Why we need more Rhino's like Erica promoting digital literacy

I was delighted to take part in the University of Southampton’s 2nd digital literacies conference (#sotonmooc) event yesterday. I gave a presentation on my experiences of being a student on MOOCs. However, what really made the day for me was hearing from some “real” students about the range work they have been involved in as part of the University’s DigiChampions project. The project has been incredibly successful in getting students involved in the concept of digital literacy and getting them to provide support to their peers in a whole range of ways as this video rather neatly explains.

The development of digital literacies is increasingly been recognised as vital for the success of our student population both whilst they are studying and also when they move into the workplace.

“By digital literacy we mean those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. “ (JISC)

It was fantastic to hear students share so eloquently their understanding of the importance of being able to use social networks effectively – not only for studying but also to improve their chances of getting a job. As we watched student created videos and a range of other presentations, it was clear just how much the students appreciated the innovative approaches of modules such as “living and working on the web”. Having time to develop skills and networks as part and parcel of undergraduate activities has certainly seemed to pay pretty significant dividends in terms of students developing contacts with potential employers and in several cases in terms of them securing a full time job. Watch the video to see for yourself.

But what about the Rhino I hear you ask? Well another one of the student driven projects is Erica the Rhino. Erica is a cyber rhino, who is being developed in a truly interdisciplinary way.

I thought this was just a fantastic project. I’m now following Erica on twitter and looking forward to hearing updates from when she is released into the wilds of Southampton. We need more projects like this.

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey and Hugh Davies (and everyone at Southampton involved in organising and running the event) for inviting me. It really was inspiring to hear from the students.

More information about the day is available from the event website. It will be being updated with presentations (and I think recordings) over the next few days. You can also catch up on the tweets and pictures from the event here.

The Digital University – A Proposed Framework for Strategic Development (#apt2012)

At the Employer Engagement in a Digital Age Conference next Wednesday (4th July) Bill Johnston and myself will be presenting a workshop around our recent series of blog posts around what it means to be a digital university.

Our session, The Digital University – A Proposed Framework for Strategic Development, will give us a chance to present the background to the posts, but more importantly will allow us to get feedback from delegates as to whether or not our framework could actually be a useful tool for discussions about strategic developments within universities.

The session will mainly be discussion based, but we do have a short set of slides available. If you have any comments, then as usual please feel free to comment either on this post or via the comment space on slideshare.

Five new publications from JISC

The JISC e-Learning Programme team has just announced the release of five new publications on the themes of lifelong learning, e-portfolio implementation, innovation in further education, digital literacies, and extending the learning environment. These publications will be of interest to managers and practitioners in further and higher education and work based learning. Three of these publications are supported by additional online resources including videos, podcasts and full length case studies.

Effective Learning in a Digital Age: is an effective practice guide that explores ways in which institutions can respond flexibly to the needs of a broader range of learners and meet the opportunities and challenges presented by lifelong learning.

Crossing the Threshold: Moving e-portfolios into the mainstream is a short guide which summarises the key messages from two recent online resources, the e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit, developed for JISC by the University of Nottingham, and five institutional video case studies. This guide and accompanying resources explore the processes, issues and benefits involved in implementing e-portfolios at scale.

Enhancing practice: Exploring innovation with technology in further education is a short guide that explores how ten colleges in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (SWaNI) and England are using technology to continue to deliver high-quality learning and achieve efficiency gains despite increasing pressure and reduced budgets.

Developing Digital Literacies: is a briefing paper that provides a snapshot of early outcomes the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme and explores a range of emergent themes including graduate employability, and the engagement of students in strategies for developing digital literacies.

Extending the learning environment: is a briefing paper that looks at how institutions can review and develop their existing virtual learning environments. It offers case study examples and explores how systems might be better used to support teaching and learning, improve administrative integration or manage tools, apps and widgets.

All guides are available in PDF, ePub, MOBI and text-only Word formats. Briefing papers are available in PDF.

There are a limited number of printed copies of each guide for colleges and universities to order online.

cetis @ #iwmw12

This week I’ve been in Edinburgh with a number of my cetis colleagues at this years IMWM 12 conference which is organised by our sister JISC Innovation Support Centre, based at UKOLN.

