Monday, 25 February 2008

Why I love "event-blogging"

There are a whole host of digital communication tools that we use to keep in touch with each other but I still enjoy "event-blogging" most of all. "Event-blogging" is...well, exactly what it sounds like, setting up a seperate entity blog for large conferences, in our case, particularly those that take place in the US.

Why?? well there is so much to take in (and to share) at those events that they would completely overload existing channels, there are often multiple attendees from SHU (usually 2 or 3 of us) and I think a shared blog adds to that sense of community and camaraderie, I like storing "all thing Educause (etc)" in one place for future reference but most of all it is the immediacy (allowing for the time difference) of being able to share the atmosphere, the learning and the resources with those who are not attending. The observations from those sat back in the office, the questions they ask and the knowledge that they are following resources straightaway - they don't have to wait until I get back to get access. When I am back in the office and others are event-blogging - I enjoy all of those things just as much as when I'm blogging.

To see examples of my event-blogging see the links on the left.

I will save for another post the other key element to great event-blogs (imho)...the competitions and the social dynamics of the scarily competitive staff back at SHU....and the huuuuge amount I have learned about online communities and "stickiness" techniques that are worthy of loads and loads more research. Watch this space.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Digital fluency initiative at SHU - some notes

Digital fluency at Sheffield Hallam University is characterised by the fluencies necessary "to live, learn and work in the digital age." Encompassing information literacy, IT competency, online interaction and critical thinking, it is suggested that digital fluency should underpin the academic experience at Sheffield Hallam. It is directly aligned to theme 1 of the University’s LTA Strategy, “promoting vibrant and challenging learning opportunities” and enables students and staff to maximise their engagement with “learning opportunities that integrate e-learning, promote learner autonomy, and embed employability”.

The Digital Fluency Initiative will focus upon raising the profile of digital fluency at Sheffield Hallam, recognising it as a core graduate attribute and a key element of professional development for staff. The Initiative will explore how we might enhance the digital fluency of students and staff, in the context of blended learning opportunities designed to draw upon high quality interactions and information resources, and with specific consideration of the fluency requirements of an increasingly social, participatory and collaborative online environment. Its inception is not intended to supersede any work already underway in developing information literacy, IT competency, online interaction and critical thinking, but recognises that to develop high levels of digital fluency it is important to consider these attributes holistically, considering how the elements interrelate and where there may be opportunities for synergy, coordinated development and integrated support. The Initiative will assess and inform institutional readiness for embedding digital fluency within the academic experience, recognising and sharing existing elements of good practice, proposing a holistic developmental infrastructure and exploring innovative ways to empower students and staff as they enhance their own digital fluency.

These are the original notes scoping out the initiative - the only significant change to scope is the proposed move from IT competency to IT confidence - how do we get people into a place where they are confident to cope with perpetual change?

Digital natives and immigrants - lost in translation (part 2)

The earlier post unpacked (somewhat) the nature of immigrance and "fit" but there is another premise of digital immigrancy that his helpful to consider, that being "instinct and development". As a non-native speaker, the first step to any dialogue is to work it out in our native language and then translate it to the required language. It is the skill of translation that is both the saviour and the curse of the digital immigrant. Having those quick translation skills are helpful for anyone in a changing world. For example in the UK those who were children between the ages of 5 and 10 in the early 70s might be considered the most cross-fluent between Imperial and decimal measurements; any older and they had to unlearn, any younger and the imperial is “foreign”, those in the middle “use whichever side of the ruler comes to mind” and flip between the two without much thought. This attitude to change can be liberating and means that in many ways, that generation have embraced their translation heritage to move between the old and the new (age in 2007 of this group of translators approx 35–45). However, with this form of translation, the initial process of “work it out in your own language first” can be a problem. We think:
“I want students to demonstrate their knowledge on this topic”
“how would I usually do this? – write a 3,000 word essay”
“how shall I do it using the technology? – word process and submit online a 3,000 word essay”
(oh dear!)

Our thought processes graft on the technology to the activity – the “traditional plus technology” approach to curriculum design. So where is the problem? When conversing with the digital natives they don’t have a frame of reference for the traditional (ie the equivalent of not understanding that French nouns have genders or that German verbs go at the end) so the translation seems awkward.

