TELEDA; an exercise in the pedagogy of uncertainty

As the TELEDA Induction period comes to a close, the discussion forum is feeling the linear stretch. Participation has been high. It’s a long way to scroll down on a single thread. Future discussions will use different techniques but colleagues don’t know this yet. One of the intentions of TELEDA is to explore Blackboard; not only the hardware itself but the ways it’s used by colleagues on the course. There is no one size fits all model. We are as different online as we are off it.  The aim of TELEDA is enhancing teaching and learning – like the old TQEF mantra for those who remember the days of the Best Practice Office – but it’s not without risk.  New course nerves are high. I know what lies ahead but colleagues don’t. I know the different effects the learning blocks aim to achieve and how activities are structured to demonstrate poor practice as much as good – we learn as much from errors as successes – don’t we? 🙂 but at the moment no one else knows this. There’s always the risk of the risky going wrong.  

The pressure for retention and completion on blended and distance courses is high. In spite of elearning’s failure to live up to its rhetoric, the echo of the promise remains. MOOC are creating renewed interest in blended and distance delivery but e-paths are strewn with lost intentions.  ppt and doc files don’t constitute motivation and excitement. T&L can be difficult to achieve face to face – online they’re ten times harder. Blackboard can’t smile or be empathetic. The human aspect of teaching and learning is seriously challenged by digital technology.

I hope TELEDA – with its stress on experiential learning – shows what it’s like to be a distant student with all the work overload, competing priorities and inevitable technology blips (these are not intentional I promise!) I hope the potential for loneliness and frustration is balanced by an eclectic mix of resources and the sharing of practice through discussions and activities.  I look forward to seeing how the interaction on the first learning block develops. One thing I’ve learned about having your own programme is you can’t see it for the first time. Like missing your typos when someone else spots them immediately.  Writing online resources is like authoring a paper or a poem. You reach the point where you have to let go.

TELEDA is an exercise in the pedagogy of uncertainty.  I can’t predict participation or responses to my methodology. Staying out of the online introductions was deliberate. I worried it looked like I was ignoring everyone when in reality I’ve read every post and journal and found it hard not to respond to the funny, relevant and thought provoking comments. What will colleagues do in their own practice? Will they join in the initial introductions or stay away? What was it like to go into an online discussion for the first time? How can you design for students unless you can walk in their shoes?

On the cusp between Induction and Learning Block One I’m holding my breath, looking forward to summarising the induction discussions, commenting on reflective journals and getting in there. This is TELEDA on Blackboard. An experiment in teacher education. An idea which, with the help of PGCE tutor and colleagues, grew into a pilot and is now standing on its own digital feet, raring to go.

Fighting poetry and phd – I’m never sure which side I’m on

Silhouette taken in St John's Baptistry, Florence, October 2013

Septet is seven poems of seven lines, each with seven syllables. Today is 31st October. Hail All Hallows Eve – let the shadows through…


October is the gothic
month. Mildewed roses blacken
Squash cords rot on frozen earth.
Death is wearing tatty rags.
Petals droop while pumpkins glow
and crisp swarovski spiders
spin out crystal studded webs.



Hail All Hallows Eve, when the
sun shrinks and cold space between
the living and the dead fades
to gossamer. Iced air chills.
Veils shiver in the dark, as
ghosts stir, waiting to be hailed
and summoned by the living.


The wheel turns. Icy Mabon
fingers shred the veil between
the worlds. The dead look through the
ragged space, once kissed faces
grey as mould, drained of blood, search
for lovers lost, pleading eyes
desperate with impunity.

Come back my love, look I’ve set
a place for you beside me.
Here are your favourite things, and
see, I’m wearing all the clothes
you liked the best. Come back to
me tonight, let me see your
smile and touch you once again.

Sprinkled with frost diamonds the
earth sleeps, its cold, quiet rest
undisturbed by growth, only
brassicas bear witness to
the intricate complexity
of sugar-peppered iced loam
topped with tiny cabbages.


