My doctoral journey has been a maze. Full of dead ends when I wanted it to be a labyrinth with one winding path into the centre, direct with singular intent. I was trapped in Maze City, setting off on false paths, choosing inappropriate directions, getting totally lost. It’s taken a long time to find what I was looking for but with hindsight I can see it was necessary.
A Phd is like a mirror; it reflects who you are and where your interests lie. I didn’t realise how personal it would be although choosing Action Research has reinforced the personal dimension. I thought a PhD was a project. You made your choices about what to do and how to do it then wrote it up like a big essay. Well, not quite that simple but it was more complex than I anticipated. Getting out of the maze and into the labyrinth has been quite a challenge.
There’s confusion about the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. Even the OER refers to them as the same thing. I don’t understand why. The difference is simple. A maze is designed to get you lost. To frustrate and confuse. Mazes are puzzles. They pose problems to be solved. A labyrinth holds no physical secrets. It has a single path into the centre and out again. You can’t get lost in a labyrinth. There’s only one way to go.
A maze is a useful analogy for a PhD. For mine at least. I went off in so many different directions which turned out to be dead ends, made so many new beginnings. Each time thinking this is it – I know where I’m going – only to find I was lost again. The piles of books and papers grew. I chased every reference believing the next one might just have the answers I was looking for.
Everything you hear about the Phd is true. You have to let it take over your life. You’ll be trapped in that box of pathways and passages for some time. I only got out of the maze when the literature started to repeat itself. They tell you that will happen as well but it’s not the literature so much as the resonance. The literature never stops, it just starts to funnel, ever so slowly, as each dead end in the maze helps you put another theoretical approach to one side.
When it came to epistemology and ontology it wasn’t just the words I struggled with, it was finding a meaningful interpretation. It would be easy to adopt a surface approach to these components but the Viva is called a Defence for a reason. It’s hard to defend the choices you’ve made without being able to justify them and this is what being in the maze teaches you. It’s the linguistic duality of signs. We recognise dark because it’s the opposite to light. What isn’t working for you – as in every dead end in the maze – will lead the way to what does. The process is necessary because unless your choices have meaning you’re unlikely to find the links you need to hold your dissertation together.
It’s a dialectical dilemma. Nothing fits but you keep searching. It isn’t until you realise you’re creating rather than finding yourself that the fit begins to take shape. Once this idea has resonance you’re ready to step from the maze onto the opening loop of the labyrinth.
With a PhD you are never lonely. At least, not in the cognitive sense. There’s always something to read, write or reflect on. My enforced immobilisation has been in the company of text. No longer piles of paper and books across my floor. I’ve become neurotic about picking up the smallest bit of anything. Instead I’m surrounded with books on the settee, the coffee table and three dining chairs positioned for the purpose. I won’t slip on paper but I need to take care not to trip over chair legs.
For some time I’ve had problems with PhD boundaries. My reading was unstructured. Books started but not finished. Journal articles would arrive and I’d forget why I wanted them. Some times I’d forget by the time I picked up my printing. I was searching for research validation, for recognition – like a mirror on the pages.
It took time but I’ve found it in slim volume called The Action Research Dissertation*. Dated 2015 it explains how the AR dissertation is the new kid on the block. Not only do the authors give valuable advice on how to prepare for defending your AR, they also offered the resonance I needed. The aim of the action researcher is to study themselves ‘… in relationship to the program [they’ve] developed or to fold the action research immediately back into the program in terms of professional or organisation development…’ (2015:42). I couldn’t have put it better myself; the problem being I didn’t believe researching my own practice this was enough. Some deeply embedded discourse about the nature of academic research was telling me my choice was inadequate. It didn’t fit with anything I was reading and I didn’t know anyone else undertaking a practitioner based doctorate.
Overnight, it feels like boundaries have appeared and this affirmation of my research genre is another threshold on the PhD journey. I’m reminded once more of Castenda in the Tales of Don Juan who describes how he had to find his spot on the porch. He tried a dozen places until one felt right.
‘…I wanted to find it without doing any work because I had expected [Don Juan] to hand out all the information. If he had done so, he said, I would never have learned… I would never have had the confidence needed to claim it as true knowledge. Thus, knowledge was indeed power. (1968: 20)
No matter how qualitative your research, how critically reflexive or emancipatory, it’s still contained within academic discourse and subject to external processes of validation and rigour. In that respect all research is positivist yet there have to be moments on your research journey when intuition draws the lines between all the random marker points. This is where I’ve arrived. Out of the mess of random dots, a shape appears.
