Tag Archives: Digital Practice

“Back to Normal”

https://pixabay.com/photos/bletchley-park-turin-bombe-cypher-3518213/
Image by jonmdyson from Pixabay

It’s a terrible phrase, I think.  “Back to normal.” It assumes that normal is a thing.  It assumes that people who go through trauma and disasters can just “go back” to what was before.  It is a phrase invoked by some in the middle of a crisis, thinking of getting on the other side of it, “when we get back to normal.”

I have been thinking about the visit I got to do, at Bletchley Park last year.  I knew some of the story of the code-breaking, and in particular the role that women played during World War II not just in Nazi code-breaking but in doing all manner of work that simply had to be done by women because men were at war.  In the US, Rosie the Riveter represented not just the spirit of US support for the war effort, but the women who were working in factories and all the other places where men worked before the war. As I walked through Bletchley Park, seeing the artifacts representing the women who worked there–I was especially touched by the cardigans draped over the desk chairs–I was struck by how not-transformative, in terms of gender roles and work, World War II was.  When the war was over, people wanted to go “back to normal”–for white middle class families, and some white working class families, women working out of the home was a wartime thing, a crisis thing, a thing not to be celebrated or to be thought about in terms of what else might be possible, but something to put aside now that things were “back to normal” (as if post-war anything could be normal). 

I mean, I deeply understand and sympathize with wanting for things to be back to normal.  I wish I knew what normal even was anymore, but it seems like what people say when they mean they were comfortable.

So already, in the middle of all of this we are experiencing now, a pandemic, people struggling to protect each other, educators turning to (or forced to turn to) digital tools and places and processes to try to finish off a term completely disrupted (in the traditional sense, not the edtech sense) by current events–

In the middle of all this I am hearing and seeing some people wondering aloud if the changes that people are going to have to engage in, the ways that people need to use digital in particular, might permanently change some people’s practices.  Maybe people will embed new ways of digital working in their teaching practices. I keep reading the phrase “online pivot.” There’s a solidity to that that I am skeptical of.

And maybe some will.  But I can’t help thinking, that digital turned to in a time of crisis is potentially indelibly associated with crisis.  It feels like emergency measures, not everyday practice.

When we get on the other side of this, when we are between crises, when people want to “go back to normal” what happens to the new things they engaged with?  And framing this in terms of choices is wrong, of course. Institutions will take note of what they can and can’t take advantage of. There has and continues to be a (willful?) misunderstanding of what digital means in terms of labor and time (it isn’t less of anything, if you want the work to be done well).  I don’t know (none of us do) what lessons we get to learn from going through all of this.

I am just thinking, that for some people, digitally focused practice is not “normal.”  And some will be happy to get “back to normal,” further away from digital and also further away from the feeling of emergency, and crisis–not because they didn’t learn anything, but because they want to be comfortable.

Being Human Online in a Time of Crisis

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

Troilus and Cressida

co-authored with Lawrie Phipps and Peter Bryant

There’s been worry, anger, fear, snark, genuine excitement and lots of emotions in between and around those as responses to what educators need to do to interact with each other, and their students, now that we are well and truly in the throes of the global impact of COVID-19.

Conversations across education see-saw back and forth between “Here’s a list of tools you can use to put your class online” and “Here’s how I care for my students and I do when I teach online.”  

What we learned while interviewing UK teachers in higher and further education about the choices they make around teaching, was that decisions about technology primarily emerged from teaching and pastoral care needs, rather than some abstracted notion of technology being “better” or “21st century.”  

Let’s be clear from the outset: needing to move your interactions with your students to an online-only environment is not the same thing as “my campus needs to buy technology x”  As we, and many others have said before, Digital is People – EdTech is not the solution you are looking for; spending millions of dollars on a system is a waste of money if you are not supporting a change in the culture that empowers people to change their practice.

We know that many campuses already have tools for things like videoconferencing, document sharing, online synchronous and asynchronous discussions etc. You will not be surprised to hear one of us (Lawrie) state the obvious – if you have Office365 you already have a lot of tools that will help you support and engage with others online!  

Small groups can talk on conference calls, if videoconferencing is not an option. The specific tools are much less important than knowing that firstly something is possible and secondly you are not alone in trying that something.  

