Opening keynote: Mike Sharples, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University, challenged delegates to distinguish between hype and reality when navigating the future of technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Open practices and learning analytics will prompt more far-reaching innovation than the application of particular technologies to traditional approaches: ‘We need to move away from evaluating how technology can make traditional learning more effective and efficient towards designing new forms of learning enhanced by technology. That is the real challenge.’ Mike Sharples
What needs to change in curriculum design: representatives from the OULDI, Viewpoints, PiP and T-SPARC projects in the JISC Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design programme explored ways of changing the culture and practice of curriculum design. Steps to effecting change included providing institutions with tools, resources and representations to work with, building bridges between different groups involved in design processes and establishing a common language. Successful approaches were likely to vary from context to context: ‘What’s important is to acknowledge that curriculum design… is a process that arises from a series of choices. There will be no right or wrong way to do things, just a spectrum of effectiveness in different contexts.’ Paul Bartholomew, Birmingham City University
Digital literacies: Chaired by Derfel Owen, Exeter University, this panel session explored sector-wide issues raised by the JISC Developing digital literacies programme such as the difference between competence and literacy and who owns the responsibility for developing student/staff digital literacies. There are still considerable challenges: in the absence of a coherent institutional framework, digital learning skills are often passed on informally from learner to learner or learnt by trial and error, and deficiencies in digital literacy often remain hidden: ‘Most learners in an HE institution know how to read a book, but I suspect most have learnt through trial and error how to use an academic book for learning.’ James Clay, Gloucestershire College
Open practice across the sectors: representatives from further, higher education and workplace learning outlined their successes and challenges in making learning resources open ie collaborative, competitive, sharable and discoverable. On the wish list were institutional policies that explicitly support resource sharing and reuse, better informed application of IPR policies and greater recognition that resource creation is a form of scholarship. Online spaces for building, repurposing and sharing DIY approaches were also essential. The session drew on experiences from the JISC/HE Academy funded UKOER programme now moving into its third phase: ‘UKOER has found that engaging with OERs has supported collaborative approaches and increased partnerships.’ Lou McGill
Closing keynote: Ewan McIntosh challenged delegates to identify changes they will make as a result of the conference experience, concluding: ‘The lead time on innovation might be 50 years. Best get started…’
Ewan invited all conference delegates to make a pledge on what they plan to do as a result of the conference and will be sharing the outcomes in December.
The conference remains open for reading until January 2012 and all recordings and presentations will then be available from the JISC conference website.
‘I have been thinking that I have enjoyed this experience to such an extent that I would like to organise something similar for students in my faculty. That thought had never occurred to me prior to attending the conference.’ ‘I haven’t attended a webinar before where the quality of discussions and debate was such that it completed the presentation. I had to work hard to keep on top of both.’
‘I can’t remember ever having such stimulating discussions at a conference. As a first time online conference attendee, I’m a convert.’ Tansy Jessop, University of Winchester
‘I found it a genuinely rewarding experience.’ David Puttnam, Lord Puttnam of Queeensgate
Put a reminder in your diary for Innovating e-Learning 2012. Details will be announced from July 2012.
• David Puttnam, Lord Puttnam of Queensgate, in his opening keynote at Innovating e-Learning 2011, argued for greater investment in ICT to enable UK universities, colleges and schools to deliver a world-class education. ‘Digital technology is the driving force behind change. We cannot afford not to invest in it.’ David Puttnam
• Bill Rammell, deputy vice-chancellor of Plymouth University, outlined the tensions of collaboration in a changing landscape. An understanding of technology was essential for the future of higher education institutions: ‘The changing landscape will require institutions to become more efficient Digital Organisations.’ Bill Rammell
• Tansy Jessop and Yaz El-Hakim ((University of Winchester) and Paul Hyland (Bath Spa University) explored work originating in the TESTA project on addressing specific disciplinary and programme-wide issues in assessment and feedback: ‘Programme teams are often working hard without energising their students or working smartly.’ Yaz El-Hakim. ‘The definitions of the terms are really elusive. We either need a shared understanding from discussion or a fresh vocabulary for talking about assessment.’ Tansy Jessop
• Liz Dunne, Dale Potter and Derfel Owen (Exeter University) gave their experiences of engaging students as agents of change in the INTEGRATE project: ‘A commercial service-customer relationship between institutions and students simply will not work. You need to empower students not just to identify the changes they want but also to take an active part in creating the solutions.’ Derfel Owen
• ELRAH, a collaborative venture between Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh’s Telford College and Edinburgh City Council used a JISC-funded WBL Maturity Toolkit to develop a model of online learning to support development of a new undergraduate programme in Youth Work: ‘Where there’s a will, there’s always a way!’ Morag Gray
• Sally Graham, Joy Jarvis (University of Hertfordshire) chart the developing story of the conference in graphic formats each day at 9 am: ‘Excellent shorthand for thinking further.’ Neil Spurgeon, Delegate
• James Clay in the conference blog, Letters from the Edge, summed up the striking advantages of online conferencing: ‘What’s nice about an online conference is that not only are all the presentations available as recordings, but also there is time to reflect and you still have time to ask questions and add your thoughts and opinions.’
