Technology for education: A new group

I offer this as one response to my previous post. Much more needs to be done to ‘reverse imagineer’ EdTech, but this will be my practical focus for the foreseeable future and the nexus of where theory is put into practice, where pedagogy meets technología: “The processes and practices of doing things, understanding things and developing knowledge”? (Selwyn 2011, p7)

A new group

In January, I wrote about how I had written a paper for the university about the role of technology in the context of Student as Producer. The paper included a recommendation that a new team be convened to “further the research, development and support of technology” at the university. January feels like a long time ago now, and I wanted to write about what’s been happening since then, because it’s all good :-)

Following my presentation of the original paper to the Teaching and Learning Committee, I was asked to provide more detail on what the proposed team would do and a justification for the budget I had outlined. Both papers were written on behalf of and with the co-operation of, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, the University Librarian, the Prof. of Education, the Head of ICT and the Vice President of Academic Affairs in the Student Union. The second paper went back to the T&L Committee and, following their approval, then went to the university’s Executive Board in early April.

I began the paper by outlining what the team is for:

The team will consolidate and extend the existing collaborative work taking place between Centre for Educational Research and Development, The Library and ICT Services1 and invite staff and students from across the university to join the team. The team will offer incentives to staff and students who wish to contribute to the rapid innovation of appropriate technology for education at the university, through work-experience, research bursaries and internal and external applications for funding. Through our experience of the Fund for Educational Development (FED) and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Scheme (UROS) funds, we know this is an effective method of engaging staff and students in research and development. A core principle of the team will be that students and staff have much to learn from each other and that students as producers can be agents of change in the use of technology for education.

I then went on to argue:

The Student as Producer project is anticipated to take between 3-5 years to fully embed across the university. During this time, significant changes will occur in the technologies we use. In just the last five years, we have seen the rise of web applications such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0 in general. Aside from such applications, networked infrastructure has developed considerably, with access to broadband now widespread and the use of smart phones and netbooks rapidly increasing. For a student at the University of Lincoln in 2011, high-speed networks are now ubiquitous across the city campuses and such networks themselves are now the ‘learning landscape’, in which the university is but one part.

There is a strong argument for shifting away from the idea of ‘educational technology’ to address technology straight on, recognising that any technology can support and enhance the research, teaching and learning process, and that the use of these technologies increasingly lies outside the institution’s control. We would argue that it is not the university’s role to compete with or determine the use of any technology but rather support access to technology in the broadest terms. This can be achieved through incremental improvements to infrastructure (e.g. network capacity and ease of use), supporting staff and students (e.g. training, workshops, courses) and personalising and integrating the services we do provide so that staff and students have a useful and enjoyable experience of technology at the university and understand how it fits within their wider networks. In particular, we should consider whether Blackboard can be better enhanced through mobile applications and the integration of other popular services such as Facebook. It is a key technology for the support of teaching and learning and if extended through the work of the proposed team, could be a platform for innovation. All of this work should be informed by a broad understanding of the social roles of technology and the objective of producing critical, digitally literate staff and students.

I presented a list of risks that I thought would present themselves if we didn’t take this approach:

  1. Poor co-ordination: Poorly co-ordinated investment in technology to support strategic objectives, resulting in competing interests in limited resources.
  2. Disjuncture: Growing disjuncture between student expectations and institutional provision of technology and support.
  3. Inertia: No locus for technological experimentation and innovation.
  4. Unattractive to potential post-graduates and staff: Technological provision compares poorly to other institutions, putting off new staff and post-graduates.
  5. Loss of income stream: Under-investment in ‘seeding’ projects that may attract external income.
  6. Business As Usual: During a period of significant change in Higher Education, our progressive T&L Strategy is hindered by poorly co-ordinated technological development.
  7. Student as Consumer: Technology remains something ‘provided’ by the university, rather than produced and informed by its staff and students.

Finally, I provided more detail about the costs. After taking into account existing budgets available to us and anticipated external research income, the total I asked for was £22K/yr to pay for an additional 12-month Intern position and a contribution to the staff and student bursaries we want to make available.  This was approved.

I was pleased with the outcome as it means that our current work is being recognised as well as the strategic direction we wish to go in. In terms of resourcing, we will have at least one more full-time (Intern) post and hold a £20K annual budget which will be used to provide grants and bursaries to staff and students, pay for hardware and software as needed and pay for participants to go to conferences to discuss their work and learn from the EdTech community at large. This doesn’t include any external income that we hope to generate. The nature of our applications for research grants is unlikely to change other than we hope to have more capacity in the future including both students and academic staff as active contributors to the development, implementation and support of technology for education at the university.

