What are the literacies of resisting the new norm(al)? #altc

I gave (with the considerable help of the other participants in the room) a 20 minute presentation at ALTC 2017, in the Empowerment in Learning Technology Theme, here is the  abstract and here is an autoplay version of the slides

There are some speaker notes here that indicate what was said along with the slides.

The presentation was in Elizabeth Gidney 1, 10.45-12.00 slot, Thursday 7 September.

I have really enjoyed writing the abstract and preparing the presentation for this ALTC conference, my first attendance since 2011, where I participated in a critical and enjoyable symposium with Cristina da Costa, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and Helen Keegan.  As I recall, there was lively debate, and that was my hope for the presentation. It was pretty clear to the audience what are my hopes and fears for learning technology practice. I acknowledge that many learning technologists will disagree with me and I hoped that those there will feel free to express their views. I want to hear them.

My current perspective on learning technology is focussed on informal learning from a largely extra-institutional perspective but via Chris Gilliard @hypervisible, I found a video about institutional adoption of technology that I hoped would provoke some interesting and diverse responses. Kate Bowles offers valuable reflections on the view of students implicit in this institutional case study.

I haven’t been able to find out whether or not Curtin University regards this application of HDS technologies as research or if informed consent has been obtained from staff and students. To me this seems like human research and deserving of the regulation demanded of academic researchers at Curtin and elsewhere.

Fortunately, my hopes were realised and the audience seemed very engaged with the video. A common reaction was that it was quite scary. Someone shared that they were involved in a similar project with secondary school students. Rather than using cameras and facial recognition, students carried badges thus enabling at least the possibility of them opting out.

Another participant pointed out when an institution has made a massive financial investment in technology and system, that can inhibit the expression of critical reflection.

Several participants felt that students seemed to lack choice.

Another participant told us that he was involved in a similar project using facial analysis but the difference was that since he works in veterinary science, the subjects were animals. This links back to my earlier comments on human research.

The final comment identified the dilemma for learning technologists in that their roles as technology advocates may clash with critical reflection.

My one-line message from my presentation is my hope that resistance is included in, or at least not excluded from, digital literacies. This doesn’t mean banning certain platforms or technologies but ensuring that the conversations happen about how they are used.


Language, Politics and #OER17

1984, Politics and the English Language, vintage Orwell reissues from Random Penguin, Foyles, St Pancras, Camden, London, UK
Vintage Orwell

This blog post started life as a comment on Martin Weller’s post about language and how it affects behaviour and thoughts in Edtech. The comment mysteriously disappeared as I posted it so I thought that I would repost it here and link from Martin’s post. The title of the post “Let’s think inside the box“ made me think about Blackboxing .
Whilst I agreed with many of the ideas in the post, Martin’s statement “But this post isn’t about politics” stopped me short.  I wondered what those of us thinking of making a submission to OER17  would make of this. I have been puzzling for a few weeks about what politics can mean in the context of  “The Politics of Open” theme for OER17, and I guess that others may be doing so too. I think that the concept of politics being broad and interpreted in different contexts will make for a great conference that enriches our understanding of Open Educational Practices and Resources.
So I would like to encourage Martin to think about how his post could be about politics and ‘fit’  OER17 – maybe even rework it as a submission 🙂 I was grateful to him for getting me to think about politics and language and my Scholar Google search turned up 2 corking resources.

  1. Orwell, G., 2005. Politics and the English Language. English, (December 1945), pp.1–9. Available at: https://www.homeworkmarket.com/sites/default/files/qx/15/05/19/04/politics_and_the_english_language_orwell.pdf
  2. Chomsky, N., 1984. Politics and Language. In Language and Politics. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1lCwP-RNExkC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=471&f=false (search for 471)

My subject discipline was Information Systems (that bears some parallels to Edtech) and in our teaching, we included social and organisational aspects as well the technological ones. Ethics, gender and power were definitely on the curriculum. When we think about education and/or technology without considering the politics – global, national, organisational, personal, interpersonal – we are filtering our understanding and it’s no wonder that our noble aspirations don’t always work out as we would hope. This is why I think the OER17 theme is so exciting – it can help us expand our thinking and our practice.

