Tag Archives: Jisc

Terrified

Around this time last year my family and I were getting ready to move ourselves to the UK for the year.  We have, since end of July 2017, been physically based in Kingston-on-Thames, just southish from central London.

It’s been great.

It’s been hectic.

It’s been challenging.

I am so glad we did this.

Over the course of this year I have facilitated workshops, delivered talks, keynoted at conferences, conducted research, and spent a lot of time on UK (and occasionally other) trains going from place to place.   I have published two book chapters, and two articles in the 2017-18 academic year.

I have worked in, visited, or otherwise found myself in:  Oxford, Edinburgh, Leicester, Cambridge, Belfast, Lancaster, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Warwick, Milton Keynes, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Galway, Coventry, and London London London.  Oh and there was also that detour in the Fall where I had the great good pleasure of visiting New Zealand, far too briefly.  I have given presentations to the following organizations: the International Conference on Performance Measurement in LibrariesALT-C, Lianza, UCISA Digital Capabilities Group, CPD25, and the Forum for Interlending.  I have worked and talked with people at UEL, UWL, Kingston University, the LSE, UAL, Goldsmiths, King’s, UCL, and that’s just in London.  I have been working closely with colleagues at Jisc on their Digital Leadership Course as well as on a year-long project about teaching practices, and have done other small research projects here and there that have helped me think in constructive ways about how people approach academic work, especially but not exclusively in terms of digital tools, places, and platforms.

If I’ve lost track of you I’m sorry I will remember I know I will.  I believe my point is:  I have been busy, people have been generous, I have been invited, and I am grateful for the work I’ve gotten to do this year.

So, what do I do now?

We have to go back.  There is work to be done in the US that has nothing to do with HE, FE, digital leadership, or libraries.

I have quit my job in the library at UNC Charlotte.  It is time for new things, and I am also not entirely sure what they will be now.

I had wanted to write a sort of “I’m hanging out  my shingle” post here, something where I plant a flag or wave my hands and say “I’m here and I’d love to work with you.”  Maybe that’s what I am doing, but I am profoundly aware that I don’t actually know what is going to happen next.

I have worked so much this year.  Will anyone want me to work with or for them next year?

What will my network in the UK look like when I am no longer a relatively easy train ride away?  How will my US network respond to my being back?

What can I build, now that I have done what I have done this year?

With whom can I build whatever it will be?

I don’t know.  I have some ideas but I don’t really know.

In the meantime, I will be back in Charlotte NC but also already making plans to be back in the UK in the autumn.

It is hard to have hope.  I will try to hope anyway.

And I hope to see you all again soon.

 

 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Digital Capabilities: Keynote for #udigcap

I was invited by Kerry Pinny to be one of the keynotes at the UCISA Digital Capabilities event this past week at Warwick University.  Here is my best attempt to make the talk I gave into prose form.

I think with people (I say this most times I give a talk, but it’s worth repeating and pointing out), and on the occasion of this talk, I have thought either directly or indirectly with these people in particular.  

Zoe Fisher 

Jeanine Finn

Kevin Seeber

Jessica Schomberg

Eamonn Teawell

Margy MacMillan

Jason Davies

Cameron Neylon

Elder Teen

Lawrie Phipps

Kerry Pinny

Some of them via conversations online, some face to face. I want in particular to point to Lawrie Phipps, with whom I have been partnering this year in a variety of work, and whose thoughts are shot through much of my thinking here.  And Kerry Pinny, who was brave enough to invite me to speak to you today. And I also want to single out my daughter, referred to here as Elder Teen.

Elder Teen, walking along the Flaggy Shore near Galway. Photo by Catherine Cronin.

My daughter is 17 years old.  She is going to university next year.  She grew up in the American school system, one where standardized testing rules.  She has been tested beyond an inch of her life, labeled a variety of things, and had her notions of success tied to particular kind of tests (PSAT, SAT, ACT) and classes associated with tests (AP, IB) for a very long time.

She does very well on tests.  

That is not the point.

I see time and again the experiences she has in classes reduced to “how she will do on a test.”  And I witness the joy it sucks out of her educational experiences, and the terror it inspires, in the chance she might get things wrong, or not do well enough.

We are surrounded by tests.

They are used in the workplace, in professional development situations.  For example:

and

 

I often wonder how different it would be, in staff development workshops, if we had people test themselves with these kinds of tools:

 

Or maybe this one?

 

 

My daughter helped me find the Cosmo and the Buzzfeed quizzes.  She was particularly excited about this one:

 

and so she insisted that I take it.  Here’s my result:

 

I have no idea what that result means.  I suspect I could spin something about my personal or professional life around “Funfetti Grilled Cheese” (YUCK) if I had to.

My daughter plays with these quizzes all the time, and I asked her, given how much angst tests give her in academic contexts, why she would bother taking these kinds of tests.  She told me, “Sometimes it’s fun to think about what kind of grilled cheese sandwich I would be!”

And yeah.  It can be fun to play with these kinds of things.

Where it ceases to be fun is when decisions get made on your behalf based on the results.

