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.

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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.

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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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Review, Reflect and Remember – Playful Learning #playlearn16 @playlearnconf @ucisa

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The Hull team arriving at the Playful Learning Conference, 13-15 July 2016.

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On arrival* participants were inducted into the marble game which ran throughout the three days. Clutching our marble winnings we were able to register and inspect the construction – a bit like mousetrap for marbles – which we were invited to add components to.

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This was supplemented with text message tasks and challenges in return for – yes – more marbles. It was indicative of the amazing amount of preparation work which must have gone into planning and setting up the Playful Learning Conference.

Everywhere you looked  on the Spanish Steps on the ground floor of MMU’s Birley Campus there was something to do.

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The steps homed an assortment of objects and board games while over on the registration desk the ‘Sea You Sea Me’ activity buckets were waiting. Each bucket contained 30 items, all designed for teams to create a beach (with real sand, shells and water!) while having conversations and solving puzzles. 30 buckets = 900 individual component parts! Did I mention the phenomenal amount of work which went into setting up this conference?

Three Keynotes over three days and a total of 25 parallel sessions were interspersed with whole conference activities like the Storybook. I wish I’d recorded Nikky’s vibrant retelling of the process of  creating stories.  It ended too soon.

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Unsurprisingly Storybook involved yet another set of challenges. This time it was to unlock the chest whose treasures included a set of keys for yet more games!

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It was difficult to choose from the variety of parallel sessions; I went to six in total. Having recently experienced Lego Serious Play, https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/bricking-it, I was interested to compare this with the PlayDoh Plaza. Maybe it’s in the name but it felt strange to be asked to take part in activities so reminiscent of childhood yet they were both underpinned with constructionist and kinaesthetic pedagogies. When PlayDog was introduced to bio-medical students they’d also been unsure. The words in the images below show their feelings before and after a PlayDoh session. It shows the value of being prepared to try something different. We were asked to choose a colour and make a model which represented our work. The purple chains are my digital networks while the face is the digital monster – the one which appears in our worst technology nightmares when everything goes wrong in front of a room full of students. Interestingly, everyone I spoke to knew exactly what this felt like!

It was a time of new discoveries. I came across the word Shonky, discovered Makey Makey clips, answered questions with clues gained from QR Codes, used Poll everywhere and competed in a quiz using Kahoot. One of the most memorable workshops was Ugg-Tect; a game which uses gestures instead of words to give instructions for building models from coloured shapes. Ungungdo!

I also learned about data encryption; one of those topics you know about without really understanding the detail. We began with the Caesar Cypher; a mono alphabetic transposition code (and we got to keep the encryption wheels). We then moved onto the Diffie-Hellman Ken Exchange to generate an encryption key which was theoretically more difficult to intercept. This used an app which didn’t seem to be working as well as it could do or maybe it was just the digital monster rearing its scary PlayDoh head again!

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Other sessions included a digital form of Exquisite Corpse as an aid to creative storytelling, the application of pedagogical theory to a teaching practice card game, and exploring creative methods for solving learning and teaching problems. These involved dressing up (hat and sunglasses to go incognito), choosing objects (it had to be the ammonite) and making things (not sure what my pipe cleaner mesh represented but I found it therapeutic to shut out the world and focus on its construction).

There were also the escape room experiences, the Board Game Cafe demonstrations, different sporting activities including Neon Badminton, and Inbox Zero – which I missed completely – as well as the Treasure Hunt on the last morning. Meanwhile the marble challenges continued to run alongside everything else.

By the end of the conference I’d joined in so many different activities yet still only experienced a part of the whole event. I’d arrived with a number of questions about the role of play in learning and teaching e.g. how digital would it be, had the organisers assumed we’d all have wifi connected devices, how inclusive and accessible were the activities, as a non-game player would I have ‘fun’ and above all else what would I learn.

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Play is a misnomer. Because of its association with fun and games, rather than the ‘serious’ business of higher education, you almost need to ‘permission’ to do something so different. Yet what is play other than an alternative way to describe creative approaches to learning and teaching? Getting around the discontinuity can be a simple as re-framing an activity within a pedagogical theory. Maybe we need to find more ways to play in disguise!

Stepping outside the box – or recreating the size and shape of the box – can often mean taking a risk but if we don’t take risks now and then, everything stays the same. It’s only by challenging ourselves that we can develop and grow. A key message I took away was how it can be good to venture outside your comfort zones and do something you wouldn’t normally do. A ‘feel the fear and do it’ scenario. Only then do you discover what feels strange at first can soon become normalised if we repeat it often enough. The conference participants were a unique mix. They included computer scientists, gamers, creative writers and other artists, academics, academic developers and librarians. This made for some interesting exchanges of thoughts and experiences.

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I’ve taken away not only new connections but reinforcement of the value of having time and space to discuss learning and teaching. I loved how the parallel sessions were so interactive. There was very little traditional sitting and listening and I don’t think I’ve been to such an activity based conference before. For me, this definitely added to its value. With regards to the play element, if you interpret this as creative thinking then all educational conferences would benefit from its inclusion. At minimum it could be a strand or a themed component while at best it would be threaded throughout.

When we engage with ‘playful’ situations we seemed to have more discussion than we would have otherwise. It was particularly useful for beginning and continuing conversations with strangers. Whether you were staff or student facing, involved in supporting the student experience or working with CPD/academic practice elements, there was something at Playful Learning for everyone.  It was an inaugural conference. For something so new and innovative, this first time around felt like a resounding success. I’m sure I’m not the only one to hope there will be more to come.

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My thanks to UCISA for the bursary which funded my attendance. 

digital detective #playlearn16

This week I’m at the Birley Campus of MMU attending the Playful Learning Conference #playlearn16. Thank you @UCISA for the bursary which made this amazing experience possible.  I say amazing because playing games takes me right out of my comfort zone.

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Youngest son works here at Birley and while we were chatting about the conference, he reminded me how playing board games was an integral part of his childhood. Before this week I can’t remember the last time I opened a board game box. There’s lots of them here  week but now – as then  – computers are competing for attention.

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We used to have a ZX Spectrum when that was cutting edge – and a shoe-box full of games. Today eldest son still plays WarHammer but youngest is a digital gamer. Thanks to him I can talk about Grand Theft Auto, Heavy Rain and Witcher. Love the graphics but still much to learn about the multitasking demands of an Xbox console! I’m more of a vicarious game-player rather than a real one and with regard to play it’s more the creativity aspects which interest me. I’m part of the #creativeHE network and we’ve just finished another open online week. With the conversations still fresh in my mind, of the questions I arrived with on Wednesday was how play and games might link up with creative approaches to HE. In particular, could I find ways to be more creative with introducing staff to TEL and developing digital capabilities.  The conference isn’t over yet so there’ll be blog posts to follow which try and answer this. In the meantime I’m reflecting on the power of crowd sourcing to find things forgotten things.

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This week I was defeated by Google. It started with a poet and the title of a book of poems. I couldn’t remember either. All I knew was male with a cancer diagnosis, northern England, something to do with a year spent in a sheep pen or shepherd shelter, within the last decade and I thought I’d read about him in the Guardian.  I didn’t expect it to be a problem. After all you can find anything with Google – can’t you?

But it was and I couldn’t. On and off for a couple of days I tried variations of all the bits I could I could remember, confident Google would pick up something which would trigger what I needed.  It didn’t. Instead it was an lesson in how Google makes overt decisions based on popularity and how this can prevent any covert, deeper connections from taking place. William Wordsworth and James Rebanks  came up again and again. I learned some interesting asides like Yan Tan Thethera, an old english counting method, but could not discover my poet.

Then I thought – Library!

So I sent a tweet to @HullUni_Library who shared it with @hull_libraries from where it was picked up by @BookjacketsHQ who gave me the answer – all within minutes. Could it be Glyn Hughes ‘A Year in the Bull Box’. Not sheep but cattle. Yes – it could and it was!

image of a tweet with correct answer Glyn Hughes

Wrong beast but I’m not convinced it would have made much difference. When I briefly tried the same search terms, substituting cattle for sheep, still no luck. So thank you Lyn Fenby. I have the book of poems I needed for the final year of my creative writing course as well as discovering the rest of the work of Glyn Hughes who died in 2011 The Guardian Glyn Hughes Obituary.

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With hindsight the library (shown above reconstructed in Minecraft) may have been the most obvious place to start but turning digital detective was an automatic conditioned behaviour.

The implications for learning and teaching are reassuring. One of the affordances of VLE is alleged to be supporting student independence so using search engines is part of induction processes while a core element of digital literacy is the authentication and validation of online resources. Of course, the internet doesn’t have the answers. It’s how we use it that counts. With regards to my poet, it was people who made the difference and, like reliving the value of playing board games at this Playful Learning event, it’s good to be reminded how being human in the digital age is what matters most of all.

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emoticon https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.emojiworld.sademojis 

Metathesiophobia and other #udigcap take-aways

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Time to flex your hashtags

image from https://pixabay.com/en/twitter-tweet-bird-funny-cute-117595/

If you’re new to social media, Twitter is a useful starting point. Ignore the negative hype around celebrities and breakfasts. Twitter works because it’s what you make it. You choose who to follow and can block unwanted followers. On Twitter you’re in control, not only of your own Twittersphere but who you want to share it with. Hashtags make useful aggregators while additional tools like Buffer and Pocket help manage tweeting times as well as offering a handy curation service. Twitter’s 140 character limit is conducive to preciseness which is a valuable skill for all. The limit keeps tweets neat. You can also include an image to extend or emphasise the message. At the moment this takes up extra characters but maybe not for much longer ‘Twitter to stop counting photos and links in character limit’

Yet Twitter can be divisive. Not everyone likes it. An excellent blog post from @KerryPinny I am rubbish at Twitter highlights some of this ambivalence, in particular around life balance and TMI (too much information), but on reflection I wonder how much Twitter-resistance is about the wider issues associated with putting yourself online in the first place. After all, it can be a scary thing to do. While the nuances of a face-to-face conversation are soon forgotten, tweets stick and this stickiness is a justifiable worry, in particular where deleting texts is no guarantee of their demise. Yet there are definite benefits to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Twitter networks can become valuable sources of information. Like attracts like and this can be useful for a range of educational topics. Also, just when you thought you were the only person in the world with a particular problem, Twitter leads you to those with similar issues and becomes a great source of shared comfort and advice.

When Kerry tweeted her blog post, @jamesclay responded with a list of Things people say about using twitter but really you shouldn’t Number one on the list is an wry ‘Never write a blog post telling people how they should use Twitter!’ but in reality, there’s value in offering advice for Twitter newbies who might be unsure what it’s all about. At the risk of tipping the balance between self-promotion and collective wisdom, here’s a link to my own ‘Ten Tips for Neat Tweets’ this was posted prior to my #LTHEchat session on accessibility. These weekly chats take place 8.00-9.00 p.m. on Wednesdays and are Storified afterwards. https://lthechat.com has a record of the sessions and offers valuable insight into how Twitter brings people together to share information and practice.For those new to Twitter, the hashtag #LTHEchat is a great place to begin.

Twitter also ticks all the elements of the Jisc digital capabilities model. Using Twitter requires confidence with the inner circle of ICT proficiency and the outer circle of digital identity and reputation as well as showcasing professional learning, developing a range of literacies, artefacts and practices plus demonstrating effective online communication and collaboration. It’s  a great example of technology enhanced learning too.

Phew! Let’s get Twitterate. Go forth and Tweet.

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An extended version of this post first appeared on the UCISA Training Community in relation to the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference 25/26 May 2016 #udigcap.