Sometimes I think you have to get back to basics. The common digital denominator of everyone at the university has to be some form of PC or Mac, propriety or open source, Office suite. So why not look at how an eportfolio could be created using Office? Then you could focus on the benefits of creating electronic profiles rather than the digital learning curve required to produce them. Criteria such as portability and interoperability have value but if engagement is a key issue then familiarity with the software must be more important. Eportfolio documents could be uploaded to Google but does a URL have to be a crucial component? There are still cd-roms or data sticks. Storage is cheap. Employers wanting electronic profiles will prefer digital data in a format they’re familiar rather than not at all.
We’re not getting there with e-portfolios. Even if they were part of the assessment process or of CPD you’d still have a digital divide with the software. Give someone a tool they’re familiar with and they’ll use it. Give them one they’ve never seen before and you drastically cut the chances of it being utilized. At the end of the day the prime purpose of an e-porfolio is an electronic record of who you are, and what you have to offer, so surely it’s the content that matters rather than the packaging.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the SimplicITy computer with its six-button desktop aimed at ‘people aged over 60 who are unfamiliar with PCs and the internet’. Part of me thinks what a great idea – not everyone can afford a Mac and the Windows OS has become so (unnecessarily?) complex. But what would the response be if the target audience were those classified as disabled or from a named country, class or culture. In an environment where everyday language is subject to the stringent tests to determine its political correctness, then it must be technically ageist to provide a product that implies those over 60 need something ‘simple’.
Regarding current website design – while it is far from perfect and I am continually frustrated by its inaccessibility – the direction remains ‘one web for all’. While some webs may be developed with a specific group in mind – e.g. high contrast/low image for the visually impaired – then this doesn’t deny access to anyone else. I wonder if a commercial move towards the provision of customised interfaces designed for specific groups in mind is beneficial to web equity or not. Shouldn’t we be working towards one web for all and one set of web skills for all too?
I’ve been reflecting on the concept of Teaching in Public; the proposed theme of the second CERD book. Googling it only returned the C-SAP 2007 Conference Teaching in Public, the Future of HE . It looks like CERD have identified a gap in the market. So what does Teaching in Public mean? With so little out there then this is an opportunity to offer our own interpretations. Suggested strands are Education as a Public Good, The Student/Teacher Nexus and Teaching as a Public Activity; all retaining the student/teacher dichotomy.
My interest is the impact of the Internet and the development of OER. For example the Open University’s OpenLearn which includes a course on Creating OER and an OER wiki Other examples of what I would call Teaching in Public are MIT Open Courseware, TED Talks , Wiki Educator and Connextions. Add the P2P virtual university and there’s a lot out there. There are issues around assessment and accreditation but no doubt that the future of higher education is digital. Like it or not we live in a Web 2.0 world. Teaching in Public is a move from pedagogy to folksomony. Traditional educationalists should be feeling afraid. Those yet to engage with the technology should be feeling very afraid.
OER (via the Internet) does more than challenge the status quo of HEIs as the gatekeepers of knowledge. OER (and the Internet) open up communication and access to information; the keys to educational opportunities. The primary issues then become digital divides (ensuring equality of access) and digital controls (transmission via cables rather than humans). Is this where the future of HE lies? If the themes include ‘public good’ and ‘public activity’ then access issues are paramount. Digital data not only requires good bandwidth it’s notoriously inaccessible to anyone with sensory, motor and cognitive impairment. Along with the employability agenda, will the primary role of the HEI shift from the transmission of knowledge to the critical evaluation and correct acknowledgment of sources that are already freely available?
I’ve few political bones and even less economic ones so will leave those implications of OER on teaching in public to others more qualified, but will offer this; the move to a digital platform, as envisaged by Digital Britain is a mass imposition of change in practice, something notorious for creating resistance. If there should develop an underground movement of analogue protestors, what impact would that have on the future of higher education?
Why offline? It’s very personal in the THES by Janet Hanson, head of education enhancement at Bournemouth University, resurrects the ‘should they shouldn’t they’ debate over teacher engagement with technology. In 2007 Karl Fisch suggested that digital literacy was the responsibility of the individual and that refusal to engage with technology was on a par with refusing to learn to read or write;
The article “Displaced but not replaced: the impact of e-learning on academic identities in higher education” in the journal Teaching in Higher Education, appears to suggest that some staff are threatened by technology to a degree where one describes feeling “out of control” when she started to use PowerPoint in her lectures, with her academic presence “reduced to a mechanical process of pressing a key on the PC to change the slides”. Comments from readers pick up and challenge this resistance to technology; one of which links to David Warlick’s online article ‘If you can’t use technology get out of teaching!’ Harsh words but I remain convinced that rather than pushing virtual boundaries forwards, it’s non-engagement that is the key issue I suspect that the more the label Web 2.0 is used to influence institutional practice then the more those who are not yet blogging or tweeting will switch off. The debate is far from being over. We are quick to praise pockets of good practice but it’s the pockets of resistance that need addressing.
p.s. never mind PowerPoint; take a look at Prezi instead!
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.
