We need to continue to move away from seeing tertiary education as the imparting knowledge and see it rather as developing the skill of all students to be able to decide which learning pathways best suits their context, prior experience and aspirations. One of the consistent messages I try and instil in others' practice is the importance of the social context in which the student inhabits.
In November 2018 I contributed to an EDEN online webinar talking about 'Innovative Education' as part of the 2018 European Distance Learning Week. Here is my presentation, entitled "Designing Pathways: which way to innovation?"
I thought I would share some cross-platform videos which reflect whatever is on my mind professionally each morning. Shot in portrait for IGTV and then annotated for YouTube, they represent unscripted notes on some aspect of learning design or educational enhancement.
This one explores the value of an individual approach to personalizing reflection for academic practitioners. I urge faculty to make reflective journal notes immediately following any teaching event. This is invaluable, as is watching and listening back to your work. Combined with an SGID or in-class evaluation process you will find that any end-of-module evaluation of your teaching effectiveness should hold no surprises.
Back in the late northern hemisphere summer of 2013 I drafted a background paper on the differences between Educational Data Mining, Academic Analytics and Learning Analytics. Entitled 'Adaptive Learning and Learning Analytics: a new design paradigm', It was intended to 'get everyone on the same page' as many people at my University, from very different roles, responsibilities and perspectives, had something to say about 'analytics'. Unfortunately for me I then had nearly a years absence through ill-health and I came back to an equally obfuscated landscape of debate and deliberation. So I opted to finish the paper.
I don't claim to be an expert on learning analytics, but I do know something about learning design, about teaching on-line and about adapting learning delivery and contexts to suit different individual needs. The paper outlines some of the social implications of big data collection. It looks to find useful definitions for the various fields of enquiry concerned with collecting and making something useful with learner data to enrich the learning process. It then suggest some of the challenges that such data collection involves (decontextualisation and privacy) and the opportunity it represents (self-directed learning and the SOLE Model). Finally it explores the impact of learning analytics on learning design and suggests why we need to re-examine the granularity of our learning designs.
"The influences on the learner that lay beyond the control of the learning provider, employer or indeed the individual themselves, are extremely diverse. Behaviours in social media may not be reflected in work contexts, and patterns of learning in one discipline or field of experience may not be effective in another. The only possible solution to the fragmentation and intricacy of our identities is to have more, and more interconnected, data and that poses a significant problem.
Privacy issues are likely to provide a natural break on the innovation of learning analytics. Individuals may not feel that there is sufficient value to them personally to reveal significant information about themselves to data collectors outside the immediate learning experience and that information may simply be inadequate to make effective adaptive decisions. Indeed, the value of the personal data associated with the learning analytics platforms emerging may soon see a two tier pricing arrangement whereby a student pays a lower fee if they engage fully in the data gathering process, providing the learning provider with social and personal data, as well as their learning activity, and higher fees for those that wish to opt-out of the ‘data immersion’.
However sophisticated the learning analytics platforms, algorithms and user interfaces become in the next few years, it is the fundamentals of the learning design process which will ensure that learning providers do not need to ‘re-tool’ every 12 months as technology advances and that the optimum benefit for the learner is achieved. Much of the current commercial effort, informed by ‘big data’ and ‘every-click-counts’ models of Internet application development, is largely devoid of any educational understanding. There are rich veins of academic traditional and practice in anthropology, sociology and psychology, in particular, that can usefully inform enquiries into discourse analysis, social network analysis, motivation, empathy and sentiment study, predictive modelling and visualisation and engagement and adaptive uses of semantic content (Siemens, 2012). It is the scholarship and research informed learning design itself, grounded in meaningful pedagogical and andragogical theories of learning that will ensure that technology solutions deliver significant and sustainable benefits.
To consciously misparaphrase American satirist Tom Lehrer, learning analytics and adaptive learning platforms are “like sewers, you only get out of them, what you put into them’."
