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ALDinHE keynote Helen Beetham


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Keynote presentation to the Association for Learning Development in HE national conference, April 2012. Slides with notes.

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ALDinHE keynote Helen Beetham

  1. 1. Strange Encounters: academic learning and digital know-how Helen Beetham @helenbeethamIt’s customary to begin a keynote by establishing - with appropriate modesty - exactly why you are qualified to open a conference. And I think, although I amsomeone with a reasonably recognisable academic career - publications particularly in the area of e-learning and digital literacy, relatively conventionalqualifications - I think what qualifies me to speak about the strange encounter of academic learning with digital know-how is that for the last ten or twelve years Ihave not had an academic role in an institution, but I have stitched my working life together around a series of projects and government agendas, where my digitalknow-how has been valued or at least marketable. I am a hybrid myself, speaking of hybrid things.
  2. 2. Defining the interfaceI’d like to go back to a study I conducted with a team from GCal back in 2008, which we called Learning Literacies for a Digital Age. In one of the first papers tocome out of that work I wrote that the term ‘digital literacy’ was a troublesome pulling together of two very different cultures of knowing, and we had evidencefrom earlier work on students’ experiences of e-learning that they could find those different cultures difficult to navigate successfully.At that time we were looking specifically at how institutions might prepare students for that navigation, though what we found was that on the whole very fewpeople were even thinking about it as a problem.
  3. 3. Defining the interface the practices that underpin effective learning in a digital ageFormal practices: using wikis to build collaborative resources,using blogs to reflect on academic development, capturingdata in the field using mobile devices, sharing that data withlearners and researchers in other universities....Informal practices: using facebook to share study problemsand solutions, recording lectures, using a smartphone camerafor instant note-taking, consulting open educational resources,using third party software/services for learning tasks...At the time we collected a modest number of example from educators of the kind of hybrid practices we thought were involved. Formal practices such as usingwikis to build collaborative resources, using blogs to reflect on academic development, capturing data in the field using mobile devices, sharing that data withlearners and researchers in other universities.... And supporting and recognising students’ informal practices such as using facebook to share study problemsand solutions, recording lectures, using a smartphone camera for instant note-taking, consulting open educational resources.
  4. 4. Defining the interface: from skills to practices (digital literacy - maslow’s hierarchy, schon’s double-loop learning) interrogating the ends as well as the means)In other words we were not very interested in ICT skills being added on to existing learning practices - we were interested in something more hybrid andnegotiated. I’m happy to say that when you ask people what they think digital literacy or digital capability means in an academic context today, you now moretypically get answers like the right hand side of this diagram. Although these practices require functional access to the technologies, which remains far fromuniversally available to our students, nevertheless we are not talking about that entitlement agenda here, but about the exercise of functional skills to serveeducational purposes and aspirations. About using digital tools, devices and networks to make and share meanings in an academic way.
  5. 5. Exploring the interfaceMany of you will be aware that the JISC has funded a programme of work to explore the development of digital literacies across 12 HE and FE institutions, and10 professional bodies of which one is ALDinHE
  6. 6. Exploring the interface The ALDinHE project: How can learning developers can make better use of digital technology to support their work with students? How are digital technologies changing the context, nature and value of that work?the project is asking two questions... in other words how are digital technologies changing what it means to participate successfully in practices of academiclearning. Paul’s keynote at the end of the conference tomorrow focuses very much on the first of these questions, and mine today focuses on the second.You can find out more about the ALDinHE project and findings from the survey of members in Amanda Pocklington, Michelle Reid & Kim Shahabudin’s sessionthis afternoon: Going Digital
  7. 7. Turbulence cc licensed to Christine Monteith let us get back to the idea of what is troubling in the encounter between digital and academic know-how. I live in Devon, and as those of you who surf for realwill know, the interface between any two elements tends to generate a lot of turbulence. So although it pleases me to talk about the ways in which the digitaland the academic can play happily together, and JISC funding rather requires it, in this keynote I am going to ask you to dive right into that turbulence with me.
