Coming full (culture) circle at #OER19 – Part 1

This is the first of two blogs posts that accompany the session “Unpacking the geopolitics of open for the strategic development of (HE) institutions and communities – what is a university for?” that Sheila MacNeill, Bill Johnston and myself ran on day one of #OER19 on 10th April. Sheila will post Part 2, reflecting on the outcomes of the session itself.


For the past few years now, Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeill and myself have been exploring, reflecting upon, and working towards developing a conceptualisation of the ‘Digital University’ that is focused on the extension of universities and Higher Education as a democratic public good, framed within critical education perspectives and concerned with the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice.

Our work to date, which has involved the development of our ideas through engaging in reflective dialogue with colleagues across the sector (including peers, friends and trusted colleagues in the critical and open education communities), has been distilled into a recently published book (Johnston, MacNeill and Smyth, 2019). In our book, we argue for a rethinking of how digital and open education practices are developed and positioned within and beyond the university. Key points and areas of concern relate to porosity, the nature and location of the curriculum, educational institutions as technology rich spaces within our communities, public pedagogy (Giroux, 2000) and civic responsibility.

As we developed and further refined the proposals now presented in the book, which include a revised Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University and a model for the Digitally Distributed Curriculum, we experienced a pivotal moment in time at the OER16 conference held at the University of Edinburgh in 2016.

At OER16 we presented the original version of the aforementioned Conceptual Matrix and a very nascent version of the Digitally Distributed Curriculum idea.

At the time of OER16, Sheila and I captured how our work with Bill was developing in two linked blog posts. Our posts complemented the session we presented at the conference itself, and explored how our ideas and models concerning the Digital University related in turn to open education and where different forms of (and locations for) digital and open education practice might intersect:

Reframing Open in the Context of the Digital University – Part 1 (#OER16)
Reframing Open in the Context of the Digital University – Part 2 (#OER16)

The discussions we had with colleagues at OER16, and in response to the above posts, clarified our (at the time) emergent and still quite messy thinking and helped us to find a way forward in refining our narrative and ideas. We brought our hopefully clearer, slightly more refined thinking to #OER18 in Bristol last year, which was the first occasion on which we presented our near final versions of the Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University and our Digitally Distributed Curriculum model.

Now, for OER19, we’re coming full circle in presenting the main outcomes of our work.

Title slide for presentation at #OER19 conference. Unpacking the geopolitics of open for the strategic development of (HE) institutions and communities - what is a university for?

The topic for our session at #OER19

While the work and philosophy of the educator and activist Paulo Freire predates the widespread implementation of digital technology, spaces and approaches in education, and the emergence of open educational practices as we currently observe and understand them, Freire and his work (1974, 1975) came to the fore and was a major influence in shaping our own take on the ideas we explore and propose in the book.

The richness of Freire’s work and thinking cannot be captured here, and they are certainly not fully captured in our own book. Indeed, there are entire books that are specifically dedicated to exploring Freire and his writings. Antonia Darder’s ‘The Student Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ is an excellent recent one.

However, one of Freire’s ideas that became central to our own work was that of ‘culture circles’. For Freire, culture circles are an approach and a response in which the contextualisation of education within the wider socio-political context can be revealed through collaborative reflective dialogue in which learners are encouraged to share their own understandings of the world, and to then codify their thoughts and experiences (through words and images) as a basis for further critical discussion.

This, in essence, is the approach we sought to take to our session at #OER19. In the time available, we set out to summarise our own position with respect to the Digital University and to use our Digitally Distributed Curriculum construct as a lens through which participants could identify what it is that should be confronted, challenged and changed with respect to how open education is conceptualised and enacted in our own individual and shared contexts for practice, and within our institutional contexts.

In Part 2 of this post, Sheila will provide a summary of where we got to by the end of the session. Much was shared and suggested, and we thank colleagues for their participation in our session for #OER19. We also thank the OER conference and conference community for providing a critical, collegiate and convivial space for us to share and be supported in shaping our ideas over the last three years.

References

Freire, P. (1974) Education for Critical Consciousness. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Freire, P. (1975) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Giroux, H.A. (2000) Public Pedagogy and the Responsibility of Intellectuals: Youth, Littleton, and the loss of innocence, JAC, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 9-42.

Johnston, B., MacNeill, S. and Smyth, K. (2019) Conceptualising the Digital University: The Intersection of Policy, Pedagogy and Practice. Palgrave MacMillan.

