#phdplan Day 5 tidying neural drawers and networks

image showing impossible can become possible from https://threatpost.com/chertoff-reminds-enterprises-there-is-hope-in-security/109195

Blogging is a bit like therapy. You bring it up and out and in theory leave it all behind. The synthesis of a problem’s component parts is a mix of catharsis and reflection. A mental tidying up of your neural drawers and networks. Drawing a line and moving on. I wish!

It’s day five of the #PhDPlan. Another fail. This is like naming and shaming. A verbal purge.

But stay with me. There is  a happy ending.

I’ve thought this week about keeping a work diary. It’s like I feel guilty; worried it might look like I’m taking annual leave for – well, annual leave. Where does it come from? The continual need to justify my time – prove I really am ensconced with laptop, chasing the consequences of email. When I do stand up, I have to take care to manoeuvre around the paper piles which have reappeared on the floor. I don’t want another accident but am painfully aware (in the literal sense) the last time I made any progress was when my ankle was broken. My ‘trip-slip-snap’ experience was the last opportunity to make progress – sad but true. I haven’t really got back to it since. That was February. This weekend is August. There has to be a way to fit more hours into the day.

smiley face image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/coolchaser.com/thumb-24428211.jpg

But a few more interviews and the data will all be safely gathered in. That’s progress and this is the breakthrough. I realise as I write how part of the problem is I’m looking forward rather than backwards. If you focus on how far there is to go you don’t see how far you’ve actually travelled.

Pat Cryer has good advice in the chapter ‘Keeping going when you feel like giving up’ in the excellent book The Research Student’s Guide to Success.  Apart from the welcome empathy, the chapter helps put my problems into perspective. I’m not bored or disillusioned, I haven’t lost my way. I know good-enough is enough, no one has beaten me to it and – dare I say – there are no external emergency situations demanding my attention.

Pat Cryer book The Research Student's Guide to Success

Best of all this is all in chapter 21 of 25 – that’s 20 chapters I’ve survived. The remaining ones are about thesis writing, the viva and afterwards (love the instruction to take a holiday – travel and disconnection always work well for me!)

So the process and practice of blogging works again. The alchemy of reflection in action. Using words to make the mental shift from where I am to where I need to be. This is do-able after all. I know I’m not on my own and there are others out there who are grappling with the challenge of part time postgraduate study. It will get better. You will survive. At the end of the day you’ll have your own little bulge on the circle of knowledge as Matt Might so wonderfully explains inhis pictorial representation and what’s more, it will have your name on it.

Monday is another week, so good luck to me, and good luck to you all too 🙂

 

Second edition (2000) of Pat Cryer’s book is avaialable online http://www.mheducation.co.uk/openup/chapters/0335206867.pdf

Getting the blogging habit back

habit image from swarajyamag.com

Habits can be hard to break. It took me years to stop smoking. The line between addiction and habit is blurred. I’ve blogged for years. It was my soap box, work record, window on the internet, my weekly reflective habit. Then it stopped and now I’m struggling to get the blogging habit back.

It’s not as if I’m short of words.  Me and my laptop have bonded these past few weeks. In a threesome with the settee, I’ve written tens of thousands about VLE, critical realism, digital education, e-teaching and more.

But the blogging habit broke.

As I fell – slip – trip -snap – into the world of broken fibulas and fracture clinics, my life fell apart too. Become immobile in the winter and your world shrinks. I couldn’t even get to the allotment. My grape vine still needs pruning! In theory, this loss should have created space for blogging.  I could have become a blog-a-day woman. Instead of scrabbling to fit a blog post into Friday mornings I had blog freedom. And I used it to stop blogging.

It was as unexpected as the trip itself. A trip of the non-travelling kind. You can make a metaphor out of most things in life, but I’m not too sure what to make of this. I missed the pin point where something sticks. A blog is a map; it’s where I pin things down each week. Usually with regard to digital inclusion, TELEDA, my PhD, or some digital scrap which has intrigued me.

Something magic happens when you take a thought and reproduce it in words. It works verbally – a la rubber duck syndrome – and it works when you recreate an experience in writing. There’s a flash of insight or resonance which is part of the whole learning experience. A regular blogging habit is an alchemical opportunity to focus on something which has happened and study it more closely.

I need to break the habit of not blogging and get the blogging habit back!

