Enhancing the student digital experience

The challenges of learning and teaching in online environments are ones that all educators face today – or at least should! So in this context, I was pleased to see the latest @JISC report for the university context:- Enhancing the Student Digital Experience: a strategic report.

The report seeks to provide answers to key questions:

  • How are you responding to the changing digital needs and expectations of your students and staff?
  • Do the experiences and the digital environment you offer to your students adequately prepare them to flourish in a society that relies heavily on digital technologies?
  • What are you doing to engage students in dialogue about digital issues and to work collaboratively with them to enhance their digital learning experience?
  • How well is the digital vision for your establishment embedded in institutional policies and strategies?

A must read and addition to your professional collection.

However, from my experience in  Higher Education what we do is probably far more complex and less likely to come to a happy resolution than in schools. This is not because we are any less competent, but rather that many in tertiary see ‘teaching’ as of secondary importance to everything else, whether that is research, writing or administration – because of the pressures put on them.

This ‘dilemma’ leaves me somewhat unhappy with the trajectory and resolution of competing interests in my own small ‘realm’, particularly when as Courses/Program Director part of my brief is to nurture good quality learning opportunities for students.  It puzzles me  when I see a messages come into my mail about  “strategies for assessment design that reduces marking time”, or “designing subject content and/or assessment to increase alignment with your research interests and why this is justifiable.” Both could (in my mind) run counter to overall course design, and/or quality engagement with students if taken in the wrong way. .

So the real problem of course is not commitment of lecturers, but the priorities, that often make teaching the thing that you have to do rather than the thing you want to do. I would love to know how many folks in HE love their teaching, and work tirelessly with students to achieve the best outcome possible.  I’ll leave it to you (from your personal experiences) to think of an answer.

Conversely, of course, students come in many shapes, and dispositions, so the overall learning experience is still a dual experience.  We can’t always meet everyone’s needs in online learning environments – after all, the learners themselves have to take a lead role/responsibility in the process.

I’ve kickstarted another great year in my favourite education degree http://www.csu.edu.au/digital where we encourage students (amongst other things) to share their experiences in the Twitter back-channel.  You have to have fun with learning too!  Two subjects that I am involved with are underway #INF530 Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age, and #INF541 Game Based Learning. I encourage students to joke around about the challenges, as that helps to lighten to pressure on us all.   (Of course, if they are using the back channel already, they are usually doing very well! Good on you Amanda and Simon!)

 Image: creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by giulia.forsythe

Our connections and the flow of knowledge

Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge, which is an active process and operates at both individual and social levels. When it comes to information behaviour within this context there are a wide range of theories and models which represent thinking and research investigations in this field. Existing models have elements in common, though most models in library and information science focus on information seeking and the information user, while those from the field of communications focus on the communicator and the communication process.  It is certainly worth stopping and revisiting these models, to better understand the ‘cognitive actors’ or other influences at play (Robsons & Robinson, 2013)

What I’m particularly interested in are the Information seeking behaviours and places of information seeking which are constantly changing, and of course growing in possibilities all the time. While we can study models in depth, as academic or professional pursuits,  when we consider how we think in the digital age, Bradbury hits the nail on the head for some of our common issues:

Our modern-day information processing is both careless in how it is consumed and how it is related back to others: rarely do we intentionally seek out an article, comb through it, and then selectively disperse it to an appropriate recipient. Rather, we come across it online, skim the headline or sound bites, and blast it indiscriminately via social media.

The complexities of information behaviour are so important to understand and be responsive to.   What can we hope to do about this, or what is being done? After all, you could say that digital technologies tend to outsource much of what could potentially be reflective thinking to an external device that provides a quick, pre-formed answer!

I was quite taken by a reflection on the Fourth Age of Libraries, and will share an example here from author Sean McMullen:

Recently,  for a story that I was writing, I researched intelligence in crows. So my first stop was to type ‘intelligence and crows’ into Google. I was instantly offered 8,180,000 links. At 5 seconds per hit, working 12 hours per day, it would take about two and a half years to check them all. Everyone can surf the Internet, but librarians can do it effectively. Since I am more interested in using information than finding it, I will continue asking librarians for help.

Yes! Information seeking, and good information behaviours will continue to involve quality curation and equally open information dissemination processes.

Two reports

Two reports I picked up this week add to my pool of readings to help with my thinking about the information era dilemmas.

