Flipping the institution as a risk?

Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post Digital Age  happens July 7th at the University of Greenwich. It’s the 13th Academic Practice and Technology (APT) Conference and the focus is on the challenges facing the post digital university in the post digital age. My presentation is ‘e-learning, e-teaching, e-literacy; enhancement versus exclusion’. Like my ASCILITE paper on e-teaching craft and practice, it takes the staff rather than student perspective, much of which has derived from the TELEDA courses. These offer a privileged insight into the influences on colleague’s attitudes and behaviours towards technology. Not only have they highlighted the divide between the technology innovators and the rest of us, they have reinforced how our use of technology is personal – it reflects how we are – which makes the development of any consistent approach a challenging prospect.

I don’t claim to be an innovator or early adopter to use the language of Rogers (2003 5th ed). Anyone who works with me knows if the technology can go wrong then it’s me it goes wrong with. I’m an advocate because of its potential  for widening participation, for flexible 24/7 access and for users of assistive technology. Digital data has the potential to be customised to suit any individual requirements but in order to achieve this, resources and environments have to support inclusive practice and the principles of universal design.

TELEDA2 – Social Media and e-resources – is nearly over.  The Learning Blocks are finished, portfolios have been submitted and as the whole TELEDA experience draws to a close, I’m looking back over the past three years. It’s been a roller coaster trip full of highs and lows which I guess is in the nature of innovation.  Each course included an inclusive practice learning outcome:

Reflect upon, and demonstrate a critical awareness of inclusive practice in relation to online teaching and learning resources, communication and collaborative working with and between students

This was my way of raising awareness of the value of online learning. Sometimes this worked. Sometimes it didn’t. TELEDA has given much to reflect on with regard to my own practice. It suggests a key challenge facing the post digital university in the post digital age is the amount of resistance towards the use of virtual environments as anything other than electronic pin boards as well as widespread misunderstandings around issues of accessibility.

e-literacy is complex. It’s personal and political. When it comes to technology for education I realise I’m in a different place. We all are. The way we see and use technology is an extension of how we live and everyone is unique.

If e-learnng and e-teaching are to have value there needs a shift in ethos towards seeing virtual environments as enablers rather than chores. Technology fads arrive driven with the enthusiasm of the few. Always there is the hope of a magic key which makes a difference to perception and use.  I started out seeing the flip as an opportunity to revisit enhanced use of VLE like Blackboard. Not I’m not so sure. I wonder if the risk is to return to seeing the VLE as a place to store content, rather than the interactive, collaborative and equitable learning experience it has the potential to be.

Don’t talk to me about transcripts, I’m a habitual being.

Disability in the built environment

Changes to the DSA puts pressure on institutions to make reasonable adjustments to how they deliver information to students. In particular…through different ways of delivering courses and information. The principle of reasonable adjustment is a duty under the Equality Act. The duty is anticipatory.

The text above is taken from two government statements on the DSA. David Willets in April 2014 announced the expectation HEIs will ‘…introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs and help mainstream support.’ In September Greg Clark announced HEIs now have until September 2016 ‘… to develop appropriate mechanisms to fully deliver their statutory duty to provide reasonable adjustments, in particular non-medical help.’

Institutions should adopt a proactive approach by reviewing their practices – but where to begin?

The language of the statements is revealing. In the first document of 760 words there were 4 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapine. In the second document, 695 words contain 19 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapline and 1 of disabled people. Neither statement uses the words accessibility or inclusion. Yet these exist perfectly well in isolation from the word disabled. We all appreciate access. No one likes to be excluded.

I’ve long wanted to see Lincoln be a fully accessible digital university – but where to begin.

Last month I blogged on the flipped classroom and suggested flipping might be the new e-learning for 21st century. Flipping is about developing lecture by video or podcast, either DIY or from existing OER. Educause say ‘… the ease with which video can be accessed and viewed today has made it so ubiquitous that the flipped model has come to be identified with it.’  This is the reincarnation of early promises of e-learning to enhance – if not transform – the student experience.

Digital educational resources  are the virtual equivalent of ramps into public buildings, created for wheelchair users but appreciated by pushers of prams, buggies, shopping trolleys and all. Having content recorded for replay and revision rather than a once-only experience clearly has value for everyone. The principle of universal design is inclusiveness. The problem is social and cultural acceptance  of the need to change practice; in particular where it’s associated with disability because of a mindset which sees inclusive digital design as the responsibility of someone else.

