May 122009

A few notes on yesterday’s symposium, Networked Generation: a Critical and International Perspective, convened at the OU by Chris Jones, principal investigator of an ongoing UK project on the net generation. The day was organised around discussion of a series of international research projects. Presenters used their empirical research as a basis for dialogue and critical examination of the so-called digital divide between higher education educators and students (e.g. Prensky), Starting from the basis that there is ‘no sound evidence’ for such claims as a platform for all-out utopian or dystopian viewpoints, Jones and others noted the way in which the ‘generational metaphor’ has gained currency, been used as a convenient ‘handle’, for example, by advertisers in selling games as ‘edutainment’ and by policy makers and other stakeholders in persuading teachers and educators that they need to catch up with their use of technology. The symposium was all about breaking down the ‘myth’. I was sure they were right that this needed doing but hadn’t realised just how complex research suggests it all is.

 For sure, according to many international studies (some very large, eg. ECAR) a more multi-dimensional reality emerges. Studies have identified that there are certain age-related trends, but also that there are intra-generational variances in usage and attitudes towards technologies: for example, with gender, as well as a range of complex interrelated ‘other’ factors, which are currently being explored. So far the research seems to confirm that students’ capability, use and confidence with technologies is greatly influenced by their ability to tap into family and ‘informal’ networks of friends. Where this source of support and know-how is not available, skills are more likely to come though ‘formal’ education and training.

 It seems that for people who have easy access to technologies/Internet the variation in usage often comes down to choices, interests and preferences for personal context – different technologies being more appropriate for specific purposes. The availability of the choices and interests option can be perhaps taken for granted. Taking an international perspective clearly broadens the range and spread of different socio-economic groups. One interesting report was on a study in South Africa (Laura Czerniewicz and Cheryl Brown), where levels of access and technology use is extremely diverse, with the main access to ‘computers’ for many students being through their university. Some students reported sharing computers and mobile phones, but owning one or several Sim cards that they use for different needs. Mobile phones were valued more than laptops – in fact, this was reported across many of the international presentations (Sue Bennet and Gregor Kennedy).

 As Richard has highlighted in recent posts, digital inclusion/exclusion, skills and literacies has implications for much broader issues of civic engagement and social inclusion – not only internationally, but in the UK also. This was highlighted in the presentation by Rebecca Eynon of the Oxford Internet Institute. According to the recent Oxford Internet Survey, in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales) “One in 10 of the population (9%), amounting to four million people, suffer ‘deep’ social exclusion and have no meaningful engagement with Internet based services.”(p39)..And this is only one part of a complex mix of different variables around choice, availability, inclusion and exclusion. Exposing the myth in the ‘generational metaphor’ showed how issues in higher education inform and are embedded in these broader social issues. You can access related resources at the The Net Generation Encountering eLearing at University.project webpage.

May 072009

Michael Fitzpatrick from the BBC News team reports the “The rise and rise of e-readers
” with the recent launch of the “Kindle DX” – which sports a larger screen to it’s older sibling the Kindle. 
The Kindle DX is designed for newspapers and periodicals – and so are we seeing the beggining of the demise of the paper-printed newspapers; would you use an e-reader?  I would certainly never use my expensive electronic device to protect me from the rain or polish glass windows!

Read More…

Posted by Mohamed using ScribeFire

May 062009

I recently blogged about Social exclusion and digital Britain, focusing upon how Universities should be engaging in partnerships with local communities, in order both to enhance learning literacies that are facilitated by technologies and to help create spaces within which those communities can empower themselves.

Having attended a lunchtime paper on Digital Citizenship, hosted by our LGRU and delivered by Karen Mossberger from the University of Illinois, I’m now convinced that this is more vital. In particular, Karen highlighted how the indicators of poverty also impacted digital citizenship, access to IT and broadband, and information literacy. She highlighted the disenfranchisement of poor neighbourhoods (in Chicago in her studies) and poor minority groups. However, much of her work focused upon a Web1.0 view of the world, with analysis of (PEW-based) data from pre-2003. The technological world has moved on so much more since then, with a focus now upon emerging issues like:

  • Social networks and networked literacy;
  • Mobile technologies;
  • Organisation of niche or issue-related associations, and communities of practice; and
  • Semantic web and cloud computing, that affect the management of networks and content.

Engaging with these emergent issues, the work carried out by NGOs like Amnesty and Oxfam is at once participative, devolved, deliberative, and activist to different people, who are able shape and personalise their involvement within different associations. This personalisation helps build communities of practice that stand beyond local and national government, and exists as a participative activity for different people in different ways. For instance, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs can all be used in conjunction with an organisation’s own website or portal to arrange, report, disseminate and organise. The National Digital Inclusion conference recently kept non-attendees up-to-date using the Twitter hashtag #ndi09, whilst HopeNotHate use their own portal, linked to mobiles and email, to organise electoral activism across the whole East Midlands.

These new ways of working do not necessarily engage the technologically, culturally or politically disenfranchised, but they do offer new models for building social capital and civic engagement. Of course there is scope for those in power to use digital participation to maintain their own traditional agendas. This is witnessed by Number 10’s YouTube channel, and the use of digital data to monitor environmental protesters. This paradigm is also evident in The Future Internet: Web 3.0 presentation hosted by the Learning Technologies team at NUI Galway, which focuses upon how the web and our use of it can enable business and the economy. The danger is that it offers no new ways of working, just ways in which extant companies can gain efficiencies and market themselves to new audiences. There is no radical or progressive hope here.