Frameworks, quizzes, and diagnostics (what I like to call the “Cosmo Quiz” school of professional development) that encourage people to decide what “type” they are to explain why they are doing things give an easy end-run around organizational, structural, cultural circumstances that might also be the reasons for people’s behaviors.  The danger with attributing actions just to individual motivations or “tendencies” is that when there are problems, then it’s entirely up to the individual to “fix it.”

Checklists find their way into a lot of the work we do.  My colleagues in libraries introduced me to this checklist, used in some instructional contexts:

 

I appreciate very much the critique of the CRAAP checklist approach to information literacy that Kevin Seeber offers, and share his skepticism around the idea that if you give student a list they can figure out what is good information and what is “bad.”  This kind of skills approach to critical thinking isn’t effective, and is a dangerous approach in these political times when we need (“now more than ever”)  to provide people with practices and processes that allow them to effectively navigate the current landscape of information and disinformation.

There are structurally similar arguments being made around academic literacies generally, including student writing–there is a concern across the sector around the risks of reducing the notion of what we need people to do during and after their time in educational institutions to “skills.”

The following list is a tiny literature review that reflects the thinking and reading I did for this part of the talk.  

Lewis Elton (2010) Academic writing and tacit knowledge, Teaching in Higher Education, 15:2, 151-160, DOI: 10.1080/13562511003619979

Mary R. Lea & Brian V. Street (2006) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach, Studies in Higher Education, 23:2, 157-172, DOI: 10.1080/03075079812331380364

Eamonn Teawell.  “The Problem with Grit:  Dismantling Deficit Models in Information Literacy Instruction, LOEX, May 5, 2018. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1rYott7k-_WYi_fPmgqqr36THefKJGljcBichqv4U4OY/present?includes_info_params=1&slide=id.p5

John C. Besley and Andrea H. Tanner.  (2011) What Science Communication Scholars Think About Training Scientists to Communicate.  Science Communication Vol 33, Issue 2, pp. 239 – 263. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547010386972

Douglas, Mary. How institutions think. Syracuse University Press, 1986.

Chris Gilliard and Hugh Kulik “Digital Redlining, Access and Privacy”  Privacy Blog, Common Sense Education, May 24, 2016, https://www.commonsense.org/education/privacy/blog/digital-redlining-access-privacy

Safiya Umoja Noble. Algorithms of Oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. NYU Press, 2018.

Primarily this is to say that what I’ve been critiquing thus far are “deficit models”–wherein people are framed as lacking, from the beginning, and where the “fix” is “more” of something–more information, more skills, etc.  And you can see from these references that such critiques predate this talk by a long shot. This isn’t even the earliest reference, but the Elton source was brought to me via the second reference, Lea and Street, who wanted educators to be “concerned with the processes of meaning-making and contestation around meaning rather than as skills or deficits. “ (Lea and Street 2006, p. 159).  Their article is specifically about academic writing, but the points they make cross-cut many pedagogical discussions in higher and further education, and like  Eamonn Teawell in his recent talk at LOEX, argues for a model of education that is about the social acquisition of academic practices, rather than the accumulation of skills off a checklist, or a certain amount of content.

My colleague at UCL, Jason Davies alerted me to the anthropologist Mary Douglas’ short book, based on a series of lectures, called How Institutions Work, and in particular to her points that institutions are socially and culturally constructed, and that they themselves structure knowledge and identity.  Universities are institutions, shot through with the structures of society, social inequality, racism, sexism, and classism. Douglas notes that analogies and labels used in institutional contexts are representations of “patterns of authority.”

So when we, in institutional contexts, sit our students or staff down and ask them to take a test or go through a diagnostic tool that gives them a profile, we think we are just trying to make things clear.  Douglas’s analysis gives us a way to frame these activities as actually reinforcing current structural inequalities, and therefore assigning categories that limit people and their potential. When institutions do the classifying, they de-emphasizes individual agency and furthermore suggests that the institutional take on identity is the important one that determines future “success” (which again, is defined institutionally).

I want to draw a line from quiz-type testing that offers people an opportunity to profile themselves and the problems inherent in reducing knowledge work to a list of skills.  And I also want to draw attention to the risks to which we expose our students and staff, if we use these “profiles” to predict, limit, or otherwise determine what might be possible for them in the future.  

Chris Gilliard and Safiya Noble’s works are there for me as cautions about the ways in which digital structures reproduce and amplify inequality.  Technology is not neutral, and the digital tools, platforms, and places with which we engage, online or off, are made by people, and informed by our societies, and all of the biases therein.

What are the connotations of the word “profile?”  If you have a “profile” that is something that suggests that people know who you are and are predicting your behavior.  We “profile” criminals. We “profile” suspects. People are unjustly “profiled” at border crossings because of the color of their skin, their accent, their dress.  “Profiles” are the bread and butter of what Chris Gillard has called “digital redlining:” ”a set of education policies, investment decisions, and IT practices that actively create and maintain class boundaries through strictures that discriminate against specific groups (Gilliard and Kulik 2016). “

The definitions of identity that emerge from institutions homogenize, they erase difference, they gatekeep.  This is the nature of institutions. Our role as educators should be to remove barriers for our students, staff, and ourselves, not provide more of them.  