Bringing the Me to CPD; developing a reflective imagination

mobius strip image froom http://arnoldit.com/wordpress/2010/01/13/search-vendors-working-the-content-food-chain/

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. 

Blogging is like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it

image from http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2013/11/40k-deep-thought-that-unit-is-broken.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.

 

Get critical, get digital, get EDEU…

Learning Development @ Lincoln menu structure

I’ve been looking for supporting materials on critical writing and reflection for Getting Started and they’re not jumping off the page. Like digital literacies, I wonder if competence with these skills and practices are being assumed. Yet conversations suggest support would be useful. As CERD divides and EDEU* begins to form, I’m looking back. Learning development was part of CERD, until Helen Farrell, our Learning Development Coordinator, was an unfortunate loss through redundancy. The work Helen and I did lives on in the [unmaintained] Learning Development@Lincoln website, now evolved into a library lib guide page.

Maybe bringing academic and digital together under a title like ‘Learning Literacies’ is a new way to represent them. I’d like to bring these aspects of learning development into EDEU because I’ve been here before. Digging around in my archives shows how the content is relatively unchanged over the years.

In 2007 I created the Academic Writing Desk. Home page image below.

Academic Writing Desk homepage

Here is the Academic Writing Desk home page for Essay Writing.

Academic Writing Desk on Essays

In 2009 I developed Snapshot specifically for Getting Started. This was designed to introduce new students to academic practice; namely academic writing, reading, thinking and a bit on reflective practice.

Snapshot (introduction to academic practice) home page

Here is the Snapshot page on academic writing

Snapshot page on academic writing

Helen Farrell and I created the Learning Development@Lincoln website. The Writing page is shown below.

Learning Development at Lincoln Writing Page

These are all different ways of presenting similar information. An interesting insight into life in 2008 is the lack of reference to digital literacies in the Learning Development@Lincoln resources – but this could easily be put right.

EDEU will be new but not so new. Before CERD, we were the Teaching and Learning Development Office with a remit not that dissimilar to EDEU. The difference is how times have changed, how the university and the sector has changed. Internationalisation, social media, online submission, multimedia communication etc. With additional resource the new unit will provide capacity to pick up on some of the learning development aspects of these areas. Time to get critical. Get digital. Get EDEU. Bring it on! 

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* EDEU Educational Development and Enhancement Unit

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getting animated – not perfect but useful reflection on action…

 

The advantage of creating mini-animations like this is the need to identify key points. Long v short has been on my mind. along with application of theory to practice and the value of reflection. TELEDA Learning Block Three set out to recreate an online seminar. Colleagues were asked to read two papers before signing up for group discussions. Participation was good and highlighted positive effects of virtual learning. Time to think about responses. To post and read when convenient. Reflection on practice was encouraged. There were exchanges about wider issues around group work and useful advice for facilitating similar activities in the future.  So far so good.

But not all of it was positive. Blackboard came in for criticism again. Some colleagues find it unattractive and difficult to use. There were unfavourable comparisons to Facebook. These are valid points. Blackboard at Lincoln could look different. It has alternative communication modes which are not yet enabled. Not all tools are pretty. But for me, the activity highlighted a key problem with forums themselves. They are text heavy environments. If text is not your thing, then online learning is going to be a daunting experience.

For years I’ve promoted digital data as your flexible friend, inherently inclusive through text to speech and speech to text software. Expensive to buy, a challenge to use, but the technology for inclusion exists. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place. Maybe digital text is itself the barrier.

For education developers the standard advice is to chunk text up, use bullets, paragraph breaks, images, formative assessment questions, activities – anything  to avoid lengths of dense prose. I don’t always follow this. The best feedback I got from the TELEDA pilot was how I had interesting things to say – but there was so much of it!

Learning block three has been a learning curve. I ask colleagues to participate online with no guidance or advice. It’s only when I started to read the posts I realised I wasn’t being helpful. I could give word limits. Raise awareness of the audio and video alternatives. Just because I’m happy with text doesn’t mean it applies to everyone.

Creating the PowToon animation while reading through the discussion forums has highlighted the long and the short of it. This PowToon presents in 49 seconds what I might have taken pages of text to describe yet it contains the key information. Aphorisms abound. Brevity is a virtue. Less is best. Keep it simple. Powtoon was also fun. After the first one they will be quicker to produce. Story board first. Keep under two minutes. Visit http://powtoon.com.