Thanks and acknowledgements for ‘Conceptualising the Digital University’

Long before we got to the point of having an opportunity to write the book that became ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: The Intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice’,  Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeill and myself benefited from early discussions and dialogue about the idea and implications of the ‘digital university’ with a great many colleagues across the sector. As our ideas developed, we drew further guidance and inspiration from a number of friends and colleagues in particular.

In our Acknowledgements section for the book, which we are sharing below, we have tried to thank everyone who helped, informed or inspired us. Many of those named below may not realise they had an impact on our thinking, others we have already thanked directly for the important contributions they made. We thank each and every one again, and if we have inadvertently missed anyone out we give our sincere apologies and equal thanks for helping shape our ideas and what we cover in the book itself.

Over on Sheila’s blog, you can read about our initial plans for open access publications relating to the key themes in the book and also read the testimonials for the book that a number of respected colleagues were kind enough to offer after an advance reading.

Acknowledgements

The writing of this book has very much been a discursive process and the culmination of many discussions and dialogues around the vague concept, questionable assumptions, and actual realities of realising any sort of vision and plan for the “digital university”.

Collaboration has been at the heart of this book, and the thinking and ideas we present within it. A series of blog posts by Bill and Sheila in 2011 prompted Keith to get in contact in 2012 about a project he was leading, which led in turn to our collective endeavours in further exploring the concept of the digital university, and the place of ‘the digital’ in Higher Education. Our efforts in doing so have encompassed our own joint dialogue, reflections and writing, our further reading and research, and crucially also the dialogue we have had with colleagues across the sector, through workshops at a range of universities, and through presenting our thinking, as it developed, at a number of conferences, symposia and events.

Now, six years later, we have this book.

Finding and developing our shared critical understanding of the concept of the digital university has been a challenging and humbling experience, and one which saw our own thinking move away from questioning the concept of the ‘digital university’ to also questioning the purpose of universities, and Higher Education, in relation to the constraints, purpose and possibilities of digital technologies, spaces and practices, and in relation to the ideas and ideals of critical and public pedagogy, openness, and democracy. As we have contextualised our understandings, we have given each other hope in a shared critique which we in turn hope our readers will share and use as a starting point for many more critically informed discussions, based on a shared recognition of the need for critical love and hope to challenge the neo-liberal dominance of our age.

There are a number of people we need to thank. Firstly the team at Palgrave Macmillan for recognising the potential for a book in our work, and their continued support throughout the writing process. Our work draws from many sources and we are continually inspired by all of our professional networks and the encouragement we have received from our peers at conferences where we have presented our work, and the opportunities that we have been given to publish our work. That has given us the faith to carry on and develop our thoughts from conversations and debates into this most tangible of outputs, a book.

We’d like to give special thanks to some key colleagues and friends. We warmly thank Antonia Darder for her immediate and continued engagement, support and critical love for our work. We were fortunate to meet Antonia at a pivotal point in the preparation of our book, and the time we spent with Antonia, both learning from and being inspired by her, left an indelible mark on our thinking and across the final version of this text. We also thank Helen Beetham, Catherine Cronin, Alex Dunedin and Martin Weller for taking the time to read the book and for their generous endorsements of our work. Their own respective work has had a significant impact on our thinking and the structure of this book, as has the work of Mark Johnson who introduced us to the concept of Value Pluralism which we explore at several points.

There are almost too many other people to thank, and we realise frustratingly that we cannot put a name to everyone we have had the benefit of speaking with as we have developed our work. However, we would like to give a special mention and thanks to a number of colleagues and friends who have supported and encouraged us as we started to clarify and structure our ideas into the form that they are now presented, or with whom we were fortunate to have important discussions at important points of our journey. In addition to those already mentioned above, we thank Gordon Asher, Linda Creanor, Jim Emery, Julia Fotheringham, Peter Hartley, Jennifer Jones, Ronnie MacIntyre, David McGillivray, Neil McPherson, Beck Pitt, Frank Rennie, Peter Shukie, John Alexander Smith, Panos Vlachopoulos, David Walker, Gina Wall, and Nicola Whitton.

In the above context, we extend a particular thanks to Richard Hall. Chapter 8 of our book, as indicated in the chapter, incorporates and extends material published in the paper Hall, R. and Smyth, K. (2016) Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education, published in the Open Library of Humanities. We are grateful to Richard and the Open Library of the Humanities for allowing us to repurpose this material in our narrative. Richard also draws upon aspects of the aforementioned paper in his recent book ‘The Alienated Academic: The Struggle for Autonomy Inside the University’ (2018, also published by Palgrave Macmillan).