Teaching and learning is not a problem to be solved.  They are processes in which we engage.

So when you talk about “digital capability” you may not intend that term to imply switches that are either on and off.  But the opposite of digitally capable is digitally incapable. The opposite of digital literacy is digital illiteracy.  They are binary states. That’s built into the language we use, when we say these things.

Early in my time doing work in libraries, I was tasked with some web usability testing.  It was clear to me in the work that people didn’t sit down to a website and say “I’m a first year, and I’m using this website”  They sat down and said “i’m writing a paper, I need to find sources.” So I was perplexed at the use of personas in web UX, because in the course of my research I saw people making meaning of their encounters with the webs based on what they wanted and needed to do, first and foremost–not who they were.  What I was told, when I asked, was that personas are useful to have in meetings where you need to prove that “users are people.”

When UX workers use personas to frame our testing of websites, we have capitulated to a system that is already disassociated from people, and all their human complexity.  The utility of personas is a symptom of the lack of control that libraries and librarians have over the systems they use.  How absurd to have to make the argument that these websites and databases will be used by people.  The insidious effect of persona-based arguments is to further limit what we think people are likely to do as particular categories. Are first year students going to do research? Do undergraduates need to know about interlibrary loans?  Do members of academic staff need to know how to contact a librarians? Why or why not? If we had task-based organizing structures in our websites, it wouldn’t matter who was using them. It would matter far more what they are trying to do.  

What I have also  found in my own more recent work, as someone brought in to various HE and FE contexts to help people reflect on and develop their personal and professional practices, is that metaphors slide easily into labels, into ways that people identify themselves in the metaphor.  People have been primed by those quizzes, those diagnostics, to label themselves.

“I’m ENTJ”

“I’m 40 but my social media age is 16”

“I’m a funfetti cheese sandwich”

I’ve spent a lot of time in workshops trying to manage people’s anxieties around what they think these metaphors say about them as people.  They apologize for their practice, because they can read the judgments embedded in the metaphors.  No matter how hard we worked, in particular with the Visitors and Residents metaphor, to make it free from judgement, to make it clear that these are modes of engagement, not types of people, it never quite worked.  

We still had people deciding that they were more or less capable depending on the label they felt fit them.  “I can’t do that online conference because i’m not Resident on Twitter.”

We need to move away from deficit models of digital capabilities that start with pigeonholing people based on questionnaire results

What are we doing when we encourage people to diagnose themselves, categorize themselves with these tools?  The underlying message is that they are a problem needing to be fixed, and those fixes will be determined after the results of the questionnaire are in.

The message is that who they are determines how capable they are.  The message is that there might be limits on their capabilities, based on who they are.

The message is that we need to spend labor determining who people are before we offer them help.  That we need to categorize people and build typologies of personas rather than making it easy for people to access the resources they need, and allow themselves to define themselves, for their identity to emerge from their practice, from their own definitions of self, rather than our imposed notions

Anthropology has many flaws and also jargon that I occasionally still find useful in thinking about academia and why we do what we do.  In this case I return to the notions of emic, interpretations that emerge from within a particular cultural group, and etic, those interpretations that are imposed from the outside.  What all of these “who are you, here’s what we have for you” setups do is emerge from etic categories, those imposed from the outside:  You are a transfer student you are a first-gen student you are a BAME student you are a digital native.

What if we valued more the emic categories, the ways that students and staff identify themselves?  What if we allowed their definition of self to emerge from the circumstances that we provide for them while at University, for the processes they engage in to be self-directed but also scaffolded with the help, resources, mentoring, guidance of the people who make up their University?

That would be education, right?

Because the other thing is sorting.

The history of Anthropology tells us that categorizing people is lesser than understanding them.  Colonial practices were all about the describing and categorizing, and ultimately, controlling and exploiting. It was in service of empire, and anthropology facilitated that work.

It shouldn’t any more, and it doesn’t have to now.

You don’t need to compile a typology of students or staff.  You need to engage with them.

For more discussion of this digital mapping tool, see the preprint by Lawrie Phipps and myself here.

In the digital practice mapping workshops that I have been doing this year, many of them with Lawrie Phipps, we have started using this tool, which allows us to focus straight away on what people are doing, so we can then have a conversation about their motivations.

I think this might be one possible way of getting out of the classification game.  When we use this tool, we have found we didn’t have to have those “who am I , am I doing it right?” conversations.  People are far less concerned about labels, and rarely if ever apologetic about their practices.

We need to start with people’s practices, and recognize their practice as as effective for them in certain contexts.  

And then ask them questions.  Ask them what they want to do.  Don’t give them categories, labels are barriers.  Who they are isn’t what they can do.

Please, let’s not profile people.

When you are asking your students and staff questions, perhaps it should not be in a survey.  When you are trying to figure out how to help people, why not assume that the resources you provide should be seen as available to all, not just the ones with “identifiable need?”