  8. 8. tweet #aldcon academic learning slow change (cultural inhibitors) rapid change (economic and social drivers) digital know-how cc licensed to Christine Monteith are the differences, and potential points of conflict, between these two ways of knowing?
  9. 9. The wonderful digital future Digital technology makes learning more interactive Digital technology makes learning more personal Digital technology makes learning more collaborative Digital technology makes you more productive Digital technology can undo all the effects of educational disadvantage ‘ raising standards, improving quality, removing barriers to learning, and ultimately, ensuring that every learner achieves their full potential’There are two stories that can be told I think about the turbulence, from opposite sides of the elemental divide.These are stories I have heard a lot in my years in e-learning, and to some extent I like them. They have made it possible to ask some pointed questions aboutlearning and teaching practice, as any new story does. And there is a strong democratic impulse behind many of the stories that have been told about technologyand digital know-how. For example, here is the DfES in 2003... and who would not want to buy into a future in which every learner achieves their full potential, astory about the future as tantalising at that?
  10. 10. The wonderful digital future useable devices personal knowledge environments informal learning learning embedded into other activities intelligent agents... If the digital is good enough we don’t need learningBut there is also a dangerous determinism and even I think a distrust of academic learning at work here, which can be summarised in the idea that if only digitaltechnology can be good enough we don’t need to develop learners or learning - we don’t need to engage in what’s difficult and challenging and self-transformingabout the learning process. I think the crisis in the legitimacy of academic ways of thinking, academic practices and values, is a deeply political crisis but I thinkthat digital technology and the stories told around it have also played a role, just as they helped to undermine faith in other specialist ways of knowing such asjournalism, and arguably even medical knowledge with citizen forums etc in which we are all our own experts now.
  11. 11. The constant scholar The work feels the same as ever; the media can feel novel, of course, but it doesnt feel to me like anything substantive has changed. Why are we using the term ‘digital’ at all? It’s just being critical and reflective about the resources we’re using. • Isn’t all this technology just a distraction from the real business of study? cc licenced to lisby1 via flickr and fotopedia many conferences I speak at, I don’t have to spend long casting doubt on these stories - if you feel inclined to believe more than one or two of them thenperhaps you’re in the wrong place and I can recommend some learning technology conferences where you’ll feel more at home.But the other side of the argument at the turbulent interface might sound more familiar. Certainly it’s one I encountered in preparing for this keynote. I call this theconstant scholar argument. By the way that gentleman is a very distant ancestor of Ralph Fiennes whom image licensing does not permit to be present with ustoday. Sourcing creative commons licensed images is a digital literacy I have had to submit myself to. And some of you will hopefully get the reference andunderstand that it’s meant as a homage to constancy and not as ridicule of it.
  12. 12. The constant scholar • Active knowledge building and sharing, e.g. writing wikis, tagging, reviewing, recommending, repurposing, are minority activities to which most learners are introduced by educators (Selwyn, 2009) • Learners can be very proficient in the use of technology but fail to critically evaluate resources they find online (British Library, 2009) • Net Generation (<25yo) students spend more time using ICT for social life and leisure but older students spend more time using ICT for study (Ramanau, Hosein and Jones, 2010) Digitally proficient learners still need a grounding in academic practice to succeed academicallySo I think there evidence for the constant scholar argument - evidence that I think adds up to a real certainty that digital know-how is not a good substitute foracademic know-how, at least as education is currently organised. Though increasingly we find that students who do well academically - because the distribution ofdigital capital in society is closely related to the distribution of other kinds of capital - they often have a good level of digital know-how too, and are canny abouthow they deploy that digital know-how to support the ways of knowing and expressing knowledge that are valued in universities and colleges.