Cetis contributions to the conference included:
*Identifying and Responding to Emerging Technologies
*What Can schema.org Offer the Web Manager?, Phil Barker, workshop session
*Developing Digital Literacies and the Role of Institutional Support Services, by me – more info in the text below
*Data Visualisation: A Taster, plenary session with Martin Hawksey and Tony Hirst
*Data Visualisation Kitchen, workshop with Martin and Tony.

This is the first time I’ve attended the conference, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was particularly useful to have conversations with colleagues involved managing university websites, as this is a sector of the community I don’t have very much contact with. I tend to have more contact with people who are building and using teaching and learning environments, and not the more corporate side of a universities web presence.

I ran a workshop session on the first day of the conference around digital literacies and the role of institutional support services. This was very much a discussion session, based on the findings of the current JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme, in particular the technology review I undertook with projects earlier this year and the results of the baselining work the projects have all conducted, and the baseline synthesis produced by Helen Beetham. I was particularly keen bring out the relationship and potential tensions between the personal nature of developing digital literacies and the role of institutional provision. I wish I had recorded the conversation – as it was very wide ranging and I hope, it gave some food for thought for those who came along. A copy of my slides is embedded below.

Digital literacy, it's personal

As part of the the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme held yesterday (15th May), Helen Beetham (synthesis consultant for the programme), started the day by giving a very useful summary of key issues and themes emerging from the baseline reports from both the projects and the professional associations associated with the programme.

One of the common themes emerging from the extensive surveys of technologies undertaken by the projects, was is the divide between personal technologies (which tend to be lightweight, flexible, web-based) and more specialised (and largely institutionally provided) technologies, which often have a steep learning curve and aren’t reconfigurable. Digital literacy (and developing digital literacies) is highly personal. To move from adoption of technology to everyday practice there needs to be a high level of personal motivation – providing a system is not enough. This leads to some interesting questions about what should an institution be providing in terms of technologies and what areas should it be actively promoting in terms of developing staff skills, and indeed as Helen asked “what are institutions good for, and what should they leave alone?”

Most of the day was spent in group discussion sharing experiences around a number of aspects relating to the development of digital literacies. Summary notes from each of the sessions will also be available from the Design Studio over the coming week. But in the meantime, I’ve pulled together some tweets from the day to give a flavour of the day.

[View the story “JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme Meeting, 15 May 2012” on Storify]

A conversation around the Digital University – Part 5

Continuing our discussions around concepts of a Digital University, in this post we are going to explore the Learning Environments quadrant of our conceptual model.

MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012
MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012

To reiterate,the logic of our overall discussion starts with the macro concept of Digital Participation which provides the wider societal backdrop to educational development. Information Literacy enables digital participation and in educational institutions is supported by Learning Environments which are themselves constantly evolving. All of this has significant implications for Curriculum and Course Design.

Learning Environment
In our model we highlighted three key components of a typical HE institutional learning environment:
*physical and digital
*pedagogical and social
*research and enquiry

1 Physical and digital
A learning space should be able to motivate learners and promote learning as an activity, support collaborative as well as formal practice, provide a personalised and inclusive environment, and be flexible in the face of changing needs.Designing Spaces for Effective Learning, a guide to 21st learning space design.

One of the key starting points for this series of blog posts was the increasing use of “digital” as a prefix for a range of developments (mainly around technology infrastructure) which seemed to have an inherent implication that the physical environment, and its development was almost defunct. However, any successful learning environment is one where there is the appropriate balance between the physical and the digital. Even wholly online courses the student (and teacher) will have a physical location, and there are certain requirements of that physical location which will enable (or not) participation with the digital environment e.g. device, connectivity, power etc. Undoubtedly the rise of mobile internet enabled or Smart devices is allowing for greater flexibility of physical location; but they also create extra demands in the physical campus e.g. ubiquitous, freely available, stable, campus wide wireless connectivity; power sockets that aren’t all at the back of a classroom?. If students and staff are using and creating more digital resources where are they to be stored? Who provides the storage – the institution or the student? If the former how are they managed? How long do they stay “live”? Can a student access them once they have left the institution? Technology is not free, and providing a robust infrastructure does have major cost implications for institutions. For campus based courses, blended learning is becoming increasingly the norm. Which leads to questions around the social and pedagogical developments of our learning environments.

