Creating creative digital literacy or creating digital dependency?


Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 09.54.20
Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework

Digital literacy and in turn digital capability is something that I care a great deal about.

Part of my working life involves supporting and exploring  the development of digital capabilities. The work that Helen Beetham, Sarah Knight and many others at Jisc have done around developing definitions that have evolved into a digital capabilities framework is an essential part of my “digital toolkit.”  I’m always on the look out for other resources that I can add to said toolkit.

Earlier this week  I spotted via twitter  that the NMC had produced a Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy .  Full of expectations my heart sank when I read this:

“Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief was commissioned by Adobe Systems to explore an increasingly pressing challenge for United States higher education institutions: advancing digital literacy among students and faculty. Unfortunately, lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs. . . . Adobe’s support of this publication is significant as their technologies are increasingly being adopted by colleges and universities to foster greater digital literacy, particularly the Adobe Creative Cloud and the design, production, and storytelling apps it encompasses.” (my emphasis)

So before I even read the report my guard was up that there would be a bias towards Adobe products. I should state I don’t have anything against Adobe per se. I use, and at times encourage others to use Adobe products, and not just for reading PDFs.

I’m was intrigued as to how the report would address the “lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy”.  Feeling confident in those nice people at NMC  I was sure that some reference would be made to the great work going on here in the UK around digital literacy.  After quick skim of the document I couldn’t see anything – however this exchange on twitter did indicate that the Jisc work was indeed included.

On closer inspection, I still can’t find it – there is a link to some work at Leeds Beckett which refers to Helen Beetham’s early digital literacy model, but I can’t find anything else.

This is the point where I wish I was Audrey Waters and could write an elegant, informed take down of why I find the approach of this report so wrong and why we, those of us who work in the education sector, need to be involved in the creation, critique  and control of the narrative around educational technology.   Bear with me as I give it a shot.   At this point I’m  tempted just to say ADOBE PAID FOR THIS REPORT AND IT IS ALL ABOUT SELLING THEIR PRODUCTS UNDER THE GUISE OF DEVELOPING CREATIVITY AND DIGITAL LITERACY.

There are differences to between the US and UK Higher Education sector/market (I have to add that every time I write market in relation to education a little piece of my soul dies).   I think the difference of intent between a virtual learning environment and a learning management system is significant.  It frames how we describe our interactions particularly in formal learning.  Learning environments are not just digital, they are physical and personal too. We are all our own learning environments. I am noticing that more people here in the  UK are talking about the LMS. Is this a sign of technological imperialism or global homogenisation? Probably a bit of both. The north American narrative voice  is loud and has lots of dollars behind it. Again as I was reading this report he old adage of America sneezing and the rest of the world catching cold did spring to mind.

As well our differences there are similarities and digital literacy is one.  I was disappointed that the report made no mention of the work that Jisc has been supporting  in the UK for a number of years now around supporting understanding of digital capabilities, the student experience and leadership. No mention of their definition of digital literacy, no mention of their framework.  That’s not to say the references that are made aren’t valid, I just find it odd that it’s not there. Particularly if  “a lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs”.  In terms of building a community of practice, again something that the report recommends, we have done this in the UK.

So whilst the overall conclusions and  recommendations are actually pretty sensible. The undertone of “smart “ collaborations, technology companies leading the way, buying a suite of “creative” products to allow students to be “makers” troubles me greatly. Buying into a system doesn’t automagically make you, or a University digitally literate or creative. It’s knowing when and how to use/buy/move on that does.  Whilst the Adobe creative suite of products is undoubtedly powerful, it also creates another set of dependencies for organisations and individuals. “Smart collaborations” between education  and technology companies really need to figure out what the potential implications of those dependencies are.

Digital literacy  is one of our  greatest weapons against the monsters of technology. We can let them dismantle it and sell it back to us.

What Sheila's seen this week: the homogenisation of engagement interfaces

Like - Thumb Up

Spoiler alert this post probably won’t be as good as the title.

