New horizons with added community forecasts and reflections

I was glad to see last week the 2019 Educase Horizon Report published. Like many others I had a bit of a “love/hate” or perhaps more accurately “read/groan” attitude towards the now defunct NMC Horizon reports.  After wondering for many a year how the expert panel was chosen and how one c/would be part of it, I found out (you just ask), and I finally managed to get on the panel just before the NMC went bust.

key trends graphic

However, having made it to the panel and done a bit of earlier work I was happy to continue being part of the work as its new home was found.  I think this year the report has moved on a bit.  I particularly like the way that the panel discussion and debate is reflected in the report.  It really does add value. The highlighting of significant challenges impeding HE tech adoption also appeals to my inner cynic.

significant challenges graphic

I think this year does reflect my own experience more, particularly in areas like developing approaches to blended learning and staff development. The later is so often forgotten as institutional plans are drawn up. If you don’t actively and genuinely involve staff (and students, though that is harder due to their natural turn over) in your plans for changing your “value system” or introducing new technology, then you won’t get the kind of  change that a vision statement may allude to.  Again it is good to see the discussion around the need for more instructional designers and for teaching staff to develop their design skills.  This is closely linked to digital capabilities and what the report is referring to as digital fluency. Still not quite sure about that term . . . There’s also a more nuanced approach to data and analytics.

key trends for tech adoption graphic

So whilst there may still be a few read/groan moments, overall I think this year’s report is really worth a read and well done the the editorial team for pulling all the discussions together in such a coherent and useful way. 

Thinking about professional online identity

I really need to follow Laura Pasquini’s example and take some time to audit my digital presence properly. But I have made a start of sorts. Last week I ran a session with a group of business studies Masters level students around online professional identity. In the session we explored our online presence through White and Le Cornu’s Visitors and Residents model and looked at some of the current trends in social medial. We also discussed Laura’s post and hopefully the students will now be using her really useful (open) template to create their own digital audit.

Although I haven’t had made time to do my own audit, as part of the prep for the session I did have a quick rummage around my online spaces. My own professional online identity seems to be manifested primarily in this blog, twitter and Linkedin. The latter more because I feel I have to have a presence there, the former because they are now embedded in my practice. I also found it hard to easily find the date I joined instagram . . . Hopefully post about my audit to follow soon, but in the meantime here is a link to the slides for the session.

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.

Lurker – reclaim, accept or keep resisting? some thoughts for #SocMedHE18

Photo of silhoutte of a person

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

I’m really delighted to be part of the organising committee for #SocMedHE18 ( there’s still time to make a submission).  We’ve had some really interesting and very fun conversations about the theme of the event. We also had the brilliant Bryan Mathers lead a visual thinkery session which was so helpful and again fun.

Perhaps not surprisingly during our conversations, the word lurker has come up again and again.  Andrew Middleton has written a brilliant post summarising some of key points around “that word”, the need for active learning and positive peripheral participation. This post isn’t disagreeing with any of that, and I’m really looking forward to the discussions during the day relating to that theme. But . . .

Here’s the thing. I have a real problem using that work in an educational context. For me it always conjures negative associations of disturbing behaviour.  I spent most of my student life being quiet in a classroom, listening reflecting and I confess at times daydreaming.  Equally, a lot of my professional life has been spent being quiet in a conference room. As I’ve got older, I’ve got braver about asking questions but it is still a scary thing to do, particularly at a conference keynote.  No-one ever described that behaviour as lurking and I don’t think I’ve ever said, “oh I just lurk when I am at conference”.

I know, I know,  times change and even the OED has a more positive, online chat room related definition.  So I am conflicted. It seems that is acceptable, even quite amusing to refer to one’s self as an online lurker.  Looking on side of positive peripheral participation does, as Andrew’s post explains so well,  bring up key questions around active learning. That is a good thing.  But, if we forget the roots of the word and don’t address its negative connotations are we inadvertently missing a key educational role in addressing head on the more harmful side of online lurking behaviour such as trolling?

As with everything there must be a balance, around the need for silent reflection and (positive) active engagement. However I just can’t see myself ever being comfortable with trying to put a positive spin on a very negative word.


What is digital literacy?

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

That question popped into my inbox(es) today, from my former colleague John Robertson and his colleague Cindy, who are teaching a course called Digital Literacy and Life.   John and Cindy wrote:

As we’ve prepared for this course, we’ve been struck by the wide variety of definitions of digital literacy. It’s perhaps not surprising that there are different answers to this question and every answer we’ve found has limits and challenges. We want to try to introduce our students to the richness of the question, ask how this plays out in all of life, and help them work out their own definitions. . . .