Wet snow kisses melt like dreams
which fade on waking. They say
every flake is different,
and I try to understand,
but the uniqueness of each
complex shape escapes me,
like your presence in my dreams.



This is the time clairvoyants
turn to paisley curls of frost
for divination, or skry
flicking flames of fire as they
invoke salamanders to
their charge, and demand they bring
the sun inside for winter.



TELEDA begins; teaching and learning in a digital age

Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) is the university’s first online teacher education programme. It offers 30 M level cats and a second course is being designed to create a PG Certificate in Online Education for commencement next September.  Exciting times ahead!

TELEDA 2 opened with a ten day induction period on 23 October. Participants are virtually gathering. Induction is the first step of any online learning experience. It’s time for settling into the course and introducing the tools and outcomes. TELEDA is heavy on reflective practice as well as communication and collaboration.  Underpinned with the principles of staged interaction based on Salmon’s Five Step Model and Laurillard’s Conversational Framework, TELEDA has evolved from my experience supporting virtual education as well as being an online learner with the OU.

The new updated Blackboard is an improvement aesthetically. Visual elements influence participation and I find the discussion boards look better.  I’m not saying the new Blackboard is perfect but poor design can contribute to resistance and these forums are easier on the eye, have a neat link to unread items plus a facility for bunching conversations. I also like the notification feature which gives an overall indication of new content.

Contrary to what the rhetoric of elearning would have us believe,  online education is never an easy option. Garrison and Anderson identify three key presences; teaching, cognitive and social which need to come together, venn diagram style, for successful digital pedagogy. Building an online community (a la Wenger) for sharing practice can create powerful learning experiences. Over the years I’ve seen courses which build online participation through discussions and activities have the highest retention and completion rates.

TELEDA evolved from Embedding OER Practice as well as being a concious decision to multiple-task in resource strapped times. Rather than advise colleagues about creating online environments, I thought the experience of being an online student might be more effective. Using the same principle, I’m designing online workshops for the School of Journalism to precede discussions around developing blended and distance learning. Stepping out alone is challenging but feedback suggests experiential learning as professional development has potential. The internet is here to stay. VLE’s are not going anywhere – regardless how some days we wish the technology might get up and leave the building! For all their problems and difficulties, the vle supports widening participation. The policy worked for me. Now it’s my turn to support whatever any-time any-place any-where format needed to ensure widening higher education experiences remain achievable aspirations rather than impossible dreams.  

Digital photography and WordPress; a better solution required

I liked the NetGen Gallery WordPress plugin for photos. When you’ve had an event or been to a conference it’s useful to have an easy way to show pictures, especially if you’re a snapaholic blogger. It seems there’s no longer anything reliable for creating WordPress albums. I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

lost images from the banks of the river humber

Digging around my computer drive revealed a folder of images dated 2008. They included this one which seems to have escaped all my backup strategies. I haven’t seen it since possibly 2008.  This is relevant because it reinforces the risk of image loss. I backup my photos-to-keep on cd and external hard drive but only print out a few. There are no guarantees our digital images will survive.  I used Flickr but the increased data limit separated my old and new sets – the newer ones have recently vanished! I tried Picasa but didn’t like the way it controlled image display on my computer. I dabbled in Pinterest but take a lot of photos and there aren’t enough hours to continually recreate image galleries in different places. Facebook albums offer a useful solution; they can be made public to non-Facebook users but the link won’t get through Firewalls where Facebook is excluded.  Keeping all my images together on WordPress would be ideal. 


Disturbing directions; failure to recognise disability diversity

Oxford Internet Institute world map of most used software showing google as the highest choice

The Oxford Internet Institute world usage map shows the dominance of google. We’d all be shocked to see our online profiles.  Google makes Orwell’s Big Brother look simplistic. Like digital exclusion, no one talks enough about data protection and it’s probably too late. The damage is done. The Oxford Internet Institute’s Cultures of the Internet report suggests more than half of British people use the Internet ‘without enthusiasm’. They go online because they have to rather than choose to, reporting problems with privacy, frustration and time wastage with a decrease in the usage of social networking sites.

