Doug Peterson says ‘One of my first questions when I meet an educator is what’s the address of your blog?’ Doug’s JISC piece lists reasons for having an online presence. These include blogging for research, employability and simply yourself. One of the reasons I hear for not blogging is not having anything to say. Really? Nothing? Doug says there’s no such thing as a bad blog. Well, with respect, I disagree. There are plenty of blogs which are too long, too wordy and plain boring but I get his point. Better to blog badly and have an online presence rather than not at all. It’s about digital engagement. Social media are creating niche networks within higher education. Activities like blogging and tweeting emphasise divides between those who do and those who don’t. The gap is getting wider but it’s largely invisible. Like attracts like. If you do it’s with others who do. If you don’t you are less likely to be reading this in the first place.
This week I picked up from a tweet a piece in THES by Bob Harrison about making FE more of a digital experience. Here is the same old language of technology transformation. ‘Hopefully says Bob, ‘this time the transformative potential of technology for learning will be recognised rather than ignored’ People have been saying this since 1997 and the Dearing Report into the future of higher education. Today’s use of technology is mostly limited to uploading documents to a VLE. While this offers 24/7 access to information, the VLE can do so much more in terms of collaborative interaction. The problem is shifting from a repository approach to an activity one. Bob says we need ‘critically, refreshed workforce skills’, a ‘paradigm shift in how learning programmes are designed, delivered and assessed’ (cue favourite image!) and it’s ‘important to remember technology-enhanced blended learning is not a cheap option.’ We know all this. It’s the doing it which is the problem. The article linked to an Opinion piece in the TES about teaching digital literacy.
(This is the risk of social media – one thing leads to another and another until an hour is gone – does this make me digitally literate, a champion procrastinator or internet addict?)
Matt Dean says ‘FE needs to work out how to teach digital literacy.’ It was reminiscent of the 2007 blog post about technically illiterate teachers. The question for Matt is not should we teach digital literacy, but how to do teach it well. Good question but Matt is writing about students. The academic staff perspective is missing. HE have the same issues. I think we need to go back further and look at how teachers develop their own digital skills and identities in the first place. To see digital capabilities as ways of being and seeing as well as knowing which buttons to click. Digital divides are growing but for most institutions, access has become less of an issue than meaningful engagement. This is where help is needed. Rather than ‘teach digital literacy’ in isolation, it should be embedded in the curriculum to help ensure digital graduate attributes. In staff development and teacher education programmes to support staff trying out digital pedagogies and practices in safe supportive environments. We not only need to change what we do but change how we think and this is the challenge.
A new phrase has appeared in JISC World. Print impairment. It describes difficulty with accessing text-based resources. Alistair McNaught writes ‘Between 10-13% of people in the UK … have difficulty accessing text-based resources, varying from dyslexia through to visual impairments and motor difficulties.’
The source of this figure is uncertain. 2020 Vision is cited but they have no reference. The RNIB estimate over 2 million people experience sight loss while Dyslexia Action say approximately 10% of the population is thought to be dyslexic with a total of two million people severely affected. There will be cross overs between these estimates and also all those who’ve not been counted. Print impairment is likely to be more prevalent than we realise.
The JISC post is about digital exams. Rather than extra time, extra readers, extra rooms or DIY digital versions of exam papers, the Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) now requires ‘awarding bodies to offer digital copies of exam papers for print-disabled learners’. Here the language reverts to the D word which is a shame. More on this at later.
Digging through the literature the initiative appears directed at schools but the JISC paper Making the most of accessible exam papers highlights potential problems which are applicable anywhere technology is used for education. The files provided by awarding bodies will be available as PDF so the onus is on the institution to ensure compatibility with assistive reading tools and support for the accessibility features of Adobe Reader. As with all things digital, this is not without complications. Laptops used during exams must meet the security requirements of awarding bodies and staff who teach and support learning will need confidence with operating in assistive technology environments. While JISC suggest ‘Extra time taken in updating staff skills and giving learners good technology training should be outweighed by the reduced support needs of learners.’ anything which involves additional work load plus digital engagement is likely to be unpopular. The paper recommends disability support teams ‘train learners to make the most of examination papers in PDF format.’ The term ‘train learners’ is terrible. What happened to educate? But aside from the pedantics, this suggestion replicates and reinforces what has always been wrong with disability education – the responsibility for accessible practice is seen as belonging elsewhere. It’s something which is done by a few for a few rather than inclusion being a mainstream philosophy and practice. The term print-impairment offers hope but print-disability takes us right back where we started from.