The reason deficit models persist is not a pedagogical one, it’s a political one.

The reason why we are trying to figure out who “really needs help” (rather than assuming we can and should help everyone) is that resources are decreasing overall.  The political climate is one that is de-funding universities, state money no longer supports higher education the way it used to, and widening participation is slowing down because we are asking individual students to fund their educations rather than taking on the education of our citizens as a collective responsibility that will yield collective benefits.

These diagnostic digital capability tools are in service of facilitating that de-funding. We “target” resources when there are not enough of them.  We talk about “efficiency” when we cannot speak of “effectiveness.”

We think we can do a short-cut to effectiveness by identifying which students need help, guidance, and chances to explore what they don’t know.

They all need help.  They all deserve an education.

 

Beyond Metaphor: New Iterations of #JiscDigLead

co-authored by Lawrie Phipps, James Clay, and Chris Thomson

It’s been three years since we ran the the first Jisc Digital Leaders Program. During the program we have have emphasized the need for leaders in education to model the behavioral change that they wish to see in digital. “Be more digital”, “Write a digital strategy”, “Go do Twitter” are things we have heard many times, and these are sometimes the reasons that delegates attend the course.  We hoped to give leaders contexts beyond tasks within digital, to provide a way to discuss the implications of digital tools and places that were not just to-do or top-ten lists.

We built the individual digital practice elements of that first course around what delegates gained from doing the Visitor and Resident mapping process.  At the time, we were intent on getting people away from assumptions that digital capability was defined by their identities (especially not their “generational identity”), and thought that the V&R model gave them a new place from which to orient the conversations we wanted people to have about their practices.

For the most part, we were correct. We did have and facilitate conversations that went beyond both top-ten tech lists and “I am X identity,” and brought people together for conversations about what they want and need to do, and what their motivations are.  In the setting up of the V&R model we were careful to discuss them as modes of behavior, not identity types. However, we have continued to see, through three years of iterations of the course, an impulse to pigeonhole, to identify themselves and others as “visitors” or “residents”; creating a barrier to freeing ourselves up to having new conversations around digital.

As much as the metaphor freed us from the tyranny of generational stereotypes, it opened up a debate around the nature of what it means to be “resident” or “visitor”, with participants asking what is “right”, what is best, and how to become more of one or the other.  This was never our intention. Substituting the stereotype with a metaphor still, to some extent, obfuscated the real aim – to discuss practice in context. It is difficult to move people away from value judgments around practice, and harder still when they are couched in language that seem to involve personal identity.

On the course we want our leaders and future leaders to have a more nuanced understanding of what it means to practice in a time of ubiquitous digital.

We have arrived at the point where we need to go beyond metaphor. Rather than annotating a metaphorical model with allusions to practice and motivation, we will start with the practices, the behaviors, and motivations we want people to reflect upon.

The use of tension pairs to surface behaviors and practices has proven effective as a baseline for change; a visual tool for identifying where both individuals and organisations are in their digital practice and their motivations, and importantly for the digital leaders program, where they want to move their practice to. The new iteration of this element of  the workshop will be more tailored to support delegates in identifying what the most appropriate tension pairs are for their context.

Rather than using the visitor-resident continuum as one axis we intend to provide a range of continua composed of actions and behaviors, instead of identities. For example, we might suggest that leaders map themselves against a broadcast – engagement axis.  We might even solicit tension pairs from the room. We think this small modification to the leadership course format will make it easier to dig into the important content that has always been a core part of the program:  an engagement with practice, with current behaviors, such that people are more capable of strategic thinking about the ways they want or need to change what they are doing, and what if any role digital tools and places can play in those changes.  We think it’s time in our work to give people opportunities to visualize and develop their approaches to and within digital, to center what people want to do, first.  Identity is always an important part of why and how people do what they do, but it doesn’t have to over-determine their practices.  Our intention is to open doors, not close them by making people think that certain paths are closed because of who they are.

 

Being a Leader isn’t about You

Look, I am aware of the ego it takes to get up in front of people and hold forth about things, I’ve been doing that for just a little while now and I’m a Leo so it works for me (and, I hope, for the people who invite me).  And I likewise think it probably takes a fair amount of ego these days to think to oneself, “You know, I really would like to lead X”  where X might be a department, a trade union, a library, a university, a town, a country, or your very own piece of the interwebs.

The thing is, for it to be a good move for more than just you, the desire to lead cannot end with “I’d like to be in charge.”  It really shouldn’t start there, either.  I am living in a country where ‘I’d Like to be in Charge” is currently in the White House, my State Legislature, and also occupying the majority of both national Houses of Congress.  ‘‘I’d Like to be in Charge” with an added dollop of “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” is currently riding roughshod over the social contract in the UK as well as in the US, deciding that coalitions are for losers and that caring for the welfare of other people is a sucker’s game.

There are likely several ways to be a toxic leader but this highly- visible -at- this- particular- moment model of “Leadership for the Sake of Me and Screw You Guys” (even as the rhetoric of these leaders is about countries, groups, people, institutions) is to my mind one of the most toxic.  Leadership for personal gain serves no one but the person in the leadership position.