A government with Digital First policy and practice should take notice. Multiple public and private agendas drive us online yet an Office of National Statistics (ONS) report shows over 7 million people have no internet and 16 million lack the skills and confidence for effective use.  Digital exclusion has many levels from disconnection to disinterest. The primary issue with exclusion is it’s inherently invisible. Exclusion from digital platforms for discussion and debate makes you voiceless. Powerless. The silence is increasing. Research data is consistent. The ONS say of the 7.1 million people offline, the elderly and disabled are least likely to be connected with 3.7 million adults with a disability having no internet access. Barriers to access for users of assistive technology remain highest of all. Yet society has the technology. The latest SCOPE report Enabling Technology shows what is possible, but government enthusiasm and allocation of resources to make it happen are invisible too. Google domination is not complete but for all the wrong reasons.

The Cultures of the Internet press release contains the worrying suggestion digital exclusion is self imposed.  ‘In the past, academics studying the internet tended to focus on the digital divide, examining why certain people did not go online: whether it was to do with choice or lack of access. This study shows that a small percentage of the population (18%) still have not used the internet and it suggests that most non-users have made the choice that it is not for them.’  

Within the report (page 22)  this disturbing direction is partially countered with the statement ‘While disabilities…are a continuing source of digital exclusion, over half (51%) of people with a disability use the Internet. This is a rise of 11 percentage points from 2011 (from 40% to 51%). Unfortunately, 51% is still considerably less than the 84% of non-disabled respondents who use the Internet, leaving a major digital divide for the disabled.’ [my emphasis]

There are mixed messages here which fail to recognise the diversity of the category ‘disabled’. They fail to pull out the specific issues of inaccessible internet design which cannot be interpreted by a screen reader or navigated by a non-mouse user. The category ‘disability’ lumps sensory, physical and cognitive impairment together with no acknowledgement of the range of different access issues individuals face through costs and learning curves of assistive technologies as well as poor online practice which discriminates against anyone operating outside a narrow range of access criteria i.e. the ME Model. Mouse. Eyes.

Cultures of the Internet makes interesting reading. We should take time to pay attention to the consequences of the shift to online ways of working.  It isn’t being paranoid to highlight the social effects of a digital society, most of all the varying patterns of exclusion and engagement. If the higher education curriculum included critical reflection on internet implications rather than unquestioningly accepting changing digital cultures, it would be a start. If ‘digital’ graduate attributes were an expectation this would increase awareness of the social consequences of digital exclusion. Without this awareness attitudes which suggest it’s a life style choice rather than an act of discrimination will continue to be replicated and reinforced.

TELEDA is coming…

Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA) is coming. The virtual doors open 25 October for 9 days of online induction. Learning Block One commences 1 November. TELEDA is a 24 week M level  course (30 CATS) designed to give participants experience of being a virtual student as well as examine issues raised by digital education, in particular open educational resources and inclusive practice. There is emphasis on critical reflection through a choice of digital diary formats with evidence of reflection required for the assessed eportfolio.

One course isn’t enough to cover all aspects of teaching and learning in a digital age and a second 30 credit module is under discussion. Together these will constitute a postgraduate certificate in digital education or teaching and learning online.

TELEDA is as much about the impact of the internet on education as about how people learn in virtual environments. Most of the resources are freely available. While the new cohort are completing application forms and getting head of school/department approvals, participants have been given links to a short video clip and a paper which cover one of the themes running through the 24 weeks; digital literacies.

Digital Natives Digital Immigrants by Mark Prensky was written over a decade ago but the dichotomy has stuck in public consciousness and the idea of young people being inherently digital – while older people are getting left behind – remains influential. While some people find the language of the paper contentious, and Presnky himself has revisited the original ideas, the issues around the appropriateness of educational systems – designed in a pre-internet age – offer valid discussion points.,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

The TELEDA pilot was a step in the dark for everyone but if you don’t try something new you don’t know what might come out of it.  As more programmes consider blended and distance delivery, I remain the confident the opportunity to be an online student is the best mode of discovery for resources and activities which work – or don’t work – in virtual environments. What is increasingly clear is the original rhetoric of elearning has not lived up to its promise. Learning online is not a case of doing more for less. Retention requires resources. Of the human kind as much as a technological infrastructure.  There is currently renewed interest in research into digital education; research based on the practical as well as the theoretical. We live in interesting times where virtual learning is being revisited and reassessed. I’m proud and excited to be part of the process.

