Scratching Blackboard

I agree  with its detractors that Blackboard is in the money making business.  Like the publishers of educational journals, access is restricted through prohibitively expensive licences. But I also don’t agree that Blackboard is dead so to paraphase Julian’s comment  here’s a scratch. While the Web 2.0 revolutionaries are plotting on one corner of the square then those getting on with daily life have to make the best of it. Educational opportunities shouldn’t be denied on the grounds of cost but the reality for many educators is they are caught in the middle. If Blackboard is the tool of choice of your institution then knocking it vociferously doesn’t help. If the future of higher education is digital then we should be encouraging engagement and there are worse places than Blackboard for the cutting of technical teeth. It’s easy to be critical about Blackboard; it may well be closed rather than open, be clunky and not visually appealing but it’s a tool and if it’s the only one you have then it’s what you do with it that counts. Better to have active engagement with Blackboard than no engagement with digital learning at all.

Sleepless in Vancouver

 If distance is measured by time zones then I’m only 7 hours away although it took 10 hours to fly here – to be 12 hours behind must be as far away as you can get. Even at a distance of 7 hours it’s impressive to think I’m writing this before you are reading it – or are you reading it before it was written? This must be what jet lag does to you.  I can understand that I’m sleeping during my day and trying to function during my night but when I fly back home – what happens then? Hopefully I get realigned.

The conference themes are openness; open source, open content, open doors – everything is open – its the end of cubicle culture – we are all sharing a collaborative global educational network. Now I like my cubicle – I don’t agree that Second Life is a collective experience, the noise of the digital crowd tweeting is getting on my nerves and while I accept there are limitations to the number of variations on a wheel I’m not 100% sure of the difference between plagiarism and creative commons. It seems that while all sharing is equal there will always be some that is more equal than others. Surprisingly few of the big name internet players have signed the The Capetown Open Educational Declaration.  

There must be a term for conference overload? Conflerred? Confrenced? If anyone was secretly hoping Web 2.0 would go away then I’m sorry – it isn’t going to happen. You need to blog – it’s your digital identity and not having one says more about you than any number of tweets can do. Web 2.0 now has its own timeline. Presentations that start by explaining what a wiki is and where the name comes from are so ‘last year’.

This year is the death of the VLE – yes, Blackboard is about the most unpopular word you can mention. Did you know that this monolithic VLE sucks you in, ties you down and once it has you it won’t let go and you’ll never ever be free. As someone who’s used to defending Blackboard on campus, accustomed to finding something good and useful to say about it, I’ve been surprised at the animosity. The whole concept of a VLE is a bit dodgy but you are allowed to say Moodle or Elgg so long as you stress their customisability (and don’t mention that you need a technical support team on standby)

Yawn :-O  night all…..

blind people use computers – get used to it!

The recent publicity over the Amazon e-book reader Kindle is notable for the furore over DRM and the lack of publicity over its inaccessibility. Reams are being written about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) the digital watermark which limits the use of downloaded files and gives the content provider control over what happens to the content. There’s two ways of looking at this. Firstly it protects copyright by preventing unlicensed copying and distribution (ensuring profits for publishers) and secondly publishers are stepping over the mark by imposing ‘rights’ as ‘restrictions’ that are more extensive then the existing copyright laws for non-digitised text. Unauthorized distribution of digital media has been almost impossible to control and the ebook industry is tackling this from the start; looking at the much pirated music and film industry for guidance.

 I have no problem with this ongoing debate. What concerns me is the way in which profits are in the driving seat. The voice of those unable to read the e-book screen is scarely being heard but their access is being denied when ebooks could make a huge difference to quality of life. Blind people use computers – get used to it. Digital data has the potential to transform communication and offer access to information for everyone not just those with eyes to see. The BBC have published three short video clips about e-book readers in the past two weeks and not one mentions access issues.

The lack of media interest in this blatant continuation of discrimination is appalling.

do they really mean getting ‘everyone’ online?

I love the idea that Martha Lane Fox is advocating using digital story lines in soap operas to encourage the ‘missing 10 million’ non-engagers to get online.  What a fabulous idea!

At last we can look forward to seeing characters with physical, cognitive and sensory impairment have equal access to the Internet for their shopping and banking and all the other advantages that MLF claims they are missing out on. Soap operas will do what they do best; raise awareness of pertinent, neglected issues and increase pressure on the government to do something about them.

MLF says   It’s often the people facing the toughest times who have the most to gain from what the technology has to offer…and as the internet is rapidly becoming a tool for everyday life we should work together to makes sure everyone can benefit.” I couldn’t agree more. But I fear she is missing the point.

Can I suggest that the more the focus is on providing services online (government, health, education, employment, retail etc) and reinforcing the argument that if you are not part of this digital revolution you are losing out – then the more you are disenfranchising the one group who are already struggling with barriers to participation in most of the aspects of daily life we take for granted.

