Talk to the duck. It works every time!

Talking to the duck really does help!

Last month I wrote about social media and the question of blogging has continued to call for answers. Why blog? What’s a rubber dock got to do with it? A comment on the post Imagine Baudrillard on Twitter suggests blogs may soon be old news – too long too boring 🙁 This was food for thought on the haul up and down the A15. Commuting is a great place for head space.

I’m MOOCing again. This time it’s e-leaning ecologies with Coursera. Dipping in and out with curiosity, looking for ideas for TELEDA and swapping notes with other e-learners interested in e-teaching. It strikes me how similar the resources promoting the benefits of educational technology are to those written over a decade ago, like Diana Laurillard’s Rethinking University Teaching (2001) or Garrison and Anderson’s e-learning in the 21st century (2003).  I’ve just read an article by Graham Rogers on the use of technology in History written in 2004. Cited by Sage* as the second most read article in 2006, it could have been written today. Maybe blogs have some answers to promoting shifts to virtual practice.

Light bulb moment The blog derives from web-log – lists of ‘interesting’ websites for sharing. It supports reflection. What did I do, how did I do it, what did I learn?  Blogging helps make individual thought processes visible. A bit like having a mirror on the internet; one which surfaces your reflections on connections between new and existing ideas. Known as deeper approaches to learning, the process can reveal new ways of seeing – the ‘I get it’ moment which is meaningful on an individual level. While early adopters were making claims for the promise of technology to harness more effective ways of learning, they were heralding the potential of virtual space for what the Coursera MOOC has introduced as collaborative/reflexive rather than didactic/mimetic education. What has the duck got to do with it?

Rubber ducking is the epitome of blogging. It works like this. You have a problem. You ask a question. As you’re talking the answer comes to you so rather than constantly revealing what you don’t know or have forgotten to colleagues, you talk to your duck instead. The phenomena belongs to the process of debugging programme code and demonstrates the magic of verbalisation. The mind gets crowded. Sometimes you have to extract the problem from its cognitive space and put it into reality. In doing so the answer becomes clear and the duck never laughs at you.

Blogging is like rubber ducking. It’s a place for cognitive extraction. The process of fine tuning edits the superfluous to reveal core insights. It’s also about writing discipline.  Set a word count and get your point across in x words or less. Or ramble in a text document then extract key issues. Blogging can be a powerful tool for introducing virtual spaces, supporting interaction and demonstrating evidence of learning – good for building digital literacies too. I hope blogging stays. It’s got a lot to offer. Honestly, talk to the duck. It works every time 🙂




Garrison, R. and Anderson, T. (2003)  E-learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. Psychology Pess.

Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies. London: Routledge

Rogers, G. (2004) History, learning technology and student achievement: Making the difference? In Active Learning in Higher Education  Nov 01, 2004 5: 232-247

Imagine Baudrillard on Twitter!

Who says conversation was that good anyway?

Restoring the lost art of conversation – what a sweetly quaint idea 🙂 In the world of texts, tweets and emails, this piece from BBC News suggests conversation is on its way out. Social commentators is they often have a narrow frame of reference. After all, how much ‘conversation’  was ever meaningful in the first place?

Maybe we haven’t ‘lost’ anything. Maybe it’s just got replaced.  Blogging is an alternative conversation, albeit to an audience of two and a cat.  A tweet is still a voice,  albeit speaking to no one in particular. Times are changing. They always have.  The power of words is their existence more than their mode of delivery. We recall the song not the singer, the lines from a poem, not the poet. It’s the words that matter.  Conversation has always been elusive. Pinning it down on paper or screen has a value of its own.

In the BBC piece Professor Sherry Turkle warns of the danger of losing the power of speech as we once understood it. This is where my analogue roots are useful. I remember Turkle’s enthusiasm about MOOs and MUDs in the dark ages of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) via America Online and CompuServe. When digital communication was freed from barriers of clocks and geography.