From radical research to Mills and Boon; an eclectic life

Return of the Stranger by Kate Walker

Mills and Boon landscapes are places where alpha males strut and lesser females submit. M&B were about submission long before 50 Shades of Grey turned domination into a supermarket sex word. In the literature world they might not always be taken seriously but there’s gold in them there pages.

I was given a M&B for homework. The genre being romance, I expected Bridget Jones meets Catherine Cookson. ‘The Return of the Stranger’ by Kate Walker was more the visceral stuff of archetypes. All the classic M&B ‘ingredients are there. Lust. Revenge. Money. Power. Men portrayed as testosterone driven heroes. Women submissive. ‘The words shrivelled on her tongue as she saw the dark frown that snapped his black brows together over his blazing eyes, the sudden ferocity of his anger shaking her.’

M&B men have control over women who appear to want to be controlled. ‘He could have her now. Kiss her into submission….one day she would leave all her pride in the dust and she would beg for his touch’. Scary stuff. Women in M&B might have careers and social status but underneath they’re quivering psychological jelly.

I’m reminded of the heroes of ancient Greece who cared only about themselves. Theseus – who promised to marry Ariadne in return for a ball of thread to guide him out of the labyrinth – then snuck off in the night abandoning her. Odysseus – who took ten years to return from Troy, having affairs with Circe and Calypso on the way while Penelope kept house, weaving tapestry through the night to deter her suitors. When Odysseus came home he had all her maidens hung in the yard for the crime of sleeping with the suitors’ servants. Arrogance on legs. Plato’s utopian idea of a Republic contained three categories of people – the philosopher, soldier and artisan. All male of course. Women didn’t get a mention. It looks like patriarchy continues to thrive on a 21st century M&B booklist.

I turned to the M&B company for the advice they give to authors. There is acknowledgement the alpha hero has become somewhat politically incorrect yet the message given to M&B aspirants is ‘the success of Modern Romance proves that many women still fantasize about strong men’ The woman is the heroine but only as primary she-character rather than another Lara Croft or Grace Darling. An M&B heroine only finds her destiny or what M&B call her  ‘journey of fulfilment’ via the hero. More scary stuff.  ‘He takes control and drives the story; he has the power to make things happen! He is the key driver of the romance – he is the aspiration of the story’s heroine (and the reader) The Alpha Male is a celebration of strength!’  [their italics]

Glossing over the stereotypical images and clichés (I hate clichés) it’s my M&B had a story (albeit a reworking of Wuthering Heights). The author was skilled with the formula. For me there was too much description of what the characters were thinking in between their sentences. Many pages were all thought and not enough action. Descriptions of eyes like ‘shards of black coffee ice’ were original (at least to me – I may need to read more M&B to make an accurate judgement).

The best stories are those with space for the reader’s imagination. Writers need to show not tell and there isn’t much showing in a M&B. You’re given all the detail rather than the space for producing it yourself and in most places the detail is too much. M&B is primal stuff – driven by power and desire. M&B call this genre Modern Romance but it could equally well be Fantasy.

Writing as emancipatory practice in Radical Research (John and Jill Schostak)

The word radical is not one I use often. I’m not political or revolutionary and don’t think of myself as activist. I like to work behind the scenes – preferably behind a screen.  I’m a critically reflective practitioner,  using action research to explore my course Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age and don’t much like speaking in public. Radical was not how I saw myself. Until I found Radical Research by Jill and John Shostak (2008). The book presents ‘radical’ as a mirror where I can see everything I do reflected; raising awareness of digital inclusion, developing online communities of support, exploring how critical reflective practice can emerge from virtual communities and spaces.

