if the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it! Reflections on UCISA spotlight #udigicap

presnting at the UCISA conference

I hate being late.

I blame the M1 speed restrictions.

Four lanes of traffic should move at ease but 40 mph defeats the object of a motorway. So I missed the start of the conference. Arrived half way through the keynote by Donna Laclos. Times like these you realise the value of recording is not just for the absent, it’s for those like me, who are late.

The event was the fourth UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference. Held at the Radcliffe Centre at the University of Warwick, this two day programme of presentations and workshops was accompanied with great food and on suite accommodation. Lovely to see my UCISA colleagues and meet up with Kerry ‘Do Academics Dream of Electric Sheep‘ Pinny again (we didn’t take any pictures!!)

Times like this, your extended higher education family come together and remind you how we’re all involved in the core business of the university; i.e. teaching, learning and research. We all face similar challenges; widening participation, the inexorable rise of data analytics, designing for diversity and so on. Conferences are opportunities to touch base and share insights. They should be protected as integral to individual CPD.

Two years ago I spoke at the second UCISA Spotlight event. I’d just broken my ankle so was hobbling around on crutches and, when I revisited my slides, I could see apart from ditching the sticks, not a lot had changed. It’s a running joke how we make techie mistakes in public. I was no exception; having hidden this slide earlier I’d forgotten to make it visible again. So these are the missing images I talked through!

 

The lecture remains an instantly recognisable format, we’ve just transferred it online through slides, notes and recordings, Whole cohorts of students have spent their lives digitally connected while fear of technology  and change continues to create digital rifts, divides and chasms.

In 2016 I’d spoken about directing our attention to diversity. Never mind Visitors or Residents, some people were the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets.

Those who don’t come to our workshops or TEL themed events, don’t apply for TEL funding, read the TEL literature and who generally avoid TEL work as much as they can. We are the TEL people, living in our TEL Tribes and Territories. They are not. We know about them as a species but less as individuals and this needs to change.  When it comes to understanding more about digital shyness and resistance, they can help.

title slide 2018

This year I was speaking about moving from theory to practice at the University of Hull via our Design for Active Learning approach. We were the TEL Team. Now we’re the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Team (LTE). We used to be Technology-First. Now we’re Pedagogy/Design-First. Academics who shy away from technology, saying it’s not for them and/or not their responsibility, would be hard pushed to say the same about student learning.

D4AL is a toolbox of tools.  Built around Appreciative Inquiry and Action Research, it focuses on learning activities which are data informed thereby making the process agile, open ended and responsive to student needs.

It’s interesting to observe tweeting at conferences. Twitter in action provides additional voices, both remote and present but it’s a exclusive environment, one which privileges those with mobile devices and the ability to think in text-bites. It also helps spread your words to the networks of others which is always rewarding to see. Thank you.

tweets from UCISA Spotlight conference

Twitter is also very much of the moment. Capturing tweets needs automation.

Da Da!

Enter Wakelet, the new Storify. A lovely tool which harvests hashtags and names. This is my initial harvest – it needs editing but for now it brings all the #udigicap hashtags together UCISA Spotlight 2018 Wakelet 

wakelet logo blue on white

I took Design for Active Learning to the Spotlight Conference

The main message I took away was a massive need to reach agreed consensus on the language to use to describe digital ways of working.

Is it capabilities, literacies, competencies, skills or a word we haven’t yet thought of?

When considering this it’ worth bearing in mind the reminder from Donna Laclos of the power of the binary.

Binaries are those fundamental units of linguistic construction whereby we identify things not by what they are – but what they’re not.

You can’t have a yin without the yang.

We know dark because it isn’t light.

Every time we talk about digital competencies we’re also referring to incompetence. The same goes for illiteracies and incapabilities. Doesn’t sound so good does it.

Also….does it have to be digital anything? If the problem is the partnership why not use ‘digital’ on its own or pair it with something more neutral like Digital today, or digital way, road, path – top of my head thinking here – but you get the message.