We  have to nurture the ability to read – and read well!  Measuring the impact of thousands of libraries across multiple countries is quite a formidable undertaking, but with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,  an external research team examined from Room to Read examined  libraries in Laos, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, and South Africa. To establish a baseline, they began evaluations at the schools before a Room to Read library was established and tracked progress in reading habits over the course of two years.

The most exciting takeaway from the study is that they have been able to confirm empirically that  libraries are helping children become independent readers.
Read the full report summary.

The second useful report to examine comes from the Knowledge Exchange, and the report Sowing the seed: Incentives and Motivations for Sharing Research Data, a researcher’s perspective. A qualitative study, commissioned by Knowledge Exchange, has gathered evidence, examples and opinions on current and future incentives for research data sharing from the researchers’ point of view, in order to provide recommendations for policy and practice development on how best to incentivize data access and re-use. Researchers’ experiences, data sharing practices and motivations are shown to be heterogeneous across the studied research groups and disciplines. Incentives and motivations ask for development of a data infrastructure with rich context where research data, papers and other outputs or resources are jointly available within a single data resource. Different types of data sharing and research disciplines need to be acknowledged. This  report that shows what a long journey is yet ahead of us, to beat the general google-grabbing of low-level information, because better quality material is hidden. Download the study ‘Sowing the seed: Incentives and Motivations for Sharing Research Data, a researcher’s perspective’

Moving forward

So let’s focus on technology and supporting services.  Libraries are a significant focus point in our communities, and technology is the other. As we invent more technology and forms of media, we also need to reinvent our community interactions as virtual and physical spaces of exchange for cultural and knowledge development. Libraries can continue to lead the way in this – from the national services to the quality services in your small local school library.  Building reading along with development and refinement of information seeking strategies and long term information behaviours,  educators and organisations need to remain open and responsive  – skipping the fads that are not supported by research and proven to stand the test of rigorous investigation.

The good news is that libraries are morphing. Read the Near and Far Future of Libraries .As archives become digital and machines become smarter, what function will libraries serve ten years and ten thousand years from now? See what some interesting experts had to say!

Our priority has to be our connections, and creating a flow of knowledge for all ages, across communities, nations and people. Our connections and the flow of knowledge is vital through building on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

If you love something – set it free!

References:

Andrew Robson, & Lyn Robinson. (2013). Building on models of information behaviour: linking information seeking and communication. Journal of Documentation, 69(2), 169–193. doi:10.1108/00220411311300039

Image: creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by whatmattdoes

Critical connections: power for your mind online

Ideas are central to our need to connect and communicate – and technology has become a pivotal process or tool in that social and intellectual process of connectedness. Has it transformed learning in higher education? Not so much!

Let’s be clear – using technology and/or technology tools does not equate with empowerment of the learning/knowledge formation experience –  unless the technology connection allows for critical knowledge connections to form, or transform, the experience of learning.  This is a huge challenge, and while I understand that technology is around us (and that in my case I deliver all the learning experiences in my degree programs with technology) I am not convinced that I know yet what online learning is all about.

For example, Steve Wheeler re-iterated the often-stated importance of technology in schools in his recent post Talking Tech:

The personal, mobile device has started to transform learning in both formal and informal contexts. Learning in any place and at any time is going to gain traction in the coming years, and the emphasis will be on personal learning. Students can gain access to any amount of resources and connections that will help them to learn; they can use their mobile phones to connect with others; and also create and share their own content with potentially huge audiences outside and beyond the walls of the classroom. The value of this is immeasurable.

Trouble is, this does not convince me at all that we have made significant progress in understanding exactly what we are aiming for.  Tim Klapdor expressed this very clearly in reflecting on the current state of mobile learning:

The reality is that institutions (and the entire edtech industry) have under estimated the paradigm shift required to embrace mobile. It’s still treated as just a feature, or a nice to have rather than the future of computing.

Tim pins down the practicalities of mobile learning in higher education, and mirrors my experience (and huge challenges) of trying to shift a university environment past the bleeding obvious integration of mobile (there’s an BB App for that) (it’s clunky at best).

I prefer to treat mobile as the tool for daily, fast interaction within a  cohort of curious learners.  It would be arrogant of me to claim to know everything about the subject areas that I may be working in – and so I see learning as a peer education experience.  So mobile is vital for ease of connection, and engagement with the very essence of our critical connections – people, information, tools, communication, and more. How else can we genuinely power our minds?  How else do we move past the more traditional higher education experience of “I have the content, now you learn it please” model of engagement?