People have been busy in the social networks reassuring folks who have never taken their practices online that it’s not only possible to do that, but also possible to do well, with the human needs of students and faculty and staff in mind.

The resources in “Teaching in the Context of COVID-19,” gathered together by the HASTAC group and Cathy Davidson are marvelous precisely because they are not just lists of tools.  Here are collected ideas about setting expectations (yours and your students’), teaching remotely in a variety of situations (not just emergencies), accessibility (concerns for which have driven many areas of digital teaching and learning practices for some time), and communities that have been working around online and digital learning for decades.

Our personal social media timelines are full of people offering their expertise in teaching online–it’s easiest in this context to point to some from Twitter, but they have been seen in Facebook and also in the form of emails to various lists.

Laura Gibbs, for instance, has been writing reassuringly and with authority about online teaching and learning since long before this crisis, and has been on Twitter offering support and advice

There are plenty of examples we could share, but what is striking to us is seeing people spend as much if not more time talking about supporting students, establishing trust, cultivating engagement, and being interactive (synchronously and asynchronously) than they do about “this is a tool I use.”  

Pointing to specific tools, in particular tools that institutions do not have access to yet but could purchase a contract for, is something particular vendors have been doing since January, and it does not speak well for those companies that they see this crisis as a revenue opportunity rather than a moment for help, collaboration and sharing.

So when we were talking about writing a blogpost thinking this through, and maybe writing up a collation of the kinds of pro-social behaviors we saw being advocated for, we were scooped by the work of Peter Bryant, who has been working on a COVID-19 response plan from his position in Australia since January.  As was identified in Lawrie’s last post, on how various Australian colleagues were beginning to establish a response to Covid19, they were very aware of the potential impact; and so were vendors who seem to be circling Australian senior managers like great white sharks. 

This morning we (Lawrie and Donna) spent 90 minutes talking to Peter Bryant about what he is seeing from Australian universities responding to the crisis. Peter has developed a fantastic response, it is focused on the cultural change that needs to happen, but grounded in the short term needs of the staff and students, and pragmatic strategies that are in place to mitigate the impact of Covid19.  

Here is Peter’s strategy.

Here in the UK we (don’t be confused, reader – I, Donna, am here working for the month–good timing on my part, don’t you think?) are mindful that this health crisis is also taking place against the backdrop of labor strikes; and a problem in the US and the UK with contingent labor, overwork, and too much placed on too few full time workers.  

So yes, while this might indeed be an opportunity for online teaching and learning to shine, it should not be the opportunity that some of the powers-that-be were looking for to further exploit the labor of already exploited workers in HE and FE. 

Calls for people to actually have time off, sick time where they are not expected to work, room to rest and recover mentally from the stresses of so much that is going on, these calls should be listened to and met with more than just good intentions and hand waving about “all the work we need to do.”

We are also hopeful in the resource sharing we already see–it’s so important to draw and expand on the work already happening within the network, because there are too few people available to work on this complicated problem of wrangling teaching and learning across myriad institutions, at a distance and on a scale not attempted before.  Sharing on social media, on blogs, in emails, is how we can give each other more capacity for this work than we would otherwise have working in isolation. Digital places and tools mean that our staff, our students, and we ourselves do not have to be alone, even if some of us are in quarantine.

They Have a Fight, Triangle Wins

Image by Lawrie Phipps

(this blogpost co-authored by Lawrie Phipps)

The last time that Lawrie Phipps and I ran a digital mapping session at the Jisc digital leadership course, early in 2018, we had just finished answering all of the questions we usually fielded once we ran a digital mapping session.  The method we were using was still premised on pole graphs, on tension pairs, and even though we had moved away from what we thought were identity-focused pairs towards more practice-centered ones like “broadcast” and “engagement”  we once again got the questions: “Which one is better?” “Should we all be somewhere in the middle?”

We had been weary for a while, on our own behalf as well as on behalf of our workshop participants, of the push to self-categorize, and in particular the drive to figure out which category was better than the other.  So after all of the delegates had gone for the day, we started sketching on one of the ubiquitous flip charts that we always had for the course.

