This has been a ‘concept crossing’ week on the Creativity in HE course.
I’m in a subgroup looking at creativity and emotions. Two words I wouldn’t have previously put together. Before this course I ‘d have associated creativity with areas like art, music, dance, theatre and knew Einstein had described scientists as artists. It seemed creative approaches to knowledge were needed in order to see connections which hadn’t been seen before but I’m realising this was a surface approach. I’d accepted other people’s views about creativity but hadn’t questioned or reflected on them for myself.
In terms of engagement Week 4 has been a bit fractured which can be a risk of extra-curricular activity. I adopted a strategic approach to the task and waited for others go first. A good example of how staff regress to student behaviours, like sitting at the back of the room on my night class – because I can. Not entirely entirely sure if I should be participating or facilitating with the task – or both – I was feeling a bit lost. Another good reason why prospective online teachers should try to have some online student experience first. Knowing I was still struggling with defining creativity, rather than listing ways it manifested itself, I did some reading.
In the paper Carl Rogers, Creativity and the RSA, Rowson (2014) ) refers to creativity as a novelty which is initially a subversive activity – because it’s different and goes against the norm. So with regard to creativity and emotions, confidence is required. Being creative involves not being afraid to be different. I realised I hadn’t been thinking about creativity from the inside. I could recognise how personal styles, e.g. impressionist art, were examples of innovative ways of seeing the world, but hadn’t made the leap from knowing to understanding. When I wrote my blog post about being less creative than I thought I can see now this was also saying I’m less brave than I’d like to be.
Creativity is much more connected to emotions than I’d realised. It’s about having personal courage, confidence and conviction so is intimately connected with individual identity. I enjoy the power of words to describe, resonate and challenge. I like writing performance poetry; tricky line rhymes in iambic pentameter for speaking out loud. But I get nervous about performing. In my head I’m always looking for creative ways to do presentations. I get ideas but don’t put them into practice. Instead I stick to what’s worked before, believing it’s more likely to work again. I don’t take risks so my performances don’t stand out as much as they might if I was more brave.
I can see how being authentically creative, or taking a creative approach, requires emotional as much as cognitive expertise. It’s having the passion and personality to go public, because creative agency is validated by the structural processes of institutions and the media. As well as the ability to think laterally, creativity is about what you do with the outcomes. We are all creative but we deal with it in different ways. Thanks to taking part in this fascinating open online course, I’m starting to see how ultimately being creative is about being human.
The open online course Creativity and Higher Education is making me think. Chrissi asks what is the difference between face to face and online? I say it’s the pedagogy of uncertainty – there’s so much you don’t know and can’t predict. Then Chrissi asks what is the difference between traditional online and open courses? Even more uncertainty. The open structure – emergent ideas – changes in direction – we’re creating as we go along – responding to the unexpected – like an amoeba the course is alive and moving about, ever changing its shape. How exciting is that? We are ‘creativity’ in action.
Last week I blogged about feeling less creative than I thought. This week’s activity reaffirmed it. Identify 3 things you would not use in your teaching.* It was so difficult. I thought everything could be used to demonstrate some point or other. The best response was Jonathan Purdy (from Australia but distance means nothing online) who used categories. What do his teaching tools need to do and does the object support it. I took the question literally and thought Jonathan’s more lateral approach was a perfect example of creative thinking.
In my early HE days as Widening Participation Project Officer I worked with John Knowles who coordinated a Day at University for school pupils in Hull and Lincolnshire. These days were creativity in action. I still remember counting in Japanese! The #creativeHE activities remind me of De Bono’s Hats and Buzan’s paperclips from those days. It was the turn of the century – 2000-2004 – when the internet was new and social media hadn’t happened. How much has technology changed what we do? Have VLE encouraged or dissuaded creative approaches to learning and teaching?
