When I returned to work the following week after attending this event, the first thing I said to my boss was he’d just spent the best £30 on me this year. It was a day packed full of really useful information, especially for a novice like me. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Wikipedia regular, as in I use it a lot for quick and easy information gathering, but my Wikipedia adventure stopped there, until today.
For a start, I have never thought about how it could be used in education, except for quick reference. until this Summit. I feel like a brand new world has been opened to me, so I am going to try and capture what I have learnt so I can refer back in the future and I hope you might find something interesting from my review of the day.
The day began with an intro + keynote with Ricahrd Nevell from Wikimedia UK giving us a few facts that we might all take for granted including the most important fact of all:
Wikipedia is to be used as a resource not a reference!
I think everyone was secretly nodding their heads when Richard was saying how Wikipedia was a taboo subject for any student back in the days; you just simply wouldn’t dare to mention you have looked up a book or an author or anything from Wikipedia. You simply would not admit it. In recent years, however, it is perfectly acceptable to research using Wikipedia, in fact, it is a very useful resource to sign post you to more in depth research. Who has time to read a whole book only to find out it’s not something you need? Well, Wikipedia can more than help with this. It is also pretty common for tutors to recommend using Wikipedia as a starting point for any kinds of research, I remember when I was doing my MA back in 2013, my tutor told me don’t bother reading a book that she highly recommends, just read what’s been written about it on Wikipedia and go from there. My true reaction at the time was, “Are you for real?”, but it turns out it was some of the best advice I got from doing my MA. Let’s move on and speak no more about my MA, shall we?
So the intro keynote was by Professor Alison Littlejohn from the UCL Knowledge Lab, she has introduced me to a new thing that people do – Editathon. What? What is it that? You edit while you run? In order to cover my ignorance, I took out my phone and quickly looked it up on Wikipedia. Of course I did! Oh right, it is an scheduled event where a bunch of people collectively (online and in person) edit the same topic on Wiki. Now it makes sense, but why do it, you ask? I asked the same question myself.
The answer is simple, to collectively improve each other’s understanding of the same topic and to work collaboratively toward a common goal. Perhaps most importantly, to understand how to work on a Wiki page, which I have learned today, can have many benefits that directly relate to digital learning.
Professor Littlejohn also said that, according to the BBC Blueroom, young people are more used to, more engaged to produce online content than consume. I have never thought about it this way, but looking at my own experience when working with students, a lot of students seem to have a mental block with using a lot of online tools that are branded as ‘educational’. Meanwhile, they have no problem simultaneously updating their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (if they still use it) when chatting with their mates on Snapchat and Whatsapp AND half listening to me trying to show them how to use an online learning tool. Fact!
What does this mean to us? I think it means students have all got very capable skills and some ‘hidden experience’ with improving their digital capability. The challenge here is use something that can engage them and perhaps something that we actually use in the real world.
This brings me to the first presentation of the day from Caroline Ball from University of Derby; Caroline is a Academic Librarian who is also Wikipedia ninja, so she ran a term long module of how to edit a Wiki page, she described this as teaching Digital Capabilities by stealth. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense, in order to know how to edit a Wiki page and have your writing published online, you need to know how to conduct your research, how to cite your sources right and how to publish your writing online and how to deal with feedback and criticism.
All in all, you have to be digitally capable to a point.
The more she described about her bespoke Wiki module at Derby, the more I have our very own DCAF repeating in my head, both aim to improve students’ digital capabilities, wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way to marry the two? Right, boss, are you reading this? Can we introduce something like “When DCAF meet Wiki”?
The more I listened to Caroline describing how her students all have their confidence increased, the more I think some Wiki related activities would be very useful to fulfil some of the attributes outlined on the DCAF. For example, all of Caroline’s students have had their confidence increased with dealing with online research, editing their writing to be published online, dealing with feedback from peers reviews such as criticism and possible online trolling. Ain’t these some of the attributes from our very own DCAF? Doesn’t what Caroline does answer the same question I am always asked when trying to promote our DCAF? Which is the DCAF is good at identifying which areas of digital capabilities our students need to work on, but how? Start a Wiki page on their favourite artist ot designer?
Another example is Charles from Sheffield, he is a historian and a senior lecturer. Not once, but twice he made his students research a particular medieval history topic using Wikipedia resources only. The purpose of these exercises were not necessarily about understanding the particular history topic, but instead his students needed to research further on the information they have learnt from the Wiki pages and then write about it, they needed to decide how accurate the info is from the Wiki pages. I think it is a very clear idea that really does kill 2 birds with 1 stone.
There are so many great lightning talks and I have a lot more to say, so I suggest if anyone is interested, get in touch and we can discuss further. I’ll buy coffee if you bring cookies!
In the afternoon, I experienced my first un-conference – What a great thing? It felt like a nice afternoon out with loads of good friends with common interests, but in reality, I have only known them for 5 minutes.
In one of the un-conference sessions, we talked about what digital skills a Wiki editor needs. The answer is more than you think but less than you expect. One would have to be comfortable with using a computer, a mouse and a keyboard, which is something that everyone who attended this summit takes for granted. In my experience, however, our students are not always comfortable with doing some basic tasks on a computer. Again, teaching them how to edit a Wiki page on a topic that can interest them seems a good idea to not only help them increase their online confidence, but also help them feel more comfortable with using a computer – A skill that, rightly or wrongly, is necessary in most if not all workplaces.
In Wales, they have made Wikipedia a part of the curriculum in secondary school and Coventry University is due to start their very own Wikipedia module. There are also other universities in the US that have some forms of Wikipedia modules. Someone even asked if we would one day have a Wikipedia degree, it is certainly something that would interest some people, but perhaps not for everyone. The point here is that it really does seem Wikipedia is a great little something that could tick a lot of the crucial boxes out students need to take if they are to do well in the digital world.
I am certainly going to be asking to be more involved in any Wikipedia projects we might have up our sleeves. I hope one day someone else will be writing about our Wikipedia success story.
If you want to discuss anything Wiki related, I am currently still on fire from the summit, please do get in touch!