  13. 13. But things are changing: 1. knowledge practices are changingBut, I think there are important ways in which ‘business as usual’ does not serve our students well. I do think we are living through a time of transition in ourrelationship to knowledge and its representation and sharing not unlike the invention of the printing press. And I choose that technology carefully.At the University of Exeter we are working with postgraduate students and academics to articulate how practice in different disciplines is changing due to theimpacts of digital tools, networks and media. And we have not found a single aspect of this nexus - which is based on the Vitae framework - that has notchanged profoundly in the last five to ten years. In some cases the form or structure of the practice has remained much the same - for example managing aresearch project - and the digital technology has offered more efficient or collaborative ways of working. In other cases the practice itself can hardly be regardedas ‘the same’, though the original values may be preserved. One of our interns is working to articulate how the study of theology - which he described as hardlyhaving caught up with the printing press - is being revolutionised.
  14. 14. But things are changing: 1. knowledge practices are changing Transfer of attention from print to screen Multiplicity of media: hyperlinked and hybrid media Blurred boundaries of information/communication Ubiquitous access to information and to connected others Routine surveillance and capture of processes/events Networked societies and interest groups Massive, interlinked data sets and related tools Offloading of cognitive tasks onto digital tools and networks Presentation of self in digital contexts Open scholarship and open publishingWhat kinds of change are they telling us about? Any one of these change could be a keynote in itself - you will probably recognise some that you embrace andthose you struggle with. For now the point I’m making, which I hope will come out in the concrete examples, is that we in universities and colleges are engagedin knowledge practices, and that knowledge means something different today to what it meant even 15 years ago when the average time spent connected to theworld wide web of knowledge was 30 minutes - a month.
  15. 15. But things are changing: 2. digital technologies are inescapable from stand-alone computers to technology-enhanced environments from computer-based activities to digital universities from teaching packages to open educational resources from computers in teaching to learners’ devices 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012Computer technology is no longer located in time and place, it is endemic, it is implicated in everything we do. The focus has moved from computers in classroomsto mobile technologies in the hands of learners. In 2006 I wrote that ‘‘We are not rethinking some part or aspect of learning, we are rethinking all of learning inthese new digital contexts’ and this is more than ever true. Even if a course of study aspired and somehow managed to exist entirely outside of these digitalopportunities, the meaning of that course would be determined by the digital opportunities that exist, by the ubiquity of digital information and communications inalmost every other place in the world.Steve Hogg: Emerging learning spaces in the physical and virtual universityBrian Whalley: Learning Spaces and Personal Knowledge Systems for 21st Century Graduates
  16. 16. But things are changing: 3. graduate work is digital work How do we manage professional identities in a world where public and private are being redefined? How do we act safely and responsibly in hybrid spaces? ‘That will require careful reappraisal of what being an accountant or a lawyer requires of youI’m not talking now about that New Labour idea of the knowledge economy - an idea that I think was always dubious, certainly the vision of the knowledge economy as salvaging the UK’sposition at the forefront of the global middle class. I’m not even talking about the fact that the UK economy is more dependent on the internet than any other developed economy - 8% forecastto grow to 12% by mid decade. I’m talking about the digitisation of every context in which it is possible to imagine professional life going on. And it’s not just that professions arechanging - the relationship learners have with work is changing. The number of graduates going into traditional professions is declning and will not recover, thereare weakening ties between individuals and employers, people graduating today can expect five to nine career changes and have very little prospect of retiring.Digital technology will be essential to knit up the complex lives they lead.
  17. 17. digital know-how seems essential...From the perspective of what a student needs to thrive and succeed, digital know-how is fairly essential. These terms are taken from the ALDinHE conferenceprogramme and reflect the frequency with which they occur.
  18. 18. ... can the same be said for academic learning?These terms have been selected from the learn higher web site for the purposes of illustration onlyWhile the terms on the first slide may be unfamiliar, may even be a source of fear or uncertainty to you as a professional in learning development - the words onthe second slide are equally unfamiliar and disconcerting to students arriving at University or college for the first time.