On the course I’m setting up a group looking at digital creativity (yes that’s right folks – feel the google-fear and do it!) At the SRHE Conference in December I’m presenting on the the Digital University and at Bett Technology in January I’ll be talking about TEL adoption. One of my themes is the creative use of VLE – or the absence of anything posing a serious challenge to the dominance of the Lecture – so this might be a useful opportunity to share ideas.
Lectures remain the commonest teaching activity in higher education. Often accompanied by presentation slides – usually powerpoint, for many this is the limit of their digital discoveries. Lecture content might make it onto the VLE – before or after the main event – but there are still those who believe if they put their lecture notes online their students won’t attend.
The commonest word in the literature of VLE is transform e.g. the transformative power of elearning and VLE as transformers of higher education but we’re still waiting. Most VLE resemble digital document dumps. Examples of the creative digital campus are isolated in pockets with widening divides between those who do and those who don’t (i.e. get the whole digital thing).
I feel for anyone who teaches or supports learning and is told here’s the VLE, get on with it. Affinity for digital education is not intrinsic. If tech is not part of your life or subject-expertise how can you be expected to develop digital confidence. It’s a question which has taken a long time to be asked. The risk is those with the answers are not those who understand what techno-fear feels like. We need more creative ways to manage digital adoption.
Next week in the group I’m going to ask for member’s thoughts on creative digital environments. Discussions might go off in directions I haven’t even considered. This is the challenge, the fun and the power of digital education. For a short period of time we have come together in a virtual collaboration. When the course is ended we’ll go off in our separate ways, but hopefully richer and more creative for having taken part in this unique learning experience.
* Activity – name three things you would not use in your teaching
Alcohol – during my first degree a psychology lecturer asked for a volunteer to drink vodka so we could assess the influence on cognitive abilities – during the hour she became more impaired and struggled for the rest of the day. It felt wrong then and still does – I like a glass of wine on a Friday night and another one (or three) over the weekend but for me alcohol and work never go together.
creepie crawlies and slidey slimies – I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying them around never mind having to study them close up – yuk!
Unlike Mrs Heerkens in Holland, I won’t be stripping down to latex body suit any time soon.
The course Creativity for Learning in Higher Education #creativeHE ticks a lot of my boxes. It’s about higher education in 21st century, teaching online, creative thinking, using social media, its open, free and above all is about the digital – which at the end of the day has always been my research and passion. This blog post is my cause memory jog as much as a reflection; a questions without answers approach. Online education supports postmodern bricolage styles of learning – much of which can go unrecorded so this is an attempt to catch some of the transient experiences.
I arrived a week late! Not the best of beginnings but a well thought out course like this from Chrissi Nerantzi can take it. A good course is like a dot to dot picture. Each dot is a link. A place to go. An activity to engage with. A paper to read. In my case I haven’t yet joined them up. But I don’t have to in order to participate and learn. I’ve been selective and this is typical of the student centred approach online learning environments have to support. Capacity for multiple approaches and pathways is essential. Online design needs a holistic structure where the parts really are greater than the whole. Teaching online is about facilitation (with a capital F), about providing a mix of opportunities and supporting exploration through them. Any online teacher who tries to replicate traditional face-to-face teaching practice is likely to fail. Any online student who expects to be taught will be disappointed.
Online courses also need to understand how digital ways of working are unique to each individual taking part. Digital literacies are like fingerprints and we all have our own distinctive styles of engagement. I haven’t done as much as others but I’m not looking for accreditation which maybe supports a more fractured level of engagement. For me this is a learning experience and within the first week I have learned the following:
I may be less creative than I think.
Creativity is a social construct.
Online communication is open to a variety of interpretations.
The video by Jess Haigh demonstrated the power of multimedia for online introductions. I learned so much more about Jess from seeing and hearing her than from reading text. This was a creative approach I wanted to copy. It was interesting to see the response to my comment to the group ‘Would like to post a video too but hit barriers of place, time and noise levels (excuses!)’ . It appeared to be interpreted as lack of confidence rather than lack of opportunity and demonstrated the vagaries of online communication where we see what we think rather than what is being said.