If the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it!

image showing ditches crossing a field

After deciding on the term you have to decide what it refers too? Which framework to use? There are plenty to choose from. The Jisc Digital Capability Framework was designed specifically for UK  higher education but has gaps. Where’s digital pedagogy and design and why isn’t digital exclusion an element, preferably an all encompassing one. The omission suggests an invisibility which is not only self perpetuating but also indicative of the wider social and cultural blackout on digital democracy issues.

This is where the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy Model seen through a digital lens comes out on top because it promotes inclusion and accessibility. Also the boundary lines between information literacy and digital literacy are blurring.

With apologies for showing images of text in these tweets. Contact me if you need the detail. Lee Fallin and Mike Ewen (Librarians), Ale Armellini (Director Learning and Teaching Institute) and Jane Secker (Librarian and leading copyright expert) all agree information is by default becoming digital.

 

There’s also the recently revised UK government’s Essential Digital Skills framework. I like the how this combines work and life ‘skills’ with contextual examples. How many staff who teach and support learning in higher education can demonstrate all of these?

Context is key. There’s a body of work around text and print literacies which can inform approaches the digital today. In my presentation, I recommended a paper by Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012). This supports the view of literacies as knowledge practices, situated in social and cultural contexts. As such they are subject to inequalities of access of use. As always. attention to inclusivity is vital.

It isn’t enough to measure literacy.

Educators need to understand how it’s acquired and developed.

I’m way over my word limit so this is a separate blog post, one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The time has come!

Thank you UCISA for a really useful two days which showcased ways HEI are approaching the topic of ‘digital’. Many have chosen Microsoft ‘training’ or are adopting DIY with services like Lynda.com. The variety was reminiscent of issues around the teaching/training debate. What is the purpose of higher education. Is it to teach or to train? Those who believe it’s to train may not be in the right place.

Higher education is about supporting individuals to become knowledgeable in their subject of choice and part of the process is to acquire sets of literacies which encompass paper, print and digital. I’m closing with a quote from the paper cited above.

digital technolowies and an open book

‘Therefore, digital literacy extends beyond competence, such as the ability to form letters in writing or to use a keyboard. Digitally based knowledge practices are meaningful and generative of meaning; they depend on the learner’s previous experiences… on dispositions such as confidence, self-efficacy and motivation… and on qualities of the environment where that practice takes place…. digital literacies are both constitutive and expressive of personal identity.’ (Littlejohn et. al., 2012:551)

The last sentence is where the next blog will begin.

Like this…

Digital literacies are individual and unique like fingerprints. As such there is no one size fits all solution for their development. Instead, they need to be situated within the patterns and practices of people’s lives. Experiential, contextual support, alongside relevant and appropriate learning opportunities, is central to creating digitally literate and confident learners and citizens of the future.


Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H. and McGill, L. (2012) Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol 28, issue 6

images my own or from pixbay.com

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Metathesiophobia and other #udigcap take-aways

Fear of change signpost
image from https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/changes_ahead.html

Like attracts like and for some time the education technology community has been talking to an audience which mirrors itself. The focus has been on innovation while the experience of non-adoption was largely ignored. At the UCISA Spotlight conference, it was good to see low TEL take-up being highlighted. Possibilities for lack of interest included fear of change (metathesiophobia), not setting baseline capabilities low enough and the number of digitally shy and reluctant staff being greater than realised. While highlighting problems doesn’t solve them, it’s a step in the right direction.

cartoon showing a person battling with a wall of a technology

One question raised was if the word ‘training’ had reached the end of its useful lifespan. I used to think the T word was part of the problem but trying to define the difference between training and teaching, the lines soon began to blur.

Training is about skills and functionality so tends to be instructional. It’s a read the manual, follow the checklist approach whereas teaching covers a broader knowledge base including the why, where and when as well as the how. You could say training is the practice and teaching is the theory. While training often follows behaviorist principles of didactic, passive pedagogies, teaching today is supposed to be more constructivist, collaborative and active. Maybe the teaching continues where the training stops. So far so good. But we’ve all experienced training as doing and teaching as listening. Once you begin to dig down it can be less easy to tell them apart.