At least the post re-acknowledged the value of digital environments. It isn’t possible to over emphasise these. Digital text provides the ability to change colours, magnify text and images and navigate swiftly through a document – things that significantly reduce the barriers for people with print impairments. What isn’t mentioned is content has to be designed inclusively for this to happen!
These are key messages which are still largely unheard and unacknowledged. As always the message from JISC World looks good on the surface but dig deeper and the potential for inclusive practice risks erosion from a lack of understanding about the inclusive value of digital resources and the wider – even greater – challenge of resistance to change.
Technology is a great change-agent. Over the past two decades internet access has influenced teaching and learning, some would say disrupted it, by challenging traditional pedagogical patterns and relationships. Students can be directed to information sources rather than their teachers being that source, offering the potential for more autonomous learning. Traditional text and images are being supplemented or replaced by audio and video while investments continue to be made to educational technology infrastructures. Yet evidence of impact on learning itself remains scarce.
Now there’s a new kid on the block. Apps for supporting education. Jisc is taking a lead on promoting mobile and linking it to inclusive practice.
‘…the ability for learners to personalise their device, to have it constantly set up for their use, removes a barrier to learning. Far from providing a hindrance, therefore, mobile learning is a great boon to students with disabilities. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/mobile-learning/mobile-learning-myths
At a time when institutions are needing to consider their duty to make reasonable adjustments, in particular with regard to the provision of teaching and learning resources due to proposed changes to the DSA, JISC are suggesting APP-Awareness might help.
‘Smart phones and tablet devices can provide students who have physical, cognitive or sensory limitations with a portable alternative to specialist hardware and software.’ http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/are-you-using-mobile-technologies-to-support-inclusive-practice-10-apr-2015
Aside from personal views on determinist approaches to educational technology and the danger of BYOD being digitally divisive, I see this as a step in the right direction. Jisc have created opportunities to talk about accessibility and the app-potential for ‘personalisation features that can be changed to suit learner preferences’ (op.cit.)
For Apps to work, the content they’re working with has to be inclusive. This means barriers to App-access have to be identified and removed. To be App-aware is to consider accessibility and take it seriously. Apps might even be the way to reconsider the whole issue of access and digital divides.
So I’d say Go JISC. Go Mobile. Let’s all get Appy.
I’ve spent the week up close and personal with eportfolios. I love them! What a challenge. I can’t imagine a better way for demonstrating evidence of learning outcomes on a course designed for teaching and learning in a digital age. eportfolios step you outside the confines of a Word document. Hyperlinks and multimedia bring your assignment to life. This is creative non-fiction at its best. Neither frivolous nor irrelevant but bringing students and tutors face to face with digital literacies and digital scholarship. Higher education needs to loosen up. Explore the affordance of digital communication. Engage students in the application of their digital worlds to education.
As far back as 2008 JISC’s Learner’s Experience of elearning showed students arrive on campus with a variety of digital tools but little idea of how they can be used for learning. The Great Expectations of ICT report in 2007 found use of the internet and social media was the norm for those planning to come to university. The tools are all in place. We need to reinvent how we use them for teaching and learning. The divide between those comfortable with the technology and those still resisting engagement continues to widen and deepen. As learning curves get steeper individuals stay within their comfort zones. I understand. I cant use refworks. I get lost in GoogleX. As for the Blackboard Grade Centre I might as well give up and go home.
Coming face to face with the reality of using eportfolios for assessment has been a shock, a surprise and a revelation. More difficult than I anticipated but this is what happens when the theory hits the fan. Properly resourced and supported, eportfolios, may be an answer to encouraging toe dipping into digital waters, extending what is known, exploring what isn’t. I’ve been impressed with my eportfolio experience. It hasn’t been easy but nothing worth while ever is. I think there ‘s scope for revisiting how eportfolios can support digital graduate attributes, teacher education and staff development. I for one would be happy to take this forward.
At last the government acknowledges digital exclusion is about more than access to technology – it is also about the quality of that access. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20236708 Digital literacies are moving centre stage. This is reassuring. For too long the focus has been embedding technology into systems or attention to early adopters pushing the boundaries. It’s time the user experience received some attention.
This past year the JISC Developing Literacies Programme has funded projects designed to embed core digital skills into the curriculum. JISCs definition of digital literacy is those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. Within HE they give examples of using digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; PDP and showcasing achievements. But it’s not easy to package digital literacies into any single box and this makes strategic approaches to supporting their development a tricky task.
