Using Technology to Enhance Learning Day 2

Keynote Two, with Jane Hughes from Wolverhampton University, addressed the role of technology in teacher education programmes, suggesting there is not enough support for acquiring the digital literacies essential for learning in a digital age.  In an echo from the first keynote, Jane reiterated the requirement for educating citizens of the future. We need to be equipping students for living and working in a digital society.

Inevitably this vision of adopting brave new digital worlds is countered by the risks involved in making changes in the current ‘risk-averse’ climate. Also raised was the lack of time and institutional support for moving to new digital ways of working. It’s something of a conundrum because on the one hand there are the advantages of digital engagement but on the other there is the short supply of ‘technologists of the learning kind’ and an even shorter supply of funding for development. Teacher education programmes may need to incorporate digital learning but teaching staff also need an informed basis for adopting new digital ways of working.

The challenge of Web 2.0 tools can be a steep learning curve. Not only do you need to learn through personal application which takes time, it also requires the paradigm shift from students as consumers to students as creators and collaborators in their own learning  experiences. It was interesting to hear several references to ‘Student as Producer’ t the conference where the phrase was being aligned with those digital ways of learning which support student participation in the learning process.

The phrase Blended Learning Advisor was popular as were calls for an approach which begins with existing practices; looking at how technology can enhance through the language of ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’.  A clear message was for staff educators who are the users of technology to take the lead, rather than the tied and dyed technologists who may not have the necessary pedagogical frameworks.  There were lots of examples of technology being raised and praised but not always in a scholarly way. This is where teacher education programmes can make a real difference and again ‘Student as Producer’ comes to mind with its ‘Digital Scholarship’ strand.

Overall was the recognised need for an infrastructure which supports the training and developing of digital literacies. These would include the confidence and competence with using and applying a range of Web 2.0 tools and selecting them appropriately to support digital modes of inquiry, collaboration and authorship. I liked Jane Hughes analogy of a jigsaw approach to learning because this I how using Web 2.0 tools can appear. A workshop led by Sue Buckingham and David Walker looked at social media for developing a professional learning network. It demonstrated the value of digital ways of working alongside the fear this can evoke in the uninitiated. The sheer number and variety of tools can be an insurmountable barrier. I’ve been dabbling for some time but hadn’t come across a Twitter Fountain or Drigo, Quora, Nefsis , VoiceThread or Peerwise. It’s this proliferation of content which is paradoxically inviting and threatening at the same time.  However, engagement is often initiated in unexpected ways. It was in this workshop I heard the best advice. Some one said they didn’t want to use Twitter to talk about breakfast but having gained some funding, and something to talk about, they were experiencing the value of the networking tweeting can offer. It’s this experiential approach which can be the most useful key to unlocking some of the cognitive barriers.

Social media can be like finding a tree in a forest. Where do you begin? There are so many possibilities. As a result, digital divides on campus are inevitably widening. There is a real need for more bridges and teacher education programmes, where the lines between staff and students become blurred – as the collaborative and creative possibilities of social media already blur distinctions between teacher and learner – may be one of the more appropriate places to start building.

Digital narratives; not new but still interesting…

The idea of digital narratives or digital storytelling is not new. The University of Gloucester has a section on Digital Storytelling under Pedagogic Tools and Guides and I’d like to investigate this further; digital narratives as pedagogical tools for combining critical thinking with reflective practice. Not just the skills involved in making your own narrative (selection, rejection, sequencing, synthesising, presenting) but also peer assessment and sharing across disciplines and cultures as a means of discovery and enquiry. Apart from the opportunity for exploring creativity and acquiring multiple digital literacies, the scope for internationalisation may also be worth considering. Here’s a link from Daniela Gachago from Cape Peninsula University of Technology who I met at the recent Diversity Conference   The video is a digital narrative from Nonhlanhla Nyingwa and her words, music and images combine to create a powerful story.

I know digital story telling is not new. The Internet is full of them. But I wonder if we could make more out of the processes and in doing so put critical reflective theory into practice – while maybe even having some fun. Not everyone will agree. The thought of having to manipulate multiple digital media clips will not go down well with many staff and students. But we’re living in a digital society in a digital age and graduate attributes must include digital literacies alongside transferable skills of critical thinking and reflective practice. Involvement in the creation and sharing of your own digital narratives – which could also be a digital cv or digital portfolio – must be worth consideration as part of subject curriculums.

