in which Blackboard is shunned in favour of a DIY open student-generated content ecosystem - a story of rogue design, good pedagogy, terrible sustainability and limited institutional impact.
This project was the first significant body of work I undertook after moving from K12 teaching and professional development (ie a fully face to face environment) into the higher education sector. Coming into UNE’s environment dominated by distance education (which at the time was still in the earlier days of transitioning away from paper and CD based post materials to online distance education), I began to see gaps everywhere. I wasn’t aware of it at the time but this perception of gaps and attempts to delve into and patch them would define much of my work over the coming years.
One strong gap narrative at the time was Prensky’s (2001) digital natives vs digital immigrants - a theory that has been widely criticised (eg Jones and Shao - 2011) but despite this dominated much of the practice discourse on online education around 2010-2011. My conviction that this artificial dichotomy was bullshit, combined with the hypothesis that adhering to this narrative was preventing us from addressing another significant gap - the experiential gap between face to face and online students - led to the genesis of The Blog Project (the project did not actually have a running title at the time but this is sufficient to capture the premise).
The project was simple - move outside of the closed and inflexible institutional LMS onto an openly accessible blogging platform, and see if students benefit from the increased transparency, interaction and agency of generating their own content and interacting with the work of others. The conference paper describes the pedagogical strategy and project structure so I won’t go into it here, but long story short, they did.
This project begins the narrative of a way of working that is seen through a majority of the artefacts in this portfolio - learning design as rogue, siloed innovation projects, small scale individual or partnership initiatives that facilitate grass-roots change outside of, or despite, institutional dynamics. I was strongly influenced by the Edupunk movement at the time (Groom, 2008 and Downes, 2008), and later influenced by the work of Derek Sivers (2015) - start now, no money required - which allowed me to describe this work I was already doing. I saw a university that was paralysed from change by the need for funding, support and procedure, and believed we could overcome it by jumping in and getting started with whatever we had to hand - small pockets of willing people, free tools and my hybrid role in pedagogy, technology and facilitation.
The problem was that I was biased towards viewing success in terms pedagogical impact - did students have an improved experience? The results showed that they did, therefore the intervention was successful and the innovation strategy is sound. I believed this for a long time, and it wasn’t unreasonable to do so, just unrealistic. After the teaching period in which we implemented the blogs ended, staff left, units were reallocated, my work was reallocated, and while (as evident from the website artefacts) the Linguistic blogs were used in subsequent teaching periods up until 2014, that was the limit of the enduring impact of the project. The rest faded into institutional history. Instead of realising that this was a key part of the project, though, I shrugged my shoulders, blamed the structural issues of higher education and moved on to another project. This will be a recurring theme throughout this portfolio, and is less indicative of wide eyed innocence and naïveté (although there was certainly some of that) and more of the climate of learning design in the sector at the time. Pocket innovation was the norm and the dominant narrative was of instigating change at the grass-roots level via elbow support, niche projects and small scale academic development work.
This project also began my love of open source tools, used for purposes that they were never intended for. For this project, it was the use of a blogging platform for teaching and learning purposes - not a new or groundbreaking thing in pedagogical terms and K12 particularly had been doing this (again, in small scale pockets) for some time - which in terms of institutional thinking around tools and online pedagogy was rather off-label. I believe at the time there was an edict from the IT directorate that blogs were not to be used for teaching purposes. This also spurred on the development of my identity of a rogue pocket innovator - someone who would turn a blind eye or thumb a nose at a policy or norm if I truly believed I had a better way of doing things that would result in better outcomes for students.
As a final bit of institutional trivia, the WordPress platform that was run by the university was, a number of years later, shuttled over into Marketing instead of IT and locked down with a specific focus on marketing and brand communication, completely ignoring the potential for student learning demonstrated by this project. I realise now in retrospect that this was due in part to my failure to socialise and communicate my research and practice, and also wonder whether it was in part a reactive measure against rogues like myself using the system for non-intended (and thus non-regulated) purposes.
Downes, S. (2008). “Introducing Edupunk”. Stephen Downes (weblog). Retrieved from https://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=44760
Groom, J. (2008). “The Glass Bees”. Bavatuesdays. Retrieved from https://bavatuesdays.com/the-glass-bees/
Jones, C and Shao, B. (2011). The net generation and digital natives: implications for higher education. Higher Education Academy, York. Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/evidencenet/net-generation-and-digital-natives
Prensky, M. (2001). ) "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1", On the Horizon, Vol. 9 Issue: 5, pp.1-6, https://doi.org/10.1108/10748120110424816Sivers, D. (2015). Anything You Want. London: Penguin