Teaching and Learning Exchange (2017), Digital Creative Attributes Handbook. London: University of the Arts London.
It’s been a few years now since I had the Bett show on my “I must go this year” list, but I never quite managed to find the time to go, until this year, I finally had my first Bett experience and it was quite an exhausting one, both physically and mentally. In a good way I must state!
There was certainly a lot to see, the reason why the same ticket, which was free by the way, allowed admission for the whole 4 days. If I was kitting up a department or a school with a bottomless budget, then I would have most definitely found my heavens.
Having said that, I also felt a strong sense of despair as I was heading home. Like any other trade show, the big International companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Adobe, BenQ, Lenovo and just about any and every big name you could think of, all got their prime spots with an army of staff trying to convince you they are the best hardware and software you and your students absolutely couldn’t do without. Well, but I knew that already! Or rather we are made to acknowledge it:
At UAL, we are a Microsoft house with an enterprise Adobe licence for all staff, a free Autodesk licence for all and we mostly use Apple Mac. We use this stuff and they rarely go wrong (There is a huge difference between this and they are good!), so our students follow suit. End of story! So what was the point of people like me going to a show like Bett? I did wonder that for a good couple of hours, there was nothing in the show that I couldn’t learn or play with at Oxford Street and on the Internet… Until I decided to ignore the big boys and go explore the smaller and completely unattractive little stands, that was when my eyes lit up! I found my heaven!
There were loads of small brands and developers with really interesting stuff, with my own passion and belief that assistive technology can truly benefit any and all students, I went on an assistive technology treasure hunt. Oh my GOD! How behind is my knowledge! I was ashamed. So here are some things that I discovered:
I had a good play on some directional headphones that block out the surrounding sound to help students to concentrate in lectures. I had a chat with some ladies selling some eye tracking software that analyses how children with and without learning difficulties read, though I didn’t understand half the things they were telling me, but it didn’t matter a bit, it sounded awesome if a bit scary. I tried some VR experiences on how learning and playing can truly be the same thing. There is nothing wrong with learning through play, is there? Even the emphasis is on play?
Most importantly, I got myself a free text to speech / speech to text all in one licence when I couldn’t decide whether or not to renew my own text to speech licence and speech to text licence at home that have cost me a fortune. It wasn’t just the free license that excited me, it was also the fact that finally, someone has combined these two bits of technologies into a single thing. Finally!
The Bett is full of little gems if you are willing to spend the time to talk to the real people who actually believe in what they are selling.
Aside from discovering new products, I also targeted a couple of talks, which I found quite interesting.
Bearing in mind we are trying to encourage more uptake with using Microsoft Teams as a communication tool at LCC, I went to a case study talk by Newcastle University to see how they have been using Teams not only as an instant messaging tool, but also as a collaboration / group project tool. It was really interesting to see how they have managed to encourage their course teams and students to use Teams exclusively for almost every aspect of their projects from initial discussions to file sharing and peer reviews all the way to post project feedback analysis. According to their data, 68% of their students have used Teams throughout their group projects and as much as 78% of their students would have used it on all of their projects if they had known about it from day 1. Not a bad result for the new kid (Teams) on the block, isn’t it!
This talk has helped me to see Teams in a totally different light. It has also helped me start imagining how we might be able to develop the use of Teams as a multi purpose project tool in gearing up our students for the industry.
Overall, it was an interesting afternoon spent, but would I go back there again next year in a hurry? Perhaps not, I think a lot of the new products I saw, I could have seen in shops or discovered online. The talks that I went to and could have gone to, could all be attended online through various channels. I am a glass half empty kind of a person, so shows like this would have to have much better USPs to make me feel truly excited about.
The First One Was So Good I Had To Do It Again! Honest.
This was my second time facilitating the DCAF (Digital Creative Attributes Framework) workshop and this time a lot more planning and promotion had gone into it, so I had high hopes with a good turn out!!
I was not disappointed! We managed to overfill a room with loads of students, despite May and June being the busiest months for them.
The last time I did it, I was testing the water to see if this would be a mutually beneficial workshop for both myself and our students, as I am quite interested in how and why students learn any particular digital skills . This time, I did it for a couple of specific reasons – one was for an article I am writing on digital learning, hopefully to submit to Spark later on this year. Another reason was to get some materials to help with my PhD proposal in the area of art practice and learning, with (possibly) a particular focus on the digital.
I was grateful for the reinforcement from our very fine Teaching and Learning Exchange Team!
So before going any further with my reflection of this awesome workshop, I would like to say a big thank you to my lovely colleagues:
Peter Beare, Digital Learning Coordinator
Hannah Hyde, Digital Learning Engagement Support
Darren Gash, Digital Learning Manager
John Jackson, Educational Developer (E-Learning)
A total of 23 students from various MAs and BAs at LCC attended, so it was both challenging and exciting.
It was challenging because it was a mixture of students from different subject areas and levels meaning different digital learning expectations and goals, so it was suitably difficult to brief the whole group at once. This, however, brought the excitement because it was reassuring to know that DCAF attracts students from a wide range of disciplines, it also allowed us a slight insight into the thinking of different groups of students.
DCAF stands for Digital Creative Attributes Framework and here is what the DCFA handbook says:
The DCAF provides a shared language around digital which can be used across colleges and subject areas. The framework focuses on how we support the development of creative and collaborative practices in the digital environment. Importantly, it is a tool to develop teaching and reflect on learning, not a policy checklist.
Technologies change quickly, but the attributes we develop through creative and collaborative work in the digital are more stable. The DCAF provides a set of digitally inflected attributes that are valuable for students to develop during their time at UAL. It is underpinned by a firm belief in the importance of criticality for understanding and making best use of digital technologies, which should not be understood as neutral tools and spaces, but as part of the fabric of our social and political lives.
(Teaching and Learning Exchange, 2017)
There are 2 attributes in total, each represents a common behaviour, mindset or quality we have within any given digital environment. Let me list a couple of my favourites:
Making things happen: Productivity 1: Actively finding and learning how to use digital tools and spaces suitable or specific tasks.
