University of Lincoln has social authority in an age of digital expectation

Twitter Colleagues are a cross selection of twitterers. Some follow but don’t contribute, others make non-work updates only, some tweet a bit around their practice, while others don’t use it at all. None of us (or are not admitting it) follow Justin Bieber or those with over 30 million fans which social analytics tool followerwonk names as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Colleagues have differing views about twitter’s use and value and this reinforces the notion of digital literacies as digital mirrors.

Partially thanks to celebrity endorsement, Twitter division of opinions could all change. According to THES, the University of Lincoln’s Twitter account @UniLincoln has been ranked the 22nd most influential in the UK. This means the university has social authority.

Social authority sounds Orwellian. Big Google is watching you. I was surprised how few references were made to Orwell’s 1984 and the rewriting of the past in recent media coverage on deleting digital history.  There are now generations without knowledge of pre-internet life. After gender, the largest social divide is digital. I’m on the side with analogue roots. In half a century there’ll be none of us left.

These days I’m a technology DIY’er. On twitter, linkedin, flickr, I use delicious, pinterest and get edgy if I’m not online. I’ve crossed the digital divide. But there are times when the internet feels like it’s going off in directions I can’t – and am not sure I want – to follow.

Social authority is an example of the hip new language evolving out of social media use. According to social authority is ‘More than just another self-focused metric, Social Authority helps you discover influential tweeters.’  It’s no longer enough to tweet, you have to be influential too. The THES article links to the Moz blog  for explanations of the score components for calculating social authority. These are:

  • The retweet rate of a few hundred of the measured user’s last non-@mention tweets
  • A time decay to favor recent activity versus ancient history
  • Other data for each user (such as follower count, friend count, and so on) that are optimized via a regression model trained to retweet rate

I’m not sure I fully understand this new vocabulary, but apparently the half-life of a tweet is 18 minutes. Users who haven’t recently tweeted get their score ‘aggressively discounted’.  Retweets are a scarce commodity and we know what happens to those! An average user needs 10,000 followers before 25% of their tweets are retweeted so popularity bestows social authority. What Moz calls a ‘secret sauce‘ (which means ‘retweet bait‘ which means….)

The social impact of the internet has an increasingly linguistic element. The presentation of information  is changing too. It’s becoming more visual through infographics and sites like pinterest. The tweet’s requirement to send messages in 140 characters or less is encouraging brevity. Being succinct has value but higher education involves deeper more considered approaches through reflection and critical thinking.

Moz says social media is a ‘what have you done for me lately‘ medium. This reminds me of Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book the Culture of Narcissism. Like Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, it’s in my top two of dystopic non-fiction must-reads. Cultural historian Lasch offers a chilling pre-internet prophecy of egotistic social media. The subtitle includes ‘… an Age of Diminishing Expectations’. Social authority suggests the word diminishing could easily be replaced with digital.

Exciting Digital Education Developer job opportunities at the University of Lincoln

Digital Education Developer

Educational Development and Enhancement Unit

Location:  Brayford
Salary:   From £25,759 per annum
Please note there are three Developer posts available.
Closing Date:   Monday 02 June 2014
Reference:  EDEU008A

To support the implementation of its ambitious new Digital Education Strategy, the University of Lincoln is seeking to recruit three Digital Educational Developers. These permanent posts will be based within the newly created Educational Development and Enhancement Unit (EDEU), designed to provide co-ordinated and innovative support and deliver the University’s research-engaged teaching and learning agenda.
This is an exciting opportunity to join a dynamic team, working at the forefront of educational and technological innovation. The successful candidates will have good experience of the design and delivery of programmes for online and blended delivery, as well as a proven ability to support users in the effective use of educational technology, including Blackboard or a similar environment. You will have good technical skills, particularly in the use of web-based, multimedia and mobile technologies, allowing you to create high quality, pedagogically-informed learning resources.
Go to  for job description, person specification and to apply online

2014: a year of change and reflection

2014 is the year of change. The Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD) is becoming an Educational Development and Enhancement Unit (EDEU) and a School of Education. The dividing of the ways marks a return to where we came from, when the Teaching and Learning Development Office (TLDO) merged with the International Institute for Educational Leadership (IIEL).

