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