Becoming Post Digital – #SEDAConf #SEDApostdigital

On Friday I took part in Helen Beetham’s flipped Being Post Digital keynote on the final day of this year’s SEDA conference. I’m still applauding SEDA and Helen on having the courage to try something new at during a conference keynote. If you want to find out more about the structure and pre-keynote activities have a look at Helen’s blog.

Using Collaborate Helen was not only able to allow those of us not attending the conference on Friday to join in, but also to bring in some other voices (George Roberts and yours truly) to add some remote comments to the ongoing discussions along with David Baume (who was in “da room”).  The chat in the online room was pretty lively, as was twitter, as were the discussions in the conference centre itself. From a remote perspective Helen did a fantastic job of dealing with not only some of inevitable technical glitches but also summarising and feeding backwards and forwards from the real room to the online room, and look at the twitter stream.   A sure sign of a (post) digital practitioner!

Dealing with different spaces and places was a central tenant to Helen’s talk.  It is very difficult to be active in three places at once and you could argue that it is probably never necessary.  Speaking for myself I have found being in two places (the “here and not here” Helen referred to in her talk) particularly during conferences, has given me a far richer experience and interaction with the issues being discussed. Twitter acts as my note taking and as a conduit for others not at the conference.  I have been doing it for so long now it is almost second nature.  It is something I become more comfortable with the more I did it. Conferences are still, imho, one of the best places to understand how to use twitter.

Recently I have been experimenting with visual note taking. This forces me to listen and synthesis in a different way. I do miss somethings as I am drawing and I have to store other things until I find the right way to represent them, or not as the case may be. It’s not as interactive a process as tweeting but it does provide me with a different prompt and recall of an event. If other people like the pictures then that’s fine too.

Here’s my sketch note from the session. (Confession I did redo this after the session itself as speaking, being in the online chat, tweeting and drawing is something I need to practice a bit more).

sketch notes from Helen Beetham keynote

During the session there were a number of grumbles about the value of faceless voices (mea culpa – there had been some bandwith problems before I spoke so I went for audio only), how difficult it was to follow the chat and  twitter, a call for a move to slow reading (in the manner of the slow movement).  As the twitter stream was buzzing with “porosity”,  there was also some mention in the conference room itself of feelings of inadequacy in terms of using technology.  Whilst I do sympathise with this view,  Helen is a very skilled, talented and intelligent presenter, I did find it fascinating that a group of educational developers who seem perfectly at home, and excited by theories of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, weren’t a bit more open to trying technologies that troubled them.  Being online can be scary and confusing, but so is life.

We certainly don’t need to use technology all of the time, but I firmly believe it can be a very powerful enabler for enriching and enhancing learning.  Experimentation in safe places, such as the SEDA conference, is really important too to help us all find, and extend our comfort zones. After all isn’t that what education is all about?

15 comments

  1. Thanks Sheila!
    I’m catching up with the tweets etc now. On Friday and Saturday I was at #solo14. The first days had sessions live-streamed with mainly panels at the front of the room followed by audience questions. The second day had an unconference format and was much more discursive. These sessions weren’t streamed. I noticed some tweets from people not there suggesting that the lack of streaming was exclusionary. This is something I have been thinking about more recently. I think that as much as possible the experience of those who are in the room shouldn’t be compromised to benefit those not in the room. There is a balance there. Bringing in the views of those not in the room can be beneficial for all, but if streaming necessitates formats closer to ‘sage on the stage’ rather than workshops or small group discussions when that is what is necessary then it is not fair to compromise the experience of those who are there. And as such I think not live-streaming all sessions on Saturday was probably a good decision.
    From what you write I don’t think that this kind of compromise is what happened at #sedaconf but it would be interesting to know if some of the resistance to those present in the session was a feeling that maybe that was happening. What do you think?
    AM

    • Hi Anne Marie – I haven’t had a chance to speak properly with any one who was there on Friday so can’t really say. I did get the impression that the discussions were more about unease with technology in education more generally rather than the session format itself. I found that slightly disturbing. There were some technical issues which I think we more down to the venue wifi. One of my colleagues found it very frustrating that online it was not possible to hear all the feedback from the room. Personally I wasn’t too bothered by that as the chat in the online space was stimulating enough. I agree that streaming isn’t always beneficial particularly for group work but it was a good experiment which I really hope is still making partipant a think.

  2. Many thanks for a great summary of Helen Beetham’s keynote Sheila. As one of the Twitterers I certainly felt that the ‘flipped’ concept of a keynote was mostly successful, although having spoken to one of my colleagues who attended it seems that the experience in the room was possibly less good.

    I also wanted to pick up on the issue that a participant raised about his feeling that ‘the technology just needs to work’. I must confess that at the time I found this to be a bit of a short-sighted comment, particularly when taken in the context of your point about the need for educationalists to experiment. But having talked to my colleague it seems that this comment was raised within the context of what it truly means to be ‘post-digital’, with the point being that we can only really consider ourselves to be in a post-digital era when we don’t even have to think about whether the technology will just work or not.