To our respective families, thank you for your patience and understanding and tolerance of lost weekends over the past year. Thanks also to colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the Highlands and Islands for your support and understanding at points where our work on this book had an impact on other activities. Finally we’d like to give a special mention to the Black Isle Bar in Inverness for providing a welcoming space for warmth, laughter, pizza and the occasional glass of red wine.

In solidarity, love and hope.

Recently published – Conceptualising the Digital University: The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice

Well, it’s almost exactly a year since my last blog post. I blog sporadically, so it’s likely no one has noticed! It’s not good practice to blog so infrequently, although I have a good reason. Around this time last year, my friends and colleagues Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeill and myself were undertaking, in earnest, the writing of our book on the concept of the Digital University. Our work on this book was a slow burn, following a number of engagements, initiatives, conferences, short articles and much dialogue with ourselves and trusted colleagues across the HE sector.

Our intention from the outset was not to to frame the notion of the ‘Digital University’ in relation to digital efficiencies, economies of scale, or market outreach, but instead to try and develop a more holistic conceptualisation that scrutinised and positioned ‘the digital’, and digital education practice, in relation to democratising access to education and extending universities, the curriculum and higher education as a public good. Critical and public pedagogy came to the fore in writing the book, influenced by the ideas of Friere, Giroux, and coming to meet and know the inspirational Antonia Darder.

Why have I not blogged in a year?

Partly because, over dinner and a glass or two of wine at one of our vital and convivial writing retreats, I resolved not to blog until we had finished writing our book. Similarly, you may notice elsewhere on this blog that I didn’t really undertake any talks or conferences during 2018. Not beyond a few internal ones within my own institution. Head down, fingers to the keyboard! That didn’t help me meet our agreed deadlines on time, but it definitely helped me meet them around about on time!

Image of front cover of the book "Conceptualising the Digital University - The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice"

Our book, Conceptualising the Digital University – The Intersection of Policy, Pedagogy and Practice, is now out. It was a real labour of love, and I loved and learned in working with Sheila and Bill on the book. We’ll be blogging about and presenting ideas from the book in the coming months, and looking forward to further developing our ideas – and being challenged of course – in dialogue with friends and colleagues.

In the meantime, please find below the short synopsis of our book…

Despite the increasing ubiquity of the term, the concept of the digital university remains diffuse and indeterminate. This book examines what the term ‘digital university’ should encapsulate and the resulting challenges, possibilities and implications that digital technology and practice brings to higher education. Critiquing the current state of definition of the digital university construct, the authors propose a more holistic, integrated account that acknowledges the inherent diffuseness of the concept. The authors also question the extent to which digital technologies and practices can allow us to re-think the location of universities and curricula; and how they can extend higher education as a public good within the current wider political context. Framed inside a critical pedagogy perspective, this volume debates the role of the university in fostering the learning environments, skills and capabilities needed for critical engagement, active open participation and reflection in the digital age.

Student transitions to, within and beyond Higher Education. Special Issue of JPAAP.

Over the last few months I have been working with Lorraine Anderson (University of Dundee) and Roni Bamber (Queen Margaret University) to co-edit a new Special Issue of the online, open access Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice (JPAAP).

The theme of the  Special Issue is Student Transitions and the issue has been published in partnership with the QAA Scotland to capture work resulting from, and relating to, the current national enhancement theme of Student Transitions which is now drawing to a close. The Special Issue, which was launched this week at the 3rd International Enhancement in Higher Education Conference, features a range of full research papers, case studies, opinion pieces and ’emerging work’ articles relating to multiple challenges, issues and dimensions in the transitioning of students to, within, and beyond HE.

The production of the Special Issue itself was made possible by by Kirsteen Wright, editorial officer of JPAAP based at Edinburgh Napier University, and by the Special Issue copy editors Tonje Hefte (@TonjeHefte) and Douglas Walker (@D_M_Walker91) who are students on the MSc Publishing course at Edinburgh Napier University.

The Special Issue is now online and you can read our editorial for the issue below.

Editorial

Welcome to the Special Issue of JPAAP on Student Transitions. The inspiration for this Special Issue is the current national Enhancement Theme of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education, Scotland, and we are delighted to bring you this Special Issue in partnership with the QAA Scotland.