Siemens, G. (2012). Learning analytics: envisioning a research discipline and a domain of practice. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 4–8). New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2330601.2330605
In the previous four posts I have outlined the changing nature of student support demands, the existing basis for current support, the need to embrace epistemological orientation as a necessary function of higher education institutions and suggested one project that attempts to resources such an effort. I should also state (for the record as it were) that I have had the utmost respect for a great many colleagues who are fantastic academic and personal tutors. It was also my privilege to oversee the work of the Study Support Services when I was Head of the Centre for Learning Development at the University of Hull and have been an (occasional) study advisor (at the LSE) and to postgraduate students at BPP University. However I don't believe in Sacred Cows (unless they are there to be at least considered worthy of butchering).
Given the increasingly diverse nature of the student population, ever distant from the selected and 'ever ready ' school graduates, it is unsurprising that institutions now provide a myriad of support services. In some institutions there is clarity between study support and student welfare services and in others these can be found bundled together in 'student services'. In some institutions these services are aligned alongside library provision and in others provided wholly or jointly with student union organisations. There is a need for institutions to recognise the evolutionary nature of this provision and to question whether there is not in need to wipe the slate clean. There is an obligation on institutions to provide students what they need but also what they want and the onus is then on us to ask students new questions.
Students are clearly a diverse group of individuals and we must provide individually tailored solutions if we wish to maintain the diversity within our learning communities. Clearly it is impractical, not least from a financial perspective, to design solutions targeted with each individual but it is surely possible to provide mechanisms that enable students to pull down services as and when they require them in a more meaningful way. Whilst there are certainly faculty members who are heroic in their endeavours to service both the academic needs of their students and provide welfare and personal guidance this is an unrealistic expectation. While in some disciplines, notably in health, such personal tutorial support focused on the affective development of students, clearly is a requirement imposed on faculty, this is not universally true. We should re-evaluate the need for personal tutorial support and where appropriate specify academic guidance and mentoring from welfare duties. I believe with correct epistemological orientation and the embedding of skills within courses the academic role should be largely limited to academic 'mentoring' in reviewing choices, strengths and weaknesses, and academic progression.
The degree to which support for the affective development of students is provided will then depend largely on the nature of the learning community itself. The ability of faculty and students to create a supportive community able to furnish appropriate aid on demand will depend on the extent to which students operate within a closed system. In a non-residential commuter institution, and in distance provision, the enormity of diverse needs simply cannot be sustained within our existing tutorial systems. Instead we should provide students with the maturity to understand their own needs and facilitate their access to appropriate support most probably sourced from outside the institution. Partnerships, both formal and informal, with welfare services (counselling services, financial advisers, spiritual services, housing support and other) can be paid for by the institution itself based on use or delegated to the individual student. A more formal arrangement of the division of academic mentoring and effective support is more likely to ensure quality advice and guidance is more universally accessible. Institutions must recognise however that instituting such a division of labour may appear to disenfranchise those tutors whose strengths include the personal, human touch, support which they've become accustomed to providing their students.
I believe this begins with an orientation to individual epistemological beliefs, a conversation that can begin before students even begin their formal programme of study, to ensure not that we are all on the same page but that we understand the page where on. POISE is one attempt at this meaningful orientation that can be integrated into online materials or initiated in face-to-face individual or group interactions. I believe we should also re-evaluate the our course designs to ensure that a full range of skills are built into intended learning outcomes to which constructively aligned teaching activity is targeted. Ensuring that all the domains of educational objectives are embedded within course designs, with supplemental teaching integrated into course delivery if necessary, will enable students to best help themselves on their study journey.
Better prepared students will lighten the burden on academic guidance services and 'reduce' the role of the traditional personal tutor. Where students identify needs they must be able to find clearly signposted support services, internal to the institution or increasingly externally, available on demand. This is not an abdication of responsibility on the behalf of institutions, quite the opposite. It is a recognition that increasingly higher education approximates more closely to the world of work than it does to the closeted environment of school. In reality most of our modern universities never had cloisters and students living around the quad, it is time for our support services to students to reflect that truth.