I’ve skimmed some of the reading around creativity. My first thoughts are how it sits between the subjective and objective spheres. We might produce what we consider to be creative outputs but their acceptance depends on the interpretation of others. Through the course I picked up on the #twistedpair invitation from Steve Wheeler to make unlikely pairings and relate them to teaching and learning, in my case Klimt and the Venus of Willendorf. Whether this demonstrated creativity or not can be measured by likes and tweets – but in turn these are related to access parameters and the subjectivity of others. I’ve ended the week thinking much more about creativity as a social construct and how to ‘know’ if I’m a creative person or not; I suspect I may be less creative than I think!
I have learned a lot so far and this is why I do it. Evenings, weekends, early hours of the morning. I’m a learning addict but I also want to discover how the digital can support the student learning experience. The one thing I know for sure is the process is helped where staff who teach become online students themselves first.
Still processing last week in Vienna (culture and cake – what’s not to like?!). Reflecting on the art and history, my #twistedpair are Klimt and the Venus of Willendorf. I’ve used them as tools for considering the nature of knowledge – in particular the need for information literacies (of the digital kind) in order to support the validation of online search results.
All over Vienna the gold bricolage style of Klimt can be found on fridge magnets, plates, cups, bookmarks and note books. Klimt led the group who built the Secession in Karlsplatz; a building designed to provide gallery space for alternative artists with the phrase To every age its art, to every art its freedom above the entrance. Born in Vienna, Klimt died there in 1918.
We know he was an expert draftsman who could paint faces like photographs but chose to develop a unique style which has become widely recognisable, for example the stylised collage construction of the Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer 1. Personal letters, photographs and contemporary records contribute to a knowledge base which helps recreate his ambitions, motivations and inspiration. Today, the internet makes it possible to gather a mass of Klimt information which can be confirmed or rejected through access to academic peer reviewed literature and documentary films. In this way differences between facts and personal, maybe biased, opinion can be explored.
In contrast, knowledge about the Venus of Willendorf statuette poses a challenge. Currently residing in the Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum, Ms Willendorf is a case of once seen unlikely to be forgotten. Breaking a number of 21st century taboos around female nudity, in much the same way Klimt broke conventional expectations around art, both Klimt’s stylised images and the Woman from Willendorf have become iconic images of their age.
Named after the place of her discovery, a village above the banks of the Danube between Vienna and Spitz, she is just over 4 inches tall and carved from oolite limestone with a physical curve which suggests an intention to be held against the palm of a cupped hand. The latest dating is 30,000 years BCE but her original purpose is unknown. Debate continues about the lack of face, the apparent braiding covering her head, the absence of feet and any meaning which might have been originally attached to her body shape. Most of the knowledge we have is speculative and can be seen to be largely influenced by the social capital of the writer. For example, compare the description by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe with the information from the Brooklyn Museum.
Unlike Klimt, there is less of a reliable knowledge baseline about Ms Willendorf but an internet search will bring up a number conflicting opinions about them both. Unless distinctions can be made between peer reviewed offerings and personal opinions, it can be a challenge for the digitally naïve to distinguish between what is reliable and what should be discarded.
To be digitally capable involves understanding the potential limitations of digital knowledge. Higher education institutions are looking to find ways to support students develop digital graduate attributes, for examples embedding digitality into curriculums as in the Making Digital Histories work at the University of Lincoln (follow @MakDigHist and https://www.facebook.com/makingdigitalhistory). One way to encourage critical reflection on the validity of digital knowledge is setting tasks like these – unlikely pairings and reflecting on how to authenticate what is known about them. Not forgetting the need for institutional support for academic staff to develop their own digital pedagogies and practices as well.
