On Tuesday, we presented a slice of our project at the APT 2013 Conference, at Greenwich. Our presentation was in a session with two others, including one about the DIAL project at the University of the Arts. The Conference’s theme was, “Next Generation Learning Spaces and Work Places”, and disruption was a central theme, so we focused on the way in which our students experienced institutional requirements as disruptive of their studies.
The slides are available on Slideshare, and are linked from our talks and papers page.
It’s inevitable, but nevertheless frustrating, that it’s taken so long for formal publications relating to the project. However, two things have now made it to press – a book chapter in a very interesting collection on the Digital University, edited by Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea, and a short journal paper in the new Irish Learning Technology Association journal, following on from the keynote we gave at the ILTA conference last year. The paper is open access, and so available online. It has also embedded the video of the keynote we gave.
References to both can be found on our publications page.
Yesterday, Lesley and I gave a presentation on the project at Leicester University. This was delivered to a rather select group in the room, but also webcast to a wider audience. We almost made it through without technical hiccup… but not quite! It was very interesting to present this work, which was focused on our graduate students, to an audience that included graduate students at another institution. It also provided a very interesting space in which to discuss methodology in quite a frank and productive way.
This Tuesday, we took part in the final programme meeting in Brimingham – quite a momentous milestone. It feels like a long journey from the initial meeting 18 or so months ago! The close of the meeting involved making an object or giving a presentation about the journey of our project. Here’s Lesley making our thing:
And here’s what it looked like at the end:
Is it merely a bunch of stuff and some string? Or is it an heterogeneous network of actants that has been engineered to achieve project completion? Either way, the cash has strings attached, digital devices are central an potentially oppositional binaries of new and traditional technologies (and texts) have been shown as linked.
Today, we’re giving a short overview of the project and its achievements to the Learning and Teaching Experts Group in Birmingham. The slides from our presentation are available here. This was also an opportunity to promote the special issue of Research in Learning Technology on digital scholarship, since this proposal came out of the JISC work.
We’re at the Theorizing the Web conference, and will shortly be giving our presentation, “Critiquing digital dualism: a sociomaterial account of student entanglements with technologies“. So far it’s been a good mix of presentations; it’s an interesting contrast to the educational and educational technology conferences we’ve been presenting this work at.
The Twitter tag for the event is #TtW13, and for our session is #d2.
Lesley and I have just given a presentation at the SRHE conference in Newport, titled, “Curating, combat or coping? Student entanglements with technologies in HE“. We’ve made the slides available via Slideshare.
I had the great pleasure of being one of the keynotes at the Losing Momentum conference in Oxford this Thursday. The event was conceived of and organised by doctoral students, who did a great job of it. The quality of presentations was really high; this lot could give many mainstream conferences a run for their money. Presentations ranged from very pragmatic studies of technology implementation to philosophical critiques of Open Educational Resources, taking in theory and methodology en route. Neil Selwyn provided a rousing and challenging opening keynote (10 things Educational Technology research ought to do better), and I was in the post-lunch slot.
My presentation looked at the metaphor of “momentum” and the appealing but over-simplistic idea of linear progress that it conveys. I used this project to illustrate that, taking a slice through the work that focused, primarily, on the design and organisation of the institution’s infrastructure.
Lots of good feedback, and some very interesting questions – including an interesting discussion of whether we were talking about “learning”, when I was using words like “literacy” and “study”.
Highly enjoyable day, and an helpful opportunity to think through this strand of the project in a little more depth, too.
On Thursday, Lesley and I did a double-act keynote at the EdTech 2012 conference. This is the annual conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, who were kind enough to invite us, ship us over and act as excellent hosts throughout the event. It was an interesting mix of research talks, practitioner reports and some awards for some really stunning learning and teaching initiatives.
The day opened with Doug Belshaw providing a very engaging keynote that included an overview of the JISC digital literacies programme; this was really helpful, as it framed the talk we gave later.
