Blurring the Boundaries 

In my previous blog post I talked about the keynote I delivered last week, where I suggested that high-level digital literacy skills can be honed when we mix things up and let our online identities bleed across different social media sites.

This may sound preposterous, but bear with me. Much has been said about the identities we should portray when using different social media sites for different purposes. It’s generally accepted that we upload photos of our children and share YouTube clips of rollerblading kittens on Facebook. We share artistically filtered photos of beautiful landscapes and hazelnut lattes to Instagram, and post our CVs while endorsing like-minded professionals for their business skills on LinkedIn. It makes it easier to underpin digital literacy skills if we keep these sites walled-in and separated. And it makes it easier to then tell our students that the content we share and the language we use has to be equally walled-in and distinctly different in order to not to ruin our reputation or cause offence.

I didn’t find my current job in the TES or my University’s website. I found out about it through a learning technologist who posted the advertisement on Facebook. This is the same site I use to share the reviews I write for Mass Movement magazine, curate and share information through my TEL-related page, have the occasional political rant, comment on the Addicted to Neighbours group and, on occasion, dare to share YouTube clips of rollerblading kittens. Meanwhile, on Pinterest I have boards that, thematically, differ wildly. There’s a board where I pin information relating to my role, two boards based on colours and another that is purely about superheroes. When introduce lecturers to the site as a possible tool for content curation, I show them all of these boards, and that’s because I see Pinterest as one of many social media sites that span all recognised online identities.
Wherever I am, and when posting anything, I ask myself who my audience are. While I may feel free to post just about anything on Facebook or Instagram, I also need to be aware that I am friends with my mum, so don’t want to offend her by using the ‘f’-word. Meanwhile, though I won’t swear on LinkedIn, I am happy to share a relevant newspaper article to my contacts with a disclaimer that it may contain swearing. I share my Mass Movement reviews on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. And talking of Twitter, I tweet and retweet about TEL, my love of pizza, Jeremy Corbyn, and arty tattoos. I still haven’t found out what Google+ is for.

I would suggest that this links to Dave White’s typology of Visitors and Residents; a theory that has helped in the killing of off Prensky’s rather binary theory of the digital native and immigrant. You can read Dave White’s paper here, but to my understanding, he posits that when we use sites regularly and ubiquitously we are residents. This residency comes about when we spend long periods of time interacting with specific sites. This prolonged exposure gives us an innate understanding of the sites’ purpose and user-base. In visitor mode we use certain sites infrequently, learning as we go, through trial, error and experimentation. We may return, but never stay long enough to become resident.

My suggestion is this: let’s stop using black and white rules for different sites and instead teach our students higher level, more nuanced digital literacy skills. That way, we can all be better residents online. 

EDULEARN16 and Jisc Connect Wales

This week I was fortunate enough to have been asked to present at two conferences: EDULEARN16 in Barcelona and Jisc’s Connect Wales.

In Barcelona I talked about the informal learning and teaching models that I had observed as a MOOC student almost two years ago. My presentation was called ‘From Tiny corns Large Oaks Grow’ and compared the brief multimedia nuggets of information introduced at the start of each week’s lesson to acorns dropped by course tutors and then watered by MOOC participants by way of collaboration, discussion and signposting by peers. If 10% of my learning came by way of each ‘acorn’, then the remaining 90% came from peers. This then, was a clear example of how an informal learning network can use paragogy and heutagogy to enhance learning.

My final message was to suggest that we stop saying the MOOC model isn’t working purely because we’re looking at high rates of attrition. Let’s look instead at the models and frameworks of teaching and learning that are developing (perhaps by chance) and see how they can be applied to formal learning as well.

Here’s my presentation:

My Jisc presentation was also my first invitation to deliver a keynote plenary, and I was asked to deliver a presentation that looked at social media in education. My presentation looked at how students’ digital literacy skills can be honed through use of social media sites. Dangerous territory perhaps, as there is still a ‘NO FACEBOOK AND PUT YOUR PHONES IN YOUR BAGS’ mentality in a lot of institutions. My argument was that by using social media sites appropriately, course-based learning can be enhanced while digital literacy skills are honed. I’m not suggesting that we turn Facebook into a VLE, but certain sites can prove useful for collaboration and content curation.