My thoughts have turned to a book from my Phd thesis. It’s ambitious I know, in particular as the only place the thesis exists at the moment is in my head and there it’s more like a broken jigsaw than anything complete. But it’s a plan. The title would be – eteaching; pedagogy and practice for a digital age – so I’m laying claim to that now!
Advice on doing this is plentiful. There’s the phd2published site and Pat Thompson‘s blog posts as well as lots of doctoral writing support in general including Patrick Dunleavy’s Authoring a PhD and Kamler and Thompson’s Helping Doctoral Students Write. The key message seems to be a thesis is not a book. It needs rewriting for a different audience. Fair enough. I’ve always thought the strongest point of any research is the narrative which emerges from a qualitative data collection process and I prefer words to numbers. It’s everything else. Like head-space and time constraints which hamper the process. My never ending and never far away twin excuses!
The summer didn’t go quite as planned. Although I read a couple of research books and managed five interviews and transcripts, the dust on NVivo has remained largely undisturbed.
I thought a book plan might spur me on but recognise it could also be an avoidance technique. I’m good at those. I’ve repotted the house plants and my laminate floors are the cleanest they’ve been, even behind the settee and the sideboard. However, a book on e-teaching appears to fill a gap. There are books about online education but mostly either theoretical rather than practical or aimed at primary and secondary school. I had more of a research informed higher ed narrative in mind; one which combined pedagogy and practice of virtual learning environments and followed a number of different academics as they worked through the TELEDA learning blocks. Chapters would include Activity Based Content (ABC) Design, Introduction to Open Educational Resources and Social Media for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.
The framework would be one of educational inquiry and the scholarship of teaching and learning. It will also contain guidance on essential areas like accessibility, inclusive practice and copyright with TELEDA participant comments threaded throughout. All identities would be protected. My data is so anonymised even I’m not sure who said what and when, and I also thought about inventing a hypothetical learning environment so there’d be no worries about corporate branding. All VLEs do the same things and the whole point of educational technology is the generated learning opportunities rather than the tools which deliver the content and interaction. So eteaching; pedagogy and practice for a digital age. You read it here first.
I was asked this week for my top tip for moderating online discussion forums. It reminded me of a conference presentation I gave last year which offered Seven Top Tips for e-teachers. Here is refreshed and revised version.
Tip 1: banish myths of digital confidence
When it comes to digital ways of working everyone has different approaches. Many staff who teach and support learning might be less confident than you think but disguise it well. Incorrect assumptions about digital capabilities lie at the heart of most VLE failures. To teach effectively online requires more than technical competence, there are social , emotional and pedagogical challenges too so avoid making assumptions about attitudes and practices with regard to online spaces.
Recommends. Build in time for an online course induction. Have a draft or practice activity before the real one. Get students to interact. Encourage sharing aims and feelings about working online. It’s helpful for new e-learners to know others might also be nervous about what lies ahead and beneficial for e-teachers to know about these hopes and fears. Avoid seeing social media like Facebook as indicator of the prerequisite digital literacies required or effective use of VLE.
Tip 2: avoid mis-communication
We’ve all had emails which leave you thinking ‘What do they mean by that?’ The absence of face to face clues makes it easier to misinterpret virtual messages. eteachers need to know how online communication has different rules. You can expect expect silence through reluctance to engage or over-enthusiasm dominating a forum. Be prepared for the possibility of receiving mixed messages and always think before you click the send option in particular if the subject is sensitive or contentious. Better wait an hour if feasible or ask a critical friend to look over it first. Once online always online.
Recommends. Discuss the advantages of digital text with students, for example how you can practice, reflect, edit, check spelling then paste the finished content into the Text Editor when ready. Have a net-etiquette guide, either given or constructed during induction. Include the standard advice such as avoid ‘shouting’ with capital letters, using emoticons convey emotions and not being rude or offensive. Make it clear if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face don’t say it online and if you would say it face to face it still might not be appropriate within a learning environment.