Personally, the most importantly word in this is ‘finding’. From my experience, students have no problem whatsoever in learning how to use digital tools and spaces to achieve their goals. The problem is, however, sometimes they are told by others that they ought to learn a particular set of digital tools because they are the best for the job, which isn’t necessarily the case. What some students are lacking is the ability to find out by themselves what digital skills would truly have lasting benefit for their overall developments. So it would be interesting to see how important this is for those who attended our workshop today.
Making things happens: Agility 1: Effective switching between digital tools and spaces
What this indicates is that our students don’t necessarily need to be an expert in every single digital tool and space available within their disciplines. What they ought to develop is an awareness of what is out there and what these tools and spaces can do for them. Most importantly, they ought to know how and when to use which tools and / or spaces and when to switch between them. This is a mindset that I believe most of our students already have within their subconsciousness, it is a quality that organically develops as our students become more experienced and knowledgeable in their respective disciplines. Sadly, it is also an attribute that most do not realise and value because too often, our students are chasing perfection and expertise in using particular pieces of software; usually driven by some misconception that being technically good at particular pieces of software equals being skilled as an artist or a designer
I can talk about my interpretation of the DCAF all day long but I am not going to, because this is not the point of this reflection, the point is to offer some, hopefully, useful thoughts for other colleagues who might want to give DCAF a go with their students. I say GO FOR IT! Do it, your students will love it because my students today did!
Before running a DCAF workshop, you ought do the DCAF map first, here is what it looks like and what the attributes are.
You basically stick the 27 attributes on an empty map based on how much each makes sense to you and how much you care about it. I had loads of fun doing mine, but it was also very exposing that it hurts… I actually felt a bit naked at the end of the process.
I knew I was going to put my own DCAF map in front of a room full of people, so was I tempted to falsify the result to make me look better than I actually am? To pretend that I care about some of the things that I actually don’t? You bet I was! But if I want my students to be true to themselves then I needed to lead by example, so I went all in!
The big discovery from my own DCAF map is that I don’t practise what I preach…oops. Moving on then…
What Hat Are You Wearing?
I knew that by offering a finished and somewhat polished DCAF map as an example to our students wasn’t enough, as the thinking process is just as important as the end result. Therefore, Peter had kindly offer to do a live demo with me – he decided to wear his Digital Learning Coordinator Hat and guided our students through his thinking process of where to place some of the DCAF attribute cards. The particular hat he decided to wear doesn’t represent him 100%, as most of us wear different hats in different situations.
This is a very important message we wanted our students to understand before they start working on their maps, because what digital attributes we care about and when, whether they make sense or not, is and should be a fluid situation. Indeed, we all ought to be pretty good at a set of basic digital skills as defined by our overall circumstance and our interests, but these shouldn’t set a hard parameter of what we should and shouldn’t care about.
When I did my own DCAF map, I was wearing my digital technician hat with a bit of commercial photographer inside me. With that, being able to Effectively switch between digital tools and spaces (Ag1) and Becoming skillful in relevant digital tools, spaces and practices (S-E2) are both attributes that I both care about and make a lot of sense to me.
On the other hand, Understanding how to share your work at various stages of production (Cm2) and Telling the story of your experiences through an online profile or portfolio (St1) are not so important for me with the hat that I was wearing.
If I were to wear my hat as, what I would describe as a hardcore fine art graduate from Goldsmiths College, I would care about a totally different set of attributes. This is because the nature of Fine Art as a subject is a lot of personal – I had to learn to take every bit of criticism to heart and defend every little decision made. I was also taught to show as much of my bleeding heart as possible in my practice.
Therefore, attributes such as Identifying and connecting with people who can help support your practice (S-E3) and Learning to cope with and respond critical feedback or comments received online(Re1) would make much more sense to me.
You see where I am getting at here? When we change the hat we wear, what we care about also change accordingly. This is not always, but more often, the case. The beauty of the whole Framework is that the wording is both precise and generic. Through doing the DCAF maps, hopefully at different stages of our students’ developments, our students could be encouraged to identify what they care about and what makes sense to them at each paticular moment in time. Importantly, the DCAF should give them a realatively clear roadmap showing them what areas in the digital they want to further develop and to celebreate the aeras they are already good at, depending on what hat they want to wear.
So What Happened During The Workshop?
Students dived right into it, most of them worked individually, some students from the same course chose to work together in small groups of 2 and 3. Either way, everyone was really engaging with the task at hand.
When I went round to speak to them individually, one of the comments that kept coming up was that the students didn’t know learning digital skills could be so broad and not specifically tied to any particular set of tools or practices.
I think an important factor that both myself and students took away from today’s workshop is that being savvy in a digital environment, any digital environment is as much about being good with the actual tools (software), as it is about having the ability to understand how to make their ideas or work tangible and understandable for their target audience. Being technically good with software is one thing, being digitally good is a totally different skill altogether; a skill that is much harder to master but once succeed, it should be much more rewarding.
In my opinion, the most important goal is to understand how we can seamlessly make our digital skills to work for our ideas and never the other way around. We shouldn’t have to compromise how far we want to push our ideas just because we lack appropriate digital skills to execute them.
Sadly, this along with a lot of the qualities outlined the DCAF are somewhat overlooked by our students when academia has been, in recent years, rapidly commercialised when quantifiable skills such as software accreditations are often the talking point among students and their sponsors / parents.
In order to be technically good with software is a somewhat linear process, whilst it might be a necessity, our students would go much further with their practices if they could also be digitally good. This means they should have the ability to negotiate, compromise and be resilient with feedback that could be both constructive and tough to digest, particular in today’s digitally saturated society, a lot of the exchange of feedback and criticism happen through a screen of a digital device, so people could be a lot less considerate and things can be much more open to interpretation.
