#phd shelfie-blog challenge

image showing top ten books being written about in this blog post

The image is a bit of a spoiler!

#PhDShelfie has appeared on Twitter. Followed by shelfie-blog and an invitation from Julie Blake @felthamgirl to join in. I’m easily distracted, especially when challenged with words. I’d contributed a #phdshelfie, extended to tablie and floorie, so why not a blog post too? Would be rude not to and technically it’s no distraction – the letters P H and D are in there – somewhere – a bit.

image showing piles of books on shelves and tables and paper piles on the floorSo here’s my top ten books choice from the research corner of my room.

  • Starting with the field of education technology, I offer Rethinking University Teaching by Diana Laurillard (2002). The book suggests the socially constructivist Conversational Framework for harnessing its communicative and collaborative potentials. I find the book more accessible than the later Pedagogical Patterns while the focus on how students learn earns it a place on every educational developer/researcher’s shelf.
  • Moving from the potential of TEL,  pause a moment for Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn (2014). A critical attack on technology determinism, the book shines light on the relationship between digital platforms and the wider society in which they’re developed and used. Agree with him or not, Selwyn offers a PoV well worth consideration.
  • Staying with digital media, the next book is Amusing Ourselves to Death; Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. You’d think it was the result of an internet click-binge on a wet bank holiday weekend, but oh no – this prescient account of cultural transformation was written in 1985. Postman is responding to the rise in US cable TV and subsequent lack of serious news in the public domain. My goodness, what would he say today?
  • So how has technology got such a hold over us? Try Propaganda, a slim volume by Edward Bernays, first published in 1928. If you haven’t come across Mr B you’ll have heard of his uncle, Dr Sigmund Freud. Using the application of Uncle Siggy’s psychoanalytic techniques, Bernays developed what came to be known as Public Relations (which he tellingly named the ‘engineering of consent’).  Achievements included persuading young women to smoke Lucky Strikes which he’s renamed ‘Torches of Freedom’ and convincing all of America the best breakfast in the world was bacon and eggs. I’d also recommend watching Century of the Self by Adam Curtis. This uses archive film to document the cultural influence of Bernays across the 20th century.

  • To help deal with a world full of devious advertising and rogue technology, I offer The Consolations of Philosophy by Alan de Botton (2000). Some academics may look down their purist noses but I loved how this friendly, accessible book introduces philosophers such as Seneca, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and my favourite, Montaigne. If education is about different ways to see the world, then here’s a great example. The human condition is universal and this book is full of ageless advice on how to cope. Read from front to end or simply dip in and out if you’re having a bad day. You won’t be sorry.
  • Feeling better? Shh….. nothing is quite how it seems. The Sociological Imagination by C Wright Mills was written in 1959 and stayed in print ever since. Demanding we ask questions to ‘make the familiar strange’ it applies the principles of Socratic questioning to the social world. Today we’re more likely to call it ‘thinking outside of the box‘ but whatever phrase we use, Mills’ advice never ages – it gets more relevant as time passes.
  • One of the problems with a critical lens is it can make the world seem a bit wobbly (when it’s too early for wine) so why not sweep away everything you relied on as a truth and start again. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge by Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984) questioned the legitimation of truth claiming grand narrative explanations were no longer credible. Instead, knowledge was situated, diffuse, fractured and worst of all, unreliable. All researchers have to grapple with the nature of truth and knowledge while  postmodernism went a bit overly pretentious, it still deserves more credit than it gets. We owe much to the PM years, not least drawing attention to diversity and structured inequalities. PM threw the rule book out of the window. It legitimated parody and pastiche. Introduced identity performance while troubling and collapsing binaries. It promoted the subversion of anything which could be deconstructed and then reconstituted it in more challenging ways. Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing – is it?
  • Phew, ready for some light relief? I wanted to include some poetry but that’s a different bookcase – maybe a blog for a different season? This call was related to research so I’ve chosen The Action Research Dissertation by Kathryn Herr and Gary L. Anderson (2019).  The full story of the difference this book made is on Thesis Whisperer Know Your Limits. Suffice to say it helped validate my PhD choices and gave me the confidence to stick with it when the going got tough – which it did – very tough…
  • This week I’m reading The Digital Academic; Critical Perspectives on Digital Technologies in Higher Education by Deborah Lupton, Inger Mewburn and Pat Thompson. Hot off the press (July 2017) it deals with the digital as in social media and MOOC while reinforcing (maybe not intentionally?) the existence of on-campus digital divides between those who do technology and those who, often with pride, announce they don’t. For the latter, who may be less likely to find anything familiar in these well researched chapters, the book raises the question – how long can academics in 21st century HE continue to avoid issues of digital scholarship and practice?
  • To finish I’ve chosen Learning with the Labyrinth; Creating Reflective Space in Higher Education edited by Jan Sellars and Bernard Moss (2016). I’ve been involved with the use of labyrinths as creative spaces and meditative walking experiences for some time e.g. Walking the Labyrinth and was delighted to review this book for Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. The origin of the labyrinth symbol and shape is unknown and it’s this ‘not-knowing’ has always intrigued me. Labyrinths are not mazes , despite the linguistic confusion in dictionaries and encyclopedias. With no dead ends, their circular path winds round and round into the centre and back out again. Walking a labyrinth offers the experience of pressing the pause button, taking time out to focus on the journey and maybe reflect. You don’t realise until  afterwards how you’ve stepped out of the world for a few moments, something we don’t do often enough. The book takes you on a fascinating journey around the use of labyrinths within student learning and educational development.

