Welcome to Digital is not the future

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We have made this thread open for anyone to edit. This is a conversation that will be made better by involving more people. The aim of the platform is to frame the discussions and debates we need to have at our institutions in order put innovation and the digital at the heart of the institutional approach to learning and teaching. There is a case to be made that institutionally, we have failed. ‘Traditional’ custom and practice is legitimised in the digital, whilst practice based innovation can be banished to the fringe or the grassroots. Techno-solutionism is equally legitimised, where ‘solutions in a box’ and services drive our activity; an activity that often replicates existing practice rather than transforming it. This widens the gap between ‘academic’ practice and the changing nature of learning in a digital era, masked by the procurement of new, and by implication, ‘innovative’ technologies

What do you have to do?
What we seek from the physical and online hacks is a form of radical pragmatism. You are in the room, because you are the institution, you are the senior management, you are the expert.

The rules of this hack are simple.

Rule 1: We are teaching and learning focused and institutionally committed
Rule 2: What we talk about here is institutionally/nationally agnostic
Rule 3: You are in the room with the decision makers. What we decide is critical to the future of our institutions. You are the institution
Rule 4: Despite the chatter, all the tech ‘works’ - the digital is here, we are digital institutions. Digital is not the innovation.
Rule 5: We are here to build not smash
Rule 6: You moan (rehearse systemic reasons why you can’t effect change - see Rule 3), you get no beer (wine, juice, love, peace, etc)

We have chosen 5 common scenarios which are often the catalyst for change in institutions. As we noted above, you are in the room with the new VC and you have 100 words in each of the scenarios below to effectively position what we do as a core part of the institution. Why is this going to make our institutional more successful/deliver the objectives/save my (the VCs) job? How do we demonstrate what we do will position the organisation effectively? How do we make sure we stay in the conversation and not be relegated to simply providing services aligned with other people's strategies? Anyone who has been around the system for any length of time will recognise these scenarios and will have been through many of them. They are critical junctures at where momentum for change peaks.


George Roberts Tue 5 Apr 2016 5:19PM

A key question is what exactly is the "nature of learning" that is changing in the digital era? Is there a recognisable post-digital epistemology? What are its characteristics? Another question is whether "techno-solutionism" is (or is not) bracketed with resistance to change and to the digital generally?


Donna Lanclos Tue 5 Apr 2016 5:23PM

I think what's changed is less the "nature of learning" and more the frame around which teaching and learning are allowed to take place--digital tools and places become ways of controlling rather than facilitating within techno-solutionist neoliberal approaches.


George Roberts Tue 5 Apr 2016 5:36PM

I think there has been some epistemological evolution. There is enough smoke around "liquid modernity", "bricolage", multi-tasking, shorter attention spans, sharing cognitive load, distributed collaboration (as here) and other similar themes to suggest that there may be something burning. Is it change in the nature of learning brought on by the digital, or is it more to do with contemporary political economics?


Donna Lanclos Tue 5 Apr 2016 5:46PM

enh, I don't think that policy is being moved much by epistemology. I think a lot of people who write about education in non-policy contexts think about it. But I think it's much more political economy driving things from a "what happens within institutions" perspective.


David White Wed 6 Apr 2016 7:16AM

Policy tends to focus on how to perpetuate existing paradigms via the tech. My view is that the Web has changed what it means to learn (within a formal frame) and we need to respond to those opportunities. The idea of the hack is to develop a 'pitch' which explains this in language which senior staff can comprehend. (This is my take on the hack anyway)


Amber Thomas Mon 11 Apr 2016 10:31PM

I think you might be right that learning has changed.
I think working has changed too: all the professions have changed, the types of work have changed, the micro-economics of work contracts have changed. I'm not afraid to say that universities should respond to that.
Employability might be a dirty word, but since i think higher education is a social good, the relationship between learning and employability do need looking at.
This leads me to a defense of ther VLE as an organisational system that needs to be learnt, in the same way other systems have to be learnt.
What does learning to learn feel like in todays world? How do we prepare people for the next stage in their journey?
I think there should be some friction expected in the student experience: it should be designed in.


George Roberts Tue 12 Apr 2016 9:01AM

Yes, there may be a "metapedagogy" around the use of the VLE as a proxy for knowledge management systems in some broad fields of employment: consultancy, financial services, engineering...


George Roberts Wed 6 Apr 2016 6:54PM

Difficult because I suspect it is probably both, and in different proportions in different places and people. As the UCL Why We Post project has shown, Internet use has spread way beyond the "global north".