I delivered a webinar recently on technology enhanced learning. It was a 90-minute session (possibly too long) in Adobe Connect attended by some 15 faculty. Several of the evaluation comments suggested that the first third of the webinar, dealing with shared understandings of terminology and a history of the subject under discussion, was unnecessary, superfluous. I'm struck by how often in my current practice in British higher education that the contextualisation of what we do is often treated as a luxury. Pragmatism pervades everything and there is an assumption that we all know where we are, we all know what needs to be done, and the objective is simply to do it. Universities have often been accused of being ivory towers, places where people ruminate detached from reality, but there must surely be a place for a pause and a thought.
Perhaps the reason I reacted with some discomfort to the suggestion that the historical context to a discussion of technology enhanced learning was superfluous has to do with the reactions I get from colleagues on another project currently underway. The POISE project, part of the HEA Internationalisation change initiative, stands for personal orientation to international student experience. The original idea had been to establish to support individuals to identify their own epistemological assumptions, students and staff, in order that a more meaningful dialogue about adjusting to higher education study might be possible. But whilst the stress of the original project was on personal orientation the realities of implementation in the British HE context consistently stresses the student experience, the here and now, today's problem being dealt with by today's student support person. There is a sense in which holistic medicine, whole person medicine, has been replaced by the liberal prescription of the pragmatic pill.
I found myself turning back to the concept, the principles, of Kaupapa Māori. I am not Māori, and so these principles are necessarily engaged with at an intellectual and emotional level rather than from within, based on three periods of working in New Zealand since 1998. In 1990 Graham Hingangaroa Smith outlined six principles of Kaupapa Māori within the context of education, its implementation and research. Other theorists have expanded these concepts further in the years since. This is an evolving body of a communities’ intellectual, spiritual and inter-personal exploration of identity. In a very real sense this is ‘identity-work’. It is something we appear to do very little of in the British ‘academy’.
Kaupapa Māori principles include (but are not limited to):
Tino Rangatiratanga – The Principle of Self-determination: to sovereignty, autonomy, control, self-determination and independence, allowing for and advocating Maori control over their own culture, aspirations and destiny.
Taonga Tuku Iho – The Principle of Cultural Aspiration: asserting the centrality and legitimacy of Te Reo Māori (language), Tīkanga (customary practices, ethics, cultural behaviours) and Mātauranga Māori (wisdom).
Ako Māori – The Principle of Culturally Preferred Pedagogy: acknowledging Māori teaching and learning practices and learning preferences.
Kia piki ake i ngā raruraru o te kainga – The Principle of Socio-Economic Mediation: the need to positively alleviate the disadvantages experienced by Māori communities.
Whānau – The Principle of Extended Family Structure: acknowledges the relationships that Māori have to one another and to the world around them. Core to Kaupapa Māori and key elements of Māori society and culture, acknowledging the responsibility and obligations of everyone to nurture and care for these relationships.
Kaupapa - The Principle of Collective Philosophy: the shared aspirations and collective vision of Māori communities.
Other powerful concepts have developed within Kaupapa Māori including the principles of:
Ata - The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships (Pohata 2005): relates to the building and nurturing of relationships, negotiating boundaries, creating respectful spaces and corresponding behaviours.
It is not only the substance, and there is undoubtedly something substantial about Kaupapa Māori, that appeals to me, rather it is the principle that behind each action, each intervention, there is a purposeful connection to a collective sense of people, of belonging. There appears to be a disconnect between the day-to-day activities of providing education in the British context and an engagement, a deliberate and conscious engagement, with the development of the individual that education is intended to form.
Kaupapa Māori, and indeed other world views that have developed independently of the western ‘scientific’ positivist paradigms, create different epistemological frameworks, different spaces within which educational discourses occur. I learnt in a very personal way in 2008 when I joined Massey University that the Māori world view does affect the way New Zealand educators, of all cultural backgrounds, see the world in which they educate. I drew a model on the whiteboard and a colleague simply asked ‘does it have to go that way up’. It is subtle, not always as evident to them as to those visiting from the outside, but it is there, a cultural ‘undertone’ that enriches and suffuses the discourse. Whilst we have done much to think about student centred learning in the UK, we often appear to mean placing the student at the centre of our machine not centering the student. We prepare them to fit into the universal mechanical rational world we anticipate needs and wants them, we do not equip them well to reshape themselves and their world. I continue to believe that understanding the context, presumptions and assumptions of any particular discipline subject or issue is an important precursor to meaning making. I believe an epistemological self-awareness is a prerequisite to a meaningful education.