Note to the University of Hull – the space outside the library cafe would be perfect for a permanent labyrinth installation. This is the one Jan Sellers facilitated at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Looks lovely. Just saying…

empty space outside of the university of hull library  labyrinth in the grounds of University of KEnt Canterbury Campus

Now the challenge is for anyone reading this to select their own top ten books from their research bookshelf #phdshelfie-blog

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it has to happen this summer

text from Richard III by Shakespeare

Now is the summer of our research
made glorious by missed deadlines and our failed
attempts to keep aside the time required
so clouds have now descended oe’r our desk
and darkened sunlight’s warmth from mine own eyes.

apologies to Richard III

It’s been an interesting week…

Booking Thursday and Friday as leave (aka research time) I find myself at my desk both days. My time management skills seem poor – but they’re not. They’re good thereby enabling me to juggle multiple tasks and commitments.

I’ve been trying to make research space for some time. For me, it isn’t something you can dip in and our of. Your head needs to be in a different place and it takes time to adapt.  But (always a but) every day something new arrives and it’s not always appropriate to say no. My diary is full. I’m lucky. Most of the time I love it.

We work in an environment where impact is measured by achievements. Started – finished – full stop. Unfortunately most of our work doesn’t fit into such neat categories. It involves conversations (we need to talk – find time to talk) and this is good. As newly restructured Teaching Enhancement Advisors, talking helps construct and establish our multiple roles. We are Signposts. Guides. Facilitators. We also have areas of responsibility. Mine include inclusive approaches to teaching and learning and  developing a digital capabilities framework. We’re trying to establish the need for central and local support to make more effective use of virtual technologies and systems. The aim is to promote the advantages of digital shifts in process and practice. The university is supporting an institution wide survey of staff which is a fantastic opportunity but full time challenge – in particular balancing the practicalities and philosophies of changing ways of working. Development time is not always measurable. We’re Advisors.  To advise needs preparation which is not always easy to quantify. Take reading for example. This week I’ve picked up the documentation around  TEF3, the subject level pilot and critiques,  the new Improving Digital Literacy report from the NHS, and a piece on Active Blended Learning There’s a piece on Dearing in the House, 20 years on. As my research timescale is 1997-2017 with Dearing and Gilster as starting points. I need to read this – but havent done so yet.,

Underpinning everything is our new Design for Active Learning approach to Teaching Enhancement. This is an evidence based, scholarly way of working (which might or might not involve technology) which puts pedagogy and the student experience first. It’s been designed to bring together all the eclectic elements of our new roles, fit in with university strategy and curriculum design, and underpin an annual programme of events which in turn are connected to potential red data flags. The hours spent discussing, sharing and evidencing (the diagram below is version 11) is development time which can’t be so easily translated onto a checklist on a project management board. When it happens, impact can be transformational, but it takes time to build the underlying structures needed to make it happen.