To mark the occasion, my blog has a new look. Changing templates is a big deal and finding an appropriate one has been a challenge. I’m still unsure about all the Blue but like the sidebars. The About Me… page now contains bits and pieces from previous Research and Creativity pages. Digital Inclusion stays, as does the PhD log, but there is new page for Academic Writing and also The Digital Literist which invites reader contribution.

Our digital ages are determined by what we remember. There’s an advantage to being err, um…. a little more mature. I can legitimately say I was there at the beginning. When cd-roms were  the cutting edge of digital information and the internet – once it finally arrived – came via dial-up modems. 

So age is measured by familiarity with this sound. How old are you?

Read and weep. Pass it on. Digital exclusion is real – but invisible

Digital Exclusion

So many people don’t get it. The nature of exclusion is to be invisible and digital divides are no exception.

7.2 million people in the UK have never been online and an estimated 8.5 million don’t have the skills to get any benefit from the online world. Social exclusion is linked with digital exclusion.

The message from Helen Milner, CEO for The Tinder Foundation who manage the UK Online Centres and Learn My Way; introductory guidance to getting started with computers. The UK Online Centre website figures an estimated 11 million in the UK don’t have the digital skills to benefit from the online world, and nearly 7 million of these people have never been online before. Those already at a disadvantage – through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment – are most likely to be missing out.

DIGITAL EXCLUSION is a new category of social discrimination

The CfBT Education Trust tell a different story. Beyond the Digital Divide: Young People and ICT, a report from SSRU, Social Science Research Unit, claim the issue of access in now irrelevant. Debate over the ‘digital divides’ centering on whether or not school students can access the internet is redundant – internet access is all but universal…the digital divide is a myth….Digital Exclusion

An accompanying report, Providing ICT for Socially Disadvantaged Students  says  ‘…findings clearly indicate there is little evidence of a digital divide in the UK. They suggest the lack of access to ICT is not really an issue for school students, particularly those who are disadvantaged.’  The problem is the ICT is  ‘often readily accessible’ but is not being used in an effective way from an educational point of view to enhance learning and increase attainment.

If you have BOB access, PLEASE watch this 1 minute 30 second clip from BBC4’s These Four Walls, broadcast 2 February 2014, the Joseph Rowntree documentary by Peter Gordon. These  ‘stories of aspiration set against a background of poverty and austerity, with the aim of finding the real people behind familiar media stereotypes’ include digital exclusion.

It’s long been recognised digital divides are complex. Quality of access links to quality of use, but to suggest access is no longer issue goes against all the evidence from the community which shows the opposite. The invisibility of digital divides continues to trouble me. As does an apparent inability of researchers and educators to acknowledge this new category of social discrimination; an insidious exclusion because it renders people unseen and unheard.

If you’re a user of assistive technology the problem is magnified by the increasingly inaccessible design and delivery of internet content; from web builders who are inadequately taught and trained on the need for inclusive design, who are unaware of the diversity of ways in which people use computers, access the internet and need to customise their digital experience to suit their own requirements. The root of the problem is assumptions about computer use. I call this the MEE model. People using a mouse to navigate, eyes to see the screen and ears to listen to content. It’s all about MEE and very easy as Helen Milner says “…to be in a bubble and think that everyone is like us.” 

Figures from the UK Online Centre suggest of the 7.1 million people who have never used the internet, 3.8 million are disabled. Someone with a disability is just over three times more likely never to have used the internet than someone with no disability.

In the Guardian Online April 22nd 2014, Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, said:  “Even surfing the web is still fraught with difficulties since 85% of websites and 80% of digital devices do not have accessibility features built in.”

None of this is new. Back in 2009, the Consumer Expert Group report into the use of the Internet by disabled people reported urged the information to address these issues. Little has changed except the report is hidden in the national archives and unlikely to surface – except here.

Consumer Expert Group report into the use of the Internet by disabled people: barriers and solutions at 

Read it and weep.

Digital Exclusion


Testing Twitter Widgets



One twitter feed.


1. Go to Settings and Help and select Settings.

2. From the Account menu on the left select Widgets.

3. From the Widgets menu select Create New, choose settings click Create Widget button to reveal the embed code.

4. Copy and paste this into the HTML page of your blog or website.

Twitter Settings menu    Twitter Account Settings menu  Twitter create new widget menu

It will look something like this 🙂

The consolation of sharing failure

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New YorkImagine you are not alone.

