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.

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.

The ee’s have it; examining e-teaching as essential element of e-learning

Quote from Blackboard conference on supporting digitally shy to become digitally confident

The post-conference reflections continue…feeling more like a dream, snatches of memory here and there as the event fades under ongoing work weight.  My presentation title was ‘e-teaching; moving from digitally shy to digitally confident with Blackboard Learn’. The message was shifting institutional investment to the technology users rather than its maintainers or managers. Evidence from colleagues who teach and support learning, who’ve taken part in Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA), suggests examining the e-teaching element of e-learning has the potential to make a real difference.

“…I realise now how naïve I was in the past to simply open the discussion board with a question and expect the students to participate. As a tutor I have to make it possible for my students to participate through the design of my tasks…”

“… It seems obvious now that the lack of student engagement with my online resources was due to inappropriate design. I placed too much emphasis on text based, self-directed learning and  didn’t recognise the important roles of self and peer assessment, interaction between students and probably most importantly, investing time in building solid foundations and helping students develop skills for online learning.”

“…Being an online learner is confusing and disorientating. There is no tutor to check what you are doing ‘is right’…”

“As a tutor in the classroom you can be on hand to make connections for students or clarify activity instructions. This is less easy online, you have to almost pre-empt questions…”

In the beginning there was a triad of technology, students and teachers. The technology has been promoted as transformational, the student as in need of engagement, the teacher as…….errr…..well, maybe their time will come through the growing realising e-teaching is the missing link. With technology playing an increasing role in design and delivery of learning opportunities on and off campus, assumptions about digital confidence have to become more realistic.

Digitally shy teachers need to be digitally confident before they can teach online

The Blackboard people posted the first comment during the conference but it could just as easily have said the second 🙂

 

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.

#BBWorld14 Re-imagining education and the importance of presentation titles

At BBWorld14 CEO and President Jay Bhatt talked about a ‘new era of education in a learner-centric world’. How Blackboard is challenging conventional thinking and advancing new learning models through their ‘product and solutions innovation agenda’. In short – Blackboard are reimagining the education experience.

BBWorld14 image for reimagining education

I’m not convinced the ‘problems’ are so different today. Education has always been socially divided and culturally defined. The Blackboard machine is promoting a view which suits its purpose and in a digitally divided world seems to be missing opportunities to ensure equitable access. Selling a technology dependent on the internet provides ideal opportunities to draw attention to digital exclusion and fund projects which ensure connectivity where it doesn’t exist or is problematic. Blackboard as a company could make a real difference. At BBWorld14 I saw several presentations around accessible content but nothing on issues of exclusion from Blackboard itself. The ways forward seems to be data driven approaches to improving performance through analytics; monitoring who clicks what, where and for how long.

Presenting education as problematic also offers opportunities to provide solutions and the list of Blackboard promises is a lengthy one. They include increasing enrolments and retention, addressing multiple learning styles, preferences, and requirements, coping with changing student needs, engaging active learners and reaching non-traditional students. Phew! There are also the economic drivers; keeping institutions competitive with new business models to grow enrolments, improving yield (? whatever that means) and reducing the cost of recruitment.

These were the messages but what was it really like?

BBWorld14 was a conference on multiple levels. Techie, K12 and HE all in one place made for interesting casual conversations. Beyond personal politics or philosophy, Blackboard at institutional level is about enabling teaching and learning and the best part of BBWorld14 was sharing cultural variations on practice. With over a dozen parallel sessions there was plenty of practice to share. I stayed with the practice theme, looking beyond the hype and marketing to the differences of virtual environments. The choice challenge reinforced the value of headlines. Stand-out titles included 50 Shades of Data, Blackboard Ate My Homework, Tame the Dragon! Whip Your Course into Shape and Nightmare on LMS Street. The next layer of persuasion were those which promised takeaways; Secrets Exposed, 10 Steps, 5 Ways, 3 questions.