I need to engage online not create barriers. There is no substitute for reflection on action. I need to remind myself to reflect in action as well.

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The two papers were :

Roberts, T. S. and McInnerney, J. M. (2007) Seven Problems of Online Group Learning (and Their Solutions) Educational Technology and Society, 10 (4), 257-268 http://www.ifets.info/journals/10_4/22.pdf

Highton, M. (2009) Encouraging Participation in Online Groups (Originally written 2005 for University of Leeds. Updated 2009)https://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/teachingwithtechnology/encouraging.pdf

#FSLT14 The loneliness of online learning; a unique distance from isolation

Unique distance from isolation - reflection in a mirror

Week 2  of #FSL14t was reflection. The activity – submit a reflective piece on teaching and learning. I find myself reflecting on the way I did it. In a rush. Full of typos.  I didn’t agree when FSTL14 Facilitator Neil Current wrote For us as tutors, we feel it is more important to share than worry too much about trying to craft the perfect response. So we hope that you won’t mind typographical errors….’ I wasn’t sure about condoning typos. What about spellcheck and taking time to make sure the text is good? Huh! Isn’t it always the way – you disagree with something then find yourself in exactly the position you disagreed with. My reflection wasn’t crafted. It was Bitty. Disjointed. Like my mind on Fridays – my busiest days – and it was full of errors.

A useful life lesson is learning more from mistakes than perfection. I lay no claim to being perfect – but admit to many bloopers over the years. When learning styles were in vogue, they didn’t fit. We had a Honey and Mumford questionnaire which used Cadbury Crème Eggs. The question being ‘How do you eat yours?’ New to education development, I found the analogy a helpful example of matching new information with existing knowledge. It was a light bulb moment. I remember this – and how the questionnaire confused me. I was Activist, Reflector, Pragmatist and at times a Theorist. I ate my egg in four different ways.

cadbury creme egg lies on a therapists bed

Today I still jump in and am more pragmatic than theoretical, but over the years I’ve learned to learn through hindsight and adopt an experiential approach to CDP. Brookfield says a way to evaluate your teaching is the “… extent to which teachers deliberately and systematically try to get inside students’ heads and see classrooms and learning from their point of view.”  (Brookfield, 1995. p.35) This is a good a reason as any for MOOCing.

On FSTL14 I’m in an unfamiliar place. I think it’s Moodle but I don’t care. I don’t know my way around, it’s easy to miss things, get lost, feel panic. What’s obvious to the site builder is less clear for me. I’m getting frustrated because I can’t find a forum, am not sure where to post the assessment or how to sign up for peer review –  maybe it happens automatically. I don’t know. The loneliness of the long distance learner – a unique distance from isolation – alone but connected – is the challenge for all online learning design.

I don’t think we can teach online without continual reminders of what a strange virtual environment feels like – and to reflect on the process of disorientation. Also it’s one thing to say reflection helps learning – but unless we practice ourselves, the pragmatics can be forgotten. Week 2 has been good for me. On multiple levels. I knew reflection was an issue for some colleagues on my TELEDA course. It’s not enough to present it as a core component. It needs more support and Week2 has given me ideas to try out in my own practice.

In Learning by Doing Graham Gibbs offers useful ideas; using video and audio, sharing the reflective process in groups or online discussions, dividing pages in a reflective diary into columns for recording events and reactions to them. Gibbs also advises immediacy. Recollection of detail fails after 24 hours. This can be tricky. If the process of reflection isn’t presented as manageable students will think they can’t find the time. Reflection must be seen as beneficial.

reflection must be seen as a positive process

It’s important to distinguish events which are learning opportunities. Like dismissing a suggestion its ok to have typos in contributions to online environments. Then – on reflection – understanding how unrealistic I’m being to think everything I upload should be perfect. I know where it comes from. Brookfield says our autobiographies are “one of the most important sources of insight into teaching to which we have access.” (1995 p.31). We are products of our life experiences; creators of our own realities.  I’m asking the impossible. On reflection…… I realise the need to be more forgiving of insignificance in order to make time for what really matters.