Again, here’s my presentation:

I’ll be writing a second post (because my blog posts are like buses) looking at something that I talked about at the Jisc event: that instead of using one site specifically for (say) sharing photos of kittens and another to share our CV, we use them all for elements of all, but know who our potential audience is and understand that there are limits and boundaries to what we post as a result.

So this has been a busy, tiring but brilliant week. I do enjoy conference season!



Middle Aged = Digital Native?

subnetworks-space-invadersIt’s been a busy few months with a pretty full social calendar, a dissertation to finish before the end of September, and a landslide of work-based projects, all of which have conspired against me to stop my blogging.

And, to be brutally honest, despite the aforementioned social life outside of work, I’ve been feeling listless, unenthusiastic and devoid of mojo for a couple of months.  And, it goes without saying that when you feel as if all the pleasure you once had for all things learning technology-esque have buggered off, it’s pretty much impossible to think of anything to blog about.

However, an office move, a couple of work-based quick wins, an invitation to sit on the advisory board for an international conference and a couple of speaking engagements have all pulled me out of my temporary rut.  The icing on my ‘happy cake’ was provided at a Jisc event yesterday when a delegate approached me to say how much they enjoyed reading my blog nposts. Well, clearly, I have a public to entertain!  Which is why I was rather pleased when, whilst floundering in the bath last night I had an idea for a post that captured my interest.  So here it is.

At yesterday’s event, one or two common themes cropped up across the day.  One of these was the notion that the digital native did not exist.  As some of you may know, I hate pigeon-holing, and am frustrated at the notion that ‘anyone under 25 is a digital wizard, and anyone over 30 is a digital dinosaur.’  You may as well say that anyone with a shoe size larger than 8 will only eat pepperoni pizza while those with smaller feet will always stick to spaghetti. Nonsense.

Yet it appears that putting every aspect of one’s behaviour, personality, abilities and preferences into clearly labelled boxes is here to stay, so I’ll add my two penneth and posit that people of my age (I’m 45) are probably at the BEST age to understand technology and to ‘get’ the concept of digital literacy. And that’s because we know when to use if to enhance what we are doing  and when to stick to ‘old school’, non-techy methods. And that’s p[robably got something to do with the fact that we were there at the start.

When I was 7 I played my first ever video game.  It was 1977, it was Space Invaders, and yes, I was very lucky because my parents were publicans who were fortunate enough to have one of the very first arcade gaming machines in the country in their pub. I remember being fascinated and terrified in equal parts – after opening the doors of the pub for the evening I was happy to watch my dad zapping that curtain of crab-like, pixelated blobs moving down the screen, terrified that a customer might come in before he lost his three lives and the joystick would be passed over to me to finish his turn.  (Before being sent upstairs – not  good for business to have a 7 year old running around the public bar demanding ‘gimm and tommics’ at 6.00 in the evening).

Soon it was the 1980s and the first rudimentary home computers were making their mark. I remember getting a scorchingly average grade in my CSE Computer Studies exam in 1986. Thing is, as much as I liked trying to programme in BASIC, I was entranced more with the Commodore 16 my parents had bought my brother and I for Christmas in 1986 and had become obsessed with playing Mercenary and those text-based ‘choose your own adventure stories’, so had never really practiced coding.  But with a Commodore at home and a suite of BBC B models at school, I can say that I was there, right at the start of the digital revolution.  We had a top loading video recorder at home too.  And a microwave. Ha!  Who are the digital natives NOW then?

Thing is, because I was there when technology started to become mainstream but before it became an established part of daily life, I still have a heap of non-digital skills that I use regularly.  Note taking, when done with a pen and paper, is much more meaningful than simply taking a photo of notes on a whiteboard, or recording a lecture to listen to or watch again later.  That act of putting pen to paper – of having to think about forming the correct shapes in the correct order – commits the word to your brain in a way typing never will.