Peter Bryant Thu 7 Apr 2016 3:41PM

Welcome to all the new people who have joined the group. The process here is simple, but I suspect the practice will be much harder. How do we embed technology and innovative pedagogical practices within the strategic plans and processes at our institutions. What are the messages we need to move technology from being a nice to have or an administrative solution in a box to influencing the strategic, educational and organisational direction of the institution? How have we done this? we have set up 5 scenarios, pick and choose what one/s work for you and put up a 100 word elevator pitch for what we do as critical to the future of the institution, then let everyone else agree or disagree. Who will be first? Who will pop their head above the barricades and start us of?


Peter Bryant Thu 7 Apr 2016 3:53PM

I think policy is but one of the pillars that can reinforce organisational behaviour and determine the use and relevance of technology (and innovative practices) within institutions. If we add budgets and strategies to that list, then we have quite the array of powerful magnetic forces that can make technology bow to the entrenched positions of process, reporting, accountability and resistance.


Alex Chapman Mon 11 Apr 2016 9:28AM

I would also add infrastructure to that list as it is often one of the major stumbling blocks for the take up and embedding of new tools/pedagogies.


Colin simpson Mon 11 Apr 2016 2:36AM

Hi everyone, I'd like to suggest that a key question is how we ensure that the right tech and innovative pedagogical processes are embedded in practice and policy at our institutions.

I don't personally have a problem with new tech/pedagogy being introduced to expand on existing practices - indeed I just read an Office of Learning and Teaching (Australia) research paper indicating that both students and educators find tools that help them to get on with the work of learning and teaching to be the most useful to them. (This includes online enrolment, information about classes, communications etc) (There's quite a bit in the paper that I question but the survey feedback on the "state of the actual" is pretty interesting)


Don't get me wrong, I get as frustrated as anyone when I see the potential of a new tool or approach going to waste; I just have a sense that an evolutionary, scaffolded approach to innovation might yield valuable gains. (Which is also what my scant understanding of social practice theory indicates). Even if we manage to sell the VC on a new paradigm with our elevator pitch, I'd suggest that purely top-down change is far less likely to succeed than that which works more with the broader ecology of the institution.


David White Mon 11 Apr 2016 9:53AM

@Colin - You are thinking along similar lines to myself and Peter when we set-up the hack. I agree that online enrollment etc is crucial stuff to get right and needs to be properly supported but let's imagine all of that is working, what then?


George Roberts Mon 11 Apr 2016 4:59PM

Assuming all "that" is working, administration processes are rendered as transparent and effortless (to teachers & learners) as possible, leaving learning relationships disintermediated. So, what are the learning relationships? Who are the relationships between? What is the measure of "better"? Quantity? How many learning relationships can be maintained? Speed (the faster horse)? Against Ford we might set another person of the era, Thoreau, for whom a faster horse probably wasn't top of his list. How can we bring about Institution-wide pedagogic improvement through technology is probably not the right question for large, heterogenous, complex HEIs.


Amber Thomas Mon 11 Apr 2016 10:22PM

I think there's a question about whether pedagogic improvement is the ultimate goal. I have posted in one of the threads about that.
I'm not sure what is broken about university teaching that needs fixing by improved pedagogy. Some teaching is boring. Thus has it ever been.
However, the economy, therefore the job market is rather broken, i think. So there is a problem for graduates.
When i think what "my" tools can do to support that situation, the answers feel different from the pedagogical lens.


Colin simpson Mon 11 Apr 2016 11:41PM

You make some interesting points about the challenges of pedagogic improvement @amberthomas - tools aren't always pedagogy.

I think that we're in the middle of a significant shift in the way that people access information and create and share knowledge and long-standing approaches to teaching and learning aren't always going to be enough. I'm fine with keeping employability skills in the mix - it's the reason that most people are at uni - and I'd suggest that if we are to equip learners with the information/digital literacy and critical thinking skills that they need, we need to be open to new pedagogical approaches.

At the simplest level, how valuable are exams when outside the exam room, students can access anything they need to know? Yet, here are least, they are still a massive part of assessment.


Rainer Usselmann Tue 12 Apr 2016 8:27AM

Could creating more 'tailored' learning experiences, which better fit the specific needs and learning styles of each individual learner be part of the new pedagogic paradigm? Especially in the light of TEF?


George Roberts Tue 12 Apr 2016 9:47AM

Possibly, though the human resource implications are a challenge. I think it is probably more practical to think of the tailoring as being at the department or course level.


