Troubling boundaries (and cats)

Where my research is concerned, I have trouble with boundaries

I’ve said this before (Know Your Limits) and am likely to do so again. It’s nowhere more prevalent than this blog. I start new posts all the time but finish them less often. Too many ideas in my head and not enough boundaries.

There it is again!

It’s getting worse as the research progresses. The more I reduce the data for analysis, the more I feel the need to give contextual background. I save in one place I but increase elsewhere. On reflection, this might show how digital shifts themselves are inextricably linked to all aspects of higher education. Show me what doesn’t involve a digital agenda and I’ll eat my blog.

baby wearing a large hat
image from pixabay – no attribution required

This week I’ve taken leave and allocated it PhD time. the intention was at least one research-related (and completed) post. The boundary issue is becoming critical. This blog was about Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). It’s not core to my research but is related (I rest my case!) in that I’ve a partially-generated theory which suggests DIS might underpin digital shyness and resistance.

Reluctance to engage in online activity is well documented, for staff as well as students. Colleague Patrick Lynch and I facilitate Module Two of the PG Cert in Academic Practice (PCAP). We introduced it as a blended module because the group only meets 5 times in 10 weeks but our online activities were – I think it’s fair to say – not widely or enthusiastically adopted. We want to explore why not.

We’re told there’s too many competing pressures but in a  200 hour Level 7 module with only 15 hours contact time, we didn’t think it unreasonable to allocate a similar time to developing an online PCAP community. My previous TELEDA courses (Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age) were experiential (offering staff a student view of the VLE etc) and although successful then, it seems a similar approach may not work this time around.

Again – why not?

cartoon of single person facing a wall of technology

At this stage, I’m not suggesting the answer is Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). Evaluation may well reveal we set about it all wrong or made mistakes we’re not yet aware of. However, from an overall perspective, something prevents staff and students from contributing to online forums, blogs, wikis or other interactive google logo under a magnifying glassplaces (when the same people often communicate through social media). This is against a discourse of education technology transforming – even revolutionising – higher education.

Houston – we have a mismatch.

Is it nerves about negative responses? A recent event on student blogging revealed individual URLs being deliberately obscured to prevent the blogs being found by google, the rational being to reduce potential trolling or flaming. Another person went through their student posts editing out typos to prevent the department being associated with poor writing. Digital attitudes and practices vary, tend to be unique to individuals as well as vast in nature. To become ‘digital’ is to change behaviours in hundreds of different ways and I found it useful for my research to have a catch-all phrase like ‘digital shifts’ to refer to any or all of the component parts.

I’m gathering the themes for my data analysis and was wondering if iI should add Digital Impostor Syndrome to my list. Of all the reasons for keeping a blog (and there are many – which is another post!) the opportunity to condense something large into a smaller space can be a meaningful challenge. It not only forces critical reflection but the ensuing post becomes a useful reference.

So I began a post on DIS. Firstly, it needed an explanation of what Impostor Syndrome was, then an explanation of ‘digital’ in that context. This involved a detour into ‘literaries’ as socially-situated practice with situated learning inevitably segueing into communities of practice (I’d been wanting explore misconceptions around Wenger’s work for some ing time) and before you could say Tweet, another 500 words were written. I drew a line, but not before the Browne Review of HE and teaching accreditation for academics -which was no surprise – much of my work revolves around the teaching/research nexus and the professionalisation debate – definitely another blog post for the future!

blue twitter bird

This deviation was highlighted the recent HEA change to ‘Advance HE‘ and the new Academic Professional Practice Apprenticeship Standard (outlined here). Having done some work around Degree Apprenticeships (inevitably blended therefore requiring attention to online design and delivery) I watched this video which included an outline of Epigeum’s new resource University Teaching: Core Skills: a new online training programme.

The language of ‘Skills’ and ‘Training’ in association with T&L in UK HE are like spontaneous combustion. 500 words later my thoughts on marketisation, neo-liberalism, metrics and competency checklists have hit the page, Taking a deep breath, I return to the concept of professional academic development. Comparing the Epigeum content and our Design 4 Active Learning (D4AL) approach reminds me the rationale blog for D4AL is long overdue (draft outline here).

By now I’ve Tweeted , uploaded photos to Facebook, re-watched the grandcat playing a board game and am so far from the starting point I have to go through my notes to see what it was.

I think the boundary problem is self- evident.

I also think it can be explained.

My work has always been eclectic. As Senior Lecturer in Education Development, I didn’t have a single subject specialism and now, like others working across institutions and disciplines in what’s been called third space for professionals, I’ve acquired a variety of responsibilities and skills. I’ve been teacher, student and researcher, often at the same time, while also writing for publication and generating external income. If I had to identify areas of expertise I’d suggest transition to HE, open education, blended and online distance learning and inclusive practice. Oh – and my PhD on digital shifts.

Which – surprise! – is the subject of another post unpicking what ‘digital shifts’ might cover. Here’s a link to the draft I began earlier Digital Shifts

So – my problem with boundaries…

The edges of work responsibilities and interests overlap and blur. Colleagues say you can’t talk about T&L in 21st century without assuming it has a digital dimension but I find digital engagement is unique to individuals. There’s always a need to dissect what being ‘digital’ actually means in different contexts. It differs hugely and positivist, non-critical approaches miss the mark every time.

letter tiles spelling digital shifts

The complexity of digital contexts are partially to do with language, where the same phrases mean different things to different people, and also connected to the independence of HEI against a lack of central guidance or conformity (observation not a critique!). The tradition of academic tribes and territories going their own subject-specialist ways contributes while I’ve written elsewhere about education technologists creating their own TEL-world which is mutually exclusive. See The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People and TEL People, Poetry and Language 

The boundary issue is also about personal identity.

I don’t know where I belong.

jigsaw peices in the shape of a brain with some missing

Is it a school of education because of my research, a technology enhanced learning team through my CMALT accreditation or a CPD/academic practice unit via my Pedagogy-first approach with D4AL. There will always be a digital dimension and I’m about how technology can be used rather than how it works or what to do when it breaks – so at least I know I’m not in ICT!

This lack of confidence in my identity takes me back to Digital Impostor Syndrome – which takes me back to the themes for my data analysis – and hey presto – I’m back with my research.

Did I tell you – I have a problem with boundaries…

barbed and wire fencing

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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!