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 future is virtual and one of its names is Blackboard

Bb mug

I was in a Blackboard session this week. The plan to show case good practice, to be inspiring, supportive, but the plan failed. Examples of innovation were overshadowed by negative comments about the technology. At great speed the focus turned from positive enhancement to lets knock Blackboard.  It spread like a virus. The potential affordances for learning were unable to break through the Blackboard attack.

Maybe I should have expected it. Lulled with TELEDA and the FSLT MOOC at Oxford Brookes, my immersion in the advantages of VLE have imbued a false sense of security. I worry my ‘I love Blackboard’ campaign will be equally infected.  I’d forgotten the extent to which Blackboard is unpopular.

I love Blackboard #iloveblackboard

No one likes it.  I feel like a lone champion in a world of resentment and frustration. I can quote the negatives; unattractive, clunky, boring, confusing, difficult and students prefer Facebook. I can count the positives on one hand with fingers to spare. Er, um, well, maybe not even that many…

Discussing this with colleagues it was suggested Blackboard is an easy target. It can’t answer back or defend itself so is a useful scapegoat for wider dissatisfactions, not just about the role of technology in higher education but also life, love and the universe.  Sounds possible. Surveys and focus groups tell us students would prefer more consistency across modules but they like rather than dislike their VLE. The anti-Blackboard movement is staff led. I have to ask myself apart from the politics, the rage against the machine and anti-automation movements, what is it about Blackboard which causes hostility and can any of it be changed? Can we get beyond form to function?

I agree some things about Blackboard are a pain. I’m not immune to its failings.  No matter how well you format a course or group email it arrives with odd spacing – this annoys me. It looks like I don’t know how to lay out text. There are still formatting issues with the Content Editor. The notifications don’t pick up new activity in groups. You have to grade a wiki to get notified of new content and this can’t be applied retrospectively.  The blog tool is dull. So is the reflective journal.  Forums aren’t great for large numbers of participants and like most people I think Blackboard could do with a make-over. It doesn’t look as good as it could.

BUT…….

….the majority of UK HE institutions have teams of people managing the Blackboard experience for staff and students. We don’t. This is changing but it will take time to reverse the damage. We have to focus on what matters – the student and staff experience, one which takes the affordances of internet connectivity and utilises them for off campus access to teaching and learning experiences.  Like not judging a book by its cover, we need to move beyond the appearance to what it does.  An ugly pen still writes. Blackboard is accessed by thousands of people every day (including Christmas) and keeping it running takes priority. Once more resource is available we’ll be able to test and pilot tools like Mobile and Collaborate. Maybe reinstate themes so individual appearance can be customised. Explore templates. Enhance the DIY model with central support for content creation. Revisit the social media tools. Promote discovery through case studies and lunch time drop-in sessions. Increase online help and support. And listen to what everyone has to say. I’m happy to hear about all the things which are wrong with Blackboard but let’s make it a two-way communication.  It’s not all bad. The future is virtual and one of its names is Blackboard.

 

The future is Blackboard on a assortment of mobile devices

PhD crisis: what value can be extracted from failure?

PHd crisis? I don’t think I can manage another one 🙁 The process of narrowing down my research focus is taking forever. I’ve enough dead ends to populate a cemetery.

The solstice is coming. The coldest, darkest place in the year. This is the time…. for reflection. Reading my PhD log back to 23 January 2013 has depressed me. It confirms the absence of essential literature on digital pedagogy and staff development.  Surrounded with piles of books I haven’t read, and hundreds of thousands of words I’ll probably never use (I am prolific in one area at least), my reflection on the year’s progress isn’t reasuring. In spite of evenings and weekends of clandestine relationships. Me and my laptop. Me and the internet. Me and the accusations – Oh god, you’re not working again.

A year of trying to find myself philosophically. I have to face facts. My PhD has got lost. I need to rethink and restart.

My research is like water. It spreads. Isn’t contained. I may have said this before. For the past year I’ve been trying to get a foothold. An ontological and epistemological position. Some of it has been positive but I haven’t got there yet. My feet are still looking for their philosophical standing place.

Positives include rediscovering postmodernism. When academics began their deconstruction of reality, the internet didn’t exist, Today digital reality is endemic yet few people talk about postmodernism.  I’d like to apply a postmodern lens to the presentation of self online, to reconstruct my 3P model of Professional, Personal and Public identities, but this would be a research byproduct, not the primary function.  I need a practical solution to embedding research into my practice.