Perhaps a more hopeful view for the future internet is building social capital and social enterprise, and enabling new communities of practice to grow. This is especially the case for education, where new ways of working and engaging with the emergent issues noted above offer hope for a newer, more radical pedagogy that is built around personally meaningful access, enquiry, mentoring, decision-making and action. This is framed by a promise of enhanced social [educational] capital and our ability to nurture new communities of inquiry. These stand against attempts by established organisations, including lecturers and Universities, to lever old ways of working into the use of new technologies and the new communities of practice that emerge.

These issues need to be addressed in light of the demands for flexibility in curriculum design and delivery, alongside, and not separate from the need for more active engagement with digital inclusion agendas. We have the spaces to discuss issues of power and control, participation and civic responsibility, and these can be led by Universities, as part of an engagement with students, voluntary groups, social enterprises and business. I’m just not sure that a traditional analysis of education, inclusion and the future of the web, focused on traditional models of engagement, development and participation, are relevant or helpful. In inspiring social and educational inclusion, we need are more progressve, radical evaluations, visions and proposals.

Apr 302009

I’ve just seen the new JISC Legal checklist for Web 2.0 for tutors/academic teams. The 2-page checklist [only 2-pages, big writing, simple language, neat examples – there is NO excuse for you not to look at it if you deliver all-or-in-part on-line] covers issues to do with:

  1. general legal issues;
  2. intellectual property law;
  3. data protection law;
  4. liability issues; and
  5. accessibility law.

Before you start planning a new, or reinvented, web-enhanced or web-based class, make a cup-of-tea, sit down and consider the issues. Then show it to the res of the team. Then revisit it after you have planned your design and delivery approaches.

Then put it in your module/programme handbook and discuss it with your students. They need to engage with these issues too, especially if they are being assessed or producing or using on-line. If we leave gaps for them to fill without prior knowledge we put them at risk.

Plus, it might help them in their everyday lives…

Apr 272009

Amongst all the heat surrounding Australia’s move towards being a broadband nation [with the project cited as “nation-building”], and the UK Government’s attempts to lever the same in its proposed UK broadband network, I came across Helen Milner’s slides on Digital Inclusion The Evidence from the April 2009 National Digital Inclusion Conference in London [thanks to @joannejacobs].

Milner highlights how socio-economic groups DE, those with poor education and low educational aspirations, alongside older people and those with low technological confidence, are marginalised and excluded from the benefits of technology, that include:

She also re-focused my thinking about how marginalisation and exclusion from a broadband, networked world is reinforcing the indicators of poverty that include high-levels of children, pensioners, disabled-adults, single adults and those in social housing, and where low levels of parental educational attainment are still impacting on child poverty. In turn this impacts on our ability to engage more people with technology to help more people lift themselves out of poverty because “the other resources available to the family are also important” [ Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Consultation response: ‘Ending child poverty: Making it happen’] in helping to achieve this aim. These other resources include meaningful access to technology.

For Universities to make a difference this means allocating resources to generate local engagements with schools and colleges and community groups, to ensure that social capital is valued and enhanced within communities. It also demands targeting low income and aspiration groups, not necessarily in order to manufacture or create demand for HE programmes, but because it is the right thing to do for institutions that might look globally but which are rooted locally.

Helen Milner reminds us all that universites have a powerful role to play in bringing forward projects that enable communities to utilise technologies for capacity and capability-building, as well as for community development. They should be able to affect policy but as importantly also practice, and as well as looking to Government for policy, ideas and financial frameworks, they should look to communities for voluntary activism and local engagement with social justice. This is more than the engagement of specific HE-based research and development departments or institutes, and is a core responsibility of Universities, who are perfect partners as schools and community groups attempt to raise performance and aspiration, with technology-enhanced activism at the heart of the matter.

Apr 232009

Thanks to Jane Challinor for tweeting the following article ‘The Impact of Web-Based Lecture Technologies on Current and Future Practices in Learning an Teaching‘ It is interesting that staff have concerns about lecture attendance and the changing role of the tutor as a result of having lecture recording available to students:

“With students being offered the technologies and choosing not to attend; some academics have begun questioning the role of lectures. At least 80% of the staff surveyed use lectures to inspire and motivate students; build conceptual frameworks; establish connections with students; use multimedia content; provide structured experiencesfor students; impart information and make announcements. This raises the question of whether there are more effective ways of achieving these functions.”

It would appear that using recorded lectures to be made available and the lecturers wanting to maintain attendance there will no doubt be fluctuations unless the dynamics of delivering the course programme fundamentally is considered- this is recognised and agreed in this article (tutorials, workshops etc) so that having recording lecturers is not seen in isolation or as supplementary. I think despite outlining the benefits of the importance of attendance the student learner will do as they see fit as in accordance to their learning/study style. Having such a resource alike to other online materials provides flexibility and more control to the learner on how they study their course. From lecturers point of view you would have to be comfortable in using this technology on a regular basis and would the quality of one lecture (i.e. heated debates etc) be better or same as the next? Will all content be suitable via recordings or would a mixed bag approach allow for more interaction? The study does conclude that one size does not fit all and they have developed a ‘Toolkit’ resource for staff considering embarking on such an endeavour. Have a read of the case studies on the site above; they give an interesting insight of ‘real’ issues.


Apr 172009

Short article that states that we should not assume that wealthier families with sophisticated technology at home have children who are more digitially aware, often this costly equipment is ‘off-limits’.  Other factors here may come into play where wealthier families may have more ‘control’ and routine in the child’s pre-packaged day! (which is not always involves using technology).  I really think it is a ‘two- way street’ where children can learn more from parents who take a keen interest in their childs education and are computer literate; on the other hand we should not dismiss the fact that parents can learn from children too.   As education establishments we should be able to cater for all skill levels and often that means taking things at base level – may be we should consider more on getting the ‘students’ to talk more about what kinds of technology they use so that we don’t ‘suppose this and that’ . More on Professor Lydia Plowman’s research work can be found at the University of Stirling.

Posted: Suki