It’s official! EDEU-cate are us…

EDEU has officially arrived! We’ve been percolating for a while.  It started in June when the creation of EDEU was announced at the Festival of Teaching and Learning. By August we were packed and ready to leave our Bridge House home for new EDEU shaped adventures. On 1st September we moved into One Campus Way with new members of staff and a week later had our first EDEU-shaped AwayDay On Tuesday 22st October at @4.30 VC Mary Stuart and DVC Scott Davidson formally welcomed EDEU into existence.

Educational Development and Enhancement Unit EDEU's remit!

VC Mary Stuart talks about EDEU DVC Scott Davidson talks about EDEU

We’re almost but not quite a full team. By January everyone should be in post and finding their way around campus; One Campus Way is good for exercise. There is an expectation EDEU will have impact. We will be implementing the Teaching and Learning Plan, Digital Education Plan and Student Engagement Strategy. As well as the institutional shapers of our remit, a key question is ‘What can EDEU do for you?’ To begin the conversation during the launch event, Kelly bought a big pot for ideas.

Kelly's pot of ideas Aileen talks about teacher education and CPD

Suggestions were written down and left behind. They included a broad mix of teaching and organisational issues. We’re going to be busy! Not that we weren’t busy before but there’s an additional layer of expectation that comes whenever extra resources in put into place. Also new team conversations leads to new ideas in particular on supporting the development of multimedia resources and workshops around critical reflective practice and academic writing. It looks like exciting times ahead. In short, EDEU is a great place to be. EDEU-CATE are us 🙂

Jill in control of the registration desk Senior Lecturers in Educational Development

 

Cats, dogs, ducks and other animals…

The internet offers the ultimate in procrastination practice. black kitten meets ginger kitten Every now and then I wander off into the digital landscape of time-waste. This week’s BBC News Magazine was creepily apt but its much-delayed war on procrastination piece said nothing new. The quote from Douglas Adams ‘I love deadlines – I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by‘ and the list of procrastination app-busters were all familiar although Write or Die sounds a bit extreme – after all, its only will power – isn’t it?

Yet here I am browsing Facebook, TwitterFlickr and posting cat pictures. Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age  (TELEDA) starts 24th October and includes social media but that’s a weak excuse. I need to shut the laptop and do something different; instead, I’m thinking about cats.

What is it about furry, feathered creatures and the internet which has such universal appeal? Cats as well as dogs, ducks and other animals; do they really make a difference? I’ve seen a number of presentations which included deliberate and seemingly random images of animals. I’ve even been dabbling myself, revising my slides for promoting inclusive practice and adding cats and dogs in an attempt to grasp attention and make the points.

cats and serif or sans serif fonts   large and small dogs to illustrate size matters

Cats seem to have the monopoly. If you’ve never Googled LOLcats you’re in for a treat or a nightmare depending on your preference. Then try dogs, ducks and giraffes. I made the last one up but couldn’t resist trying it and they do exist! There’s even a LOLcat which mentions Blackboard Learn….

LOLcat and Blackboard

…plus new variations on the old meme ‘On the Internet no one knows you’re a cat’…. or dog or whatever…

on the internet no one knows you're a cat

Sometimes you simply have to take the time to explore what’s out there. TELEDA’s social media learning block will encourage getting up close and personal with a number of social media platforms. Developed in response to requests and conversations, it starts with the issue of online identity. Participants will be encouraged to visit and complete their university staff profile as well as join a professional networking site like LinkedIn, Academia.edu or ResearchGate.  A TELEDA Twitter account @TELEDALincoln has been set up and there’s an existing TELEDA Pinterest Board http://uk.pinterest.com/suewatling/teaching-and-learning-in-a-digital-age  Blogs will also be explored, along with Wikipedia and Google, but there are no plans at the present time for any cats.

cats in a box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging digital dirt; the times they are a changing…

Word cloud of digital teaching and learning practice

Sshhh….don’t say it loud but accessibility is a dirty word. No one wants to talk about it. The subject of inclusive digital resources raises eyebrows and elicits sighs. The unspoken thought ‘here she goes again’ hangs palpably in the air.

