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

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

I won an academic award!

Who could have thought five years ago that in 2014 I would be a recipient of a Faculty of Education Award, from Charles Sturt University?  Not me!

Today saw the official announcement of the 2014 awards, and yes – my name was there.

tweetaward2I have to thank all my colleagues past and present who have made this possible. This is a little special for me, as it encourages me to keep doing what I have been doing to support learning, teaching and innovation in schools and beyond.

Thank you!

Image: Thank you CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by hellojenuine.

 

Stayin’ Alive – learning as the future

You have to love this old tune from the Bee Gees! Tight pants aside, the lyrics and pace of Stayin’ Alive hits the mark for the first subject kicking off in the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation)!

It’s “O” week, and I have a new band of troopers who are aiming to stay alive while giving  learning in new channels and new scholarly approaches a go with me. Wherever we work in the education sector the challenges are there – time to level up!

Areas to explore:

  • The information revolution, global connectedness and trends in technology
  • New modes and methods for information organisation and knowledge creation
  • Principles of connected learning, open access and open communities
  • The digital divide and globalization of lifelong and lifewide learning
  • Creative cultures including gaming and maker-spaces
  • Education informatics
  • Re-imagining the experience of education in a digital age.

Yeah, we’re stuck in CMS land – but not completely.  We have our backchannel in Twitter (of course), and we have our own degree portal as a launchpad for digital connections across platforms, devices, and scholarly digital direction. Please note the word ‘scholarly’. We are not about devices. We are about adding depth and scholarly rigour to the push into spreadable media, networked culture and postmillenial pop.

Yes, our students will have to know how to cite Twitter in an academic paper, alongside traditional citation practices.

Professors may scoff at the idea, but students are increasingly citing tweets in academic papers. Although they don’t exactly count as peer-reviewed, tweets do provide interesting insight into pop culture, breaking news and a number of social issues. After all, the Library of Congress is indexing tweets for historical reference.

They need to know about Open Access and full research re-use rights and predatory publishers.

mobilehubThey will make use of a host of tools from CSU Mobile Hub and dig deep in developing their professional reflexive and reflective position on what they are learning by keeping a digital record at CSU Thinkspace. Naturally a bunch of Bibliography and Citation tools will also kick into action.

Blending imaginative learning with real-word development needs can be extremely challenging and extreme FUN. Take our first assignment (yeah, we still have to have them)  – the scholarly book review.  Seems easy? huh?  Until you realise that there is an extensive list of books to choose from – see my Amazon list collection.

Write a scholarly book review, which presents a critique of the work in the context of current and emerging trends in information and knowledge environments created by the social and technological changes of the digital age, and in relation to learning and teaching.

Identify questions or issues that are important and which have implications for current practice and/or for your professional goals.

Many critically acclaimed books are published that address topics related to digital information environments and knowledge networks; creative cultures and use of technology; and futurist perspectives on learning in a digital world. However, regardless of popularity or publicity, educators need to be able to evaluate these publications from a scholarly point of view.

A scholarly book review is a critical assessment of a book. It can take a substantial amount of time for critical scholarship to emerge about a book. Likewise, as scholars read and digest the content of a publication, divergent views can emerge, and research can be questioned, or new areas of investigation can appear. Therefore the knowledge and skills underpinning a scholarly book review are more important than ever in the dynamic information environments of today.

This is no tripadvisor review.. it’s one that requires students to challenge their thinking, dig into the research, and in particular identify the value versus hyperbole so often present in many of these kinds of publications. This critique is a critical review, and as Steve Wheeler explains,  it requires a student to “look both ways” : 

  • Provide a balanced and objective argument; don’t indiscriminately pepper their assignments with direct quotations from the literature;
  • judge the worth of any theory or idea they include in their work; and
  • demonstrate to the reader (and marker!) that they not only found the idea and can understand it, but that they can also contextualise it.

Warning, warning.  Don’t keep quoting statements that have no foundation in emergent theory and research. Just because a self-appointed media ‘guru’ says it’s so, doesn’t make it so!

Students, it’s time to fine you niche in the digital noise.  We’ll be stayin’ alive together if you connect, communicate and collaborate.  Otherwise……get back into the desert of the analogue world.

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive.

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Daniela Hartmann

Understanding your digital footprint – new opportunities!

Just like a tattoo, your digital reputation is an expression of yourself. It is formed and added to by you and others over time. In her Digital Tattoo presentation at ISTE 2013 (also in video format), Sullivan (2013), shares excellent resources and presents a compelling narrative for learning more so we can all make informed decisions about who we are and what we do online. Educators can not ignore this, it is part of teaching and learning now. It is an everyday part of a students’ life – professionally and socially.

This may mean that teachers need to embark more on creating an online identity and actively engage in new and emerging media and in fact lead by example. Without this personal understanding of the technologies and web environments the issues that our students are facing becomes somewhat theoretical, and perhaps makes it difficult to take a proactive stance on matters within your own school or DLE. Nielsen (2011), in her blog post Discover what your digital footprint says about you provides resources to help you discover what your digital footprint really says about you. Fostering responsible citizenship needs a clear understanding of  ‘public by default’ settings – particularly in the face of such challenges as those that social networking sites like Facebook bring into the mix.

