I should point out that I’m doing these in the order that they’re in the Jisc NUS Digital Experience Benchmarking tool, as that would be more helpful to anyone looking at that for more detail. You’ll notice I’ve split these posts into fives, and there are twelve principles in that tool, which means there are three extra in these posts. All will be revealed in the next post.
6. Access and inclusion
In this category I mean access in the sense of enabling equity for people with disabilities, access in the sense of people being able to log on comes later. This one is a no-brainer though, and shouldn’t really need any clarification. One thing though, if you think assistive technologies are just for people with disabilities, you probably ought to take a look at the work of TechDis, or EA Draffan. Technologies that I first encountered through working with students with disabilities, actually make life more useful for everyone, or at least offer people more choice and flexibility. For example, podcasts – really picked up first by dyslexic students, and those with visual impairment, but a great source of learning. Listening to audio books on your walkman was pretty much the first instance of mobile learning. Having everything readable by screen readers for example, and making presentations available in advance, doesn’t just help the students who need it read on their devices, it helps everyone.
7. Augmenting the physical environment with technology including BYOD
As I said in the last post, some elearning strategies I’ve seen have equated “technology” with “VLE”. I think we’re getting away from that and the idea of using technology in the classroom, for people to interact with each other in different ways, and with online content is making more of an impact due to devices like the smartphone and tablet. Of course an immediate reaction to these sort of proposals is “but they don’t all have them”. I’m not sure what is the most appropriate ethical response here – do you impair all students’ learning because you can’t provide the same experience for everyone – is that better or worse than introducing a disadvantage? Although of course there’s always disadvantages between students. Not all will have the text book. Some will have a disability. Some will have a better social life so be there with a hangover. We’re just introducing one additional inequity to the prevailing mix of scores of inequities, but it gets noticed because it’s new and shiny.
8. Providing an appropriate infrastructure
Technically, maybe, not TEL, references to this aren’t in the Brookes TEL strategy for example. Providing an IT infrastructure is the role of the IT department, not the pedagogues, but the reality is that if you divorce one from the other, things aren’t going to work so well. Ideally, decisions about what to support are made for pedagogical reasons, so the supported technologies are those that lecturers need, not what the IT department think are appropriate. This isn’t necessarily the way things work out though. Being able to just rely on WiFi and the VLE being up, and having a power socket within reach when you sit down don’t just happen, but people expect them to. The problem with IT infrastructure is that when it works you don’t notice it, when it doesn’t it does. But then, that’s fair enough really. It’s the same with oxygen. The Brookes IT strategy has a great line – “Systems that just work”.
The Jisc NUS tool calls this principle “Providing a robust, flexible digital infrastructure”. I’m not sure that’s the goal really. One of the important things to do as a teacher is to innovate, and that means adopting new technologies, and often when we do so, we don’t get the support we need from the IT department, because they’re focusing on keeping the basics running. Robust and flexible are, (with limited resources) mutually exclusive. I’d like yes, most of the effort in making the basics robust, but with a bit spare for looking at the flaky flexible stuff that maybe doesn’t always work.
9. Understanding digital citizenship/rights/responsibilities
This is a bit trickier a principle to really pin down than the last one. The Jisc NUS tool labels this as “Communicate with students about their digital experience”, Brookes expresses the goal that “Students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to engage actively with feedback and assessment, and to develop their own justifiable ways of thinking about and constructing their view of the world.” When you unpack these, there’s stuff around understanding plagiarism, intellectual property and netiquette, but also where to go to for support and including digital issues in the curriculum. This also includes students engaging with their own digital support, so being polled about how effective the other 14 principles are being conducted. For Brookes I added a line to the DC matrix that “Students develop their view of the world through global digital citizenship.”. This probably needs summing up better than I’ve done here, but strategies need something in this field, understanding what it means to be a participative responsible student (initially) when online, but ultimately a citizen. This links also with the idea of digital wellbeing (number 12) and segues nicely into …
10. Creating and supporting digital communities
If 9 is a theme on supporting students’ understanding of what their role is as netizens (perhaps abstaining from painful portmanteau neologisms could be one attribute we should instil in our graduates), 10 is about enabling them to participate fully in online communities. Both the Jisc NUS tool, and the Brookes TEL Framework have this as their tenth principle, and the wording is very similar. One summarises this as “Using digital systems to build a sense of belonging”, the other says that “We will provide the digital environments and technologies that enable students easily to create and support their own groups and networks comprising Brookes students and staff and relevant groups and individuals.” Retention of students is highly dependent on the students’ feeling of inclusion, and providing the right platforms for them to communicate with each other, and with the institution, can increase this. Communities extend outside of the institution too, and creating effective links through these can enable transition to the students’ lives after graduation.