    In this context, I have to admit that while a post-digital era is an interesting idea the fact that I still have to help academic staff connect a computer to a projector, or make an announcement on Blackboard, suggests that we are a long way from being truly post-digital. It’s interesting to reflect on what a situation in which ‘the technology just works’ might look like, and consider what a truly post-digital tutor would be able to do effortlessly in a teaching situation. And then maybe use that to draft a job description!

      • Hello Simon, and thank you for your voice comment – I very much enjoyed listening. I have to say that I couldn’t agree with you more regarding your argument for ‘creating systems and services with the needs of the learner and the teacher in mind’.

        I’ve just come out of a meeting where a key point of discussion was around the failure of the university to align the IT function with the core business needs – i.e. learning. This problem highlights the need for discussions around TEL to happen at a high level in an institution and for key drivers around learning and technology to feature in the university strategy. You’re absolutely right in that a ‘business’ would not tolerate technical glitches in the delivery of its core product, and while I’m still resistant to the idea of education as a business I think there is a pressing need for key technologies to be integrated and embedded into the core function of a university – to a point where they ‘just work’.

  3. Great post, Sheila — many thanks! Like Tony, I participated remotely and thought it was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a remote participant in a live event. As you say, Helen was immensely insightful: asking thoughtful questions, facilitating the various strands of conversations, and dealing with the inevitable technical glitches with grace and humour 🙂 There were several discussions on Twitter, prompted by the questions Helen posed in her slides and blog posts; some of these conversations extended well beyond the keynote slot.

    I applaud Helen for hacking the keynote format. There were many voices, many views — Helen; you & George as additional presenters (thank you!); the “room”; Collaborate participants; and of course Twitter, both synchronously and asynchronously. There were times when things felt a bit overwhelming, as you describe. But as with any open online learning, we can struggle in that space between cacophony and exhilaration, or we can learn to dance there 🙂

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, Sheila. Let’s experiment more and embrace being uncomfortable in our learning — and (hopefully) model that for others. Helen modeled that beautifully, and that’s what I will remember most from this session. Many thanks for the post and another awesome sketch note!

    • Thanks Catherine – good to get your view of the session and I love that description of “that space between cacophony and exhilaration”. Wish I had thought of that for the title of the post.

  4. Hi Sheila, Catherine and Anne-Marie (and others), thanks so much for extending the reach of the keynote beyond the event itself. That capacity for us to be both participants and non-participants in an event, and for the event itself to be both bounded in time and space, and leaking out beyond those boundaries, is exactly what I was trying to describe. I wanted to be challenging about that, and to challenge myself and express my vulnerability – and that does seem to have happened! For me the interesting question is not whether the technology works or not, but whether it is disruptive enough to let us ask fundamental questions about learning, teaching, and education. If we reach a stage where it is no longer that troubling (I think I mean culturally, educationally and politically troubling rather than just nerve-racking to use in a live event!) then it has lost its edge, and I think it makes sense to talk about new agendas.

  5. Helen, I think you certainly succeeded in disrupting the established borders of the traditional conference. You make an interesting point about the need for technology to be ‘troubling’ – do you think therefore that a core characteristic of technology is that it always has to be disruptive? And is that true of every learning technology? And to what extent is that helpful for educators who habitually struggle to adapt to technology?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that anyone involved in teaching and learning in the 21st century needs to be confident in the pedagogical application of tech. But are there perhaps different levels of technology that would benefit from being ‘internalised’ into our working lives? For example, I would hazard a guess that pretty much every teacher is familiar with the concept of using email (although some still struggle with attachments..) – email might therefore be viewed as having been internalised into our working lives.

    Based on your experience at the keynote, and in view of growing student demands for HE to be more collaborative, it could be argued that learning opportunities might be transformed if we could reach the same stage with synchronous tools as we have with email. There would still be a whole raft of technology that would be considered ‘troubling’, but perhaps we should be aiming for a point where certain tools ‘just work’, while others force us to push boundaries? If we want to increase opportunities for TEL in HE, should we not be continuously aiming to redraw the line in the sand of what constitutes an expected level of tech usage for your average tutor?

  6. @tony, absolutely, that line is always being redrawn isn’t it? We should expect digital technologies to become ‘business as usual’. I don’t agree with the line that says technology is (must be) always disruptive, troubling of the ‘established’ way of doing things in education, whatever that means. For me, as I think I said in the keynote, a book can be disruptive, it can be interactive, it can cause trouble. And web technologies can be used in ways that are instructional, unimaginative, uneducational. Perhaps I’m trying to tease apart two slightly different agendas. On the one hand the project of ‘mainstreaming’ technology, which argues (rightly) that where there are benefits, they need to be integrated seamlessly into learners’ and educators’ repertoires, they need to just work. That is what most people working in LTech see as their role, and it’s an important one. But on the other hand many people with an agenda for education to be more radical, student-centred, disruptive, exciting, developmental (subistute your own preferred term here) have seen digital technology as an ally, partly just because it is different, and because it has specific affordances that run counter to some of the cultural norms of the classroom. A few people – call them gurus? – see this as their day job. Whereas the truth is there is a constant interplay between these two possibilities, and for me it is more radical/disruptive for people in the field to be engaged in both agendas, however contradictory that may make their working lives.

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