Smith, G. H. (1990) ‘Research Issues Related to Maori Education’, paper presented to NZARE Special Interest Conference, Massey University, reprinted in 1992, The Issue of Research and Maori, Research Unit for Maori Education, The University of Auckland
BPP colleague John Irving has taught me a great deal about reflection, self-coaching and self-observation since I joined BPP University College in the summer of 2011.
John has a way of looking at educational context which is still alien to me but hugely challenging. I think we all want to work with people who stretch us and challenge us and I'm often frustrated at the lack of thought leadership around me. So it's been a delight in recent months, as John and I embarked on a third module in our pilot PGCert programme, to write an overview of reflective practice together and explore the implications of reflection for educators, particularly in professional education. That produced a short paper.
It is very much a case of standing on the shoulders of giants in this paper, part our own reflection, part literature review, it identifies the very personal characteristics of reflective practice and the importance of emotion in that process. It explores the nature of reflection served by solitary deliberation and engagement in communities of practice and identifies the individual attributes of reflection as defined by Schön and Brookfield.
Finally, this paper provides a review of several reflective models and suggests that personal transformation and reflective practice must form the basis for effective teaching. We've found Brookfield's four critical lenses a very effective way to contextualise and plan our academic development support and this paper fits nicely for us into a growing body of resource to encourage faculty to embrace the change! The paper is available for download here: Reflective Practice Mar 2013 Atkinson.
In my last posting I suggested that a module specification could usefully have four sections, clearly articulated, for Intended Learning Outcomes, so that a student could identify from their assessment evidence that they had met specific ILOs in a range of domains. In doing so they not only have a useful platform to identify future learning needs, but also the potential to negotiate the accreditation of prior accredited learning in a much more fine-grained and meaningful way, something I fully expect to become a significant future of international higher education accords in the next few years as institutions face up to the challenge of accredited OER schemes and credit bearing MOOCs. I believe the design of intended learning outcomes for modules and programmes will become a strategic priority.
Not everyone agrees ILOs are effective and a useful critique from Hussey and Smith is well worth reading (Hussey & Smith, 2002).
How many Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) one designs into a module or a programme level specification has to depend on the scope of the module or programme itself. I’m sure colleagues can adapt what I’m saying here to their own quality assurance and institutional contexts.
For the purpose of this reflection let me take a single module, worth 15 credits. In the UK context this would frequently represent one-eighth of a stage of undergraduate degree study, there being three stages each representing 120 credits. Again, in the UK context there is a strong notion of progression in higher order thinking skills between the first stage of undergraduate study (level 4) and the final stage (level 6). This progression is articulated in generic guidance that captures much of this ILO debate and in subject specific guidance drawing on the discipline communities to create ‘benchmarks’ for what be expected to be in any named award (www.qaa.ac.uk) . Level 5 would represent the second stage of undergraduate study in the UK context, the equivalent of an exit point for a Higher National Diploma or a Foundation Degree, the European Qualifications Framework Level 5 and within the EHEA (Bologna) sometimes referred to as a ‘Short Cycle’ award.
My example then is for a 15-credit module at level 5. The UK quality assurance agency does not specify periods of study for credit, but sector norms talk in terms of notional study hours and it is perhaps helpful therefore to think of 15 credits as 150 notional study hours, 30 credits as 300 notional study hours and so on.
