ to Laurillard’s suggestion that all teachers should be Action Researchers while Brookfield (2005:xiii) identifies ‘viewing practice through four distinct, but interconnecting lenses’, the experience of our students, colleagues, ourselves and the literature. For me, critical reflection on progress has been invaluable.

Finding your own boundaries: qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis tend to be looser than traditional positivist paradigms. My research is less concerned with measuring or predicting and more about investigation for improving understanding, so with less boundaries I had to find my own constraints. This has been a challenge. I’ve always had problems with boundaries as described in Know Your Limits but when I feel stuck I revisit Lincoln and Guba’s advice on trustworthiness, in particular their evaluative criteria. Establishing the following offers an authentic framework..

  • Credibility – confidence in the ‘truth’ of the findings
  • Transferability – showing that the findings have applicability in other contexts
  • Dependability – showing that the findings are consistent and replicable
  • Confirmability – neutrality or the extent to which the findings of a study are shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest.

Social media: make it work for you. The concept of the ‘Digital Researcher’ (e.g. #DigiResHull from University of Hull) is another under-developed area. Networking affordances are too often under-utilised. Twitter on a Sunday morning with hashtags like #phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life has been a lifeline.  You are not alone!

life ring against a stormy sea
image from https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-coast-spray-surge-2530692/

It’s year three at the University of Northampton and the plan is to complete in 2019. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to submit the bounded copy.

Freedom?

Doctoral study is a trap you fall into. The walls get higher until the light disappears and it’s just you and your data. No one else can do it for you. The loneliness of the long distance learner is hard to anticipate which is good.

If I really knew what lay ahead, would I have still applied?

Unequivocally…

Yes!

Because…

Reading the data is still rewarding. It reminds me how colleagues were supported to make shifts to more blended and flexible practice, utilising digital technology to explore new pedagogic led approaches to enhancing and extending the student experience. That makes it worthwhile. I know it helped individuals become more digitally confident in an increasingly digital sector and that’s what matters.

image showing laptop, tablet and phone with pictures emerging from the screen
imge feom https://pixabay.com/en/background-waters-computer-laptop-3048816/

Also, I’m filling a gap in the literature which is full of research into how students learn as e-learners but with less on how teachers teach as e-teachers. In contemporary accounts the ‘e’ has been dropped because it’s assumed the technology will be in there somewhere, but the reality is – for many colleagues – it isn’t.

By losing the distinction the sector is also losing the emphasis on negotiating digital shifts in practice and providing appropriate support.

Traditional lectures dominate cultural conceptions of ‘going to university’. They’re what students expect, how architects design – with rows of seats facing a single direction, while attempts to challenge this are utilised by the few rather than the majority, and frameworks for digital graduate attributes remain aspirational rather than evident in practice. Employers continue to highlight the issues (e.g. The Technology for Employability report from Jisc) but I still facilitate workshops on professional online identity where students have no idea what prospective employers might find if they google their names. Presentations and publications still have uncritical references to students as ‘digital natives’ despite the research discarding this (e.g. Helspeth and Enyon, 2009) Students might appear fluent users of technology but its use for learning and teaching remains a much of a  mystery to many.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

Digital education research is focused primarily on the innovators and early adopters whereas my interest is low adoption and establishing an inclusive digital baseline from which to move forward. This can only be done through research into how colleagues conceptualise teaching and learning, how they negotiate digital shifts in practice, develop digital fluency and establish digital presence, in itself an under researched area with regard to learning and teaching.

See you on Twitter Sunday morning!

#phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life

 

Images

#EDEN18 to #uohlt18 from one conference to another

Image showing the University of Genoa

The week after #EDEN18 was the University of Hull Learning and Teaching Summer Programme, Empowering Our People. A conference on 25th June was followed by two days of workshops including a Master Class on Digital Identity and two more on Assessment and Feedback. The full programme is available here https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/ld.php?content_id=31769086

Image showng the University of Hull Venn Building with students in the forefront

A common thread tunning through my sessions on different aspects of teaching and learning, was the need for digital shifts in attitudes and practice. No suprises there!

For me, the #EDEN18 conference themes of Macro, Meso, Micro aligned well with the competing perspectives facing staff who teach and support learning in 21st century higher education. These have institutional, pedagogic and individual dimensions and all represent pressure to change. Narratives from Hull are no different from those presented at EDEN18 in Genoa.

Supporting staff and students to make digital shifts has the potential to bring institutions and individuals together in a supportive rather than dictatorial ways. Appropriate institutional reward and recognition are essential prerequisites of any change agenda, as is shared motivation. One of places where the institutional and individual can meet is through the pedagogic design of modules and programmes.