Draft diagram for Design for Active Learning approach to teaching enhancement

In the meantime…

…..my uveitis has kicked in. I spent Tuesday afternoon at the Eye Hospital – sat there for hours – until I was the only person left. That’s a statement not a complaint. The NHS is amazing. They commit to seeing me within 48 hours and while reception might have closed shop by 6.00 the nurses and consultants were still working as was the pharmacy. All free at the point of delivery and unlike A&E not a single drop of alcohol in smell or sight.

Just me and Phil.

There’s lots of Larkinalia.

Round the corner is a wall mounted box full of pairs of his glasses. Heavy framed,  thick lenses, while on the wall of the waiting area are the b/w photos he took alongside lines from his poems.  I sat watching them blur as my eyes dilated and vision clouded over to the familiar point where crossing the road is dangerous and bus numbers no longer visible.

Then there’s the allotment.

The home nest is empty.  Babies became adults busy building lives of their own, but I have children of a different kind. The cucumbers are ready, artichokes flowering, broad beans at the pre-red pink I like best and the last raspberries need picking.

 

   

I have identity-confused courgettes. Am I green or yellow?  This is a first!

The greenhouse is full of peppers and tomatoes. Marigolds on pest control look blooming happy but apart from some beans and sweetcorn the beetroot, rainbow chard, fennel, spaghetti squash and butternut are all missing.

 

Most of the beds are covered in multi shades of canvas to control the weeds. Morning glory and couch grass is taking over the borders and the strawberry patch while I feel sorry for Stan next door who carefully steps around my overflowing borders while tactfully observing ‘looks like you’re busy luv’.

Stan, ex Harrogate Flower Show Judge, is retired. Stan grows chrysanthemums. Across the way is Alan, newly retired, who grows and shows dahlias. The colours are fabulous as are the bunches they bring me in September.

None of this – some would say – are genuine excuses for falling behind with the PhD.

What makes it even worse is I’m self-funding so all the angst comes at a hard price. Family are puzzled. They keep asking why I need this bit of paper.  It’s a good question. Times have changed since I started my PhD. At Lincoln research into education development was valued; all the team involved in PG study of one form or another, or applying for PSF or CMALT accreditation.

It takes one to know one and you have to be involved with f/t work and p/t study to understand the pressures of giving up evenings and w/es to read and write. So why?

As colleagues, friends and family set off here, there and everywhere, why have I planned August as the Summer of my Research. I love travel. It’s been 11 months since my last trip – the longest time (since starting traveling again in 2009) since I last sat at an airport.

Why?

  • First – practically – too much time, energy and money has been invested
  • Second – a PhD is about learning to do research and the processes of knowledge construction – it’s a privilege to be involved.
  • Third – three years spent working collaboratively with staff who were mostly late rather than early adopters of ed tech and incredibly generous with sharing their experiences will, I hope, produce useful findings.
  • Fourthly – the doctorate focuses on teaching and learning in UK HE but the social impact of the internet is an under researched area in particular how it mirrors positive and negative culture and reinforces discrimination. Those already socially excluded and disempowered are likely to be digitally excluded as well which has relevance to all online and blended education initiatives.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

I could go on but am already way over my word limit. It’s time to conclude.

Paying for stress is not my idea of fun but here we are. I have data to analyse and a thesis to write. Digital shifts; what are they, when they appear, where they’re found, who they affect, why they happen and how we support them matters to everyone working within UK T&L

It’s 2017. How can you not have technology as part of your day-to-day practice?

I hope my research offers a deeper, thicker approach to how staff conceptualise teaching and learning in a digital age. This is something I beleive is relevant.My task is to convince the knowledge gatekeepers to see it in the same way.

letters spelling goal

So this is the summer of my research.

I’ve booked 13 days leave over August with the intention of completing the revised Literature Review chapter and analysing the interview data. Seeing it in b/w like this is scary. It feels like an impossible task but I have a plan to work in the university library and at the end of each day produce a condensed paragraph of text summarising progress. This will then be posted here. This is my public commitment because I’m running out of time. It has to be done!

#lthechat to hybridity, a journey of 800 words

LTHEChat cartoon by Simon Rae, two people discussing CPD

This week’s #lthechat (no 87- what will 100 be?) was about CPD or, to be more precise,  Professional Development Challenges in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and led by Prof Sally Brown.

Q1 What professional development challenges do you plan to set yourself in the next academic year?

image showing LTHEchat question one, What professional development challenges do you plan to set yourself in the next academic year? Er um – I’m not sure.