What we have is a an information interconnection between us which can be conceptualized as complexes of activities, tools and values, and for this the personal learning environments we create for students in the higher education experience must represent learning and inquiry that is responsive to these new information landscapes.

More easily said than done – as we are hamstrung by systems and practices that make it hard to liberate the potential of technology and mobile learning. Add to that the culture of openness that has had a significant impact on the educational sphere, as shown by the rise of open educational resources (OER) and open access (OA). While a complete transition to information openness has not yet been realised, educational practices that are entirely focused around traditional, closed and proprietary knowledge systems are in tension with these changing information landscapes.

So I find myself wrangling with BlackBoard, and horrified by the constraints that the Blackboard CSS places on the learning experience.  What a contrast to read GitHub for Academics: the open-source way to host, create and curate knowledge which was orinally published back in 2013 at Hybrid Pedagogy. I read it then, and read it again now, and (depressingly) realise that in the normal day-to-day work I am involved in, pure, focused and genuine innovation is well-nigh impossible. Unless of course you are head of an innovation unit, or in some other fancy role, and have time and money to throw at the project of transforming higher education.

I wish!  Academics like me don’t get that kind of opportunity.

All I can do is work with my students in my newest degree program, and hope that in some small way we can make critical connections, power our minds together, and move learning forward to the future!

Live long and prosper.

Image: Spock creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by doctorlizardo

The Internet Scout Report

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Teachers often mention to me how difficult they believe it is to keep up-to-date with current quality research and information.  Of course, it isn’t – but only if you have developed a robust strategy for accessing and managing an information flow relevant to your own professional management and learning needs.

Even before all the amazing tools at our fingertips today, I was able to stay ‘in touch’ thanks to the amazing Scout Report. Back in the pre-RSS days, this report provided me with material I could easily share with school staff in my own edited weekly newsletter.   I still subscribe to the scout report, and occasionally snag a piece of information to share.

What is the Scout Report?

The Scout Report is the flagship publication of the Internet Scout Research Group. Published every Friday both on the Web and by email subscription, it provides a fast, convenient way to stay informed of valuable STEM and humanities resources on the Internet. Our team of librarians and subject matter experts selects, researches, and annotates each resource.

Published continuously since 1994, the Scout Report is one of the Internet’s oldest and most respected publications. Organizations are encouraged to link to the Scout Report from their own Web pages, or to receive the HTML version of the Report each week via email for local posting at their sites. Organizations or individuals may also use the sharing options after each annotated resource to email the resource or share it via social media.

The editors of the Scout Report take great pride in finding and sharing the best free Web-based resources we can find.

Each week, the Scout Report’s editors select and annotate approximately eight websites or online resources in each of two categories: Research & Education, and General Interest. Websites in Research & Education tend to focus more heavily on STEM subjects, while those in General Interest span a range of arts, humanities, and curiosities.

The Scout Report

Visit the Internet Scout at https://scout.wisc.edu/ and find out about all the projects and publications.

For the current issue of the Scout Report visit  https://scout.wisc.edu/report/current

The Scout Report Archives collects and catalogs each annotated resource featured in the weekly Scout Report and special issues. Users may find resources of particular interest to them using a keyword search, an advanced search, or by browsing by Library of Congress subject headings.

Past issues of the Scout Report are also available for users to browse at their leisure. These past issues are available chronologically by date.

This issue is located https://scout.wisc.edu/report/2014/1212The email version provides the linked summary followed by annotations.

You should consider signing up, if you haven’t already done so!

Predatory journals – watch the scams

Part of our information literacy expertise is to engage in reading of (and contributing to) quality research.  This requires that we understand exactly what ‘reputation’ is!

If you are not ‘up-to-date’ with the evil intentions of “predatory journals” you’ll get a kick out of reading this article from Science Alert and learn something along the way. From Science Alert: A study by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel has been accepted by two scientific journals.

A fictional paper authored by Simpsons characters Edna Krabappel and Maggie Simpson, as well as someone called Kim Jong Fun (who we can only imagine is a slightly more approachable relative of North Korea’s leader) has just been accepted into two scientific journals.