OER was highlighted in the conference keynotes but there is clearly resistance to the principle of open access as well as support. Here, the digital divide widens; on the one side are the pioneers of Web 2.0 technologies advocating the openness of educational opportunities; free access to papers, journals and resources, while on the other side traditional scholars value their freedom of academic choice to remain cloistered in ivory towers.
Terry Anderson (Keynote 2) quoted his experience at Abuthasca where academics have successfully resisted the call for compulsory depositing their work in the institutional repository. Instead the university has had to compromise, making it a recommendation rather than a rule.
Projects like CamFed the computer training charity ( see ‘where the water meets the sky’ blog post here) demonstrate the value of free access to the Google family in changing lives but the divisions caused by the affordability of education in Africa are every bit as great as those in the west. Here the traditional perception of higher education as an esoteric knowledge requiring [financial] initiation into its mysteries is well embedded. It will take more than the emergence of the possibility offered by Web 2.0 tools if the institution of academia is to be challenged. History shows us that the most successful downfalls come from within; the Trojan horse in this case is probably still under construction but will most likely originate from student demand. Challenging the gatekeepers of knowledge – and their licence locking mechanisms – will need lateral thinking; not releasing the knowledge already imprisoned but rethinking the way that new knowledge is constructed and distributed in the first place.
Camfed www.camfed.org is a charity that provides computer training for young women in Africa. Here education is too expensive for many families and if choices have to be made then sons are chosen over daughters. The project is an example of the value of free Web 2.0 tools in particular the Google family that enable virtual communication to take place. The original digital divide still exists in so many places across the world and Camfed is not only a bridge but an opportunity to remind us of the privileges the western world affords.
A documentary film, Where the Water Meets the Sky, narrated by Morgan Freeman, has been made about the project and should be made available to everyone involved in education in the west, both both staff and students. http://www.watermeetssky.com/
The BBC have a page and a video clip about the project here http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8302294.stm
I agree with its detractors that Blackboard is in the money making business. Like the publishers of educational journals, access is restricted through prohibitively expensive licences. But I also don’t agree that Blackboard is dead so to paraphase Julian’s comment here’s a scratch. While the Web 2.0 revolutionaries are plotting on one corner of the square then those getting on with daily life have to make the best of it. Educational opportunities shouldn’t be denied on the grounds of cost but the reality for many educators is they are caught in the middle. If Blackboard is the tool of choice of your institution then knocking it vociferously doesn’t help. If the future of higher education is digital then we should be encouraging engagement and there are worse places than Blackboard for the cutting of technical teeth. It’s easy to be critical about Blackboard; it may well be closed rather than open, be clunky and not visually appealing but it’s a tool and if it’s the only one you have then it’s what you do with it that counts. Better to have active engagement with Blackboard than no engagement with digital learning at all.
The recent publicity over the Amazon e-book reader Kindle is notable for the furore over DRM and the lack of publicity over its inaccessibility. Reams are being written about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) the digital watermark which limits the use of downloaded files and gives the content provider control over what happens to the content. There’s two ways of looking at this. Firstly it protects copyright by preventing unlicensed copying and distribution (ensuring profits for publishers) and secondly publishers are stepping over the mark by imposing ‘rights’ as ‘restrictions’ that are more extensive then the existing copyright laws for non-digitised text. Unauthorized distribution of digital media has been almost impossible to control and the ebook industry is tackling this from the start; looking at the much pirated music and film industry for guidance.
I have no problem with this ongoing debate. What concerns me is the way in which profits are in the driving seat. The voice of those unable to read the e-book screen is scarely being heard but their access is being denied when ebooks could make a huge difference to quality of life. Blind people use computers – get used to it. Digital data has the potential to transform communication and offer access to information for everyone not just those with eyes to see. The BBC have published three short video clips about e-book readers in the past two weeks and not one mentions access issues.
The lack of media interest in this blatant continuation of discrimination is appalling.
I love the idea that Martha Lane Fox is advocating using digital story lines in soap operas to encourage the ‘missing 10 million’ non-engagers to get online. What a fabulous idea!
At last we can look forward to seeing characters with physical, cognitive and sensory impairment have equal access to the Internet for their shopping and banking and all the other advantages that MLF claims they are missing out on. Soap operas will do what they do best; raise awareness of pertinent, neglected issues and increase pressure on the government to do something about them.
MLF says It’s often the people facing the toughest times who have the most to gain from what the technology has to offer…and as the internet is rapidly becoming a tool for everyday life we should work together to makes sure everyone can benefit.” I couldn’t agree more. But I fear she is missing the point.
Can I suggest that the more the focus is on providing services online (government, health, education, employment, retail etc) and reinforcing the argument that if you are not part of this digital revolution you are losing out – then the more you are disenfranchising the one group who are already struggling with barriers to participation in most of the aspects of daily life we take for granted.
The Government have even set up a Race Online 2012 website. But lauding the technology as having the potential to help those ‘living in some of the hardest social and economic conditions’ is one thing. Reducing the prohibitive cost of anything other than eyes and mouse mainstream access and legislating effectively to ensure workable accessible digital environments is something else altogether. If the government is serious about getting everyone online for 2012 then they have some radical thinking to do.