Gasta time again #GastaGoesGlobal

Earlier this week I once again joined a great set of speakers (Maha Balil, Leigh Graves-Wolf, Martin Weller, Mark Brown & Frank Rennie) to almost a year to the day, take part in Gastas Goes Global 2. The brain child of Tom Farrelly, Gasta sessions are basically a set of short (5 minute) presentations, with lots of audience participation counting speakers in and cutting them off if they exceed the time limit. You can read more here.

This year the online organisation and facilitation really moved up a notch (tho’ it was pretty impressive last year too). So many thanks to everyone involved in the set up, streaming and feedback of the event. Having a 5 minute time visible on screen was both useful and slightly panic inducing. Particularly when it got to a minute and you still had about another 5 minutes of “stuff” to say!

Another addition this year is an open book to accompany the event. All the speakers have been asked to submit an article based on their presentations. I’m glad of the opportunity to do that as I did have to cut out quite a bit of what I had planned to say. More of that in another post!

In Tom’s introduction he said that one year on, this was a chance to reflect, to review and most importantly share experiences of the past year. One point I wanted to make, but I don’t think I got over as well as I’d hoped is that although it felt like everything changed last year, it also feels like nothing actually changed either. . The oil tanker of education (particularly higher education) is still traveling on the same, well worn route. There hasn’t (as yet) been widespread changes to core curriculum, to our “scheduling” of teaching, to notions of what “being” a student is now. But maybe I just haven’t seen them yet. The disruption of lockdown hasn’t really invoked any radical changes to the overall structures of our education systems. But, again maybe that’s just my interpretation, so please contradict me and challenge me, dear reader.

One element I that I know I did rush through was the importance of community. That has been so important for everyone in and outwith education. The Gasta itself is/was/ such a fabulous example of community action, generosity of spirit, of expertise, of time, of kindness, of care, of good humour and most importantly sharing. For me it was another energising experience. From the focus of care from Maha, to the wonderful poetry to help soothe the soul from Leigh, to the unexpected analogies with Jaws from Martin, all the speakers brought a wealth of stimulating thoughts to the session.

At the start of my talk I said I was tired, but on reflection, I think weary is a more accurate word to use in my context. I’m weary of lockdown, of restrictions, of missing places and people. I’m also wary of what might actually be ahead. There is some hope, but we are not over “all this” yet.

So many thanks to Tom and all team for putting on such a great event.

Here’s a link to my slides, and yes they are the same ones I used last year, which I felt was appropriate, as I’m still wondering “so what now?”

Digital Learning in the pandemic and beyond – embracing a bit of radical uncertainty

This week I was delighted to have been invited to give a vision talk to start the Digital Learning in the Pandemic and Beyond half day conference organised by TechPathWays London and ALT. Over the morning there were a series of great presentations from Techpathways around the work they are doing with schools, from Jane Secker and Chris Morrisson about copyright and online learning, and Alistair McNaught about accessibility.

I used embracing radical uncertainty as a hook for my talk. Over the past 11 months we have all lived through huge changes in how we live, work and interact with each other. In terms of education, there has been a massive shift in delivery, which has put a spotlight on the increasing digital and socio-economic divide in our society. In the UK we take universal access to education as a given, however if you don’t have access to suitable devices and more importantly can’t pay for the data needed, then you can’t access education in an equitable way. As we move forward with schools opening up, we have to learn from what has happened, and not forget that divide. Despite what politicians say, I suspect that there may be other lock downs, perhaps more local and shorter, but if that does happen we need to be ready and able for equitable, flexible learning.

With all that has happened over the past year, if this isn’t the time to be thinking about radical change to education then I don’t know when is. Our children and young people deserve more than “catch up”. They don’t need to be constantly reminded of how much they have missed. They need to be given the opportunity to be part of the discussions about what we all experienced over the last year. They need to see that education is something that is done with them, not to them. We need to be having some radical, open discussions about what is really needed to move forward to ensure that our students can be part the radical solutions needed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the even more pressing issues of climate change.