Tip 3: expect identity blur
What do you call an e-teacher? It sounds like a bad joke but is a serious question. You hear tutor, trainer, moderator, facilitator, instructor but never e-lecturer. The status of teaching online isn’t as high as it should be considering the skills required for managing it effectively. e-teachers have a shift in identity from ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’; the loss of accustomed status and practice can take time to get used to.
Recommends. eteaching is complex and challenging but a valuable expertise in its own right. It requires revisiting pedagogies and practices and for some this may require an exploration of the scholarship of teaching and learning . Done well, VLE offer powerful tools for widening participation and enhancing the student learning experience. Be proud of your e-teacher status and take every opportunity to share your new knowledge and skills with others.
Tip 4: use activity based content (ABC)
Online resources have to work hard to guide, motivate, enthuse and excite students as well as retain them through to the end of the course or module. Blended or flipped learning requires a redesign of the curriculum along socio-constructivist principles with lots of opportunities for interaction and activities. Creating opportunities for communication and collaboration are essential for maintaining and completing an effective online learning journey.
Recommends: set up groups with forums, blogs or wikis and offer a choice of activities based on key texts or issues. Get students doing what they do in social media such as searching for and sharing resources. Ask them to comment on the contributions of others and synthesise core ideas. Do this through posters or mind maps. Create presentations with slides, audio and video. Allocate students to groups and ask for peer reviews and feedback summaries. Avoid replicating lectures with 50 minutes of talking heads, coughs and sneezes. Instead, chunk lecture content into smaller pieces interspersed with formative assessment questions. Be inclusive and always provide multimedia transcripts or text equivalents to suit all learning preferences.
Tip 5: put up effective signposting
eteaching and e-learning are different experiences to being in seminars and lectures. elearning is often carried out in isolation and it’s easy to forget how a VLE like Blackboard might look like to a new user accessing it alone. Without the physical presence of tutors or peers, it becomes easy to misread instructions or get lost and then confused in a mass of links and resources, so effective signposting through content and activities is essential.
Recommends. Be clear about learning outcomes and ways to demonstrate them through formative and summative assessment. Be sure your students know what is expected from them, in particular with regard to their online interactions. Give contact details and appropriate times to get in touch through the VLE. Agree response times. Arrange some synchronous activities. Have a weekly virtual drop-in session. Check links are not broken. There is nothing worse than seeing a 404 message. when you want to access a key document. Post weekly summaries which look backwards and forwards. Do this at the same day and time. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page.
Tip 6: go do a MOOC
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to see other eteachers at work as well as experience first-hand the loneliness of the long distance learner. You can dip in and out of courses and observe ideas for designing content and enabling communication. Make notes on the diversity of presentation formats and their quality. How important is a professionally produced video compared to the knowledge being disseminated. A webcam might be as effective as a TV Studio. Open Educational Resources (OER) are also worth investigating. These are educational materials made freely available through a Creative Commons licence.
Recommends. Build activities around discovery of open educational resources. Ask students to explore MOOC in their subject area, write a short critical review and share their findings. Visit Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity or FutureLearn for MOOC and JORUM or MERLOT for OER. JISC offer OER information as well as lists of repositories. Look up Creative Commons licences. Some support re-purposing as well as re-use. Build activities around searching and evaluating free online content. Use social bookmarking like Delicious or Diigo tor a Twitter hashtag to collect links and share them with others.
Tip 7: experience the Pedagogy of Uncertainty
Sometimes e-teaching can feel like communicating with a big black hole. A major challenge is not knowing what to expect. eteachers don’t always know who their learners are – other than their names – or whether or not they will engage with activities. If not, you have to figure out if they’ve got lost or simply lost interest. Either way you need to bring them back to the VLE. Disengagement might be through miscommunication or misunderstanding. Following the these tips will help avoid common errors. Check out the recommendations below.