“you want me to demonstrate what I know about a topic – let me build a webpage, make a video, or better still, if you want to know what I think – check out my blog”

Linguists aspire to (and develop skills in how to) think in their non-native language and it is this equivalent skill that we need to promote in the use of learning technology.

Digital natives and immigrants - lost in translation (part 1)

The starting point for many discussions around learning in the digital age begins with the question: Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant? But, be warned, your response can then determine the direction of your conversation, with the inquirer making a host of assumptions about who you are, what you know and what you think. Whilst some question the determinist view of this form of classification, it can be useful in framing how to consider the development of learning technologies and student engagement with these. So let’s start with the question, explore what this means and then consider so alternative perspectives:
Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant?
The question should be easy to answer – if you were born after 1980 (in the US) or 1984 (in Europe) you are a digital native – everybody else is an immigrant. Digital natives are considered to have been born into a digital world and they have no knowledge of a world without technology.
Prensky terms from his 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants has become a useful nomclamenture to quickly articulate the points made. However a number of writers have challenge the simple dichotomy that his classification suggests, whether it is backed up with evidence of greater usage of technology and importantly for us, whether it really changes the way people learn.

It is definitely helpful to review the primary source paper, and it is clear from the paper that there is more in the sub-text about generational divide and willingness to change, than specifics of “number of hours using technology”. It provides a different perspective on “the trouble with the kids today, with their hair and their clothes”. In particular the points he, as a digital immigrant, makes about the thickness of accents:
“There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having you secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker” accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL)…..My own favourite is the “Did you get my email?” phone call.”

The paper explores the impact of this action on the generational divide and goes on to outline how education might be different but there is more to the immigration analogy than simply the accent. It speaks more to the immigrants place in the world and ways of thinking.
He suggests that the immigrant community, by their nature, are deemed to declare: “I am not comfortable in this place”. Let’s consider the immigration analogy a little further, by exploring some themes around English ex-pat community in Spain (and other Mediterranean countries) as a parallel “immigration”. There is no single immigrant community or attitudinal set, but rather sub-sets, let's explore these and their learning technology equivalents:

Spain: “I like the climate, but I want to live in a mini-England with sun”
Learning Technology: “I like the convenience of technology for booking holidays, banking, news etc but I want to teach they way I always have”

Spain: “I love living in Spain, but I haven’t bothered to learn the language, I get my son/daughter to deal with all the Spanish things”
Learning Technology: “I like being associated with a technology-rich course, but I rely on younger members of the teaching team to do it.”

Spain: “I can’t really speak the language, but I have a few stock phrases I can use to get by in shops”
Learning Technology: “I don’t understand it, but I have my list of eight steps to upload my teaching material and I can email if I need to”

Spain: “I speak great Spanish! And the locals are so grateful when I try” (think policeman in ‘Allo ‘Allo)
Learning Technology: “I use as much technology as I can, and the students are so grateful I ‘deliver’ in this way”

Spain: “I like Spain, I like everything about it, I have to learn the language to really live here, to get the most out of it”
Learning Technology: “Don’t give me this digital immigrant nonsense, I live in the digital age too, if I want to use technology and it makes learning better – I will!”

OK, so that is the “foreign land” perspective and whilst many will continue to assert that learning is learning and will never change, and that “all this is fine, but not in my subject”, many digital natives leave the higher education classroom with a mashed-up, mp3 speed-enhanced, flickr-blog impression that the first line of L.P. Hartley’s (1953) novel The Go-between is speaking directly to them - the past really is a foreign country, and they really do do things differently there...

Exploring the hypothetical...

A while ago we were tasked with exploring the perspectives of students in the (not too distant) future and express our thinking as a poster. A group of us worked on a expression of “What will students of 2012 expect to see?” The poster was a excellent feat of expression (due entirely to the rest of the group, not me!) but the comments within did not provoke the debate I would have liked so I am going to “replay” them here for the purposes of documentation and capture…and to invite the views of readers.

“What will students of 2012 expect to see?” focused on three strands:

Learning Opportunities - Personalised Curriculum - Staff of the Future

Learning Opportunities
Authentic learning activities designed to interweave students and staff prior experience and knowledge with high quality resources across a wide range of formats. They encourage engagement, collaboration and student empowerment.

Hypothetical examples of discussions via the "virtual learning environment" allow staff and students interaction:

“Please share your digital portfolio with your tutor and your peers through the course wiki, this is a perfect time to explore how each of you have approached selecting, reflecting your learning so far”

“Your level 4 critical thinking group will meet at our Crucible Campus in Second Life every Tuesday evening. Come and join in the discussion, guest lecturer this week Professor Lord Robert Winston.”