Team? Group? Network? Place?

The core members of the group (i.e. CERD/ICT/Library) met for an afternoon last week to discuss the roadmap for getting everything in place for the new academic year. We began by discussing the remit of the group (as detailed in the two committee papers), which is principally to serve the objectives of Student as Producer, the de facto teaching and learning strategy of the university. We spent a while discussing the nature of the group; that is, whether it was a team, a network, a group or even a place. In the first committee paper I wrote, I described it as “a flexible, cross-departmental team of staff and student peers”, but have since come to refer to it as a ‘group’, as ‘team’ does not reflect the nature of how we intend to work, nor the relationships we hope to build among participants, nor is a ‘team’ inclusive enough. I’d like to think that we’ll develop a network of interested staff and students and even attract interest and collaboration from outside the university, but I think it’s too early to call what we’re doing a network, although we are networked and working on the Net.  We’ve given ourselves a couple of weeks to come up with name but whatever we call it, we agreed that in principle we’d govern the group by consensus among us. Ideally, though not always in practice, the Net can help us create flatter structures of governance, so we’ll try to shape the way we work around this ideal.  My role will be to co-ordinate the work of the group by consensus.

UPDATE: We decided upon LNCD as the name for our group. It’s a recursive acronym: LNCD’s Not a Central Development group.

All participants will be encouraged to write about their work in the context of Student as Producer, building on the progressive pedagogical framework that is being implemented at the university, theorising their work critically and reflexively. We’ll support this approach, too, building a reading list for people wanting to think critically about EdTech and an occasional seminar series where we’ll discuss our ideas critically, reflexively and collegially.

Road map and tools

We will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. Over the summer, we’ve got a timetable of work that we plan to do to ensure we’ve got a clearly defined identity and the tools in place to support the nature of our work. By the end of September, we’ll have a website that offers clear information on what we do, what we’re working on, how to get involved and the ways we can support staff and students at the university. The site will allow you to review all aspects of our projects as well as propose new projects which can be voted up and down according to staff and students’ priority. There will be an application form for you to apply for funding from us and a number of ways for you discuss your ideas on and offline. We’ll be continuing our current provision of staff training, but will be looking to re-develop the sessions into short courses that are useful to both staff and students. The 2009 Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report recommended that

The time would seem to be right seriously and systematically to begin the process of renegotiating the relationship between tutor and student to bring about a situation where each recognises and values the other’s expertise and capability and works together to capitalise on it. This implies drawing students into the development of approaches to teaching and learning. [Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, p.9]

This is very much what Student as Producer is aiming to do through embedding research-engaged teaching and learning across the curricula and the approach we plan to take around support and training for the use of technology in teaching and learning. We’ll be working with the Student Union and the Principle Teacher Fellows across the university to identify ways that students and their tutors can be encouraged to support each other and we welcome the input and collaboration of anyone who wishes to adopt and advocate this approach. We’ll be designing some posters, flyers and business cards over the summer so that people around the university know who we are and how to get in touch in time for Fresher’s Week.

For the Geeks, you might be interested to know that we’ve decided upon a set of tools for managing our work online in a distributed environment where most of us work in different parts of the university campuses. We’ll have a dedicated virtual Linux box (as well as our usual development servers) and the main website will be run on WordPress using our own custom CWD theme. We’ll be migrating all of our code to Git Hub very soon and we’ll be using Pivotal Tracker to manage our development tasks in an agile and open way. We’ll be using our existing combination of Get Satisfaction and Zen Desk to manage peer-to-peer user support and bug reports and we’ll also be looking at alternatives such as User Voice and the Open Source Q&A tool to provide a way for you to suggest and vote for project ideas. Notably, through the use of their APIs, most of these tools integrate well, so that we can create tasks in Pivotal Tracker from bug reports made with Zen Desk and associate those tasks with commits on Git Hub. We’ll be using Twitter just as we always do, and we’ll be using Google Groups for longer discussions around each project (as well as regularly meeting face-to-face, of course). For projects that don’t involve writing code (which we certainly welcome), we’ll be looking at tools that assist with resource development and document control, such as digress.it, MediaWiki, Git Hub, Google Docs, EPrints and Jorum, depending on the nature of the project. We won’t be prescriptive with the tools we adopt, using whatever is appropriate, but with an emphasis on those that offer decent APIs, data portability and good usability. Proprietary software lacking APIs and with poor usability (we can all think of a few) won’t get much of a look in. Finally, through RSS and widgets, we’ll be presenting a coherent picture of each project on the main website.

