brick walls crack but don’t fall

image of brick wall from pixabayWhat’s a digital shift?

It’s like getting through a brick wall.

Brick walls are not made to be broken…

At last weeks Annual Research Students Conference at the University of Northampton I called my presentation Digital Shifts.

This was in  reference to shifting from traditional f2f transmissive-based pedagogies to more interactive, student centred approaches which make use of technology. But digital shifts are much more than transferring paper to screen.

fingerprints fr

Many years ago I wrote about digital literacies (as they were called then) being personal and individual as fingerprints. Applying a one-size-fits-all model of digital development was doomed to failure. People have to find comfort in ways which suit them. I still believe this today. Unless there’s a personal reason for change, it’s unlikely to happen with any degree of authenticity. Hence the existence of on-campus divides between digital fluency and shyness.

For those involved in promoting and supporting digital adoption, we need to think deep. This week I’ve been pondering the nature of macro, meso and micro levels of change.

book cover for Third Wave image from wikipedia
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave_(Toffler_book)

In 1980, Alvin Tofler described the post-industrial society (following the agrarian and industrial ages) as the Third Wave. Computer technologies were emerging and had Tofler been writing two decades later he may well have called it the Digital Wave. At times of great change, society gets swept up into massive shifts of lifestyle and the present is no exception. In less than a decade internet connectivity represents change on a macro-shift dimension.

When universities adopt digital ways of working as the norm, it’s an example of a meso-shift. Led by their ICT driven systems, there ‘s often little choice for those in administrative roles but for many academics there’s been less impetus to change. The absence of a whole institution approach to digital change means shifts are often fragmented. Active Blended Learning, a new normal in higher education at the University of Northampton is an example of a wholesale digital shift. The absence of lecture theatres in the new Waterside campus is leading a pedagogic move from lecture style teaching towards small group and blended learning. This brave new digital world is being watched with great interest across the sector.

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library (my photos).

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library

Digital shifts at a micro-level are more about individual change. These often involve the principles of threshold concepts including liminality, integration and troublesome knowledge. Digital shifts represent a unique combination of emotions and responses.  For the digitally shy and resistant,  technology  can appear threatening. What if it breaks, goes wrong, gets lost….Habits are lifesavers when under pressure. If it works why break it… Students love what I do already…. There isn’t enough time…. Never enough time for change…

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Digital shifts can be feared or rejected for a range of reasons yet when they happen it can be transformative involving ontological as well as epistemological change as demonstrated by this quote from my research data (full text below post).

image of presentation slideshowing TELEDA Tip 5

Micro-shifts can occur in unexpected ways. Illness or impairment can lead to assistive technology or customisation of PCs and personal devices. Speech to text and text to speech can convert the most digitally resistant. Be My Eyes uses the affordances of social media while anyone ‘hot-desking’ soon learns to appreciate cloud computing and systems like Google Accounts which give access to folders and customised browser tabs anywhere you log on.

google logo under a magnifying glass

Research can be another digital shift trigger. My Director of Studies at Northampton has a paper on Academia.Edu with 600 downloads while the journal site version only has 100. Cristina also finds it useful it is to share research links via Twitter or Skype an idea with a colleague over breakfast. We’ve met twice in 9 months but are regularly in touch online. For myself, every week I get notifications of who’s accessed my publications on ResearchGate while the power of Twitter meant within 20 minutes a stranger had found me the book I needed with only the flimsiest (and partially incorrect) details.

Digital shifts can be fragmented and inconsistent. The Jisc Digital Capabilities Model shows the complexity of opportunities there are to become ‘more digital‘. As government, finance, health and leisure go online so the pressure to digitally engage increases. Some might be adept users at home but not work. Or vice versa. We hold hard onto habitual practice and the university is a traditional environment.Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve Digital shifts happen for many reasons. External pressures can lead to tipping points but the Late Majority, and unfortunately named Laggards of Rogers Diffusion of Innovations curve, will need something more personal to persuade them to change. Institutions can provide reward and recognition. Digital Education Developers can provide rationales and resources. Ultimately though, the choice to make digital shifts has to come from within. At the present time, the brick walls of resistance within learning and teaching might crack but the barriers remain strong.

I suspect digital shifts in practice will continue to be blocked and resisted for quite some time to come.

broken brick wall


full text from slide in post

“… It seems obvious now that the lack of student engagement with my online resources was due to inappropriate design. I placed too much emphasis on text based, selfdirected learning and didn’t recognise the important roles of self and peer assessment, interaction between students and probably most importantly, investing time in building solid foundations and helping students develop skills for online learning.”

more examples of digital shifts from my research data (contact me for full text versions) 

research data quotes showing digital shifts

research data quotes showing digital shifts

Castells, M. (2009) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (Vol I) Second Edition.  Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Webster, F. ( 1995) Theories of the Information Age. Third Edition. Abingdon: Routledge

All images from pixabay.com unless otherwise stated.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.