JPAAP has come to develop a wide readership in recent years, and for colleagues who are unfamiliar with the Enhancement Themes their purpose are to enhance the quality of the student learning experience within Scottish Higher Education through a co-ordinated period of enhancement activity that is focused on a specific developmental theme. Every Higher Education Institution (HEI) across Scotland engages with the Enhancement Themes, through internal and cross-institutional initiatives. The Enhancement Themes are managed by the QAA Scotland in collaboration with a Theme Leaders Group (TLG) comprising institutional and student representatives from each HEI in Scotland.

The current Enhancement Theme of Student Transitions has been running for the last three academic years, since summer 2014. The work for the theme is currently drawing to a close, and will be marked by the 3rd International Enhancement in Higher Education Conference to be held in Glasgow from 6–8 June 2017, and also by the publication of this Special Issue.

While this Special Issue of JPAAP is brought to you in conjunction with the current Enhancement Theme of Student Transitions, and indeed features several articles that relate to work undertaken in Scotland as part of the theme, we are delighted to also feature a number of contributions from colleagues based in universities across the UK and Australia.

Within this Special Issue, one of our largest issues to date, we are pleased to feature a rich range of original research papers, case studies and reviews, opinion pieces, and On the Horizon articles which report on emerging work. Between them, the full papers and other articles within this issue address several important dimensions of Student Transitions to, within, and beyond Higher Education.

Widening participation and the articulation of students from further education to higher education are addressed in the respective papers by Neil Speirs and colleagues from the University of Edinburgh, and Debbie Meharg and colleagues from Edinburgh Napier University.

The capturing of the student voice to ease transitions into and through Higher Education is the focus of the case study by Hope Christie and Karl Johnson, while other important dimensions of peer support and social integration are addressed in the papers and articles by Rick Hayman and colleagues from Northumbria University, Sidonie Ecochard and Kirsteen Wright from Edinburgh Napier University, and Shona Robertson from the University of Dundee.

Transitions within the undergraduate student journey are explored by Celine Caquineau and colleagues, in their consideration of assessment practice and transitioning to Junior Honours, and by Margaret-Anne Houston and Lindsey Carey from Glasgow Caledonian University who look at the academic reintegration of final year students following work placements and study exchanges.

Supporting the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study, and student experiences of becoming postgraduates, are to the fore in the contributions from Jessica Bownes and colleagues at the University of Glasgow, and Charlotte McPherson, Samantha Punch and Elizabeth Graham from the University of Stirling. Furthermore, in the case study by Jennifer Scally and Andrea Cameron from Abertay University, you can read about the experience of an undergraduate student who transitioned to becoming a postgraduate research student through interning as a research assistant.

Student transitions beyond Higher Education and into employment and professional practice, in areas including veterinary nursing and teaching, are explored by Patricia Logan and colleagues who represent a number of Australian universities, and by Donna Dey, Angela Lindsay and Patricia Thomson from the University of Dundee.

Cultural and intercultural dimensions in student transitions are the focus of the literature review on the challenges faced by international students that has been contributed by Sidonie Ecochard and Julia Fotheringham from Edinburgh Napier University, and in the opinion piece on ‘multilingual mindset’ by Argyro Kanaki from the University of Dundee.

In the second of our two opinion pieces for this Special Issue, Mike Murray and colleagues ask “Are career academics gatekeepers to students’ tacit knowledge?”, while in the remaining case study paper that we are pleased to feature Josephine Adekola and colleagues from the University of Glasgow report their work to support students in making the transition to blended learning.

Perhaps fittingly, in the remaining contribution to be mentioned Ashley Dennis and colleagues present their research into stakeholder perceptions of the current QAA Scotland Enhancement Theme of Student Transitions, including recommendations for future Enhancement Theme activities.

Whether you have been engaged directly with the work of the current Enhancement Theme on Student Transitions, are engaged in your own practice and research relating to student transitions, or are simply looking to learn more about some of the work underway across the sector, we hope that this Special Issue will be of some relevance and value to yourself and colleagues.

With thanks equally to our contributing authors, reviewers, editorial officer, and the publishing students at Edinburgh Napier University who worked on this Special issue and made it possible.

Guest Editors

Dr Lorraine Anderson, University of Dundee
(Deputy Chair Enhancement Theme Leaders Group)

Professor Roni Bamber, Queen Margaret University
(Chair, Enhancement Theme Leaders Group)

Professor Keith Smyth, University of the Highlands and Islands
(Professor of Pedagogy)