That’s not the kind of leadership we need, if we are concerned about our society.   Or any other collection of people.

So when I and my ego get up in front of people in leadership positions in education next week, I want very much to swiftly reach a point where we are NOT talking about them as individuals.

Even as I recognize they are people.

Even as I emphasize that their humanity is a crucial part of their leadership potential.

In the Jisc Digital Leaders course I will be resisting any requests for to-do lists, or top-tips around practice.  I will be attempting, even as I get people to talk and think about themselves, to center other people in the minds of the participants.  Many of them will show up already with this orientation.  We start people off with examining their individual practices because that’s an important way in to thinking about the logics of those practices, and the logics of other people.  We move from mapping their individual digital and physical practices to a broader consideration of their organizational practices and priorities because that should be the point when you are in a leadership position:  everything except yourself.

Who you are as a leader is to some extent about you as a person, but effective constructive leadership is also about what you would like to do, and for whom you would like to do these things.  Leaders should value the voices of others, and de-center themselves as much as possible because collective action is effective action, and requires many, not few, or one person’s priorities.  Leaders should give more credit than they take, because they are confident enough in themselves and the strengths of their team to allow others to shine and pull their weight, and be seen and heard.

When I think about effective leadership, I recognize the importance of leaders bringing their own particular set of expertise to their work.  I also want leaders who don’t know everything, but are willing to learn.  I want leaders who don’t have to do everything, and who trust enough to delegate.  I want leaders who know enough to let go of control, because none of us really have it anyway.  We need, collectively, leaders who can see the places where they can and should work towards change in their organizations, in their communities, and recognize the need to do so collectively, and decidedly not from a place of “Good Thing I’m in Charge.”

I am looking forward to the work and conversations we engage in next week.  And hope the work continues beyond the confines of the course itself.  The course is ostensibly about “Digital Leadership” but our need to create and sustain effective, constructive leadership models is about more than digital places and practices.  We need them as a counter to the toxic leaders we have facilitated in the past, and which threaten us now.

Both motivational images courtesy of Lawrie Phipps.

Thinking Critically about Scholarship, Teaching and Learning

city-of-charlotte

Downtown Charlotte, NC, on the morning of the UNC Charlotte-Kingston University London Critical Thinking Symposium, October 2016.

I have been recently following the #edu16 Educause tweets, and the responses to the recent NMC report on digital literacy.  The rhetoric coming from Educause (excepting the talk given by Chris Bourg, of course) and contained within the NMC report seemed very much the sort of thing I (not alone, of course) have argued against in the past–a model of teaching and learning and technology that focuses on problems to be solved, and solutions that can be purchased.

I have been more fortunate, in the last month, to have had the opportunity to attend two different events that have challenged me in very different ways to think about the outside-of-academia forces that shape the ways we approach teaching, learning, and research.  

At Triangle SCI we worked in teams across a range of scholarly communication challenges

  • the need for the integration of Global South scholars and scholarship into conversations and processes that continue to be dominated by the more resource-rich Global North
  • the desire to provide a solution for scholars to make their web presence, network of colleagues, and scholarly content connected and visible independent of commercial platforms  
  • to move away from the quantified scholarly self and towards a set of values that are more humane, less gamified, more oriented towards living a good scholarly life
  • to provide structures for small scholarly societies to persist and serve their communities
  • to get a handle on and move towards solutions for the range of issues that arise with digital editions

A persistent theme that emerged from all of the teams (more details on each challenge can be found here) was the need for collective action, for consolidated work that is accountable to many parties, for solutions generated from consortia and groups rather than handed to us by commercial products, and an underlying feeling that we must be in control of our own destiny, not swept along by the “solutions” being handed to us.

A consistent worry was the pressures of assessment, of tenure and review processes, of accreditation that push scholars and their universities towards assuming that measuring scholarship, quantifying impact, are the right things to do to demonstrate value.  These pressures come from political pressure, from skepticism about the worth of universities, increasingly framed with language such as “Return on Investment.”  Our search for solutions was in part a reaction to these pressures, and attempt to take back the rhetoric around scholarship so that it is not reduced to an economic model of value, but that retains and expands our notion of worth to include human, collective, unquantifiable (dare I say qualitative) values.  We as a room were pushing back against the quantified scholar, the transactional university, the techno-solutionism that reduces teaching, learning, and research to problems to be solved.

And then I attended the UNC Charlotte-Kingston University London Critical Thinking Symposium, where we spent an earnest two days talking about, collectively defining, and thinking about the role that our teaching and learning practices do or don’t facilitate critical thinking, and how important it is to effective scholarship and citizenship.  The 200 or so people attending the symposium were a mix of interested parties from across the Carolinas, from academic departments, assessment offices, centers for teaching and learning, libraries, administration, writing centers, and even some vendors.  And in our conversations, it was clear that we were trying to revive and recenter the values of a liberal arts education, we were trying to both respond to and counter the “employability” narrative that reduces education to a professional qualification.