2. Pedagogical and Social
Vermut has summarized a number of patterns of what he refers to as teaching-learning environments which influence effective student learning . From his analysis of these patterns, and their components he has suggested a set of key features for powerful learning environments:
*They prepare students for lifelong, self-regulated, cooperative and work-based learning;
*The foster high quality student learning
*The teaching methods change in response to students’ increasing metacognitive and self-regulatory skills and
*The complexity of the problems dealt with increases gradually and systematically. (Vermut, Student Learning and University Teaching 2007, )

Of course to create these powerful environments requires a shift in terms of what he describes as “a gradual shift in the task division in the learning process form educational ‘agents’ (e.g. teacher, tutor, book or computer) to students”. This shift creates a culture of increasing self regulation and thinking from students. Curricula are developed with an increasing set of challenges which foster key lifelong learning skills that become common practice for students beyond their formal education and into the workplace. Vermut et al refer to this as “process-orientated teaching” as it is targeted at the “processes of knowledge construction and utilization”.

This style of teaching and learning requires an increasingly complex mix of skills including diagnostician, challenger , monitor, evaluator and educational developer. Technology can provide a number of affordances to create the learning spaces for to allow more self regulation for students e.g. collaborative working spaces, and personal reflective spaces. However, there needs to be support from all levels of the institution to continually provide the wider environment which effectively develops the skills and knowledge to allow this type of student as self regulating researcher culture.

3 Research and Enquiry
There is a growing discourse emerging around effective research practice in the digital age, and the notion of the digital scholar is increasingly recognised. Martin Weller’s recent book “The Digital Scholar How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice” explores key themes around digital practice, and what the increasing role of networks and connections, the disconnect and tensions between traditional and new forms of increasingly self publication platforms and formal recognitions within Universities and the role of open scholarship. This blog post summarises his top ten digital scholarship lessons.

What is crucial now is that institutions and funders begin to recognise and more importantly not only begin to reward these different types of digital scholarly activities, but also ensure that staff and students have the relevant literacy skills to exploit them effectively. Information literacy has been recognised as having an impact on effective research practice, but we would argue for that more research needs to be done in this area to make explicit the link between effective information and literacy skills and effective research and scholarly practice.

There is a growing backlash against traditional academic publishing models which was recently highlighted by John Naughton’s feature in The Observer “Academic Publishing Doesn’t Add “Up”. Open access and open publishing can again be seen as being key to digital scholarship.

Early findings from the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme are showing the impact of undertaking a digital literacy audit to enable institutions to define (and therefore develop) their expectations for and to students. There are differences between disciplines which again need to be understood and shared between staff across institutions. Digital literacies are becoming more prevalent in institutional policies, and need to be supported by relevant provision of services and shared understandings if there are to be more than token statements. We think our matrix may play a role in forming and extending strategic discussions.

In the next post we will try and pull together key points from the series so far and the comments we have received and frame these in terms of some of the wider, societal contexts. As ever we’d love to get feedback on our thoughts so far, so please do leave a comment.

*Part 1
*Part 2
*Part 3
*Part 4

Digital Literacy – delivering the agenda within colleges and universities

The latest episode of JISC On Air Radio (“Digital Literacy – delivering the agenda within colleges and universities”) provides a very timely insight into JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme, and indeed some of the wider issues relating to developing and supporting digital literacies in the wider context.

“In the sixth episode of our online radio programmes – JISC On Air – we are exploring how universities and colleges can help teaching staff, researchers, support and administrative staff to develop their digital literacies – those capabilities which prepare an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. In part two of the show, we will be looking at how digital literacy underpins the academic success and employability of students.

The show highlights how colleges and universities are developing holistic approaches and strategies for supporting the development of these skills and capabilities.”

I’ve just tuned in on my journey home from the latest JISC Learning and Teaching Pracitce Experts Group meeting, and I can recommend taking 20 minutes out to listen. You can listen and/or download the programme from this link.

Mozilla and web literacies

As part of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme two public webinars have just been announced. The first is being held this Friday, 27 April, and the topic is “Mozilla and web literacies”.

Representatives from Mozilla will “will talk about their work in this area to define key Web literacy skills, create pathways for innovative learning experiences around them and build a network of instructors and facilitators with a shared mission.”

The next webinar is on the 4th of May and it titled “A history of digital literacy in the UK and EU”.