“OK, it’s my turn to facilitate the online discussion this week. The background reading is online and I've provided a “mini case study” from my own work context as the focus for discussion.”

“Have you agreed your negotiated assessment criteria yet with your tutor, these need to be fixed by 1 July; remember formats for this assessment are optional.”

“Sign up for your multi-disciplinary groups and add your profile to the group page by way of introduction. Peer assessment starts in two weeks time.”

"Hi, I use statistical analysis a lot in my work, but can't get my head around Harvard referencing at all! Anybody out there want to buddy?"

Personalised Curriculum
As learning becomes increasingly personalised, the University will need to offer a flexible curriculum that fit with learners’ needs and reflect the growing market for employer-led curriculum development.

So what is the role of the traditional degree in this context – can we move beyond business as usual? Hypothetal example questions from prospective students:

“To accommodate my work I may want to study my degree faster – 6 semesters in 2 years to minimise costs, or slower, with a combination of full time, part time and distance at the same time with pauses in the middle. Is this possible?”

“You do some good modules at Sheffield Hallam, but there are some elsewhere that look good too, can I pick and mix my degree - accumulate modules from different institutions into a single award?”

“I want to take a vocational course but my interests are eclectic, can I major in the vocational course and minor in a general interest course, or vice versa?”

“My employer has negotiated with the University to set a series of assessments, completion of which will lead to an accredited award. What study support can I expect from Sheffield Hallam?”

“I want to keep up to date in my profession, can I subscribe annually to the University for a programme of non-credit bearing professional development?”

“Can I take a generic undergraduate degree that gives me employability skills without having to choose a particular discipline to study?”

Staff of the Future
A committed and highly skilled workforce is essential to delivering a high quality and cutting edge learning experience. There is a broad range of staff contributing to that experience and we see professional development as vital to success.

Hypothetical extracts from the student charter 2012 demonstrate our commitment to this:

At Sheffield Hallam University you will engage with staff who are:
Commercial Consultants sharing their real world experience through dialogue and engagement in business and social enterprises
Academic facilitators focused entirely on designing and facilitating your learning
Cutting edge researchers within their discipline

Hypothetical student feedback from 2011/12:

“Working with staff who are keen for me to maximise my potential gave me great confidence to explore and take risks. It really surprised me that the staff had taken the time to get to grips with digital resources and our technology.”

“Working on my dissertation with a leading UK athlete, who is competing in the London Olympics, was exhilarating”

“Communication with other students and staff was great even thought I didn’t go into uni – shuspace was a lifeline”

“Talking online to the guy from America who wrote the book was great.

“I never thought I would be learning from a Chief Executive”

Friday, 22 February 2008

My work is a paradox - pure and simple

It takes a little while for me to "come down" from attending ELI, my mind is full of discussion points - some received, some generated, some still emerging. The conversation is full and vibrant and this year I was struck by the sense of two groups "thought-duelling" with all the intensity of dance duels, respect for each other, passion for what they do and Each session attended represents that group's "top game" pushing the other group to do better, try harder in the next one. The two groups? Well, I've articulated these before elsewhere but in a nutshell:

the "run as fast as we can towards web2.0" group extolling the virtues of SecondLife, WoW, croquet, twitter, mashed up maps n IM, gaming, Facebook etc etc (and of course that VLEs (esp Bb) are inherently evil) - all based on the premise that the kids are leaving us behind and we need to be where they are and know what they know to enable education to keep up with social uses of technology.

the "digi-fear, the technology is OK but what about the people" group asking challenging questions about who the kids are and how confident are they really, how do staff become more digitally fluent to embrace these new technologies when CMS/VLEs still scare them and what are the true tower and cloud implications of the brave new world.

So what is the problem? I want (need?) to be in both groups!! Is that a problem?
I spend most of my brainspace tap-dancing betweeen the two. I believe passionately in the power of web 2.0 - I love the social, participatory, collaborative and user defined principles on which is based. I love the power being in the hands of the learners and the undeniable opportunities for community beyond your immediate reference. At the moment, I'm enjoying, personally, the way twittering enables me to connect quite lightly with others who share my interests, and I have a huge interest in ARGs as a philosophy with as yet untapped potential. On the other hand, (for example) I'm still not buying the potential for learning that Second Life might offer - I want it to be big and transformational, I want it to rock the foundations of the comfortable world of academe, but what do I see, people building virtual campuses that look like real ones, "gatherings" that look to me like the lowest form of knowledge transmission...the lecture. Oh dear. I want to believe, I do, I do...but right now...I don't...not yet, anyway.