This week I’ve been digging the digital dirt. Issues are coming to the surface, into the light and do you know what? People are listening. Something has changed. The time might have come. IT Matters. Let’s talk digital.

Information Technology enables participation. Digital data has the edge over printed text. It’s uniquely flexible; size, shape, colour and contrast can all be changed. The alchemy of text-to-speech and speech-to-text is a modern miracle. There’s no technical reason why anyone should not be able to access digital means of information and communication. Barriers to access are socially constructed. The early web pioneers knew this:

‘… it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities.’  (Berners Lee, 1997)

‘…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.’  (Dardailler, 1997)

The damage caused to digital democracy by Microsoft’s Graphical User Interface (GUI) and hand-operated mouse has disenfranchised millions. Attention to inclusion hasn’t kept up. When the platforms of the public sphere are digital, without the means of participation you are excluded. I know because it happened to me. I have Uvietis; a genetic condition with treatment which involves blurred vision. This is how I learned about inaccessibility and became involved with a local organisation for people with sight loss. Dodgy eyes showed me the reality of digital exclusion, and the sadness of realising although there are a few who really care, too few is not enough to make a difference.

Digital divides are complex and multi-layered. They cross all social strata but concentrate where disempowerment already exists. Evidence suggests if you are socially excluded you are most likely to be digitally excluded as well. This is a uniquely 21st century discrimination but like all opportunities for social change, the bare bones are already there, waiting for the catalyst to give them shape. Drivers for change can arrive unexpectedly. Here are some of the conversations going on at Lincoln which might just make change happen:

  • Government changes in the DSA (Disabled Students Allowance); teaching resources will need to be reviewed to ensure they fill gaps created by loss of funds for technology to support learning.
  • Internationalisation; language barriers can be reduced by providing teaching materials online, in particular lecture content which can be revisited and revised.
  • Flipping the classroom; providing lecture content for students to access online and using contact time for more interactive teaching activities, supports inspirational teaching and the student engagement agenda.
  • Digitisation;  not always fully accessible and raising awareness of restrictions imposed by Publishers is creating interest in how other Libraries are dealing with this.
  • EDEU; the new unit’s plans for integrating digital confidence and capabilities into Teacher Education and CPD programmes calls for a framework which can and should be inclusive in design and delivery.
  • Blackboard; plans for introducing baseline templates (e.g. Starter, Intermediate and aspirational Gold) could and should include attention to accessibility.
  • Corporate Identity; opportunity for UL to become known as a digitally confident and inclusive university.

There is more. This summer I coordinated institutional wide responses to the UCISA Digital Capabilities survey which reinforced – like the UCISA 2014 report on Technology Enhanced Learning – lack of time and resources as the key barrier to developing digital practice.

This is where EDEU can help. EDEU has a new educational development and enhancement team  By the end of the year there will be six of us to talk to about digital divides and exclusions. We can scaffold and support; help with developing alternative formats for multimedia and ensure accessible text and images. Get in touch. Let us know you’re interested in using virtual learning environments to enhance your teaching.  We are EDEU and inclusion is our middle name.

I’ve been digging in the digital dirt and coming up with clean hands. It feels good to have people listening. The times they are a changing – indeed.


Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

(Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org

Scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into articles as part of long-running bet http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/sep/29/swedish-cientists-bet-bob-dylan-lyrics-research-papers

Dog ate blog and other stories…

the piles of research books all over my floor

Guardian Witness invites photographs on the theme of a ‘Day in the Life of a PhD Student‘ I sent in this photo of my floor. A sign of the shrine my floor has become to the Phd. Virginia Wolfe famously called for ‘a room of one’s own’. Often missed is the rest of the sentence ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ JK Rowling’s story of writing Harry Potter in a coffee shop with free heating suggests neither is totally essential, or maybe that’s writing of a different kind. In the absence of money, I do have a room and it has been taken over by my work.