My slides are below and as you can watch a recording of the event here. (NB you will have to create a log in to access)

Hope in a time of radical uncertainty

I’m doing a short keynote/vision talk next week at the Digital Learning in the Pandemic and Beyond half day conference. The event has a focus on “looking at the practicalities, possibilities and potential pitfalls of online learning”, and has a great line of speakers looking at blended learning, copyright and accessibility.

I’m giving the opening talk and I think it is even more challenging right now to come up with something visionary, yet realistic given our current context. Just going to a conference is a wholly different contextual digital and material experience than from a year ago. We have gone through a radical change not just in education but across all aspects of our lives. I was struck by a quote in an article I read last week about not giving up hope taken from a 2014 paper on Climate Change,

the context for hope is radical uncertainty” (McKinnon, 2014)

There is no doubt we have lived and continue to live in states of uncertainty. When schools/colleges/universities will fully open is just one of our current “known unknowns” – we have dates but nothing is certain.

We have experienced a radical change in the delivery of education. Arguably this might not have quite as much an impact on radically changing our education system for the future in the calls to “get back to normal” , but it has raised wider societal questions around the cost of data, equitable access to online learning, and the the limits of mobile devices for learning and teaching.

In an attempt to get a bit of community feedback before the event I put out a tweet yesterday asking people to share what if anything they had done since lockdown that they felt was radical in their teaching and learning. Thanks to everyone who responded.

From changes in access such as ports being opened so it was much easier to move in an out of institutional spaces, to making mix tapes for students to listen to as they explore resources, to creating OERs with students, to making more videos for students, to exploring with different design spaces, to getting access to more commerial courses, to choose your own adventure assignments, to using more creative pedagogies it was a very small slice of lots and lots of changes that could be having quite radical impacts on learning and teaching. I’ve collated all the responses into a wakelet shared below, but if you want to share something then please do leave a comment.

Now I am aware that some may not think of any of these as being “radical” but radical change can often be incremental starting with self awareness and having the agency to change the way you do things and look at the world. As we move forward I do think it is going to be really important to have some extended conversations between students, staff, management, government and our wider communities about what we really need to develop in order to develop our education systems to deal with the more uncertainty in equitable, open and accessible ways. And that is the kind of radical hope we all need in these uncertain times.

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.

Reflecting on the “Zoom Gaze”

Like most people I know, I’ve spent a lot more time on Zoom (and a couple of other similar web conferencing systems) this year than I expected. I’m writing this post between zoom calls. I’ve also spent a bit more time supporting people in their use of zoom – both professionally and personally than I expected. In fact at the beginning of 2020 I really didn’t have any expectations of zoom at all! But from what experience I did have I knew that the ‘viewing’ experience of being in a zoom meting was very different to the “viewing” experience of a face to face meeting. Non verbal communication cues change, you spend a lot more time looking at yourself and others. Your gaze changes, it’s tiring.

Like a lot of people I know, this week I read The Zoom Gaze by Autumm Caines. If you haven’t read it, I would encourage you to. It’s a really powerful piece about how technology mediates control and power of virtual spaces which impacts on behaviour, and expectations. It asks us to question just what the “zoom gaze” is.

As Zoom shifts the nature of the relationship between viewing and being viewed, it also shifts our awareness of it: It makes us more conscious of how visibility is mediated by technologies in general. That is, it calls our attention to what theorists describe as “the gaze,” which analyzes the power relations in looking and being seen and how these are consolidated in a particular way of seeing that may come to seem natural. Right now, our new conditions call attention to the different power dynamics that come into play as face-to-face interactions shift to online video spaces — what we might call the Zoom gaze (though, of course, it would apply to video telephony in general). It is critical to understand the Zoom gaze now, before it becomes so familiar that it seems immutable — just the way things are.”

Over the past 3 weeks as my local area has been in stricter lockdown measures, my life drawing class has moved to a zoom version. I was quite curious to see how/if this would actually work. I like life drawing with a real model, in a physical space. I’m one of those people who can’t really understand why some of the artists on shows like Portrait Artist of the Year, work from a photograph and at times don’t even seem to look at the sitter.