*Herr, K. and Anderson, G. L. (2015) The Action Research Dissertation; a guide for students and faculty. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
For many colleagues, the process of reflection is unfamiliar. In the Sociological Imagination C Wright Mills calls sociology the process of ‘making the familiar strange’. TELEDA tries to find ways to ‘make the strange familiar’. They sound like oppositional concepts but Wright Mills suggests tools which can be applied to both. He calls the sociological imaginations a ‘quality of mind’ for uncovering relationships between history and biography, for challenging the accepted and asking critical questions. Reflection is about our actions (history) and ourselves (biography), it requires taking these actions apart and challenging the accepted by asking the critical ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ questions. Reflective writing involves the familiar and the strange in a Mobius Strip type of duality.
Reflection is both description and analysis. It’s taking apart the surface experience to see what lies beneath. The two processes are one and the same but different. The alchemy lies in the action because critical reflect ion on practice reveals insights and understanding which were not there before. Reflective journals record narratives of learning journeys; fixing details and events which would otherwise be forgotten.
When time is tight, CPD activities are the first to go. As the ToDo list gets heavier, the tasks we do for others take priority over those we do for ourselves. Whether it’s HEA accreditation or one of EDEU’s Teacher Education courses it’s less DIY and more DDIY – Don’t Do It Yourself.
Colleagues on TELEDA are amazing; they juggle immense workloads alongside a range of activity based content and the reflective journals show how challenging this can be. I feel guilty about adding to their stress with each gentle reminder of absence or silence. Learning online has the invisible touch. Without a face-to-face timetable, a VLE slips under the surface of consciousness and the longer the lack of participation, the harder it is to re-engage.
Ormond Simpson’s research into retention for online learning is not cheerful reading but the loneliness of the long distance learner has to be experienced to be believed. All e-teachers face the challenge of maintaining motivation and participation in a silent, mostly invisible environment. VLE are where the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of digital education is realised. It’s the experiential learning which makes TELEDA successful but it also increases the risk of failure.
CDP is like digital literacies; there’s no-one-size-fits all model and it’s different for everyone. This is a strength and a weakness. Strength because it invites you to make time for yourself and weakness because no one has enough time to give. We have to find the ‘Me in CPD’ so it isn’t the first thing to get squeezed out but becomes a process we hold on to. To rediscover the value of reflective learning and make opportunities to develop a reflective imagination. Like TELEDA itself, the process of reflection is experiential – you have to do it to find out how useful it can be.
Changes to the DSA puts pressure on institutions to make reasonable adjustments to how they deliver information to students. In particular…through different ways of delivering courses and information. The principle of reasonable adjustment is a duty under the Equality Act. The duty is anticipatory.
The text above is taken from two government statements on the DSA. David Willets in April 2014 announced the expectation HEIs will ‘…introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs and help mainstream support.’ In September Greg Clark announced HEIs now have until September 2016 ‘… to develop appropriate mechanisms to fully deliver their statutory duty to provide reasonable adjustments, in particular non-medical help.’
Institutions should adopt a proactive approach by reviewing their practices – but where to begin?
The language of the statements is revealing. In the first document of 760 words there were 4 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapine. In the second document, 695 words contain 19 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapline and 1 of disabled people. Neither statement uses the words accessibility or inclusion. Yet these exist perfectly well in isolation from the word disabled. We all appreciate access. No one likes to be excluded.
I’ve long wanted to see Lincoln be a fully accessible digital university – but where to begin.
Last month I blogged on the flipped classroom and suggested flipping might be the new e-learning for 21st century. Flipping is about developing lecture by video or podcast, either DIY or from existing OER. Educause say ‘… the ease with which video can be accessed and viewed today has made it so ubiquitous that the flipped model has come to be identified with it.’ This is the reincarnation of early promises of e-learning to enhance – if not transform – the student experience.
Digital educational resources are the virtual equivalent of ramps into public buildings, created for wheelchair users but appreciated by pushers of prams, buggies, shopping trolleys and all. Having content recorded for replay and revision rather than a once-only experience clearly has value for everyone. The principle of universal design is inclusiveness. The problem is social and cultural acceptance of the need to change practice; in particular where it’s associated with disability because of a mindset which sees inclusive digital design as the responsibility of someone else.
