Overview and thanks – ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts (Second Edition)’

In my first blog posts of 2019, back in March, I was sharing news of the book ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice’ which myself and my good friends and colleagues Bill Johnston and Sheila MacNeill had just had published. Our book was a labour of love, informed by several years of research, dialogue, reflection and practice before we began the book itself.

During the last year I have also been very fortunate to be involved in co-authoring a second book with another good friend and colleague, Professor Frank Rennie of Lews Castle College, University of the Highlands and Islands. Our book Digital Learning: The Key Concepts (Second Edition) was published by Routledge in the second half of this year, and is a revised and extensively updated edition of ‘Elearning: The Key Concepts‘ (2006) which Frank co-authored with the renowned educationalist Robin Mason.

For myself, in important personal ways, ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’ was a book that was also several years in the making – even if I didn’t realise it until the prospect of authoring the second edition was in front of us. The reason for this is that long before I joined the University of the Highlands and Islands, and came to know and work closely with Frank, I knew and made extensive use of the original edition of the book both for my own personal purposes and also in co-designing and then leading an online Masters programme in blended and online education. The programme, which was (and still is) undertaken by teachers, lecturers, learning technologists and other educational specialists and professionals from around the world, set out to provide a dual grounding in relevant concepts and ideas relating to technology-enhanced learning hand-in-hand with design-based practice applied and evaluated within professional contexts. To this end ‘Elearning: The Key Concepts’, authored by Frank and Robin as an extensive A to Z of established and emerging ideas, approaches, technologies and theories, was an invaluable text for those studying on the programme…as well as those teaching on it!

As the second edition, ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’ follows in a similar vein albeit updated (as you might expect in what is still a fast evolving field) to address developments in practice, thinking and technology that have taken place since the original 2006 text.

Image of cover for the book 'Digital Learning: The Key Concepts'

Cover for ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts (Second Edition)’

Back in 2006, which was around about the time we started to develop the programme it helped to influence, I could not have known or imagined that over a decade later Frank would be extending the invitation to myself to co-author the second edition with him. That was and is an honour in itself, but made more so by the privilege to help build upon the original work undertaken by Frank and Robin (with Robin and her research also being very formative for myself, especially when undertaking my PhD on the topic of networked learning and technology affordances back in the 2000’s).

I’m very thankful to Frank for the opportunity to author the second edition with him, and for his patience when outside challenges delayed my own contributions at key points. Collectively, we’re also very thankful for the support of the team at Routledge (including our commissioning editor Sarah Tuckwell) and knowledgeable colleagues who were were kind enough to review the text and offer both suggestions and reviews for the book. This includes the aforementioned Sheila MacNeill, Antony Coombs at the University of Sussex, and Alex Walker at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Below you can find the official synopsis of the book, and the thoughts of our aforementioned colleagues who reviewed the book in advance.

Synopsis for ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’

The new edition of Digital Learning: The Key Concepts is the perfect reference for anyone seeking to navigate the myriad of named concepts, approaches, issues and technologies associated with digital learning.Key terms are explained succinctly, making this book ideal to dip into for a quick answer, or to read from cover-to-cover, in order to gain a mastery of how digital concepts fit within the world of education. Fully updated to include important developments in digital practice and technology in education over the last ten years, this book takes the reader from A to Z through a range of relevant topics including:

  • Course design
  • Digital scholarship
  • Learning design
  • Open education
  • Personal learning environments
  • Social media and social networking

Ideal as an introductory guide, or as a reference book for ongoing referral, this quick-to-use and comprehensive guide is fully crossreferenced and complete with suggestions for further reading and exploration, making it an essential resource for anyone looking to extend their understanding of digital practices, techniques and pedagogic concepts.

Recommendations for ‘Digital Learning: The Key Concepts’

“Digital Learning: The Key Concepts provides a valuable reference for education professionals, particularly early-career Learning Technologists, academics and teachers getting to grips with the intersection between digital technology and education. The clear explanations give a rapid orientation within the ideas and terminology of this important aspect of the contemporary learning landscape.”

