Writing retreat: Dedicated time away to write and revise

Just such a lovely and doable idea, humble but down to earth. Accepting the limitation one has but not renouncing to the essence of the experience which is going away from the every day environment to get to do what you need to move forward in your PhD. I hope to be so wise when I am so far 🙂

Learning in the wild and open, like Skywhales -#Blimage

love + passion + research + craft + creativity + adaptation + challenge 
I was invited last week to give a seminar at the NUIGalway by @catherincronin. The Arts Festival was running that week, and we went together to RelativityPatricia Piccini’s exhibition.

Later in the week I went to hear her talk about another piece of art she had created, the Skywhale, which is the one in the picture, this time in Galway’s landscape 🙂
This #blimage post is inspired by this talk.
She said things that I relate with what educators are experiencing within this cultural shift. She explained that whales are mammals, and normally mammals are animals that live on land but somehow this special creatures have adapted to a different environment, namely the sea. Patricia has gone further, she has in her creation, brought whales up to the air in the form of a balloon!
We, as educators, have lived most of our lives in a closed and safe environment: the classroom, where we had fixed resources to teach deciding what and how to teach it. The classroom, as a safe closed space-the land of mammals- has been changing dramatically and educators and even learners, are adapting to this new open digital ecosystem, an ecology of abundance-the sea- which is not only different because it is digital but also because it is an open and wild space, as the sea. We need different skills to adapt to this new environment, to evolve like whales did in order to move at ease in this new fluid space, where boundaries are sometimes unclear and difficult to identify.
Fluidity is a new condition that characterises modern times, as Bauman brilliantly puts it:

(…) fluids do not keep to any shape for long and are constantly ready (and prone) to change it; and so for them it is the flow of time that counts, more than the space they happen to occupy; that space, after all, they fill but  ‘for a moment’

Whales are dynamic and mobile when swimming and splashing, giving us a magic sensation of lightness despite their huge dimensions. This agility is what I argue educators need to develop, always ready to embrace change, maybe not knowing all the answers nor the path to go, but accepting the challenge to adapt and flow in the open and wild sea, finding clues and daring to take risks. 
We need to understand how to embrace the wild and the open, how to manage our vulnerability when we curate, remix and share our ideas, which are some times still in the making but ready to be seen, therefore to be criticised. In the open we are much more exposed and it would be desirable to learn how to cope with this. We ought to embrace this new culture in which our students are growing up, but where many of us are late comers, with lungs instead of gills. It is a scary task but unavoidable in order to adapt and rearrange to become Skywhales, agile educators of the future!
Piccini said: 

I wanted it to be an artwork that took advantage of the opportunities that the balloon form offered

I think this is what educators ought to do: take advantage of the opportunities that this new digital and technology-mediated world has to offer and transform our former structures maybe, from solid to liquid! 
And if we live long enough we will need to adapt again and again. From the land to the sea and up to the sky! 

My seminar at NUIGalway

The picture is part of the art festival happening in Galway last week. The “sky whale” is a piece of art made to an aerostatic balloon 🙂 it flew over Galway while I was there! (The picture was taken in Australia, the first time it flew)
Here my talk at CELT in NUIGalway
I received interesting feedback from the people in the seminar which shed light to the next steps I need to take in my research.
The quotes are referring to what the participant said to me at the end of the presentation

You start you PhD trying to answer a particular question and you end realising what the question should be!

This is so true. Indeed it was one of the things that was stopping me to move forward. I knew and I still know that my question is not a good question, that it is an ordinary question, but I also know that to generate a good and fruitful question there is much more knowledge needed, not only theoretical knowledge but also research knowledge and skills, research literacy? I made the analogy with driving a car. Once you master some of the basic driving skills (changing gear, the breaks, the signs outside, the rules, the dynamics of highways or dual carriage roads and so on) is that you can get better at the art of driving. In the research field I believe the same happens, once we master the basic skills (read academic papers critically, write sharp comments, understand the deep relationship between the research question and the design, learn how to do interviews, surveys, focus group, etc) then we can start to become creative in the research arena. I am not very patient in that respect, particularly because I want to do good research, which I don’t think is what I will do in my PhD, but it is the first stage, and there is no chance to jump over it if I want to be solid and excellent in the future.

Is this why you are focusing now more on phase I, which is about understanding students’ existing digital practice where they might have already a ‘PLE’ (personal learning environment) in place but they might not call it a PLE but it works as that.