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‘at.this unique distance from isolation’ comes from Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

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End of MOOC week 1; reflection

At the end of week 1 I’ve tried to follow the activities http://www.olds.ac.uk/the-course/week-1 It hasn’t been easy to find a way through the different technologies. This in itself has been an interesting experience. It’s good to step outside your comfort zone and one way to engage with new ways of working is to have a definite task in mind. My proposal is the development of DIY approach to Multimedia. This aligns with an on going project, so OLD with audio and video is relevant to me. My work role is to find ways to support people to use technology for education and I worry that here on OLDsMOOC  I’ve been unable to translate the initial interest in my proposal into a working team. Cloudworks seems unnecessarily complex with too many ways of doing things resulting in information being scattered with no obvious mechanism for pulling it all together and establishing a single communication channel. I’ve tried to understand Cloudworks. My cloud profile and links to my clouds and cloudscape is here http://cloudworks.ac.uk/user/view/4427 

I set up an alternative area for DIY Multimedia on Google Groups, this is here https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/olds-mooc-diy-multimedia 

Open education is part of my role at Lincoln. Having just completed a 12 month JISC/HEA OER Change Academy programme, I’d suggest engagement with the philosophy and practice of OER comes before MOOCS.  With OER you can have a more gentle and less public introduction but OER practice requires a sophisticated use of the internet and attention to specific digital literacies and MOOCs even more so. A key issue for me after this first week of OLDsMOOC is how many people may have tried and been defeated by the barrier of the technology. Rather than celebrating the affordances of online learning, this MOOC may have confirmed individual techno-fears and widened existing digital divides rather than helped bridge them. The spectrum of engagement with digital practices is wide. Many late adopters on the far side benefit from scaffolded approaches to increasing their digital confidence. Too often the technology is presented and users left to get on with it; reminiscent of early days of the VLE when attention was paid to the embedding of the technology and systems rather than the changes in practice necessary to shift from face to face to digital ways of working. OLDsMOOC has been a bit like these.

This is my OLDsMOOC story so far. I’ve been trying out MOOCs for some time and blogging about it herehttp://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk where there are also OLDsMOOC musings and reflections. I’m looking forward to Week2 and to working with colleagues who have found there way onto the DIY Multimedia Google Group. Those who made initial contact and are still out there – I hope our paths cross again in one way or another.

Having posted this on yet another cloud http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/7459 and added it to the Refelction Cloudscape http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2787, I’ve applied for my first ever MOOC badge – and am waiting for approval…

Working with teams of staff developing OER for the past year http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk) I find engagement with openess demands a sophisticated understanding of the internet so is useful for developing digital literacies, but also making work freely available under a creative commons licence encourages the revisiting of learning design principles and practices. The smaller scale of OER reduces the massiveness of the MOOC so can be a useful starting point with online design..  

 Afterthoughts

Working with teams of staff developing OER for the past year http://oer.lincoln.ac.uk) I find engagement with openess demands a sophisticated understanding of the internet so is useful for developing digital literacies, but also making work freely available under a creative commons licence encourages the revisiting of learning design principles and practices. The smaller scale of OER reduces the massiveness of the MOOC so can be a useful starting point with online design..
Learning design with multimedia must include attention to accessibility and inclusion. Making sure content is provided in alternative formats is something to be considered at the beginning of the process, e.g. transcripts, captions, subtitles etc, and not bolted on as an after thought at the end (see TechDis for advice and guidance). This process needs to be meaningful otherwise the result becomes tokenistic. See http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2013/01/16/tokenistic-captions-on-nss-official-video-2013/ for an example of careless attention to these things!
When designing online learning environments  build in time for induction, finding your way around and making sure everyone in familiar with the channels of communication. This can help people disappearing before the fun begins 🙂
Oh and the ethics of using multimedia – permissions, consent, copyright, health and safety etc…. more on this to follow

reflection

For me, blogging is about reflection. This relationship becomes strained when time is in short supply. The act of blogging then becomes a measure of the time available for thought. You know when blogging gets neglected, the processes of reflection are slipping too.

Without reflection we function automatically. Reflection is the means by which we make sense of the present and move meaningfully into the future. But sometimes events are too much. That’s when avoiding reflective practice becomes a way of coping. Workload exceeding its allocated time is an example. How to prioritise? What to cut? Where to say no?

Then it gets more complex. What is my role? Like the words on the bridge over the Brayford – where have I come from and where am I going?

Blogging is an opportunity to take time out for reflection – we should value that. However we choose to engage, we need reflection. Somehow we must find a way to make it happen.

So what do I say no to in order to have time to think?