Yesterday I was involved in running a workshop for our PGCert Learning and Teaching students on digital learning. One of the exercises we got the students to was to map their “learning and teaching” based on the extended Visitor’s and Resident model (more info here).  An innocent tweet of some the maps provoked a bit of a discussion,

which you can see in this storify.

But that’s a bit of an aside to the title of this post, though it was pleasing to see the engagement with the activity.  We try exemplify a number of different engagement modes throughout the workshop, and indeed my colleague Sam Ellis who is the module leader, is using a variety of different approaches both for f2f and online activities throughout the module.

Thanks to 1minuteCPD, last week I came across Zeetings – a new to me anyway service for “free flowing, ground breaking, swash buckling engagement” which will  “transform your meetings, presentations, lessons and events by empowering everyone to participate from their own device.” It’s even got a friendly beardy hipster on the home page so it must be great!

Anyway, I was intrigued so had a look and it did strike me that it could actually be quite a nice tool to use in f2f sessions for getting interaction/feedback/engagement (pick the one that suits your need).

After a chat with Sam we decided to give it a whirl.  It does have a nice UI, it’s pretty easy to use, it generates a url for you to share with those you want to access your presentation (you can make it private if you want).  It’s pretty easy to add simple polls like this:

and it has some (limited) chat functionality, included a like/start option. Of course it has analytics built in – well all know that “understanding your audience is at the heart of being a remarkable presenter”.  The basic version lets up to 30 people access a “zeeting” and you can’t access all the functionality.  But if you are creative (think groups here people) you could get more interacting with the system.

As we used it yesterday, it did seem to be quite good, nothing extraordinary, but it did allow for some enhanced interaction (group and individual) and feedback. As we were watching some of the group work come through my other colleague Jim said, “it’s quite like Facebook”, which led to this post.

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that UIs are becoming more similar.  Does it mean that everything – even any radical, alternative to the VLE – is just going to become one homogenized user experience? Are we “liking” our way into digital oblivion? Do like buttons really count as meaningful engagement? Are we (and by that I mean me) just sucked in a bit too easily by an apparently friendly, geeky, beardy icon?

I hope not.  Part of being digitally capable is being able to assess and evaluate tools/claims around engagement.  As educators we need to question the appropriateness of any kind of functionality, explore and share more why we find it useful.  Zeetings did allow us to easily create some engagement opportunities for a f2f session that we couldn’t easily, or as prettily,  do within our VLE.  Would I use it again? Probably? Would I pay for it? Probably not. But I bet I will be looking at something very similar in the not too distant future.

What Sheila's seen this week – the next big ed tech thing?

Image: Christian Schnettelker CC BY 2.0

I haven’t done a “what Sheila’s seen” post for a while, but this week seemed to be one that was worthy of it.

On Wednesday I  was invited to facilitate one of the discussion sessions at the Jisc Student Experience Experts Group.  This was the 39th meeting of the group, and although I don’t get to many of them, I always really enjoy them when I do get to go.

One of the best things about these meetings is the networking and sharing of practice. It’s always so useful to “get out of the office” and through the various presentations and conversations realise that you are not alone. The challenges I face are shared across the sector. So as well as seeing some examples of great practice it’s always quite nice to have the opportunity to have a bit of rant in “safe” company.

The meetings are free to attend, but of course there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Naturally Jisc do ask for some feedback/ideas around key challenges, and how the group think their new offering to the sector should be shaped.  Sarah Davies ( Head of higher education and student experience, Jisc) gave an overview of some the areas they are looking at just now.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot around data and analytics (hello, TEF), with a recognition that learning analytics isn’t a silver bullet. Rather that is can help give some insights into a number of areas from student support to curriculum design.  More focus on fully online delivery is becoming more important across the UK HE sector as uncertainty around particularly around student visas (hello, Brexit) grows.

I think Jisc really are facing a challenging time. They don’t have the capacity now for some of the more blue sky thinking and experimentation around innovation as they did in the past.  They are going to have to make some very pragmatic decisions. Are /can they be really forward thinking or should they just be ahead of the pack enough?