A report commissioned by Go On has concluded 16 million people in the UK lack basic online skills; defined as using a search engine, sending and receiving emails, completing online applications and accessing information online. Organisations are pledging to train their employees in these four areas. This barely scratches the surface when the full implications of digital engagement are set out. Broader digital literacies have become essential life skills for example personal and financial safety online, the permanence of digital footprints and hard criticality with regard to online content. In an unmoderated environment, the evaluation of authenticity and authority lies with the individual user. Distinguishing between knowledge information and personal opinion is an increasingly essential art – and not always an easy one.
Being let loose on the internet can be exciting and inspiring. It can also quickly become a nightmare. Digital literacies have moved on from the skills required to access virtual environments, although there is a danger these are assumed more than are in evidence. However, I’m not sure they have moved far enough. There are broader issues around living in a digital society which are surfaced less often. Any attention to digital literacies is good but the attention has to be focused in the right places for it to be truly effective
Perceptions are shifting with regard to digital literacies. The phrase is now taking on much broader professional and public dimensions as well as personal ones.
Recently the Guardian Higher Education Network published twenty ways of thinking about digital literacy. Helen Beetham calls for ethical responsibilities in environments where public and private are blurred. This is the professional aspect of digital literacies; recognising the need for multiple identities and knowing where to draw the lines between them. Presentation of self online to family and friends is different to the presentation of self in work environments. Digital interaction with clients, customers and service users differs from interaction with students, colleagues and management. Understanding the permanence of digital footprints and the speed at which digital content can be taken out of context and spread across world wide networks is too easy to underestimate, as is the unpredictable behaviour of strangers online. We don’t know what other people will do with our content making it critical to think before uploading and bear in mind the limitless breadth and depth of digital landscapes.
Sue Thomas says nothing exists in isolation. We need to consider a range of information and communication media and adopt holistic and inclusive approaches to transliteracies. However, inclusion means more convergence across than multiple forms of expression. Inclusion is the public aspect of digital literacies. It refers to the dichotomy of digital practices where the technology which enables access can also deny it unless steps are taken to ensure barrier free ways of working. The university of the future needs to be many things and one of these is the producer of students who are aware of the parameters of digital divides and know how to recognise and challenge instances of digital exclusion.
The triad of the public, the professional and the personal lies at the core of higher education with its focus on critical reflective practice and social responsibility. If the relevant and appropriate digital literacies for a digital age are to be embedded as whole institution strategies then their public, professional and personal dimensions must be recognised and supported too.
HEA have updated Pedagogy for Employability, first published in 2006. The report distinguishes employment as a graduate outcome from pedagogy for employability, where the knowledge, skills and attributes which support continued learning and career development are embedded in the teaching and learning curriculum.
There is no mention in this report of the word digital (as in digital literacies, digital graduate attributes) and only one single mention of Internet which occurs in a list of employers employability skills namely the application of information technology which contains the following: basic IT skills, including familiarity with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and use of internet search engines.
Considering the social impact of the Internet and the prevalence of digital ways of working, it could be suggested this is a low level set of expectations with no mention of the critical evaluation of online content, boundaries between public and personal online identity or behaviour, professional standards with email or the principles of data protection. Employers must prefer employees to demonstrate digital graduate attributes such as these but where are they supposed to develop them?
The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme recognises the need for embedding them in the curriculum for all staff and students in UK further and higher education, saying ‘many learners enter further and higher education lacking the skills needed to apply digital technologies to education’. Where 90% of new jobs require excellent digital skills, improving digital literacy has become an essential component of developing employable graduates so it’s disappointing to see a 2012 document looking at Pedagogy for Employability where the only digital literacies mentioned are those listed above.
While the soapbox is out, this seems an appropriate point to mention the new Admissions Guidelines for social work students. At a time when the Social Work Reform Board have been reviewing social work education, and the existing QAA Subject Benchmarks for social work offer the best model across the sector for ensuring digital graduate attributes, a new set of competencies have been devised. Future applicants will have to demonstrate they are in possession of the appropriate information technology skills prior to the start of their programme namely they have the ability to use basic IT facilities, including word processing, internet browsing and use of email.
At some point the phrase basic IT skills needs to be redefined to include the commonly used definition of digital literacies namely’ those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society’. These are far more than file management, email and the use of internet search engines.