This was hypereality. Experimentation with alternative ways of being. It was the time for reconsidering traditional, unitary concepts of identity. Step aside for postmodernism. Nothing reinforces a PM world like the internet. It’s such a shame the timing wasn’t better. Imagine Barthes and Baurdrillard on Twitter!  The internet had no limits. Physical barriers were being dissolved and simulation was offered on a global scale.  Adopting the ‘other’ opened the brave new world of Dona Haraway’s cyborg manifesto. These were exciting times because they were new. We’re all more cynical now.

Today being anything ‘other’ online risks the wrong kind of attention. Digital media has become the crucible of egocentricism but it’s no different from the me, me, me of face-to-face conversation. Online our thoughts, comments, observations can be put out safely with no arched eyebrows, frowning brows or tightening mouth to indicate disapproval or boredom. It’s easy. What’s not to like? The internet is where Christopher Lasch and Neil Postman collide.The egotistic personality is amusing everyone else to death.

Thinking abut the early forums in the 90’s reminds me of a story of an academic who wanted to discuss their research with a colleague 9,000 miles away but the chat forum for their topic got crowded and argumentative so they arranged to meet in American Patchwork Quilts instead. It was usually empty and here their  conversations on theoretical quantum physics could continue uninterrupted.

Times are changing. Maybe it’s less about relearning conversation and more about learning how to talk online effectively instead.


image from 

Talking Xerte pictures; should we cite, steal or DIY?

image of baby with ipad from

I’m guilty of image theft. Digital images in general and this baby one in particular. Gimmicky I know but illustrative of the social impact of the internet; in particular on digital literacies and education. I cite a url to show I’m not claiming ownership but frustratingly, this might not be enough. The protection offered through the concept of fair use is not as much as we might think. EDEU futures need to include the C word – shhhh……..copyright.

At the Making Digital Histories ‘Talking Xerte’ workshops this week, it was suggested managing copyright requirements by DIY. Digital technologies make content production feasible and this is an interesting idea. Given time and a heap more creative talent, I’d be happy to adopt a DIY approach but it’s not without challenges and reinforces how guidance on using visuals in teaching resources would be a useful development area for the new EDEU team; maybe we could build a TELEDA or EDEU image bank. Digital pix are fun ways to develop digital literacies staff and students on the Making Digital Histories  team can demonstrate.

I attended both ‘Talking Xerte’ workshops with presentations from Sarah Atkinson and Adam Bailey, University of Brighton; Bob Ridge-Stearn, Newman University, Birmingham and David Lewis, University of Leeds* all sharing experiences of students producing learning objects with Xerte – a free tool from the University of Nottingham. We talked Xerte, used Xerte and had lunch. A perfect model for any practical professional development event aimed at enhancing digital literacies and knowledge 🙂

Xerte is a resource which brings digital content together. Text, images, multimedia and hyperlinks can be inserted into pre-designed Xerte template pages. It isn’t arguably the most exciting of environments but like Blackboard, Xerte is about active learning; using tools to generate interaction with content and facilitate learning opportunities.

Xerte is free. At Lincoln it lives at Sign in with network name and password; examples and help resources on the login page. As with all things digital there’s a learning curve but once colleagues had a go, getting their hands Xerte (sorry, couldn’t resist!) they all saw potential.

The example below is one I put together to demonstrate different template page styles. It’s part information and part guidance on using Xerte. Quick tip – the size can be customised in the embed code. Direct  link

Xerte is a great tool for developing and enhancing digital literacies. It ticks all the essential skills identified by SCONUL in their digital lens for information literacies. Identify, Scope, Plan, Gather, Evaluate, Manage and Present digital information A key message from last week’s Festival of Teaching and Learning was to have a list of supported software for generating teaching resources. My suggestion is Xerte has an evidence-based and well deserved place on it.
























