Circles, triangles, trolls, games, neuro-myth busting, empathy and respect #altc16

It’s always hard to condense 3 days’ worth of conference ideas and discussions. The title of this post is my attempt to reduce last week’s #altc conference to under 10 words.  However almost a week after the start of the conference my mind is still trying to synthesise the myriad of ideas I gained from all the sessions I attended.

For me there were a few key themes which resonated throughout the conference. Pretty high on the list was developing (digital) capabilities around online learning at both personal and institutional levels. This is something the sector is really grappling with just now.  Fully online delivery is far from mainstream activity (say hello and wave goodbye MOOCs).

Sharing findings from research as part of  the Jisc scaling up online learning project, Helen Beetham described the challenges their desk research had uncovered as: lack of organisational structure and staff confidence, lack of linkages to mainstream activity, and lack of understanding of the online experience for both staff and students.  Something I can completely relate to. Helen also touched on the emotional side of online learning,  and how that is still under estimated, again for students and staff alike.

Fear is one emotion that I think anyone who has undertaken online learning has experienced at some point. Fear of the unknown, fear of “being online”, fear of where and how to communicate fear of sharing. I know I’ve experienced all of the above.  Fear and the dangerous side of being online were addressed squarely by Josie Fraser in her opening keynote “In the valley of the trolls”.

The keynotes were, as ever, inspiring and this year I think really captured the concerns and aspirations of the UK edtech/ed dev community. Josie opened the conference with a challenging and timely look at trolling. If online spaces such as twitter provide a “filter free amplifier”, in which AI so far can only emulate every kind of abusive behaviour we have invented, it is more important than ever to ensure that we are all developing the digital capabilities to know where, when and how to interact online.

But fear can also lead to closing down online spaces and online interaction. Josie questioned our use of shared spaces, the role of open education, about our ethical commitments and most importantly she raised the challenge and control paradox. We need to challenge the trolls, but can we/should we control them? What about our ethical assumptions around privacy? Sometimes anonymity is valid. We need to develop respect and our ethical commitment to developing respectful shared spaces where we don’t all necessarily agree, but we don’t have to degrade others with casual racism and sexism in process.

Respect, responsibility, and the power of education to change society was a central part of Jane Secker’s keynote “copyright and e-learning: our privileges and freedoms”.  Again Jane highlighted the tension between the fear of copyright (hello, copyright police,yes I have no illegal music downloads)  and the freedom appropriately copyrighted material (hello, Creative Commons) gives us all.

Jane reminded us of the power and necessity of information literacy and IPR as a human right. We need to respect and acknowledge other’s work. However in our increasingly digital age, sharing has changed. We need to ensure that we aren’t just fostering copying skills but that we also encourage reuse and creation, with proper attribution.  There are many myths around copyright and licensing that once again digital literacy development and sharing through communities of practice can help to alleviate.  All this with cake, cats, star wars and a great history lesson.

More myths were explored in Lia Commissar’s keynote “education and neuroscience”. There are many myths and legends around how our brains work.  A little knowledge can be dangerous and it is amazing how much acceptance of there is in our society of “stuff” that has no scientific research basis. A case in point is learning styles.  I can see why people have empathy for that idea, we all have preferences but  . . . and before I go into fully rant mode, I would urge you to watch Lia’s keynote and join the neuromyth-busters and find out more about some fascinating neuroscience research projects in formal education settings.

One area Lia pointed to where there is a research focus on is games and gaming was the focus of Ian Livingstone’s keynote “code:connect:collaborate”.  Ian’s career has spanned the development of the current gaming age and culture, and for a non gamer and non adventure book reader he gave a very entertaining overview of his career and that sector.

He also emphasised the “real world” skills and learning environment that gaming can naturally foster including collaboration, safe social spaces, problem solving, continuous assessment, a safe place to fail. However games and coding aren’t a panacea for education.

Ian did mention the gender imbalance in the gaming industry but not the  very unpleasant side of – in particular Gamergate,   which Josie highlighted in her opening keynote. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to redress that kind of behaviour and to ensure online spaces are safe, collaborative and respectful to all.

Supporting coding in schools and in the curriculum is great, but it is only part of “the digital”, ensuring digital capabilities are recognised and supported in the curriculum is just as important.

“The digital”,whatever that actually means,  is something that our final keynote double act of Donna Lanclos and David White have been talking and writing about for a number of years.