Today is the start of a HEA Change Academy programme. This is part of the Embedding OER Practice in Institutions project here at the University of Lincoln. The project is looking at the philosophy and practice of open education and the use and reuse of OER and embedding that practice across the whole institution. The Change Academy is about supporting institutional change by working with staff and students to create those conditions most conducive to change. Engagement with OER is part of a much wider picture of the use of technology for learning which includes VLEs, Web 2.0 style tools and social media –as well as familiarity with the open education movement in general and open educational resources in particular. Even higher and wider to this is the individual need for confidence and competence working within digital environments and understanding what makes effective digital learning experiences. All of this involves change – in particular the adoption of digital literacies – those skills and understandings which are essential to teaching, learning and professional practice in a digital age. The Change Academy will help ensure individual project outcomes can be sustainable and identify ways for embedding them at departmental and Faculty level while overall project guidance to OER practice within teaching and learning aims to bring in all other academic and professional support staff from across the university. Watch this space for further developments…
Embedding Open Educational Resources (OER) Practice in Institutions is a £50,000 project funded under the HEFCE/JISC/HEA OER Programme: Higher Education Institutional Change (HEIC) Strand. The aim of the project is to support Open Educational Resources (OER) policy and practice as a whole institution approach here at the University of Lincoln. Six project teams have been set up to look at how OER can be used to support different aspects of the student experience and I will be coordinating their progress over the next year. The six project areas are:
- Supporting Transition with OER
- Using OER to introduce the processes of reflection/critical thinking in Year One Semester One.
- Exploring the use of OER for embedding ‘employability’ in the undergraduate curriculum.
- OER and e-portfolios for students and practice educators or mentors on undergraduate and postgraduate work-based learning award.
- Exploring and embedding the use of OERs on PGCert/HE…and beyond.
- Project Six: Behind the Scenes: supporting OER as a whole institution philosophy.
Alongside scoping, using and repurposing OER, the HEA will run an internal Change Academy programme at Lincoln. This process includes specific development opportunities for the team leaders and an ongoing support network for all team members. The Change Academy programme supports both rapid innovation and capacity-building for longer-term change and aims to provide creative environments to focus on planning and developing strategies for lasting change. This will be an excellent way to expand the outcomes and successes of individual projects across the wider departments and Faculties while working towards the institution wide adoption of the philosophy and practice of OER. In doing so there will also be opportunities to surface the associated digital literacies requirements of students and staff and address inclusive digital practices. A win-win situation!
Further details about the programme can be found at the project blog http://oer.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk
The phrase digital literacies is currently here, there and everywhere. 13 JISC projects have been funded under the JISC Grant 4/11 Digital Literacies Call and there is the further invitation from JISC to selected organisations to submit bids to support the JISC Developing Digital Literacies (DDL) Programme. All great opportunities for successful institutions to get digital literacies on the agenda and establish a whole institution approach to engaging, enhancing and embedding those capabilities which are so essential for living and working in a digital society.
Defining digital literacies is not easy. In their Grant 4/11 Call, JISC propose a neutral definition which follows the lead of the European Union and the JISC-funded LLiDA project: ‘ digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society’ JISC go on to list a range of literacies including ICT/computer/information and media literacies along with communication and collaboration, digital scholarship, learning skills and life planning – all having relevance within higher education. Interestingly there is no explicit reference to digital literacies as social practices.
In August I submitted a bid ‘Getting Started with OER’ under the HEA/JISC UK OER Phase 3 Programme Strand 3: Embedding OER Practice in Institutions. The bid aimed to align the strategic embedding of OER with Getting Started, the University of Lincoln’s institution-wide initiative designed to support the student transition into higher education. Using an existing project as a vehicle is viewed as a strength and there’s no doubt it offers ready made opportunities for embedding new ways of working, and promoting the behavioural shifts required for change. No surprise that my OERs would be concerned with digital literacies. The real surprise was the HEA saying too few applications had been received so they were looking at alternative ways to support the university in taking this bid forward.
I wonder how much the decision was influenced by the subject matter. So many assumptions are made about the digital confidence and competencies of both staff and students but the reality is the digital divide is increasing. As those comfortable with technologies for learning push off into the distance towards a brave new digital world, so even those with some experience are getting left behind. As for those yet to engage, the divide is becoming a potentially unbridgeable one.
The worry is the continual social shaping of digital technologies and the assumptions around too narrow a range of access criteria. While I’ve spoken about this within the community, in particular for users of assistive technology, I see it increasingly becoming an issue within the university. The sector focus on digital literacy is critical for both graduate attributes and teacher education – but care is needed that in this flush new world of cash for addressing digital literacies, the existing exclusive parameters of access are highlighted and challenged rather than replicated and reinforced.