Providing a thoroughly ‘state of the actual’  of students’ digital practice in words of Selwyn (2007) and Oliver (2011), can be very valuable to the university in order to map and understand how students engage with different platforms and technologies and what are the underlying motivations they have when engaging online. In this way the institution might be able to set the scene and improve the settings (if needed) of the digital landscape and make the necessary adjustments to meet students expectations and level of digital practice. Phase I will unlock the door for me. Maybe it won’t be needed to work on a PLE because they already have one in place, maybe the need resides in something different that Phase I will tell me. On the other hand doing so is more in line with the basic principles of critical theory, in particular in relation to address the ‘digital disconnect’ between the enthusiastic rhetoric and the mundane reality of digital technology use at the university (Selwyn, 2007).

Maybe phase 2 is not to ‘create’ a PLE but more to expand or develop the existing PLE or informal systems they already have in place.If you recognize there is already one going on instead of bringing it like a totally new thing there be less resistance from the side of the student

In my experience students are reluctant to use digital technology for their academic tasks. They tend to go for the least effort and if the university don’t put in place the conditions for students to feel the need of working in a different way that they have been doing until know, there is no case in trying. If the university is happy with an essay in a word document I am sure that none of the students will come with something different as it implies more work, struggle thus resilience. It would be the exception. They like the easy way and they are used to be spoon fed. So if there is struggle and extra effort implied in designing a PLE and for the university it will make no difference it will be very difficult to get students to overcome the struggle and difficulties implied in the task.

I think that students are quite passive in relation with technologies. The longer students stay at the university the more strategic they become (Deep, surface and strategic learning).

What is your aim for the students? Are you thinking to getting every one to a certain level of digital literacy? Getting the average up or focus on the more brilliant ones? Maybe how to manage 5 tools to do research? If you want to use the personal part as the motivator, you get a conflict if you want to give them the tools or let them to choose. Choosing will be part of the motivation, I think.

She also made a good point about working with tools and the ‘ideal idea’ that we know why we are going to choose this or that tool for a particular task. She said that many times we make decisions without knowing very much about it, we just make them because we have to. So maybe this could be a good point to try to find out in the research. Asking for reasons why students choose a particular tool.

Don’t you think that last year undergraduate is already to late? Why don’t you work with younger students and ask them why are they choosing a particular tool or a particular device. When they first used the device or when they first encounter the technology why is it the one they want to use?

The group you have chosen is a very strategic and important group, many of them are going to be teachers. There is a strong rational as they are going to teach younger students and they will need to be digital literate. I could think in a bigger set, all students of ED6014 and then the subset of the potential PGCE students.

Indeed the idea to work with last year Ed Studies pupils is inspired by the fact (at least it is my believe)  that they will favour from having guidance in relation to the engagement, more over, the effective engagement with digital media and the web as the majority of them are going into the PGCE programme to become qualified teachers.
The main space in which the majority of the interaction with tools happens is the Web, and it is in this space where we and particularly future teachers, need to move confidently. It is understanding how the Web works, what is the logic of the dynamics that happens in that space and in the many sub-spaces we dive in when we are doing particular tasks, how can we navigate the complexity of abundance without getting lost and sometimes overwhelmed, that we can become real agents in this social and hyper-connected age in which we are living in. The idea is to address these challenges and build students’ digital expertise for the ‘near’ future.
This need is very well documented through out many institutions and government agencies in the UK and around Europe. Indeed it is part of the overall strategy for Europe and the UK for 2020; i.e DIGICOMP, DISE, Make or break: The UK’s digital future, The future of learning: Preparing for change, Connected Minds: Technology and today’s learners (OECD), UCISA Digital Capability report, Jisc project: Enhancing the students’ digital experience, All Aboard, NUI open project to map digital literacy in HE, just to mention a few.

Phase I unlocks the door for you, because in studying their existing practice you will understand better what needs to come next. Maybe there is no need to work with them or maybe it is that their PLE is defined in a different way. It will be a phase that grounds your work in real needs within your institutional context.

That is why research is time consuming, you have to go through all the stages and it requieres time to give proper attention to each stage.

What you are really looking at is to their existing PLEs although they might not be perfect PLEs (if that exists). They do have a PLE even if they do not know it. So maybe stage II is not about how to create a PLE but how to expand and develop the one they already have in place.
(…) I think for students to work with their PLE…is like alcoholics, first you have to recognize you have one! I mean if you bring it in as a new concept “now you have to create a PLE” it all gets a bit strange, they will maybe say: what the hell is that? How do I get one? This is all to complicated and I don’t know what Flickr is nor what Scoop.it is? Curating, what??
Many of the work I have seen is that participants map out their PLEs and it is a way to get to see their blank spots being this a motivation to start the work. It is different if the work is seen as improving what I already have than starting from scratch. It can be felt that what they have done by themselves has no value at all.

Me: Do you think that working within the dissertation module could be limiting, as I am just researching the state of their actual practice?