Tsundoku is the Japanese word for buying books and letting them pile up unread. Tsundoku is Me.  It isn’t just the floor – there are piles on the cupboard, under the table, beside my bed. I’m a bookaholic. My name is Sue. If numbers left by the back door I wouldn’t notice. Show me a spreadsheet and I break out in a sweat. Give me words and I’m happy.

Recently I’ve been pe tsundoku - japanese word for buying books and letting them pile up unreadpersuadinga fellow part-time ‘PhD-er’ to blog. Saying it helps to formulate ideas and structure thoughts. The art of reflection is a core learning tool and I’m not sure we promote it enough because blog routines are effective ways to cultivate the reflective mind. Give it a regular outing. Typically, I didn’t find time to blog this Friday. The dog ate my blog or the internet swallowed my work.

We all need warning signs and for me, an absence of Friday blog post says something’s out of kilter. It’s a busy time. Forget January. New year is September. The establishment of EDEU (Educational Development and Enhancement Unit) means a new team with a new remit. Different faces and spaces and routines to learn like kettle etiquette and tea towel management. There are the open-office conundrums; air con versus heating and blinds up – blinds down plus important issues like the art of entering a tiny toilet without activating a misplaced hand dryer which wooshes into life unexpectedly before you’ve even shut the door.

We’re on the edge. Relocated to the heart of the student village, above the launderette where molecules of fabric softener free float through the air. There are trees and masses of bushes by the railway line, all changing colour. Across the road is the FosGoogle Satellite image showing the location of EDEU at One Campus Way sdyke with a tow path where I can walk by the water. I like it. But this week I didn’t find time to blog.

I had a plan. It was going to be about the Graduate Teachers Education Programme. How the room in the engineering building had rows of benches fixed to the floor supporting a didactive teaching style; a pedagogy of transmission. I would compare this with the invisible e-teacher; the subject of my research paper for ASCILITE14 but instead I was catching up with emails, writing up the actions from the first VLE-Operations Group (Action 1. Change name) and responding to Blackboard queries. In this new EDEU shaped world I’ve been escalated to the realm of the ‘tough ones’ and they do take up time.

So when is a blog post not a blog post? Only when it’s empty. Blogs are forgiving places. They don’t really care what you say so long as you say something and in the process, you’ll nearly always discover a different way of seeing or being which wasn’t there before. Try it and see. Now, excuse me please, apart from immersion in the back-end of Blackboard, I also have a few books to read 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

HEFCE we have a problem; concept threshold but not troublesome knowledge.

soapbox

It started with a book.

Social Media and Social Work Education is a valuable and timely publication. Sadly, for me, any mention of digital exclusion was absent. Social media can be a powerful learning tool but users must be aware of its dichotomous nature. I couldn’t find any reference to digital divides, assistive technology or the need for inclusive approaches. This was disappointing. It’s ironic the book was published by Critical Publishing when critique around digital exclusion was missing.

It’s been several years since I developed dodgy eyes needing treatment which blurs my vision, relocating me in a foggy world where text and images are indistinct and my capacity for online communication diminished. The first time it happened I thought I could still use a computer. But I couldn’t. Accessible digital content relies on inclusive design and the inaccessibility of online content was a shock. The Franklin adage “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” was never truer. My real life experience of digital exclusion led to the soapbox I’ve dragged around ever since.

The Social Work profession is all about difference, in particular through marginalisation and disempowerment. Evidence suggests if you’re socially excluded you’re likely to be digitally excluded making social work education ideally placed to highlight the complexity of digital divides. In a ‘digital by default’ society, where public health and welfare services have adopted a digital first policy, this virtual exclusion must be taken seriously.