In additions, being digitally good is also about knowing how to filter what digital tools and practices would benefit our developments and not be blindly influenced by our peers and social media of what is trendy at the moment. Make no mistake, being influenced is vitally important and this is why there are DCAF attributes specifically concerning Connectivity and Curiosity:
Positive and negative influences can often be confused, therefore, it is important to have positive and critical engagement and professional networks online. Being able to explore and experiment with unknown territories is also very important. However, this comes with risks and responsibilities that not everyone is fully aware of. What I am trying to say here is that the online world could be much crueler than the real world and there are trolls who enjoy nothing more than willingly causing others pain. Whilst we ought to encourage our students to go all in in their respective digital environments, are we doing enough to support them
Hopefully the DCAF activities (particularly the 2nd one) would give us some indication of what can we, as their educators, do to support them better.
DCAF Results Analysis:
This is by no mean a detailed analysis as a lot of the actual meaningful analysis should follow once my colleagues have had a chance to look at what I have produced and hopefully some engaging discussions will follow in due course
I will attempt to highlight some of the attributes that clearly stand out for various reasons.
DCAF activity one:
As mentioned above, students were asked to place the 27 attributes cards on a map according to how much they care and how much each attribute make sense to them.
These attributes make sense at varying degrees and our students care about them very much:
The following attributes make sense to our students, but they neither care nor not care about them:
Ag2 / St2 / Cu1 / Cu2 / Re2 / Cm1 / Cu2
These attributes still make sense to our students, but they don’t really care about them:
Cn1 / Cu1 / Cu2 / St / Re1
Our students are neutral on whether these attributes make sense, but they still care about them at various degrees:
Ag2 / Cu1 / Cu3 / St2
Some of these attributes appear on multiple places as our students both care about them a lot and don’t really care about them, as well as making a lot of sense and not making much sense to them. This might seem confusing but in actual fact, it couldn’t be more straightforward – digital learning as a whole is messy and complicated.
As I mentioned earlier, our students feelings and requirements toward any one of these attributes could change depending on the different stages of their developments or even different projects they are working on
It is worth you taking a closer look at my graphs for a more detailed picture of where the attributes appear on the map and you will have a better understanding of the complexity. Most of the attributes begin to drop off or disappear altogether when approaching the scale of either I don’t care and / or non sense, this means the Framework as a whole makes sense to our students and they care about the attributes. This is not just me saying it though, below is some of the remarks our students made when they were working on their maps:
“I never thought of digital learning like this.”
“There is so much on here that I haven’t thought about, it’s a lot to learn.”
“This graph (map) shows the kind of areas that I need to improve on and it’s not just software. The graphs gives me an overall picture for me”
“Some of these are not useful for me right now, but it is going to be useful when I go onto my 3rd year in Sept when I need to start polishing my portfolio.”
DCAF activity two:
Students were ask from where and whom they will learn the skills / knowledge as described in each attributes.
Things I’ll learn on my own:
They are happy to learn all 27 attributes to an extent with one exception:
They are particularly confident to learn these on their own:
Cm3 / St1 / Cu3 / S-E1 / Re1 / Re3
Things I’ll learn from my friends:Students are happy to learn these attributes from their friends:
Students are particularly keen to learn these from their friends:
Cm3 / Re3
Things I want my course to teach me
Unsurprisingly, students want their course to teach them EVERYTHING, a particularly high percentage of demands of:
Pr2 / En2 / En3 / Cm1 / St3 / S-E3
There is a slightly less percentage of students wanting their course to teach them:
Pr3 / Re3
Things I want UAL to teach me (Technical workshops etc)
Again, students want the rest of their university to teach them ALL of the attributes outlined in the DCAF, with a drop in demands of the following:
St2 / Cu1 / Re1 / Re3
Particular high demands include:
Pr1 / En3 / Ag2
These results are not actually surprising at all in terms of our students knowing and wanting to learn these attributes from multiple sources. The emphasis on where to learn any particular attribute is also pretty aligned with my personal experience working with them.
For example, with Proactivity (Pr1 / Pr2 / Pr3), students are quite happy to learn all three on their own, but they would want more support on Pr3 from their course, whilst wanting more assistance with Pr1 from digital workshops
Another example is Communication (Cm1 / Cm2 / Cm3), students are particularly happy to develop Cm3, something that cannot really be taught. However, students rely a lot more on their course tutors to help them to develop Cm1 and Cm2. Traditionally, these are not skills that students would typically seek help from technical workshops
The Group Discussion
The group discussion at the end of the workshop has highlighted a number of interesting points that are perhaps being somehow neglected in our overall teaching approach. Nevertheless, they complement the attributes in the Framework and the results from today’s activities.
Whilst most of our students like the digital workshops currently on offer, they feel they could be somewhat detached from the real industry requirements. Indeed, these workshops teach them how to use certain tools and features on particular pieces of software, but students are not always able to translate these skills into their own practices. They would like to have (more) master classes and / or live briefs from real practising industry experts, so our students can learn workflows commonly expected / used in their respective industries. Our students also think that the digital workshops could be much more educational if students were able to work on their actual work rather than working on the same tasks set by the workshop tutors
They welcomed the idea of blended learning / flipped classroom, something that has long been talked about. All students were in agreement that if we were to ‘prescribe’ them a list of online resources / videos that could teach them the basis of the software they need to learn, face to face contact time could be better used in working on their individual projects. However, they would only be interested in these onlines resources if they were short and to the point as they don’t want them to replace in person workshops. There is value to both types of learning and students want to see more of both happening simutaneously.
Some students feel that the current digital teaching they receive, both from technical workshops and their course tutors, can be too basic, particularly those who have worked in the industry before. Blended learning could help to solve this problem as beginners could start to build a foundation at their own time before attending face to face sessions.
My understanding of the overall of what our students were saying is that they feel the digital provision at the moment is good enough, but they want something that is more personal, something that is more aligned with the industries they want to get into. Most importantly, something that can improve their employability, which is what the DCAF is ultimately designed for. If you try to understand the Framework in great details, you’d know that not only do they cover the so called hard skills like being proficient in the Adobe Suite or other software and digital tools. They also cover a digitally minded attitude, flexibility, ability to learn and adapt to new technology, as well as the universal required skills such as communication, engagement and resilience.
Overall, I hope this workshop has been of some use to our students and I believe it has, because students were taking photos of their maps for their own records. Some even asked for spare materials so they can do the activities again at a later stage.
