Archive for June, 2009

Postdigital: Escaping the Kingdom of the New?

Friday, June 19th, 2009

New things are exciting. For example social networking. It’s a whole new way to interact with others, a reason why society is moving online isn’t it? But how to make it useful? What can we do with this new digital tool that goes beyond chit-chat? It should be possible to use facebook and Twitter for something of value for education but which one is better? Which one is more popular? Maybe there is something new just around the corner? …What could we do with Google Wave?…

I admit that I have a habit of thinking in this manner. It’s exhausting and somehow hollow. On a bad day I get a form of techno paranoia which involves creating a profile on any number of new services most of which I never revisit. To be totally honest some of my most successful conference presentations are attended by an audience 50% of whom are driven there out of a mild form of this paranoia. I like ‘new things’ and I enjoy talking about what new developments could mean for education but at times I have been overwhelmed and lost focus.

Digital Danger

 The Dangers of Being Digital

I have been numbed by a tidal wave of the new:

“The speed of the change, however, has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on a the canvas of the digital; that the digital itself is the main driver of change.”

This quote comes from a working document outlining the postdigital. A principle which highlights the dangers of assuming the digital is the sole driver of change and makes the point that the digital as ‘new’ will quickly pass away.

As the ‘Planning for the Postdigital’ document describes all technologies go through a transition whereby they become culturally normalised. For example, the pen and the book have become ‘transparent’ tools, extensions of ourselves to be used appropriately to achieve goals but rarely discussed in of themselves. In the same way email and word processing are well on there way to becoming transparent. We now send a message or write a document. The digital is not discussed. It has ceased to be new.

“Things digital will be accepted alongside our other technologies and the slate swept clear of many of the distracting dualisms (and technological factions) that pervade the educational discourse. The postdigital frees us to think more clearly and precisely about the issues we face, rather than become tied to an obsession with, and the language of, the new.”

Electronic Calculator
An ‘Electronic’ Calculator?

Too much time is spent arguing about the relative merits of digital spaces such as Twitter and facebook. The key term here being ‘relative’. We are pitting digital against digital, new against new, a form of one-upmanship which distracts from the larger picture.

“The transition to a postdigital way of thinking allows for that previously coded as ‘digital’ to be woven into the wider discussion of social dialects that people bring to their acts of collaboration. One of the things we’ve learned from social research is that people tend to go online to find people they know and tend to replicate, at least in part, their social performances online. These performances, the communities that they occur in and the dialects that they represent and produce should be the critical loci for research in the postdigital age, not the technologies themselves.”

During the recent Open Habitat project, activity in a digital space (in this case Second Life) forced us to reflect upon and change our educational approach in day-to-day non-digital spaces. As this mirror effect emerged I became increasingly uncomfortable. We had set ourselves the goal of discovering new ways of teaching with new technologies not re-considering the nature traditional teaching. Worse than that, because Second Life supported a high level of social interaction the skills needed to teach within the digital space had a large overlap with those needed in a physical classroom. “When are you going to tell us something new” was the comment I received halfway through one presentation on the project.

I of course should not have felt uncomfortable but at the time my thinking was locked onto the digital and what it could provide that was new rather than what it brought that was of value. The Open Habitat project discovered approaches that were of relevant both online and offline. I needed to adjust my thinking to accept that this was valid, that it was ok to revisit age-old principles of socialisation and collaboration. The new technology could be a catalyst for this thinking even if it wasn’t the ultimate home for all of the what we had learnt.

The discourse that surrounds elearning (an ‘e’ which is increasingly redundant) is in danger of stagnating. As the digital becomes increasingly transparent we are likely to find ourselves squabbling over ever smaller chunks of newness. We will become like tadpoles in an evaporating pond, fighting for the last of what will inevitably disappear. Maybe it’s time for a metamorphosis in approach, away from the digital, towards the postdigital.

Technology and task

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

After talking to individuals in the department over several months we finally arranged our first wide scale events open to all departmental staff.

To try and move away from suggesting how we thought they might use technology and  to keep the focus on what they would really find useful, we started by asking them to identify challenges around specific tasks and only then moved onto thinking about using technology to support these. These were mapped against a matrix of “things you want to do” versus “things you have to do” and “student’s pastoral/administrative experience” to “students academic experience”.  In a couple of the groups we worked with there was a diagonal sweep (see below)

Technology and Task

with required tasks more on the administrative side and aspirational tasks more academic, as might be expected, but others were far more mixed.  As has been a continuous theme in this project an overwhelming impression was how much we do as a department. More specifically it proved a useful addition to our attempts to rein in the scope of the project from its original, far too broad starting point to the more manageable place that we find ourselves today.

Curriculum design, guidance and Phoebe

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I recently demonstrated Phoebe to the curriculum design and delivery projects for JISC (if you are one of these projects you can access a recording of the talk here – otherwise there is an older video of me demoing it here).  Tim Linsey from Kingston University Blogged this and it is interesting to see that his conclusions about where Phoebe might be most useful very much chimed with our evaluations.

After not having done much with Phoebe for a while,  we are seriously looking at how we can use it in out curriculum delivery project, Cascade.  More specifically we are revisiting ways that we can make the Phoebe guidance more usable,  useful and sustainable, both for ourselves and as something that could be consumed by other tools or projects, especially in the context of the LDSE project, but also more widely.

So if you think you might be interested in this, do let us know. The more information we can gather about how people might want to use and develop this content the more likely we are to take it in directions that suit us all.