* All projects funded through HEA/JISC Digital Literacies in the Disciplines.

baby with ipad image from 


PhD part-time; experiences of guilt and fear of social media

Guilt TripMy blog is an exercise in disciplinary reflection plus an increasing need to write things down less I forget. Which happens a lot. I blame the Phd. Poor thing – gets blamed for everything. I blog under no delusions of fame or fortune, believing most bloggers write or an audience of one – themselves. This weekend I read a paper by Liz Bennett and Sue Folley from the University of Huddersfield called A tale of two doctoral students: social media tools and hybridised identities

Excellent advice for aspiring doctorates (thanks Jim Rogers) is to visit EthOS to see what’s been written in your area. I found Learning from the early adopters: Web 2.0 tools, pedagogic practices and the development of the digital practitioner by Liz Bennett which was definitely my area, so I approached the paper with interest. I share a blogging habit with a PhD log page and social media is a component of TELEDA2 so I was grateful for the paper’s references. I also tweet  but am not good with hashtags. They feel like gatecrashing but #phdchat which sounds helpful. I might not be the only one struggling with guilt and fear!

The key message I took from this ‘insider’ account was using social media risks fear of exposure and loss of credibility but it was references to insecurity around academic identity which most intrigued me. I hung my ontological despair on the public blog line thinking it was safe. My epistemological challenges and PhD meltdowns were between me and the screen. I’ve had no problems laying bare my doctoral troubles – until today. I started to post a research paper and was overcome with doubt. I must have absorbed ‘experiencing social media as exacerbating [our] feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and exposure.’ (p6)  All I could think was what if it isn’t good enough?

I’ve  read scary accounts of PhD researchers becoming parents to their project, experiencing all the angst of letting go. It’s true. It happens! But what’s missing from the literature is the guilt of of carving out time to do PhD things like read, reflect, blog, write papers. There’s always a feeling I have to justify the time I spend on research activities during the working week. Like today. Blogging on a Monday?  My to-do list is next to me and Blog isn’t on it. Neither is write the paper in the first place. I have more affinity with Liz Bennett and Sue Foley’s account of doctoral studies and social media than I realised but not only fear – for me it’s more about feeling guilty. Blogging and promoting your research emphasises time away from the ‘day-job’. Despite the fact it enables me to be research-engaged and informed, I’m feeling guilty – like my research isn’t important enough to spend time on unless its evenings and weekends.

The Tale of Two Students paper also describes how social media can help overcome the isolation felt by PhD students. I wonder if this  is the same, better or worse for part-timers. Maybe somewhere on the internet there’s a support site for us. We’re the ones hanging on by a thread a la Berger and Luckman’s social construction of reality. One little snip and we all fall down.

This is my paper which is a culmination of my research so far. The asterisks denote reference checks required and the layout is preordained:  four pages including references with single line spacing in times new roman 11pt eteaching – a pedagogy of uncertainty and promise 

Phew – is it only Monday?


 image ‘borrowed’ from

Festival of Teaching and Learning and a new team for educational development and enhancement at the University of Lincoln

On Friday 20th June Scott Davidson, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Teaching Quality & Student Experience), opened the Festival of Teaching and Learning by announcing EDEU. The wheel has turned. From Best Practice Office to the Teaching and Learning Development Office, followed by a period as Educational Research and Development, I’m now in an Educational Development and Enhancement Unit. What’s in a name? Quite a lot because everyone has their own interpretation of what this new Unit represents and the Festival was a welcome opportunity to begin the conversations.

More events like these please!

Sharing practice, discovering what else is happening, putting faces to names all help ensure conferences develop and enhance teaching and learning. Presenting, listening, networking and reflecting on an eclectic mix of information reinforces the reasons for being involved in education. As an educational developer, I appreciate opportunities to identify new directions and themes and festival participants also asked for more events more often.