The thing is, in that room, we were having earnest conversations about teaching and learning and citizenship and the crucial role critical thinking has to play.  But outside of the room, the conversations around the buzz-phrase “critical thinking” aren’t coming from any of those concerns, but rather from a desire to control and constrain the academy, and universities in particular.

All of these conversations are taking place in a larger context (#anthropology #drink) of suspicion of universities and the role they play.  The call for “standardized tests for critical thinking” don’t actually come from a concern for that capacity, they come from a place of surveillance and suspicion.  This is assessment as controlling process.

There are so many tools and platforms to facilitate that paradigm of education, one overdetermined by quantification and technology.  The collective critique by Audrey Watters of not just edtech but of the ways education is approached regardless of technology is instructive here.

I am thinking aloud about all of these things because of this recent post from Jisc by Lawrie Phipps, asking for feedback about “next generation learning environments.”  So I have some hopes and fears for this

My fears are that “nextgen learning environments” will be amplifications of all that is problematic in current platforms and systems that take as their assumptions the closed, controlled, quantified, content-based education that many see in now-traditional VLE/CMSes. That the desire to control the academy will result in more reification of silos, more ways to measure, more attention to buckets of content.   That the result will be to remove more people from the workflows of teaching and learning, and leave more work for the algorithms to do.

My hopes are that this is an opportunity to de-center platforms, and to re-imagine teaching and learning around the values of scholarship that we discussed at length at TriangleSCI, and were earnestly trying to get at during the Critical Thinking Symposium.  That is be a way to enact and make visible the networked human processes of scholarship.  That it be a way to fight the reduction of academia to a factory for publications and “employable” students.   A way to have more humanity, and more and more varied kinds of humans, participating in and producing  scholarship.  That this can be another chance for us to direct more of the conversations around teaching and learning and scholarship, rather than simply react to these persistent outside forces.

Do you share the same hopes and fears?  Do you have different ones?  Then I will suggest you go tell him your thoughts – go tell Lawrie, and Jisc, what we need to be built, and what not to build, what is important, and what is a distraction.

Please.

Ta Dah! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Doing a Visitors and Residents Workshop

Photo by Steve Rowett @srowett

Me, Lawrie and Dave at Digifest 2015. See how well we work together?  Photo by Steve Rowett @srowett

 

It’s well past time we got these resources available for anyone to use, and I’m glad we’re managing it now.  The intention is to give not just a sense of what activities go into a Visitors and Residents workshop, but also what the motivations for such a workshop might be, and what kinds of larger context and conversations surround and emerge from the workshop activities.

What I’d like to talk about here, in addition to participating in announcing the availability of the workshop guide, is what the maps are for.  Anyone who’s seen me or Dave or Lawrie talk about Visitors and Residents might be forgiven for thinking that the whole point of the exercise is the map.  We use the maps in our talks, in publications, we show them and point to them and talk around them.  We have people produce maps in conference presentations, workshops and professional development events, in student orientations/inductions.  Dave has written a nice review of various ways the mapping has been used and developed, here.  

We spend a lot of time with these maps.  

The maps are not the point.

I’ve been thinking about the mapping process, and what sort of thing it is to me.  In my practice, it’s been a way of helping me visualize the practices of the individuals we were interviewing as a part of the original Visitors and Residents research project.  The interviews we conducted yielded a rich amount of information, and it was occasionally necessary, especially when talking about our research results, to have a relatively easily accessible way of representing practice, while talking about the complexities of people’s engagements with technology and the web.

I use other sorts of mapping processes in my research–the other one that looms large in my practice is cognitive mapping.  In each case, whether V and R mapping or cognitive, the map is the starting point, a way to begin a conversation or anchor an interview around something concrete, a challenge to find in something as hard to materially capture sometimes as digital practice.

Any of these maps are not themselves the participants’ practices, but are representations of a recollection of practice.  They make sense once they are talked about, once the larger context is revealed.  This is why they are particularly useful in workshop contexts, they can stimulate reflection and conversation that can lead to determinations to transform practice, given what participants learn about themselves, and also the practices and motivations of others.

So as with any instrument used in research or in applied contexts, the mapping process needs to be engaged in and analyzed with a broader sense of what else is going on–the interviews or conversations that happen after the mapping are at least as (if not more) important than the maps themselves.  They should not be mistaken for holistic representations of practice–how can they be?  They are snapshots of remembrances, people forget things on their maps that they call out in subsequent conversations.  To mistake the maps for the result is to misconstrue the point of a workshop, a reflective exercise, an interview prompt.

This is a major reason why the guide is more than just activities, but contains long stretches of reflections that Dave, Lawrie and I have written about what might emerge, what it might mean, and how to explore what comes out of the initial mapping process.  

Those explorations are the point.  The maps never have been.

I hope those of you who take up this guide and run your own workshops have fun with it–I have always enjoyed doing them, even as they are exhausting (do it with a partner!  You can take turns and not die at the end!).  

Please let us know how you get on.