Before proposing a model for ‘how many’, I will briefly remind myself what these four sections, or domains, of Intended Learning Outcomes represent. They are;
Knowledge and understanding – subject domain
Intellectual Skills – or the cognitive domain
Professional Skills – or the affective domain
Transferable Skills – or the psychomotor domain
Knowledge and understanding – subject domain
The subject domain is often conflated with the cognitive domain, which is understandable as it is within Bloom’s ubiquitous taxonomy, but this does tend to confuse faculty as to the distinction between knowing and understanding a body of factual knowledge and being able to do something with that factual knowledge. The Subject domain can, and in my opinion should, be limited to defining the subject area for illustrative purposes for the student. Since the principle is that all Intended Learning Outcomes should be assessed and it is actually rather difficult to assess whether someone ‘understands’ something without having them ‘operationalize’ the knowledge, I tend not to get too hung up on the active verbs used in this domain, contenting myself it serves to contextualise what follows, but maybe I should and another post later will unpack Anderson and Krathwohl's Knowledge Dimension in more detail.
Intellectual Skills / Cognitive domain
This domain refers to ‘knowledge structures’ building from the base of the Subject domain, the “knowing the facts”, towards high order thinking skills in which these facts become operationalized and transferable. This domain is familiar to most faculty and synonymous with the work of Bloom from the 1950s (Bloom, 1984) and the useful revisions made in 2001 (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).
Professional Skills / Affective domain
The affective is concerned with an individual’s values, and includes their abilities with respect to self perception through to abstract empathetic reasoning. In an extension to the early work by Bloom progressive stages take the learner from foundational ‘receiving’, through to the ‘internalization’ of personal value systems (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1999). In the context of Higher Education programmes, particularly an era when the employability of graduates is stressed, an awareness of these professional values would do well to be built into the relevant modules.
Transferable Skills / Psychomotor domain
The psychomotor domain is less well researched and documented and this has meant a less than adequate recognition and incorporation into learning designs. Frequently tactile or technical skills become seen as ‘general skills’ or ‘transferable skills’ and there is little sense of progression. This domain refers to progressively complex manual or physical skills and so could identify the progressively complex skills of a biologist in using microscopes, or an economist using a statistics software package (Dave, 1967). I find this domain unfortunately neglected as I believe it would enhance course designs if note were taken of the practical technical skills required within disciplines and their articulation in Intended Learning Outcomes.
The Balance of Numbers
The actual balance between these domains in terms of how many Intended Learning Outcomes one might assign to them in the context of a 15 credit module will depend on the context of the module, its mode and its programme context. One might reasonably expect to see some differences in the balance of ILOs in modules in different contexts, illustrated below.
Level 5 University class taught Module
Work-based Level 5 Management Module
Practice-based Level 5 lab taught
Intellectual Skills (cognitive)
Professional Skills (affective)
Transferable Skills (psychomotor)
And for those who appreciate a visual representation:
In this example each module has ten Intended Learning Outcomes but the emphasis within the module will change. Whilst it may be appropriate to stress intellectual skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) in a classroom based political science course for example, on might expect to see transferable skills (often described as practical, tactile or technical skills) stressed in a technical lab based course, skills such as manipulation, articulation and naturalisation of technical proficiency.
All too often Higher Education stresses the cognitive, over reliant perhaps on Bloom’s taxonomy and related work, and neglects the affective and psychomotor domains. This is has several consequences; it relegates anything that is not seen as ‘intellectual’ to a lower order of skills despite the fact that employers and students recognise and demand the need for broader skills (Mason, Williams, & Cranmer, 2006). In doing so it forces programme leaders into ‘bolt-on’ skills modules that demand additional institutional resource and student resource and frequently ill-serve the purpose. No learning design is truly student-centred if it is neglecting other domains of experience (Atkinson, 2011).
The model advocated here separates the knowledge domain and the intellectual skills, focussing the module designer on the ‘skills’ that will be acquired independent of the subject knowledge acquired. This, along with a focus on the affective and psychomotor skills, provides a framework for a module that is balanced in terms of what the student does, the context in which they do it, and correctly assessed ensures all these intended learning outcomes can be justifiably claimed in the student’s transcript.