There’s quite a bit to do but we know how to do it.  If you’ve got any suggestions (a name would be useful!), ideas or even want to join us, for the time-being, leave a comment here and we’ll get back to you. Thanks.

  1. Since writing this, I’ve listed examples of our existing work in a recent blog post. You can add JISCPress and ChemistryFM, this WordPress platform and our e-portfolio system to that list, too. []

Pedagogy, Technology and Student as Producer

I was recently asked to present a paper to the university’s Teaching and Learning Committee about the role of technology in the context of Student as Producer. The paper was well received by the committee and I have been asked to draw up a Business Case  which will be presented to the Academic Board and then, hopefully, for final approval by the Executive Board. Unlike this paper, which is pretty high level, the Business Case will go into more detail about what we actually propose to do and how. Comments very welcome. Thanks to my colleague, Sue Watling, for  help with the section on ‘digital inclusion’.

Pedagogy, Technology and Student as Producer

Summary

Student as Producer will have a significant impact on the work of both students and staff at the university and this paper briefly addresses the strategic role of technology and teaching and learning within the context of Student as Producer. In summary, we argue that the university can lead the sector in re-engineering knowledge creation and sharing through the open development of edgeless social learning networks, based on a methodology of peer-to-peer innovation and a commitment to digital inclusion and critical, digital literacy.

Student as Producer

Student as Producer is underpinned by progressive pedagogical theory which asserts that students can and should be producers of their social world by genuinely collaborating in the processes of research, teaching and learning. Student as Producer has a radically democratic agenda, valuing critique, speculative thinking, openness and a form of social learning that aims to transform the social context so that students become the subjects rather than objects of history – individuals who make history and personify knowledge. Student as Producer is not simply a project to transform and improve the ‘student experience’ but aspires to a paradigm shift in how knowledge is produced, where the traditional student and teacher roles are ‘interrupted’ through close collaboration and a recognition that both teachers and students have much to learn from each other. Student as Producer is not dependent on technology but rather on the quality of the relationship between teacher and student. The extent to which technology can support, advance and even progressively disrupt this relationship is therefore key.

Critical, digital literacy

Increasingly, the language of digital networks is that of ‘users’ who produce and consume ‘content’. With the availability of ‘free’ Web 2.0 tools, we are told that anyone on the web is a potential publisher of content for someone else to consume. The message from The Edgeless University (2009) is increasingly typical: In the world of Web 2.0, universities are being positioned as distinctive “resource providers” i.e. research outputs, lectures and podcasts on iTunesU, Open Access institutional repositories and and Open Educational Resources, with the expertise to “validate learning”. Student as Producer both challenges and leverages this ‘abundance’ of open resources by articulating a “pedagogy of excess”, whereby the student is encouraged and supported in being not just a student-consumer but rather a productive, critical, digitally literate social individual. In this view, technology is inclusive and understated, advocated by the institution primarily to develop the individual’s critical, social understanding and abilities which they apply to their learning and in this way technology does not become an end in itself.

Digital inclusion

Digital divides, both within higher education and beyond our institutions, derive from the social shaping of technology where technical design and implementation is influenced by organisational, political, economic and cultural factors (Bjiker and Pinch 1984, Williams and Edge 1994). Technological ‘innovation’ is often the subsequent means whereby wider social inequalities are reproduced and reinforced. For example, operating effectively within a Web 2.0 environment privileges a narrow range of access criteria and assumes pre-requisite levels of digital confidence and competence. Those who fall outside of these parameters are digitally excluded and disempowered. In the development of critical, digital literacy, Student as Producer can raise awareness of the nature and effects of inequitable digital practices and in doing so, encourage socially responsible individuals who are then able to challenge exclusive practices and ensure inclusive ways of living in society.