Over the past few years there has been a dilution of attention to inclusive practice. In 2006, Jane Seale wrote E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, where technology is described as a double edged sword, capable of enabling and disabling participation unless inclusive practice is followed. The Mobius Strip of a VLE and social media tools – they are both inside and outside at the same time. In 2011, a special edition of the Journal Research and Education Technology  (Vol 14, Issue 1) included Holistic approaches to e-learning accessibility (Phipps and Kelly) a baseline paper for inclusive education and Using multimedia to enhance the accessibility of the learning environment for disabled students: reflections from the Skills for Access Project, (Sloan, Stratford and Gregor) about a now absent website for supporting accessible multimedia. The loss of Skills for Access is another loss for campaigners of accessible digital content. The truth is still out there but you have to search for it. It’s getting harder to find.

Recently the DSA has been changed.

TechDis is to be dismantled.

The significance of these two events has barely rippled the surface of  higher education.

Government initiatives have shifted from quantity of access to quality. Alongside all this dilution of critical awareness is the uncritical persistence of the myth of the digital native. How can there be a problem when the next generation consist of computer savvy whizz kids?

What is going on here?

Why is the assistive technology of digital democracy so damn expensive and difficult to use?

Why is exclusion from digital ways of working such an unacknowledged discrimination?

It has to be part of a wider discourse around diversity. Over the past 20 years there’s been a shift from equality politics and celebration of difference to a politics of normalisation. The internet is the silent arena where the war is being won. Power has become aligned with internet access. To be digitally excluded is to be silenced and made invisible.

The dreams of democracy of early internet pioneers have broken. It simnply isn’t happening.

As virtual avatars we have the potential for disrupting dominant discourse, of connecting with like-minded people and creating new digital alliances for resistance and empowerment. Core to this is raising awareness of digital divides and exclusions. It’s a concept threshold but not particularly troublesome knowledge. Is it?

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Holistic approaches to e-learning accessibility, by Lawrie Phipps and Brian Kelly;

Using multimedia to enhance the accessibility of the learning environment for disabled students: reflections from the Skills for Access Project, by David Sloan, John Stratford and Peter Gregor

EDEU shaped futures: development is another word for change

Dancing on the table; capturing the EDEU AwayDay Matso tree photo 2 (2) EDUE Team AwayDay Student Engagement Team at EDEU Awayday

There’s a lot of development going on. We are EDEU, a new Educational Development Unit. Our job titles include the words Development and Developers. We are Staff Development and Continuing and Professional Development. In the literature of professional support for higher education, development can be prefixed with academic and learning as well as educational but what does the development part mean? Who is developing what? Trying to pin down meaning often reveals the slippiness of language. The closer you get to the words the more they shape-shift. The term educational development is loose and while I appreciate the flexibility of open endedness, some starting points are worth having.

The literature of SEDA, the Staff and Educational Development Association, refers to academic development and the enhancement of learning, teaching and professional development http://www.seda.ac.uk/ In a 2009 paper Forms of knowing and academic development practice, Sue Clegg writes how Academic Development is the ‘primary site though which the ‘subject’ of ‘teaching and learning in higher education’ has come into being.’ Against a background of changes in higher education, debates around the purpose of the university and the contested identities of teaching and research, she describes how academic development slipped in as a ‘defined set of practices and epistemologies’, taking on ‘…a more strategic role in reshaping institutional provision to fit more closely with government priorities’ with academic developers finding themselves ‘…positioned precariously between senior management and academic staff.’ Clegg 2009 p407. I prefer the analogy of bridge to precarious perch but with EDEU’s remit including implementation of the teaching, learning and digital education plans – plan being another word for strategy – an element of inbetween-ness can be identified.

At EDEU’s first AwayDay the eclectic nature of our existing and future work was revealed. Using the cool tool Ketso, we mapped out the constituent parts.