I hope this workshop and to a larger extent, the DCAF could positively influence our students that learning digital doesn’t and shouldn’t be restricted to learning more software regardless of the actual relevance to their developments as artists and designers. I am fully aware of the fact that this might be an uphill struggle, particularly when a degree costs £30k+. Our students and their sponsors might lack patience and audacity to invest their somewhat limited time in ‘learning’ things that are harder to quantify, precisely those outlined in the DCAF
Today’s workshop, however, paints a slightly different picture than the one we are used to seeing or assuming; maybe, just maybe, our students are willing and prepared to take ‘a risk’ to learn something that is far less tangible but most certainly more robust.
Interestingly, for someone like myself, who was fortunate enough to only have to pay a small amount to go to university, a lot of the things described in the DCAF were things that we were encouraged to develop anyway. So maybe we ought to forget about the little annoying obstacle called tuition fees when planning what kind of teaching would really and truly benefit our students and just go with our hearts.
Teaching and Learning Exchange (2017), Digital Creative Attributes Handbook. London: University of the Arts London.
A friend once told me I could be diplomatic when I choose to be, I am also very good at negotiating just about anything outside of my professional life. However, for some reasons, I can be too much of a bull in a China shop when I am trying to put my arguments across with my colleague and I often end up not being listened to.
I would like to think my passion for wanting to improve students’ learning experience is the reason why I am often frustrated, because the system we are in is far from ideal. I would also like to think because I care, perhaps too much, perhaps I want to make too many changes too quickly; whenever I am making a case that my ideas are sound, could be seen as a continue rant. So how can I finally make myself heard and maybe stand a chance of implementing my ideas?
Throughout this writing unit, I tried to be level headed, but that made me sound like a translator of my ideas, so that didn’t work. I then tried to show my bleeding heart by going all in with the mindset that I am right and I am right and you are most definitely wrong. That didn’t work either, because nobody wanted to be told they are wrong to their face.
At the 11th hours of this unit, I have finally realised it’s not about proving the system is flaw, it’s not about showing how clever my ideas are nor how popular they would be for students. It is about negotiation and compromise – if I can make some small changes in some small ways, then I will have done my best and that should be good enough.
If I can always negotiate a good deal for my energy bills, pet insurance and other everyday things in my life, surely I could just repeat what I do best everyday when trying to negotiate positive changes for students?
I guess in order for my article to truly represent my voice, to give some meaningful thoughts for my colleagues to take away with, for them to take what I have to say seriously, I first need to drop certain idealism of mine.
I still think it is perfectly acceptable to state my ideals, but it is equally important to understand those who have actual powers to make changes have limitations that I might or might not be aware of, or they are just simply not interested in any changes. Either way, I need to start understanding that my responsibility isn’t to change the system, my responsibility is to give my students good learning experience when they are with me here and now, one student at a time.
In this article then, I ought to adjust my expectations of what changes could realistically be implemented, so everyone is happy. Not only do I need to defend my ideas, because this makes it personal and interesting. I would also need to defend my barriers and explain why and how I think they won’t ‘listen’ to me, so that would make things tangible and hopefully engaging.
Stone, D. Patton, B. and Teen, S. (2011) *Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.* 2nd end. London: Portfolio Penguin
Gender doesn’t come into it. Academic status doesn’t come into it. It’s experience and skills that count… At least this is what I believed in until recently.
Gender does matter, being a man helps.
Academic status does matter, having a string of letters after your name makes your voice louder and clearer.
And don’t get me started on the colour of my skin? It is not white, so what!
Being a Chinese woman working in a specialist technical setting at one of the world most renowned art university, I tick all the wrong boxes.
What makes it worse is the fact that I am as educated, if not more so than some of my colleagues.
To finish me off, I have sound ideas and I have our students’ interests at heart.
However, having been a ‘lowly’ technician for a number of years, I am effectively a subspecies, my suggestions are sometimes heard but never listened.
When I finished my PgCert, I said to myself, imposter syndrome, no more! I am going to make myself listened to good and proper.
How very wrong was I! AGAIN!
An academic librarian told me recently that the fact I work as a technician, my academic qualifications don’t matter, because I don’t need it in my role. Well, nor does she! I was trying so hard not to give her a counter attack with arguably, the most insulting question an academic librarian with the FHEA status could be asked, “So what exactly is it that you teach? What make you think you deserve your Fellowship title?” But I didn’t, because I respect all of us, irrespective of roles and responsibilities, we all have varying degree of teaching and learning responsibilities with our students, we all play a part in our students’ learning journeys.
“But you are just a technician…”
Yes I am, so what! I teach just as much, if not more because to have a tutorial with me, students don’t usually have to book an appointments weeks in advance and I don’t usually set a timer, metaphorically or literally. They always get more out of me then I ever could out of my tutors when I was a student.
I think we, art and design technicians working in HE, are a rather specific type of people, because I have yet to meet a technician of any other type, HE or not, do nearly as much teaching as we do. So why do I (and indeed many other) feel like we are a subspecies?
“Because you are a technician…”
Oh shut up!! Just shut up.
Sadly, this is the reality of working in academia at the best of time, there is a very well and somewhat ill defined packing order.
I suppose in some ways, this article I am writing is a form of therapy to let out all my anger and frustration of what I think is wrong with our teaching approach. Most importantly, to make people listen to what I have to say.
In Ruth Leitch’s Outside the Spoon Drawer, Naked and Skinless in Search of My Professional Esteem, she wrote about her struggles of trying to gain the respect as an academic from her arguably more academically qualified colleagues. I wonder how much of these struggles were actually tangible and how much of them were self imposed due to the fact that she didn’t have the ‘appropriate’ academic title as a Head of a Graduate School? I am still a firm believer that experience counts for a lot but perhaps it is not entirely the case in the world of Academia?
Leitch describes how she decided to go and do a Ed.D after years of practising and teaching students who were going to be more ‘qualified’ than herself. What was the motivation if not for self esteem and an attempt to cure her self imposed imposter syndrome? Or was it more about the fact that she wanted to find a bigger voice than the one she already has? Did she just want to be better and bigger than her peers?