Radical Research is bringing together the different elements of my travels in philosophical places. More notes are over on the PhD page. For a book which only mentions postmodernism once, it contains multiple ways of seeing and a respect for alternative world-views which could easily be described as postmodernistic. For example, fragmentation of the social order, reconfiguration of forms of expression and an emphasis on language. ‘Just as the multitude overflows the boundaries of power so language slips from its bonds with content and opens up the possibilities for reconfiguring the visible, the audible, the real according to desires, interests, needs.’ p 10 Data is not given as fixed but is open to configuration and, thus, alternative ways of seeing while ‘…language itself provides the means for the destabilisation necessary for a reframing that includes the excluded.’ P 11

Radical research includes in its designs the means through which voices can be heard. It can do this through the reflective process of action research and collection of narrative which includes voices which have been silenced. ‘Writing difference into the ways in which the world becomes meaningful is itself a radical act.’ P12  As a writer with interest in slippages between the sign and its signification, I liked the book’s emphasis on the power of writing within the research process. This is an area I don’t think is sufficiently addressed. Like the prerequisite digital literacies for engagement with virtual learning environments, there’s an unspoken assumption all postgraduates can write and critically reflect through their writing. ‘Radical research is itself a writing project at every stage. With every interpretation of what the research ‘really means’, a new writing of it emerges. Through the process of writing, the radical becomes embedded in ways of seeing and acting.’ P12.

Chapter 10 W/ri(gh)ting fashions contains much which would not look out of place in a postmodernist text for example the ‘…parading of positions over the truth of a text invokes a catwalk of intellectual, cultural, social, political fashions. Each calls to an audience: look at me; take notice; my interpretation is right. But where in all this is the writer’s intention?’ P 244 Derrida appears in this chapter, Barthes is present elsewhere but there is no sign of Foucault in spite of the book’s attention to power structures, bodies and (Ill)legitimate knowledge(s). Deleuze, Negri and McCluhan make an appearance but Marx, is absent. I can’t position this book – as befits a postmodernist text. Maybe I haven’t read widely enough but I recognise much in these chapters which bring together the disparate range of books and papers I’ve worked through this year. If radical research is about writing as an emancipatory practice, and the making cases for the  inclusion of difference, it looks like I may be more radical than I realised.




Still not fluent with the ontological (and others) but hopefully gaining ground

The phd is taking shape. The biggest challenge is time. Progress is slow because of the vastness of the project versus scarcity of hours. Each week I give up sleep and half my weekend.  At the CERD Awayday 60 hour weeks were reported and accepted as normal. It shouldn’t be but it is. You can’t support, develop, meet, teach and commute without overspill.  thankfully, doing a PhD is beneficial. I’m good at positive thinking and I love words but suspect if there were more time to immerse myself in texts I’d progress faster.

I’m still not fluent with matters ontological and epistemological. I don’t feel comfortable with the jargon. What I feel/believe to be true (ontology?) and my understanding of the nature of knowledge (epistemology?) is developing but I haven’t read enough. I don’t know what is enough. There’s been some progress though. I’ve positioned myself in the post-modern with regard to O and E. From this side, the dark side for the positivists, meaning is both contextual and contested. The inside interests me. Personhood is both external and internal facing. Grant me the serenity to know the difference between what I can and can’t change – and all that.  I value experiential learning as the ground for scaffolding knowledge construction and see the process of critical reflection is the catalyst. Adopting an essentialist objectivist standpoint wouldn’t work for me.

One valuable aspects of doctoral research is the opportunity to position yourself; locate your ‘being-in-the-world’.  It’s a bit like DIY psychoanalysis. Or the messages on the Brayford Pool Bridge. Where have you been. Where are you going. The answers are more complex than you might think. I’m interested in the digital identity. How online text – anything from a tweet to a tome – is interpreted by the reader. Barthes message in The Author is Dead, reinvented as reader-reception theory by Stuart Hall, offer useful starting points for considering the ‘presentation of self’ online. Virtual reality is the ultimate replication of the real; the simulation. The internet epitomises the postmodern condition.