Times change. I shifted my PhD focus from the community (year 1) to the HE sector (year 2) to my practice (year 3). Maybe I wrong footed myself from the start because with every passing year the panic has increased. Maybe I’m simply not good enough. I wanted a research topic which informed and enhanced my practice. What’s wrong with that? Not finding my doctoral feet feels like a failure. I’ve read the books, gone to the workshops and study schools, but still can’t find a fit. I talk about digital exclusion and people switch off. Maybe it’s the way I say it. I don’t know. But exclusion and its invisibility is my thing and at the start of this year I thought I’d found a research space to slip into. 

With regard to teaching and learning, I knew engagement with a VLE was an under-researched area. The VLE is unpopular, maligned as clunky and linear, unfairly compared to more visual software like Wordpress, used predominantly as a document repository and largely ignored as a tool for enabling and enhancing learning. Embedding virtual pedagogy into my PhD would not only shift my practice from being research-informed to research-engaged, it would show case the VLE’s pedagogic potential. I’m pragmatic. I work in the present where the application of theory to practice matters. As does the day-to-day experience of staff and students doing the best they can with the tools they have. 

Recent discussions around digital education and the VLE at Lincoln seem to confirm I’ve got lost in the PhD landscape – again. The sense of loss is reinforced through Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) which stretches use of Blackboard and reminds me of a need to embed digital literacies into staff development and teacher education as well as the curriculum. This is where I want my research to be focused but I’m not sure how to get there. My action research methodology needs grounding in the relevant literature. It’s looking like I need the end of year break to begin a new review with a focus on staff development in higher education, on the pragmatic and pedagogical aspects of digital education rather than the political. What value can be extracted from failure? Once more, I’m about to find out.  

Hello laptop. Hello internet. Do you come here often?

Florence Face; a 21st century version of Stendhal’s Syndrome

David outside Palazzio Vecchio  David outside Palazzio Vecchio

I thought Italy didn’t get better than Venice or Rome but I was wrong. Florence tops them. Anyone with a passion for art and history will feel at home walking in the footsteps of Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo. Galileo, Rossini, Brunelleschi worked there. The piazzas are unchanged. The same church bells ring the hours and call for mass. Cobblestones are original. If ever you wanted to kiss the ground, go to Florence where the essence of the renaissance spirit is alive and well. Although the practice of attribution makes me nervous, I risk suggesting people unaffected by Florence have no soul.

The 19th century author Stendhal, pseudonym of Henri-Marie Beyle,wrote the travelogue ‘Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio’ in 1817. Stendhal described his emotional reaction following a visit to Santa Croce, where highlights include frescos by Gaddi and Giotti dating from the early 1300’s. The frescos did it for Henrie-Marie.  I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul…I had palpitations of the heart..Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.  In the 1970s, Dr. Graziella Magherini at the Santa Maria Novella hospital, observed tourists overcome with physical and cognitive responses to the Florentine experience and named this Stendhal’s syndrome.

I didn’t suffer SS but did contract my own version. Now known as Florence Face, FF is to be open mouthed while lost for words. It was sensory overload. Accustomed to a world of digital simulations, which can dilute the impact of a ‘first-time’ experience, standing in the Uffizzi, inches from Botticelli’s Venus, or seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Academia, were useful reminders of the power of authentic objects. Iconic imagery fails to capture the essence of the original. The Other is not the same as the Real. For someone who lives too much life online, where anything is available in digital format, being in Florence was to experience the impact of reality.

The virtual experience of teaching and learning can never be the same as a one-to-one tutorial or small  group seminar. We have to accept the limitations. The rhetoric  of the 1990’s was over ambitious and doomed to disappoint. Technology can’t smile but has definite advantages.  Content can be accurately repeated. It doesn’t get tired. Links open new doors. Make unexpected connections. Reflective journals can be as comprehensive as necessary while remaining private. Cut/copy/paste commands make it easy to edit. Tools like blogs, wikis and discussion forums support online discussion and collaboration. Online assessment is neat and tidy. Online feedback legible. 24/7 access across traditional boundaries of time and distance widens participation.  There are lots of positives to offset the downsides of mechanisation. While the virtual can never have the impact of the real, this doesn’t mean we should dismiss it. I still have my photographs and postcards of Florence. They are permanent reminders of what can only ever be a transitory experience.

Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery  Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore from Giotti's Camponile

Failure is not an option!

There’s a new thread running through my PhD reading and reflection; how little has changed with ‘e-learning’. In the digital education world, innovators and technologists have raced ahead – buoyed with project funding – reinventing multiple wheels and embracing the new affordances of social media, demonstrating their connectivism from tweeting cliques – while many more staff remain excluded from the mysteries of social media and virtuality, following the traditional lecture/seminar models and wishing learning technology would quietly leave the building. I find myself somewhere between the two. I’ve been reading Feenburg (see the PhD page) In the ninth of his ten paradoxes of technology, the co-construction of technology and society and resulting feedback loops are demonstrated through Esher’s print ‘Drawing Hands’. Like a Mobious Strip, or the chicken and the egg question, the print confuses our expectations of order. It reminds me of the VLE – the only way to learn it is to use it but how can we use it without supporting the learning? 

Escher print Drawing Hands

When VLE’s were first embedded into university systems there were expectations of adoption and use e.g.HEFEC’s Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy full of the rhetoric of transformation. Over on the Phd page I’ve quoted Feenburg who said in 2011 ‘the promise of virtual learning in the 1990s has come to nothing and elearning within the university has failed’. I’d suggest it hasn’t failed; more not worked out as well as it could have done. I’m a learning technologist with a remit to support virtual pedagogy. Failure is not an option. I still believe in the affordances of technology – access beyond the barriers of time and distance – and the potential power of online communication and collaboration to create communities of shared practice where learning takes off and runs. The best way forward is working directly with teachers and learning developers on how best to enable their own digital scholarship and literacies. There’s no secret to effective online learning. We know what works. Give staff time, space and incentivisation to adopt digital ways of working alongside a reliable knowledgeable support system – and they will – the TELEDA course shows enthusiasm and interest is there. What’s missing is the time, space and incentivisation – and a support system robust enough to reach across the schools and departments. The reason the OU do it so well is the resource they put into it. The reasons other institutions do it less well is their DIY approach to technology; elearning hasn’t failed, it just needs a different strategic approach to innovation.

Reading the literature around technology and society is to visit some gloomy, pessimistic viewpoints. I agree technology is devisive. Access to technological resources can be seen to replicate wider social structures of disadvantage and marginalisation. But I need to be optimistic.  I don’t see technology for education as necessarily essentialist – or as Douglas Kellner says in his response to Feenburg’s book Questioning Technology –‘…having a primary dimension which is functional…instrumental, decontextualizing, reductive, autonomising and determinist.’  P161-2. Those who interpret it this way miss the creative potential of the user.  I remain positive. Given the time, space and incentivisation to integrate and contextualise the use of technology, it can be enriching rather than dominating and reductive.

This is my motivation for adopting an action research methodology for my research  one which invites staff to participate in a process which seeks to improve relationships with an institutional VLE. I believe without investment into the staff who use it, who are best placed to say how they could use it more effectively, there can be no freedom from the loop of resistance. Without participatory research into the staff experience, resistance to the VLE will continue, it will be negatively critiqued, and used on a ‘needs-must-if-at-all’ basis. I do believe VLEs can be used effectively to enhance teaching and learning for on campus students and provide a valid alternative for those learning in isolation at a distance. I also believe staff are excited by the potential of new digital media but lack the opportunities to develop the new ways of thinking and managing their practice. The pilot run of Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is already suggesting this. The challenge now is to investigate how best to manage this process before the next academic year.

 

Feenberg, A. (2010). Ten paradoxes of technology. Techné, 14(1): 3-15.

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

Kellner, D. (2001) Feenberg’s Questioning Technology in Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 18(1): 155-162, 2001.

Open for business!