So it’s back to writing my submission.

Is Education Technology a Discipline? and does it matter?


Discipline by Brendan Lynch CC BY-NC 2.0

I noticed the recent discussion on whether or not Education Technology is a discipline at Martin Weller’s blog post.

When I read the article that prompted the whole EdTech as discipline discussion, I wondered what was behind the claim that a discipline was emerging.

As Georgetown University prepares to launch a master’s degree program in Learning and Design, a new academic discipline built around the study of education technology, learning analytics and instructional design is starting to take shape.


Martin gave us a discipline check list –  journals, conferences, professional accreditation, professional (I would say scholarly) society and degree programmes. As he pointed out, in the UK Association for Learning Technology (ALT) provide all except the last.

At this point, I pondered the parallels in my own home discipline Information Systems that started up in the 1970s and spent the next twenty years doing good work and engaging in identity struggles around method, epistemology and ontology between North American and European flavours of Information Systems,as it matured as a discipline.

Definition of Information Systems

Information systems are the means by which people and organisations, utilising technologies, gather, process, store, use and disseminate information.

The flavour  of IS I came to know and love, although it was applied, recognised that social and organisational aspects are important, as well as the technology. Critical approaches found a home here, and within my group of colleagues, undergraduate and postgraduate students were exposed to theories and engaged in practical critique, as well as learning about technology. We were confident that they left us as more informed and questioning practitioners.

My personal interest in education or learning technology was sparked by an opportunity I had in the mid 90s to share resources and support student discussion on a Lotus Notes server. I was hooked by the ease of publishing via Notes to the extent that I even learned HTML when deprived of the Notes server by one of many university reorganisations. When the LMS arrived at our university, my initial optimism waned as I saw the worst features of package software prevail. On the plus side, Blackboard was a great teaching case for student critique as they experienced it, likewise Turnitin.

In my last 5-10 years as an academic, numbers on Information Systems programmes generally declined and research had to fit in with changing organisational structures (publishing in the ‘right’ journals). Being assimilated into a Business School or Computer Science or other departments was common. Perhaps, as information technologies were absorbed into business sectors and other academic disciplines the Information Systems discipline has become disciplined by others.

So my reflections lead me to wonder if the question of Ed Tech as a discipline is the right one to ask. There seems little consensus in the current debate about what a discipline is but if we think about issues of power and economics that help make some disciplines sustainable in universities then research and teaching income are important, as well contribution to the university’s identity. That Edtech has few courses, and many staff who identify as learning technologists are on professional or academic-related contracts (in the UK at least) puts it at a disadvantage in claiming to be a discipline in the current Higher Education (HE) environment. Of course, learning technologists are doing great work in HE but trying to establish themselves as a discipline in their current contexts may be like beating your head against a brick wall, a not unfamiliar feeling.

For me, a far more important issue is the role of criticality in ed/learning technology, acknowledged by Martin and several of his commenters, and very powerfully by Audrey Watters in her recent keynote, a brilliant read . Audrey urges us to put criticism at the centre of our work.

I have a theory about why criticality may not come easily to those who include learning technology in their job descriptions (like me who was dubbed Learning Technology Fellow or learning champion at different times) or mainstream learning technologists. I suspect that when advocacy for learning technologies is part of your job, it can be difficult to reconcile that with engaging in critique of those technologies. And of course, many of us like the shiny stuff.

How many, like me, in the noughties flew under the radar of the ‘official’ LMS into the arms of the fun Web 2.0 apps to support learning activities? What began by seeming like harmless experiments either inconveniently disappeared  or morphed into ubiquitous platforms that eat our data (even when we delete it) and use it to sell advertising services. Here’s my full rant on that subject if you are interested.

One of things that troubles me about focussing on Edtech as a discipline is that it may reinforce some silos that already exist. Some of the great critical voices are already known in Edtech (for example Audrey Watters and Laura Czerniewycz) but there are others, sometimes in Education Departments or Institutes e.g.  Richard Edwards, Lesley Gourlay and Sian Bayne who are mentioned less often. Surely educational researchers talking sensibly and knowledgeably about technologies are good people to talk to.

Let’s open the door and risk the discipline.