Perhaps most troublingly, in Feburary 2014, a pair of science publishers (Springer and IEEE) retracted more than 120 papers, some of which were pure nonsense (created by the same program used for the Simpsons paper) but had made it into their published conference proceedings. Both these publishers are generally seen as reliable — showing how far the problem of substandard quality control goes.

Open Access has become a major theme of interest within the research community and those interested in dissemination of information and knowledge. In most cases, open-access publishing will occur through electronic institutional repositories – university websites where one can freely download researchers’ articles. Search engines such as Google Scholar will automatically index these articles and link them to related research. The resulting stream of freely available research will be a boon for our society and economy. But it’s not perfect, just a step in the right direction, as publishers also get ‘a say’ in what happens with published information.

Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers

The gold open-access model has given rise to a great many new online publishers. Many of these publishers are corrupt and exist only to make money off the author processing charges that are billed to authors upon acceptance of their scientific manuscripts.

Scholarly Open Access showcased the Beall List of Predatory Publishers 2014. The first includes questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. Each of these publishers has a portfolio that ranges from just a few to hundreds of individual journal titles. The second list includes individual journals that do not publish under the platform of any publisher — they are essentially independent, questionable journals.

In both cases, the recommendation is that researchers, scientists, and academics avoid doing business with these publishers and journals. Likewise, students should exercise some caution when reading and referencing these articles in their own academic learning.

Follow Scholarly Open Access for more insights into the contentious field of Open Access publishing.

Meeting future learning needs of education practitioners

Knowledge building, literacy and communication in action now take many forms. When Skype was first released in 2003, the global face-to-face contact began to transform communication and collaboration in ‘real time’. Now Apple’s Face-Time, Skype in the Classroom, and Google Hangouts (to name just a few tools) guarantee synchronous engagement, alongside collaborative text platforms such as Google docs. In other words, the mechanisms for engaging with information and processes of learning in the acquisition of new knowledge has become a deeper process of individual and collaborative learning activities, problem solving and artefact development, through an integration of face-to-face and online interactions within a community, involving absorption, integration and systemisation of the information received by the receiver in their own pre-existing cognitive structure, which are the result of personal experience, and earlier knowledge transactions (Trentin, 2011).

This digital information environment demands a new knowledge flow between content and digital connections. While the bibliographic paradigm created textbook learning, the digital information environment of today indicates the need for educators to understand information seeking and engagement within connected multi-media contexts. Computer and mobile device technology environments, social media, and ready forms of online communication drive our newly emerging knowledge ecosystems. Thomas and Brown (2011), who explored what they described as a new ‘culture of learning’, explained how much the Internet has changed the way we think about both technology and information. In this new culture of learning, information technology has become a participatory medium, giving rise to an environment that is constantly being changed and reshaped by the participation within information spaces. They argue that traditional approaches to learning are no longer capable of coping with this constantly changing world. The information environment is a technology environment, which demands adaptation. As information is also a networked resource, “information absorption is a cultural and social process of engaging with the constantly changing world around us” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p.47).

In other words, our digital information ecology is a remix of different forms of technology, devices, data repositories, information retrieval, information sharing, networks and communication. New technological tools are expanding and continually altering the ways school students, or educators can interact with the world. The implications for education that stem from new means for accessing information, communicating with others, and participating in a community needs a new brand of professional competences to thrive within the changing environment. Haste (2009) recognised the co-construction of knowledge through interpersonal discourse and the tension within pedagogy between a focus on knowledge-based instruction and outcomes, and on praxis-based instruction. “While most pedagogy, of course, recognises the interaction of both in good practice, there is nevertheless an underlying epistemological gap; knowledge-based models are implicitly more ‘top down’ and praxis-based more ‘bottom up’. ‘Knowledge’ implies that the route to understanding is in the structured transmission of information. ‘Praxis’ implies a necessary interaction with materials, actions or other persons as a route to understanding” (Haste, 2009 p.213).

Information ecology at the heart of knowledge

While technology is changing the information environment (including information places and spaces), the transactional nature of information interactions and knowledge flow underpins learning. Information can comprise both physical and virtual parts for operation and interaction. A major challenge for education is to enable and facilitate the generation of new knowledge via an appropriate information environment, to facilitate integration of new concepts within each person’s existing knowledge structure. This is described as an ‘information ecology’.