Educational Technology section of the Matso EDEU tree Technology Enhanced learning branch 

A key outcome was the need to identify support for digital technology as scholarly rather than techie. Clegg writes how research into higher education is essential to understand academic practice. This is particularly relevant with internet technologies. We need to know where we came from and how we got to the places we are today. The use of VLE benefits from critical reflection. Not only should educational engagement be pedagogically driven, it must be informed through critical engagement with the published evidence base.

The Ed Dev team decided supporting a DIY approach to VLE, one which provides scaffolded learning, rather than DIFY (Do It For You)  is the way the way to go.  Narrowing divides between those who support the networks and those who use them for teaching is still about drives and drivers- you have to know your plugs from your sockets -but it’s also about the wider emotional impact of change, in particular  from a traditionally face-to-face practice to an online one.

Words are a bit like technology. They mask what’s going on underneath. Reflection on the slippage between educational and academic – when paired with development – is ultimately pedantic because at the end of the day, it’s the definition of development which matters and this is about informed support for change. EDEU started with difference in terms of faces, spaces and working practice and there’s going to be more of it ahead because an EDEU shaped future is where development is another word for change.

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Clegg, S. (2009) Forms of Knowing and academic development practice. Studies in Higher Education, vol 34, no 4, 403-416

Putting myself out there, so to speak, into digital space

academic obscura

Advice for finishing a PhD - don't diet (until it's all over)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is back in October. This is Part Two; a short in-service course (24 weeks, 30 M level cats, @300 learning hours). It contains two learning blocks; social media for teaching and learning and e-resources; developing and using online content.

To help prepare, I’ve been putting myself out there, so to speak, into digital space. Apart from this blog, I was a dabbler.  Facebook for photos,  a tweet here and there and a bit of collaborative working on Google Drive was the extent of my S&M adventures. TELEDA1 stayed within Blackboard for communication; one reason being when it comes to group work, social media can be exclusive. Not everyone wants to sign up and engage. TELEDA2 is different. It’s being advertised with the expectation colleagues will use Twitter and create a profile on LinkedIn or other  ‘professional’ networking site like Academic.edu or ResearchGate.  It will be a challenging e-teaching experience. I hope I’m better prepared since I took SM more seriously.

It started with BBWorld14 in July; summarised in a series of reflective blog posts* on the experience of one of the biggest education conferences in the world. Using Storify I created a synthesis of my social media usage https://storify.com/suewatling/bbworld14-sue-watling-1 

During August I’ve taken Twitter seriously, with some useful outcomes. My numbers of retweets, favourites and followers have increased and my advice on surviving the write up of a PhD, begun by the Guardian Higher Education @GdnHigherEd, was included in #AcademiaObscura’s Finish That PhD in Twelve Steps https://storify.com/AcademiaObscura/finish-that-phd I’m in there at Number 6 with the meaningful advice Don’t Diet!

So what have I learned? Focusing on Twitter, where the tweet limit of 140 characters or less  makes it one for the more challenging platforms, here is my top twitter-advice for anyone wanting to adopt it as a professional networking tool.

Using Twitter takes time, imagination and confidence. That’s it!

It might not sound much but the learning curve was steeper than I expected. The first thing I noticed was I could tweet from home but not the office. To start with I simply forgot. To be consistent meant a shift in on-campus working behaviours to incorporate Twitter into daily routines. It takes time to follow, retweet, say something meaningful in a sentence – this is where the imagination comes it. You need a collection of aphorisms, proverbs or even terrible puns to tweak and adapt if you want to get noticed and confidence is required in buckets. It might just be me but linking to other people – like cold connecting – still feels a bit like gatecrashing. The internet is a mirror and using social media reflects your professional online identity. To be a non-user is to be invisible and risks exclusion in an increasingly digital society. It’s best to take control of the medium before it takes control of you. Benefits include discovery and connections which can be really useful.  Ultimately social media is like the Lottery, you have to be in it to win it!