It’s like somewhere I don’t just want to be good enough, I do really want to be better than. Maybe they were right back then, when I was nine, “I do always want to be top-cat,” I can’t bear “not to be the winner” (Leitch, 2006)
My question is this: Is publishing your writing (research) one of the very few ways to have your ideas taken seriously in academia? Or is it all just about self esteem and trying to prove that you are better than those who surround you? Maybe it is both but I think being a member of a PhD community does give you the edge as you are by default surrounded by the ‘right’ peers. Perhaps it could also give you a half legitimate license to say your are a researcher so what you’re saying are both backed up by sound ideas and seem important.
As I have mentioned earlier, I don’t want to be ‘just a technician’. I am not ashamed to be a technician, in fact I am quite proud of it. However, there is a big big difference between just a technician and a technician, at least in academia. So how do I break this vicious circle? I am afraid a fairly sure fire way is to gain more titles after my name and maybe during this process, I would be encouraged to produce more academic writing, to have my bleeding heart on display more often for my peers to criticise. Hopefully, some days somehow I’d gain enough confidence in turning my ideas into something isn’t just anger and rant, something that people are genuinely interested in listening to.
If by putting myself through more brutal criticism by showing others my writing within a post graduate community of my choice, I’d end up with a PhD as a by-product, then I am OK with it.
What I am saying is that if by playing by the rules set out in academia, my supposedly better polished ideas that are already currently supported by my experience and interaction with students, could be further supported by a PhD status and such status could give me the appropriate credentials that afford me a louder and clearer voice then I think it would be mission accomplished.
Reference: Leitch, R. (2006) ‘Outside the Spoon Drawer, Naked and Skinless in Search of My Professional Esteem: The Tale of an “Academic Pro”’, Qualitative Inquiry, 12(2), pp. 1-12.
Word document has always been the go to tool for any kinds of writing, period. OK, I have been gradually using Google Docs more often, but it is essentially the same as MS Word.
With this digital writing tool comes a big problem – I have lost my ability to spell even the most basic words. I can type spell them but I cannot spell spell them…
I remember a cold winter in 2005, I was a first year university student, my first ever proper university essay, I can’t even remember what the topic was nor doesn’t it matter. What matters is that it was a long one and my tutor, Dallas Seitz, whom I am forever indebted to, told me to ignore the world’s negative criticism on me and just roll with my ideas and believes, but this is a story for another time. The first gift Dallas gave me, which to be honest, took me years and years to appreciate, was that he wanted my (our) first ever proper university essay to be written with a pen on a piece of paper. That’s right, pen and paper, no computer, no typing, no cheating.
“I don’t care if your handwriting and your submission is full of mistakes that have been crossed out, but if you submit your essay nicely typed up, I will fail you without reading it.” Says Dallas
It surely sounded like a thread and it was fully intended to be a thread, but every time I encounter a writer’s block, I can hear Dallas whispering to my ears, “Pen and paper!”
He is right, using pen and paper does seem to help me with really nailing down my ideas. I think it’s the fact that I can’t keep typing and deleting what I have just written, it is a completely linear process, there isn’t an undo button, my ‘mistakes’ are all there staring right at my face. More importantly, holding a pen seems to give me some sort of magical thinking power that a keyboard and a mouse can’t.
So I did a little experiment with this writing unit – I was very stuck with writing an outline that is coherent, I kept writing and deleting what I had written on the same word document, I then opened a new word document and called it draft 2, and then there was draft 3, draft 4… I was at my wits end, so I reached for a notepad and a pen. All of a sudden, my ideas came flooding in. What I have noticed as well though, writing with pen and paper isn’t a linear process at all, I was able to go back and forth much more freely than writing on a computer, I can put my pages next to each other and shuffle them around, I could add notes and thoughts and draw next to my own writings. OK, granted, I could probably do the same on a computer, but how many clicks do I need before I can highlight a sentence on a word document? And where is that add comment function? It’s just too much distraction during crunch time!
Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much in love with Google Doc because it’s live and I shall never lose any of my writing. I could just log onto any computer and carry on writing, but whenever I am writing on a computer, I become a lot more serious but not in a productive way, I also have the urge to keep changing and editing and I have a habit of playing with different fonts and formats and using different colours to highlight sentences… it’s kind of fun, it makes me feel I am actually doing something.
There is also another tool I want to talk about, one that I never thought I’d ever need – a screenwriting tool. Now, the article I am writing is based on a conversation with myself, so I had long thought that maybe a screenwriting software would be worth giving a go. After some research, I decided to try a software called Highland, it is a rather minimalist screenwriting app that is developed by working screenwriters – there isn’t any fancy interface, there isn’t very many fancy formatting options, users would have to learn some basic commands such as using capital letter for the characters names, using + to highlight sentences and if you want to have you text larger like a topic or header, then you’d have to start the text with a #. It took me less than 20 minutes to get used to it and oh my god, it’s a brand new world for me. No more excuses to distract myself, no more playing with the format. Most importantly, the app kind of makes me feel like a writer so I just keep on writing and writing and writing. I actually found a newly refreshed energy to write.
So I ended up with three very different versions of my outlines that essentially are all talking about the same thing:
Pen and paper: It’s all about me, what I want, what I need. I am right and I am right and you are definitely wrong.
Word docs – The most level headed version, let’s see what other people have to say about my ideas and they are probably right and I am probably not entirely right. I felt like an referee, an administrators rather than a writer.
Highland screenwriting app – I feel like a storyteller, I present a story along with facts and some wits here and there.
None of these tools is a clear winner and I think they serve different purposes at different stages of my writing. I am glad I have once again found my love of using pen and paper, I am also very glad that I have found a screenwriting software that gives very little distraction and so far Highland is the most productive writing tool for me, the good kind of productive.
