The ongoing VLE Options Appraisal is a useful opportunity to look at the wider issues around virtual learning environments. VLEs have come a long way since Dearing* but in terms of keeping up with wider developments on the internet, in particular the move to openness and connectivity, they can sometimes look a little out of date.
Open academic practice and the rise in content management systems are examples of formidable challenges to the VLE. Compare a locked down password protected environment to contemporary social media and you’ll soon find support for the VLE critics who say it is a staff driven content store, low on genuine pedagogical interaction and pretty ugly too.
So has the VLE failed? No, I don’t think so. It might never be the number one choice of personal learning environment but it has untapped potential. Rather than be critical of the tool, it may be worth investing more in research not only on the way it is – and could be – used within the institution, but exactly what staff need to get started – as well as to get innovative.
Over the past decade a giddy variety of technologies have been personalised for education. Their mix is both widening and deepening the gap between active users and those who are less confident with online practices. Innovation tends to be led by those with digital thought patterns who sometimes find it hard to conceive of worlds where paper and pen are preferred. The word learning needs to be added to technologist. Learning technology describes roles which can bridge the gaps between technical support and pedagogical design for teaching and learning in a digital age. Outputs from the JISC Digital Literacies programme will be useful but how broadly they’ll be disseminated to those who have yet to move beyond uploading content and horizontal browsing remains to be seen.
Unless we shift from the tool to the user then the full potential of any VLE cannot be realised. The VLE Options Appraisal is an opportunity to look beyond decisions based on the cost of the technology towards how best the university can resource the use of the technology. Digital scholarship in 21st century should include confidence with utilising the affordances of ANY virtual learning environment. To do this will inevitably improve the quality of use of those learning tools which are institutionally supported and maintained.
Sleepio is an online sleep improvement program based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The site includes videos hosted by Vimeo and they all have the standard user control bar with stop, play and pause buttons enabling the user to – stop, play and pause. This makes all the more frustrating that the Sleepio animated environment itself has none of the these essential components. The only way is exit.
You can’t jump back to listen again, increase the animation text size and there are no alternative format such as subtitles, captions or a transcript.
Sleepio wants your money. There are a number of ways to pay for the program. Costs include an online community and online tools, all of which appear within the animation format. But it is only available to those with the prerequisite means of access.
This site is an example of the inaccessible nature of the world wide web/internet and how discriminatory online environments are becoming. This isn’t a case of being pedantic, or poor use of time in scoping the images on the site, it’s about fundamental equality legislation which is increasingly invisible in the design and delivery of online information.
The Guardian today carries an article on insomnia which is a thinly disguised advertisement for the Sleepio product. Maybe the Guardian itself should adopt a position of greater responsibility and refuse to promote websites which fail such basic accessibility requirements. It’s time someone in a position to be influential addresses the issue of digital literacies which fail to address digital exclusion.
Background: digital literacies are difficult to define. They describe many different things and this flexibility can be a strength or a weakness. The strength is the opportunity for drawing attention to key issues around digital ways of working. The weakness is the potential for misinterpretation; digital literacies can be different things to different people. When it comes to describing them where is the best place to begin? JISC says they define those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. If you’re looking for a pragmatic approach this isn’t very helpful but it does offer the scope for a broad view and with something as fundamental as communication that wider analysis is crucial.
The shift to digital practices has happened very quickly and the associated confidence and competencies have become complex. Digital literacies are much more than the ability to word process an assignment or access email. These are important graduate attributes but the management of digital lives and the presentation of our selves online are important too. If we’re to provide appropriate support and resources, we need to know where best to target them.
You are invited to use the comment box below this post to say what digital literacies mean to you or if you prefer a less public option, click this link http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/digitalliteracies I look forward to hearing from you.
Perceptions are shifting with regard to digital literacies. The phrase is now taking on much broader professional and public dimensions as well as personal ones.
Recently the Guardian Higher Education Network published twenty ways of thinking about digital literacy. Helen Beetham calls for ethical responsibilities in environments where public and private are blurred. This is the professional aspect of digital literacies; recognising the need for multiple identities and knowing where to draw the lines between them. Presentation of self online to family and friends is different to the presentation of self in work environments. Digital interaction with clients, customers and service users differs from interaction with students, colleagues and management. Understanding the permanence of digital footprints and the speed at which digital content can be taken out of context and spread across world wide networks is too easy to underestimate, as is the unpredictable behaviour of strangers online. We don’t know what other people will do with our content making it critical to think before uploading and bear in mind the limitless breadth and depth of digital landscapes.