I can’t wait to get started with TELEDA2 🙂

* Blog posts from July synthesising my social media adventures.

The contentiousness of cake; #GBBO14 is more than ingredient alchemy

Great British Bake Off banner from Twitter

The wisdom of crowds degenerates at speed into unwise slander and lies. Who’d have thought the Great British Bake-off could result in such vitriolic bile towards contestants  that this year’s bakers have been warned not to take part in ‘negative exchanges’ on social media and advised not to ‘read, engage or focus’ on any comments on their performance.

After all, it’s only cake.

Er nerr – the truth is baking doesn’t get more complex than this. #GBBO14 is much more than ingredient alchemy. If the adage ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is true, then even the nasty Twitter Trolling is part of a bigger picture which includes generating publicity which feeds into potential book deals, celebrity status and stashes of cash – all for avoiding soggy bottoms and burnt bits.

Social media gives you a voice at the end of your fingers; tap, touch, swipe and you’re on Twitter, squeezing insults into 140 characters or less or setting up Facebook pages where personal, biased opinions, can be sieved, shaken or stirred. Say what you like online about the Great British Bake Off and large numbers do. The GBBO Facebook page has 404,916 likes – and rising – while @BritishBakeOff on Twitter is followed by 177K and more by the hour. This year includes the spin off show An Extra Slice which extends the pleasure or agony – depending on your views – as well as offering another twitter hashtag #AnExtraSlice. Here’s a show about a show. With a live audience and celebrity panel it’s stretching the brand. With photographs from viewers and contributions from audience members, it was cake, cake and more cake all the way home. A 30 minute bricolage of bake-related innuendo, clips from GBBO programmes (some you’d seen, some you hadn’t) and gender stereotypes stretched to their edge, it proved you can have too much of a good thing. For me the extra slice was one too many.

It’s sad to think social media has to come with warnings. Like calls on the news this week for wine bottles to carry messages about the dangers of alcohol and harmful effects of drinking. How much difference does it really make when abstinence is the only safe direction. Yet withdrawing from social media is not a practical answer; it has to much value for us to disconnect. The worry is taking steps to stay safe online and construct appropriate digital identities is not enough to protect from abuse as shown by the experiences of GBBO’s Ruby Tandoh in series 4 and Claire Goodwin from series 5 last week. The online trolls are massing and the remaining GBBO bakers will be the target.

Synthesising TELEDA; seven top tips for e-teaching and final #Bbworld14 reflections

TELEDA Top TipsFollowing #Bbworld14 advice to including audience takeaways, I synthesised TELEDA into seven top tips, supported by quotes from colleagues and recommendations for e-teaching practice.  I’ve already blogged about the value of stand-out titles when competing with high numbers of parallel sessions http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/07/25/bbworld14-re-imagining-education-and-the-importance-of-presentation-titles/  The size of #Bbworld14 emphasised how headline titles are an art worth collecting 🙂

Seven Top TELEDA Tips

TELEDA tip 1 busting myths of digital confidence

TELEDA Tip 1: busting Myths of digital confidence means not making assumptions about the use of technology

Everyone works differently. They might be less confident than you think but just disguise it well. The quote shows VLE are not only about technical competence  but have social and emotional challenges. Don’t make assumptions about how people feel psychologically as well as cognitively.

Recommends: build in time for a course induction. Have activities which encourage sharing aims and feelings, it’s good for e-learners to know others might be nervous about learning online and good for e-teachers to know what students are thinking about.

TELEDA Tip 2 awareness of text mis communication

 TELEDA Tip 2: awareness of text mis-communication

We’ve all had emails which leave you thinking mmm…. what do they mean by that? The absence of face to face clues makes it easy to misinterpret messages. The quotes reinforce the value of learning design and how online communication is different, sometimes scary. e-teachers should expect reluctance and be prepared for the possibility of mixed messages.