As the #lthe-chatters listed plans, I sidetracked, taking note of those involving technology, out of interest….but what about the question. What were my own ‘professional challenges’? Then I remembered the PhD. Of course! So why didn’t I initially think of it as CPD?  The second question held a clue.

Q2 How can you best engage with students in planning and achieving your CPD?

LTHE chat question 2 How can you best engage with students in planning and achieving your CPD?

One chatter posted ‘Not entirely sure what you mean? CPD for me or CPD I deliver for others?’  The reply was ‘for me!’

Another posted ‘Stunning question Hadn’t thought it was something I could do … but it obviously is.’

So not only me! I wonder if there’s a wider tendency to think of CPD in terms of what we provide for others rather than what we do for ourselves?

If so, is the belief related to areas like Academic Practice or Learning Development which are about supporting others to achieve. Could it even be a gender issue. Traditional social conditioning as in being taught to look out for others, be the carer, mender, the one who keeps it all together. Does cultural construction make it more likely some will interpret CPD as ‘do unto others’ rather than ‘unto yourself’?

LTHEchat blog banner

OR

…do we do CPD without being aware of it. Like students not recognising feedback.

The accompanying #lthechat post listed seven CPD challenges from ‘Professionalism in practice: key directions in higher education learning, teaching and assessment’. These are about ‘translating action into transformative change’. If you saw CPD as doing a mooc or reading a book, take a look at this. CPD can involve any – or all – of the following …

  • Stepping out of your comfort zone
  • Making an effort
  • Talking more to students
  • Checking out inclusive practice
  • Reviewing internationality
  • Becoming more scholarly
  • Taking up mentoring or coaching

As if my head wasn’t already thinking enough, question 4 arrived. Which are your key communities of practice: what do you give to them and what do you gain from them? Physical/Virtual

LTHEchat qiuestion 4 Which are your key communities of practice: what do you give to them and what do you gain from them? Physical/Virtual

It woz the binary wot did it! Physical/Virtual. For some time I’ve been brooding about how my online life is isolated from my real one. The social media I use isn’t shared by most of my working colleagues (or home peeps come to that, but we’re talking CPD so family/friends is different).

My online professional network is supportive, informative and sometimes game-changing. Take the PhD. Transferring from Lincoln to Hull hadn’t gone well. I was upset at how three years of research into the attitudes and practices of academics online, and how they conceptualised teaching and learning in a digital age, had been rejected. Then a by-the-by comment on Twitter led me to the University of Northampton and Ale Armellini who is now my PhD supervisor. It couldn’t be better. Thank you internet and Chrissi Nerantzi.

image of a twitter message asking Could it be Glyn Hughes ‘A Year in the Bull Box’. Not sheep but cattle.

We all have similar stories of digital synchronicity. Like the time I found an elusive book of poetry via Twitter in under half an hour! Also regular events like #lthechat can lead to unexpected connections and insights. Yet when I look around, it feels those of us with virtual lives are still the minority. The dominance of the 3P’s, Pen, Pencil and Paper, may be greater than we realise.

pencil and paper from pixabay

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not demanding colleagues be online, or become part of my online life, but I’m aware of their absence. It’s like the ‘Did you watch….’ conversation in the kitchen. I don’t have a tv so am immediately excluded. I’m more likely to ask ‘Did you see….on Twitter’ or ‘have you read the latest post on …..blog’ but I don’t because no one has.

My tweet-answer summed it up. great support/sharing via @twitter but digitally shy colleagues excluded – feel I’m digital/analogue hybrid.

image of tweet saying get great support/sharing via @twitter but digitally shy colleagues excluded - feel I'm digital/analogue hybrid

I juggle two worlds – the virtual and real – which feels like I don’t fully fit in either. Like the Roman God Janus, I look both ways. I have dual identities, maybe triple if you include my social use of the internet. Either way I’m an analogue/digital hybrid.

Hybridity is an interesting concept. It’s been around for some time, long before the digital, more complex than a binary, and seemingly well suited to an internet age.

As so often happens, a blog post on one topic is ending on another.

More on hybridity another day.

In the meantime, back to CPD, or in this case – the CPhD.

keyboard with a sign saying Under Construction

Storify of #lthechat 14/06/17 available here:https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthechat-no-87-professional-development-challenges 

blog images from #lthechat or https://pixabay.com 

weed and write this bank holiday weekend

piles of paper across a floor

Am all Ph-Deed out and the allotment is a mess.

