The importance of being earnest not ignorant

Poster for the play the importance of being earnest

[Lady Bracknell]  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
From The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.


Ignorance is an interesting word. Wikipedia (one of the best teaching tools for understanding the internet) offers  ‘often (incorrectly) used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts.

We can’t know what we don’t know so why is ‘ignorance’ i.e. a state of being uninformed or lack of knowledge critiqued as a negative trait? Shouldn’t it be those responsible for withholding information who are critiqued instead?

Some valuable conversations took place at work this week about digital capabilities. Four departments are now represented in our monthly DigiCaps group; the TEL-Team, Library, Careers/Employability and Staff Development. There is enthusiasm. This is an encouraging start. I have hope.

Don't give up hope image blue butterfly on black background

The majority of education technology projects fail to gain widespread adoption because like attracts like and ICT is sticky stuff. Early digital adopters tend to stick together while digital pedagogies require digital competencies to stick but the majority of those in positions of managing change fail to appreciate the width and depth of on-campus digital divides. They are well kept secrets and this is where the words of Lady Bracknell come to mind. Why is there so much ignorance about the  true lack of meaningful digital adoption?  Is this knowledge-loss accidental or deliberate?

When it comes to the users of technology I hesitate to use the word ignorant. I’ve tried reluctant and resistant to describe lack of engagement and been told these are too kind. The latest trend among digital pioneers is to say if people don’t have appropriate digital skills they are not employable which seems a little harsh. Students are told their attributes should include competence to manage in an increasingly digital society. I agree this should apply to staff as well but rather than reject staff for being not being digitally capable, institutions should put in place digital development. It isn’t happening and I wonder if this is because it would mean admitting there is a digital problem in the first place. Just who is being ignorant here and why?

The second UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey has just been launched.

The findings of the first survey in 2014 highlighted lack of time and resources for staff to develop digital ways of working. The UCISA TEL Surveys have been saying this for years. There’e no shortage of evidence; just ignorance about what to do next. Contrary to the rhetorical promise, we’re in a digital dystopia and part of the problem is no one understands the baseline of what digital incapability looks like.

baseline

To highlight the issues our digi caps group are collecting anonymised examples of how low a digital baseline needs to go to ensure everyone starts from the same place. If you work in areas like education or learning development, learning technology or ICT support, and have examples of the divide between the promise and the reality of virtual learning, please do feel free to share them using the form below. This will help us to attach more importance to digital incapability and challenge ignorance about baseline support. It’s a sensitive issue but ignoring it won’t make it go away.  Lady Bracknell tells us the ‘whole theory of modern education today is unsound’ and this could easily be a reference to the world of digital education, resting as it does on assumptions of staff confidence and competence which simply don’t tally up.

image showing multiple students involved in creating a puzzele to demonstrate active learning

21st century higher education has been aptly summarised by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006:2) as follows: ‘Instead of characterising [student learning in HE] as a simple acquisition process based on teacher transmission, learning is now more commonly conceptualised as a process whereby students actively construct their own knowledge and skills. Students interact with subject content transforming and discussing it with others in order to internalise meaning and make connections with what is already known.’

The internet is a fabulous learning tool on so many different levels with multiple means to help students actively construct their own knowledge and skills but there remains an huge ignorance about the true state of adoption and use. I believe appropriate support can make a difference. I believe institutions have to accept technology on its own is not enough and investment needs to be in the people who use it as well

(Not sure why my details appear  in the form below but just delete and add your own or anonymous ones. I couldn’t find how to make the fields non-compulsory. Digital capabilities irony!) 


Share examples of how digital capabilities can best be developed and supported 


*Nicol, D. J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education (2006), Vol 31(2) 199-21

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