Recommends: discuss the advantages of digital text; how you can practice, reflect, edit, check spelling then paste when you’re ready. Have a net etiquette guide, either given or constructed during induction. Include the standard advice e.g. capital letters are shouting, emoticons convey emotions 🙂 😕 😎 and don’t be rude or offensive. If you wouldn’t say it f2f don’t say it online. If you would say it f2f it’s still not appropriate here!

TELEDA Top Tip 3 experiencing identity blur

TELEDA Tip 3: experiencing 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 high. e-teachers have to shift identity from  ‘Sage on the Stage’ to less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’.

Recommends: knowledge is power so be prepared. e-teaching is complex and challenging but also an expertise in its own right. Done well, it’s a powerful tool for widening participation. Be proud of your e-teaching status and take every opportunity to share your practice.

activity based content

TELEDA Tip 4: adopt activity based content

Online resources have to guide, motivate, enthuse and excite students as well as retain them. Face to face sessions need to be redesigned on constructivist principles through an activity based curriculum. Interaction with content as well as other e-learners and e-teachers is essential for maintaining and completing the learning journey.

Recommends: set up online groups with forums, blogs or wikis and a choice of activities based on key texts. Ask for synthesis of core ideas through posters, mindmaps, presentation software, audio, video. Ask students to peer review and feedback summaries. Avoid replicating lectures with 50 minutes of talking head. Chunk content, be inclusive and always provide multimedia transcripts to suit all learning preferences.

TELEDA Tip 5 effective site signposting

TELEDA Tip 5: effective site signposting

e-teaching and e-learning are very different experiences to campus based education. They are often carried out in isolation and it’s easy to forget how a VLE like Blackboard might look like to a new user. Without the physical presence of colleagues or peers, it’s easy to get lost or confused so effective signposting is essential.

Recommends: be clear about the learning outcomes and ways to demonstrate them. Make sure e-learners know what’s expected and how they’ll be assessed. Give them your contact details and times when you’ll be available. Check links aren’t broken. Write weekly summaries which look backwards and forwards. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page.

go do a mooc

TELEDA Top 6: do a MOOC

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to see other e-teachers at work as well as offering first hand experience of the loneliness of the long distance learner. You can dip in and out  and they’re great for ideas for designing content and enabling communication. Open Educational Resources (OER) are worth looking at too. These are educational materials made freely available through a Creative Commons licence.

Recommends: visit Coursera, the Khan Academy or Udacity for MOOC and JORUM or HUMBOX for OER. SCORE have a list of repositories. Look up Creative Commons licences; some encourage repurposing as well as reuse. Built activities around searching and evaluating free online content. Use social bookmarking like Delicious or Diigo  to collect links in one place.

TELEDA TIP 7 be prepared for a pedagogy of uncertainty

 TELEDA TIP 7: be prepared for a Pedagogy of Uncertainty

The challenge of e-teaching is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know who your learners are, or if they’re going to engage in your activities, and if not, you have to figure out if they’ve got lost or simply lost interest. It might be miscommunication or misunderstanding but following the six tips above will help avoid some of the commonest errors.

Recommends: be honest. e-teaching isn’t the easy option but the advantages outweigh the negatives. VLE offer genuine opportunities to widen participation in higher education, in particular for those with multiple time commitments. They also enhance campus experiences through encouraging independent and inclusive learning.  The future is digital and e-teaching is an increasingly essential craft and skill.

Taking Neil Selwyn’s new book Distrusting Educational Technology to #Bbworld14

Book cover for Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn

Do you remember the great calculator debate? My trigonometry was learned with little books of Sine, Cosine and Tangent tables. It might have been the last century but it wasn’t that long ago. Did manual mental maths make me a better learner? No. It just used different parts of my brain. Progress through O and A levels was influenced by wider factors. My initial education was as socially divided and culturally defined as it is for millions of children today. One difference is the degree to which technology is now used for teaching and learning.