The photo above is my floor at home. Is it familiar? Does anyone else have a floor like this? I seem to have forgotten the slip/trip lesson resulting in a broken ankle and cancelled New Zealand trip two years ago.

The photo below is my allotment, taken last night. The wildness of the chives and limnanthes is lovely but the couch grass has taken hold since my last broken ankle (another one – last year).

I love my allotment. It’s sunshine, exercise, food, therapy, catharsis and sheer delight – most of the time.

allotment full of chives and weeds

It’s also hard work and when everything grow’s like crazy, falling behind can  be stressful.

allotment with flowerong sage aallotment with blue forgetmenots

A blog is many things; recording events, reflection, observation, memory jogger, research diary… This blog is all of these and – today – a statement of intent.

A part-time doctorate alongside full-time work feels an impossible challenge. Months pass. The amount of available time decreases as the amount to achieve (research wise) increases.  I have  my data – far more than I need. In terms of the research model I built ages ago and now sits on an inaccessible server rather than in the cloud (lesson learned!) I’ve moved into the third quadrant. Transferring to Northampton has led to a slight shift in emphasis – for the better – which requires a re-review of the literature. Much of the taken-out initial reading around learning design is coming back in – hence the floor. It might be a digital age but hard copy annotation is how I work best. I need all the help I can get!

It’s a bank holiday weekend. For the next three days this is the plan:

  • plant tomatoes and get early morning reading onto Mendeley
  • weed pond area and write up notes from said papers (currently Bart Rientes on learning design)
  • sow barlotti and purple beans (it’s late – I know!) and revisit the recommended adjustments to an accepted ALT paper submitted with colleague Patrick Lynch (who you gonna call? )
  • tidy raspberry canes hidden by weeds and mark PCAP assignments (PhD deviation but deadline is Tuesday)
  • replant  pots in the respite area and write/submit proposal to Research Student Conference (deadline Monday)

Allocate time they say.

Rule off blocks of hours for working they say.

Give up all semblance of a social life or R&R.

They’re not joking!!

Research is like an allotment. It needs time. You have to fit it into your life – or build your life around it.

Without attention is gets a mess – like this…allotment showing weeds

With attention it looks better, you feel better, and progress is achieved. What’s not to like? All it needs is time and commitment.

So this is my statement of intent.

Bring on the bank holiday weekend.

Lets weed and write!

allotment showing fence and greenhouse]

 

me and mendelay are mates

cartoon explosion

How much is too much? Or not enough? Overload warning – drowning not waving – data data everywhere. Explode. Head. Ready.

Weekends and bank holidays are for research. Any part-time researcher saying otherwise is lying!

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a set of Nvivo workshops alongside an introduction to Refworks and Endnote. Been there before but you know how it is – use it or lose it. Guess which happened?

I’ve decided to work with Mendelay.

My relationship with referencing tools one of start but not finish. As a result my most comprehensive list of references is hand constructed. Not the way to do it. This time – I promised – once and for all – I’d face my bibliographic fears.

I like Mendelay.

logo for Mendelay

With so many research processes being online, the management of research data and literature has become a digital capabilities issue. You could say the same about learning and teaching but as TEL-People know, the link is more tenuous. Workshops are where TEL-People come face-to-face with the reality of digital adoption. This is often far removed from TEL-World – as you might expect – but the distances involved can still be a surprise. Coming face-to-face with low levels of digital knowledge is essential for designing support where it’s needed.

jisc digital capabilities model

The Jisc digital capabilities profiles include one for researchers. For me, it demonstrates how research processes cut cross the elements. Apart from data literacies and working with multiple formats, there’s the grey identity area (as both staff and student), dissemination through publication and conference plus involvement in a range of online networks. Social media and research are natural partners but not everyone is a natural online communicator while the most powerful research tools can also be the most challenging. SPSS and Nvivo are not for faint digital hearts.

computer screen with image of books

I like working with Nvivo. It fascinates me how interpersonal communications like interviews can be digitised, themed and linked, highlighting connections you didn’t see before. I’m self taught from the days of Nvivo 9 so the workshops were a useful opportunity to update to 11 and see what tricks I’ve missed. Nvivo Word Clouds are amazing!