Recommends: Be honest from the start. eteaching isn’t an easy option but the rewards are worth it. VLE offer inclusive opportunities to widen participation in higher education, in particular for those with multiple time commitments. They can enhance on-campus experiences through encouraging independent and accessible learning at times which suit individual students. Revisit pedagogical approaches to virtual learning. Try Salmon’s Five Stage Model and broad range of e-tivities. Look up Laurillard’s Conversational Framework between tutors, students and peers. Consider the Community of Inquiry approach of Garrison and Anderson, built on the Community of Practice model put forward by Lave and Wenger. Explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning through a digital lens. The future of higher education will be increasingly digital and e-teaching a more essential craft and skill, one which is well worth persevering with.
I’m not sure what’s worse. Taking annual leave for your research and not getting any done or spending your annual leave ill in bed. When is a fail not a fail? Maybe when a plan changes trajectory. More research interviews this week. Interviews mean transcription – on average half a day for each one – but I can’t think of a better way to get research re-engaged.
The challenge of digital competence has concerned me for some time. The sector wants to see technology enhancing student learning. Which is fine. I passionately believe in the affordances of VLE to widen participation and accessibility, but while the literature is full of accounts of elearning and student digital expectations, the eteaching aspect is all too often missing. Decisions around Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) rest on assumptions of digital capability – I call these the myths of digital competence – and like attracts like leaving few opportunities to expose the true diversity of digital practice. TELEDA brought together the sure and the less-sure when it came to learning technologies. It highlighted digital divides on campus where academics have traditionally viewed ICT as a burden and a barrier to practice or managerialist tools for the 3 e’s – economy, efficiency and effectiveness (Becher and Trowler, 2001:13) but TELEDA’s stress on reflective practice encouraged deeper approaches to what digital pedagogy and online collaboration really means in unchartered places where theory meets practice face on.
Transcribing the interviews I’m reminded of just how much digital attitudes and practices are as individual as we are. In the way handwriting and fingerprints are unique, so are the ways in which we approach and utilise online environments. This makes a one size fits all approach impossible and with so little common ground, the process of data analysis also gets complex – this is qualitative research in 50 shades of grey compared to the more quantitative black and white binary.
The research is progressing – albeit slowly – and there is a growing sense it is making a difference. The soapbox will soon be travelling again. I’m presenting on the digital university at this year’s SHRE Conference, at the Higher Education Stream at BETT in January and have been invited to give the Keynote at the Making Research Count Network for North West England. Meanwhile the summer draws to a close and a new academic year is in sight. All over the country digital devices are being purchased and prepared for learning, staff know Blackboard is ready and waiting for them to log on and the inevitable dust is waiting to gently settle on the PhD again.
This is the end of BbWorld15. My home has been the largest hotel, resort and convention centre I’ve ever seen. It’s a glass and steel bubble. For days I didn’t step outside. Apart from being too hot – in the mid thirties – you didn’t need to. Everything was on the inside including the trees and gardens although the glass lifts were not for the faint hearted! Also outside there wasn’t a great deal to see or do.
But on the inside it was was busy. Over 3000 delegates and dozens of parallel sessions, even going full pace you only scratch the surface. Already the conference is starting to blur but I have the key points loaded into these blog posts. They’re a bit rushed. Some of the pictures aren’t too good and not all of have alt text but they will be my reminder of the privilege of being here. Blackboard is one of the few conferences which crosses the boundaries and brings together this peculiar hybrid breed of academic developer, learning technologist and researcher. What unites us is the value we place on technology to make a difference to the student experience. What separates us is the work we do supporting the late adopters and digitally shy academics whilst promoting the need for inclusive practice so ensure no one gets shut out or left behind.
Adoption was a core feature of many presentations. There was a distinct shift in emphasis from what could be done to how to encourage and support engagement through sequential stepping.