We’ve published some of our thoughts on the Triangle in our book chapter here, written just after we had tried using it in workshops.  What we came up with was 3 basic categories of practices: Creation, Consumption, and Conversation.  Each “C” is a line on the triangle, and we described the process in that chapter as follows:

“The interior of the triangle is where people map the practices that are bounded by their institution and the work they do in institutional digital platforms and places. The exterior of the triangle is where they can map everything else–what they do that is not bounded by the institution. This can be their personal lives, or their work that does not take place in official channels, but rather on the open web, in self-hosted or commercial platforms.”

We wanted, in this triangle exercise, to give ourselves and our workshop participants a way of talking about their digital practice without having to already have theories of digital in their heads, and also without feeling like they should then come to judgemental conclusions about what their practices meant about themselves as people.  We wanted to start with the practices, and then have the conversations be informed by people’s already existing (and already quite complex) identities.

That was our motivations for coming up with the Digital Practice Triangle.  So then we had to look for chances to deploy it in a workshop setting. The first time we tried it was at an internal staff development event in Lancaster.  Once people plotted their practices on their triangles, we then encouraged them to use emoji stickers to annotate their practice maps (much as we used to do when we were still using the tension-pairs mapping techniques).  We only had 45 minutes to do the workshop. We initially thought that would never be enough time, remembering how much conversation people required around the tension pairs–for example, the very first iteration of the Jisc digital leadership course, we spent an entire day going over the theoretical models of digital identity that informed the mapping practices.  What we found with the triangle exercise was that people immediately got stuck into the mapping. There were very few questions about what people “should” be doing, but there was discussion about where what they did “fit” among the categories of Creation, Consumption, and Conversation (and some cases where people said their practice did not “fit” the instrument and so they drew around and outside of the triangle).  By the end not only had we gotten everyone to represent their digital practices, but we had also had time to discuss how people felt about those practices, and start to think about what if anything they might want to do differently.

So then we did the Digital Practice Triangle exercise again, next at UCISA in the Spring of 2018, and then at an internal OU event in the Fall, later that year.

It was the OU event that provided Jo Parker with the framework she’d been looking for in her own digital capabilities work.  We knew that Jo had been using it, but didn’t have the details until recently, when she shared with us the following:

“I have been using it [the Triangle] extensively in digital capabilities (DiSC) face to face workshops with our Als (associate lecturers), as part of our annual staff development programme 2018-19. Hour long sessions run at various locations up and down the country; participants are self-selecting, signing up for what interests them from a range of topics and I reckon we will have seen about 200 people in 10 locations by the end of July … There’s likely to be an online equivalent session at some point as well.”

Jo told us she’s used the Digital Practice Triangle in outside events (such as a keynote address at Cambridge Libraries) as well as internal ones, with a range of participants including academic staff, support staff, and students.  She went on (to our great delight) to say:

“It’s been an absolute lifesaver to me in terms of the digital capability work because it’s an easy way of starting potentially difficult conversations: it means I can talk to people who are wary of what the university is trying ‘to do to them’ as result of our experiences over the last couple of years. “

And then, in April 2019, and the reason we’re writing this blogpost now as opposed to any other particular time, the DigPins folks (particular shout-out to Autumm Caines and Sundi Richard) offered the Triangle as an option for digital practice mapping, and Sarah Lohnes Watulak took them up on it, and wrote this.  We particularly value her feeling that “I think that the triangle map could be a useful conversation starter for connecting actions and tools to beliefs and values and how those are taken up in digital social identity enactment.”  This was our intention. We are so pleased that came through.

In the course of witnessing people using the Digital Practice Triangle “in the wild” and our own uses of it in workshop settings, we are continuing to think about what constructive sort of “Now What” activities can follow on from visualizing digital practices.  We have written in the past about the Digital Perceptions tool, and have proposed that people use it as a way to reflect on their practices in a trusted network, and a context of care.  

“Who are the people who are already in your network, how can you open a door to the people you want to hear from about your practice, what it means, what it means to you, what it means to them.  How do we create the moments of reflection that come from a place of care, rather than from an abstracted notion of visibility and importance? How can we create places of reflection that feel like home?”

We hope to continue to develop this work further, and of course would also  love to hear if you choose to use any of these instruments in your own work.  Please let us know.

Lawrie also made this video of the history-to-date and rationale for the Digital Practice Triangle–enjoy!