Once more Thesis Whisperer is a mirror. Last time supervisor stress, this time the need for academic resilience in the face of rejection. I was low after being turned down for an opportunity to talk about my research then Raising the Risk Threshold appeared on my feed. I read the first line… When you get rejected from a journal or conference, or your grant doesn’t get up… and was hooked!

The post is about being unsuccessful and dealing with it. Tseen Khoo calls it academic resilience. I call it Academic Aptitude. AA to the rescue. You have to get good at dealing with rejection. It’s a learning curve. An exercise in positive thinking. Finding something you’ve done is not considered good enough hurts. Moving on takes guts but it has to be done. The easy option is to think I’ll never do it again but risk taking goes with the research territory. There’s no substitute for conference presentation, publication or a successful funding bid. Even when you’ve accepted you can’t change the world, but believe you could alter a tiny bit of it, getting your story out there and networking with like-minded people is a necessary part of the academic game.


No matter how you say it, the word ‘no’ never sounds good in the context of rejection. It makes you feel vulnerable. Not good enough. You beat yourself up over the smallest detail and end up doubting the whole research package.  We all deal with rejection differently. Responses are complicated by gender, age, career status, existing workloads and colleagues.  It takes one to know one. Empathy comes from experience. I know who I can and can’t talk to. I’ll get over it and by next week will have moved on. It’s the here and now which is uncomfortable but it’s been a busy week and I’m tired. Two time zone changes and 15 hours with Virgin Atlantic in 5 days.  But now it’s back to business!

Academic Aptitude is an essential skill, right up there with critical evaluation and reflective practice.  AA is not just being gifted in a specific discipline, it’s about attitude; in particular towards research and being dedicated to the research process. It’s about looking ahead, moving on, knowing bruises fade and other opportunities will appear.  It’s about a special kind of strength and being prepared to temporarily skew the work/life balance.  I was down but felt better for reading Raising the Risk Threshold. Whether face to face or online, there is always consolation in sharing failure.


The e’s have it. On raising the status of e-teaching.

Technology Alphabet image from I’ve been promoting e-teaching as a partner to e-learning.  A colleague shared a paper which referred to e-teaching and I thought they’d beaten me to it,  but the authors opted for Digital Practitioner. At seven syllables a time, I don’t think it’s going to catch on.

Being an e-teacher is part of the wider conversation about online identity.

On March 28th I asked ‘When it comes to online ‘tutoring’ what should we be called?’  The term e-learning has become part of the vocabulary of education but e-lecturer is less common.

Who are we online? Teacher, Tutor, Trainer. Lecturer.  Facilitator. Moderator. Instructional Designer. Just passing through…

We should bring back the ‘e’ as in e-learning, e-resources. e-literature. e-teaching, e-practice. The e’s have rhythm. e-ducation.  e-scholarship.

Research suggests there are no clear benefits to educational technology; any difference made relates to the environment as much as the machine. This runs contrary to the rhetorical promise of ‘e-learning’ which mostly ignores the role of teaching. Recent literature has called for greater attention to educational design – as if that will make a difference. I hope it will. I still believe in the VLE.

I love Blackboard #iloveblackboard

I also believe in promoting the role of the e-teacher. Learning online is no easy, cost cutting option. An authentic experience takes time to build; it requires community, through interaction. My ABC model of Activity Based Content uses collaborative tools like wikis, blogs and discussion boards. There’s an absence of powerpoint. Learning online is tough. The loneliness of the long distance teacher/learner has to be experienced to be believed. I’m not sure you can teach online if you haven’t learned there. Which comes back to identity. To be an e-teacher is a skill. Subject specialism isn’t enough. You have to be digitally literate as well and this part is often missing. The gap between SEDA and ALT is more like a chasm.

VLE make great content containers. While teaching has moved on from behaviourist pedagogy, the VLE is still primarily used to support a transmission model of education. Recent online ‘training’ sessions with Blackboard Collaborate reinforce the dominance of the active teacher/passive recipient dynamic.