To be human is to be habitual. We like routines. We’re busy. We don’t have time to create captions, subtitles, transcripts. It’s bad enough moving from text to multimedia in the first place without having to mess about with alternative formats as well.
Where to begin? This is the question the Inclusive Digital Educational Resources working party will need to answer. It’s going to be tough but someone has to do it. Cue the Educational Development Team in EDEU. Cue me. Watch this space…
Now Youtube is owned by Google, there’s been a rethink about transcripts. Google uses the text from text alternatives in their search technology resulting in a new interest in ensuring inclusive practice. Only they don’t call it this – nor do they use the word accessibility – this is about being searchable and sharable. Put them together with accessibility and what have you got? that’s right – ASS.
YouTube/Google’s automatically generated captions are gibberish. The times when they make a weird sort of sense are often insulting or rude. The database is clearly not censored. Captioning companies claim increased viewing (thereby selling) figures to persuade us textual equivalents are worthwhile investments. Not only for the hearing impaired (and presumably anyone without the necessary access to headphones, speakers etc) subtitles and closed captions have the potential to open up your content to larger audiences, including speakers of other languages. Here is another example of inclusive design arriving through the back door. But so long as it arrives…
It isn’t clear how much google are investing in speech to text technology; they probably own all the captioning companies anyway. For now the onus is on the video producer to ensure their content is ASS – Accessible, Searchable and Sharable. Browser diversity makes it a challenge to provide one size fits all guidance but here are my seven steps to ASS up your video content in YouTube.
1. In the Creator Studio (under the profile menu top right of the YouTube screen) select Edit on the video to be captioned.
2. Select Subtitles and CC from the top navigation bar. The first time you edit a video you’ll be asked to set video language.
3. Choose English (United Kingdom). I found English Automatic offers caption boxes but not the menu with the transcripts options.
4. Click the English (United Kingdom) button to open the menu and select Transcribe and set timings.
5. Two choices – either play the video and type – the option at the bottom to pause video while typing is a useful tool – or copy and paste text directly in from a text file. Either way, when complete, click the Set Timings button.
6. It looks like setting the timings goes on forever but after a few minutes, click on the English (United Kingdom) box again.
|7. This reopens the caption boxes with the text in them. Here you can check and edit. Click the Publish button to complete the task.
There are other ways to add text; you can upload a transcript file but it needs to be saved as a text file first and there are formatting rules to follow. I tried typing in captions as the video played but lost them a couple of times when saving. In places YouTube seems to conflate captions, subtitles and transcripts which can be confusing initially but the 7 steps above, where you use the Transcript and set timings options to import text as captions/subtitles, worked well for me. The Set Timings function appears reliable although browser settings might create some small differences in following this guidance.
There you go – ASS up your videos today!
It’s been a strange week. Immobilised and restricted; never has the A15 in winter seemed such an attractive prospect. Did I really complain about leaving at 6.15 am and often not getting home till past 7.00 pm? It must have been another life. It was. This is my second week with a broken ankle. I’m trying to be good and R.E.S.T. When I broke a bone in my foot two years ago I walked on it and only stopped when the surgeon threatened to put my whole leg in pot. Half a pot is bad enough. This time I’m booted not potted. It’s heavy and high off the ground making one leg lower than the other. At this rate I’ll have hip trouble too – oh wait, I forgot – I’m supposed to be R.E.S.T.I.N.G.
Time off work and the internet are oxymoronic. This is a 21st century anomaly. I can’t walk but I can use a laptop. Broken bones are not illnesses. They’re huge inconveniences, taking away your independence, making you reliant on family and friends to go anywhere and the Asda online shopping van for wine, but I’m not ill. Frustrated and upset but not ill.
Life carries on regardless. To colleagues on TELEDA I’ve always been an email or a Blackboard learning object. My Internet Outlook keeps most of me connected and phone calls fill in the gaps. I have social media although being home alone you realise there’s not much social about it. What’s missing is real life interaction and digital avatars can never take the place of human bodies. As government and institutions adopt ‘digital first’ policies and ever more public services go online, the future looks bleak in terms of empathy. While I’m out and about I’m the first to appreciate the convenience of the internet for enabling me to fit additional tasks into the day but it’s different when it’s the only form of interaction you have. However, inclusion beats exclusion hands down because it’s digital inclusion which enables to me to stay connected when the other aspects of my life have become broken.
