My Ethics approval (EA2) was resubmitted and conditionally passed with comments to be addressed. One was about the issue of power. There was not enough of it.
Power is not often on my mind. I know my place. I don’t manage – I scaffold. I liked participatory action research (PAR) as a methodology because it enables collaboration. PAR will test my theories around online learning; namely the student knows themselves best. When it comes to finding ways to support staff engagement with technology for education, the students will be teaching me. I have a toolkit of online learning activities but without participation they won’t get used and learning will be limited. Virtual learning is a partnership. Without communication and collaboration it simply won’t work. Online tutors need to be skilled in creating opportunities for learning at a distance when all the evidence suggests successful teaching is fundamentally a social activity. It’s a challenge and this doctoral research will aid the development of teacher education at Lincoln. So what did I need to say about power?
I’ve had to reflect on this. The Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) course is heavy on reflection. It’s a teaching tool in itself. Revisiting Freire, I was struck again by the fundamental simplicity of critical pedagogy. The ancient greeks had it sussed. From Socrate’s the unexamined life is not worth living to the words above the Delphi Oracle ‘know thyself’ – politics is and always has been ultimately personal. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we teach? Is it to replicate and reinforce or to challenge and change?
The move towards incrasing blended and fully online courses has the potential to widen participation but also reduce the quality of the experience. Retention figures evidence the difficulty of engaging learners online. Who talks about MOOCs these days? It took less than a year for the bubble to burst. There are important lessons to learn from MOOCing. Back to power.
I have a problem with the idea I might in some way be disempowering. I’d interpreted PAR as willingness to give power away – after all, it’s inviting critique of my practice. Then I thought about TELEDA’s resources. As well as critical evaluation of the philosophy and practice of open education, I’m insisting on a critical awareness of digital exclusion. TELEDA is my platform for drawing attention to alternative ways of being and raising awareness of excluded voices.
In an increasingly digital society, to be shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere is to be marginalised and excluded. Higher education has a responsibility to seek out and challenge exclusion rather than replicate and reinforce exclusive attitudes and behaviours. The subject of digital access is challenging and uncomfortable. I’m asking participants to examine their own practice for barriers, knowing they will find them and perceive removing them as additional, often unnecessary, work. Who provides audio and video content in alternative textual formats? No where near enough!
I believe inclusion is an essential component of effective digital scholarship and integral to teaching and learning in a digital age. If higher education doesn’t address the causes and mending of digital divides it is failing society. TELEDA is my way of making a difference. I can’t change the world but I can change my part of it.
I can see myself and my PhD may be more political than I realised.