Indeed it is not difficult to imagine a student coming to the end of the first stage of their degree, recognising that they have excelled in the psychomotor skills but struggled in the cognitive, and make module choices for future stages either to redress that balance or acknowledge their strengths and adjust choices to reflect future career path.
So how do you write learning outcomes across these four domains? That’s the subject of the next posting.
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing : a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
Atkinson, S. (2011). Embodied and Embedded Theory in Practice: The Student-Owned Learning-Engagement (SOLE) Model. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), 1–18.
Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd ed.). Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Dave, R. (1967). Psychomotor domain. Presented at the International Conference of Educational Testing, Berlin.
Hussey, T., & Smith, P. (2002). The Trouble with Learning Outcomes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 3(3), 220–233.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1999). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain (2nd ed.). Longman Pub Group.
Mason, G., Williams, G., & Cranmer, S. (2006). Employability Skills Initiatives in Higher Education: What Effects Do They Have On Graduate Labour Market Outcomes? National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Retrieved October 14th 2012 from http://ideas.repec.org/p/nsr/niesrd/280.html
1% of the World's Population has a College education?
I've been looking recently at some of the policy declarations around millennium goals and development targets. It's confusing and, at times, contradictory. I came across this rather nice, succint, if unreferenced, account which struck me as worth contemplating (and verifying).
"If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be: 57 Asians 21 Europeans 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south 8 Africans 52 would be female 48 would be male 70 would be non-white 30 would be white 70 would be non-Christian 30 would be Christian 89 would be heterosexual 11 would be homosexual 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States. 80 would live in substandard housing 70 would be unable to read 50 would suffer from malnutrition 1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth 1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education 1 would own a computer When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for both acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.
The education press fizzed this week, having caught up with an end of 2011 TED talk from former Snapfish CEO Ben Nelson in which he proclaimed a $25 million war chest and an ambitious two-year timetable to “transform higher education” by creating an elite global university online. Not the first, and certainly not the last, entrepreneur to look to upset the timidity of the conventional higher education landscape, one does wonder whether the Minerva project is really about changing lives and futures, or just about market-share, profit, and disruptive enterprise. Is it really about something brand-new, or just new-brand? The obsession with being new ‘ivy-league’ belies some mis-placed assumptions.
In 1996 John Daniel, then Vice-Chancellor at the Open University UK, and later head of the Commonwealth of Learning, wrote ‘Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education’. Daniel writing in 1996 says “One new university per week is required to keep pace with world population growth but the resources necessary are not available…Popular perceptions of university quality are a barrier to change that can be surmounted. The appropriate use of technology adds quality in other areas of endeavour and can help universities overcome the criticism levelled at them.” I wonder if Ben Nelson has read it. I suspect not.
The power of the internet to transform education is not in doubt. We misjudged the impact of slate, paper, bought ink, ball-points and calculators, I don't think there are many left who doubt the impact of the internet on higher education. We’ve seen exciting developments in OER and MOOC’s in recent years, and innovation with accreditation through OERu and MITx. Clearly the model is changing. And it’s been changing a while, but what the world needs is scale not 20th century notions of 'quality'.
The Society for Research into Higher Education (www.srhe.ac.uk/) or SRHE, held the inaugural meeting if the new Digital University Network, convened by Dr Lesley Gourlay and Dr Kelly Coate, at its office in London on Friday 2nd March 2012.
The network is a response to the changing technological landscape in which Universities now operate and the disruptive opportunities that technologies in education represent. The network aims to being together researchers and practitioners to explore the impact of technologies on academic work. This first session set the tone as clearly one both practical and theoretical, concerned with the impact of technological processes on identity, social networks, research methodologies and the evolution of theory.
Some twenty academic practitioners from across the UK and Ireland attended the inaugural event to share insights into the new emerging theories of education responding to technology. The emphasis of this first session was clearly positioned as moving away from the social ‘human to human’ relationships towards new considerations of the human-object relationship.