This is the third time a bone in my leg has let me down. Always at inconvenient times:
- two weeks into my new job at the university,
- a conference dinner in Stockholm,
- 48 hours before a flight to Dunedin, NZ to present at ASCILITE 2014.
It could have been worse, but as I looked at my foot, pointing in the wrong direction, it felt as bad as it could get. The up side is everyone has been wonderful; my room looks like a flower shop and I have cake, chocolate, grapes and wine – gifts don’t get much better than this. I’m immobilised but still connected and have recorded a narrated version of my presentation ‘e-teaching craft and practice’ which summarises the key points of my paper which can be downloaded here e-teaching craft and practice ASCILITE 2014 Concise Paper Fortunately this had already been uploaded to the conference proceedings so you could call it a break just in time!
The seven step guide to being an e-teacher can be summed up as follows:
- pedagogy of uncertainty; always expect the unexpected, nothing can be predicted
- go do a mooc; experiencing the reality of e-learning will help prepare for e-teaching
- myths of digital confidence; not everyone knows their way around, expect to provide step by step instructions and reassurance
- it takes two to talk; no one wants to go first, e-teachers have to make discussions possible through the design of their tasks
- Activity Based Content (ABC); interaction is key, set up groups and make use of tools like blogs, wikis, forums and journals
- signposting; new students feel overwhelmed by too much information, provide content in layers and hyperlink to non-essential resources
- identity blur, virtual education is different, e-teachers can expect to become facilitators of learning experiences from back of stage rather than in the spotlight
e-teaching calls for a digital lens to be applied to teacher education programmes. The ‘e’ in e-teaching is not a pedantic endeavour. It’s the other side of e-learning; the side which has always received less attention but is equally important.
Time for renewed interest in Academic Digital Literacies is nigh. The principles of flipped learning are one of the ten reports in the OU’s third edition of Innovating Pedagogy. Suddenly the flip is all the rage, It’s popping up in conferences and being talked about in high places. It’s too early to say if interest in the flipped classroom go the way of other initiatives – flip in and flip out – with the transmissive lecture remaining a key pillar of a higher education experience – but if not, then the VLE’s time might finally have arrived.
Flipping learning involves releasing content prior to lectures. Reluctance to upload slides and notes before lectures still exists but the practice has been a recommendation for some time. Research shows it supports learning and fears of students not turning up can be allayed by keeping relevant content back for the face-to-face experience. The preferred medium for flipping is video; either recordings of lectures or alternative lecture-related resources with contact time being used for interactive discussion and group work.
There are a number of reasons why current interest in the flip might catch on:
- The ability to rewind and repeat: internationalisation is often cited but while this might be helpful for those with English as a second language, user controlled video is useful for all.
- Changes to the DSA: starting September 2015 this will require institutions to revisit the provision of teaching resources. Accessible text, image, audio and video, which can be customised to suit the user requirements, has long been a strength of digital materials. Flipped learning is an opportunity to revisit the design and delivery of online content and ensure inclusive practice guidelines are followed.
- The Single Equality Act: requires a proactive approach; no one should have to request content in an alternative format – it should be provided from the start.
- User generated content: increasing quality of video and audio recorded on handheld mobile devices, and presented via free video editing apps, supports low budget ‘good enough’ production. DIY multimedia has become a reality.
- Academic digital literacies: the learning curve is getting steeper for those still reluctant to engage in digital ways of working but institutional interest in flipped learning may well lead to recognition that the adoption academic digital literacies requires investment in CPD time and resources.
Closer to home, Lincoln is installing a streaming media server with a site-wide license for camtasia relay; software supporting screen capture and voice over. Editing functions are limited but you can top, tail and chop. A multimedia powerpoint has become perfectly possible with educational licenses for the full Camtasia Studio less than £100.
Lincoln also has Blackboard Collaborate with the ability to record live synchronous video teaching with an interactive whiteboard, sharing desktop and internet tour facilities. A webcam, microphone and speakers is enough to get you started.
Lastly, there is the new Inclusive Digital Educational Resources working party which I’m chairing; under the Learning Support and Environment Standing Group. The remit is to come up with a set of recommendations to feed back to the Education and Student Life Committee for ensuring the digital learning environment at Lincoln is a fully accessible digital university.
Flipping the classroom might well become e-learning for the 21st century university.