More information and a link to registration is available from the JISC e-learning programme blog.

A Conversation Around the Digital University – Part 4

Continuing our discussions (introduction, part 2, part 3) around concepts of a Digital University, in this post we are going to explore the Curriculum and Course Design quadrant of our conceptual model.

To reiterate,the logic of our overall discussion starts with the macro concept of Digital Participation which provides the wider societal backdrop to educational development. Information Literacy enables digital participation and in educational institutions is supported by Learning Environments which are themselves constantly evolving. All of this has significant implications for Curriculum and Course Design.

Observant readers will have noticed that we have “skipped” a quadrant. However this is more down to my lack of writing the learning environment section, and Bill having completed this section first 🙂 However, we hope that this does actually illustrate the iterative and cyclical nature of the model, allowing for multiple entry points.

MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012
MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012

Participation in university education, digital and otherwise, is normally based on people’s desire to learn by obtaining a degree, channelled in turn by their motivations e.g. school/college influences, improved career prospects, peer behaviour, family ambitions and the general social value ascribed to higher education. This approach includes adult returners taking Access routes, postgraduates and a variety of people taking short courses and accessing other forms of engagement.

All of these diverse factors combine to define the full nature of curriculum in higher education and argue for a holistic view of curriculum embracing “ …content, pedagogy, process, diversity and varied connections to the wider social and economic agendas…” ( Johnston 2010, P111). Such a holistic view fits well to the aspect of participation in our matrix, since it encompasses not only actual participants, but potential participants as befits modern notions of lifelong and life wide learning, whilst also acknowledging the powerful social and political forces that canalize the nature and experience of higher education. These latter forces have been omnipresent over the last 30 years in the near universal assumption that the overriding point of higher education is to provide ‘human capital’ in pursuit of economic growth.

University recruitment and selection procedures are the gateway to participation in degree courses and on admission initiate student transition experiences, for example the First Year Experience (FYE). Under present conditions, with degrees mainly shaped by disciplinary divisions, subject choice is the primary curriculum question posed by universities, with all other motivations and experiences constellated around the associated disciplinary differences in academic traditions, culture, departmental priority, pedagogy and choice of content. Other candidates for inclusion – employability skills, information literacy, even ethics and epistemological development have tended to be clearly subordinate to the power of disciplinary teaching.

Course Design
Despite 30 years of technological changes, the appearance of new disciplines, and mass enrolments, the popular image of a university degree ‘course’ has remained remarkably stable. Viewed from above we might see thousands of people entering buildings (some medieval, some Victorian, some modern), wherein they ‘become’ students, organized into classes/years of study and coming under the tutelage of subject-expert lecturers. Lectures, tutorials and labs, albeit larger and more technologically enhanced, can look much as they would have done in our grandparent’s day. Assuming our grandparents participated of course.

Looking at degrees in this rather superficial way, we could be accused of straying into the territory recently criticized by Michael Gove, whose attacks on ‘Victorian’ classrooms and demands for change and ‘updating’ of learning via computers and computer science have been widely reported and critiqued.

Our contention is that Gove and others like him have fallen into the trap of focussing on some of the contingent, surface features of daily activity in education and mistaken them for a ‘course’. Improvement in this universe is typically assumed to involve adoption of the latest technology linked to more ‘efficient’ practices. John Biggs (2007) has provided a popular alternative account of what constitutes a good university education by coining the notion of ‘constructive alignment’, which combines key general structural elements of a course – learning objectives, teaching methods, assessment practices and overall evaluation – with advocacy of a form of teaching for learning, distilled here as ‘social constructivism’. This form of learning emphasises the necessity of students learning by constructing meaning from their interactions with knowledge, and other learners, as opposed to simply soaking up new information, like so many inert, individual sponges. In this view, improving education is more complex and complicated than any uni-dimensional technological innovation and involves the alignment of all facets of course design in order to entail advanced learning. Debate is often focussed by terms like: active learning; inquiry based learning etc. accompanied by trends such as in-depth research and development of specific course dimensions such as assessment in particular.