There was clear interest in developing and exploring the use of multimedia. Following Embedding OER Practice, I used project funding to purchase copies of Camtasia Studio. Entry level software for capturing and editing video, it’s not as sophisticated as Premier or Avid but good enough to record narration over powerpoint, create talking heads, do screen capture and import video. Based on staff experience, I’m confident this is appropriate software to promote across the network and invest in support and guidance.  A single licence copy is @£100. Multiple educational licences are cheaper.  I’m also a fan of the free Audacity recording software which offers edit and export functions rivalling paid-for equivalents. It needs administrator rights to download. I show staff how to run it from a data stick. A request to have it installed on the network was turned down. Between them, Camtasia and Audacity offer ‘do-able’ potential to enhance text with video and audio. Other benefits include increases in transferable digital literacies and opportunities to raise awareness of inclusive practice. I hope EDEU can take issues like these forward.

At the festival I presented on the TELEDA course (now courses!) and the development of online workshops – mini TELEDA experiences which can be customised.  TELEDA is about establishing online communities of shared practice and inquiry based learning, but is also about developing the confidence and competence to teach in virtual environments. Appropriate scaffolding is essential for this and I hope EDEU can take this forward. An online resource supporting digital practices and pedagogies would be useful. During Embedding OER Practice a repository was built for sharing content. OPAL (Open Practice at Lincoln) should still exist in some dusty server corner alongside the OERL (Open Educational Resources at Lincoln) resource centre. How good it would be to revisit and revise these unfinished projects 🙂

The prospect of being part of a central resource supporting teaching and learning at Lincoln is exciting. It will be challenging too. On the one hand, it’ll be business as usual. On the other it will take time to embed as a team of old colleagues and new. First, we need to move. I try not to mind how each change takes me further away from the centre. It’s good to walk. The new office space has air conditioning and is above the launderette. A pragmatic mix which will serve us well.  The new Director of EDEU is Dr Karin Crawford. An inspirational choice which will work on many different levels; not least it means we can hit the ground running with no need to explain our history. It’s good to talk and there’ll be lots of conversations about the future for teaching and learning at Lincoln, one which incorporates the virtual as much as the real.

Did I say I was excited?

I can’t wait to begin!

photo last




DSA changes; Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done?

In April Mr Willetts announced on changes to the Disabled Students Allowance. Claiming these  will ‘modernise’ the system, he calls  HEIs to pay  ‘…greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support’ which should include ‘…different ways of delivering courses and information.’  The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 will be the new guideline for access to DSA. This states you are only ‘disabled’ if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

At the present time, DSA is awarded to a broad list of criteria including students diagnosed with dyslexia. Support for these students is being withdrawn. Reasons cited include ‘technological advances’ and ‘increases in use of technology’. Clever technology!

What Mr Willets is describing is inclusive practice. Taking advantage of the flexibility of digital information to be customised to suit user preference i.e. adjusting font shape and size, altering colour contrasts, listening to content read out loud and providing transcripts or textual alternatives to all forms of multi media.  Institutions are being asked to ‘…play their role in supporting students with mild difficulties, as part of their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.’ In other words. taking personal responsibility for providing accessible content.

If it were as easy as that Mr Willets, it would already be happening.

Back in 1997, Berners Lee and Daniel Dardailler, internet and www pioneers, had altruistic aims for information democracy. These two quotes are important. We need reminding lest we forget.

“Worldwide, there are more than 750 million people with disabilities. As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities. The W3C is committed to removing accessibility barriers for all people with disabilities – including the deaf, blind, physically challenged, and cognitive or visually impaired. We plan to work aggressively with government, industry, and community leaders to establish and attain Web accessibility goals.”  Berners Lee, T (1997)World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997.

“The users in our project are the Web users with a disability, like visually or hearing impaired people. The needs for these users are to access the information online on the Internet just as everyone else. The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  (Dardailler, D 1997 Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) 

In principle, I understand what Mr Willetts is saying but I doubt we are coming from the same place. I’ve tried to raise awareness of digital inclusion for some time. In practice I believe attitudes like these risk knee-jerk and exclusive reactions. Like lecture capture; sticking a 50 minute recording of a lecture online without content being made available in  alternative formats.