  19. 19. ... can the same be said for academic learning? What I need to know is freely available on the web. I can learn as I go. Employers are looking at digital reputation before academic credentials. Why should I invest 3 years and £40k in learning to think like this?As I argued previously, I think there are good reasons for asserting the value of academic know-how, though not by assuming that it’s value is self-evident. I thinklearning developers are in a good place to do that, because this is your professional bread and butter. But I think we need to be fairly sober about the challengesfrom other discourses and from students and prospective students themselves, and we need to recognise that at the moment learners are getting verycontradictory messages, both about how academic learning is relevant in their increasingly digital lives, and about how their digital know-how can be used tosupport their academic aspirations.
  20. 20. tweet #aldcon How is academic learning relevant in a digital society? How can digital know- how be used to support academic aspirations?These are two of the questions we need to ask. But luckily I think we have some answers.
  21. 21. Strange and fabulous encountersFor the rest of this keynote I’m going to talk more positively about the encounter between digital knowhow and academic learning, not as a clash of opposingcultures but as a place where two kinds of practice can enter a valuable dialogue with one another - even if it is a turbulent one. I am drawing here on what I amlearning from a group of 18 postgraduate interns who are working on the Exeter Cascade project as digital pioneers and change agents. This is part of a closedblog where the interns discuss issues in their own practice as early career researchers and teachers. One thing they have in common is that they are verycomfortable with at least those aspects of digital knowhow that are most relevant to their own academic careers.
  22. 22. Strange and fabulous encounters referencing working with data collaborative academic writing becoming critical projecting academic identity(ies)These are some of the places where I see interesting encounters taking place, and I will talk about each of these briefly. But please, feel free to tweet other ideasand we’ll see if we have time to address any of them too. For each of these I want to look at the potential for turbulence and at what I think is an interesting, new,successful hybrid practice that is emerging. What I can only touch on, because we are at an early stage with this, is how we introduce some of these hybridpractices to students who may not feel well equipped either digitally or academically to succeed. I will indicate where in this conference I think you might find someanswers and I hope that I will also be able to learn from these.
  23. 23. Strange encounters: referencing •Students can struggle to understand what academic referencing is for and why it takes the form it does •Digitally competent students are familiar with informal referencing: likes, retweets, props, recommendations, pasting URLs... •A moment of turbulence:When I was preparing for this keynote, several friends of mine in the learning development community said ‘whatever you do, don’t talk about referencing.’ WellOK I don’t always listen to my friends. The graphic here actually comes from our project delicious site, which is where we build stacks of references to resourceson the web we think might be interesting to project followers and that we use ourselves.
  24. 24. Strange encounters: referencing - It’s amazing the different referencing systems that students are using. - You mean Harvard and Vancouver? - No, I mean zotero and mendeleyI want to share with you a moment of turbulence that I found myself in last week. I was discussing an event which we are holding at Exeter on supportingacademic practice in a digital age, which will include a workshop on referencing. I said to a member of our learning skills team that we were finding our studentpioneers using a range of different systems, and she assumed I meant different formal conventions for referencing, whereas actually I meant different software oronline services.
  25. 25. Strange encounters: referencing •Zotero: fits with practices of browsing for information •Mendeley: fits with practices of social networking •Underlying values: acknowledge your sources in a way that allows them to be found again; build explicitly on the knowledge of others •At the start of an academic career, format matters much less than building references, mapping the territory, capturing quickly •Almost all reference management software allows references to be output in different formats so format is not an issue •Lessons for developers: focus on the underlying valuesIt’s an interesting an illustrative moment. But there are actually quite good reasons the students in our study don’t use Endnote - because it has a very steeplearning curve, it’s counter intuitive, it’s expensive, and it seems to be predicated on a lone scholar studying a library catalogue. Whereas zotero fits with students’existing practices of browsing for information - it fits nicely into their browser window, they can capture anything that takes their interest without having to open upa special software window to do it. And Mendeley fits with their existing practices of sharing because it allows you to follow people, to discover what other peopleare referencing who seem to be working in the same field as you.In fact, because of those existing practices that they have, perhaps at a personal level, we’re finding that these students do understand the basic values andprinciples of referencing - that you should acknowledge other people’s ideas, that you should help other people to find them in their original place. But early on inan academic career, the format of your references doesn’t really matter that much - you’re not working to the stylistic requirements of a particular journal forexample. What matters is that you can start to build up a picture of the territory you’re working in, the key papers, and that you should understand how referencingfits you into that web of scholarship and citation.The lesson here I think is that the underlying values of the practice are what matter, not the form it takes, or the technology one is using. At the conference youcan find out more about these issues in Peter Stanners’ session. As I understand it, he addresses the possibility that students’ understanding of referencing maybe diminishing because of their reliance on turnitin and other ‘plagiarism avoidance’ systems which give students very detailed results on ‘non-original’ material butdo not make clear what are good and less good ways of referencing other people’s ideas.