Ian: That module is where students are supposed to bring in all the knowledge they have been gathering through out their course and they need to go “outside” the university to explore something, so it is the ideal space to work with as you can look how they explore, what tools they use? The other modules are very constraint and well structured in relation to activities, etc. In this module they are getting some freedom in relation to what to explore and how they want to explore it, they can choose what resources they will use for that, what tools can help them to get those resources and how they will present their findings.

My conclusions:

  • It is necessary to ground my research within the actual digital practice students have. Understanding what those practices look like, how they engage with the media, the web and other digital spaces is key to know what do they need to move on and improve in this regards, This landscape will be the key to open the next door in my research.
  • The starting point of the next stage (supposing it will be working towards a PLE) will be based on their existing practice. Usually what we see nowadays is that everyone has a system of tools and resources already in place but they may not be called PLE, nevertheless depending on how I will define it [and maybe it is here when I can use Engestroem’s idea of expansive concepts. In his theory we need to work with complex concepts which he argues are best understood as tools and products of collective activity that evolve historically. Thus the concept of PLE will evolve in the collective activity of educational research. They are inherently polyvalent, contested and dynamic. “Every local action of diagnosis destabilises the concept and potentially contributes to its evolution” (link) ] student may or may not feel identified with the idea of calling what they have a PLE.
  • Next will be the design of the instrument to collect the data that will allow me to map and further understand their digital practice. One of the tools I will use for this is the mapping exercise David White proposes using his visitor-resident framework. I will also do focus group and open interviews. I am also thinking about the possibility to use their mobile devices to answer some questions in situs. I will also carry out some workshops asking students to map a life space (Kurt Lewin, 1936).
  • Once the data is analyzed decisions will be made as where to go next.

Reflections about the post-digital

The post-digital did sound really weird to me the first time I heard it. What??? Post-digital?? But how can we be in a post ‘what ever’ if we are still struggling so much to keep up with the ‘what ever’? I looked into the literature, videos, talks and I started to understand what people were referring to when talking about the post-digital. I think we are in a transition phase more than being fully there yet. It seems to me we are at the right time to start to think about how this post-digital will be best embraced.
We as educators and researcher are still looking at ways in which we can embed the digital (tools, format, thinking and operating) in a seaming less way into the everyday experience of our students, it is not a straight forward task and we can see that the research space is packed with those kind of studies. Question in relation to how much web based tools and the web in general are empowering and liberating our students of the hidden power structure is an important aspect to think about but politics and hidden power is not a topic for every one.
What is happening with the gap between the rhetoric of the power of educational technology and the reality is also important. There is still a big space between the saying and selling of the idea and its benefits and real examples of how those tools are being use in every day practice. It need to be more about the ‘state of the current’ and not so much about the state of the art as Selwyn suggests in his text. My questions is what would be necessary from the side of the teacher to foster and encourage the use of web-based tools in order to improve student’s digital skills and competencies so necessary to succeed in a knowledge digital hyperconnected liquid society? If the general educational and political discourse is about the ‘inherent’ progress that technology implies then it would be necessary to have a clear definition of what we mean by ‘progress’ and who is benefitting of it? How can we empower students to be part of this so called -maybe wrongly- progress?
Some initial readings are to be done in relation to what progress means from a philosophical perspective and in conjunction with a deeper understanding about the nature of technology I think I can move forward my understanding in order to take actions in the near future
I tend to think that having skilled and literate citizens -amongst other- is how the post-digital will might be experienced fully.
Here some of the links I found useful in my understanding journey, which is still not closed.
The video is David White talking in a conference about the  Web as a ‘place’

Here the conference video 
Preparing for the Post-digital era is the document David White is referring to. Written by Group 52.
An interesting blog post about the post-digital
The illustration is from Julian Stodd’s blog

The University as a third space?

The University as a third space?
I am after an idea that will allow me to define and characterise the space students are going to design and hopefully live in for a longer period of time to make it sustainable for them. It seems to me there is something to take from Ray Oldemburg‘s work on ‘third places’.
Complementing to it is the metaphor of liquidity used by Bauman in his characterisation of modernity.  Bauman, a key theorist in pot-modernity thinks that social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long–term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives. They have to splice together an unending series of short–term projects and episodes that don’t add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like ‘career’ and ‘progress’ could meaningfully be applied. Such fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable (agile in my words) – to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to their current availability. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of endemic uncertainty. In line with this description of society is the work of Carlo Giovanella who argues for liquid spaces in an organic era. I aim to come to my own version soon!

Seminar at the CELT @National University Ireland

Next week I am invited by Catherine Cronin to present a seminar about my PhD research in the Centre for the Excellence of Teaching and Learning in the National University of Ireland.  I am so excited to have this opportunity for sharing my ideas and get valuable feedback that will enrich my ideas and shed some light on aspects that are still in the making!

Updates to come!