Conversely, I do work from photographs quite a lot in my landscape work. My only defence, if I need one, is that they are generally reminders of places I have been, and I often have sketches too. The weather here in Scotland can be challenging for “plein air” painting. My camera phone photo roll is a kind of digital sketch book for me now. I have incorporated that aspect of technology into my practice, I feel I am in control of that view and it’s static, one way if you like. But back to the life drawing and zoom

My tutor Ewen, worked really hard at making the classes work and was really open to trying new things and upfront about his lack of experience of how “this would all work”. Week 1, we had 4 different camera views to choose from ( we all of course had to have the same view), week 3 it’s down to one. Automatically I had my mic on mute (hello behaviourism), the others in my group don’t use zoom as much as me so didn’t. There’s not a lot of talking when you are life drawing so it’s been fine to have mics on, and there were only about 6 of use each week. We did of course have a bit of “external conversations” and “why can’t I see the model on my screen” in week one but that quickly got sorted.

The experience has really made me hyper aware of the mediation of technology on my “drawing gaze”. My gaze was restricted by having to viewing the model through my screen (a 14″ MacBookAir). The camera was fixed, the model was clothed, the lighting again mediated through technology. I was sitting at my desk not standing behind an easel, I was using smaller pieces of paper. I could almost feel a cognitive crisis seeping throughout my body.

I found the drawing hard, I had to work my way through all these changes. It was frustrating, there was an emerging foggy idea of what/how to draw in this new technology mediated way, but what my hands were actually doing wasn’t quite matching up to what I wanted – even though I didn’t really know what it was that I actually wanted to do. I was very aware of how the the screen was framing my view. Last night though I had a bit of a break through, I started using oil pastels and a bit more colour. I felt a bit more at ease, a bit more in control of my understanding of what was going on and the “zoom gaze” I was working within.

I also realised last night that what this particular zoom mediated gaze did most was to remove my emotional connection with the sitter and their surroundings. Sometimes you just get a feeling when you are drawing which guides what you do. Even though it might not be an “accurate” drawing, the overall feeling that the lines, tone and shade present make the whole thing just work. In our last pose last night our two models wore their masks (in our f2f classes we all wear masks but the models don’t) and I think that gave me a bit of an emotional hook.

Anyway it’s been a bit of minor revelation for me being able to think about many of the issues Autumm raised in the article in this context, particularly about how technology can simultaneously enable and block emotional connections. It has made me think even more about the different aspects of the zoom gaze and the need to seriously consider they way technology mediates and controls human interactions. Thanks Autumm.

photo of life drawings
sketches from zoom life drawing class 9/12/20

Saying no and the Red Queen Trap

How are you? I mean really how are you?  I’ve had so many conversations lately where people I have seen a palpable sense of relief when I have said, that actually I’m not that great.  That’s allowed them to say the same.

I cried when Nicola Sturgeon announced stricter lockdown measures here just over a week ago. Although I knew the announcement was coming, when she actually made it, I felt the most overwhelming wave of despair. I just broke down and cried and I mean really cried. I felt I couldn’t “do this anymore“. 

Those feelings have passed, I’ve come to terms with the situation, but I know lots of people are feeling the same. Tired, stressed, and in my part of the world anyway suffering from shorter daylight hours. The seasonal change to winter is even more acute this year. There might even be a hibernation analogy here. We are being forced to lock down, but we can’t sleep, we can’t properly rejuvenate ready for spring – we have to keep going. Putting Christmas light up early is just another distraction from reality. It’s going to be even darker when we have to take them down.

This image was doing the rounds last week on twitter. Where I am on the scale fluctuates wildly, but I’ve not been in that green zone for a sustained period for a while. 