Whist one can debate Biggs’ approach, and we assume some of you will, his work has been influential in university educational development, lecturer education and quality enhancement over several decades. From our perspective, his approach is useful in highlighting the critical importance of treating course design (and re-design) as the key strategic unit of analysis, activity and management in improving the higher education curriculum, as opposed to the more popular belief that it is the academic qualifications and classroom behaviour of lecturers or the adoption of particular technologies, for example, which count most. The current JISC funded Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design Programme is providing another level of insight into the multiple aspects of curriculum design.

Connections & Questions
Chaining back through our model/matrix, we can now assert:

1. That strategic and operational management of learning environment must be a function of course design/re-design and not separate specialist functions within university organizations. This means engaging all stakeholders in the ongoing re-design of all courses to an agreed plan of curriculum renovation.

2. That education for information literacy must be entailed in the learning experiences of all students (and staff) as part of the curriculum and must be grounded in modern views of the field. Which is precisely what JISC is encouraging and supporting through its current Developing Digital Literacies Programme.

3. That participation in all its variety and possibility is a much more significant matter than simple selection/recruitment of suitably qualified people to existing degree course offerings. The nature of a university’s social engagement is exposed by the extent to which the full range of possible engagements and forms of participation are taken into account. For example is a given university’s strategy for participation mainly driven by the human capital/economic growth rationale of higher education, or are there additional/ alternative values enacted?

As ever, we’d appreciate any thoughts, questions and feedback you have in the comments.

*Part 2
*Part 3

A Conversation Around the Digital University: Part 3

Following our introductory post and our last post on Digital Participation, in this post we are going to explore the Information Literacy quadrant of our conceptual model.

To reiterate,the logic of our overall discussion starts with the macro concept of Digital Participation which provides the wider societal backdrop to educational development. Information Literacy enables digital participation and in educational institutions is supported by Learning Environments which are themselves constantly evolving. All of this has significant implications for Curriculum and Course Design.

MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012
MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012

Information Literacy
As we stated in our introductory post, our perspective is rooted in Information Literacy. We believe it is a key field to be deployed in developing digital infrastructure in universities. For our purposes Information Literacy can be described both narrowly, as a set of personal skills and approaches to better acquisition and use of information, and more broadly as a social construct arising from notions of the both the knowledge economy and information society.

In the broader perspective, UNESCO is in the vanguard of deploying the term in relation to media, citizenship and education by asserting Information Literacy as a key requirement of participation in learning, employment and democracy. The Alexandria Proclamation (2006) states that information literacy:

• comprises the competencies to recognize information needs and to locate, evaluate, apply and create information within cultural and social contexts;

• is crucial to the competitive advantage of individuals, enterprises (especially small and medium enterprises), regions and nations;

• provides the key to effective access, use and creation of content to support economic development, education, health and human services, and all other aspects of contemporary societies, and thereby provides the vital foundation for fulfilling the goals of the Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on the Information Society; and

• extends beyond current technologies to encompass learning, critical thinking and interpretative skills across professional boundaries and empowers individuals and communities.”
More practical information can also be found in Woody Horton’s Information Literacy Primer.

Whilst these concerns are driven by the growth of technologies and the internet, they are channelled by a need to expand our notions of literacy beyond the basics of reading/writing, to include media and information (UNESCO Decade of Literacy 2003-12).

Thus whilst technological change in the production and consumption of information content is a fundamental factor, it is not allowed to obscure the importance of developing the educational, ethical and democratic dimension of the digital society.

Personal Skills and Strategies of Information Literacy
Information Literacy is portrayed in terms of improving the information behaviours required to access and search various information systems to extract and use information for social, economic and educational purposes. This approach has been developed to a high level of definition and practical application in education, research and professional practice e.g. competency frameworks such as the SCOUNL Seven Pillars and ACRL and definitions by bodies such as CILIP .

There is a clear message that simply using information tools and services is insufficient to develop the full range of skills and also understanding of the legal/ethical issues involved. Education for Information Literacy is therefore a key aim, which requires further development, and has been gaining attention in HE for several decades.
These authors deal with the following key issues:

*Staff perception Webber and Johnston
*Student experience Lupton
*Course Design and assessment Bruce, Edwards, Lupton.

Clearly Information Literacy does not exist in a vacuum. For educational purposes the question of learning environment is essential, particularly with increasing use of digital environments, which inevitably stimulates a need to understand information and information behaviour more explicitly. This will be the topic of our next post.

*Part 4