Writing using the method of a conversation with myself surely is a piece of cake, right? After all, I am only writing different versions of myself – the younger self and the present day self. So I started writing without much planning of what roles will the different me play in my article and the first draft was a mess. Then I thought, wait a minute, how about I plan out my two characters better? Like the younger self being this navie and full of optimism character and the present self being the more experienced and realistic character? Then I started writing the 2nd draft basically as you (my younger self) are wrong and I (the present day self) am right, in my mind, it was clear that the older and wiser me must be right as I should have learnt from my past experience, at least this is the case in my head. However, this became too idealistic in many not too good ways. The biggest problem of all, one that I couldn’t see until my peers pointed out, was that I am no longer talking to myself, my two characters are not different versions of myself, as least not for my readers. I must present two separate and plausible characters, like not being always right or always wrong.
In Martin Kusch’s summary and review of Timothy Williamson’s Tetralogue: I am Right, You’re Wrong, he criticises how Williamson has created these four very different characters with very black and white views, which is not really plausible in real life.
Tetralogue is based on a train journey conversation between four passengers, which could be a common occurrence. However, it is their characters that make the event unbelievable. I haven’t read the actual book, however, according to Kusch, one of the four characters has the sole responsibility to present all of Williamson’s philosophical references and whilst these references might all be relevant, the burden of presenting it shouldn’t fall onto the same character as this is something that doesn’t usually happen in real life. Real life characters tend to have one of two heros and favourite writers, artists or people from whatever professions they belong to. It seems to me is that Williamson has tried too hard to make this character some sort of philosophical encyclopedia, presenting all facts on an even keel, essentially making him boring and uninteresting to have a conversation with.
Kusch goes on to criticise another character is “always right, arrogant and sanctimonious. She sounds more like a philosopher’s superego than a human being.” (Kusch, 2015) Whilst people like this exist everywhere, they are people who I personally wouldn’t want to engage with, because they are always right and you are always wrong regardless of who is right and who is wrong.
The biggest issue Kusch has with Williamson’s text is this, “to be pedagogically successful a text has to be a good read. And in this respect Williamson’s book is uneven. The conversation does not flow easily and naturally; and three of the four characters remain flat and psychologically implausible.” (Kusch, 2015)
Whilst the actual text by Williamson doesn’t really interest me, this review serves an important reminder for me; I need to plan more carefully of my two characters to make them both plausible and interesting, so here is what I think they are going to be:
My younger self:
I will still want to portray her as the young and slightly naive character, because I was. Also, this should give me plausible reasons to use her to ask meaningful questions. To make her more real and more relevant, I will try to based her character on some of the commonly seen characters of my own students, so hopefully my readers could recognise her.
The present day self:
It has to be my true self as this is the whole reason for wanting to write the article. However, instead of thinking I am right and everyone else is wrong, which I still could be, I might be better off presenting a more level headed self as certain points of the article / conversation.
These two will disagree, they might even argue but in the end, they would agree to disagree or agree to agree on things. I will try to avoid the I am right and you are wrong mentality in my article as best as I can. Although I think it would be fun to write and will get all my frustration out if I am right through and through, it wouldn’t be a plausible nor engaging read, not as an academic writing anyway.
Every time I reflect on how my workshops or tutorials have gone, every time I think back on a meaningful conversation I have had with my colleagues, I write in my head, I just never put these thoughts onto paper.
My head could run 1,000,000 miles an hour just thinking what could have and what should have and indeed what can be next time (especially when I am in the shower!), imagine if I have the ability to just put all these thoughts onto paper in real time? How much reflection / references I could have? Well, I kind of do… on bits of post-in notes and random bits of paper and IN MY HEAD that I will undoubtedly lose… Oh and those bits of random notes on my phone that usually will make no sense within a matter of days.
There seems to be a physical block preventing me from actually writing constructively and coherently with things that matter, this is why when I was asked to take part in this PgCert unit to learn how to write Academic paper, I jumped onto the opportunity with no hesitation.
Right away, the first session pointed out a couple of ‘flaws’ in my writing habit when I write whilst wearing the academic writing hat. Make no mistake, I am fully aware of the slight language barrier I still have but that has never stopped me from writing quantity – I am very active with various online forums often posting comments on things that I care about like cycling and cats and certain HE issues. Although I have learnt to be very careful what I say and where I say it as I have been spotted by my own students before… online anonymity? My arse!
However, when I write formally, or writing with my academic hat on, I seem to willingly bring out said language barrier; I become overly critical on what I write whilst I write, correcting the slightest mistakes others might or might not even notice, so the Six Minute Dump exercise we did was actually very useful, it was like writing my usual rants / comments that I post online, that are often very constructive and usually well received, after all I have my street cred to maintain! But here goes another barrier – I hate reading my own writing!! It’s fine if I have to read because I have to edit, but if I have to read my own reading because I want to know what I was thinking last week or last month or 3 months ago that was so important that I decided to write it down somewhere, hell no, it makes me feel sick. So I have high hope for myself from this unit, I want to be confronted by my own writings in whatever forms and shapes.
I guess today’s session really reminds me that I ought to just write and forget about the elegance of my writing until later. I ought to stop writing and editing at once, which is what I do A LOT! The invisible pressure I put on myself when I am writing something that is remotely formal and that there might be an audience waiting is what makes me have the urge to write and edit at the same time. The reality is, however, I have never had to show anyone my early drafts so by that logic, I should just write and not worry about looking stupid.
This is a very big question that will and should never be concluded, but I came across a book called The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall that offers some insight that I hadn’t previously thought about.
Now we all know that students learn in a classroom, they learn from their peers, they learn by themselves and they learn by experimenting and so on. We also know that there have been many discussions about different learning styles and it was both interesting and shocking to see that Nuthall claims that learning styles have nothing to do with learning per se. He says that learning styles are nothing more than preferences in that some prefer to learn visually, some prefer to learn verbally and some like to learn by doing. Nothing new there. He also points out learning styles are cultural in that people should be given freedom of choice. That’s not to say he dismisses the learners’ choices, but it’s interesting when he draws comparison to groceries shopping:
We all have different food preferences, more so now than a generation ago when the variety of food was much more limited. The fact that we all have different food preferences does not mean the metabolic processes by which we digest and use food are different. (Nuthall, 2010, p.34)
Fundamentally, how we learn, how we process information neurologically hasn’t really changed, except now we have many more choices in terms of how we learn the same thing and because of this, how we learn is very different.