I'm lucky that my role leading Academic Innovation at Sheffield Hallam University (UK) enables me to have an academic team that areconstantly looking at and researching new and emerging technologies (and new applications of existing technologies) and how they can be used to support, enhance and, ultimately, transform learning within higher education. They think a lot, they experiment a lot, they track the evangelists - we are so so lucky to have this space. I love this part of my job - what's new? what do we think? what could we do? let's leap into the brave new world!! I also love the people this connects me with - ideas, enthusiasm, energy (yes that word again).

But I have a guilty secret that I'm afraid to share with my n&et connections, I am also responsible for embedding mainstream e-learning across the institution and this involves me supporting, promoting, advocating Blackboard as a learning management system and academic portal. I know it isn't going to get me a seat on the cool kids table but I like Blackboard. It is an easy entry point for staff and students wanting to develop collaborative e-learning opportunities and so far does everything that most people need (and if it doesn't we've found it pretty easy to add something that does...or simply link out to the top shelf web2.0 stuff - not an either or for our users). Yes, the company is big, yes, the support can be hit and miss, but the product does what our community of users needs and having spent a huge chunk of time looking at other options recently, it is still the best solution for us. We have over 95% of our learners (undergrad and postgrad) carrying out some of their learning within that virtual environment - that's over 30,000 students and 3,000 staff and it is an achievement (by the staff supporting e-learning within my team and across SHU) that I am really proud of.

I feel good that the benefits are not just experienced by those students who happen to have highly innovative tutors but for all. I like the idea that (even though it isn't the sexiest feature of technology in learning) our students value the convenience and flexibility of being able to access their learning at a place and time that fits with their busy lives...yes (cliche alert) enabling learning for those who might not be able to participate traditionally. I love this part of my job - small steps but for everyone, how do we make it work for everyone? how do we build on what has gone to where we are going? Again I value the community around this world - sharing the hows and whys (and why nots) with the sense of conviction needed to encourage people to do something they don't have to.

So what on earth!?!? I love the pulsating potential of web2.0 but I also love the enabling power of a large-scale learning management system. I have my two communities and I try best to belong to I being unreasonable?? Why do I feel I'm expected to fit into a box and stay put? I'm not going to! However it is a very different challenge within the institution where close physical proximity requires me to represent both simulataneously perceived interchangably as the face of the "large corporate monolith" and/or the "head in the clouds" lot trying to get us to do wizzy things that threaten us.

The whole of this, though, has just convinced me (more than ever) that all technology has great potential and appropriate application can be transformational but (and its a big "but"!!) only when the people involved feel confident, competent, comfortable, committed, compelled...
The importance in this context of digitial fluency (that we define as the fluencies needed to live, learn and work in the digital age and encompassing, for us, information literacy, IT competencies, online interactions and critical thinking). We need to support all our communities to feel at home in a digitial world, selecting the best tool/resource for the job, engaging whole-heartedly and being unphased by the only thing we can guarantee about the future...things are going to keep changing. The people stuff (hmmm) always the hardest to do, definitely the hardest to quantify but never the least rewarding. The work of the team (so far) of getting this onto the institutional agenda has been great! Now we look forward to the "making it real" phase of the activity.

I'm going to resist the urge to round this post of neatly, I want to just leave it hanging and come back to it later....but just to trail a soundbite that has been engaging me recently:
"you can't cross a chasm in two small steps"

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Scattered fingerprints..

What do I really think about academic innovation and the future of learning?

Well if anyone wanted to know they could easily find out by a skim through a vast number of different (and random) places...various blogs, wikis, twitter, ning, facebook, intranets, bookmarks, LMS sites, papers, presentations, notebooks, reports...and scraps of paper under my desk...hmmm not ideal.

However the bigger problem of those people who wants to know is me!! So for a while I'm gonna see if a single collective space for thoughts might help me bring draw together some understanding. These may simply appear to be musings but please, please help if you can by adding your own comments, questions, challenges and I will try to make sense somehow.