TELEDA is on Twitter. We’ve had our first Tweet Meets. These are synchronous events, also known as Twitter Chat or Twitter Party. Social media creates connections which can lessen the isolation of learning online and on TELEDA we’re learning how. Tuesday, between 8-9 a.m. and 7-8 p.m., and again 8-9 a.m. Thursday, colleagues were invited to pose questions using the hashtag #askTELEDA. Tweets were collected via Storify 4th November and 6th November
Setting up @TELEDALincoln has exposed my own lack of Twitter Literacies. I could tweet and follow, throw in the occasional hashtag, but my performance had no depth. I didn’t really understand how Twitter worked. I’m still not sure I fully get it – or if I need to. This reinforces how shallow our digital literacies can be. We learn what’s needed to perform online. We become good enough. The Tweet Meets raised a number of interesting questions:
Management of multiple twitter accounts for work and non-work subjects
Boundaries between professional and personal online identities
Profile image choices? (@TELEDALincoln is an egghead. I loved the suggestion it looked like a finger on the button!)
Ways to engage students with Twitter
Ideas and recommends for people/organisations to follow
There were also suggestions for the most appropriate hashtag e,g, #Tweetites, #Tweetettes or #Tweetpeeps I like #teledites but I collect fossils so I would. #twite-quette was been used with regard to manners and #tw_eat_ing for twitter at meal times. Clearly, creativity is another reason to engage with tweeting! #askTELEDA collated useful Twitter themed resources.
Not bad for the first week! There are multiple reasons for engaging with Twitter, not least because it separates the hype from the reality. 140 characters encourages precision with words, attention to sentence construction, rethinking how to communicate via text. These are all useful transferable skills. Twitter is like following a blog but quicker. Another name for tweeting is micro-blogging. The choice of who to follow is influenced by shared interests. Like wiki’s which harness the collective wisdom of crowds, Twitter offers links to information and alternative perspectives. what’s not to like?
Ultimately, Twitter is what you make of it. An online identity has become a prerequisite of professional practice. It shows engagement with digital ways of working and encourages us to consider how our digital selves mirror and extend our personality. Although the internet supports anonymity and alternative construction of character, we’re as recognisable online as off. Even in 140 characters or less.
image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/10306627/Twitter-IPO-14-fun-facts.html
Not sure if it was me or the theme but my blog broke so I’m on the hunt for a new one. This raises the inevitable questions. Why blog in the first place? What are the benefits? Who reads it? Is there anyone there? Blogging is the TELEDA topic for 21st – 28th November. Blogging ties in with the TELEDA Reflective Journal and portfolio style assessment which asks for critical narratives of the TELEDA journey. This seems like a useful place and time for some bloggeration
Why blog in the first place?
Well, why not? In a digital society, an online presence says things about you. It suggests you’ve engaged with virtual worlds, have considered your identity in pixels, can demonstrate some literacies with text and images, use reflection to achieve deeper approaches to professional development. Above all, it indicates you’ve accepted the influence of the internet on higher education. Technology is here to stay and there is much work to do in order to better understand how to use it to enhance student learning. A blog is a good place for exploring and sharing your ideas, practice and research around these areas.
What are the benefits of blogging?
In squeezed times, where priorities are continually juggled, blogging offers a point in the week for pulling together the disparate strands of your working life. It’s an opportunity to focus on a single topic, try out a new idea, demonstrate progress – or find the value in lack of it which is itself a worthwhile exercise. Blogging encourages you to keep to deadlines, develop an appropriate style and learn to write with precision and conciseness. Blogging is a mirror of your professional practice, it’s an opportunity to take control of your image before someone else does. Blogging also has the potential for networking with like-minded people on an international scale; this sharing of ideas and practice can be both affirming and inspirational.
Who reads it anyway?
This is harder to answer. Any blogger has to be comfortable with the idea of blogging for an audience of one and the cat. Yet someone might come across your tiny space on the internet and you want to make a good impression, so the craft of blogging is important. Categories and tags help ensure your blog pops up on searches (always have this function enabled) and new readers are picked up from a blog address on your email signature, online profiles like Twitter and Linkedin or from business cards. You can use Google Analytics to trace traffic to your blog and discover which posts were most popular but overall, I think audience numbers are probably less important than the craft and practice of blogging itself – for all the reasons already cited – and there will be more.
Like all digital literacies, blogs are personal. They reflect who you are and what you do and everyone has different blog drivers. It’s like the lottery – you have to be in it to win it. You need to give blogging a try to discover benefits.