For more information: Using digital storytelling to develop reflective learning by the use of Next Generation Technologies and practices’. JISC (2009) Reflect 2.0

Digital Storytelling and its pedagogical impact in the HEA (2009) report Transforming Higher Education through Technology-Enhanced Learning

District 6

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District 6 is a community museum which uses story-telling to recover and display memories. It tells the story of the forced removal of an entire black community from Capetown. In 1966 under the Group Areas Act of 1950, District 6 was declared a White Group Area. In the next decade over 60,000 people were forcibly removed to the barren lands outside Capetown known as the Cape Flats and their streets and homes flattened by bulldozers. The District 6 Museum contains the collective memories of their eviction. I don’t know who saved the street signs. Its one of those questions you don’t think to ask at the time. Or the examples of the mass manufactured signs with the messages SLEGS BLANKES and VIR GEBRUIK DEUR BLANKES but these remain stark reminders of the inhumanity of Apartheid. The floor of District 6 is a street map of the area. The tapestries hanging from the ceiling have been created by the people who lived there. The white sheets are an invitation for visitors to write down and leave behind their stories. As an outsider, I can’t comment with any authority because I wasn’t there but I can bring back pictures as a reminder of the need to celebrate diversity and not discriminate against it.

Imizamo Yethu

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You could visit Capetown and believe it is a prosperous city; the streets are clean, the new Victoria and Alfred Waterside offers multiple retail and leisure opportunities and tourist guides go to great lengths to point out the affluent beach apartments and hotels. You could think the democracy which followed Apartheid in 1994 had solved the city’s racial divides – but you only need scratch the surface to see inequality and poverty still exists. Massively. It’s evident in the city where you are advised not to go out alone at night. To walk the streets during the day is to be jostled and asked for money for sick relatives and dying children. On the Cape flats there are miles of shanty towns stretching as far as you can see and opportunities to visit these – in the company of a tour guide – which sounds like an anomaly – but this is cultural tourism at its rawest – there’s no fun or pleasure involved – its dirty and difficult. For hundreds of thousands of people, the hope for a better future after Apartheid remains hope rather than actuality. You have to hold onto hope because when you have so little, there’s not much else. The hope in Imizamo Yethu (meaning “our combined effort” in Xhosa) is with the children along with the school, library and church but when your ‘home’ has no toilet or running water life is tough. While politicians wrangle (and have ‘homes’ with amenities) it’s charitable organizations like the Niall Mellon Foundation in Ireland who are making a difference by building houses with sanitation and electricity. But nowhere near enough to go round. Then there’s the tourist trade. It’s uncomfortable to experience social inequity on a scale like this and not least because you know you are only visiting before returning to a better living place. The difference you can make feels minimal and Imizamo Yetho represents only a tiny proportion of the human struggle for survival. In these finance stressed times, the value of conferences is often questioned but they offer a unique exposure to the human consequences of international politics. At Lincoln, strategic emphasis on internationalization will hopefully further opportunities to promote the sharing of cultural difference and social justice, in both their positive and negative forms. Conferences are bridges in the process of internationalizing the higher education experience. They offer potential opportunities to bring back stories of the stark realities of difference and remind us we are all human. We all want the same things – to be warm and dry, to have food and water and to raise our children in the hope they will have a better life. Conferences are not a luxury; they’re a reminder that higher education in the UK is still a highly prized commodity and that in many parts of the world, turning on the tap is still a privilege and not a right.

Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations

This link is to my public iGoogle page listing a range of short Assistive Technology videos. These demonstrate the inherent flexibility of digital data to adapt to multiple input and output devices. Link to iGoogle Assistive Technology videos

Here is a link to the presentation slides for ‘Access Enabled Access Denied: supporting inclusive practice with digital data’  DiversityConference presentation slides

For any further conversations please do get in touch at

Student Rep Conference meets Student as Producer

The Student Rep’s Conference (2nd March) provided space for students and staff to talk to each other. I hope there’ll be lots of dissemination in online/offline student/staff publications because it was worth it. It’s not that students and staff don’t talk to each other – they do – in lots of different ways – but this event raised the quality of those conversations.