Answer by email, Google form, link a blog post, a link to something else you’ve written, a video, a soundbite, or whatever you would like. We’ll create a post for each response. We hope to have responses by the first week of January but will post on the blog in small groups as we get them.

  • What is digital literacy?

  • What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? [*However you interpret this.]

  • Who are you? (context matters)

  • License – our intent is to post responses to this on a wordpress site for our course to explore. We’re asking for permission to publish or link to it there (with Copyright remaining yours). If this is something that y’all think would be of wider use we can looking into pulling this into a pressbooks site as some form of open text. If you want to give us text with an open license we’ll record that accordingly.

So here is my attempt to answer these not so simple questions.

1 – What is digital literacy.

I tend now to talk and think more in terms of digital capabilities, as I think it provides a more accurate description of all the “stuff” in my life intertwined with digital literacy.  The Jisc definition is my go to one:  “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society” 

2 – What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual life?

Well this is quite a broad and deep question, so I’ll probably only be able to come up with something narrow and superficial 🙂  For me I think the initial impact has been driven by my professional practice.  Working within an educational technology context, my interactions with technology have been professionally driven. That goes for my growing interest in digital literacy in general too.

I still see Information Literacy  as an overarching lens to think about digital literacy, and increasingly all the other digital stuff. (Shameless plug, this is explored more in a forthcoming book I’ve written with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston).  I’ve always been more curious and concerned around why people want to use technology and for what purposes.  Just now it is more important than ever that people understanding the cost/benefits of using technology particularly in relation to use of data.

Of course over the past decade and probably more, digital stuff, in particular social media has become more infused with my non work life . The boundaries have been blurry around where “professional” Sheila exits and how much “real” Sheila is shared. I regularly reflect and blog about this blurry-ness and my evolving relationship with my online presence.  I feel quite lucky that I have to understand what my friends/family often refer to as “techy stuff”.  I am aware of the potential impact of what I put online and I also know where to find stuff and find out about stuff.

My own digital literacy and digital capabilities are constantly evolving.  I do get concerned when there are conversations around digital literacy training. To my mind that implies that you trained at a functional level to do something and then that’s it, the evolving literacy/capability is forgotten.  A key role for any educator is around criticality, and we need to ensure we are providing our students, staff opportunities to question the use of technology.  Technology is not a neutral. We should always be asking, who owns the technology, what are their drivers/political contexts (again something we explore in much more detail in the book).  The serendipity of twitter threw this on my timeline this morning and I think it encapsulates why digital literacy is so important.

I don’t know if there is a spiritual part to my life. I’m not religious, however I hope I have a sense of morality that allows me to respect everyone and everything on the planet.  However there are moments that I want to capture and share with, well anyone.  Mainly these are photos/images – a l cloud, a flower. some chalk marks on a wall . . .  These are moments of peace, joy, wonder and the odd WTF in the world around me.   I also know when to let go and I am comfortable being off line and don’t feel the need to try and keep up with everything. If something is important it will find me one way or another.

3 –  Who are you?

Now that is quite a big question!  But for the purpose of this blog, I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Digital Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University.  I am part of the Academic Development team so my work is primarily around staff development and support in academic development.



Reflecting on my wanderings in the cloud and starting to re-evaluate my digital self


It’s with some irony that our internet connection seems to have gone done and I realise how much of my online life I have let be only accessible via cloud services. As it’s probably only temporary glitch and I’m on holiday, I’m quite chilled about it. My phone 4g signal is fine so I can use that to quickly post this.  However maybe I should be more chilled to my digital core about what others have access of mine that I don’t.

Just before the holidays  Laura  wrote a really insightful post about how she is going to try re-evaluate her digital self.  I really identified with what she was saying and even in a very superficial way I can see how my own online presence and those of many in my PLN has changed this year.   So this is my first attempt at re-evaluating my digital identity

My main online activity still occurs within a handful of services:

This blog:  which at long last in November I reclaimed (thanks Jim and co). I still try to blog once a week but it doesn’t always happen. Looking back on my posts this year I have struggled quite a bit with openness, the value of sharing, how, where and when to share. I still really value the practice of blogging as it makes me write and provides a really useful addition to my memory.