Learning landscapes

In itself, technology arguably has no direct bearing on educational outcome. It is the extent to which technology is understood, developed and employed within the overall social and political environment that it contributes to the social wealth, education and overall well-being of society (Downes, 2010). The typical use of technology in higher education ranges from the mundane to the instrumental to the experimental, enabling, for example, the management of courses and assessment through the Learning Management Systems (LMS), the increasingly collaborative cross-institutional nature of research through discipline-specific Virtual Research Environments (VRE) and the creation of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) where teachers and students choose technologies appropriate to their own needs and capacities. Similarly, technologies such as Blackboard, are thoroughly embedded in critical institutional functions penetrating deep into the overall ‘learning landscape’ of the university. Networked technology is now ingrained in the very ‘idea of the university’ and the social production of knowledge. It is used to both intentionally effect change (i.e. innovate) in higher education and respond to change taking place in society (i.e. facilitate). Arguably, it is not a matter of asking “what is the role of technology in higher education?”, but rather “what is the role of the university in a networked world?” (Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, 2009)

A pedagogy of excess

Student as Producer is perfectly timed to engage with what The Edgeless University states as a “time of maximum uncertainty and time for creative possibility between the ending of the way things have been and the beginning of the way they will be.” At a time when the higher education sector is being privatised and students are expected to assume the role of consumer, Student as Producer aims to provide the student with a more critical, more historically and socially informed experience of university life, which extends beyond their formal studies to engage with the role of the university and their own role in society. Pedagogically, this is through the idea of ‘excess’ where students, undertaking a critical evaluation of their subject and of their role in society, are anticipated to become more than just student-consumers during their course of research and study (Neary and Hagyard, 2010). In practice, a pedagogy of excess re-orientates the roles of staff and students to become producers of an edgeless university and creators of social wealth.

Student as Producer responds to calls for ‘edgelessness’ by asserting a radical agenda for the development and support of technology, extending the networks and spaces that we maintain to become social learning networks or, in Vygotsky’s term, ‘Zones of Proximal Development’ (ZPD), in which social learning has the potential to change the individual and their social context (Neary, 2010). We recognise the centrality of staff and students in “driving further innovation without losing the strengths of the traditional academic environment” (Learning Landscapes, 2009) and this should be coupled with the benefits that networked technology brings to the learning landscape, not only in advancing ubiquitous access to information but also the potential for challenging and re-engineering the relationships between teacher and student engaged in collaborative research.

Peer-to-peer production

To undertake this, we recommend that a flexible, cross-departmental team of staff and student peers are convened to further the research, development and support of technology for research, teaching and learning at the University of Lincoln. The team’s primary remit will be to support the objectives of Student as Producer through technology. To achieve this, it is proposed that the team has an acknowledged research and development role, and that the work of the team is theoretically informed by the progressive pedagogy of Student as Producer so as to engender critical, digitally literate staff and students. To this effect, the team will consolidate and extend the existing collaborative work taking place between CERD, The Library and ICT Services by inviting staff and students from across the university to openly contribute. The team will offer incentives to staff and students who wish to contribute to the rapid innovation of appropriate technology for education at the university, through work-experience, research bursaries and internal and external applications for funding. A core principle of the team will be that students and staff have much to learn from each other and that students as producers can be agents of change in the use of technology in education.

Conclusion

This proposal is supported by recent NUS data, which highlights the need for greater choice in how students learn, concerns around staff ICT competency, and the appropriateness of technology used across courses. (HEFCE/NUS, 2010). Overall, recent reports support the creation of a learning landscape where the distinction between teacher and student is increasingly fluid, emphasising the role of technology to enable collaboration and the co-production of knowledge. The multi-faceted nature of the institution remains highly valued, as does the multifarious role of the teacher. However, due to changes in the production and consumption of information in society, the student’s role is being reasserted in a new form of peer collaboration; one which we might call the ‘student as producer’.

Annual Budget Required

Digital Development Co-ordinator (Grade 8 )

Student/graduate developers (Grade 4/5) x 4

Student bursaries £4000

Staff research grants: £7000

Hardware/Software: £10,000

Conferences: £4000

References

Bradwell, P. (2009) The Edgeless University, DEMOS. http://lncn.eu/dpq

Downes, S. (2011) Better Education Through Technology. http://lncn.eu/c57

JISC (2009) Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World. http://lncn.eu/kp7

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Continuum, London. http://lncn.eu/xz2

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde. Learning Exchange,Vol 1, No 1. http://lncn.eu/aq2

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge. http://lncn.eu/e23

NUS/HEFCE (2010) Student Perspectives on Technology. http://lncn.eu/uvw

Pinch, T. J. and Bijker W. E. (1984) The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science 14, 399-441. http://lncn.eu/cwz

University of Lincoln (2010) Learning Landscapes in Higher Education Final Report. http://lncn.eu/buy

Williams, R. and Edge, D. (1996) The Social Shaping of Technology, Research Policy Vol. 25, 856-899. http://lncn.eu/e49