As Blackboard faces upgrading and the procurement process grinds on, Getting Started offers its annual overview of the ways the VLE is used across the university. On a scale from good, less good to not at all. Getting Started has always had differential levels of participation. I believe the disparity has less to do with attitudes to transition and is more a reflection of the way Blackboard is used across individual practice. As a T&L Coordinator supporting the use of technology, the gaps suggest I’m not doing a very good job. My current downer on all things virtual continues. Students like their VLE but workshops and surveys suggest differential use between modules and courses is an increasing cause for concern. The question of minimum standards has been mooted although how this would be mandated or policed is less clear. I get despondent over exclusive practices, but there are bigger issues around initial engagement in the first place. Feenberg * may be right. The technology has failed. As Laurillard ** says we are on the brink of transformation – but have been there for some time.
Maybe if we took the technology away?
My MA in Open and Distance Learning with the OU was delivered online. Four of six modules used a variety of tools and assessment activities. I chose the last two from social science. Resources were delivered in traditional distance learning style; cardboard boxes full of cds and books. No online element – not even a discussion. Assignments were posted and returned hand marked. This was not long ago. I learned as much about the affordances of technology to enhance learning, and the power of online communities of shared practice to create new knowledge, by their absence as their presence.
Getting Started is a useful snapshot of VLE engagement. I call for inclusive practice but if Blackboard is not being used, or is a holding place for a collection of Word documents, conversation around TechDis Accessibility Essentials or the DDA/Equality Act is doomed. The gap between my conception of virtual learning and the reality of a VLE as a repository for Word and PowerPoint requires rethinking. Discussions around the Digital Education Strategy need to focus on the low end-user and non-user. Pushing up to blue skies will not address resistance.
Is resistance to Blackboard political or personal? Is it indicative of broader attitudes to internet enabled communication and information? You may as well ask if exclusive practice is deliberate or inadvertent? No one intentionally sets out to exclude. There is innovative and exciting use of Blackboard across the university but they remain in pockets. The problem with technology is the divide between those advocating use and those who are the users. The digital divide has less to do with access and more the way access is managed and the continual problem of content being presented in single formats based on assumptions the user can access it. I don’t have the answer in the present economic climate. All I know is in their relationship with technology, people will find their own level and stay there. It might not be effective or inclusive – but without increased human resource and ring fenced funding to support change – the current situation of good, less good or not at all is probably about as good as it gets.
* Feenburg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf
** Laurillard, D. (2008) Digital technologies and their role in achieving our ambitions for education http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/628/1/Laurillard2008Digital_technologies.pdf
Failure is not an Option! https://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/06/02/failure-is-not-an-option/
Digital ways of working are changing the way we communicate and manage information. The implications for higher education include more virtual management of teaching, learning and research, greater online collaboration and more steps towards openness. The open education movement with its emphasis on using, reusing and repurposing is an inevitable consequence of the internet and one we have to accept. As VC of the OU Martin Bean said in his excellent opening keynote, the internet is here to stay, students have increasing expectations of openness and sharing, and OER is an ustoppable force.
At Lincoln we are embedding OER practice and investigating the use of OER to support generic aspects of the student experience; transition, reflection, graduate attributes and eportfolios. We are developing a postgraduate online course called Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age which will be offered as part of the university’s Teacher Education Programme. This will be based on content released as OER, include activities which encourage staff to search for OER in their own discipline and consider releasing some of their own content as OER. All this within the context of the shift from classrooms to virtual environments.
The Creative Commons website http://creativecommons.org has information about the six different OER/Creative Commons licences and a tool for deciding which to choose. OER don’t have to be all singing all dancing multimedia. They are about learning experiences. One single learning activity, designed as a package with alternative formats and information about the level it is designed for and how it has been used, can be more powerful than any amount of expensively produced high end content.
The Embedding OER Practice blog is at http://OER.lincoln.ac.uk and our Twitter hashtag is #openlincoln. On 21st June we held a conference called Sharing Practice: Open Approaches to Teaching and Learning This is the language we are using to take the project forward. OER don’t exist in isolation. They are part of the bigger picture which is about sharing practice and about open approaches to the way in which we manage pedagogy in a digital age.
This week I officially begin Year 3 and Unit 5 of my MA in Open and Distance Education. The subject has enhanced and deepened my engagement with my work, given me a theoretical background and opportunities to meet and debate relevant issues with a wider audience; I couldn’t have had a better subject to work with. Unit 5 is Identity in Question. This takes me back to the research of my first MA in Gender Studies and forward to issues I want to research in the future; social and cultural attitudes towards difference. I’m looking forward to re-engaging with the theoretical baselines and testing their application to issues around to student’s perceptions of themselves in relation to higher education.
The first four Units were delivered online but this is a traditional distance learning course and already I feel isolated. I’ve got used to the textual introductions and emoticons, the sharing of photographs, of where we are and what we do. I’ve actively taken part in the creation of Wenger’s community of practice, the first stages in Salmon’s 5step model, constructing Laurillard’s conversational framework, building Garrison and Anderson’s Social Presence. I’ve experienced, tried and tested, all these theories over the past two years but this is going to be different. I’ve had one email from my tutor about dates for ‘telephone tutorials’ but no reference to how this will take place. I’m assuming Skype but I don’t know for sure. In previous units we used First Class but have no software this time. I don’t like telephones. I don’t even have one at home. I prefer the keyboard. In previous units we’ve been encouraged to blog, to build an electronic portfolio and collaborate through wikis as well as use the traditional discussion forum. Suddenly all of that is missing. How can I ‘learn’ interactively with my colleagues when we are not virtually connected? The loneliness of the distance learner will be exacerbated by the lack of digital engagement. It feels like a backward step into a pre-internet world. Without the regular logging on to see what others are saying about the week’s subject matter, how will I stay motivated and engaged?
The benefit of blogging is the provision of a unique forum for reflection. The reality is it takes time. I know that multiple blogs will not work so this blog will become my work and my study blog. The integration will be interesting process.