Looking back, VLE were embedded into university systems and staff told to get on with it. I remember. I was there. The advantage of being er…um….a little more mature… is the benefit of hindsight. There’s been insufficient attention paid to the reality of teaching online. Focus has been on technology and students. Now the time has come to privilege the teaching. The status of the e-teacher needs raising; it’s e-lementary and e-ssential to put teaching first.


Image from


Not waving but drowning – in an ocean of words


In an idle moment, I word counted my phd files. Sad but true. The total was a shock. Notes on the literature review, action research log, TELEDA reflections, random thoughts, unfinished blog posts – all amounted to hundreds of thousands of words. Like googling yourself, it was an experience both positive and negative. Trying not to think about the life I could have had, it raised issues like how many backups are enough, do I trust the cloud and why can’t I have a bigger H Drive?  The real ‘omg’ moment was realising I’ve already written my thesis – at least seven times over.

I have the words. I’m sure most of them are the right words. Now they need putting in an acceptable order.

I’ve never been good at boundaries. Fridges not made for half empty bottles. For me anyway. Better not open the box of chocolates or uncork the wine unless you’re in for the duration. I’ve started so I’ll finish. Although it works less well with words. For me, they just go on and on and on….

There’s a danger my thesis could ramble on indefinitely so I’ve been giving some thought to containing it. I like structures but I’m an activist. An atypical contradiction. Always diving in without enough preparation. My writing is rarely planned. It just happens. I know it’s not the best way to work but I also know some drastic decisions are needed. THE END needs to be in sight. There are other writing projects to do. My PhD moved in and for a while it was ok but now it’s like a house guest who’s outstayed their welcome. The relationship is not so good. Nor salvageable. I’ve done everything I can. Examined the literature (never enough) collected my data (not quite what I expected). Now I need a plan. Something which turns all this work into chapters. I need a thesis road map. From here to there. With clear signposts and a vehicle which matches the terrain. Without some clearly definable direction and limits this will go on and on….

Somewhere in all the How To Survive books, I’ve read a Phd is a means to an end. A lesson in getting up close and personal with research tools and tribulations. It’s about finding your own perspective. There’s no escape from the ‘…isms’ and ‘…visms’ or exclusive language of onts and epists but I’ve spent long enough grappling with the ‘…ologies’ or getting deliciously sidetracked*.  Every time I go online I find a path less travelled. I have to STOP NOW and think about putting together what I already have.


* For example The Craft, Practice and Possibility of Poetry in Educational Research by Melisa Cahnmann in Educational Researcher for an alternative approach to academic writing.

Image borrowed from

The ontological realism of rain; making sense of research through my allotment.

evening sun on the allotment April 2014

Easter is a movable feast. Scratch the surface and older traditions connected with moon phases and the spring equinox soon emerge. Like Christmas and the winter solstice. I love Easter. Not for the choc-fest and crossed bun bonanza, but because it’s time to open up my allotment. I use the winter months for reading, writing, reflecting in firelight. During Easter, I’m unlocking the heavy metal gates again. Squared by a dual carriageway and back yards of terraced houses, I garden to the percussion of falling glass from the recycling plant and buzz of trains on the main line from Hull to London. If I stand on my the roof of my shed, I can see the bridge. This is my baseline.

Last year, my postmodern lens got a bit scratched. There were raised eyebrows, disparaging comments; it was lonely in my po-mo world. While colleagues were asking why I would want to go all postmodern in the first place, I was looking at its attention to diversity and difference and thinking why wouldn’t you? In particular, with educational technology where exclusive practice is rife, access parameters decreasing and digital divides widening (invisibly) every year.

Lyotard’s report on the condition of knowledge arrived in a blaze of cynicism and critique. There was outrage at Baudrillard’s suggestion the Gulf War didn’t happen. A lot of people enjoyed poking fun at postmodernism. Then it sort of vanished, Chomsky’s diatribe on po-mo’s polysyllabic meaningless echoing in symbolic ears. It was all a bit French but if Foucault  were alive today, he’d be saying I told you so. Wikileaks?

Postmodernism introduced words like participatory and emancipatory into the research agenda, helped reveal hidden mechanisms of social control. The word ideology has become associated with political science but it’s wider and broader than economics. From ancient Greece, as most things are (if only they’d been less patriarchal and dropped their attitudes to disabled babies and slaves…) ideology is about ideas and ‘logos’ – which has a dozen definitions (in a postmodern way) but is fundamentally about communication.