Twitter – 10 years on it and still here.  I have reflected quite a bit over the year about why.  I know I am not as constantly active as in years past. This might be a symptom of “growing up”, the pattern of my working life changing,  the ugly, dominating, denigrating voices. However there are still peak periods of really useful activity such as in conferences, tweet chats (LTHEchat, BYOD4L).  The professional connections and collegialitythat twitter has helped me to foster is something I will be eternally grateful for.  It saddens me that many people may not experience that thrill of connecting with your peers, asmore of us older tweeters change our habits and aren’t around as much. Perhaps forgetting the sharing opportunities it gave to many, particularly in field of educational technology.  I am a bit more comfortable with 240 characters than I initially expected. I hate the advertising, the helpfully annoying messages showing me what I have missed when I have been away, the fact that twitter has to find ‘a purpose’,  has to sell itself.

Facebook – I browse more than post. Facebook has always been for me a place for for real friends and family and a way to keep in touch. I get a little bit irritated with people who use it to share work stuff.  But it’s the advertising and automatic algorithmic choices about what I see which are real source of irritation and increasing anger.

Linkedin – I’m still there, not sure why,  we just all have to be don’t we? It’s the grown up, professional thing to do! One thing I really noticed this year was that the automagic re-post from my blog to my linkedin feed had stopped working (I didn’t notice) but when I did in July and reconnected I saw quite a spike in my blog stats.

Instagram: I probably share more of the “real” not professional me here.  Images really do speak a thousand words and I love seeing what others share. Like almost everyone I did my #ninebest this year.  As I did, another unwritten blog post came to mind about the dangerous simplicity of getting me to share my images, my locations, my life so easily with another 3rd party service who could run all sorts of algorithms on it, and the hundreds of thousands of others with that hashtag and sell us (our data) onto the highest bidder.

Blipfoto – I’m still sharing a photo a day. I think this is perhaps my most intimate online presence. It’s a smaller community and my network there is quite different from other sites. There is the inevitable crossover, but I like the simplicity and the humanity still there.  I also like the disciple of choosing just one image. Mea culpa sometimes I share far too many pics on Instagram!

Google+  – still there, still forgetting about it until I remember to log in. There are some strong communities there and I’m gearing up again for #BYOD4L so will be back with a vengeance in January.

This year I’ve also starting to use Slack for a number of communities in particular Virtually Connecting.  It has been a joy becoming part of that community.

Over the years I’ve always felt quite comfortable with my online presence. I’ve always, perhaps somewhat smugly, felt that I had the digital confidence and capabilities to know what to share where. To an extent I still feel I know where to share “stuff” – personal and professional, however the drivers to share are changing.  Partly that is to do with the madness of this year, when it seemed that the world has been in a constant state of WTF.  The political madness allows for more control and challenges to education from “big business”. The myths of AI and automation  Who controls the networks the data, our data, how and where we can share vexes me continually. I can reclaim my hosting but trying to reclaim my storify narratives is a not quite so simple. . .

When I’m fully online again I’ll try and reflect on this a bit more using Laura’s post as a reference point to really get to grips with understanding, as Laura put it,

more about the impact and influence I have let technology and platforms invade my everyday way of living.


The end of once upon a storify

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

Like many other this week I got an email informing me that “unfortunately will no longer be available after May 16, 2018“.  This came as  a bit of a blow to me. I really like Storify as a way to collate tweets. I know that it is easier to embed tweets now then when Storify started. I did play around with the twitter stories feature for a bit but went back to storify.  I just preferred the storify UI and end presentation.

I created my first storify back back in February 2011. At that time I was working for CETIS and it was a great tool to use to summarize meetings/conferences/events I was attending organising. I really liked it as an alternative/addition to me writing a blog post about, particularly a community driven, events as it allowed me to pull in some of the insightful commentary that people at the event were contributing and, well you know, create a story that was based on what people actually said, and  not just my interpretation of the day.

Like most tools/services, my use of it has changed over the years. I’ve used for collating tweets more as personal notes that I haven’t shared, and also to catch some random but useful twitter conversations. This is still the best explanation of betweenness centrality ever!  Storify also came into its own for saving tweet chats, e.g BYOD4L.  What a huge amount of community sharing and expertise lies within all those stories.