Learning, teaching and research, remain at the heart of higher education but aderence to traditional didactic tranmission pedagogies is strong.  We live in an increasingly digital society, with employers looking for digitally literate graduates, yet the gap between the potential promise of digital methodologies and the reality of day-to-day teaching practice is huge.

This divide between analogue and digital is where most of my work is focussed.

I often find myself on the fringes and edges of things.

I was struck by a comment from colleague Cristina Devecchi earlier this week. Cristina called an inclusivity group a ‘fringe’ group, going on to say ‘the fringes are like the lawless borders where innovation happens. The core is hard and resistant to change.’ I like the idea of ‘lawless borders’. Not in an illegal, criminal way but as existing outside policy and practice. It reminds me of the transformative moments. Discovering Foucault on social power and control, realising medical research was funded by drug companies,  reading Lyotard on postmodern fragmentation and pluralities, being introduced to critical pedagogy…

Living in Hull.

Our home grown librarian Philip Larkin is recorded saying how Hull ‘…is a little on the edge of things…’ but it suited him Monitor, 1964, 30 seconds in)

In terms of change, Cristina is right. How else can we move forward other than challenging outdated status quo from the borders, working towards achieving a tipping point, bringing people with one by one, bit by bit…

Dripping ideas…

Drip,

Drip…

Digital shifts apply to both staff and students.

book, phone and keyboard

If institutions are serious about their use of education technologies for enhancing learning and teaching, there needs to be a comprehensive and realistic step change, starting with establishing a digital baseline of capabilities and confidence with appropriate support for everyone to reach it.

The problem is establishing how far back the baseline needs to go e.g. new browser tabs and windows, cut, copy, paste functions, right click, naming files and organising file structures – the over-crowded desktop full of individual documents is a giveaway.

image showing the word start on a road

The problem – yes, another one – is conflict over how to understand digital literacies. The divide seems to be between competency based ‘training’ needs or socially situated knowledge practices.

For me, it’s the context which makes the difference between adoption and rejection. Change which is meaningful is best developed within context rather than outside of it. The publications below make useful reading around ‘situated’ approaches…

…while these links demonstrate the range and complexity of digital shifts in attitudes and practice.

It’s a circular conundrum.

Staff who don’t make use of technology in their teaching practice are unlikely to be encouraging students to transfer existing digital skills to their learning. If students are not prepared to make their own digital shifts, then the work we do in developing more digitally aligned forms of active learning will fail.

social media icons on a tree

We’re caught in a rift where the sides are ever further apart. I’ve been exploring the idea of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) people as constituting their own ‘academic tribe and territory as per Becher and Trowler’s analogy (link to2nd ed 2001,) or having ‘signature pedagogies‘ which act as a barrier. The vast majorty of staff who teach and support learning are caught in the middle of this chasm, cast off from being totally analogue but still far away from the land TEL people inhabit.

The problem is one of invisibility. TEL people can’t see them because they self-exclude from events and workshops.

Institutions need better bridges to support staff to step out with confidence from analogue to digital practice. This requires systematic and empathetic support. Without this, and realistic workload models, with suitable reward and recognition, the digital shift isn’t going to happen.

My contributions to the Summer Programme from an LTE perspective all involved digital ways of working. It’s 2018. Technology is expected but take-up remains diverse.

This is where you’ll find me.

Trying to understand difference, to theorise diversity, to make little bridges which might one day come together in a more intsitutionally recognised form.

On the conference day I presented a session called Digital Shifts: Academic Identity in a Digital Age. It was along similar lines to this blog. Something has to change and those who work in the borders between the old analogue and new digital practices are well placed to begin the conversations.

I’ve constructed blog posts for each of the three workshops I was involved in, two with colleagues who think in similar ways.

image showing a jigsaw where all the peices are white and one is being taken out

See, it’s not just me!

This is how change happens, as one by one a group of like-minded people develops.

Two conferences in two weeks.

One in Genoa, the other in Hull.

Both lookng at learning and teaching, one from a range of international perspectives, the other one local, so closer to home and day-to-day working reality, but both with so much in common.

Both facing essential digital shifts in attitude and practice which constitute attributes for a digital age. There’s no alternative to  getting digital but we haven’t yet found a way to bring everyone to the same starting point, or reached agreement on where that starting point is.

If we could achieve this, it would be a useful first step.

footprint in the sand on a beach by the sea


images from pixabay.com