  26. 26. Strange encounters: working with data•Students are often unclear about how to work with data in meaningful ways (to move from description to analysis)•More and more data sets are openly available to use for learning and research - open scholarship is an issue that affects students too
  27. 27. Strange encounters: capturing data Students are using personal technologies in the lab and field, for example to:•capture and manage sensitive interview data•record background sounds of war on a smartphone for a poetry project•using underwater video as both research method and research communication•using a digital camera to capture timed images of fish taking different paths through a tank
  28. 28. Strange encounters: finding patterns in data are using their personal devices in novel ways to capture research data, but they are also innovative in visualising and otherwise findingpatterns in data. I’m not talking here necessarily about mastering the complexities of a wholesale data analysis system such as SPSS or Endnote -though there is interesting work going on with both of these systems, getting students to analyse small-scale datasets that are either openlyavailable or locally generated. I’m talking about using the many apps and services that you can literally plug data into, and get out someinteresting results. Sometimes the results are more quirky than deeply analysed, but they do give students an understanding of pattern and asense of how their own multi-modal awareness can be academically useful. For example, I wonder if anyone can guess what these soundsrepresent?(Answer: this is just data of various kinds used to generate musical tones. By varying the parameters, students can ‘hear’ different qualities in thedata.)
  29. 29. Strange encounters: seguing digital and analogue data ‘I took the whole published works of Ted Hughes into that archive with me, on my laptop. And that meant, when I saw... that image he’d changed, I could search through everything he’d every written and trace it, and find the echoes... That would have been my whole PhD, 20 years ago. English studies student, 2011I’m also finding that students are good at seeing the potential of digital data to augment analogue experiences. This is almost routine now infieldwork and medical settings, with students being prepared for the realworld setting with virtual experiences, or being encouraged to tag theirrecorded experiences with audio commentary, geotags, or relevant keywords and URLs. But this is a student of english talking about herexperience in an archive, where she had been allowed to look at the actual manuscripts of Ted Hughes. Because she had taken the entire works inwith her, when she noticed a correction that had been made on the manuscript, she was able instantly to search for other examples, while she wasin the archive, making her precious time with the real manuscripts that much more valuable.
  30. 30. Strange encounters: collaborative academic writing•Students can struggle to understand why groupwork is encouraged but ‘collusion’ is punished•Students have generally been rewarded for competitive/solo work and don’t see how their contribution will be fairly rewarded•But digitally capable students are used to sharing, mashing up and remixing media in social contexts
  31. 31. Strange encounters: collaborative academic writingI want to share a couple of examples of collaborative writing that I think are of value. First, this is a closed blog that is being written by studentsworking with me on the Exeter Cascade project. We have a very high volume of posts but an even larger number of comments, as students helpeach other out with examples and references, or just expand on their arguments. All these students are producing written case studies andlearning journeys, and being encouraged to use the blog to try out pieces of that writing in a supportive environment.