You can still register while the conference is underway; in an online environment there isn’t a cap on numbers! If you are unable to do so, proceedings will be available early January 2012 from www.jisc.ac.uk/elpconference11
Follow #jiscel11 on Twitter for live conference updates.
Attending the Developing Digital Literacies programme start-up meeting was an excellent way to get an overview of the projects within the strand. Each project had 2 minutes to describe their approach and planned activities. (The 2 minutes were strictly managed by Marianne Sheppard’s lightly avant-garde use of a ‘barking dog’ alarm.)
All of the projects had also created posters which lined the room with varying levels of text, graphics and diagrams. Reading the posters and discussing them with project team members I was struck again how broad the notion of digital literacy was. On closer inspection I discovered that it was possible to identify a key phrase on each poster which was indicative of that particular project’s underlying approach to developing digital literacies. These phrases made visible two standpoints:
1. Digital literacy as professional practice
Key skills or approaches which can be closely mapped to professional goals or standards. There is a sense here that digital literacies will be defined in terms of ‘competencies’ and that they should sit in a larger professional framework or tool-kit.
2. Digital literacy as a social practice
The notion that digital literacy is closely tied to identity and that there is not a hard line between the professional and the personal. The approach here is usually more individualistic and based on ideas around becoming a legitimate participant in experiential spaces.
Generally I would expect the professional practice approach to be ‘top-down’ while the social practice route is likely to facilitate or make visible ‘bottom-up’ activity. I’m not certain that this will be the case though as the link between these underlying approaches and actual project activities is likely to vary significantly.
I have captured the key phrases from the posters and mapped them on a continuum spanning from the professional to the social.
“Developing professionalism in the digital environment”
“…professionalise the digital literacy of teaching administrators”
“…develop a range of short qualifications for both lecturers and students in digital literacy…”
“…a set of core graduate attributes, including Digital and Information Literacy”
“For work and employability. For learning. For the future.”
“…involving students as ‘change agents’ in design and delivery of the curriculum”
“Students as ePioneers”
“Personal Actualisation and Development through Digital Literacies in Education”
“Digital literacies as social practice”
This is of course a crude mapping and I’d be interested to hear from projects if they feel they have been positioned incorrectly or if the phrase I have chosen is not a fair representation.
My own ‘Visitors and Residents’ project which aims to support a number of JISC activities is developing an mapping tool which contains an vertical axis with the terms ‘Personal’ and ‘Institutional’ on it. For early stage students the distinction between the personal and the institutional is marked but as they progress through their educational career we envisage this compartmentalisation blurring.
It is certainly not the case that digital literacies as a social practice or as a professional practice can be mapped directly to the personal and the institutional but there may be connections. For example:
- Would a member of staff who clearly demarcates the personal and the professional be comfortable with developing literacies as a social practice or are they more likely to think in terms of more ‘instrumental’ skills?
- Would an individual who, to use my terminology, is highly Resident on the web in their personal life be comfortable with using that mode of engagement with fellow staff or students?
The web gives us the technical capability to collapse geography and to blur traditional role boundaries but the extent to which this is actually taking place culturally is difficult to quantify.
Whatever you views on the questions above it’s important to recognise that staff and students are already employing many successful digital literacies. We need to understand what these are and in what context they are being used if we are going to ‘develop’ them or if we want to embed new modes of engagement. The digital literacies we consider to be crucial must be positioned relative to user owned literacies that have already ‘disappeared into use’.
The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme is a two-year commitment by 12 colleges and universities funded to explore digital and new literacies in their institutions. After a successful programme startup meeting in early October, the projects have begun their initial activity.
Nine of the twelve projects have active project blogs, with the remaining three setting them up as a matter of priority. Some highlights from initial blog posts can be found below with the Exeter CASCADE project giving a useful brief overview of the startup meeting.
Greenwich have taken a slightly different approach in that they have set up a social networking site with blog features called DLinHE (Digital Literacies in Higher Education). As is appropriate to the subject matter, it is very conversation-oriented. An early post, for example, encouraged discussion around defining ‘digital literacy’:
We are entering a contested area here, folks. Each of us probably has a different definition of what we mean by DL depending on our discipline and context. Even the term ‘literacy’ is problematic, for example, library and information professionals would most likely be infuenced by information literacies and look to the (revised) Sconul pillars for a competency framework, others by media literacies, etc.