I’ve got some new ideas. Maybe developing a rubric for universal design; capturing the core content of the four TELEDA learning blocks – learning design, open education, social media, working with audio and video – and releasing them as OER; continuing to find ways to apply the essential criteria of higher education – communication, critical thinking, deeper approaches to reflective practice – and applying them to technology training.
Underpinning it all is the affirmation I’ve received this week how core to all adoption just might be the shift from training to teaching – seeing e-teaching as the corollary to e-learning. While one of the messages of BbWorld is to put the student first, it’s increasingly clear how some people are starting to consider the changing attitudes towards digitally shy academics. Overall, attitudes to ‘faculty’ were not hugely sympathetic and this is part of the problem. If ever I needed evidence of the digital divides on campus between technologists and teachers there was plenty to choose from. Looking back over the years it’s difficult to find many attempts to rethink how digital support is provided and now we’re in a time where everyone is stretched and squeezed, the suggestion to invest more resources into digital staff development will not be popular. It needs more people to recognise and accept the adoption of digital technology is problematic. What troubles me is how those who promote, support and maintain it are often those who find it easy to use. They forget or have never experienced what it feels like to be digitally lost and confused.
The phone on the hotel room has a button called Consider it Done.
It’s linked to your room so you are greeted with your name and what comes across as a genuinely meaningful-sounding question ‘What can I assist you with today?’ Once I’d experienced this response I actually felt ok about using the service again. It made a difference to how I experienced not knowing something or not understanding how things worked. This is the effect we need to generate and make happen.
At #BbWorld I presented and took part in a panel on Institutional adoption of technology; a double opportunity to disseminate early research findings. Last year on the west coast for BbWorld14, an 8.00 a.m. slot was considered an advantage but not on the east coast, as I was told afterwards. Here people take time to get going first thing so we suffered a bit from numbers. Having said that, it was a large room and there were lots of questions, plus what has been really rewarding this week is the general interest from everyone I spoke to about the subject of institutional adoption. In the panel session I talked about TELEDA, how its multiple layers offer opportunities to experience Blackboard from the student perspective, while the stress on critical reflection – transferring the experience to individual teaching practice – appears to be developing an evidence based shift in the way academics view Blackboard as a technology for enhancing the student experience.
I recorded the presentation the night before using Camtasia Relay on my laptop. This is available to everyone on the University of Lincoln network. Download it from the Software Centre and it’s a quick way to record a narrative over PowerPoint slides. I opted for providing captions because apart from being inclusive, I appreciate their value. I find it hard to learn by sound or image and prefer words instead. There lots of reasons why alternative formats benefit the learner experience but creating captions take time – there ‘s no way around this. It demands a shift in attitude and practice. In the same way you wouldn’t upload a textual learning resource with half of it missing, audio and video transcripts are an integral part of the whole resource. Relay provides automatic captioning but you only have to switch on YouTube captions to see the nonsense voice recognition generates and Relay is the same.
This is the first slide of my presentation. I tell people this is me because as anyone who works with me will confirm, if the technology can go wrong its me it goes wrong with.
Right now I’m experiencing familiar frustration. The video is stuck in Relay. I can’t find a way to embed it into WordPress. Maybe I can’t? I don’t know. There’s no one to ask for help and I’m feeling pressured. I know what I want to do. I know it should be achievable but I can’t see how to do it and I’m running out of time. Does this sound familiar? If you are a digital education developer then you’d probably be ok. If you are an academic who views technology with a mix of awe for its capabilities but fear and dread with regard to your own confidence then you’ll identify with this. It’s part of the massive shift needed to adopt VLE. Without empathy then support is useless.
So back to the presentation. This is what I did with the how and the why of it.
I’m three years into the data collection, on the final set of interviews. Digital adoption is complex and involves at least three criteria; capabilities, competence and confidence.