To be human is to be habitual. We like routines. We’re busy. We don’t have time to create captions, subtitles, transcripts. It’s bad enough moving from text to multimedia in the first place without having to mess about with alternative formats as well.

Where to begin? This is the question the Inclusive Digital Educational Resources working party will need to answer.  It’s going to be tough but someone has to do it. Cue the Educational Development Team in EDEU. Cue me. Watch this space…

Contemplating Failure Part Three

As Blackboard faces upgrading and the procurement process grinds on, Getting Started offers its annual overview of the ways the VLE is used across the university. On a scale from good, less good to not at all. Getting Started has always had differential levels of participation.  I believe the disparity has less to do with attitudes to transition and is more a reflection of the way Blackboard is used across individual practice. As a T&L Coordinator supporting the use of technology, the gaps suggest I’m not doing a very good job. My current downer on all things virtual continues.  Students like their VLE but workshops and surveys suggest differential use between modules and courses is an increasing cause for concern. The question of minimum standards has been mooted although how this would be mandated or policed is less clear. I get despondent over exclusive practices, but there are bigger issues around initial engagement in the first place. Feenberg * may be right. The technology has failed.  As Laurillard ** says we are on the brink of transformation – but have been there for some time.

Maybe if we took the technology away?

My MA in Open and Distance Learning with the OU was delivered online. Four  of six modules used a variety of tools and assessment activities. I chose the last two from social science. Resources were delivered in traditional distance  learning style; cardboard boxes full of cds and books. No online element – not even a discussion. Assignments were posted and returned hand marked. This was not long ago. I learned as much about the affordances of technology to enhance learning, and the power of online communities of shared practice to create new knowledge, by their absence as their presence.

Getting Started is a useful snapshot of VLE engagement. I call for inclusive practice but if Blackboard is not being used, or is a holding place for a collection of Word documents, conversation around TechDis Accessibility Essentials or the DDA/Equality Act is doomed. The gap between my conception of virtual learning and the reality of a VLE as a repository for Word and PowerPoint requires rethinking. Discussions around the Digital Education Strategy need to focus on the low end-user and non-user. Pushing up to blue skies will not address resistance.

Is resistance to Blackboard political or personal? Is it indicative of broader attitudes to internet enabled communication and information? You may as well ask if exclusive practice is deliberate or inadvertent? No one intentionally sets out to exclude. There is  innovative and exciting use of Blackboard across the university but they remain in pockets.  The problem with technology is the divide between those advocating use and those who are the users. The digital divide has less to do with access and more the way access is managed and the continual problem of content being presented in single formats based on assumptions the user can access it. I don’t have the answer in the present economic climate. All I know is in their relationship with technology, people will find their own level and stay there. It might not be effective or inclusive – but without increased human resource and ring fenced funding to support change – the current situation of good, less good or not at all is probably about as good as it gets.

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* Feenburg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf

** Laurillard, D. (2008) Digital technologies and their role in achieving our ambitions for education  http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/628/1/Laurillard2008Digital_technologies.pdf

Failure is not an Option! http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/06/02/failure-is-not-an-option/

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BBC gets it wrong again

The BBC are making a documentary on the way the web is changing the world and inviting the public to contribute ideas. The opportunity to have your say is not obvious from either the BBC Home Page or the BBC Technology Page or BBC dot.life or BBC Click; if it wasn’t in my browser history I might have thought I’d imagined it so if you’ve missed this opportunity to join in the debate then the urls are here.  BBC Digital Revolution (working title) Website and
BBC Digital Revolution Blog

Good luck. Let me know how you get on.  I’ve been trying for five days to complete my registration. I want to raise issues of access as there is no mention anywhere of how technology can disable as well as enable; about awareness of barriers to digital data or how those with the most to gain from virtual communication are being excluded; not only by the cost and availability of assistive technology but by the lack of inclusive and accessible design of web content.

Registration on this blog is clearly not an automated process; I’ve clicked the link and sent emails and still am not able to contribute. There are two issues here; firstly this public forum is not that public and secondly it looks as though contributors are being vetted – surely not!   The BBC are asking the public for ideas but don’t seem too interested in making that to happen.