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About Simon Paul Atkinson

30 Years as an academic practitioner, educational developer, educational technologist, social scientist, e-learning researcher, advisor. Experienced presenter and workshop facilitator. Currently the Head of Learning Design at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand Former Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning (BPP University), Academic Developer (LSE), Director of Teaching and Learning (Massey), Head of Centre for Learning Development (Hull), Academic Developer (Open)

I am currently in a symposium session at the Media and Learning conference in Brussels, sharing our ideas about how we might engage students and staff in Higher Education with media rich resources. We have explored the issue in some depth with a particular focus on identifying what students want from their University courses, and whether they really know what they want (want .v. needs). The panel have skirted around what we mean by the term 'engagement' but perhaps not as directly as we are trying to achieve with the DiAL-e framework. Its purpose is to focus on what students are engaged in doing during a learning session, rather than what the teacher/lecturer wants to deliver or even achieve.

There is a strong tendency, particularly amongst some of the non-UK speakers, to orientate themselves towards a predominantly transmission model of teaching in Higher Education whilst the DiAL-e framework is predicated far more around a learner perspective.

I attended a seminar run through the London Learning Lab yesterday focused on the future of education and the implications for ethical research. You can read more about it here. By chance I came across this presentation by Helen Beetham which she gave at Greenwich University recently. It covers a vast range of issues related to digital technologies in Higher Education but a lot of what she is saying is pertinent to what we are interested in achieving with the DiAL-e framework. Have a watch and listen if you get a chance!

The DiAL-e framework has already proven to be a flexible set of designs which can be used in a range of different contexts and one of these is the EduTubePlus European project which I am currently working on. Along with my colleague, Theo Kuechel, we are demonstrating how the DiAL-e framework can be used to engage students at the forthcoming media and learning conference in Brussels. Watch this space for an update on the outcomes of this presentation next week!

The wiki Kevin and I have been using to support the DiAL-e Project, both during its funded JISC phase and subsequently, has now been closed. We enjoyed working with the Wiki at Wetpaint but it has served its purpose and we feel WordPress is now the right place for us to be.

Kevin and I met in Leicester on Tuesday 9th November and discussed how to redevelop both our web presence and how best to support the very many staff who have attended workshops (over 120) and conference presentations (over 300?) since 2007. Colleagues have expressed interest, and indeed enthusiasm, for the approach to digital artefacts for learning being suggested and despite being outside the 'funding window', we think this is something worth committing our time to.

This then is our new space. We will add our existing, and future, resources to these pages and look forward to colleagues engagement. (Simon)

Kevin Burden and I met today in Leicester to review our progress on the DiAL-e Framework project. The project, funded by JISC in 2007-08 has generated significant interest, two book chapters, an article in review, several project reports, a JISC hosted website, over 120 workshop participants and more besides. We decided today to revitalise this work and move our online presence from an existing Wiki to WordPress to better share this ongoing work and make it sustainable. Over the coming days and weeks this site will grow, and we hope it will be of genuine use to those looking to make better use of digital artefacts from our amazingly rich public collections in their teaching.

And the wonders of WordPress, it has already suggested a link! An 'archive' post from Linda Tambuyser for the ICTO Hubrussel Weblog from almost exactly a year ago. Look forward to growing this community!

Yesterday I posted some early thoughts on how visual rhetoric might be important to us in thinking about how we communicate in the teaching process, not just what we have to say but HOW we say it.

I said I'd have a crack at a PREZI presentation to illustrate my point - and here it is 🙂

I have begun writing a paper on visual rhetoric. I sat on the 7:31 commuter train to St.Pancras and watched to commuters, hunched over their laptops, working in PowerPoint. Their screens, filled with words, varieties of fonts, and formatting tricks in abundance. These comprehensive essays in landscape, perhaps to be printed and distributed but more likely projected illegibly for a bewildered business audience later that day reminded me again of the fundamental misuse of a very powerful and effective technology. The same day I showed my wife a Prezi presentation that I was preparing for a workshop the following day. Her comment was that it made her feel seasick as I moved fluidly, but somewhat distractedly, from one block of text to another. I suggested the term ‘see-sick’.

So I began to consider the power of these visual tools in our classrooms and the very superficial understanding that I, and I suspect the majority of my colleagues have, of their use. In such circumstances I often find it useful to turn to Merlot or Aristotle. Since I had no Merlot I turned to Aristotle.

Aristotle, identified three branches rhetoric: judicial, epideictic and deliberative.  Judicial rhetoric is concerned with justice and injustice, the defence or advocacy of charge or accusation. Epideictic rhetoric refers to speech or writing in praise or blame. Perhaps the most familiar notion of rhetoric is that of deliberative, in which speech or writing attempts to persuade others to take or not to take some defined action.

Much of our teaching is the incitement to learners to do something, to take an action. Teaching may in many circumstances be considered deliberative rhetoric, an invitation on the part of the student  (as reader, listener or participant) to pause and consider in response to a carefully timed performance and managed argument, the pace and rhythm control, the deliberate self interruption, punctuated silence, exclamations, questions, punctuating gestures. The teacher’s role is not simply to highlight an argument but to ensure that if a vote were cast the learner might make an appropriate judgment.

Teaching in face-to-face contexts supported by presentational technologies, the ubiquitous PowerPoint or some more contemporary form of visual media, requires a new mastery of rhetoric - that of visual rhetoric. This branch of rhetorical studies that concerns itself with the persuasive use of images, in isolation or in harmony with words, is a powerful tool in the classroom.