Regarding ‘being’ I’m still not entirely sure where I am. Which could be expected from someone dabbling in postmodernism. Identity contains multiple contradictions. Is open ended and unfinished. We’re all products of our background and location with little certainty about what lies ahead. Berger and Luckman write about social reality hanging on a thread which can be cut. Most people have experience of thread cutting.  I think this is what open ended-ness refers to. We can’t write the future. Or rewrite the past. We are what we are. Postmodernist theory is an attempt to capture the late 20th century human in an age of the machine and information overload.

Mike says I need to look at the slippage from modern to postmodern. Take care not to characterise them as all of one and none of the other. This is useful advice. Marshall Berman in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air insists the world remains a modern one; ‘We might even say that to be fully modern is be anti-modern’ (1981: 14). Anti-modern or post-modern, I need take ownership of my social reality.

Terrible tangents or interesting times ahead?

ammonite spiral

What’s an ammonite got to do with it? I’m thinking about my pilot phd interviews and wondering about the process. As a research activity, my PhD offers the chance to explore the interview in more depth. I’m adopting a postmodern standpoint which challenges traditional ways of working. Opens up alternative possibilities. Nothing is fixed in postmodernism. I need to think spirals not squares. I don’t do numbers very well but I know the ammonite is formed in a Fibonacci spiral. As the developer of Walking the Labyrinth circular thinking suits me. My mind is an unfinished map full of links and connections. If I’m researching my practice in teaching online, maybe I should be researching the practice of interviews online too.

The word interview comes from early 16th century French entrevue, from s’entrevoir ‘see each other’, from voir ‘to see’, on the pattern of vue ‘a view’  Their face to face nature is implicit but this is the digital age as well as a postmodernetic one. What’s interesting is I’ve been here before.

In theory, a truly postmodernist researcher would probably talk themselves out of existence but I find the mental gymnastics useful. The bricolage of postmodern ideas matches the eclectic nature of my thinking. Linkages keep appearing. In the way Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age brings together my work on open education and digital inclusion so the phd is bringing together a decade of teaching ICT in adult and community education with widening participation and my first Masters degree. In 1999 I used the internet – via a dial-up modem, dot matrix printer and 5 and quarter inch floppy disk – to collect first person narratives for my MA dissertation. I didn’t know anyone else doing this at the time. It generated in depth responses from people across the world. It also created ready made transcripts in digital format ideal for analysis; when studying part-time the pragmatics become significant.

I want to get personal. I’m interested in attitudes to technology for education. Like it or not, virtual learning is the future and I want to find out how to do it better. Explore the relationships between individuals and their machines. It may have more influence on engagement than has previously been acknowledged. Online interviews are flexible in terms of time and distance and the process would be more manageable for me as the researcher. The key question – and I don’t yet have the answer – is how participation through technology might compare with participation away from it? Would an email interview dilute or enhance responses?

It’s no secret how my own relationship with technology is fractious. I’m convinced the network conspires against me. My computer behaves inexplicably. I log on and trigger a fault switch. Irrational but true.

computer error message

Computer error message  computer error message


Yet I value the capacity of digital education to create meaningful educational endeavour. Virtual reality has limitations but so does face to face. How effective is a 50 minute lecture? A seminar group where no one’s done the reading? Group work with variable degrees of interest? I meet with Mike most weeks for 30 minutes. I test my ideas. Say where I am and how I’ve got there. Most of the time we don’t agree but it doesn’t matter so long as I can theoretically ground myself. We swap readings. My head spins. If I could lie down afterwards in a darkened room I would. You don’t get that sort of experience online – but you get a different one – equally valid – just different.

When it comes to postmodern research method, writers like Scheurich, Stronach and MacLure have useful things to say but they predate the internet. Classic action research texts from McNiff, Whitehead, Reason and Bradbury are great for method but have a focus on face to face. Where newer editions of these and of qualitative research manuals address the digital there is less about the postmodern. I haven’t yet found the published research into the links between postmodern theory and contemporary online educational and research practice. Which intrigues me. I’m either going off on a terrible tangent or have interesting times ahead 🙂