Their more discursive keynote “being human is your problem” looked at some of the realities of trying to exist in our education systems and the messiness of not only being human but being a human interacting increasingly in digital spaces.

Technology is not the answer, it’s part of the answer and part of the problem. Culture change, or perhaps evolution, is what we really need to address.  But that is hard, so often it’s easier to buy something shiny rather than support (neuro) mythbusting culture change (hello and goodbye digital natives).

Donna and Dave were both adamant that we should move away from thinking about “them” and “us” in institutions, arguing that we are “them”, they are “us”.  I’m not sure sure about that, there are always tribes of them and us – staff/students/managers/senior managers/  the list goes on. Again maybe that takes us back to where Josie started the week around respect and empathy between all our academic related tribes.

One thing that Dave said towards the end of the session was that we need “less triangles and more circles”.  He was referring to an early model of digital literacy from Beethham and Sharpe, but I think it summed up my impression from all of the conference, not just the keynotes. We aren’t all working towards a pinnacle or peak, our work is far more iterative and circular, perhaps more spiral like to give some sense of movement (not a spiral of despair I hasten to add).

So thanks again to the conference chairs, committee and ALT for providing the space for all our triangles and circles it was a great conference this year. I haven’t even mentioned all the great sessions I went to and chaired, the annual awards, #altplay.  I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Liverpool next year.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-02-41

Domains and devices of one’s own

800px-For-rent-sign
(image https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:For-rent-sign.jpg)

I access probably about 90% of my working life via a network and some kind of provided institutionally internal or external service provider. I create and share a fair but of “stuff” at work, as well as accessing a range of entertainment media at home.

After spending a good few hours last weekend clearly out dusty old VHS tapes and DVD’s part of me is actually glad of the lack of that kind of clutter. I am fortunate to be (just now)  in a position where I can pay to easily access music, films, tv programmes. It helps me declutter my physical (owned, well it will be when I pay of the mortgage!) world.

But what do I actually own online? I don’t really think about that as often as I should. However, this morning a post from Audrey Watters in response to one from Maha Bali, has really got me thinking.  I can’t do justice to Audrey’s post, so just go and read it.  Audrey calls for us, and particularly those of us in education to resist the casual acceptance of the “post ownership” society.  She writes:

“How do we resist this? (And resist this, I contend, we must.) We resist through education. Yes. But we also must resist at the level of structure, at the level of systems, at the level of infrastructure. We can challenge how the Web and the Internet work – at the level of politics, power, money, and technology. But we can do so only if we understand what’s at stake, if we understand that the Web and the Internet are not naturally-occurring entities but are corporate and national forces bending towards certain ideological ends – privatization and profit.

The Domain of One’s Own initiative is one way that space is being given to provide educational experiences that can help our students and fellow teachers to develop the literacies they need to contest and contribute meaningful to society. Having access to a “safe” space is key to that. “

This week I’ve also been having discussions with IT colleagues about university provided digital space, data handling, personal and institutional responsibilities. They are planning future service provision and having the usual debate about service provision. I have been asked: how much university “space” do I use, what devices do I use to access that space, I am using encrypted/unencrypted devices to access said spaces, do I use “other” no university provided cloud spaces, how much data do I use in each of these spaces and how much do I think I need. Answers on a postcard please.

I use a lot of non university spaces at work.  Some of which I pay for e.g.  Evernote where I do a lot of writing; other’s that I don’t e.g. google drive/drop box. As each service provision “evolves” I weigh up the pros and cons of each and decide if I am willing to move from the “basic” (free at point of access) or  pay for “pro” features.   I don’t do a lot of “proper” research, but when I do, I do store “stuff” university space due to the legal and ethical requirements of any research project the university sanctions.

However, my data needs for that are, I think, relatively small.  I have no idea how much space I use – do you?  I don’t keep a running tally. Should I?  The only service that I get any “space” grief is my university email account which does have a limit and I have got quite close to that. I may get a tad annoyed about that as my personal email account never seems to run out of space. . .  My commitment to open education also means that I share my “stuff” as openly as possible. For example using our institutional open repository for sharing “stuff’ I have (reasonable) confidence that it will be available to me even if/when, I no longer work here.

During the conversations with my IT colleagues, the old command and control versus (appropriate) access and enablement did feature.  Universities should have enabling services, they should have transparent procedures in place to ensure that institutional and individual data responsibilities are being met. Whilst I know that the “I just put it into dropbox because it’s so darn complicated to access the secure shared drive” is not a valid excuse, it is a widespread reality.