Antony Coombs, Learning Technologies Manager (Technology Enhanced Learning), University of Sussex, UK

“Navigating the constantly evolving digital learning landscape is a perennial challenge for staff, students and indeed anyone involved in any type of learning activity. Digital technologies are providing increasingly diverse ways of permeating the boundaries between formal and informal learning. However, it is essential that everyone involved in learning and teaching has a common understanding of the possibilities and constraints of technology that is based on scholarly research and current effective practice. This updated collection of terms provides an essential compass for key learning theories, concepts and resources for navigating the current digital learning landscape.”

Sheila MacNeill, Independent HE Consultant, Chair of ALT (Association for Learning Technology)

“As someone working in education who is also studying digital learning as part of a postgraduate qualification, this book is invaluable as a quick reference guide for key concepts in digital learning and also key concepts relevant to wider learning and teaching contexts. The definitions have enough information to provide clarification on the concepts covered, but are short enough that I can scan for what I am looking for. The concepts are presented alphabetically, so I can quickly find the definitions of the ideas, issues and technologies I am unfamiliar with. I would recommend that anyone studying or involved in digital education has Digital Learning: The Key Concepts by their side as a reference guide.”

Alex Walker, Professional Development and Recognition Lead, University of the Highlands and Islands, UK

Conceptualising the digitally distributed curriculum at #SOLSTICE19

On Wednesday 5th June this week I’m presenting at the annual SOLSTICE 2019 e-learning conference at Edge Hill University, which is organised and run as a joint conference by Edge Hill’s SOLSTICE Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (@SolsticeCETL) and the Centre for Learning and Teaching at EDU (@CLTatEHU).

The joint SOLSTICE and CLT conference at Edge Hill is long since a well established event, running early each June and featuring a range of internal and external speakers. External speakers include a number of Visiting Fellows and Visiting Professors attached to the Centre for Learning and Teaching, not least Professors Sally Brown and Phil Race, Professor Peter Hartley, Simon Thomson and Sue Beckingham, amongst other experienced colleagues in the fields of learning and teaching, academic development and digital education practice. I count myself fortunate to also be in a Visiting Professor role at Edge Hill University, as I have benefited in various ways through learning from the work of the aforementioned folks and, in some instances, collaborating with them.

I have also been fortunate to know and learn from Professor Mark Schofield, Dean of Learning and Teaching and Director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at EDU, in a range of ways over the years. This includes Mark’s time as External Examiner for a Masters programme in blended and online education I used to run, many years ago now and while still definitely very wet behind the ears. As they are want to say around Merseyside way, and as Mark has said a few times, ‘I knew him as a lad, you know’.

As with the previous occasions I’ve been lucky enough to attend since the early 2000’s, the SOLSTICE and CLT 2019 Conference Programme looks excellent. I’m particularly looking forward to a number of sessions that between them are exploring key concepts, ideas and approaches relating to creativity, inclusion and resilience in relation to learning and teaching and digital education practice.

My own session for the conference this week is on the topic of ‘Conceptualising the digitally distributed curriculum’.

Title slide for presentation on the topic of 'Conceptualising the digitally distributed curriculum' for SOLSTICE 2019 Conference

There is something of a continuity here too, as the session is partially a follow-up to my presentation at SOLSTICE 2017 titled ‘Situating digital space and place within the Porous University‘. The previous session drew, in part, upon an initial and very emergent model for the digitally distributed curriculum that Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeill and myself produced as part of our collaborative research, dialogue and reflective practice around a re-imagining of the concept of the ‘Digital University’ in relation to digital practice, space and place, for further extending universities and Higher Education as a public good.

Two years down the line, our work in the above area has been synthesised into a recently published book which Bill, Sheila and myself have co-authored, and within which we are offering a revised Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University and a much more fully developed model for the Digitally Distributed Curriculum which is founded on the values of praxis, participation and public pedagogy.

I’m looking forward, once again, to attending the SOLSTICE conference and to sharing and discussing the ideas about the ‘Digitally Distributed Curriculum’ that Bill, Sheila and myself have been developing. The abstract for my session at #SOLSTICE19 is below.

Conceptualising the digitally distributed curriculum

In a previous session at SOLSTICE 2017, which focused on the role of digital space and place in the context of the ‘porous university’, Keith Smyth explored the idea of the curriculum as a co-operative space within which digital and physical spaces for learning intersect to support greater engagement within, through and beyond higher education institutions. Part of this exploration included what was, at the time, an initial and emergent model for the digitally distributed curriculum.