Research software encapsulates all the issues around developing digital skills and one of these is the shift from customised, institutional help to generic, online resources. This goes alongside a move to DIY where you’re expected to RTFM (find things out for yourself); a policy which could only be imagined by the digitally confident or non-tech user, either a refusenik or with someone else doing it for them.

I know my way around the internet but still waste a lot of time trying to find things out for myself.

range of tools for DIY

Well made generic videos can show you where to click but are less successful with the why and the wherefore. Even the brilliantly made Nvivo Water project – custom designed to demonstrate all the options – can’t cater for every potential scenario. Ultimately there’s no off-the-shelf substitute for the experience and expertise of other people.

Back to data.

Back to Mendeley.

If you don’t use a digital referencing tool you should bite the digital bullet and give one a try. I settled for Mendeley because it’s more than a referencing tool. It offers social bookmarking (like Delicious or Diigo) and my bibliographies are not tied to an institution. It has all the features you’d expect i.e. cloud and desktop versions, citation options for Word etc. I can access it anywhere and get to take it with me when I leave.

computing technologies

My research data is already in digital formats; interviews transcribed and supplementary materials online. The next task is getting it all into Nvivo and start coding. It’s been over a year since I spent time with Nodes.  It will be a massive task but hopefully a rewarding one. My research explores how staff concceptualise teaching and learning in a digital age and I’m looking forward to seeing what Nvivo does with millions of words from three years of data collection.

Me and Mendelay plus Nvivo are going to be best mates this year or at least – that’s the plan!

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

It isn’t technology it’s learning design

communication-pixabay

This began as a PhD reflection but turned into a blog post because the issues matter. We need to talk. What has gone wrong? Quite a lot.

December 1 was the first Graduate School Research workshop day. I thought joining in remotely would be a motivator. I’m self-funding so every opportunity for contact is welcome. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but couldn’t join in the activities. In the afternoon the sound was lost. I’m hoping the recording will be ok and wondering when it will appear on the VLE. The cognitive connection has already faded.

What is meant by the phrase ‘online distance learning?’ What did I get from passively listening and watching on my laptop? Not a lot to be honest. The common model of distance learning is still a delivery one. Recorded lectures are seen as progression and if you build in some formative MCQ then Hallelujah – you have an online course.

My PhD includes mandatory research and ethics modules. They’re produced by Epigeum, so expensive and considered gold standard. I’ve sat alone in my room clicking through linear screen after screen of content in order to take the test at the end. It’s lonely and my learning is surface recall rather than any deeper approach achieved by cognitive understanding via critical reflection or discussion with colleagues.

What has gone wrong with the promise of student centered, interactive collaborative learning – online? How can the principles of Social Learning Theory be applied to what is fundamentally learning in isolation?

digital-tech-pixabay

In the THES last month there was a piece called Mass Learning must mean web based study It claimed the elements exist to make online learning happen, but ‘institutional inertia’ creates lack of progress. Thinking this might refer to the invisibility of on-campus digital divides or lack of recognition of diverse digital capabilities I read on. Technology has its problems I’m told – and here the piece links to Distance and Discontent the Downside of Digital Learning – but it will continue to evolve, solving all the negative issues as it does.

There are barriers such as the need for more teaching hours (at last – acknowledgement it requires additional resources rather than less to build and run effective online learning environments) plus new forms of examination and inclusion of ‘the broader social and cultural benefits of higher education’ but hey the piece goes on – none of these are insuperable. No. The problem is the university itself. Over the past decades they’ve continued to expand their physical presence at the expense of their virtual one, to a point where they can no longer afford to go online. As the author says, Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but – don’t you know – technology is still the solution!

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As if this were not depressing enough, the Distance and Discontent piece offers two further narratives of online education failure. Against a sector which still shouts about the transformative power of digital environments, something isn’t fitting. The rhetorical promise of e-learning solutions continues to be promoted in headlines, straplines, Jisc-speak and conference halls. In the meantime research and anecdote speak of digital depository models of VLE usage, empty discussion forums and neglected project sites return broken links and 404 errors.

So often over the years I’ve seen digital layers added onto existing face-to-face practice. It rarely creates effective online learning because it isn’t about the technology, it’s about learning design.


images from pixabay.com