  32. 32. Strange encounters: collaborative academic writingThis is actually something I have been working on with colleagues recently - a collaboratively authored final chapter to a new edition of a bookcalled Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. We have an open version of this chapter on googledocs and we have used various live events andsocial media feeds to encourage people to contribute to this. We have a closed version, also on googledocs, which a number of named authors arecontributing to, informed by the public document. And the final version will be edited by just two of us, but acknowledging all the others. It’scomplicated, and sometimes difficult, like all emerging practices and like all true collaborations.
  33. 33. Strange encounters: collaborative academic writing• But it doesn’t seem to me that this kind of approach should be beyond the reach of students, as an alternative to wikis for example, which seem to be the prevalent mode of collaborative writing. The different contributions are still clear, but the format encourages working together towards a ‘best version’. If you’re interested in the potential for collaborative writing you might check out this presentations from the conference:• Larissa Bdzola & Julia Braham: Using a collaborative wiki to develop Management students’ critical thinking and academic information literacy.• Whatever the technology or service used, we need to provide clear examples for students. And we need to consider how far we reveal to students our own uncertainties about the practices that are developing.
  34. 34. Strange encounters: becoming critical•Students can struggle to know what we mean by a ‘critical’ approach to academic texts and information•Students are known to have a particular problem with critiquing online information
  35. 35. Strange encounters: becoming criticalThe last example I want to talk about is a second year undergraduate module in geography, led by a colleague of mine at Exeter called Ian Cook. Students work ingroups to contribute to a public web site,, which is a truly exciting example of a critical pedagogy in action. The students work takes its placealongside other public commentaries on how consumer goods are produced and transported. Students do their own investigations and writing, and comment oneach others’ work, but can also expect comments from researchers in this field and from an interested public. In an important sense, the work they are doingtowards their degree is also making a difference in the world.
  36. 36. Strange encounters: becoming critical Not: What technology should I choose? But •How has this technology been designed, marketed and made? •What are the purposes for which this technology offers itself? •What do I think about that? •Who else wants to talk about it with me?• In this example technology has become estranged, becomes a text which can be critiqued. Something I wrote for a book chapter last year, drawing on Kahn and Kellner’s 2005 article on ‘critical technoliteracies’ was this: ‘We should be questioning the ends for which technologies offer themselves, as well as the means by which they make themselves useful’. I thought at the time it was a touch idealistic, but here is a living example.
  37. 37. Strange encounters: projecting identities•Students can struggle to adopt an academic stance and discourse•Our students were given unhelpful cues about developing their online identities•So they developed their own routes: facebook, twitter, blogs,, online interest groups•Lessons for developers: draw on multiple identity practices of digital residents: 3-6 social networks, different identities, rehearsing appropriate identities through LPP (lurking)
  38. 38. Developing hybrid practices: who is the more knowledgeable other? •As older professionals we will probably never ‘catch up’ with students’ digital know-how •But we still have much to offer! •Productive encounters: co- mentoring, students as change agents •Treating students’ digital know- how as a resource for their learning and for ours• There are plenty of opportunities at this conference to continue debating the issues I have raised in this keynote:• Ibrar Bhatt’s paper: developing digital literacies across the in-classroom/out-of-classroom divide• Camilla Goodman et al’s session on developing virtual communities of tutors and students via facebook• Debbie Holley, Lyn Greaves & Claire Bradley: The Anytime Literacies Learning Environment• Joe Nicholls & Joy Head: The Digidol Project•
  39. 39. Digital literacy as a hybrid knowledge practice Embracing new means of knowledge production and their attendant uncertainties Negotiating new learning relationships Reframing criticality Education/development for an uncertain futureIn conclusion, as knowledge production and reproduction is the business of the academy this entails new ways of developing and projecting identities, including ofcourse finding a space to speak within a disciplinary way of knowing and making meaning.New learning relationships - quote from current journal editorial: ‘‘literacy’ arises from participation and from having negotiated rights and responsibilities in aparticular context. For students in general this relates to what they can do and say in the higher education context; and what is valued and rewarded in thebehaviours of both students and staff.’ We know and we teach you does not work any more. We need to embrace that with relief as well as trepidation as we moveahead into turbulent times.