Our talk picked up on discussions during the day about definitions of digital literacies; Lesley suggested “un-defining” as a title to respond to this, framing the way that we’ve sought a grounded, emergent way of engaging with this concept to get out of conceptual knots. We argued for a social and situated account of literacies, and used examples from our data analysis to illustrate how this looked for us. We also talked about the ways in which this analysis led us to change institutional structures and practices, and suggested questions that the audience could ask about their own students’ literacy practices. We also introduced our current, tentative thoughts around stances or orientations (instead of “skills”), and around resilience, and referred to Helen Beetham’s ideas from the Cascade project, shared at a one-day event in Exeter, about developing students’ repertoires of academic practice.
All sorts of interesting discussions have followed, since. Several people commented on the links we’re making between theory and data, and seemed really interested in the links between our studies and institutional policies and change initiatives. I also had some good discussions about some of the theory I am working with around technology, for example.
The slides we did for this are available on slideshare. We’ve been told that there might be a recording of the talk available soon; we’ll link that as and when it’s released.
Today, we took part a webinar about the project’s evaluation work.
One important part for us was the idea that Jay referred to, that “evaluation has to be supported by some kind of theory of change”. This is something we’re still grappling with. Our account of change has to look at the kind of day-to-day work that goes on in the institution, because we want to improve the day-to-day experiences of students. (In this sense, we certainly feel comfortable with what Jay described about the evolutionary processes aiming at “an iterative deepening of understanding”; I think we’d agree we’re less clear about structural measures of accountability.) What our early work has shown us is that structures don’t determine these experiences, because students are creative, adaptive and resourceful. So we can’t rely on claims about changing structures; we have to be able to talk about changes to what people do, too. We’re drawing on sociomaterial accounts of change to help us with this. We expect these to be able to help us provide convincing accounts of the ways that the project has helped to reconfigure structures, resources and practices – but we’re aware that we’ll need to provide convincing accounts of this.
The accountability side of things is harder to talk about – but not because it isn’t happening. Rightly, Jay challenged us to answer the “so what?” question: does the work contribute to ‘big picture’ outcomes; is the work evaluative; will the answers be direct, explicit and actionable?
This is a fair challenge. Over the last few months, we’ve been discussing how our close analysis of practices helps us to do these things. Here’s some ideas that Lesley and I have been exchanging that shows our thinking; they’re all tentative and provisional, but are an indication of our general direction.
- Theoretically, we’re developing the idea that being digitally literate involves being able to create places where you can complete academic/professional/personal tasks by coordinating spaces, things (particularly digital things) and people. (This needs work; it’s not elegant. But it’s pointing where we’re thinking right now.)
Building on this, and our baseline work:
- We can make our students more ‘digitally literate’ if we can identify areas where they struggle to coordinate people/places/things and ‘black box’ them. An example of where this would work well would be single sign-on authentication, but library access to electronic journals via library sign-on is still a success story in this respect: students don’t need to manage personal authentication for a dozen different journals. Sociomaterially, we coordinate networks that students can readily co-opt to their ends. It adds an environmental, infrastructure element that we can tackle at an institutional level.
- We can explain how some students demonstrate their digital literacy in the ways that they can overcome shortcomings in the coordinated environment we provide them with. If they can’t work through our networks but can work around it – by co-opting other people, places, things – they prove themselves digitally literate and suggest areas where we need to black box more effectively. (Students’ decision to use printers in another institution rather than here might be one example of this.)
- Combining the above, ‘Black boxing’ may create risks: if a system is disaggregated it might be possible to work with some and work around others. For example, setting the printers at the IOE so that you can’t edit it to double-sided printing black-boxes in a way that might be helpful for the least able students, but is actively unhelpful for those who want more control over printer settings. We should think about the design of boxes in such a way that they can be opened gracefully. Email forwarding might be another example. Student frustration over lack of control might be a signal for black boxes that we should make more amenable to opening.
On the basis of this, we’ve started using words like “resilience” when talking about students’ digital literacy, and thinking about how we can help make students’ digital literacy more “resilient” by helping them to think about strategies they could use to reconfigure networks when things go wrong.