“Information ecology examines the contexts of information behaviour by analogy with ecological habitats and niches, identifying behaviours in biological terms such as ‘foraging’” (Bawden & Robinson, 2012. p.199). In this context of adaptive and responsive co-construction of knowledge, we can facilitate a viable praxis in digital environments, influenced by concepts of rhizomatic learning. “Seen as a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes hint at the interconnectedness of ideas as well as boundless exploration across many fronts from many different starting points” (Sharples, et al. 2012 p.33). By creating curriculum and subject delivery which can be reshaped and reconstructed in a dynamic manner in response to changing environmental conditions or the personal professional needs of students, a digital information ecology provides the opportunity to work with information in the construction of knowledge in more dynamic ways, connecting learning experiences across the contexts of location, time, devices and platforms.

This information ecology also involves the creation of assessments and environments for knowledge building to enhance collaborative efforts to create and continually improve ideas. This approach to knowledge building “exploits the potential of collaborative knowledge work by situating ideas in a communal workspace where others can criticize or contribute to their improvement” (Scardamalia, Bransford, Kozma, & Quellmalz, 2012, p.238 ). In this information ecology we also understand that “the development of critical thinking is a key learning objective in education – particularly higher education – [and that] it entails the ability to make reasoned evaluative judgements when making sense of information sources that contain different (potentially conflicting) findings, perspectives and interpretations of a given topic of phenomenon” (Ford, 2008 p. 59). The use of critical thinking has become particularly important as relatively quick access to a wide range of information means that the user needs the ability to critically evaluate the validity and value of information accessed.

The evidence is that technologies and social media platforms are driving an unprecedented reorganisation of the learning environment in and beyond schools and tertiary environments. These disruptive shifts are already reshaping the workforce landscape and the skills required (Davies, Fidler & Gorbis, 2011), establishing lifelong and life-wide learning as the central paradigm for the future (Redecker et al, 2011).

Our work as educators has to centre on helping to meet future learning needs in courses/programs by fostering a culture of enquiry within a sustainable learning ecology that is shaped by the ubiquity of information, globally responsive pedagogical practices, and driven by collaboration and informal learning in multiple access points and through multiple mediums.

Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2012). Introduction to information science. London: Facet.
Charles Sturt University. (2012). Course Approval Document. Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation Articulated Set). CASIMS, Office of Academic Governance.
Davies, Al, Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future work skills 2020. Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute: California.
Ford, N. (2008). Education. In Web-based learning through educational informatics: Information science meets educational computing. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Haste, H. (2009). What is ‘competence’ and how should education incorporate new technology’s tools to generate ‘competent civic agents’. Curriculum Journal, 20(3), 207-223. doi:10.1080/09585170903195845
Redecker, C., Leis. M., Leendertse, M., Punie, Y., Gijsbers, G., Kirschner, P., Stoyanov, S., & Hoogerveld, B. (2011).  The future of learning: preparing for change, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, JRC European Commission.
Scardamalia, M., Bransford, J., Kozma, B., & Quellmalz, E. (2012). New assessments and environments for knowledge building. In Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 231-300). Springer Netherlands.
Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., … & Whitelock, D. (2012). Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University innovation report 1. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (Vol. 219). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.
Trentin, G., (2011). Technology and knowledge flows : the power of networks. Chandos Pub, Oxford.

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by katypang: http://flickr.com/photos/katypang/2628074710

Innovating Pedagogy Report

Once again the Open University has provided another Innovating Pedagogy report – the third report in it’s series. This series of reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teacher and policy makers in productive innovation.

Download the 2014 Innovating Pedagogy Report

Produced by the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, the report identifies ten educational terms, theories and practices that have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice in the near future.

Featured in 2014’s annual report:

  1. Massive open social learning
  2. Learning design informed by analytics
  3. Flipped classrooms
  4. Bring your own devices
  5. Learning to learn
  6. Dynamic assessment
  7. Event-based learning
  8. Learning through storytelling
  9. Threshold concepts
  10. Bricolage

While MOOCs and other theories covered in this year’s report are not necessarily new, the report aimed to examine how they can gather momentum and have a greater influence on education.

I find the greatest value of this report is to see the changes taking place – a litmus test – of what is considered relevant/important and/or of note. I would also juxtapose the findings against the series of NMC Horizon Reports, which cover a range of school, tertiary, and library sectors.

Look out for other annual reports in your country, sector, or region too!

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Intersection Consulting: http://flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/7537238368