Teaching students to manage their digital footprint really starts with the adults. Teachers can’t teach this effectively if they, themselves have not managed their own digital footprint. It is also important not to confuse managing a digital footprint with being hidden or private. Branding our identities has become more and more important in the digital age and if students and teachers aren’t actively managing their digital footprint, then who is? Managing your digital footprint starts with asking questions like: Who are you? What do you stand for? What are your passions and beliefs? The important lesson with managing your digital footprint is that everything we do online should represent who we are and what we stand for and we must have the knowledge that this representation will stick with us potentially forever. (Nielsen, 2010).

Levine (2012), takes us on a journey in his video, We, Our Digital Selves, and Us, where we are challenged to reflect on our online and offline identities and how we can mold our digital footprint, and implies learners at all ages should be cognizant of being digital.

Want to learn more about your digital tattoo? Search yourself. Use pipl.com (http://pipl.com)  to find out what comes up about you. Try Spezify (http://www.spezify.com/) for a visual representation of your identity or (more importantly) how the internet sees you.

Julie Lindsay asks:

What are important messages and understandings we should be remembering and sharing with colleagues to inform our approach to teaching and learning in the digital world?

You will find this and many more concepts, ideas, issues and questions to discuss in the subject that Julie Lindsay is writing and teaching for us at Charles Sturt University. I am delighted to be working with Julie – a real global leader in digital citizenship in schools.

Julie has been appointed as an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Information Studies, Faculty of Education. Julie is teaching two subjects in the March session – Digital Citizenship in Schools and Knowledge Networking for Educators.

I am very proud of the fact that our new global online degree, launching in 2014, the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) http://digital.csu.edu.au is working with global leaders in the field – a unique approach to postgraduate education. While we have a robust academic foundation for all the subjects, we also have a solid foundation in the really relevant concepts and practices required in a digital world – as demonstrated by those that are actually leading the global agenda!

Why not join Julie in this remarkable degree.  To find out more about Julie, start with this portfolio website – http://about.me/julielindsay

Enrollments are still open until 2 February.  Contact me at Twitter https://twitter.com/heyjudeonline  if you want more information!

Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Steve Jurvetson

J3T – Judy and Tara talk tech

What happens when two friends get together, and pretty much impromptu, create 10 videos  in a few hours on 10 tech topics?

Tara Brabazon, Professor of Education and Head of the School of Teacher Education at Charles Sturt University,  Bathurst invited me (Courses Director, School of Information Studies in the Faculty of Education, Charles Sturt University , Wagga Wagga) to test this question.

The result was the J3T Judy and Tara Talk Tech series of 10.  Here we now have ten pebbles in a big digital pond – let the ripples begin…..  We introduce the J3T series here for you.

You will find the full series under the following topics:

J3T1 Email and the digital glut
Judy and Tara reveal strategies to manage the information glut. How do we control email? How do we stop email controlling us?

J3T2 Information Organization
Judy and Tara talk about how to manage information. How do students avoid plagiarism? How can software help to organize our ideas and sources?

J3T3 Managing Digital Lives
Judy and Tara explore how to differentiate our digital lives. How do we separate private and professional roles, on and offline? How is our understanding of privacy transforming?

J3T4 Creating rich learning management systems
Judy and Tara probe the problems and strengths of learning management systems. They explore how to create rich, imaginative and powerful environments to enable student learning.

J3T5 Open Access Resources
Judy and Tara explore the changing nature of publishing, research and the resources available for teaching and learning. They probe open access journals and the open access ‘movement.’

J3T6 Fast Media
Judy and Tara explore the challenges of fast media, like Twitter and other microblogging services. While valuable, how do we control the speed of such applications to enable interpretation, analysis and reflection?

J3T7 Sound and Vision
Judy and Tara explore the nature of sonic and visual media. When are sound-only resources best deployed? How do we create reflection and interpretation on visual sources?

J3T8 The Google Effect
Judy and Tara probe the impact of the read-write web and the ‘flattening’ of expertise and the discrediting of experts such as teachers and librarians. Judy also demonstrates the great value of meta-tagging.

J3T9 Are books dead
Judy and Tara asks the provocative question: Are books dead? They explore the role of platforms – analogue and digital – in carrying information to specific audiences.

J3T10 The future? Mobility
Judy and Tara discuss the future of educational technology. Particularly, they focus on mobility, through mobile phones and m-learning.

PS  I did not get my mowing man to text me at the right moment in ‘Managing Digital Lives’ – what a hoot!

Image: Blue Water cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Louise Docker

Meet the future!

HadfieldHaving followed the tweets of Commander Chris Hadfield, remaining all the while in awe at the connections  between social media and reality (including the intersections with learning and teaching experiences),  I could only gasp at the implications of the video below that has gone viral.  Amazing.

The future is more than a Space Oddity!

The future is amazing and we need to remember that – always – in whatever field of education that we work.