One of the books I took to #Bbworld2014 was Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn. Travel is good for prolonged reading and Selwyn’s critical approach has always resonated. Calling on academics to question the perceived inevitability of technology, Selwyn writes how ET appears to do little to ‘…challenge or disrupt the prevailing  reproduction of social inequalities that characterise contemporary education’ (2014: 164). In the book, four areas to distrust are virtual,  social, open and gaming. On route to one of the biggest educational conferences in the world, presenting on e-teaching and ambivalent towards Blackboard, the chapter on distrusting the virtual seemed a good place to start…

…there wasn’t much good news.

Key issues in Chapter 3 Distrusting ‘Virtual’ Technologies in Education (pp 43-63) included the following:

  • VLE are being used for governance and performance management with active surveillance being presented as helpful and benevolent. The panoptican of analytics fits well with Foucauldian views of discipline and self-regulation. It’s not difficult to see how monitoring student clicks reveals less about their learning ‘experience’ and more about strategic approaches to assessment. I liked the expression the ‘silences of VLE’ or what is not known because it can’t be seen or monitored – mainly the human aspects of education which technology has been been good at replicating 🙁  Another risk of analytics is highlighting norms and privileging them, which in turn reinforces the power of the designer to replicate majority expectations of behavior.
  • VLE mostly replicate existing pedagogies rather than challenging or reinventing them. A reliance on transmission models privileges content production. Once resources are in place their delivery can be seen as something anyone can do which might raise questions about the need for qualified teachers in the first place.
  • VLE also raise issues of status, not only lack of it for teaching online but the liminal nature of virtual environments and identities. Many times on TELEDA and in the research interviews, colleagues have said it was challenging to conceive the person behind the digital name. Nearly all described how the virtual was less privileged and easier to neglect during busy times. In terms of working with others, group members (and myself) were perceived as Un-Real or Other. Despite all best efforts, the virtual teaching space remained an artificial one. Lack of status is further reinforced by the absence of an agreed name for e-teachers. Tutors, trainers, faciliators, moderators, instructors but never e-lecturer.

One inevitable conclusion is maybe ET doesn’t have all the answers after all and early promises of transformation through VLE were lies!

Later in the book Selwyn cites Braverman* on deskilling, Machines were introduced into factories under the guise of being improvements for workers when the reality was loss of human labour. Braverman sits within a specifically Marxist approach and there is a problem with politics which fall into the trap of critique from a corner. For me, challenging ideology is best achieved through working alongside existing structures rather than in opposition to them. Investing academic effort into highlighting problems without offering practical solutions is not helpful.

Aside from this, Selwyn is always worth reading. He reminds you technology is never neutral but represents value laden sites of unequal power relationships. We’ve all been seduced into accepting technological progress as unquestioningly positive. So much so, even voices suggesting elearning has failed can only offer solutions within the paradigm promoting belief in the magic if we could just find the answer – like application of more  rigorous theoretical approaches to content design and delivery*. Selwyn says those working with ET genuinely believe in its affordances. They are unable to see the underlying politics disguised as promises to cut costs, increase efficiency and choice, support diversity of access and produce self-directed learners. ET’s ideological foundations have to be revealed through critical thinking and reflection before we can see its shaping by dominant interests which seek perpetuation.

What’s the solution? Selwyn calls for bottom up approaches towards ET, giving voice to the marginalised and silenced, including those who teach and support learning. While technologists and managers make key ET decisions, the experience of day-to-day users often gets missed. TELEDA tries to bridge some of these divides by creating space for critical reflection but, understandably, most colleagues are focused on how to use ET to enhance the teaching of their subject and their students’ experience. While this is no reason to abandon the soapbox on digital exclusion and broader thinking around the adoption of ET, distrusting it seems likely to remain a minority occupation.

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research. Proceedings ASCILITE Sydney 2010.

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