Lost for metaphors

Martin Weller is writing a book about metaphors and edtech. In his now customary way of book writing, Martin is blogging about the work as it progresses (such a great example of open practice). As I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek, a tweet last week “Death Star vs Storm Trooper investment ” caught my eye as I scrolled through my twitter feed. It’s a good analogy, particularly as it ends with the need for investment in people not just great big scary, planet destroying machines, filled with homogenous white suited soldiers with really bad aim.

I’m sure there is another one, or three, equally valid metaphors relating the Rebel Alliance, that would highlight the need for creativity, for “resilience” in times of adversity, for openness, for diversity for actually be able to hit something with your laser gun. But it’s been a long week and I don’t have the energy to write that.

Alan Levine has also been thinking about metaphor this week too with his Dead Professors Society post. Alan highlighted a bit of a sensationalised story about recordings of a deceased professor being used to “replace faculty”. Of course, the truth is a bit more nuanced – and it’s great that the comments explain more too.

So whilst I am as much of a fan of metaphor as the next person, and I am looking forward to reading Martin’s book, I am struggling with them just now. I’ve found this last week in January particularly hard going. The combination of the confirmation of the UK “winning” at COVID as we sail past the 100,000 death toll, dark nights, continued lockdown, and well, you know January – least we forget January is always a bit of a depressing month – have all got to me.

However, I know I am very fortunate, and I am quite good at giving myself a bit of slack then a good talking to, to get me back on track. There’s a metaphor for that I’m sure too . . .

Trouble is, when I try to think of metaphors for what is going on just now I can’t. Well, I can but they are usually linked to dystopian nightmare narratives. “This” is not like anything else I’ve ever experienced. And I am one of the very lucky ones. I’m healthy, have a home, a dedicated workspace, internet connection, food, enough work to pay for that, family and friends. I even have the added luxury (or conceit?) of being able to ramble on about “stuff” and publish it.

As ever I’m not quite sure what I am trying to say in this post, but I think it’s something about maybe not looking for metaphors for what is going on just now, but spending some time working out just what is actually happening and how it is actually affecting people – particularly with regards to education.

A theme (perhaps provocation) of a number of keynotes I gave last year was around understanding our new ways of “being” – being at school, at work, at home, being in lockdown. What that actually meant, how we were or weren’t coping/adapting to and with those significant changes.

In her recently published paper “ There is no ‘virtual learning’: the materiality of digital education, Lesley Gourlay presents a powerful argument and narrative for the need to broaden our conceptions of digital education that are grounded in what is actually happening just now. Lesley presents the need examine the “entanglements” of our digital and physical experiences.

I think that’s what I need right now. Because it’s only by understanding “all this” that any of use will be able have an useful metaphors. In the meantime, for a bit of this Saturday afternoon I might just escape to a galaxy far, far, away . . .

Bring your own device for learning or bringing learning to your device?

Maybe it’s just the time of year, maybe it’s just the context of this year, maybe it’s just a sign of age, but I am finding myself getting more and more nostalgic as various online services “pop up” reminders of what I was doing at this time, last year, 2, 4 ,5, 7 years ago. This time last year I was still travelling across the country to run workshops . . .

Over the last few days I’ve been getting reminders of #BYOD4L (Bring your own device for learning). This was a week long open “event” for staff, students and the brain child of Chrissi Nerantzi, Sue Beckingham and David Hopkins. Along with Alex Spiers and Neil Withnell, I was part of the facilitation team that took over from the original team.

BYOD4L was always a brought a bit of focus and fun to gloomy January’s past. The structure of the event was based around the 5 c’s – connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating. Each day focused on one of the “c’s”, and there were daily tweet chats each evening. Lots of us used the flexibility and open-ness of the concept to run face to face sessions (remember them?) in our institutions. It gave a focus to bring people together to share the ways they used technology in their learning and teaching.

It was also a really fantastic way to introduce people to twitter and connect to a ready made learning network. It was exhausting to facilitate but always great fun, and for me, a really positive learning experience. It was also a great incentive for writing blog posts!