The Government have even set up a Race Online 2012  website. But lauding the technology as having the potential to help those ‘living in some of the hardest social and economic conditions’  is one thing. Reducing the prohibitive cost of anything other than eyes and mouse mainstream access and legislating effectively to ensure workable accessible digital environments is something else altogether. If the government is serious about getting everyone online for 2012 then they have some radical thinking to do.

those that don’t (not those that do)

 Further additions to the naming debate are provided by Etienne Wenger with Nancy White and John D Smith in Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities (2009). Wenger, of Communities of Practice fame, suggests Deep Divers, Attentive Practitioners and Just Do-It-ers.  Reviewer  Stephanie Panks describes these three categories

  • Deep Divers are interested in exploring the connections between technology and community from an interdisciplinary angle. Their focus lies in applying conceptual models and learning theories to the domain of technology adoption by communities of practice.
  • Attentive Practitioners are interested in developing their practice, whether technology plays a major or minor part in it. They seek practical advice as well as theoretical concepts to communicate their role as technology stewards effectively.
  • Just Do-It-ers are action oriented with a strong focus on getting the job done. Their main interest is in practical tips and tricks while the more conceptual aspects are in the background.

Notable by its absence is a category for Laggards, Outsiders, Abstainers, Excluded or any other group who find themselves the wrong side of the digital divide. Instead of categorising those who are engaged, at whatever level, that it could be worth categorising those who aren’t as therein may lie some interesting answers.

Natives Residents Immigrants Visitors – what about the Excluded?

The problem with the move from Prensky (digital immigrants/natives) to White (residents/visitors)  is the continuation of the notion of choice; that all users have access and are capable of making choices about how they exercise it. Trinder’s comment on White’s blog suggests ‘avoiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and the concept of outsiders is my starting point. Any debate on technology must begin with acknowledgement of the first criteria; those who can access and those for whom access is denied. Excluded might be a better word than Outsider as Ousider still implies an element of choice. Exclusion is complex; it involves hardware, software, cost, training and each and every one of us who uploads digital data in a format that poses a barrier. WAI’s don’t seem to be the answer, neither do accessibility strategies. So long as access remains a bolt-on reaction rather than a foundational issue we will never realise the democratic potential that virtual environments have to offer.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

If you Google ‘disability’ you won’t find the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) returned.   The EHRC was set up two yeards ago to replace the three commissions against discrimination on the grounds of Race, Sex and Disability. Fears were expressed that subsuming independent groups with individual specialists into one overarching commission would not be in the best interests of the people they represented; that their strengths and identities would be diluted.  I would have expected the meta data on the EHRC’s website to match a Google search on the word disability but it doesn’t bring it up.  I would be the first to support a change in language and a move away from the word ‘disability’,  substituting it with ‘difference’ instead.  Looks like the EHRC are far ahead of me here. No, that’s odd. The word ‘difference’ doesn’t return the EHRC either.

one stop digital shop

I haven’t yet worked out how Julian gets his blog entries to appear on Facebook but it works. Several times I’ve picked up on something there that I’d have otherwise missed. The idea that you have a single thread like FriendFeed capturing and sharing all your activity online makes sense. So how long before you have a single place in which to conduct all your online activity? In a digital world, where a multiplicity of separate activities can be bought together under a single URL, then maintaining a multitude of Web 2.0 type applications in the first place is starting to feel a bit old fashioned.

This was going to be a post about the residents (digital natives) and visitors (digital immigrants) debate that I picked up from Julian but as this stands well on its own I’ll blog about that next time.

to blog or not to blog….(again)

My last post title is an apt description regarding this blog though most of September – seen but not heard (but has anyone noticed? That remains the pertinent question). The season of mellow mists and Mabon is also time for reflection; I’ve enjoyed the challenge of blogging and the occasions when there have been responses. But overall I doubt its future.

If we blog for a reason other than pure self expression then it’s like any online discussion or new ‘web 2.0’ type tool; only adopted if it is a requirement or can be shown to do something better than it is done now.
I blogged because I could; because I work with a talented colleague who set up the facility and ensured technical support was readily available. I blogged because, as a subscription payer for my own domain name and host, I appreciate the value of free self publishing on the internet. The concept of a digital divide rising out of differing means and ability for virtual communication is a core area of interest as is the construction of online identity. So blogging for me was a gift. An opportunity to find my voice and write succinctly not just on my work, but also those areas on my life where the barriers between work and non-work get blurred, (although non-work life remains mostly invisible on these pages)

Keeping up with other people’s blogs is a separate issue. As if maintaining your own wasn’t time intensive enough then to follow fellow bloggers on a regular basis is well nigh impossible. I collect my rss feeds into Netvibes and set it as my home page but the numbers of unread posts continue to rise inexorably.

Throughout the year the question of why we write blogs has been of regular interest to me. Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Maybe it should be why do we read them? Voyeurism? Curiosity? Self promotion? Ambition? CPD? I haven’t thought about it this way round before. Or maybe we need to look at the reasons people have for not writing them; our office colleagues for example. Think about it laterally. There could be some interesting answers and new light to be shed on the mystique of the blogging phenonema.

seen but not heard

In reply to THES Librarians desperate for e-books

Generic comments like “They [e-books] don’t get stolen, they don’t get their pages ripped out and they are always available when people want them.” demonstrate the ME-Model – a computer user with Mouse and Eyes who often fails to think about those with neither.  Availability is not the same as access and even if Digital Britain’s aim for equal broadband access is realised then this access will always be more equal for some than for others.

The technology used to digitise is only half the story. E-books require an appropriate means of reading them. All too often access is obstructed by the very same technologies used in their creation. Chickens and eggs come to mind. We operate in a sighted world where designers assume the user is seeing rather than listening. With effective screen reading software, digital data has the potential to widen participation and crack open some of the barriers to knowledge acquisition. In reality the technology that enables also disables. There can be nothing more frustrating than knowing the text may well be “available anywhere and anytime” but it can only be seen and not heard.