Education as Sociomaterial Practices - posthuman frontiers for educational technology Professor Tara Fenwick, School of Education, University of Stirling
Building on her background in professional studies and professional learning and building her coherent argument around actor-network theory (ANT), with a passing reference to complexity theory, Tara Fenwick provoked debate regarding knowledge located outside of human-human interaction. Working off Bruno Latour, she explored the notion of humans as nodes, with equal status to other objects, within complex networks. The implication being there is only one ‘closed system’, that of everything.
As though to reinforce Latour’s argument that social critiques must embrace empiricism to regain focus and credibility, Professor Fenwick produced a range of theoretical lenses and examples from health, emergency services and education to demonstrated the non-centrality of the individual in ANT. Borrowing on the French notion of ‘assemblage’ she outlined the issue of the importance of materiality, of materials conveying meaning, preventing actions, permitting actions.
This concept of the socio-material assemblage was illustrated with classroom examples (children changing socio-material relations with the introduction of a glue gun) and she argued the social and material not only inextricably intertwined in assemblages of the human and nonhuman, but also that education is itself a ‘network’ or assemblage of ‘practices and knowings’. This ‘posthuman’, not anti-human, approach, prioritises the sociomaterial and poses challenging questions for education and educational technology. It provoked me to consider carefully how we approach the nature of our physical spaces and the particular ‘intrinsic’ affordances of those spaces.
Digital disaggregation: assessing the uncanny posthuman Dr. Sian Bayne, School of Education, University of Edinburgh
Dr. Bayne ((@sbayne)) followed with a fascinating and wonderfully illustrated presentation of sociomaterial assemblages in both the form of her presentation and the examples of her postgraduate students’ work that she shared. She is the Programme Co-Director of the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in E-learning (http://www.education.ed.ac.uk/e-learning/), and following a review of the literature used examples from this innovative programme to illustrate that to learn and teach across diverse and complex digital spaces is to experience “uncertainty, disorientation and fragmentation”. Drawing on the literature of the ‘posthuman’, but not interestingly of earlier sociological (Schultz), or historical (Innes) perspectives, she explored the idea of ‘strangeness’ in new ‘digitally enabled’ modes of ‘being’ in education. In particular, she raised challenging issues regarding assessment practices in online learning can explicitly engage with disaggregation, spectrality and posthuman pedagogy, as critical moves in re-thinking teaching, learning and assessment for the digital mode.
There was an interesting discussion around the ambiguity of ‘technology-enhanced’ learning and technology-critical perspectives that might be said to imply that technology served simply to enhance what was already effective and human-centered. Using a range of literature from critical post humanism (literary), ecological post humanism (biological sciences) and technological post humanism (technology) Dr. Bayne placed the human ‘outside’ the centre of things, and in so doing illustrated the pervasiveness of the idea of the ‘other’ as essentially ‘other then human’.
Dr. Byane shared some exciting examples of student MSc work, assessed ‘digital essays’ in which the textual artefacts themselves were 'gatherings', looking beyond text as representational. Examples from the "thinking otherwise" project included a museum to the cyborg in Second Life called "imaginarium" in which textual content displayed as billboards and notecards, and an apparently traditional essay in which every work was hyperlinked to a different URL, demonstrating the ‘portal’ nature of words (the scene from the lost railway station, ‘Mobil Avenue’ in The Matrix sprang to mind in which Rama Kandra says to Neo, ‘What is Love?, it is a word’). My personal favourite amongst the Edinburgh student work was a digital essay in Google Earth in which connections were illustrated through visual metaphor, analogy and representation, the essay explored the notion of the flâneur, with the audience gaze itself of being acted out as a flâneur.
There was intense discussion about the difficulties and challenges of assessing such work although we were led to believe that the institutional processes were fairly mainstream and the assessment rubric looked like any other Masters level ‘essay’ rubric. There was discussion about the notion of ‘essay’ and concern about the subjectivity of the assessor. I found it intriguing that colleagues felt they could not assess the content because they did not posses the ‘technical’ skills of the authors, demonstrating perhaps that we continue to assess in an ‘apprentice’ framework and not one based on dispassionate criteria. Also perhaps, that we are in assessment practices of all things, still essentially ‘human’.