“Digital” Doesn’t Do Anything: #digifest16

 

I got to attend my third Jisc Digifest (out of three) last week in Birmingham, because I was invited to participate in the plenary keynote panel at the beginning of the event.

Jisc invited all of us in the plenaries to write something ahead of the event to get people thinking, and you can find what I wrote on the Jisc blog.  I was also interviewed for the DIgifest podcast, you can hear me speaking starting about 1.30.

So here is roughly what I said (those of you who know me will realize that not all of the adlibs are captured here, but I try).    Nicola Osborne of Jisc did a nice job of live-blogging both days, and she captured the keynote Q and A (as well as other things) here.   I also Storified it so you can get some sense of what the content of the room while I was speaking was like.  I had no slide deck, just paper notes, and the #digifest16 Twitterstream behind me.   It’s my understanding Jisc will be posting video highlights soon.

 

“The power of digital for change”

The power of digital is not contained in nor limited to, the kinds of tools it can offer.  Tools change, and how people use them does too.

More than this, as we discussed recently with the Jisc digital leaders programme, education leaders should now think of “Digital” as place.  The implications of society as we experience it face to face also erupting within the digital are wide-ranging and profound.  Have we really thought about what that means in terms of education?  

What does it mean for the human experience of teaching, learning and research to know that it is possible to carry these places around in our pockets?  

Digital is not just about attention, and where people put it, but about where people are themselves.

This means that (those endless circular) debates we have about tools being “fit” really miss the point.  In fact, they are symptoms of a flawed system wherein we hand people tools and insist that they use them regardless of their practice.  The point is actually the people, and the practices in which they are engaging.  And our work should be to facilitate the exploration of all the different ways they can do that.

What are the implications for research?  What are the implications for teaching?  What are the implications for pedagogy?  What does it mean for the design of learning spaces, when, with digital places, nearly any physical place can have a learning space nested within?

And furthermore what does it mean for those who don’t have access to those spaces?  What is lost when those spaces exist but not everyone can get to them?  More than just a digital divide, it’s segregation, lack of access to the places where power and influence can accrue.

It’s crucial that we move the conversation from “tools” and even sometimes from “practice.”  Let’s talk about place, let’s talk about presence.  Let’s talk about (says the anthropologist) people.  Where are we?  Where are our students?  They can be scattered, or they can be layered in their presence–for example, in a room, on Twitter talking publicly about the content of the room, and in DMs snarking about the content.  

This is multi-modal engagement.  What does the presence of these places mean for engagement?  We have never been able to take engagement for granted–disassociation happens in face to face spaces all the time.  What’s happening in this room right now?  How does that make you more here?  How does that take you away? Who else is here?

“The power of the digital for change.”  That’s the theme for the next two days.

In thinking about change I am less interested in what we are changing than how change can happen?  And also thinking about–change for whom?  Why?  I am never interested in change for change’s sake.

At the end of the Visitors and Residents workshops we do, that we’ve done for Jisc and for other orgs,  where we talk about practice, we do end up talking about tools, but then we always, always end up talking about people.  Who are the people with whom you connect?  What does engagement look like?  

And, when you want to change things, who are the people you need to influence, not just the things you need to do?  And if you don’t want to change things, make that argument.  Make the argument for change, too, not just saying the word change over and over again.

More than that–we need to think about what the role of leaders is in making space for these questions to be asked, and explored.  Institutional acceptance of risk, change, failure, this is all crucial.  Accepting change means accepting a certain lack of control.

We on this stage have been asked to help frame what Digifest can be for you, and of course I would recommend that you go to the mapping sessions, explore your own  practices, and engage in discussions around the implications of digital practices for individuals and institutions

But beyond specifics,   I would encourage you to explore the parts of the Digifest that are not someone handing you a tool or a piece of tech, but are about people talking about their educational agendas, their practices, and the people with whom they are working, and why.

Eventually tech will come into it.  But not starting there is a much more interesting conversation

 

 

 

 

 

“Intelligent” Campus?

Photo by Phil Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/ntu9dA CC with some rights reserved

Photo by Phil Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/ntu9dA
CC with some rights reserved

 

I’d like to kick back today against the persistent idea that knowledge and information necessarily transform behavior.  I was made to think about this while perusing the Jisc HE learning and teaching vision document (now open for comments), and in particular the “Intelligent Campus” item at the end.

I work with groups of people at UNC Charlotte who are excited about advising systems and learning analytics that can push information out to students about how they are doing, what they are doing, and what it might mean for their time to degree.  These people are administrators, teaching faculty, and advisors who are already engaged with students within networks of care, who provide service and support.  

So, to call the “new” vision of a university campus that Jisc is considering “Intelligent” is an insult to the people who currently provide the human labor that goes into educating people.  Students need to learn how to do higher education, and university campuses are full of people whose job that is.  And they are doing it.  

So, I’d suggest that we might usefully talk about how to be a more “Responsive” campus.  How we might leverage these tools to be more agile in our responses to student needs, more timely, and yes, to involve students more in the labor of their own education.  I’m not suggesting that pushing information out to students is useless, but rather that it cannot be enough to effect behavioral change.  