Sue Thomas says nothing exists in isolation. We need to consider a range of information and communication media and adopt holistic and inclusive approaches to transliteracies. However, inclusion means more convergence across than multiple forms of expression. Inclusion is the public aspect of digital literacies. It refers to the dichotomy of digital practices where the technology which enables access can also deny it unless steps are taken to ensure barrier free ways of working. The university of the future needs to be many things and one of these is the producer of students who are aware of the parameters of digital divides and know how to recognise and challenge instances of digital exclusion.
The triad of the public, the professional and the personal lies at the core of higher education with its focus on critical reflective practice and social responsibility. If the relevant and appropriate digital literacies for a digital age are to be embedded as whole institution strategies then their public, professional and personal dimensions must be recognised and supported too.
OER Copyright and Licenses was the first Embedding OER Practice workshop run by Paul Stainthorp, Julian Beckton and Joss Winn. The session introduced the complexities of copyright legislation. In a world where the internet has become the first destination of choice when it comes to creating teaching and learning content, it offers an infinite source of materials and there are many common myths about their usage
“It’s OK if it’s in a closed environment like Blackboard.”
“If people put things (e.g. images) on the WWW, they can’t mind me using them.”
“No-one’s going to sue the University over it.”
All of these are incorrect. It’s worth bearing in mind that in the copyright world everything belongs to someone. So although taking and reusing online content is easy, there are a complex set of rules and regulations to be aware of. Unfortunately there is also no single answer as to what can or cannot be taken but some guidelines are more fixed than others. For example you can reuse content if:
You are the originator therefore you have the copyright
You have the permission from the originator to reuse their materials
The materials have a creative commons licence stating they are freely available
The content is covered by a university licence to be used
The content copyright has expired (usually a 70 year time span)
The amount copied is not considered substantial
You can claim a defence of fair dealing
The last two are where the complexity begins. Substantial is undefined. For example a square taken from the face of the Mona Lisa would be more substantial than the same sized square taken from the bottom right of the picture. The face would be more recognisable than her dark clothes so has a different significance in terms of copyright legislation. The defence of fair dealing is also an arbitrary ruling. While the work of others can be copied for criticism or review – e.g. teaching and learning – we can’t rely on this as a defence in law that the action was justified. There is no exception to copyright for education purposes in the UK as there is in other countries and the concept of fair dealing is less applicable in law than is often realised. When we take content there is always a risk and individuals have to consider the level of that risk.
Everything belongs to someone. A colleague gave the useful example of wanting to use the London Underground tube map in a book and having the publishers request permission. London Transport agreed but with restrictions on the artwork and a fee of £300. This applies to logos and trademarks and was relevant to me – when I talk about the digital divide I use the slide below.
How illegal is this? What is the risk level of stealing all these logos for educational purposes? Scary stuff if only because this illustrates how easy it is to do this without thinking through the potential consequences.
Today is the start of a HEA Change Academy programme. This is part of the Embedding OER Practice in Institutions project here at the University of Lincoln. The project is looking at the philosophy and practice of open education and the use and reuse of OER and embedding that practice across the whole institution. The Change Academy is about supporting institutional change by working with staff and students to create those conditions most conducive to change. Engagement with OER is part of a much wider picture of the use of technology for learning which includes VLEs, Web 2.0 style tools and social media –as well as familiarity with the open education movement in general and open educational resources in particular. Even higher and wider to this is the individual need for confidence and competence working within digital environments and understanding what makes effective digital learning experiences. All of this involves change – in particular the adoption of digital literacies – those skills and understandings which are essential to teaching, learning and professional practice in a digital age. The Change Academy will help ensure individual project outcomes can be sustainable and identify ways for embedding them at departmental and Faculty level while overall project guidance to OER practice within teaching and learning aims to bring in all other academic and professional support staff from across the university. Watch this space for further developments…
As well as offering experience with finding, evaluating, using, repurposing and replacing open educational resources, the project is an ideal opportunity for addressing the wider issues around supporting the digital literacies of staff and students.The term digital literacies is popular at the moment. The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme is currently funding a number of projects across the sector, all aimed at promoting digital literacies strategies and approaches. This is a necessary step forward. For too long those with technical competence have made assumptions about those without. The result is a widening digital divide, exacerbated by a determinist view of technology having transformative potential, not only for access to learning environments which cross barriers of time and distance, but to cut costs and increase efficiency. All this underpins investment in the digital teaching and learning platforms promoted across the sector as a means for institutions to achieve key strategic aims (HEFCE 2005, 2009*). The missing element from these grand schemes has always been the human one; how best to scaffold support for the necessary changes in attitudes, behaviours and practice. Promoting digital literacies is an ideal way to address these issues full on.
Embedding Open Educational Resources (OER) Practice in Institutions is a £50,000 project funded under the HEFCE/JISC/HEA OER Programme: Higher Education Institutional Change (HEIC) Strand. The aim of the project is to support Open Educational Resources (OER) policy and practice as a whole institution approach here at the University of Lincoln. Six project teams have been set up to look at how OER can be used to support different aspects of the student experience and I will be coordinating their progress over the next year. The six project areas are:
Supporting Transition with OER
Using OER to introduce the processes of reflection/critical thinking in Year One Semester One.
Exploring the use of OER for embedding ‘employability’ in the undergraduate curriculum.
OER and e-portfolios for students and practice educators or mentors on undergraduate and postgraduate work-based learning award.
Exploring and embedding the use of OERs on PGCert/HE…and beyond.
Project Six: Behind the Scenes: supporting OER as a whole institution philosophy.
Alongside scoping, using and repurposing OER, the HEA will run an internal Change Academy programme at Lincoln. This process includes specific development opportunities for the team leaders and an ongoing support network for all team members. The Change Academy programme supports both rapid innovation and capacity-building for longer-term change and aims to provide creative environments to focus on planning and developing strategies for lasting change. This will be an excellent way to expand the outcomes and successes of individual projects across the wider departments and Faculties while working towards the institution wide adoption of the philosophy and practice of OER. In doing so there will also be opportunities to surface the associated digital literacies requirements of students and staff and address inclusive digital practices. A win-win situation!
Keynote Three (SEDA Conference) was apt for a conference on using technology to enhance learning. Titled ‘Fables and fairy tales – how can technology really enhance learning?’ it was presented remotely by Susannah Quinsee from City University London. Using excellent pre-prepared audio and visual resources, Susannah led an exploration of the myths around the application of technology to learning. Key to this were group activities on the use of technology as a transformative tool for enabling interaction with learners.
Firstly we were asked to consider cases where technology hasn’t worked. Second Life was mooted. The hype has died down and while many universities have invested in a Second Life campus, there seem to be less examples of good practice; for no presentations at the conference had included Second Life. Secondly we took on the role of Luddite or Enthusiast in order to examine the arguments for and against technology. In my group the Luddites argued that technology supported behaviours which were shallow, superficial, bite-sized, anti-social, breakable and could lead to losing sight of traditional academic values. The enthusiasts argued that face to face sociability was a myth, online communities of practice were powerful aids for learning, the ease of digital access facilitated flexible learning opportunities, virtual discussions offered scope for review and checking understanding, technology could make learning fun, blended learning offered complementary tools which could enhance the learning experience, support independent learning and help students become more reflective, deeper and enquiring learners. Phew! On paper the enthusiasts were certainly in the lead.
The final part was a Skype Q and A session with Susannah, who was due to give birth to twins at any moment. Intermittent sound problems could have reinforced the anti-technology argument but to see and hear Susannah in real time countered this more than sufficiently. The Keynote surfaced what for me were many of the key themes of the conference.
Staff need time to engage with new ways of working; staff development funding is essential to make this time possible and institutions need to invest in opportunities to make this happen.
Social media can replicates and reinforce the power of group learning
Technology for learning does not replace face to face teaching; it is complementary to it.
The phrase digital natives and digital immigrants is the most unhelpful concept ever (I would suggest maybe outdated rather than unhelpful. Culturally specific at the time, it was a useful way to draw attention to the issues. A decade on, the divide still exists, but attention is now on the quality of the ‘native’s engagement’)
Digital literacies are fundamental to graduate attributes and teacher education. The sector needs to invest in bridges which cross digital divides.
Ideally, the digital component in teaching and learning should be taken for granted rather than highlighted but we have not got there yet.
Digital teaching and learning is integral to teaching and learning in higher education and all teacher education programs should contain content relevant to the world of the digital learner.
All conferences have value but in terms of supporting staff using technology for teaching and learning on a day to day basis and this was one of the most useful I’ve attended. It would be a shame if it were to be a one-off event because SEDA have an important role to play in raising awareness of digital divides and creating bridges to cross them.