Martin Oliver Thu 14 Apr 2016 3:18PM

Thanks for making those points. I'd agree that we need to be very careful when talking about improvements. I think that kind of language makes the claim look unassailable and universal. Things might look quite different if we started getting into the details, and asking who benefits, and how - and who doesn't.


Colin simpson Mon 11 Apr 2016 11:50AM

@David - no worries. Ok, well I'm assuming that everyone here is an ed designer or learning technologist or somesuch. I guess my main point is that our users - learners and educators - need to see the value in whatever approach is put to them. It has to meet their needs

This means that we have to understand their needs - particularly from an educational perspective - and be able to sell a new solution. Not only that, we have to be able to demonstrate that this solution addresses a complex set of competing and often contradictory needs. On top of this, purely rational, evidence based arguments grounded in the most solid research aren't necessarily going to win the day.

We're working with highly intelligent people in their disciplines - and their intelligence is their capital. Some of these people, when placed in situations where they have to admit that they don't know as much as you do (pedagogy, ed tech) get defensive and prefer to criticise the technology (it doesn't work, it's clunky) than learn to use it. As for being open to having it fail on them (and it does) and losing face with their students - this is definitely a thing they'd rather avoid. So sometimes we're going to have to meet their emotional needs as well. (Something else to consider is that some people genuinely enjoy their face to face teaching and do it really well)

Sorry, I realise that this seems a bit like a stream of consciousness.

My point is that if we are to advocate for more innovative attitudes in our institutions, we need to make sure that they are going to be the right ones. The worst thing that can happen is to get the executive excited about ed tech and then have them decide (and announce) that every student gets an iPad. Or we're going to suddenly put 10 language courses wholly online in 2 years time. Or every student has to complete a MOOC to graduate. Because the higher you rise in the organisation, in some cases, the smarter you have to look. You have to be the visionary. (Fortunately this isn't always the case but it's a real risk).

If, on the other hand, we have taken the time to understand the issues needing change and the opportunities to augment current effective practices and we have worked with stakeholders across the uni to get everyone on board, by the time it reaches the VC, maybe it's basically inevitable.


David White Mon 11 Apr 2016 12:53PM

@Colin I think we want to find a way through the issues you raise. Meeting needs isn't enough. It's part of our responsibility to challenge expectations and improve practice as well. This doesn't mean bringing in new tech, I'd be happy if we used the stuff we already have better. As Ford said - "If you ask people what they want they usually say 'a faster horse'".

Personally I'm not shy about having at least some expertise and if our places of work claim to be educational institutions then we have a right to attempt to make that the case.


Rainer Usselmann Mon 11 Apr 2016 8:00PM

Hi All. By way of introduction, I’m a creative technologist of sorts, having co-founded a media agency, and I’ve been involved with HE from a 'critical-practice' point of view. Thanks for inviting me. And sorry for the slightly longer post here.

I guess what’s at stake here is how we manage successfully organisational change in order to stay relevant vis-à-vis accelerating technological, political and socio-economic processes.

In the private (start-up) sector, change is all you know. Iterate, pivot or persevere before you run out of money. That is the ‘Lean Start-up’ mantra, which, since Eric Ries’ original work on the subject in 2008, has permeated the creative tech space.

The idea is, rather than executing a pre-set plan with pig-headed determination, in the hope that customers (success) will come eventually, create a culture and climate where it is expected and engrained behaviour that you constantly test assumptions and hypotheses.

And I don’t mean this in an abstract, epistemological sense (that is a given in an HE institution). I’m talking about what it is the organization actually provides, and how it goes about defining and evolving this. In other words: only build services based on what you learn, when you honestly test your assumptions, rather than relying on your engrained suppositions. Rinse and repeat this process until you find what works. And so forth.

So change is a given. But how do successful organisations or institutions manage change, create a climate that welcomes change, makes change an integral part of organizational behaviours and organizational culture?

Digital is not ‘The Future’. ‘Digital’ has become a totemic meme, a placeholder for all and sundry.

I think change management is key here.


Colin simpson Mon 11 Apr 2016 11:26PM

Can I suggest that something like "continuous improvement" might be a better way of expressing this than "change"?