We live in an intensely visual world, surrounded by images in advertising, music, news information and educational media. Arrangements of words, in tag clouds, Wordle (http://www.wordle.net),  or PowerPoint arrangements are visual objects. Text projected on the wall is either a visual representation, discursive, provocative, motivating or informative, or it is ‘just words’. Not every projected arrangement of light and dark on the classroom wall is easily inferred as a visual object, as visual rhetoric, “(W)hat turns a visual object into a communicative artifact--a symbol that communicates and can be studied as rhetoric--is the presence of three characteristics. In other words, three markers must be evident for a visual image to qualify as visual rhetoric. The image must be symbolic, involve human intervention, and be presented to an audience for the purpose of communicating with that audience." (Smith, 2005, p. 144)

Kostelnick and Roberts in “Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communicators”, detail six canonical criteria through which to interpret the rhetorical impact, primarily of written text. These six are: arrangement, emphasis, clarity, conciseness, tone and ethos.

  • Arrangement – is the organisation of visual elements to demonstrate structure (and relationships)
  • Emphasis – differentiates elements giving some prominence through changes in size, shape and colour.
  • Clarity – avoiding unnecessary elements to assist the reader in ‘decoding’ quickly and completely the ‘message’
  • Conciseness –appropriately succinct designs that serve a specific audience need
  • Tone – the writer/presenter/designer’s tone provides evidence of their attitude to the subject
  • Ethos – developing the trust of the audience

These six visual criteria provide a helpful starting point in beginning to see images as objects for visual rhetoric and appropriate interpretation.  (Kostelnick & Roberts, 2010)

Since Zaltman suggests that thoughts occur as images, which are essentially visual, there is a direct inverse relationship between the power of the visual to provoke an emotional non-verbal reaction, a thought. Research by Joy and colleagues using the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique suggest a range of interesting relationships between viewers sense of space and depth, related directly to the positioning of objects, to the juxtaposition (overlapping, transparency, distortion) of images in support of a narrative. They conclude, “(U)ltimately, images and words are separate building blocks in the telling of stories but the two amplify each other. Researchers need to enrich and supplement the abstractions that accompany visuals with the details and particulars that accompany the verbal.” (Joy, Sherry Jr., Venkatesh, & Deschenes, 2009, p. 566)

Back in 2001 I did (what I still think was ) some interesting work with Nicola Durbridge at the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology looking at how to overcome some of the restrictions of text based discussion boards, the ‘drudgery’ of CMC (Computer Mediated Conferencing). I explored a simple ‘visual metaphor’ of a classroom so that individuals posting items to a forum did so ‘spatially’ as icons rather than simply adding the posting to list. (Atkinson, 2001). I have just scanned the resulting conference paper and it is work I would be keen to extend now in looking at Prezi and its use of visual rhetoric.

A Prezi that explores visual rhetoric is on its way.

......

Atkinson, S. (2001). Re-Tooling Online. In Book of Abstracts (pp. 154-156). Presented at the Online Educa Berlin 2001, Berlin: ICEF Berlin GMBH.

Joy, A., Sherry Jr., J., Venkatesh, A., & Deschenes, J. (2009). Perceiving images and telling tales: A visual and verbal analysis of the meaning of the internet. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(3), 556-566. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2009.05.013

Kostelnick, C., & Roberts, D. D. (2010). Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communicators. Longman Publishing Group.

Smith, K. L. (2005). Handbook of visual communication: theory, methods, and media. Routledge.

I'm embarking on a research process that will look at institutional change and personal transformation amongst heritage educators. It is likely to be a four-year process that will explore the current state of education across the heritage sector in the UK, the influences on educators in this unique and colourful sector, and the impact that digital heritage, digital technologies, and digital epistemologies are having on individuals and their practice. Identity transformation is a difficult thing to measure; there are so many variables, so many factors that can impact on individuals in so many unique and personal ways. This fascinating field, one in which only an interdisciplinary perspective, and non-judgemental and open-minded approach, and the willingness of subjects to share, is likely to yield considerable insights. The extent to which Heritage Education can be analysed through a ‘Communities of Practice’ approach, through the use of interpretive repertoires, or through the theoretical lenses of transformative learning or activity theory, is yet to be seen. I look forward to sharing this research through this online space at a hearing the views of others. As a doctoral program it will have its own pace, its own problems, challenges, obstacles, boundaries and opportunities. But it seems appropriate that work looking at how digital spaces, new epistemologies, new models of interprofessional practice and emerging expectations of our heritage institutions might be researched effectively should be shared as much as possible along the way.

 

'How can Museums and Heritage Institutions bring in external live content in order to enhance visitors’ experience of in-gallery objects?'

The MCG website now has profiles of the projects moving forward from the LIVE!Museum Project. My favourite (I'm biased because I am on the development team) is I, Object.  

Whilst all the projects are concerned with enhancing the on-site museum experience  I, Object examines how the 'web' (in its broadest sense) can enhance the character of the object. Because the encounter with an object in a gallery should be a special experience, informational layers must add to, rather than detract, from that experience. This project seeks to reassert the "relevance of the object, its enduring significance and its contemporary relationships to in-gallery and other experiences".

The research question, and one now being developed into a funding proposal, is 'How can Museums and Heritage Institutions bring in external live content in order to enhance visitors’ experience of in-gallery objects?'

"What is imagined is an object-centred network that generates live content drawn from within, and beyond, the site itself in such a way as to enhance the visitor’s experience of in-gallery objects".

A proposal for workshops associated with devleoping the conceptual fraemework for his project are being discussed so hopefully we can benefit from a wider community imput into the idea in the next two or three months.

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