When it comes to TEL, training is the more dominant approach but where it focuses on  specific tools like a VLE, any personal context can be missing. When this happens, it’s easy to leave the workshop, go back to the office and carry on as before. So what can we do to encourage meaningful take up of TEL? I took away the following ideas.

Make it relevant: TEL needs to fit within the context of each individual subject discipline so make time for one-to-one and teaching-team conversations. We need to talk. Not just to each other but to the digitally shy and reluctant. We need new ways to reach out and find those wedded to more traditional, analogue modes of teaching.
Make it different: explore more creative approaches to supporting staff and students to use digital technologies their practice. I was awarded a UCISA Bursary to attend the Playful Learning Conference in July where I’ll be looking for new ways to promote TEL in the future. The Dig Cap Play Track usefully opened up ideas around gamification, personae and different approaches to the use of case studies and problem based learning. We not only need to talk to digitally resistant staff but also to focus on new ways of learning with each other.
Make it experiential: look at review and revision of CPD, staff development and teacher education to explore scope for providing some, more or all of it online. Enrol staff as students on the VLE to give them the student viewpoint and opportunities to reflect on aligning this with their own teaching practice. The internet is not going away and it’s no longer possible to ignore its influence on knowledge acquisition and employability. Students need to develop digital graduate attributes while TEL can offer broader and inclusive access to learning opportunities.
Make it rewarding: where possible allocate small amounts of funding for incentivisation and recognition of creative digital work. Develop institutional digital rewards and on a local level make use of chocolate and biscuits. Try Jane Secker’s great idea of using of fortune cookies containing digital hints and tips. Look at what other institutions are doing with regard to creative approaches to digital education. If the old isn’t working it’s time to focus on the new.

plate of chocolate chip cookies
image from https://pixabay.com/en/photos/chocolate%20chip/

Dig Cap Game Track, a gamification initiation #udigcap

Avatar characters from UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference game

  • The first task is to give the avatar their name.
  • Then write their back story.
  • Or better still, watch the Call to Arms video, join the UCISA Digital Capability Community, find your group, email  your Twitter name, introduce yourself to your team members and let the game begin.

This is the second UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference at Austin Court, Birmingham, 25-26 May and we were  playing Dig Cap Play Track.

Dig Cap Play Track cartoon stril
Eve Turner-Lee @artladycomic

The work which went into setting this up was phenomenal. Kudos to Fiona MacNeill @fmacneill and Farziaa Latiff @farzanalatif for their inspiration, knowledge and technical skills 🙂

Why Gamification? To explore the use of game design metaphors to create more game-like and enjoyable experiences’  (Marczewjki, 2015 p 11)

Each team had to create a digital story outlining the current digital ‘need-to-knows’ for each group’s assigned person: IT Director, Student, Academic or Admin Staff. Points were awarded for engagement with the community, tweeting, exploring the Introspective Room and making a digital nirvana box (see images below) before publishing and disseminating the story online.  Scores were collated on a RISE leaderboard with prizes for the winning teams.

TakeAways

I’m the non-gamer in the family. Apart from Treasure Island Dizzy on a Spectrum 48 and brief addiction to Candy Crush, my experience is limited to vicarious exposure to Heavy Rain and Witcher. I’ve never been a great fan of charades or cards and its been a long since I played chess or any other board game. However, in recent months I’ve been watching Joel Mills use Minecraft and was looking forward to seeing Dig Cap Play Track progress.

The minimum requirement was a mobile device and a Twitter account. Oh, and wifi. Poor connections proved to be a challenge and some participants had problems checking in with the i-beacons in the Introspective room, even with notifications enabled on the ucisa app. Of 91 players, 53 used Twitter (58%) while 38 (42%) did not. There were 12 teams but only one had a full contingent of Twitter users. The gaps might have been people opting not to use Twitter or changing their minds about playing and opting out altogether. The the disparity in numbers resulted in uneven opportunities to win points and although Twitter was not compulsory, it felt the scoreboard was more about the tweets than the digital story. Communication between team members was patchy in spite of a number of contact options; the online Community, Twitter, coloured tags on the name badges and visible meet-up points in the refreshment area.