A lot of that is down to my choices. I choose to be self employed so I have to live with an element of risk around paid work.  But that risk has seemed heightened lately.  I’m lucky in that I have another outlet that keeps me sane. It has its stresses too, but it has been the lifeline I’ve needed to. I know I have retreated from much of my professional network over the past months. Some days I just don’t have the energy for twitter, and when I do my posts are more irreverent.

I also have a lot of guilt too. I feel guilty when I hear from colleagues who seem to still be working 15 hour days; who don’t manage to get outside some days as by the time they’ve finished work  it’s dark, wet and cold.  Quite often I don’t do 15 hours of paid work a week! Now that’s a whole other worry for me and not for here. Many of them are spending more time checking their teams are OK  – perhaps even using that table above. That’s getting harder now too when everyone is still working from home. It’s really hard to get “out of the office” with people.  Work piles up – universities are still ploughing on with “business as normal”. And you can’t afford to say no to anything.

Last week as I was contemplating on a few conversations I had been having, Kate Bowles share this post The Red Queen Trap,  by Teodor Mitew.   It’s a really insightful piece about organisational chance, and how organisations adapt  (or don’t)  to change.  The piece proposes that the more hierarchal an organisations the harder it is for it to adapt to any changes in context.  As the Red Queen explained to Alice,  “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”  Remind you of anywhere you know?

It seems to me that over the past 9 months that’s exactly what HE (and in fact the whole education system ) has been doing  – running to stand still.  And doing that has used up a huge amount of energy. I wonder if anyone will do some kind of cost benefit analysis of the time staff have spend in online meetings with productivity (whatever that actually might mean in an educational context)?  I suspect there might not be a direct correlation. 
Anyway as the post so elegantly explains this is where the Red Queen paradox comes into play again:

In the absence of surplus  energy and provided there is no energy transfer from the outside, it must somehow free up energy from within its internal state in order to adapt.  The question is, which internal elements should be sacrificed to free  up that energy? This is where the Red Queen Trap’s simple elegance is  fully revealed.
Essentially, there are two options – a seductively easy one and an  unthinkable one. The seductively easy option is to sacrifice the  periphery, or elements of it, and preserve the decision-making center.  It is an easy choice for the center to make because it naturally sees  itself as the key element of the system and this choice allows it to  remain intact. It is a seductive choice because the center suddenly  finds itself with a flush of spare energy which it can use to maintain  the pseudo-equilibrium and often even to grow itself at the cost of the  periphery. Alas, the elegance of the trap is in the fact that the seductively easy option removes the center even further from external conditions; less  periphery equals less opportunities to observe and react quickly to  external reality, thereby further magnifying the initial conditions that  brought the system to this state in the first place. By making that  choice the center sinks further into the trap.
By contrast, the unthinkable option is to sacrifice the center and preserve the periphery, thereby flattening the internal structure of the system into a less hierarchical form. It is an unthinkable option for the center to make because, as pointed out above, it naturally sees itself as the key element of the system and this choice forces it to sacrifice itself. It is also unthinkable because it involves a thorough rethinking of the internal structure of the system, which until that moment was organized entirely around vertically integrated decision making, with little to no autonomy in the periphery. The centre must not only sacrifice some of itself, but also reorganize the periphery in such a way so that it can now perform those functions in place of the center. This would allow the system to free itself from the trap”

The “traditional” curriculum has been tweaked not changed, face to face is still the holy grail for delivery. The economic realities of maintaining almost empty physical spaces is taking its toll. So the apparent logical solution is to cut at the periphery – get rid of staff, keep the centre safe until everything is “normal” again. Don’t stop to really engage with the realities of our context, and leave the staff (who are left), those who are actually keeping things going even more stressed out with endless meetings, developing new strategies to delivery ambitions from a defunct reality, and no time to breathe and think. No meetings/ email Fridays sound great in principle but the reality is that they just give you time to catch up on the rest of the emails that have piled up during the week.

Why are we trying to do another “normal” semsester when actually we all know it’s not going to be “normal”? Why can’t we take time to spend a couple of months really engaging with digital capabilities and our wider context? To learn and share from the changes that have been made? To help us think about how we are going to be able to cope with the mental health pandemic that is going to hit us next year. That might actually let everyone escape the looking glass. But hey, what do I know.