Underpinning these three C’s are other findings which the data analysis appears to support. These are listed in the image below. It’s the final bullet point which I think lies at the heart of on-campus digital divides between those with the three digital C’s and those without. The literature shows how e-learning and the student experience has been privileged over the staff experience. While some say e-teaching is implicit in e-learning, I would argue than unless it is made explicit there is a risk of making assumptions about baselines and starting points, which in turn will lead to initiative failure.
PS Finally worked out the connection between Relay and WordPress and embedded the code below – which gives me the message ‘Security Error’! If the technology can go wrong then it’s me it goes wrong with….
The focus on reimagining education to fit broader cohorts – reshaping itself for students rather than students reshaping themselves to fit traditional offerings – is making tangible differences to approaches to virtual learning and a number of presentations at BbWorld15 included digital accessibility. The sessions were well attended and offered pragmatic frameworks where the rationale for changing practice was a given. Sessions had less emphasis on the ‘why’ and more about the ‘how’. It’s like the reality of widening participation to an eclectic student base, including people with varying disabilities and impairments, is accepted almost without question. Of particular note was the high profile given to veterans returning to education. Diversity was not openly questioned. Instead I found a genuine interest in how to ensure inclusive practice with online learning resources.
Henrietta Spiegel offered steps to make Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF formats accessible and included useful examples of the rubbish generated by YouTube’s automatic captioning system. Come on Blackboard. Invest in voice recognition software and you’ll be onto a winner. Marlene Zentz, from the University of Montana, had student Aaron Page demonstrating Jaws screen reading software. Thanks Aaron. For anyone not understanding the value of technology for visual impairment, you may have taken them over the learning threshold with your real life examples of what happens if Heading Styles and meaningful text links are not used. It isn’t technically difficult. It just means use Heading Style 1,2,3 etc in MS Word and avoid the words ‘click here’ in a URL. No pictures unfortunately. I’m hoping all the presentation slides will soon be available online.
David Rathburn from the University of Cincinnati was a allocated a 5.15 slot but it was still well attended. This was the only session I saw which provided a handout – a useful reminder of how helpful this when information and experience overload in developing! I nearly cheered out loud (but I’m British) to see the quote from Tim Berners Lee on how the ambitions of the early internet pioneers was to create a digital democracy. Sad therefore that nearly 30 years on, digital divides are wider and more invisible than ever before. However, if digital educators can ‘get it’ then the future is is potentially a more inclusive one.
For me, accessibility sessions like these are inspiring. Digital inclusion is not difficult, it just needs a shift in alignment from assuming everyone operates in digital environments in the same ways you and your immediate colleagues do and a more critical ‘think before you link’ approach when uploading content to VLEs.
Closely associated to the subject of inclusive practice is multimedia. Many of these sessions were standing room only which emphasises the value being placed on audio and video learning resources. I liked the idea of using a video in site announcements and discussion threads. Blackboard have recently acquired VoiceThread so it would be useful if some of VT’a simplicity was incorporated into Bb. My TELEDA courses have raised a number of multimedia type issues. Many academic staff don’t have access to a webcam or a microphone or even a quiet place to make recordings; something reaffirmed by others here this week. (One session I missed was about developers carrying their tools in backpacks – not ideal but maybe a potential solution.)
A Poll carried out within one session – image on the right below – also reaffirmed the on campus digital divides I’m looking to narrow and bridge with my research showing an almost nil representation at the conference from academics/faculty.
A multimedia explosion has been created from the affordances of user generated content, the shift of media production from professional to amateur and from fixed studio to mobile (and personal) devices. Blended delivery and flipped learning are all creating pressure for more interactive resources. A starting point is to raise awareness of OER content and efficient ways of embedding multimedia into Blackboard sites. The next step is to look at creating our own. You don’t need to be a professional – content can be ‘good enough’ to still be effective. It’s the learning design rather than technical expertise which makes the difference.
Part of the problem is the need to rethink the traditional boundaries between ‘technology training’ and ‘teacher education’. This was the subject of my presentation and there is more information on this in #Bbworld15 Part Four.