This early definition stage is where many projects are at. The Bath PriDE project ran a think tank event recently with their Faculty of Engineering and Design and the participants came up with the following definition of digital literacy:
A digitally literate person in the Faculty of Engineering and Design should be proficient in retrieving, managing, evaluating, sharing and presenting relevant information supported by access to the appropriate hardware and software.
As Vic Jenkins notes in a comment to that post, there may be “a natural tendency to focus on more generic or familiar skill sets… when participants first approach ideas around digital literacy.”
Developing digital literacies is certainly an iterative process, as University College London have discovered (emphasis in original):
The digital department is itself both a social practice and an active process. We cannot ultimately look at the literacies of one the TAs alone; we should think of distributed digital literacies across the department. As the literacies of TAs improve, what is the effect of the other participants in the departmental social practice; the students and particularly the academics? Can the students own literacies be enhanced by interacting with a ‘switched on department’? Will academics, relieved of basic digital management have the time and inclination to engage more fully with online activities? What effect could this have on course design?
These are certainly exciting times for the projects involved in the JISC-funded programme, but also for those who are looking to do something similar in their institution. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates and follow the hashtag #jiscdiglit on Twitter!
Over the last six years, Innovating e-Learning, aka the JISC e-Learning Online Conference, taking place 22-25 November, has become a must-attend event for those interested in enhancing their practice with technology. And each year, a hard core of seasoned online conferencers is joined by delegates new to the event, who are surprised, even shocked, by how much they gain from the experience.
‘Excitement, challenge, the opportunity to think beyond the confines of my world’ was how one delegate described last year’s conference. Another spoke of ‘learning so much without leaving my desk’, neatly capturing some of the significant advantages of the JISC online conference – its convenience and cost effectiveness.
JISC’s latest radio Show, JISC On Air, explores some of these the benefits as well as opening up issues covered by this year’s theme, Learning in Transition. In the company of keynote presenters, Bill Rammell (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Plymouth University), Mike Sharples (Professor of Educational Technology, The Open University) and Ewan McIntosh (CEO, No Tosh), Sarah Porter, Head of Innovation at JISC, sums up the surprising richness of online conferencing.
‘I think we do get more interaction. We do get a better depth of discussion. We’re using a number of different environments to help people to have as rich an experience and as human an experience as possible.’ Sarah Porter
After all, where else could you engage in a full-on debate with a leading expert when your day job is a teacher or curriculum manager? At this critical time for further and higher education, perhaps the greatest value of the JISC Online Conference is the chance to engage with challenges, controversies and new media formats, with minimal cost and inconvenience into the bargain.
Take for example the question of what students want and need from further and higher education. Many will be inspired by Exeter University’s session in Theme 1 of this year’s conference on Students as Agents of Change . In this session, an educational developer and recent graduate of the university explore an innovative partnership between undergraduate students and academic staff that researched and co-developed technology-enhanced solutions for learning and teaching. But for Bill Rammell, there are inherent tensions between the model of partnership and the expectations of those buying into higher education:
‘I think, as time as gone on, as academic thinking has gone on, as the way that universities position themselves has developed, we are convinced that the best model is a model of partnership. But, at the same time, there is an expectation from students – rightly – that their lecturers know more than they do.’ Bill Rammell
A further source of controversy explored in the pre-conference debate recorded for JISC On Air is that surrounding open educational resources – a forward-looking enterprise or a risk in a competitive, consumer-led environment? For Sarah Porter, the risks could turn out to be gains:
‘People are thinking we’ve invested money and time in this, we don’t want to open this up. But what we’re finding, in fact, in terms of brand is that by opening up resources it can really strengthen the institution’s brand because it gives the student the opportunity to go and sample the learning environment.’
Open practice across the sectors, session 6 of the Online Conference, will take this debate further and I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shapes up.
This year’s programme also features an opening keynote by David Puttnam (producer of classic films such as Chariots of Fire and Midnight Express and now Chancellor of The Open University) and a lively Pre-conference Activity Week – an eclectic mix of demonstrations and live presentations ranging from a practical guide from JISC infoNet on implementing mobile learning to a demonstration by South Tyneside College of distributing digital information via iTunes. From guidelines for virtual classrooms to a demonstration of new technology-supported approaches to designing and approving courses from, the breadth of new ideas in the pre-conference week alone provides ample incentive to take part.
So whether you are interested in the keynote speakers, the main conference sessions or the pre-conference activity programme, or just feel you want to get to grips with what’s happening in the world of technology-enhanced learning, register now to take advantage of the pre-conference activity week commencing on 15th November.
And to whet your appetite, listen to what the keynote speakers have to say on JISC On Air: Learning in Transition