Digital engagement mirrors ourselves as individuals. The provision of accessible online resources involves changing behaviours from unintentionally exclusive to inclusive when the affordances of technology are managed by individuals who all interact with it in different ways. The process of developing digital literacies is complex in particular when it comes to inclusive practice.  History shows how the principle of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is often seen as the responsibility of someone else. It isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds in this statement.

Barriers to a higher education just multiplied and the principles of widening participation diluted. 

Oh Mr Willetts, what have you done?


International student-made films about studying at the University of Lincoln

Last year I successfully bid for a small learning development grant from ALDinHE (Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) to support international students making videos about their experiences at the university. This was the same time as I was completing a HEA/JISC funded project under the OER Programme to look at transition for international students. Preparation for Academic Practice with OER for International Students- University of Lincoln  Both projects fitted well with Getting Started; the university’s programme of transition support for new students which gives them access to Blackboard prior to enrolment. My interest in transition is preparation for studying in higher education.  Research into the first-year experience of higher education in the UK (Yorke and Longden, 2008) gives lack of preparation as a key reason for withdrawal and the history of Getting Started, which began in 2005, can be found here  

Students were given cameras and asked to talk about their own experiences as if they were giving advice to new students thinking about coming to Lincoln. The seven films were put together in their final form by Ray Wilson, CERD’s Media Intern. All of them are around one minute in length and are presented below.

Ten top tips for surviving part-time doctoral research

survival ringsAfter several false starts (three to be exact) I feel this giant research project is coming home. Getting lost has taught me a lot. I’ve learned from each encounter but never felt I was making progress. I realise now, my ideas about doctoral research were too hazy. I jumped in feet first not knowing where to begin but expecting all to be revealed in the next book, the next paper, the next person I spoke to – when it isn’t like that at all.

The research doesn’t take shape at the beginning. It develops as you read, reflect and read some more. Most of all, it emerges from conversations, with colleagues, family, friends – because only by talking about it – getting it out of your head and into the ether, can it become clear. Answering questions from others surfaces what you’re doing.

The process isn’t easy. Evenings, weekends and bank holidays have all been swallowed by a huge doctoral shaped hole. It’s lonely too. Developing survival tips and techniques is essential.  What’s worked for me might not work for others outside the field of qualitative educational research, or even some of those within it, but these are the lessons I’ve learned so far:

– Your research has to be personal; you need passion to stay the course, even when all around you seem less sure of your convictions.

– The subject has to inform your day job and make a difference to what you do. There’s never enough hours so a p/t Phd must have relevance to the greater part of your working week.

– If your passions lie outside work, re-consider a work related subject. The chances of completing are increased by the connections between research and daily practice.

– A doctorate is about learning to use the tools. Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for small changes in your chosen area instead.

– A PhD isn’t a mystery. There are set rules underpinning the process. Learning these will lay the foundation for research in the future.

– The regulations of doctoral research are laid out in dozens of books. Find the book which ‘speaks’ to you. Don’t be afraid to keep looking. When you find it, you’ll know it’s ‘yours’.

– See the component parts of your research holistically. A doctoral project is elastic. Like a cat’s cradle, its shape can move and shift so the component parts are best understood as linked rather than separate.

– Be confident. Develop the sense you have something worthwhile to say. Feel proud of the hours spent copying, cutting and pasting, losing files and feeling you’ll never get there. You will and your subject is unique, otherwise you wouldn’t be researching it.

 – Practice talking about your research. Learn to explain succinctly to anyone who’ll listen. Take every opportunity to present in public. Feel the fear and do it. The experience will be invaluable.

– The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.

 It’s no exaggeration to say your p/t Phd will be a challenge and will dominate your life. You have to let it move in and take over.  Other advice includes join a research group, write a blog, give yourself deadlines, create targets then give yourself rewards for reaching them.

Sounds like another top ten tips in the making!



