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.