After a point, it can be seen as change for change's sake (leading to change fatigue) whereas encouraging a culture that embraces ongoing reflection on practice and openness to improvements (where merited)


Colin simpson Mon 11 Apr 2016 11:19PM

I'm enjoying the progress of discussion and think that we all broadly share the same goals and vision. (Funnily enough, I also had the "faster horse" thing in mind as I was writing earlier but it didn't fit organically)

When I talk about identifying and meeting learner and educator needs, I think that it's important to differentiate needs and wants. The want might be the faster horse but the need is to get places more quickly. As the "experts", I agree that it is our job to interpret and synthesise what we are hearing from the lecturers to get to their deeper needs. Ultimately these tend to be things like greater student engagement or more relevant/rigorous assessment or increasing learner autonomy. From here we can offer a suite of options (pedagogical and technological) and the support needed to implement them. These might be minor incremental changes or radical overhauls, depending on what will work best and (pragmatically), what is most likely to succeed. For me, the important thing is being able to say - "you asked for X and this can help".

I have a few personal barrows that I like to push and that I would dearly like to implement in my uni. Game-based learning, gamification, digital badges and ePortfolios. Little by little I am pushing these things but I haven't yet found the hook needed to make people want to use them. So they don't. The greatest success that I've had so far in introducing new tech has been live polling in lectures and that is still only about 10% of lecturers so far. (Only started that this semester though). I guess my point is that even though all of these tools (and related pedagogical approaches) might be great, I'll always have to get people excited about them by linking them directly to their needs. If these people feel that I've asked what they need before I suggest a solution, they'll be more invested in the process.


Sylvester Arnab Wed 13 Apr 2016 9:59AM

At Coventry, we may be piloting designing your own degree, which I think will be interesting as I believe that Learning should be about the experience, the design of the experience and less about the destination. Having a non-linear aspect to learner will perhaps help lecturers and students to contextualise a course within a more seamless narrative?


Christopher Fryer Wed 13 Apr 2016 11:10AM

I love that idea. If your institution has modular degrees, you're halfway there. The challenge comes in designing the modules so as to minimise prerequisites, or make them explicit in certain recommended pathways. Then you have to know how to handle the inevitable timetable clashes.


Sylvester Arnab Wed 13 Apr 2016 11:16AM

exactly - not sure how it will happen but will see this develop this next year. And one of the schools is going to flip completely in the new term.


Rainer Usselmann Wed 13 Apr 2016 11:17AM

drag and drop your way towards a tailored learning experience...underscored by learning analytics data...?


Sylvester Arnab Wed 13 Apr 2016 11:43AM

i'm all for intuitive learning experience design :))


George Roberts Thu 14 Apr 2016 8:52AM

And digital may be able to help with time-shifting slots to increase flexibility with more distributed collaboration, flipped teaching, online assessment


Rainer Usselmann Wed 13 Apr 2016 2:19PM

@sylvesterarnab the HE institution as curator of learning experience


Sylvester Arnab Thu 14 Apr 2016 7:54AM

absolutely -personalised experience. Pick and Mix (though aware that these learning experience paths, patterns, plans have to be validated somehow)


Colin simpson Thu 14 Apr 2016 12:22AM

This seems like a space where digital badges (microcredentials whatever) can come into their own. Particularly in terms of showing people possible pathways. I also saw a tool at the ASCILITE conference here last year called MyCourseMap that might be useful for this approach


Sylvester Arnab Thu 14 Apr 2016 7:56AM

yes i heard of MyCourseMap. We are also experimenting Open Badges at the university too.


Jim Harris Wed 4 May 2016 11:15AM

Question) What do you get when your VC/governors/senior management flips your entire campus, sells the old one, and builds the new one from scratch with NO lecture theatres...

Answer) http://www.watersidecampus.info/ and an entirely new T&L model for all staff - http://www.northamptonilt.com/learning-and-teaching-plan/?rq=waterside and this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOwbqaoJUoc

Northampton is known (no...really) for it's lift testing tower http://www.nationallifttower.co.uk/ and so our elevator pitches are all about innovation and doing right, not just "new wine in old bottles" (@alejandroa).

I'm Jim Harris, a Learning Designer (no teaching experience but former eLearning Development and IT Support Manager) and I'm here because in 2018, all our modules, academic staff and students will be delivered in a blended format. Our elevator has already burst through the roof of the Chocolate Factory and we are fundamentally shifting pedagogy/andragogy and technology beyond the "nice to have", and into the "this is how it works".

Already this area is my new learning community (it's like a MOOC but with none of the self promotion! I hope I can bring some value to the conversations).

Be seeing you,

Jim Harris (@jimdharris)