Although BYOD4L was largely online, it enabled so many different face to face interactions. It was also predicated on the context that the majority of staff and students were travelling to campus, and so bringing their devices to those physical locations. Students and staff were accessing their “stuff” on the bus/train/car/tube where ever, as well as on campus/in class/in the library/in the refectory etc. But now, we’re all at home (or maybe in halls of residence, or maybe with very limited time on campus), so it’s not so much a case of bringing your own device for learning, rather bringing learning to your own device (BYOD2L instead of BYOD4L). That’s a subtle but important change of emphasis. And of course, access to “your own” device isn’t a given. The last year has certainly highlighted the digital divide around access to devices. Not all students (or teachers) have a laptop/computer/device that they can use, or afford the data allowance to engage with online learning. Having a mobile phone is one thing, but their limitations for learning have been well and truly exposed. We still can’t assume that they everyone has unlimited online access.

Over the last year a huge amount has been done by everyone in terms of moving to online learning and teaching and providing access to equipment and data. Back in the day, there were a core of #BYOD4L-ers who might have been seen as “outsiders” from the norm, as they were interested, and more importantly using technology actively in their learning and teaching and sharing that practice openly.

Looking back a the BYOD4L model, it still holds up. So I wonder if there is an opportunity to revisit it and use it as a way to focus on reflecting on what has happened over the last 10 months and help us focus on what should be our priorities (based on actual practice) for the foreseeable future? Although the event was designed with staff and students in mind, getting students involved was always a challenge and one I never managed to crack. But I think that might be different now, I think that this could provide a focus for student/staff engagement that is relevant to our current context.

This needs a lot more thought, but I’d love to know what you think.

What a difference a day makes: resolutions, unexpected realities and reflection

Thanks to the Timehop app I was reminded today that a year ago I gave not 1, but 2 keynotes at Heriot Watt University. One was online, quite early in the morning for their Malaysia and Dubai campuses, the other a bit later in the day on the Edinburgh campus.  Yes, dear reader,  I was in a room with actual people in it who weren’t physically distanced!

The theme of new year resolutions was chosen to help promote and raise awareness of a digital learning initiative that the Learning and Teaching Academy were launching.  How little we knew then about how much, and how fast things would change. 

In my talk I talked about how to balance the  at times seemingly “big” challenges strategy documents bring with the reality of doing seemingly small things, which can often make quite “big” differences in how you teach and how your students engage. 

Obviously, a year ago I had no idea that we were actually on the cusp of a global pandemic. COVID 19 still seemed quite distant, mainly affecting China and some cruise ships.  I had no idea how rapidly attitudes to digital learning would have to evolve.  The LTA Team did an outstanding job last year of providing support with and for their teaching colleagues and students, particularly with their  awarding winning project  Supporting Student Learning Online .  A fantastic set of  openly available resources.

As Martha highlighted in her tweet, a huge amount was done in a very short time.  There wasn’t really the luxury to focus on just one or two things, everyone had to get up to speed and online.  Phil made a good point about big changes and small ideas.

Looking back at the slides and my notes, I think the overall sense of it is still ok,  particularly the focus on humanity first. The importance of human contact and care has really been brought to the fore during 2020. Though, I still think we haven’t quite got there. I know of far too many friends and colleagues in HE whose default working day seems to have extended too long – both in terms of daily hours, and in terms of the length of time “all this” has lasted.  A 15 hour day isn’t normal, isn’t sustainable and shouldn’t be expected. Neither should days filled with back to back online meetings. I also don’t think I explicitly mentioned equity in the talk, and I would definitely do that now.

I hope there is some time this year for reflection on what happened last year. I hope that there is an acceptance that “normal” is a very long way away, that there are some serious discussions about how to adapt now old curriculum to the current realities of our working/learning/teaching/living spaces and places.

So maybe instead of resolutions this year we all should be making sure we have time for some reflections about what we really should be taking forward this year.