And that’s another worry of mine. Because I’m not in “the belly of the beast” so to speak, am I becoming irrelevant as I haven’t worked in a university through that covid/lockdown experience? I don’t really understand what it has been and continues to be like.

In a number of keynotes this year I have argued for the need to give time to rethink what and how universities are doing in terms of curriculum delivery, and completely rethink at the very least the way first year is delivered. Of course, no-one is really going to listen to me, but being on the outside I can perhaps see more clearly the whole system and everyone everyone caught up in it running to standstill. . .

The Ikea Approach to “digital”

Photo by billow926 on Unsplash

Warning, this post might be stretching a metaphor a bit too far, but there is something that has been bubbling in my head for the last week so this post is an attempt to make some sense of it.

Last week I joined the Jisc Joint building digital capability and digital experience insights community of practice online event. Co-hosted with the University of Derby, it was a really useful day with lots of presentations from colleagues across the sector around what they have been doing to support staff and students over the past 8 months. There was also a preview of this year’s Jisc Digital Insights surveys, but lips have to be sealed on that one. It was a really useful event, so thanks to all at Jisc and Derby for organising and running it.

Anyway, as I was listening to the keynote presentations from Derby – a really comprehensive overview from strategic vision to hands on implementation, it suddenly struck me that in education, we might be suffering from a bit of an Ikea situation when it comes “the digital”. Bare with me as I try to explain. Apologies in advance for this very western metaphor.

So we have our shiny, glossy strategies that layout the vision, mission purpose and the high level overview of the where, what, why and when of “stuff”. They’re a bit like the Ikea catalogue, where every room has that look of if not perfect, but attainable, useful, organisation, practicality and comfort. If you’re anything like me, there’s always something in the layout of the rooms in the catalogue that appeals, alongside that nagging worry if anyone does actually live in that wonderment of perfectly organised storage . . .

So we have our catalogue and we can see the vision for the “perfect” and practical home. We all want a bit of that don’t we? That’s like our strategies – they all make perfect sense, who wouldn’t want to do all the things they set out. The implementation of the strategies – not always so straightforward. Perhaps a bit like when we actually go into an Ikea store.

Despite the homogenous layout, the friendly arrows, you can get very easily get lost, (I spent what felt like 2 hours trying to work out how to get back downstairs once) or distracted, or (in precovid days) get caught behind a family of 20 having a day out with no way to overtake them. It strikes me that this is a bit what has happened as we have tried to develop digital capabilities across universities.

Everyone has seen the shiny catalogue and has seen what they want or how they could possibly improve what they have. So they build their digital strategy. And then they let staff and students go into the store. Many get caught in an endless loop in the market place deciding on just what and how many digital bits and bobs they need. Others are a bit more strategic and know not to get distracted in the market place and just move to where they really need to be. Others are even more experienced (perhaps battle-scared) and know at least one short cut to get to where they need to be. They might even be able to do self check out without having to get assistance!

So I’m not saying that our institutional systems are built like Ikea wardrobes, tho’ at times it might feel like that! I think it’s more in terms of how we use technology, it’s like we all have a “billy book case”. We’ve past the test of finding and buying it we’ve built it but since March this year we really had to use it. I think pre covid, there were many people who treated the VLE (and lots of other learning technology) a bit like the Billy bookcase Ikea flat pack. Only use if you really have to, never read the instructions when you are building it, and you know as long as it sort of looks ok, and it doesn’t fall over, you can live with a degree of wonkiness and let’s just not worry about the left over screws and nails . . . they weren’t that important anyway . . . the shelf will stay up if you carefully balance things on/under it . . .