In the afternoon students talked about Student as Producer; the Lincoln led, cross-institutional, project which looks to redesign the curriculum along the lines of research engaged teaching. It’s like UROS has become infectious and spread across the university. Under Student as Producer, the opportunity to apply for a bursary to undertake a UROS project has been reintroduced (closing date 11 March see for details) but the real value lies in plans for restructuring teaching and learning. This is less radical than the language used to describe it. Teaching informed by and engaged with research is not new. The only difference is Student as Producer raises its profile and emphasises research as the primary organising principle of practice.

I’m reminded of a parallel movement across the sector a decade ago;  the push for embedding virtual learning environments. It reminds me because Student as Producer can appear on first encounter as something new and radical, almost verging on unsafe because of the revolutionary language it inspires.  But looking back over the history of technology in education, you see a similar mixture of adoption of new ways of working. Before Dearing, people were already engaging with digital environments, in the way that teaching already engages with research. What’s needed is time. Adoption of innovation is often less about changing practice and more a shift in emphasis on what people are already doing.  

Using Roger’s model of diffusions of innovation, Student As Producer is currently with the innovators and early adopters. As it spreads out across the university via events like the Student Reps Conference, and the Festival of Learning planned for the end of March (details here it will pick up more interest from whose practice already aligns with its organising principles. It’s  ‘stickiness’ will increase until the tipping point  is reached. You can see this with technology enhanced learning. At Lincoln, the push towards adopting the institutional VLE has finally got there. Recent surveys conducted by the Student Union and CERD suggest a high level of embedding of Blackboard into daily practice. This has taken time but the shift has happened. Student as Producer is in its early days but given time it will become as ubiquitous as Blackboard has done alongside all its potential opportunities for enhancing the experience of teaching and learning across the whole institution.

Graduate School Conference 25th February 2011

Live blogging can be an effective tool as demonstrated at the Graduate School Conference ( but there’s also value to be had from reflection and blogging after the event. I felt the conference was a huge success and the high number of people returning to the auditorium at 4.15 was testament to a great day. I can’t select a highlight – there were so many!

Anyone who’s attended a student based conference will know the value of an eclectic range of presentation content and style. The mixing and matching of subjects and expertise provided audience experiences which were in turn provocative, intellectual, surprising, entertaining and above all educational. I learned so much – all of it relevant and interesting. Limiting presentations to quarter of an hour and maintaining good time keeping meant the parallel sessions ran well. The Arts, Sciences and Humanities were all represented and the attendant mix of home and international students with academic and support staff provided opportunities for discussion on a wide range of issues. The conference theme was networking and that was indeed the primary function of the day.

 I think, on reflection, what I took away and has stayed with me, is the importance of balance. Opening the conference, Mike Neary quoted Castells on how we are all living in a networked society with increasingly digital lifestyles and ways of working.  Mike suggested increased levels of contact through digital networks is leading to disconnection on the ground. The sense of community is getting lost. The processes of online social interaction are not only gaining dominance but are becoming divisive, leaving behind those with analogue roots and privileging the manipulation of digital communication and control. Ironically, the participation in digital networks is ultimately a solitary one. What is missing – and is needed – is the balance between digital and human interaction. Together they make a whole and that lies at the heart of the university experience; opportunities to take disparate approaches and put them together, to investigate alternative practices, try something you’ve never done before, learn something you didn’t know but which adds quality to your life.  Well run, well organised, student-based conferences like this one offer the essential exposure to difference which reminds us that diversity really is what it’s all about.

Hong Kong

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In Hong Kong the divide between east and west is tangible. The concrete steel and glass skyscrapers are indicative of scores of Western cities. Expensive hotels surround the Hong Kong Convention Centre in Wan Chai, all joined by a series of walkways that cross over roads and mean you can effectively spend a week in the harsh air conditioning, your feet never touching the ground. Which would be a shame because it’s down at ground level that you find the real Hong Kong. Where the Western façade gives way to colour and culture that has existed unchanged for centuries. Where food is cooked on the street; the jobless sit in dirty corners and the hopelessness of poverty is etched into tired faces. Young teenage girls stand in club doorways inviting tourists inside; they look like they should be doing their homework not pandering to sex tourism. In Hong Kong there is no middle way. If you are rich, you live above street level, if you are poor your life is lived in among the doorways and rubbish piles, where the smell of frying onions mingles with sewerage.