Drawing upon subsequent work that has led to the further refinement of this idea (Johnston, MacNeill and Smyth, 2018), in his session for SOLSTICE 2019 Keith will present and explore the concept of and a related model for the Digitally Distributed Curriculum which is based on the values of praxis, participation and public pedagogy, and which is constructed around the four dimensions of co-location, porosity, co-production and open scholarship. The pedagogical implications of the Digitally Distributed Curriculum – which include student engagement with digital public knowledge domains and the relationship between institutional and self-selected physical and digital spaces for learning – will be key points for discussion amongst participants during the session itself.

Johnston, B., MacNeill, S. and Smyth, K. (2018) Conceptualising the Digital University: The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice. Cham, Switzeralnd: Palgrave MacMillan.

Academic development and technology in the next 5 years

I was recently invited by two colleagues to write a short reflection on how I thought academic development would evolve over the next five years, with respect to supporting and taking forward good practice in technology-enhanced learning. My reflection is one of a number that they are collecting for inclusion in a book chapter they are currently working on.

The request was a timely one, as it came on the same day I was dipping back into the e-textbook version of a handbook I co-authored a few years ago, the second edition of which had coincidentally been published 5 years previously. I was revisiting the handbook – a practical guide to using educational technology written partly for the Masters programme we were running at the time – in order to share a few ideas for online collaborative learning activities with a colleague who was redesigning one of their undergraduate courses.

Cover of Pedagogy and learning technoology: a practical guide In looking back over the handbook I was pleased to see that most of the guidance it offered still stood up pretty well 5 years down the line, possibly because we tried to write the handbook primarily from a learning and teaching rather than a technology perspective.

However in simultaneously looking back 5 years while thinking ahead to the next 5, I can’t help but feel that the key challenges we face in trying to encourage academics to use technology in their learning and teaching practice really haven’t changed that much. Establishing a dialogue with those who are reticent or reluctant, or who simply don’t see the need to use technology in their practice, remains a concern. So too does contextualising the use of technology in learning and teaching to the different discipline areas that the willing or curious are coming from. Time and direct support for academics go hand-in-hand as another constant challenge and barrier.

There are also new challenges to be acknowledged and addressed if our universities are to make effective use of technology in learning and teaching, a critical one being the creative ways in which young learners are being engaged with and through technology in school.

The specific challenge that my colleagues put to me, in writing my reflection for their forthcoming book chapter, was to “Describe in 300 words the role you envisage academic development will play in the next 5 years within higher education institutions, and the sector more widely, to drive pedagogical innovation supported my technology?

Quite a big ask for 300 words, and a good lesson in writing concisely. One I failed, but only by fifteen words.

This was my response:

In the next five years, academic development will continue to play an important role in how we engage academics in effective digital practice and the sharing of that practice. We will see further diversification in how academic development is ‘delivered’ and facilitated online, and we will see more creative use of institutional PG Cert programmes to engage academics in experiencing then applying digital approaches to their own teaching and student support activities.

However, the degree to which the above happens will vary considerably between institutions, depending on institutional strategy, leadership, and the extent to which a general culture of enhancement in learning and teaching is shared, embedded and celebrated.

A critical enabling factor here will be whether the enhancement of learning and teaching is appropriately resourced. Many institutions will not move beyond their current position of trying to engage a greater number of staff in making use, or slightly more effective use, of the VLE and other institutional educational technologies. This is where much of their academic development effort around technology-enhanced learning will remain focused, very possibly to the exclusion of important emerging areas.

Institutions that invest appropriately in academic development, and who are alert to the potential of using digital approaches in making learning and teaching more creative, inclusive and sustainable will move farthest in the coming five years. These institutions, and their academic developers, will also be cognisant of the benefits and opportunities of digital scholarship, and digital engagement in scholarly and professional communities, for improving the outreach of the institution and extending the learner experience beyond the physical walls of the campus and virtual silos of the VLE.

Academic development, as an area of practice and a community of practitioners, will have an important role to play in the Higher Education sector in ensuring that current discussions around the development of digital literacies for students begin to focus on discipline-specific digital literacies.