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 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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