And books!  Yes, those proper, smelly books, with their cracked and bent spines standing proudly on shelves – nothing can beat that (other than wandering into Waterstones and browsing for an hour). And yet it feels incredibly liberating to go on holiday armed with 16 books on a Kindle that weighs less than a bag of ‘Monster Munch’.

I was there when the Internet started to become popular, so was able to navigate it while it was still constructed of 16 pages. On the way, I learned about how I projected myself online, and how best to manage my growing digital identities (professional / social).  I did this just in time for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to start making their mark.

I know instinctively when technology will make a difference and, vitally, where it doesn’t. I have learned as the Internet has grown how to be secure. My parents did not post photos of my achievements all over Facebook, so my childhood was very secure and totally private. I played outside, developed social skills by talking to my friends and see the value of disconnecting and living as I did pre 1995, with no telephone, and no tethering to the digital. Indeed, once a year I purposely stick all my gadgets in a cupboard and take a tent to the middle of nowhere so that I can have one of those ‘digital detoxes’ that seem to be trendy amongst Guardian readers.

I had a Walkman when I was a teenager and a Discman in my 20s so getting an iPod in my 30s felt like normal progression rather than something new. Developments in technology don’t scare or overwhelm me, but neither am I on the eternal hunt for an upgrade to my smartphone or 1,000 more Facebook friends.

So today I will copy and paste this document from my OneDrive to my blog site,  I will have a quick blast on Witcher III on my PS4 when I get home, check Facebook on my iPad after dinner and go to bed with a cup of tea and a book. Made of paper. With smells.

How do you make a Horse Drink?

As a part of my new managerial role I will be collaborating with the School’s Digital Literacy Managers to plan, develop and deliver 2 new staff development curricula.  One of these will be for admin staff, and will concentrate on improving their Office skills.  The other is for academic staff, so will look at boosting their general digital literacy skills with a view to making them more technologically savvy.

There is no doubt that these programmes need to be developed as soon as possible.  There is though the eternal problem of how to get this target audience engaged.  Once again, staff are being asked to squeeze something else into their already painfully packed schedules.  And let’s be honest here: learning how to use technology isn’t the top of everyone’s must do list.  Usually, it ranks in popularity about as much as cleaning a septic tank

So on Wednesday, when I went to a Digital Practices Speed Networking / Knowledge Cafe session, I grabbed the ubiquitous piece of flip chart paper* that had been put on my table and, with the help of 2 other technical-minded attendees, we looked at how we could build curricula that would be attractive to staff at a variety of levels.  Importantly we discussed at length the knotty problem of getting staff to engage with this.  This is what we came up with:


  • Give staff dedicated time to work through and complete their training. If the courses are merely something you’re supposed to work through in your own time,it runs the risk of being seen as being ‘just another thing I have to do’, with no real value.  If time is set aside in which to complete it, then from a psychological viewpoint if nothing else, it appears to be important.
  • Linked to this, make them aware that by investing time in training now, they will save countless hours in the future.  Going back to the admin staff again (because there are some good black and white examples of what they can and can’t do and what would help them), it will be a lot easier to keep placement records in one database than 35 separate spreadsheets!
  • Allow staff to ‘jump on and jump off’ at points that suit their needs and levels.  One size does not fit all, and forcing all admin staff to learn how to set up a simple SUM function in a spreadsheet (for example) when many of them are already at a level above this is unhelpful and reeks of sloppy and apathetic planning.

It’s a start, and though it doesn’t even begin to look at the content of both curricula (that’s for another meeting with the Digital Literacy Managers and a whole pad of flip chart paper) it does start to look at an issue that is often ignored or awkwardly pushed to one side, and one of my favourite hoary old sayings: build it and they will NOT come. Carrots and sticks are fine.  Telling staff that ‘they have to do this course’ is fine.  But that isn’t going to win anyone over.  Make staff feel nurtured – and get hem to realise that this is something that will actually properly benefit them.  Maybe do sessions before work with free breakfast.  Stuff like that…

* There is a small piece of me that finds that giving a group of people who work in digital practice / technology enhanced learning sheets of flip chart paper on which to record their thoughts is a bit…well..ironic?