UCISA conference name badge

Overall, the quality of any gamification event depends on the motivation  of the players. Even accounting for the inevitable differences in personality and enthusiasm, when half of more of the team is absent it makes it difficult and the intermittent wifi added to the problems. But for those who played it was a valuable experience on multiple levels. There was the instant commeradery between team members, opportunities to engage with a variety of different digital tools, the challenge of competing for points and some valuable reflection on how much the internet has impacted on higher education over the past 16 years.

There was so much going on at the conference that sometimes playing the game felt like overload. However, because so many point gaining activities were threaded throughout e.g. the tweeting, the Introspective room, the Nirvana Box etc it did create additional elements of fun. Fiona and Farzana worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen and it will be interesting to see what the evaluations show from a broader participant response.

my badge

Was it worth playing? Definitely yes! Even though my team didn’t complete the digital story, the game stimulated conversations and ideas which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Apart from the intermittent wifi and invisible team players, the only other downside was lack of time to engage fully with the story development. A good conference is a busy conference with things to see and people to talk to and if you’re presenting as well, it isn’t always easy to find spaces for extra curricula activities. Maybe building in time out for the game activities would be worth consideration next time. I hope there will be a next time. I think I could get used to this gamification pursuit!

the distance between digital innovation and capability

screen imge showing web page not available message

The University of Leeds has announced a partnership with FutureLearn to offer a credit-bearing online course Environmental Challenges. This will be the first mooc of its kind in the UK. Professor Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning at the University of Leeds, claims the new mooc offers flexibility because ‘Online education is available to anyone with access to the Internet’ and ‘Just as the digital world has transformed other areas of life, so higher education will be no exception. I strongly believe that universities need to be offering substantially more online learning.

Describing new digital approaches in higher education as ‘a great leveller’, Professor Morris cites the Government’s White Paper Success as a Knowledge Economy and the Higher Education and Research Bill which puts teaching excellence, student choice and social mobility at the top of the agenda. The mooc is being promoted as a method for realising the white paper’s stress on flexibility and access, yet the document makes no mention of internet supported technology, other than a single reference to ‘the complexities of digital delivery’ with regard to measuring contact hours (p48). While debates about defining teaching quality continue, it seems technology enhanced learning is absent from the arena. By default this excludes any mention of ensuring digital inclusion, with regard to both access and practice.

Fresh from the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference, and two days of discussing the distance between digital innovation and digital capability, it’s clear this is another gap between assumptions and outcomes. Far from online courses offering ‘more efficient, competitive and learner-focused study options’ the reality is they’re more likely to exacerbate existing social inequality and discriminatory power imbalances.

Students on this particular mooc-route to higher education will pay for their participation and assessment. Each of the five course certificates cost £59 with a sixth assessment course at £250 and the total £545 covering access to online library content. The mooc-route has a price as well as the need for prerequisite digital capabilities, while internet access should never be taken for granted.

The UCISA conference suffered wifi problems while connections were poor at the hotel. It was a useful reminder of the risks of living digital lives in the cloud.

message saying internet connection was interrupted

Lack of access also resonated with the conference’s opening video interview where Martha Lane Fox talked about the need for digital equality and skills. Digital divides have complex social structures. Their greatest disadvantage is their invisibility but they exist everywhere, including on campus. As higher education incrementally shifts towards a mix of blended, flipped and distance learning, the need to identify and engage with digitally invisible students and staff has become a problem for which we have no clear solutions.

Seven years ago, Diana Laurillard described how ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’  While the government pushes towards its student flexibility and mobility agendas, the promise of the digital continues to persuade decision makers that virtual is the way forward. The theory and the potential of digital education certainly offers promise but its practice less often fulfills it. The sector needs more opportunities like the UCISA event to discuss not just minding the gaps but in finding and appropriately bridging them too.