I think about people and their fitbits.  And how the information they get from their fitbit isn’t what effects change (if it does).  It’s about the other things that happen around fitbits, the network they build around that fitbit, the people with whom they share that information, the social connections and relationships, and social media sharing that build around paying attention to the information.  Just wearing the fitbit is not what makes them more active.

Handing people a piece of tech, or a piece of information, is not inherently transformative.

Behavioral change is about networks, trust, motivations to engage, about being able to understand the implications of the information being received.  That is the role of advising and teaching staff, and should not be seen as anything that learning analytics systems can replace.  “Dashboards” may make certain sorts of information visible.  They are not a substitute for teaching and advising, both in the classroom and beyond.

These systems are tools.  The important focus is on the people within our universities, the work they do, and whether these tools will help them do that work more effectively.  

Webinars, Graduate Students, Visitors and Residents

So the Visitors and Residents research team (myself, Dave White, and Lynn S. Connaway) conducted a Jisc/OCLC webinar (with the generous and effective chairing of Lorcan Dempsey) yesterday.  The purpose was to introduce people to our InfoKit, and also to have a chance to talk a bit more about research results and practical implications for transforming HE (and other) approaches to digital tools and places.

In my part of the webinar I focused on graduate students, and the story that I think is emerging from our data about the potential impact that digital places and communities can have on the relative isolation of graduate students from their peers.  I’m reproducing part of what I said here, and a link to the webinar and full powerpoint are available here. (scroll to the bottom, thanks to the capable skills of our colleagues at Netskills for making this available).  I Storified the session here.  The GoogleDoc with links to project outputs, etc. is here

I started off talking about sources and authority, actually, going over some of the findings that we cover in the People Trust People , Convenient Doesn’t Always Mean Simple, and Assessing Non-Traditional Sources part of the InfoKit.  These pieces are important background to thinking about the experience of graduate students, because they are at a moment of transition, from being those who are expected to learn about authoritative sources and use them effectively, to those who are expected to become and produce authoritative sources of information themselves, as practitioners in their fields.  

This transition used to take place almost entirely in physical places, in seminar rooms, laboratories, academic libraries, and at face-to-face conferences.  But the Internet is a now a place where things happen, things that used to only happen face to face.  A holistic picture of academic behavior, of information seeking behavior, therefore has to include these digital places, and should pay attention to resident practices as we define them in the Visitors and Residents project.

People use social media tools and spaces like Twitter and Facebook to connect.  This is not a surprising or new thing, but needs to be kept in mind, as it’s a phenomenon that is certainly not going away.  We also need to collectively keep in mind that just because these digital places exist, not everyone is excited by Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.  Awareness of these social media environments and the communities within them is not dependent on a generational identity, but is about personal preferences and individual motivations to engage.  We cannot, should not assume monolithic attitudes towards these places and tools. Digital places like YouTube and Facebook and Twitter are not easily classed as only “entertainment” or “academic” in character or purpose, because of the wide range of activities that now occur in those spaces.  Knowing that someone goes to YouTube doesn’t tell you why they are there, or what they might do, or who they might seek out there.
 
So these graphs are interesting to me, because they seem to point to an opportunity to help graduate students.
 
I’ve put a red oval around the post-graduate/ grad student category, that we call Embedding.
Notice here the purple line for face to face contact, and notice in particular how low (comparatively) the mentions of face to face contact are for  grad students.  They are texting with people, making phone calls, and in particular emailing far more than engaging face to face.
Notice here who graduate students are in most contact with-professors,then peers.  For Professors, it’s the reverse order—they are in touch with peers and then with experts, mentors, and librarians at similarly low rates. Think about future of graduate students, of them as future (and current) practitioners in their fields.  Contact with professors makes sense, of course, but contact with peers seems crucial.  How else are they going to build their community, find their voice, engage in the back and forth of scholarly communication with their fellow practitioners?
 
The Blue line is FB, red is Twitter, purple line is Academic Libraries (physical spaces).  Graduate students narrow contact that they have with people, and are also physically isolated, working in the library, offices or labs.  I see this in the other ethnographic work that I do as well, the maps that graduate students, particularly in the sciences, produce of their learning landscapes are restricted to one or two places, in sharp contrast to the wide-ranging maps of undergraduates and professors.
But when we look at the places they do go, in addition to being present in academic libraries’ physical spaces (wsee a radical difference in the role of academic library spaces in our interviews with graduate students, compared to other educational stages), graduate students are present in significant rates on Facebook, and Twitter. 
 
We need to think about implications of online resident practices for grad students.   Their social media presence might be an opportunity for them to facilitate contact in the isolating environment of graduate school .  This is something we need to look at further—what is happening as they transition from student to practitioner in their field?  How are their experiences in physical spaces like libraries related to the academic work they do in digital places like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, etc.?  Where are they resident, where are they visitors?  If resident practices are those that facilitate the finding of voice, and the production of scholarship (in a variety of modes), what can it look like in grad school?
 
Watch the whole webinar: