Grant (2014) asks in the title to her book about digital badges, “What Counts as Learning?” This succinctly expresses the question of higher education and explains the continuing interest in badges, and in learning technologies in general. The fact this is less explored, gives me an opportunity to explore both learning technology and epistemology.
I have developed a new MA Education course module, “Philosophy and policy of higher education”. In this 20 credit level 7 module the question: “What counts as learning?” will be explored. That is the seductive game higher education plays: a chance at determining or being among the determiners of meaning – what counts as learning – for a generation or so. To extend the “play” metaphor to a stage on which higher education acts, higher education as an institution and its practitioners as individuals seek to occupy the limen, the space on the edge between consensual suspension of belief in order to “live the dream”, and the world as it is, explained. More critically for those in the game it poses the question about one’s own underpinnings, one own “will to power”, or academic identity or even life.
Badges are something like brand propositions and to some extent depend on other similar propositions. Like many brand propositions their link to truth is explicitly unattested. The badge can only serve as a conversation starter. Like travel badges on a backpack seen on an overnight Eurail while sleeping in the vestibule: “So when did you go to Sweden?” Most universities have a t-shirt and sports kit with a name and often a crest or logo. Some might serve the question: “Were you at Malmo?” To which an answer might be “No, it is a good hoodie.” But could also be, “Yes, for ice-hockey in 2009.”
Possibly the internet will work like the cold vestibule of a Eurail under an ex army coat, and when we see badges on a site we may start that interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after: life, love, career, changing the world? Or same as it ever was. That conversation about changing the world? Because as it is now, the foundations of meaning sometimes appear both unsound and cruel, not just one or the other.
What kicked me off on this audio exploration of academic multimedia? Two things.
First and proximal cause: when I reported that my colleagues and I had been asked if we could give workshops on technology enhanced learning (TEL) the suggestion was scoffed. Why give workshops when you could do a series of three minute talking heads?
Learning technologies and technology enhanced learning are not quite the same thing. The position and semantic force of the words is different. Learning as adjective and learning as noun; technology as nominal object and technology as agent of change: learning enhanced by technology.
There is a greater degree of abstraction in TEL, somewhat more particularity in learning technology, especially when pluralised as learning technologies.
Learning technologies are things: tools, software, applications like Moodle and GradeMark or in older days Authorware.
Academic multimedia. Something other than marks on paper or that virtual page. Academic multimedia covers a range of practices across a spectrum of technologies, which may include:
automatic recording (audio and sometimes video) of an event primarily designed for a face-to-face audience (e.g. a “normal” lecture, visiting or guest lecture).
Desk based podcasts, screen casts, vodcast, lectures, talks, webinars, learning objects, blogs and other social media for immediate learning, teaching, feedback and research purposes (That is what this is).
Live event recording for purposeful post-production of high-quality (TED style) learning and other inspirational objects.
Light-touch or incidental post production (editing and transcoding) of recordings from many sources.
This “new education” has to lie in what Murphy calls “collective” or shared narratives: “… where the individual seeks to achieve their purpose within the constraints that the planet now so very obviously imposes upon us… because achieving purpose is about substituting meaning for material consumption.” Narratives make meaning. Narrative must replace material consumption. As Max Tegmark (2014: 256) puts it, “… nature contains many types of entities that are almost begging to be named.”
I am leaning on Murphy and Tegmark here because both come from disciplines that value mathematical descriptions of the world above what Tegmark calls “baggage” or words. And both reveal the uncertainty at the base of measure, or to put it another way, they explore the measure problem. How you define constraints, if there are any?
And that I suggest is as ever: new or old education is about making meaning. Making meaning gets us very quickly into measures: pictures, categories, ranges, constraints; about how many lions are there over there? Meaning without baggage? Or is it all always baggage? Pragmatically, at what point do our useful approximations break down into mere baggage?
I spent much of Thursday and Friday last week immersed in dimensions of digital leadership in higher education, represented diagramatically. I started writing about this here. The base for this diagrammatic thinking was the range between “Visitor” and “Resident” in or to or inrespectof/with reference to the digital. This model was constructed by Dave While and Alison leCornu several years ago in response to the “Native/Immigrant” model proposed by Presnky. There are other typologies, such as the “voyeur/flaneur” of dana boyd (2011) but the Jisc Co-designers find the visitor-resident one productive and useful.
To get the workshop talking and thinking together, the workshop facilitators laid another axis at 90 degrees to the visitor-resident x-axis. They labelled the upper end of the range “Personal” and the lower end “Institutional”. And this was the end of my messy thinking in my last post.
The next day we started again with a slightly rephrased map, where the top element was changed: “Individual” replaced “Personal” and rather than our own “digital capability” we were asked to map our institution’s.
It immediately struck my colleague, Richard Francis, that a small circle in the centre might represent the “disengaged learner” and that more “pressure” outward along any axis could be construed as a transformation of some sort.
I then observed that just maybe there were limits outward in some directions. It struck me that a person who was increasingly a visitor to one’s own individuality might lack self awareness (top left. And, in the same way travel too far lower right and a person might be in danger of becomming fully institutionalised.
Both these outer areas might break the “Identity and Wellbeing” circle suggested by the Jisc’s model of Digital Capability
The last move in this opening development was to observe that the boundaries were at least elastic: that pressures towards self awareness might press inward while counterveiling pressures might push outward. And that these spaces might be characterised in various ways. Richard Francis proposed that being a visitor to one’s self from time to time might be construed as reflection rather than a tendency towards solipciism.
At this point in the morning the facilitators asked us to consider “openness” and “authenticity”. Richard Francis asked if perhaps the visitor-resident continuum might be relabelled “consumer-producer”? It struck me that an urge towards production and self-actualising transformation seemed to produce something like a wave or flow of force through the model, rupturing the membranes inward from the left to outward on the right. We realised that there was a relatively narrow band on either side of each of the main axes. We called the horozontal band the “Mean of engagement”: more or less individual and more or less institutional. We called the vertical band the “Mode of action”: more or less visitor and more or less resident. We also noticed an impact axis punching in another dimensionfrom lower left towards upper right. It appeard that the far left might be characterised by a lack of authenticity:. As one approached outer limits various pejorative warnings began to attach themselves to the image: at the outer and upper left solipcism and maybe hyper-capitalism dwelt, while at the upper right fully resident in individualism lurked the bully and the narcissist, with no self-control. There was a sweet spot for us upward and rightward from the centre where we put terms like open engagement, community, access and authority, while authoritarian by way of contrast fell out somewhere lower right.
We began to see institutional functions appear: assessment and the VLE seemed to occupy a backwater and the digital impact criteria of attention and presence firmly resided within the mean of engagement.
So all this was very satisfying as a means of understanding our world, but now the challenge is to turn it into action.
danah boyd. (2011). “Dear Voyeur, Meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media.”Surveillance and Society 8(4), 505-507
The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.
I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?
I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.
TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: for simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant, there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?
Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.
Reviving Tealab: Tealab is explicitly a Teaching Laboratory and discussion “space”. There are a number of excellent initiatives across the university that lap over the territory. When Tealab was set up it was intended to replace the Learning and Teaching Forum (LTF), with a focus on people (possibly “younger” whatever that might mean) interested in new or innovative teaching practices. These practices did not need to make use of learning technologies, but given the zeitgeist and interests of the proponents of Tealab there was a strong learning technology focus.
The institutional learning and teaching focus is currently on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Framework with its participatory underpinning. The aim of the framework is expressed in four domains: Learning, Identity, Community and Place and is intended to enable the creative appropriation of tools, transformative academic practice, inclusive communities and safe spaces for learning.
And second Tealab can serve as a forum for collaborative discussion and development of the aspirations of the TEL framework. With this in mind, I am planning a series of Lunch-time sessions (and I know that time is troublesome so forgive me if these sessions are not accessible for you; we will simulcast and record for later review). I am proposing three this semester:
Monday 19 October 1200-1330 – Participation in learning, aspirations for teaching: introducing the TEL Framework
Monday 09 November 1200-1330 – Creative appropriation and appropriate technology for teaching
Monday 30 November 1200-1330 – Academic Identity today
Having written, “Where is the new blended learning? Whispering corners of the forum” with Richard Francis (Francis & Roberts 2014), I and colleagues are starting to develop underpinning frameworks for communication and dissemination and to suggest programme developments and tools for teaching. The following abstract for a 45 minute workshop session, submitted to a conference but not yet accepted, is my first stab at moving from underpinnings to action. Re-reading it now, I think Good Luck! It made sense at the time.
By the end of this session, delegates will be able to:
identify and explain the underpinnings of the new blended learning through metaphors of space
apply frameworks for explaining, communicating, disseminating and implementing the new blended learning
imagine, together learning designs that are responsible and authentic to learners points of origin, disciplinary epistemologies, and practice as it is.
Physical and virtual spaces of learning appear ever more fluid and polyvalent for all participants, who are co-constructors of the space itself and of the learning that occurs within it: heterotopias (Foucault 1984) of institution, teacher and student. Such blended space of both community and identity is where activity occurs, and reflection on – and dialogue about – authentic experience happens.
Through this fluid polyvalence, all spaces are revealed as spaces between (Meyer and Land 2003, Bhabha 2004): between the ideal and the real, between now and then in both directions; between the physical and the digital, paper and the screen. New teaching spaces, learning environments, apps and the cloud can be seen as bridges between an older the vision of blended learning (Raftery and Francis 2005, Sharpe et al 2006) and a future that is continuously emergent. They mark the end of one era and the beginning of another.
The key issues to be addressed arise from applying models of good practice derived from older face-to-face AND online distance learning to the new blended learning. Participants will explore the implications of distributed collaboration for learning that is:
Between the utopian and the real, the troublesome threshold: blended learning as heterotopia (framing the discussion)
Examples of heterotopia in your teaching and your institution (Small group, cabaret tables, facilitated discussion and feedback from four or five perspectives)
Blended learning as third space: Learners create their own learning environment outside, inside and in-despite of the intentions of the institution or its architects.
What works? Responsible application of discipline to creativity in the newf blended learning space (Small group, cabaret tables, facilitated discussion from four or five perspectives)
Synthesis and final questions
Bhabha, Homi. 2004. The Location of Culture. Routledge Classics. Abingdon: Routledge.
Engeström, Yrjö. 2001. “Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an Activity Theoretical Reconceptualization.” Journal of Education and Work 14 (1): 133 –156
Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias.” foucault.info. http://foucault.info/documents/heterotopia/foucault.heterotopia.en.html accessed 13/04/2014
Francis, Richard, and John Raftery. 2005. “Blended Learning Landscapes.”Brookes Electronic Journal of Learning and Teaching (BeJLT) 1 (3).http://bejlt.brookes.ac.uk/articles/blended-learning-landscapes/ accessed 13/04/2014
Francis, Richard, and George Roberts. 2014. “Where Is the New Blended Learning? Whispering Corners of the Forum.” Brookes Electronic Journal of Learning and Teaching (BeJLT) 6 (1). http://bejlt.brookes.ac.uk/paper/where-is-the-new-blended-learning-whispering-corners-of-the-forum/.
Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. 2003. “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines”. Edinburgh: Universities of Edinburgh, Coventry and Durham. ETLreport4.pdf accessed from http://bit.ly/Q3JI8L accessed 13/04/2014
Mezirow, Jack, ed. 1990. Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A Guide to Transformative and Emancipatory Learning. Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
———. 1997. “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice.” New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, no. 74: 5. a9h
Sharpe, Rhona, Greg Benfield, George Roberts, and Richard Francis. 2006. “The Undergraduate Experience of Blended E-Learning: A Review of UK Literature and Practice”. Higher Education Academy. http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/projects/detail/litreview/lr_2006_sharpe accessed 13/04/2014
Vygotsky, Lev. 1962. Thinking and Speaking (first Published as Thought and Language). Edited by Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Lev Vygotsky Archive transcribed by Andy Blunden. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/index.htm accessed 13/04/2014
I am trying to write a proper academic paper about the principles we used when developing FSLT12&13. But, as I do I find myself getting bogged down. So in the spirit of Digital scholarship (Weller 2011) I am going to exercise some of the ideas here.
We are educational pragmatists. Change is brought about through critical, experiential, social learning activity in connected communities where people collaborate to achieve outcomes. All actors and contexts are hybrids and knowledge is distributed through the network of connections between people, places and things (and ideas are things).
Our principles flow initially from a particular epistemological orientation and a belief that teachers (in all sectors) can use an awareness of their orientation to knowledge as one among several means with which to approach developing and improving practice. We further believe that it can help learners if teachers act with reflective self awareness of their orientations to knowledge, making those orientations as explicit as may be appropriate to the level and topic being addressed. This is to say that, whatever other underpinnings, we are pragmatists, grounded in experience (Dewey 1910/1997) and we are engaged (sometimes participatory) scholars with a purpose to bring about change through activity as much as understanding (Dyrness, 2008)
Our perspective is broadly sociocultural and critical-theoretical. Socioculturalism “…focuses on the link between language and learning, both of which are viewed as fundamentally social phenomena…” (Lillis 2003, p.xv). Neither language, nor learning, exist outside communities of use. Beliefs, dominant and oppositional, shape orientations to action (Herman & Chomsky 1988). Further, all language is suffused with cultural assumptions that makes learning highly context-dependent. (Galison 2007a; Galison 2007b; Kuhn 1962). As Popper would have it, “All observation is theory laden” (Popper 1996 page).
Our epistemology takes a middle road between relativism and realism. There is a reality “out there” but knowledge of that reality is a quality of the knower: one reality; many interpretations. In essence we are critical realists (Collier, 1994). Knowledge is not simply a quality of the individual. Knowledge is distributed and inheres also in the artefacts and abstractions of culture (Pea, 1993; Moll, Tapia, & Whitmore, 1993). We might say that knowledge is in the network (Downes 2009), or simply that knowledge, like language is sociocultural. With respect to learning we would recognise ourselves as social constructivists (Vygotsky, 1962). The learner builds knowledge and understanding of the world through language and activity engaged in with others, some of whom are more knowledgeable and practiced, and others who may be less so. Learning can be expressed as a journey through a zone of proximal development with more experienced and practiced individuals providing “scaffolding” (Wood, Bruner & Ross 1976, Anghileri, 2006; Rourke & Coleman, 2010) to aid that journey.
Anghileri, J. (2006). Scaffolding practices that enhance mathematics learning. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 9 (1), 33–52.
Collier, A. (1994). Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy. London: Verso.
Dewey, J. (1910/1997). How we think (unabridged republication of the 1910 edition). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lillis. (2003). Introduction: mapping the traditions of a social perspective on language and literacy. In S. Goodman, T. Lillis, J. Maybin, & N. Mercer (Eds.), Language, literacy and education: a reader (pp. xiii–xxii). Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.
Moll, L. C., Tapia, J., & Whitmore, K. F. (1993). Living knowledge: the social distribution of cultural resources for thinking. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 139–163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pea, R. (1993). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47–87). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Popper, K. (1996). The myth of the framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.
Rourke, A. J., & Coleman, K. S. (2010). A Learner Support System: Scaffolding to Enhance Digital Learning. International Journal of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 6(1), 55–70.