This of course leads us to personal and institutional digital capability and knowing where to access and store different types of information/data.  I suppose in a way I do rent my desktop machine and my iPad from my institution. They are institutionally provided machines, gateways to institutional services.  They also allow my access to my own personal spaces. Increasingly the line between institutional and personal services are blurred.  For example I  have quite a different level of personal attachment to my ipad than my laptop.

Like many other institutions our students get access to office 365 and potentially a huge amount of digital space. Unlike A Domain of One’s Own we don’t have an explicit institutional view of how to use this space for as our mission states “the common good”.  We are in many ways just perpetuating the digital status quo, allowing microsoft to “get ‘em and keep ‘em”. We’re not really thinking about data, access and control beyond our legal obligations.  We’re not really thinking creatively about safe digital spaces.

As ever this post is a bit of a ramble and more me trying to sort my thoughts out.  I am now rethinking my comfort levels in terms of my post ownership relationship with my digital “stuff, and how I can in some small way enable some more creative thinking about our institutional provision.

Invisibility v recognition and #ALTC LT awards

Last week I was out for dinner with some former colleagues. Over the course of the evening the conversation inevitably turned to educational development.  I was struck by a comment one of my companions made. He said that if  educational developers are doing their job effectively then they should be invisible. He qualified this by saying that ultimately you want to take staff to a point where they are making changes and and developing their own educational practice and away they go, and forget about you.  Maybe a bit like learning to ride a bike, the moment you let go and see your little’un wobble away and move all by themselves means far more to you than the newly confident independent cyclist. They are lost in the moment and achievement of their own success. They’re not really thinking about how they there.

Whilst I agree with the overall sentiment, and indeed reality,  of this, the invisibility bit does trouble me a bit.  I don’t know if you ever think about what superpower you would like. Invisibility pretty high on the list of choices I guess. I often joke to people that I think I have invisibility superpowers, but only at seemingly random times. I never seem to  know when my “powers” are working – particularly when I am walking in a busy street and people seem to think that they can walk through me. Anyway, I digress.

In educational development and development of using technology in education, I think we all feel a bit invisible but in a positive way as described above. I guess we all know that warm, fuzzy feeling when someone tries something you should them with their students and it works, and how in turn your role in introducing that element fades.

This is absolutely fine and in an ideal world we would all be happy with that invisibility switch. However in the current climate where we are all operating under increasing financial and regulatory pressure, we do need to ensure our development activities are recognised, and innovation in using technology in education is supported and not cut back because “everyone/thing is digital now.”

External validation is often easier to find than internal, and at this time of year there is a great opportunity to support both individual and teams from our community in the annual ALT Learning Technology Awards.  Once again the voting has opened up with the community choice awards, where anyone can vote via email or twitter.

This year, yet again there is another is another fabulous short list of individuals and teams, so why not celebrate their achievements by voting for them.  Getting to the short list is an tremendous achievement worth celebrating in itself.

I am looking forward to finding out this year’s winners at the ALT conference in a couple of weeks, but as a Trustee and Vice-Chair Elect (that line is for you, Mr Hawksey) it’s not  appropriate for me to vote.  However, as a previous LToTY winner, I know what it means to have the invisibility switch well and truly off for a bit. So ’til then, getting voting.  You have until (high) noon on the  7th of September.

465px-Vote_with_check_for_v.svg

image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vote_with_check_for_v.svg

Revisiting my own past with the blog time machine

time-machine-859335_960_720
(image CC0, Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/time-machine-forward-digits-859335/)

I’m pretty much up for most challenges, and I’m always looking for ideas for blog posts,  so when I saw this post from Martin Weller last week, I thought I’d give it a try.  The instructions were as follows:

“Here’s a fun thing to try if you’ve been blogging for a while (Warning: may not actually be fun). Get a random date from when you started blogging until present (eg using this random date generator), find the post nearest that date and revisit it.”

Martin then set out the following 4 questions

  1. What, if anything, is still relevant?
  2. What has changed?
  3. Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
  4. What is my personal reaction to it?

The first date I got was 18 November 2011, I didn’t have anything for that exact date but I did have this post from the 25 November 2011 which is close enough. Here are my answers to the 4 questions.

1 – What, if anything, is still relevant?

Both open educational practice and digital literacy are still highly relevant. The disconnect between practice and research still remains.