GCC 2014 ‘Get the World Moving’ self regulation of the body

Amazed I managed 10,000 GCC  steps on a home-working rainy day. Without the GCC incentive, I wouldn’t have splashed around on the allotment for soggy flower pics. The wet feet were worth it!
Lupins in the rainraindrops on foxgloveslimnanthes in the rain wet grass on the allotment

I’m stepping out with Global Corporate Challenge.  Take Two. Last year my sedentariness was a shock. 10,000 steps a day can be a challenge when you’re desk bound. Being sofa bound’s even worse. On a home working day, I struggled to make 1,000 steps never mind x10.  So I made changes. Kept moving. Gained my digital trophies. Lost a few pounds. Between then and now I ended up back where I started. 10,000 steps? You must be joking!

This week  the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) called for overweight people to be sent to slimming classes. Lose a little keep it off. If only it were that easy. I’ve lost a little all my life but keeping it off is impossible.

Obsogenic is the new word.  It refers to environments which encourage people to eat unhealthily and not do enough exercise. Good food is an issue. Everywhere you go it’s high fat, high sugar. If you’re lucky you may see a few tired pieces of fruit at exorbitant prices. Transit food is the worst; airlines, ferries, motorway services. It’s all burgers, fried chicken, chips with everything. Cakes and biscuits with your coffee. Bread and crisps for lunch. We’re spoilt for choice but it’s the wrong choices.

The strapline for Global Corporate Challenge is Get the World Moving. A bit of a misnomer when half the world has a problem with starvation rather than obesity, but the underlying message tackles a key issue for the more prosperous half. Fat kills.  Over the years, various foods have been blamed. Saturated fats. Processed carbohydrate. Refined sugar. The food industry is not helping.  Films like Forks over Knives, The Men who made us Fat and Cereal Killers are all worth watching but they offer conflicting views. Being active helps. Yet so does being inactive through mindfulness or meditation.  The duality of opposites and mixed messages is confusing.

I’ve come to the conclusion it’s energy expenditure which matters. Our bodies are designed to be active rather than sedentary. It’s Day Two of GCC and I forgot to wear my pedometer until mid-morning. The online recording of GCC steps is unmonitored. I can estimate the steps I missed or make an effort to build in additional ones. I’m going for the latter. Choosing this suggests it’s working. A self-regulation of the body in the Foucauldian sense.  Discipline and Punishment. Where the gaze is our own and self-monitoring has it’s own rewards. Maybe lose a little and keep it off this time around 🙂

PelargoniumWet red poppy petalsBee on chive flowersCornflower blue


Who needs a living person when a keyboard will do?

I can’t help myself. When I read suggestions like these have to drag out the soap box.

I tweeted but there are times when a tweet isn’t enough.

Only a blog post will do.


The Policy Exchange Think Tank says Internet access and training would cut pensioner loneliness and the BBC have picked this up  With no link to the original report (nor can I find it on the PE website) my knowledge is limited to this piece which reinforces skewed ideas of how digital divides are constructed. The BBC should know better. Here is an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of their complexity, in particular for older people, who often have specific requirements with regard to access.

Digital exclusion is now generally understood as being about usage as well as access. This is a step in the right direction. What gets missed is the linkage between users of assistive technologies – who need alternatives to mouse and screen based hardware and software – and the design and delivery of web content which fails to be accessible enough for devices like screen readers.

Nothing in this piece acknowledges research around the multiple reasons older people are at risk of digital exclusion in the first place. It’s  deterministic to suggest technology can cure what is fundamentally a social problem. For example ‘Eddie Copeland, author of the report, said learning basic computer skills would stop pensioners becoming vulnerable to loneliness.’ What’s being suggested? Here’s a laptop, you’ll fine now – dear. After all, who needs a warm living person when a keyboard will do?

The internet and world wide web have been amazing inventions but ultimately are mirrors of the wider society in which they’re created, managed and used. Assuming technology is the answer to social isolation is not the answer. We need less Digital First policies, in particular with regard to the provision of information, welfare and health services. What’s needed is investment in people not machines.


Recent research into digital divides and exclusions

Across the Divide – Full Report from the Carnegie Trust—full-report

Cultures of the Internet from Oxford Institute

Age UK Digital Inclusion Evidence Review