Thing is we’ve had the instructions for quite a while, it’s just that not everyone saw how important and quite often, how easy they actually were to follow. Now people are having to engage with “the instructions”, and can’t really get away with wonky shelves. Not just at the event last week, but over the past 8 months I see /read/hear so many similar stories of how TEL/academic development units have become front and centre of the ‘pivot’ and the response to the pandemic. People are engaging in ways they never did before, accessing material, resources/support/courses they never thought to before. I have said it before but I’ll say it again, it’s quite sad that it took a global pandemic to get some staff to engage with their institutional VLE.

To me this highlights a couple of things. One is the gap between strategy and actual practice. Having a shiny catalogue doesn’t mean that all your ‘rooms’ will actually look (and work!) like that. Developing digital capabilities for all staff and students needs to to be centred in all university practice and strategic development, and units that support this can’t be seen as optional extras or something to forget about when we “get back to normal”. We can’t just provide instructions that no-one reads, we need to be helping people out of the market place, finding the shortcuts and routes they need and ultimately giving people the confidence to build all the furniture or make an informed decision about why they might just want to go to another shop.

Anyway, this might all be a metaphor too far, but would love to hear what you think in the comments.

The role of public pedagogy, open education and information literacy in a rapidly changing world: CILIPS 2020 keynote

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of giving the closing keynote to this year’s CILIPS conference. Like all conferences this year, it changed from a face to face meeting to an online conference. The conference team at CILIPS did a great job moving everything online. I was lucky enough to be able to dip in and out of the conference over the 2 days it ran. It was both inspiring and humbling to see some of the work that delegates shared.

In my keynote I wanted to focus on the role of information and public pedagogy and the direct relationship they have on each other. In our increasingly confused world ensuring that everyone has the capacity and opportunities (both in digital and physical spaces) to find, share and critique information is increasingly important, if not urgent.

During her keynote, Dry Jenny Peachy (Senior Policy and Development Office, Carnegie Trust UK) mentioned a phrase that really struck me. She talked about the need for libraries to play a central role in ‘resetting the relationship between citizens and the state”. Now if there was ever a time to hit reset it is now! However that is quite a challenge particularly at a time when the state is imposing restrictions on everyday life, without a really well thought out communication strategy. What is happening with the UK government’s lockdown announcement for England. this weekend is a classic example of miscommunication, leading to the further erosion of trust between citizens and the state.

I can maybe draw some solace from living in Scotland where we have actually been in varying states of lockdown for quite some time. There maybe a little bit more trust here in the Scottish Government (even more so I suspect as people realise the benefit of allowing non essential shops and business to stay open). But the longer “all this COVID stuff” goes on, the more feed up, confused, angry, exasperated and exhausted we all get. And then we have the US election . . . which will impact us all eventually.

I know that I have in so many levels switched off, as I don’t actually feel that I have an agency in this situation. I don’t want to shout at politicians on the radio or tv so I limit the amount of news I watch/listen too. I do wonder how, when, and if we can actually hit reset.

In my talk I spent a bit of time talking about how we are negotiating our various states of “normal” just now. Any reset seems obsessed with resetting back to pre covide times. I don’t think that’s realistic. I think we are going to be in various states on restricted living throughout the rest of this year and next. So what we need to be doing is making more time, space and places to develop more shared understandings of the different contexts we are all living and working in now, the science, the data, and interpretations of COVID 19 and again how these are impacting our contexts. Approaches based in public and critical pedagogy are crucial to doing this. It also seems to me that libraries are natural spaces to support these approaches.

However, as funding forces difficult choices around what spaces and services (physical and digital) can and will survive, it is a challenge to carve out time for “service users” needs as active, engaged citizens, instead of desperate, unsure, challenged citizens trying to negotiate the complexities of digitally enabled state benefits.

Although I admit to switching off, I am so fortunate that I can switch myself on again and have the capabilities, platforms and opportunities to have conversations with others about what’s going on. Not everyone has that opportunity.

As I’m don’t work for an institution anymore, I can only have limited impact. That’s why speaking events such as the CILIPS conferences is so important to me. You can access my slides here and the recent paper on public pedagogy co-authored with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston from which much of the presentation was based here.