So under the sun on my allotment, I’ve been pondering the short lifespan of the postmodern academic, thinking maybe it was too ambitious, took on too much. Denying grand narrative theories was always going to be risky. No winners or losers; a grudging draw at best. Then between the digging and backache, I read about the coexistence of ‘ontological realism‘ alongside ‘epistemological relativism‘ (the ivory towers of doctoral research) which was a bit like – postmodernism. Symbolic realms, the Real, Other, fluidity of language, a continual need to renegotiate meaning, the impossibility of establishing what Putnam called a God’s eye view all sounded familiar. Hello Critical Realism. Are you the acceptable academic face of postmodern theory  for the 21st century?

My allotment is a treasure trove. It offers poetry and magic as much as sore muscles and splinters. It can be an analogy and metaphor for anything, not to mention my sanity and respite. Over the last year, grappling with my ontology and epistemology,  as befits a PhD, it all got easier when I considered its permanence. My allotment exists regardless of my presence. It isn’t an abstraction. I don’t bring it into reality. It just is. But when I show it to others, they all see it differently. It has an ontological realism but is epistemologically relative; people apply their own meaning. Beautiful or boring. Relaxation or hard labour. Envy or disinterest. There is no fixed way of seeing it. Take my allotment neighbour. Stan has a plan. He grows in straight lines,  measures, records, has neat paths and the frame he’s built for his chrysanthemums is bigger than our greenhouses put together. We have the same 250 metres square, touch the same earth, feel the same rain. We share an ontology but epistemologically we are worlds apart.

I like how – when you’re reading – certain words jump off the page. This is resonance. Jung would call it meaningful synchronicity. The process of writing a thesis is – I think – about finding synchronicity, joining up the relevant dots to form a new way of seeing, a different way of knowing. My phd will be a tiny sand-grain of knowledge with my name on it. In the meantime, my allotment waits…

Callendula and Honesty on the allotment April 2014 cowslips on the allotment April 2014 Red Campion on the allotment April 2014 MArigolds and Cornflowers on the allotment April 2014

Chapter One: What is Realism and Why Should Qualitative Researchers Care? from A Realist Approach for Qualitative Research by Joseph A. Maxwell (2012) Sage


Get critical, get digital, get EDEU…

Learning Development @ Lincoln menu structure

I’ve been looking for supporting materials on critical writing and reflection for Getting Started and they’re not jumping off the page. Like digital literacies, I wonder if competence with these skills and practices are being assumed. Yet conversations suggest support would be useful. As CERD divides and EDEU* begins to form, I’m looking back. Learning development was part of CERD, until Helen Farrell, our Learning Development Coordinator, was an unfortunate loss through redundancy. The work Helen and I did lives on in the [unmaintained] Learning Development@Lincoln website, now evolved into a library lib guide page.

Maybe bringing academic and digital together under a title like ‘Learning Literacies’ is a new way to represent them. I’d like to bring these aspects of learning development into EDEU because I’ve been here before. Digging around in my archives shows how the content is relatively unchanged over the years.

In 2007 I created the Academic Writing Desk. Home page image below.

Academic Writing Desk homepage

Here is the Academic Writing Desk home page for Essay Writing.

Academic Writing Desk on Essays

In 2009 I developed Snapshot specifically for Getting Started. This was designed to introduce new students to academic practice; namely academic writing, reading, thinking and a bit on reflective practice.

Snapshot (introduction to academic practice) home page

Here is the Snapshot page on academic writing

Snapshot page on academic writing

Helen Farrell and I created the Learning Development@Lincoln website. The Writing page is shown below.

Learning Development at Lincoln Writing Page

These are all different ways of presenting similar information. An interesting insight into life in 2008 is the lack of reference to digital literacies in the Learning Development@Lincoln resources – but this could easily be put right.

EDEU will be new but not so new. Before CERD, we were the Teaching and Learning Development Office with a remit not that dissimilar to EDEU. The difference is how times have changed, how the university and the sector has changed. Internationalisation, social media, online submission, multimedia communication etc. With additional resource the new unit will provide capacity to pick up on some of the learning development aspects of these areas. Time to get critical. Get digital. Get EDEU. Bring it on! 


* EDEU Educational Development and Enhancement Unit