What does education mean to you? January 24 UN #Education Day

What does education mean to you? I spotted this question on my twitter timeline this morning from the UNWomen account. The United Nations are celebrating their first #EducationDay and asking the world to answer that question. They are also using the day to remind the world the world of the UN’s commitment to supported the fundamental universal right to education.

“This day is the occasion to reaffirm fundamental principles. Firstly, education is a human right, a public good and a public responsibility. Secondly, education is the most powerful force in our hands to ensure significant improvements in health, to stimulate economic growth, to unlock the potential and innovation we need to build more resilient and sustainable societies. Lastly, we urgently need to call for collective action for education at global level.”

— Audrey Azoulay, Director General, Message on the occasion of the International Day of Education

So what does education mean to you? Hope, power, freedom, connecting are some of the words that immediately to my mind, followed by exclusion, bias, access, money.

In this age of alternative facts and disinformation, it would do no harm for us all to think just what exactly education means, how we support it and how we ensure that the right to education is a goal we all keep working towards.

Available now – Conceptualising the digital university: the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice

So after a couple of years talking the idea around, another year or so getting a decent proposal together for a publisher, and about 9 months of writing, our book Conceptualising the Digital University: the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice is now published.

Writing the book has been quite a journey for myself and my fellow authors, Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth. We have been working, presenting and producing papers on the topic of the digital university for a number of years now. I think the first joint blog post Bill and I wrote about it was back in 2012. Having the time and support to be able to write a whole book is undoubtedly a big perk of “the job”, but it is still a bit of a labour of love and lost holidays/weekends. When I get an actual hard copy that will be all but forgotten.

Our intent for the book was not to give a blueprint for what a digital university is, or should be. Rather it is an exploration of the current neoliberal context universities (particularly in the UK) are working in. What we have attempted to do is to provide a critique of current and potential developments based underpinned by critical pedagogy. Or as the blurb puts it

Despite the increasing ubiquity of the term, the concept of the digital university remains diffuse and indeterminate. This book examines what the term ‘digital university’ should encapsulate and the resulting challenges, possibilities and implications that digital technology and practice brings to higher education. Critiquing the current state of definition of the digital university construct, the authors propose a more holistic, integrated account that acknowledges the inherent diffuseness of the concept. The authors also question the extent to which digital technologies and practices can allow us to re-think the location of universities and curricula; and how they can extend higher education as a public good within the current wider political context. Framed inside a critical pedagogy perspective, this volume debates the role of the university in fostering the learning environments, skills and capabilities needed for critical engagement, active open participation and reflection in the digital age.

The role of open education does feature heavily in the book. However we were caught in the open paradox in terms of making this open access. One of the first discussions we had with the publisher when they approached us was around an open access version of the book. However, that option was just not financially viable for us, we didn’t (and still don’t) have spare £10k. We could have self published, but to be honest having the pressure of a contract and publisher deadlines meant that we actually wrote the book and didn’t just have great conversations every time we met. We managed to do both – though at times the chat was very distracting! We are now working with the publisher to try and get some chapters of the book openly available.

We see the book as just the start of even more conversations and debate around the future of universities. There were many areas we just didn’t have the space to cover adequately. However, we are looking forward to working through some of our ideas/approaches at a workshop at the OER19 conference in April. If you are interested in reviewing the book you can request a review copy here and if you do, please let me know.

Some reflections from#socMedHE18 –

Early this week I attended the #socMedHE conference at Nottingham Trent University. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay until the end of the event and so couldn’t give my plenary round up in person. So, in the spirit of social media, I recorded a little video the day after and then shared that.

This was a bit of a ramble. I probably should have written down some key points, maybe even have written a draft script, but you know #time #work. If nothing else, I hope it captured some of the #joy of the event.

However I think I need to add a few things that I forgot missed out. The themes of the day were #Openness #Digital_Identity #Creativity #Wild Card, which our keynote, Maren Deepwell really got to the heart of in her opening keynote. (You can watch the recording of it here – and it really is worth it).

The sense of community is something that really resonated with me during the day. All the organising committee were very keen that this should be as inclusive an event as possible. Inclusion is difficult, and that was brought up in a session I chaired. There are always barriers to participation be that #geography #time #money – but we did do our best to reduce some of those barriers. Andrew Middleton has written an excellent post about (not) being there.

The use of social media can go some way to extend inclusion – not the whole way I appreciate but some way. This was an event organised by a group of UK based academics, so had a very UK centric focus. However we do hope that this event will act as a taster for the bigger socMedHE19 conference later this year where we will hopefully be able to get more international input.

But back to community. The level of openness I experienced from all the sessions, and throughout the day, was so inspiring. I really got the sense that people felt they were in a safe space where meaningful critical conversations could take place.

Conversations are complex things and so many of the issues around teaching complexity that Bonnie Stewart and Amy Collier had brought up at their connected teaching online webinar the day before the conference were ringing round my head too.

(Critically) engaged conversations require active participation, and respect for others. The latter is all too often lost through the broadcast aspect of social media, particularly Twitter (hello, President Trump). This is something that Frances Bell picked up on Twitter

“we can be kind to those nearer to us and farther from us in subtly different ways (and combinations) that leave them space to be.”

Again subtly can get lost on social media, but that it is where education has a key role to play in adding nuance. As Frances highlights, we all need space to be, well wherever or whatever we need to be. By extending our communities through social media can help to foster meaningful, active conversations at appropriate times and places.

You can find out more about #socMedHE here.