“the disconnect between practitioners knowledge and understanding of both OER and Open Practice was “openly” recognised and discussed. Both terms have meaning in the research world, and in funded projects (such as UKOER, OPAL etc) but for the average teacher in FE/HE they’re pretty meaningless. So, how do we move into mainstream practice?” 

I think there have been great inroads made in this area in terms of OER and open educational practice (OEP), but there is still a way to go.  I still work with many who have don’t see the relevance of open educational resources or practice. That said I do work with many who do, and I think that number continues to grow steadily. Digital literacy is still very relevant. Both areas still take up a large part of my working life.

Effective sharing practice and content is still something we all still struggle with – and I think we always will.

2 -What has changed?
  • Well I now work in “the mainstream” and not in some niche, blue skies thinking post;
  • JISC has changed to Jisc;
  • adoption of OER policies is becoming more commonplace ( it may have taken a while but I am very proud that GCU was the first University in Scotland to have an OER policy );
  • research, understanding, celebration of open educational practice is gaining in momentum; funding in the UK for research around OER/OEP is afaik pretty non existent;
  • the OER community is alive and well and growing;
  • I am thinking and talking more about digital capabilities than digital literacy per se ( mostly thanks to Helen Beetham and her great work in developing the Jisc Digital Capabilities framework)
  • Learning objects – not talked about much any more;
  • Sharing “stuff” is so much easier now;
  • Getting people to share “stuff ” is still a challenge.

3 -Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
Tricky, as I said in the post ” I am an unashamed generalist, and not an academic specialist.” I think that is still true though I do have more of specialist role in terms of academic development. I still think that the key them of the post around the gulf between research about learning and teaching and actual practice still exists. Learning analytics is a current example of that. I still find myself fascinated by presentations of research around regression analysis of discussion forums (cue the swirly-twirly network diagrams) whilst at the same time thinking how on earth could I actually use this in my day job?

4 – What is my personal reaction to it?

I think the post actually revealed quite about me and my philosophy on educational practice. Looking back from the future I am relieved that the core of my line  thinking around these two areas hasn’t significantly changed.   I could have easily written this sentence today:

“When I’ve been involved in staff development it has always been centred around sharing and (hopefully) improving practice and enabling teachers to use technology more effectively. And I hope that through my blogging and twittering I am continuing to develop my open practice.”

I’m also glad that I have keep blogging. It would have been easy to let is slip. I’m glad blogging is a professional habit. I’m grateful to have this growing record of my professional development.

I did get quite a few comments to the original post, that’s changed a bit, I don’t get so many comments nowadays . . . but again the original post was on my Cetis blog (I transferred the archive over this blog when it was mothballed) and it had a much larger distribution network.

So thanks Martin, it was actually quite fun and I might do it again next year.

Where Sheila’s not been for the past few weeks – more healthy living than digital detox?

So I’ve just come back to work this week after my summer holidays. By the end of three weeks I had almost forgotten about related work emails and tweets. I wasn’t staring at a screen for most of the day. It was a bit of  to quote the phrase of the week, a “digital detox’.

However I didn’t go completely cold turkey on the old inter-web. I just was interacting in a different, more relaxed way. More photos shared via  instagram.  There was no hidden altruism there –  I wanted people to know I was eating lovely food, in lovely places, not at work.  There was less tweeting, though my automagic daily update provided by Paper.Li keeps going regardless. It seems when left to its own devices to have taken a  particular liking to smart cities. I have nothing against smart cities, and do tweet about them,  but perhaps it has skewed my “presence” a little in the past few weeks.  That might be a topic for another post around digital presence.

I was still keeping in touch with friends, the world, but not as much as non-holiday times. A large part of my professional life and work is centred around networking and sharing so not having to be online is now something I really look forward to during holidays and increasingly weekends.  But I wouldn’t want to be totally disconnected. I am constantly shifting the balance of my connected, digital life. Being able to instantly share, explore, find out about “stuff” is something that has brought an added mostly positive dimension to my professional and personal life.

This weeks annual Ofcom Communications Market report has whipped up a bit of a  media storm around how many people are now more actively taking a break from their “smart” devices.  The internet is taking over our lives, families no longer talk they just sit around the house gazing at their phones/tablets. It would appear that in the UK we are are spending more and more time on line, as the report states

“Our Digital Day research shows that we are spending more time on media andcommunications than on sleeping. The average UK adult uses media and communications services for 8 hours 45 minutes, and sleeps for 8 hours 18 minutes.”

What we are actually doing on line does vary depending on our age.

“16- 24 year olds are more likely to embrace these newer on- demand and online services. Today, instant messaging is more important to this age group than any other means of communication, and playing video games is seen as being as important as watching live, recorded or paid- for on-demand TV. However, for older adults, watching live TV remains the most important media activity.”

But there is hope for the old foggies:

“Despite this older people are increasingly exploiting digital communications technology. .  . Although they tend to use more established services such as linear TV , SMS or email,many are also embracing social media or on- demand services (among 55- 64s, 51% use the former and 42% the latter in an average week).”

The infographics in the report give a clear picture of the break down.  Below is small selection.

If you have time, exploring the Ofcome digital day research site is also quite fascinating.

Looking more closely at the report one thing that struck me was in relation to what people are actually doing online was this:

“While watching is the most popular activity overall, young adults spend more time communicating”

Not unsurprisingly whilst skimming through the report, I was thinking about the similarities between broadcast media and broadcast education. We still rely heavily on the broadcast lecture in HE.  It’s the norm, the expected, the comfortable and at times necessary and effective.  Moving to more interactive, collaborative models we know is better for actual learning, understanding and knowledge creation as opposed to transmission of knowledge.  I blogged about this earlier in the year in response to a post from James Clay. However if our average undergraduate (18-24) is communicating more then surely that just strengthens the case for harnessing more digital communication within education. We don’t need to take over SnapChat or What’sApp, but we do need to be integrating more flexibility of communication within our curriculum design for formal and informal learning.

Having your nose “stuck in a book” has always seems to have had positive connotations, particularly in relation to education and learning. So maybe having your nose stuck in your smart phone (even when in a lecture) should increasingly become seen as a positive thing too? Just as with bookworms, reading all the time isn’t healthy or safe, if you’ve ever seen someone trying to walk down a busy street whilst reading a book you’ll know what I mean.  Neither is being online all the time, or constantly looking at your phone (related to this check out this great post from Simon about the dangers of people and  PokemonGo). We need to help everyone find the right digital balance so we can allow everyone to  integrate digital technologies in the most effective way for them.

An election worth your vote #altc Trustees 

I know we all probably have a bit of election fatigue just now. However outside the crazy world of politics,  in the slightly less crazy world of learning technology,  there is one election that is worth your consideration and vote – the ALT Trustee elections.  

There are three fantastic nominees this year –  Bella Abrams, Lorna Campbell and Chris Rowell. You can read their statements here,  they all bring a tremendous range of experience and expertise.  But they need your votes.  Being a membership organisation, ALT relies on members to support and guide its direction. In these afore mentioned crazy times, the need for a strong, non commercial, voice for supporting the effective use of technology for learning and teaching is more important than ever.  So if you are a member of ALT make sure you vote, this year for the first time we’re using an electronic voting system.  And if you’re not a member, why not think about joining? I know from experience that receiving peer support and validation from being  voted in as a Trustee of ALT makes the role even more special.   The results of the election will be announced at this year’s ALT conference.  

picture of  ALT member badges

Come Sway with me

I’m always looking out for  ways to share and collaborate effective practice and use of technology in learning and teaching. The other week I came across @LearningWheel  “a model of digital pedagogy” created by Deborah Kellsey (@DebMillar24).

Over the past year so I have been using and encouraging colleagues to try Blendspace and the Learning Wheel “Blendspace in 8 steps” was a fantastic resource to be able to share.

Exploring the site I was struck by how the learning wheel closely mirrored the model for blended learning we use here at GCU .

I was also really encouraged to see the strong community building and sharing ethos the site is fostering, as well as the simple but effective approach to sharing practice through a series of resource wheels.

“A Resource LearningWheel focuses on a ‘single’ digital resource e.g. Moodle or QR-Codes or Twitter. They offer numerous practical suggestions for using the resource which are aligned to each of the four modes of engagement.”

If you have an idea, a resource, a system that you use or want to develop and share practice then you are encouraged to “captain a resource spoke”.  Just get in touch and a few days later a collaborative google doc will be created and the collaboration can begin. The step by step guide to writing the guide helps to keep things clear and simple too.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 09.45.05

So I’ve taken the plunge and decided to captain a spoke based on Sway.  I’ve been using Sway for a while now and again encouraging colleagues to “have a go” with it too. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive response it is getting too.  So, if you use Sway at all then why not come on board and add your suggestions/uses and help to generate another open, shareable resource.