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age banner

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age is a short course (30 M Level CATS) delivered and assessed entirely online (12 weeks teaching/12 weeks eportfolio construction).  This course is an output from the 12 month HEA/JISC funded project ‘Embedding OER Practice’ at the University of Lincoln http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk. OER (Open Educational Resources) are teaching materials made freely available under a Creative Commons licence http://creativecommons.org.  OER are stored in repositories e.g. JORUM at http://www.jorum.ac.uk/ and MERLOT at http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm Open courses are called MOOC, Massive Open Online Courses, and leading platforms are Coursera at https://www.coursera.org who offer free courses on Arts, Sciences, Humanities, Maths and Stats and other subjects.  MOOC platforms include Udacity at https://www.udacity.com/ and the Open University Open Learn site at http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

MOOCing is an excellent way to explore a variety of online learning designs and collaborations. Like OER, MOOC raise important questions of authenticity and certification as well as the future direction of higher education in a digital age. A comprehensive understanding of the open education movement, and a scholarly approach to the development of teaching practice in open and online contexts, are integral to T and L in a Digital Age, which also looks at online learning design, online communication, assessment and feedback and digital scholarship and literacies with assessment by eportfolio.

Effectiveness within virtual environments derives from experience of learning online. Education Technologies have been around for over a decade but adoption only comes from applying the tools to practice. Too often technologies are promoted without first hand experience and this course is designed to offer that experience in a supportive, collegial style.

The pilot begins on 4 March with no cost to UL staff. If you are interested in joining the pilot, or would like further information, please contact Sue Watling, swatling@lincoln.ac.uk  

Digital scholarship – shifting emphasis from tools to users

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.

* Report of the National Committee on Inquiry into Higher Education  (1997) https://bei.leeds.ac.uk/Partners/NCIHE/

Keep up to date at the 2012 VLE Strategy blog http://vlestrategy.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/ 

 

Designing for Collaborative Learning

Creating opportunities for online collaboration is easy. Ensuring collaborative activity takes place is much harder. The challenge is establishing communities of practice where by students take on the learning process through shared discussion and debate. I’ve recently completed a two week online course called Designing for Collaborative Learning. The course was part of the JISC-funded  P2.0PLE project (Peer-2.0-Peer Learning Enhancement) at the University of Leicester. There were a number of drivers to my participation. I’m involved in writing a short postgraduate module which will be offered as part of the university’s Teacher Education Programme. The working title is Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and it’s designed to give staff the experience of being an online student while engaging in contemporary approaches to digital pedagogy and open education. It’s been several years since I completed my MA in Open and Distance Learning so this seemed a useful reminder of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the medium. Also the course was being delivered through Coursesites; Blackboard’s contribution to open education. This is a free platform for constructing and delivering online learning. Very similar to Blackboard in look and style it offers a professional look and feel to academic study at no setup cost; see http://www.coursesites.com

Based around Gilly Salmons five stage model, the course proved an effective application of theory to practice with additional unanticipated learning curves. The first week I had a poor, at times non existent, internet connection. Frustrating as this can be, it remains a valuable reminder of the reality for students in low broadband areas and all education developers should have the experience of working under these conditions at least once a year. The course ‘e-tivities’ all contained learning opportunities with the most effective being the sharing of practice which is an inevitable by-product of a group of professional practitioners getting together. Overall the most striking part was my hesitancy in contributing to discussions. this is often under estimated yet barriers and resistance to online conversation are well documented by Salmon in her books Etivities and Emoderating.   These books are nearly a decade old but the issues remain the same. The permanence of online comments can be a formidable deterrent; on the one hand you can practice and cut and paste into the forum but it must take extreme amounts of confidence to never be concerned about potential mistakes and responses.

One the most useful discussions was around assessment for contributions. This concluded the motivation factor overcomes any potential diminishment in quality. The moderator is often key to effective collaboration and again Salmon’s advice has never been bettered in terms of setting up and maintaining online groups. The current interest across the sector in transferring face to face courses to online delivery should also be opportunities to remind us this is never an easy process. The one hour lecture format works poorly online but lecture capture is still seen as a key tool for content creation. Not everyone can access video yet too few examples include transcripts and its the same for audio files. The technology that enables learning is always the same technology which can exclude it unless inclusion is first and foremost in people’s minds. Discussion forums are these days supplemented with blogs and wikis which offer powerful tools for learning but providing them is not enough. Too often a forum is created and nothing happens because there is no moderation process. Designing for Collaborative Learning was a useful reminder the key issues to establishing effective online learning opportunities have changed little over the past decade. Until staff become students it is unlikely the current view of online learning as transference of content to Blackboard will be challenged. Hopefully the new course, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age will go some way towards achieving this.