The session which combined them all was A Mission NOT Impossible: Teaching How to Teach Online with Blackboard with an abstract inviting delegates to share how this was done during which ‘Chocolate will be served!’ but I missed it – there was too much to choose from.

At times choice was influenced by distance. The Sands Conference Centre is huge. Comments on TripAdvisor say wear comfy shoes, there’s a lot of walking. I should’ve checked this out before not after. It could take every one of the 15 minutes between sessions to move between some locations. TA also advises warm clothes. With an outside temperature of plus 40 degrees, by Day 2 I was cold from the over ambitious AC. Plenty of shops but no cheap ones and everything  at the lower price range was pink and sparkly which might be appropriate for Vegas but  less so for work or the allotment.

Sands Conference Centre

I took mixed messages away from BBWorld14

On the one hand the corporate Blackboard razzmatazz was a long way from the realities of supporting staff and student shifts to virtual practice. It’s a global industry promising solutions to educational problems. many of which might benefit from a human touch as much as a keyboard.

On the other hand, conferences like BBWorld are full of people who care about education and the opportunity to meet and discuss cultural difference and similarities across this shared passion is invaluable; it reinforces why you work in the sector in the first place and extends and enhances the ways in which you function around online environments.

What was missing was strategic attention to the e-teaching component of e-learning

Blackboard’s claims to be learner-centric can miss the experience of staff who teach and support students. My presentation on e-teaching was informed by TEL reports from UCISA, HEA and MNC Horizons which all call for investment in resourcing the digital confidence of teachers as well as students. The Blackboard focus on technologists and management who drive and buy the technology, with the student as incentive, misses those who are digitally shy. These are daily users who’ve never been centre stage yet the relationship between learners and teachers is inseparable. If Blackboard is serious about reimagining education, it would do well to rethink the virtual experience of staff and faculty as much as the students they teach.

Storify of the event https://storify.com/suewatling/bbworld14-sue-watling-1 

With hindsight there were similarities between the layout of the presentation room and this slide I used in my presentation. The stage was higher than it looks on this picture – or maybe just seemed it – that lectern was very close to the edge…

similarities between 21st and 14th century lecture spaces

image of 14th century lecture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism#mediaviewer/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg 

social media selfies from #BBWorld14 – the moral of storify is think before you link!

Twitter is the ultimate in contagious self-promotion. With over 2500 delegates at #Bbworld14 it was a challenge to stand out from the crowd. Social media is one of the few ways to achieve a permanent  ‘presence’.  In every session I attended the majority were heads down working on a mobile device. I understand this. Apart from the ease of making digital notes, the tweeting  motivation was strong. You don’t travel all that distance to be invisible.

There are multiple layers to social media as well as a multitude of options and #BBworld14 made good use of them, as you would expect. Even the Twitter Wall was huge!

Twitter Wall at BBWorld14

In the world of social media your audience is often singular and cen be seen in the mirror. My Twitter stats from the event might be derisable to some, but for me they’re now a challenge to emulate!

BBWorld14 Twitter Stats

This tweet was picked up by one of the Storify collections which inspired me to make my own very first Storify Story using tweets and photos from the event. I was impressed with the ease of the software. It does all the work for you and easily brings together any content with your name on across a whole range of social media. I linked it to Twitter and Fickr to produce a useful reminder of the event.

Storify at BBWorld

 

Lastly, I became 4130th person to be followed by @Blackboard!  🙂

BBWorld blog mention

Our digital identity is integral to digital literacies. Social media platforms make it easy for mistakes and the permanent nature of digital footprints mean errors made in haste can truly be repented at leisure. Whether Google will agree to taking down something you later regret is another issue but for the majority of people ‘think before you link‘ is essential. Sometimes it’s less about your own actions and more about the social media actions of others. Storify listed everyone who appeared in my #BbWorld14 story with an option to contact them and it was surprising how many faces showed up which I’d forgotten I’d included in tweets.  Not all social media does this. Maybe they should.