Looking back now, I have 50 stories in my personal account, which in total have had over 19,500 views. But what should I do now? Do I archive them – and if I do where should I save/share them?  Should I just save the ones with the most views? Does it really matter? Should I just consign this another digital ephemeral experience?  Should I buy a livefyre licence to access Storify 2? Guess the answer to that will depend on how much it costs.

I’m sure I will get over the loss of Storify, and of course there are other archiving tools I can, and do use – not least the amazing Tags. But there was just something nice, simple and good about it.


Helping young people gain the skills they need for a digital future: guest blog post for Parent Zone

One of the best bits about blogging is that you just never know who is reading your posts and where that might lead.  I was delighted earlier this summer when the Parent Zone editorial team got in touch with me to ask me to write a guest post for them about the digital skills and capabilities young people bring, and need to develop in Higher Education.  The post was published at the end of last week, and you can access it here.

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Are you a digital polymath?


Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 10.02.57I think it might have been an bit of a radio interview early one morning a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking about polymaths. It was one of those just waking up moments so I didn’t get a lot of context, but I now have figured out that it probably was a bit of BBC trailer disguised as in interview thing, for a programme aired early this week on Radio 4 –  Monkman and Seagull’s Polymathic Adventure.

The hosts, Monkman and Seagull led teams on last year’s university challenge and both were memorable for their quizzing prowess and become almost instant social media celebs (well in the UK anyway).

The half hour programme is a good overview of the history, rise and fall(?) of the polymath. Well certainly from a Western European perspective and is well worth a listen.

Through conversations with a range of academics, and ubiquitous polymath, Stephen Fry our hosts tried to get answers from questions such as, is it possible to be a useful know it all in the 21st century?  is the notion of the polymath an outdated concept harking back to the renaissance?  Even by the 18th century there was a developing discourse around the need for specialists as opposed to polymaths. At that point it was felt that the world was too complex for anyone to have in-depth cross disciplinary knowledge.

So in the 21st century when knowledge and information is being created and shared at an ever increasing rate is there a role for the polymath? Is it even possible to be an expert across multiple domains just now?

There was a really interesting thread running through the programme about the differences between specialists and polymaths. In terms of education are we forcing specialisms at too early an age?  There was a striking comment that actually that any paradigm shifts in any discipline might actually need the input from those with a broader perspective.

When talking about the characteristics of the polymath, Stephen Fry described himself as someone who has “learnt a lot not someone who knows a lot”.  His greed for knowledge he likened to putting on epistemological weight (sic).

Of course underlying the whole programme and concept was education. The conclusions, were around the challenges of contributing to new knowledge and making connections/communicating knowledge between specialists and new audiences. That sounds quite a lot like a large part of a learning technologists/educational developer role to me.

I can’t remember if it was Seagull or Monkman who concluded that for it it was ultimately about  “what you do with what you know and make a positive difference in other people’s lives”.  Sounds a lot like teaching to me.

The whole programme got me think about digital capabilities too. Perhaps that is where the future of the polymath may lie.  The focus an developing digital capabilities could help us develop a new 21st notion of a digital polymath, someone who has a broad knowledge and in-depth understanding of using digital tools, which in turn should help many, not just the few make a positive difference in their own and others lives.

I often feel that my role is a bit like being a jack of all trades, so the notion of being a digital polymath does help make sense of that a bit. I still won’t ever make it onto University Challenge . . . but I can live with that.

NMC Digital Literacy take 2: the power of a good rant

I was pleased to spot last night that the NMC has published its second Horizon Project Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy :

a follow-up to its 2016 strategic brief on digital literacy. Commissioned by Adobe, this independent research builds upon the established baseline definitions of digital literacy from the 2016 brief, examining digital literacy through a global and discipline-specific lens to reveal new contexts that are shaping the way learners create, discover, and critically assess digital content.

Now,  dear Reader,  you may remember when their first one came out last year, it provoked me to have, as they say here in Glasgow “a right good rant“.  My rantiness seemed to strike a chord and, as wordpress likes to tell me now and again, got my stats booming.  It’s also caught the eye of the folks at NMC who got in touch and we exchanged a few emails about my concerns with the first report.

The second version is much better. It isn’t being driven by products (one of my main concerns about the first report)  but by international research and practice. I was particularly pleased to see the work of Helen Beetham and Jisc featuring.

Now I know that my rant wasn’t responsible for this change of heart, but it is always gratifying when one of my (quite frequent) rants actually seems to chime with others and more importantly I can see something tangible a few months later.  Just shows that sharing your views does matter and can make a difference.

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