Nothing in Hong Kong is free.  I visited a state nursery for children with disabilities where even the poorest parents pay a contribution. At the Hong Kong Institute for the Blind, cheaper treatments are offered but still at a cost. Education for children is a valued priority; a way out of poverty, an opportunity for greater participation in western lifestyle and values; the evidence of which is everywhere in the ubiquitous, globalised brands of McDonalds, Subway and Starbucks, all key players in the internationalisation of cities where consumerism is rife and difference reduced to the type of currency unit in your pocket.

Some of the best things about Hong Kong are their virulent anti-smoking policies; they’re anti-plastic bags and litter. Functions and events run smoothly. The metro is a dream, spotlessly clean and easy to navigate. The buses, trams and Star ferries between Hong Kong and Kowloon and the surrounding islands operate on regular, cheap timetables. I never saw anyone drunk or aggressive in public. The day begins with Tai Chi, an example that would benefit us all with its slow, smooth grace.  Peaceful Buddhism is a major religion and the government openly influenced by Confucian philosophy. This again is symptomatic of the dichotomy. Hong Kong is key to capitalism, its skyline dominated by the International Financial Centre, while down in the streets below the traditional Chinese medicine shops stock dried animal parts for the holistic treatment of individual ills and ailments. Like the difference between the humidity and the chilled air conditioning, Hong Kong is a city of contrasts, but one where you need to get out into the heat to experience it.

My next blog will be about The Agenda, the 2010 International Social Work and Social Development Conference and HUSITA (HUman Services Information Technology Applications).

final words from a pacific time zone…

The final keynote on the Friday was by Jon Bowermaster; traveller and writer for National Geographic, who justifies his carbon footprint by giving talks on the damage done to the world by over-fishing and poisoning wildlife with plastic pollution.

(Can the carbon footprint of an international conference be justified? On reflection I think the answer is yes. It’s an opportunity to bring back stories from different perspectives which in turn help you to view your own work and institution with different eyes. The impetus for change rarely comes from within; it more often derives from experience of other ways of doing things. There is real value is stepping outside of your comfort zones; there is even more value in viewing your work through not just a national but a global perspective).

Bowermaster  says everyone who travels should bring back a story.  Well, this is mine. Vancouver is a new, clean city; on a clear day you can see the Rockies although it’s mostly rained this week and even the tops of the tallest skyscrapers have been shrouded in cloud. Vancouver is gearing up for the 2010 Olympics and understandably wants its city to be seen in the best possible light. On the surface that shouldn’t be too difficult with its glass skyscraper skyline and surrounding waters ringed with snow capped mountains. Vancouver has the most expensive real estate in the world. It also has a population that is homeless. There are beggars on every street corner; many amputees laid out on cold wet pavements, some in wheelchairs, all with an outstretched cup asking you so politely for your spare change. There’s currently a plan to make it compulsory to put the homeless into shelters; allegedly for protection from the cold but it’s being seen as a rouse to hide them for the Olympics. Either way Vancouver is not what it seems. While we’ve been in the warmth of a modern hotel presenting on the advantages of education outside on the streets is evidence of social and economic inequalities where education is irrelevant.  There’s an advert for welfare food halls on Canadian tv which says you are only ever one paycheck away from destitution and that’s a sobering thought.  Homelessness and poverty here in Vancouver is very much in evidence. In Britain people complain about the welfare state but you don’t see as many destitute people on the streets of Hull (or Lincoln)  as you do here. While we debate the future of higher education it’s worth bearing in mind how fortunate a situation that is. 

Finally – the quote of the week for me came from Chui Woo Kim from South Korea. Speaking on virtual interaction he tells us that the instructor may trigger sound effects (applause) to create a more joyful learning environment.

 May we all aim to create a more joyful learning environment.