Whatever they decide I do hope that they keep supporting the community contact and practice sharing exemplified through the Experts group. I really feel this is the visible, practitioner collegiate face of Jisc, and one that I would hate to see disappear.

Senior management are of course important stake holders for Jisc in terms of getting buy-in and ultimately money. However the people who attend events like the Student Experience Experts groups are the people who actually make the changes, who experiment, share and mainstream, not just the next ‘big thing’ (be that the internet of things / the semantic web , wearables, more data ), but all the little things that together create effective learning and teaching experiences.

Later in the week in my Vice Chair of ALT capacity, I was part of a webinar with our Chair, Martin Weller and CEO Maren Deepwell.  This year the organisation is developing it’s new 3 year strategy, and of course we are looking for member feedback to help shape our strategic priorities for the next three years.  We’re going to be running 2 online sessions to get more feedback, more details here.

We certainly are living in interesting times and having an authoritative membership voice to engage, influence and challenge some of the national developments in the sector is becoming increasingly important. Over the past three years, ALT has been increasingly recognised as a point of expertise around learning technology. So if you have any ideas of where ALT should be focusing its strategic vision then please join the conversation or put your ideas into our online suggestion box.

My wish for the next big thing would be for a focus on people and time. Time for consolidation, to plan, to experiment, to fail, to succeed. Maybe that just seems like the past now . . . but if we could just get some big tech company/ new trendy start up/someone with no experience of education to “app-ify” that idea maybe, just maybe, it could indeed be the next big thing.

How do you inhabit your learning and teaching space(s)?

I haven’t blogged for the last couple of weeks, not because I haven’t wanted to, there have been a number of posts that have made want to write.  Mainly it’s because I have at last finished and more importantly submitted my CMALT portfolio, and there have been one or two other work things that have taken up my time.

As an incentive/celebration of submitting the portfolio, on Saturday night I went to the see Scottish’s Ballet’s Autumn Programme.   Before the performance started, Christopher Hampson, Chief Executive and and Artistic Director of the Company, gave an introduction to the three pieces, the first of which was short piece, Drawn to Drone,  by a young Scottish choreographer, Jack Webb. Christopher asked us, the audience, to as we were watching the piece, think about how a dancer “inhabits a space”.

As this mesmerising piece featuring one dancer and two chairs unfolded, I really did think about that. The dancer totally inhabited and filled not only the stage but the whole theatre.

During the rest of the performance and for the rest of the weekend I have been thinking about about how relevant that question of how we inhabit space is to learning and teaching.

Last week I bumped into a colleague who was literally eating lunch on the run. He had  a really full teaching day, but wanted to share how well one particular technique had worked in class. As an introduction to DNA transference with first year law students, he put some pink glitter (borrowed from his daughter) on his hands  then shook hands with a student and got that student to shake hands with another student and so on until there was no trace of the glitter (they got to about 17 handshakes). What a great way to inhabit a learning and teaching space. That glitter lesson is, I am sure, one that none of the students will forget.

Last week there was a quite a bit of debate around educational technology being  a discipline or not. Martin Weller wrote a post about how in many ways (particularly in the UK with ALT) it is, but that maybe there needed to be more of a focus on criticality. Audrey Waters wrote a riposte calling not for more discipline but for the need for “a greater willingness for undisciplining.”   Great posts, both and I encourage you to read them.

I can help feeling though, that ultimately  it’s how we use educational technology that matters, not the discipline of ed tech. We can be as rigorous critical and as we like but if that research is not easily accessible and meaningful to practice then when is the point really?

It’s how we technology  it to inhabit learning spaces that matters, ensuring we can spread the glitter and not be driven by how and when (if ever) we get to use that glitter by ed tech companies. On that note, thank you Michael Feldstein for this brilliant post).

I’m going to follow all of this up in my SEDA keynote next month, which now includes, balancing on window ledges, pigeons, ballet a bit of ed tech and now glitter. How can it fail?

DRAWN TO DRONE from jack webb on Vimeo.