Grant (2014) asks in the title to her book about digital badges, “What Counts as Learning?” This succinctly expresses the question of higher education and explains the continuing interest in badges, and in learning technologies in general. The fact this is less explored, gives me an opportunity to explore both learning technology and epistemology.
I have developed a new MA Education course module, “Philosophy and policy of higher education”. In this 20 credit level 7 module the question: “What counts as learning?” will be explored. That is the seductive game higher education plays: a chance at determining or being among the determiners of meaning – what counts as learning – for a generation or so. To extend the “play” metaphor to a stage on which higher education acts, higher education as an institution and its practitioners as individuals seek to occupy the limen, the space on the edge between consensual suspension of belief in order to “live the dream”, and the world as it is, explained. More critically for those in the game it poses the question about one’s own underpinnings, one own “will to power”, or academic identity or even life.
Badges are something like brand propositions and to some extent depend on other similar propositions. Like many brand propositions their link to truth is explicitly unattested. The badge can only serve as a conversation starter. Like travel badges on a backpack seen on an overnight Eurail while sleeping in the vestibule: “So when did you go to Sweden?” Most universities have a t-shirt and sports kit with a name and often a crest or logo. Some might serve the question: “Were you at Malmo?” To which an answer might be “No, it is a good hoodie.” But could also be, “Yes, for ice-hockey in 2009.”
Possibly the internet will work like the cold vestibule of a Eurail under an ex army coat, and when we see badges on a site we may start that interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after: life, love, career, changing the world? Or same as it ever was. That conversation about changing the world? Because as it is now, the foundations of meaning sometimes appear both unsound and cruel, not just one or the other.
Plates by condesign (cc0) https://pixabay.com/en/plate-stack-tableware-plate-stack-629970/
Learning technologies and technology enhanced learning are not quite the same thing. The position and semantic force of the words is different. Learning as adjective and learning as noun; technology as nominal object and technology as agent of change: learning enhanced by technology.
There is a greater degree of abstraction in TEL, somewhat more particularity in learning technology, especially when pluralised as learning technologies.
Learning technologies are things: tools, software, applications like Moodle and GradeMark or in older days Authorware.
Week one has flown by like a simile. There are 58 participants on the course of whom 22 are doing the module for academic credit (10 credits, level 7) towards a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE). Sixteen (16) of the assessed participants are from Brookes and six are from other places. So far 20 people have claimed the “Scholar” badge for contributing to the collaborative annotated bibliography. The most distant participant is in Central America, but this year the participants are largely based in the UK.
I am not sure what these numbers tell us. In many ways FSLT is now quite an “ordinary” online course. That doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. It might mean the mooc buzz, such as it was five years ago has vanished into the maw of Coursera and Future Learn. FSLT justifies itself because of the internal members of staff who take it as part of their mandatory PCTHE. We used to run our introductory module twice a year, once in each semester. No we run “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” (P70405) face to face in the first semester and offer people the opportunity of taking 20 credits online in the second semester. Opening the course up to the world for free allows us to widen our audience and expose ourselves to a wider community of teachers in the expanding tertiary education sector. That is, as well as being good for what it teaches, it should be beneficial to our teachers because of the wider community they might meet. And for those from beyond Brookes, we trust it isn’t too bound up with local jargon.
It has been a lot of work this year getting FSLT ready to go. Partly this is because as ever, I start too late. We also pulled the starting date forward from last year by two weeks so not only am I late the course is early. There were several reasons to do this, but mainly we hoped to be able to engage with teachers before (most of) their own teaching started.
But the main reason for the load of work was because the course had become over complicated and a lot of the internal links had broken or degraded. It needed a lot of patching up and this led me to do a root and branch overhaul. We have simplified the assessment scheme, tidied up the activities and are rebuilding the resources. We hope to stay at least a week ahead of the timetable! It is still not perfect, but it is a lot better than it was (in my eyes).
There have been and still are some challenges in getting FSLT16 ready to run. The course has grown in complexity since it was first run in early 2012. I have spent a lot of time trying to recover some of the earlier simplicity. Continue reading →
What is the model and purpose of academic practice development? Producing 21st C Cardiff graduates in your discipline? There are two pillars of Welsh Government policy: Social justice is as important as a buoyant economy. Nationality is an issue. Language is an issue. A concept of privilege pervades the process. Much is made of the Welsh context. A small nation that wants to value the individual in the nation. Eight Universities. Much HE in FE. FEs are praised as cutting edge with DL, online, part-time (note our Simon Llewellyn) came from Colleg Gwent) Is this what makes a Welsh graduate experience distinct from any other?
Participants on Cardiff’s supported individual pathway to professional accreditation with the HEA need to write 600 words under each of the seven areas of activity in the UKPSF, weaving in Core Knowledge and Values. I notice only 3 females in a room of 16. Very different from Brookes. We are advised that it is not anonymous. Something of institutional and individual reputation will stick. As teachers, we are invited to be conscious of our roles. I am reminded of Max Tegmark: Subject (observer), object (observed), context (all the rest) (Tegmark 2015 page). .
The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.
I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?
I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.
TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: for simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant, there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?
Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.
I have been offered and have taken up coaching as a method of professional development. I have had 2 sessions with my coach and am about to have my third. What do I want? Magic. What do I get? Well like magic, you get out what you put in.
I expressed my original aim as “helping me to achieve professorship.” Though “professor” is probably a cover term for “respect”, “satisfaction” and “influence” with minimum compromise to my core beliefs and values. And each of those cover other terms, among which must be professional things like “authority” and other things like “domestic security”: a “living”, a “house-bond”. Big stuff.
So that is the big picture. What are the challenges? Well, the big picture, itself. Focus. Attention, maybe? My challenge is that I see complexity and contradiction in most human things. Sometimes this is a source of conflict: warring beliefs or usurpation of livings. But often complexity is only in nuance.
What is this really about? What do I need to focus on for this session? Professionally it is the Technology Enhanced Learning(TEL) Framework. This is complex. All three terms are contested. “Pencils are technology!” some people shout. Others insist everyone MUST have an iPad. As a “teacher educafor” I had a platform and institutional place and a term with which to work that I understood; “teaching” is something I grasp, I can “profess”. But TEL?
Reviving Tealab: Tealab is explicitly a Teaching Laboratory and discussion “space”. There are a number of excellent initiatives across the university that lap over the territory. When Tealab was set up it was intended to replace the Learning and Teaching Forum (LTF), with a focus on people (possibly “younger” whatever that might mean) interested in new or innovative teaching practices. These practices did not need to make use of learning technologies, but given the zeitgeist and interests of the proponents of Tealab there was a strong learning technology focus.
The institutional learning and teaching focus is currently on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Framework with its participatory underpinning. The aim of the framework is expressed in four domains: Learning, Identity, Community and Place and is intended to enable the creative appropriation of tools, transformative academic practice, inclusive communities and safe spaces for learning.
And second Tealab can serve as a forum for collaborative discussion and development of the aspirations of the TEL framework. With this in mind, I am planning a series of Lunch-time sessions (and I know that time is troublesome so forgive me if these sessions are not accessible for you; we will simulcast and record for later review). I am proposing three this semester:
Monday 19 October 1200-1330 – Participation in learning, aspirations for teaching: introducing the TEL Framework
Monday 09 November 1200-1330 – Creative appropriation and appropriate technology for teaching
Monday 30 November 1200-1330 – Academic Identity today