brick walls crack but don’t fall

image of brick wall from pixabayWhat’s a digital shift?

It’s like getting through a brick wall.

Brick walls are not made to be broken…

At last weeks Annual Research Students Conference at the University of Northampton I called my presentation Digital Shifts.

This was in  reference to shifting from traditional f2f transmissive-based pedagogies to more interactive, student centred approaches which make use of technology. But digital shifts are much more than transferring paper to screen.

fingerprints fr

Many years ago I wrote about digital literacies (as they were called then) being personal and individual as fingerprints. Applying a one-size-fits-all model of digital development was doomed to failure. People have to find comfort in ways which suit them. I still believe this today. Unless there’s a personal reason for change, it’s unlikely to happen with any degree of authenticity. Hence the existence of on-campus divides between digital fluency and shyness.

For those involved in promoting and supporting digital adoption, we need to think deep. This week I’ve been pondering the nature of macro, meso and micro levels of change.

book cover for Third Wave image from wikipedia
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave_(Toffler_book)

In 1980, Alvin Tofler described the post-industrial society (following the agrarian and industrial ages) as the Third Wave. Computer technologies were emerging and had Tofler been writing two decades later he may well have called it the Digital Wave. At times of great change, society gets swept up into massive shifts of lifestyle and the present is no exception. In less than a decade internet connectivity represents change on a macro-shift dimension.

When universities adopt digital ways of working as the norm, it’s an example of a meso-shift. Led by their ICT driven systems, there ‘s often little choice for those in administrative roles but for many academics there’s been less impetus to change. The absence of a whole institution approach to digital change means shifts are often fragmented. Active Blended Learning, a new normal in higher education at the University of Northampton is an example of a wholesale digital shift. The absence of lecture theatres in the new Waterside campus is leading a pedagogic move from lecture style teaching towards small group and blended learning. This brave new digital world is being watched with great interest across the sector.

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library (my photos).

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library

Digital shifts at a micro-level are more about individual change. These often involve the principles of threshold concepts including liminality, integration and troublesome knowledge. Digital shifts represent a unique combination of emotions and responses.  For the digitally shy and resistant,  technology  can appear threatening. What if it breaks, goes wrong, gets lost….Habits are lifesavers when under pressure. If it works why break it… Students love what I do already…. There isn’t enough time…. Never enough time for change…

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Digital shifts can be feared or rejected for a range of reasons yet when they happen it can be transformative involving ontological as well as epistemological change as demonstrated by this quote from my research data (full text below post).

image of presentation slideshowing TELEDA Tip 5

Micro-shifts can occur in unexpected ways. Illness or impairment can lead to assistive technology or customisation of PCs and personal devices. Speech to text and text to speech can convert the most digitally resistant. Be My Eyes uses the affordances of social media while anyone ‘hot-desking’ soon learns to appreciate cloud computing and systems like Google Accounts which give access to folders and customised browser tabs anywhere you log on.

google logo under a magnifying glass

Research can be another digital shift trigger. My Director of Studies at Northampton has a paper on Academia.Edu with 600 downloads while the journal site version only has 100. Cristina also finds it useful it is to share research links via Twitter or Skype an idea with a colleague over breakfast. We’ve met twice in 9 months but are regularly in touch online. For myself, every week I get notifications of who’s accessed my publications on ResearchGate while the power of Twitter meant within 20 minutes a stranger had found me the book I needed with only the flimsiest (and partially incorrect) details.

Digital shifts can be fragmented and inconsistent. The Jisc Digital Capabilities Model shows the complexity of opportunities there are to become ‘more digital‘. As government, finance, health and leisure go online so the pressure to digitally engage increases. Some might be adept users at home but not work. Or vice versa. We hold hard onto habitual practice and the university is a traditional environment.Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve Digital shifts happen for many reasons. External pressures can lead to tipping points but the Late Majority, and unfortunately named Laggards of Rogers Diffusion of Innovations curve, will need something more personal to persuade them to change. Institutions can provide reward and recognition. Digital Education Developers can provide rationales and resources. Ultimately though, the choice to make digital shifts has to come from within. At the present time, the brick walls of resistance within learning and teaching might crack but the barriers remain strong.

I suspect digital shifts in practice will continue to be blocked and resisted for quite some time to come.

broken brick wall


full text from slide in post

“… It seems obvious now that the lack of student engagement with my online resources was due to inappropriate design. I placed too much emphasis on text based, selfdirected learning and didn’t recognise the important roles of self and peer assessment, interaction between students and probably most importantly, investing time in building solid foundations and helping students develop skills for online learning.”

more examples of digital shifts from my research data (contact me for full text versions) 

research data quotes showing digital shifts

research data quotes showing digital shifts

Castells, M. (2009) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (Vol I) Second Edition.  Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Webster, F. ( 1995) Theories of the Information Age. Third Edition. Abingdon: Routledge

All images from pixabay.com unless otherwise stated.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

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It isn’t technology it’s learning design

communication-pixabay

This began as a PhD reflection but turned into a blog post because the issues matter. We need to talk. What has gone wrong? Quite a lot.

December 1 was the first Graduate School Research workshop day. I thought joining in remotely would be a motivator. I’m self-funding so every opportunity for contact is welcome. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but couldn’t join in the activities. In the afternoon the sound was lost. I’m hoping the recording will be ok and wondering when it will appear on the VLE. The cognitive connection has already faded.

What is meant by the phrase ‘online distance learning?’ What did I get from passively listening and watching on my laptop? Not a lot to be honest. The common model of distance learning is still a delivery one. Recorded lectures are seen as progression and if you build in some formative MCQ then Hallelujah – you have an online course.

My PhD includes mandatory research and ethics modules. They’re produced by Epigeum, so expensive and considered gold standard. I’ve sat alone in my room clicking through linear screen after screen of content in order to take the test at the end. It’s lonely and my learning is surface recall rather than any deeper approach achieved by cognitive understanding via critical reflection or discussion with colleagues.

What has gone wrong with the promise of student centered, interactive collaborative learning – online? How can the principles of Social Learning Theory be applied to what is fundamentally learning in isolation?

digital-tech-pixabay

In the THES last month there was a piece called Mass Learning must mean web based study It claimed the elements exist to make online learning happen, but ‘institutional inertia’ creates lack of progress. Thinking this might refer to the invisibility of on-campus digital divides or lack of recognition of diverse digital capabilities I read on. Technology has its problems I’m told – and here the piece links to Distance and Discontent the Downside of Digital Learning – but it will continue to evolve, solving all the negative issues as it does.

There are barriers such as the need for more teaching hours (at last – acknowledgement it requires additional resources rather than less to build and run effective online learning environments) plus new forms of examination and inclusion of ‘the broader social and cultural benefits of higher education’ but hey the piece goes on – none of these are insuperable. No. The problem is the university itself. Over the past decades they’ve continued to expand their physical presence at the expense of their virtual one, to a point where they can no longer afford to go online. As the author says, Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas but – don’t you know – technology is still the solution!

turkeys-pixabay

As if this were not depressing enough, the Distance and Discontent piece offers two further narratives of online education failure. Against a sector which still shouts about the transformative power of digital environments, something isn’t fitting. The rhetorical promise of e-learning solutions continues to be promoted in headlines, straplines, Jisc-speak and conference halls. In the meantime research and anecdote speak of digital depository models of VLE usage, empty discussion forums and neglected project sites return broken links and 404 errors.

So often over the years I’ve seen digital layers added onto existing face-to-face practice. It rarely creates effective online learning because it isn’t about the technology, it’s about learning design.


images from pixabay.com 

Why don’t I speak French?

page of french text

Why don’t I speak French? I learned it at school and went to French night class – twice. For 10 years I car-shared with a colleague who was fluent in French. What can I show for it today other than  un, deux, trois, and Je m’appelle Sue.

There’s a connection with speaking French and my PhD.  I’m at the University of Northampton’s Postgraduate Induction week. UoN are moving to a new Waterside Campus and changing their learning and teaching. Leaving behind the traditional f2f lecture, they’re adopting a blended approach via greater use of digital tools. Sounds exciting but it would do wouldn’t it – I’m a VLE advocate and at risk of extinction. There aren’t many of us left.

I’ve met my PhD supervisors; Ale Armellini and Ming Nie. Ale is the Director of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in HE and both Ale and Ming worked at Leicester with Gilly Salmon in the days of the Media Zoo. They have digital provenance and talking to Ale is like sharing a language – in a good way. He gets what I’m doing and this doesn’t happen often.  Ale suggests learning online involves a move from literacy to competency to fluency and we should aim to be bilingual, seamlessly transferring from one environment to another. Online. Offline. Online. Bourdieu comes to mind. A habitus binary. Digital fluency as a form of cultural capital. Digital capital.

Parlez-vous francais? written in chalk on a blackboard

So why don’t I speak French? I don’t have to. I don’t want to. If I were lost in France it would be different but I’m not so I don’t.

My PhD is about technology enhanced learning (TEL). It explores how staff transfer their f2f practice to online environments. Based on my TELEDA courses, it shows how resistance to VLE can be reduced by adopting immersive approaches to TEL support.

The irony is this research into digital resistance has been so difficult to home. One institution changed my role, wiping off ten years of  TEL work  and ending my TELEDA courses. Another rejected my PhD along with three years of data saying they had no supervision. It’s a year since my Thesis Whisperer debut on how supervision issues have haunted me (Know Your Limits). Ale is the first supervisor in five years to have a relevant TEL background. There’s another irony in how all these blocks on the PhD journey reinforce its message; digital divides on campus continue to separate the digital and non-digital speakers.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

The motivation for my PhD was to explore staff resistance to TEL. My approach was to put them into a digital environment and use that medium for critical reflection. I believed a supported immersive experience would make a difference. A bit like taking them to France with a phrase book and a fluent French speaker to intermediate if necessary. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the TEL-People and how we are a unique tribe with our own territory. https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-invisible-tribes-and-territories-of-the-tel-people Maybe there is something about our language which I need to consider too.

dandilion growing out of parched ground

TEL-People are fluent with TEL-Speak and TEL-Beingness. We show, tell and demonstrate from our digital positions but where do we involve?  I have an ongoing battle with the use of the word ‘training’ with regard to technology. We do not train we teach. If we don’t have knowledge about how people learn then we should do.  TELEDA was built around sharing, discussion, collaboration, synthesis and critique. It was much more time and resource heavy than providing workshops and helpsheets but made a real difference to how participants changed their own TEL practices.  TELEDA was rejected just like my research has been. The buzz phrase today is digital capabilities. The Jisc model (below)is not perfect. I’d like to see digital inclusion made explicit as as one of the elements, but it’s a good enough place to explore the multiplicity of being digital in 21st century.

jisc digital capabilities model

Twice this month I’ve stood in front of rooms of teaching staff and no one has heard of it. I would suggest TEL-People are using a language which is only spoken by a minority. Yet our role is to encourage the majority to change how they teach.  We need to ask more critical questions about what we do. We work in institutions of higher education but how well do we apply the rules of teaching and learning to our own TEL practices? Should we be looking to the teaching of languages for ideas? Meaningful adoption of change requires a cultural shift and here governance plays a part. Without it there is no impetus for change. I would learn French if I had to, just as staff at Northampton are turning to the digital because their current ways of working are changing. It’s a dramatic move and one I’ll be watching with interest.

image showing python programming language

In the meantime I’ll take back to my own TEL-People the suggestion we consider a linguistic route and approach TEL as being ‘Digital’ for speakers of other languages. Rather than see pedagogical practice as being online or offline we should see it through a bi-lingual lens as Ale suggests. After all communication is at the heart of learning and teaching wherever it takes place.

‘si au début vous ne réussissez essayer somthing diffrent’


images from https://pixabay.com