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.

 

Digital Trespass and Critical Literacy #OER17

Peter Riley explains the Kinder Scout Trespass that took place in 1932 as a protest against the permanent closure of all the wild uplands of Derbyshire for about 12 days of grouse shooting in the year. It has been described as “the most successful direct action in British history” Lord Roy Hattersley, 2007.

Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout
Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout

The other day I read a review by Billy Mills of the narrative poem The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley. What Billy said made me think about the relevance of the Kinder Scout Trespass for us today and how the poem can help us understand more about the purpose and experience of education then and now. The pamphlet arrived in the post today to my joy.

Extract from Billy Mills’ review

These radicals, both working class activists and middle-class poets, had lived through one World War and its aftermath and were about to see a second. As the first generation to benefit from the 1918 Education Act, they had the tools needed to engage in a process of learning about power and its implications. As Riley writes early in this work, ‘The foundation of the state is not violence but education.’ This statement, apparently straightforward on first reading, gains in complexity as Riley questions the role and value of the state a few paragraphs later, concluding that it ‘makes everything possible, and makes strangers of us all.’

He also calls into question the value of education, specifically literacy:

They taught us to read and we thought we were so grand as to join heaven and earth. But all we did was wallpaper over the crack between myth and science and lose our homes. The farmer’s wife sang a truer song, told a sweeter story, of hope and despair hand in hand walking back into society.

This last word forming an integrative counterbalance to the divisive state. It is no coincidence that the verse excursus, which echoes the song Goodnight Irene, follows on immediately after the prose paragraph from which I have just quoted. This interlude sits in the twin shadows of war and emigration, of ‘promise betrayed’ and ‘all the bathos of the modern state’.

I know that comparisons with the 1930s are a little overblown at present but I found that the poem and review are very thought-provoking in my ongoing consideration of critical and digital literacy in public and open education.  I submitted an abstract recently for #OER17, a conference with the theme Politics of Open. My abstract looks at the role of criticality in Open Educational Practice, and how paying attention to the sociomaterial, as Fenwick(2014) encourages students and educators, can focus on the political as well as the instrumental nature of education, and critique the digital tools and platforms through which it is increasingly mediated.

So here is my proposal:

What if the critical and digital literacies that educators and students practice and share could help focus attention on the wider implications of using proprietary social networking systems and other platforms in learning, and activism and education?

What if these literacies helped bring about a digital trespass that was more like the Kinder Scout Trespass than a concern of cyber-security?

I’ll leave you with the words of the late Ewan McColl in one of my Favourite songs The Manchester Rambler.

I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way
I may be a wageslave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday

Fenwick, T., 2014. Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(March 2015), pp.1–14. Available at: http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-84904850004&partnerID=tZOtx3y1\n .

Note: I should have said that there is no guarantee that the abstract will be accepted 🙂 I have plans to write a longer piece, maybe with a.n.other so this is definitely an ongoing writing project.

Note 2: Just heard that abstract has been accepted – Yay! So I can prepare my presentation to include added Kinder Scout goodness – abstract here – hope to see some of you there to hear your ideas.

 

Is Education Technology a Discipline? and does it matter?

Discipline

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.

Hmmm!

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.

Open Access is a piece for cake for Research in Learning Technology

open access cakes

Research in Learning Technology , the journal for the Association for Learning Technology, is going Open Access from January 2012 (with Rhona Sharpe, I am co-editor of the journal).  ALT’s plans for Open Access publishing have developed over several years, and we are very keen that this move can extend the impact of the journal – gaining us more readers, more authors and more citers.  Just today, I came across this blog post from @melissaterras “What happens when you tweet an Open Access Paper” that is very persuasive of the benefits of Open Access publishing married to institutional repositories.

@A_L_T has developed skills in the use of social media integration of its multiple publication and presentation channels, and openness makes that so much easier.  Typically for ALT, the tendering process was done meticulously and fairly around this time last year, and was even written up and published in ALT’s (Open Access) repository.  The winner of the tender was Co-Action and they have been a pleasure to work with so we are very confident  that our journal can develop and go from strength to strength.  The really great news is that even content that is currently closed will be open from January 2012. Watch this space!

When the web site is launched, we will be sure to splash it over all channels, but I wanted to alert you two publishing opportunities with Research in Learning Technology:

1. Although we have not yet got an upload url, we are eagerly awaiting your copy so please keep writing, writing, writing.  Here are the interim arrangements.  Open Access is such good news for authors especially where the scholarly society (and all the volunteer editors, reviewers and editorial board) invests in the publication and does not expect authors to pay.  We already have all of the copy we need for the the first issue, and some in hand for the second issue but we want to fill Issues 2 and 3, especially as we will be having 4 issues (1 more than previously). Of course, you can always contact Rhona and I for informal advice, if you have any questions.

2. The fourth issue of Research in Learning Technology is a Special Issue on Digital Inclusion and Learning, edited by Profs Jane Seale and William Dutton.  The Call for Papers is here.  This will be a seminal issue – please be part of it.

If you want to get news of this exciting venture, you can follow me @francesbell or @A_L_T on Twitter or watch out on the ALT web site.  Please tell your colleagues about our move to Open Access – we are proud and really rather excited by the opportunities it presents.