Before technology became our everyday’s life and I am not even talking about years and years, I am talking about a mere 10-15 years ago when I was a teenager, I leaned how to do a lot of things on a computer by reading from a book and trying it out, Internet was at a snail pace to put it politely. There was very much a correct and an incorrect way of doing things due to the limited variation of learning resources offered.
Fast forward to today, we learn through multiple channels, often at the same time. Using learning digital as an example, because this is, after all, the bread and butter of my research interest. So how do we learn, let say, Photoshop? We attend a workshop, we watch some YouTube videos, we play around on a computer, we watch more YouTube videos, we ask questions on different forums, the list goes on… What we rarely do now, is learn Photoshop from a book. Admittedly some of the methods like workshop and speaking with peers haven’t changed, but now we have many more choices and these choices impact how we experience our learning and what we take away from it.
Nuthall points out that, “Learning does not come directly from classroom activities. Learning comes from the way students experience these activities. What matters is what students extract from experiences. (2010, p.155)
This presents a challenge for us in a classroom, a challenge that should be seen as positive – a lot of students will most likely already have knowledge of whatever it is that we are about to teach them, different prior knowledge I must point out. How do we help them to build on their own experiences is the key question.
We help them to connect their prior knowledge to what we are about to teach them, we show curiosity in how they intent to use their knowledge and experience, we help them to apply the new and old knowledge in some practical ways. This might include completely overturning their prior knowledge of what they thought they know. Because of the very many self directed learning methods and clearly a lot of students prefer these, we really ought to rethink how we spend our time with our students. There will always be a demand for workshops of an instructional nature, as we will always have to cater for different learning preferences. However, I wonder would contact time be more productive if we emphasise more on exploring how students could use the digital tools already in their toolkit creatively that works for them?
So how do we really learn? I am not sure. What I do know is that with advancing technology, how we learn will only get more confusing and complicated. We also ought to keep evaluating what already know more regularly and rigorously, particularly with digital technology because what we know today might become obsolete tomorrow.
– Nuthall, G. (2010) The hidden lives of learners. Wellington: Nzcer Press
I want to start this post with a quote from Jenni Carr, Academic Development Officer, HEA:
(knowledge) Once learned it is impossible for them to be ‘unlearned’, and the process of that learning involves a shift in subjectivity. As teachers we have, for the most part, crossed that threshold into academic literacy, but perhaps in that crossing we have become less able to identify with those who have yet to ‘get it’ – and less willing to think ourselves back into that messy liminal space! (2017)
Strictly speaking, what Carr refers to is academic learning but I am of the opinion that any learning that happens at university has a certain amount of academic value, so I am going to take this slightly out of context and see if the same applies to digital learning.
Fundamentally, what Carr suggests is that we ought to be more empathetic and embrace a more open mind when working with students who are yet to get it. This is often easier said than done as in order to teach something, particularly with digital tools, we first must be pretty good and comfortable at using the tools ourselves, we already have a certain level of expertise that could pay a part in how we see and use the tools in which we are teaching – our very own subjectivity. There might not be much room for other opinions or uncertainty, or it would seem.
However, as I have come to a realisation in my day to day interactions with students that digital learning is so much more complex than that – on one hand it is very logical but on the other hand, it is also illogical in a sense that learning the functions of these tools is an entirely different story to learning how and when to use the same set of tools – this is totally subjective and completely personal.
Another issue is that not everyone will ‘get there’ at the same time and even with those who have ‘got there’, each person’s understanding of the same set of knowledge or tools could be very different, as are the intentions of how and when to apply these newly learned skills. Is this ambiguous yet?
Whether or not liminality equals stuckness is still pretty much open to debate, the essence here, however, is how do we teach our students to think like an expert (whether or not they are yet). If we can achieve this, then the stuckness is a moot point entirely.
I am of the opinion that the more expertise we gain, the more stuck we could become but it is only through navigating ourselves around, but not necessarily out of, this so called stuck place can we truly claim our knowledge as ours. As Confucius once said, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand. Step back and I will act.” (date unknown)
So how do we help our students in learning to think like an expert? Put this in a different way, how do we help our students to cross the threshold from hands off learning to hands on learning into the messy, confusing but potentially exciting liminal space? By hands on, I don’t just mean learning by doing, I also mean taking an active part in thinking and participating, rather than merely assuming the same role we once had in school of being talked at and use our teachers’ expertise as proxy for any and all answers.
The most important and perhaps the only thing we can do is to reassure students that being stuck doesn’t not mean they need to panic anytime soon, if at all. It can be completely normal that they most likely will dip in and out of knowing and not knowing as their learning progresses and gain more experience. As Carr puts it, “Some will think they have ‘got it’ at one moment only to feel this understanding slip away when they try to apply this new-found knowledge in a different context.” (2017)
There certainly is a lot of room for ambiguity with digital learning, the key is perhaps to be open about it with our students from the beginning, to keep reiterating that digital learning is a highly personalised journey that whilst we are here to support them, we are not here to teach them how to do every single thing they need to learn. We ought to avoid injecting too much of our ways of working, instead to encourage and offer opportunities for experimentations at every stage. In other words, we ought to let our students know that we are there to support them when they fall, but we are not there to hold their hands in any way at all. After all, digital learning is no difference to any kind of learning fundamentally, we must not let the seemingly logical approach of digital learning deceive us into thinking that it is any less ambiguous.
Time and time again, people who have written about liminality often compare it with the rite of passage that many African tribes still put their adolescents through before they are accepted as adults. What they must do is to be exposed to some forms of intense endurance elements, whatever these might be. It can be uncomfortable, it can bring on uncertainty and you probably will want out as soon as possible, but it is an necessary evil, it is a means to an end. We ought to prepare our students that once they have entered the liminal space, there might well be more than one rite of passage awaits them, but the more they have experienced first hand, the better they are prepared for the next one.