Edutechie - the adventures of a learning technologist

Eli Appleby-Donald's views of educational technology

Tag: 23ThingsEdUni

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Photo by: Paul Dodds 2016 https://www.pauldodds.com/

Variety, apparently it’s the spice of life

For all the folk out there in the blogosphere who also work in higher education, let me just say, we made it! It’s Friday of week 1 and all that work over the summer months and the craziness of welcome week / freshers week has passed and we can now get back to what we do best, as educators.

For me, this has meant the slightly more frivolous items (like personal development and my blog posts) have had to take a back seat while I concentrated on the real nuts and bolts of getting everyone I work with ready for the new semester and implementing the constant change of learning technology. It didn’t mean that I stopped thinking about my blog or the various posts I had intended to write, just that they were thoughts and not actions. But here’s the thing, some thinking time is a good thing and because I had thinking time, my thoughts and plans have come together and actually instead of the handful of posts I had intended, those experiences over the summer have brought that together into this one post.

In response to task 5 & 6 from 23things.ed.ac.uk

Diversity

OK hands up, who read that header and sighed and rolled your eyes? It’s ok, you are in a safe space, you can admit it here.

I know exactly where you are coming from. The word diversity sparks memories of those three-hour workshops your boss makes you go to, usually with a tutor who has been brought in from some external company to help the company on its mission to meet legal obligations. Right? Oh don’t worry, I know… in fact… I used to be that very tutor. So you know, it’s ok, I know where you are coming from.

Thing is, I could go into trainer spiel about compliance, triple-A, disability law, the equality act etc but I know you’d glaze over. So instead let me just talk about this summer and how my experiments with emojis and bitmojis fed into the classes I was running over the summer.

I found the specific topic of bitmojis quite difficult to write about, well actually I struggled to think about what I could write about. It just felt like yeah, yeah we all know this stuff, there’s nothing new to say here and nothing we write will be without some controversy. It’s a hard topic, you just can’t put yourself into somebody else’s shoes, because those shoes only fit one person. For example, reading about the dilemma caused by having emojis representing ethnic groups and if you should use the emoji which represents your ethnic group or not. That was actually quite a shock to me. I could understand why having an emoji you felt represented you, at last, would be a celebration and why you might decide you want to use it, but genuinely it hadn’t occurred to me that using one that didn’t represent your ethnic group might cause offence. I was also aware that I could go around and ask people what their experience was and everything one would have a different experience or view. So it wasn’t a one size fits all experience. So I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, which I will admit took me on a bit meandrous route. But it led me to an interesting thought… visibility.

In my role, I come across so many students and staff on a daily basis. I don’t always know all of them, and I usually don’t have a very personal relationship with most of them, but the idea of that celebration of finally having something to digitally represent you when you haven’t for so long made me think back to when I was student age. For me, back in the 80s and 90s, I was desperate for any signs of other gay people. Any adult in my life, who had a proper job, was respected and who might possibly be gay, sent me into a frenzy of hope. OMG, maybe it’s ok for me to think about being a teacher. Maybe I won’t be excluded because I’m gay. etc etc

Now we may seem miles away from the topic of accessibility or emojis and especially where is the learning technology in this? Well, let me put it this way.

This summer, I stood at the front of a classroom 21 times. On almost all of those occasions I was leading a class of new staff, usually much younger than me and almost all of them were very new to education. When I stand in front of that class, I am a very visual representation of an older woman in a technology-driven role. I am a very visual and audible representation of a working-class woman in academia. I am a visual representation of a lesbian in academia and I am usually the first person they have been able to speak to and ask questions of who has the kind of disabilities that we ask them to be aware of when they are using technologies in the university.

This is where my reading of the emoji articles got me thinking. Is that enough? Is it enough that we all exist in all our gorgeous diversity? Because lets face it, the majority of interactions with me will not be face to face, so most people won’t know what I look like, what my background is, usually they won’t even hear my accent and mostly they won’t be aware that that interaction with me has probably been more draining for me than it has been for them. So can we add another level to this in our digital interactions? And should we?

I gave this a bit of thought and a wee bit of application over the summer and this is what I have done.

Most of my interactions with colleagues are over our email/communications system. So I have added my photo to this. It means when I am in an email conversation, my image pops up so they know who they are dealing with. It also adds my image when they search for me on our internal systems.

Different versions of me people will now see around the university

I’ve added an image to our VLE as well, in my profile, so now when I add content to courses, message students, put out announcements, bang, they can see my face smiling back at them. I think this one for me is particularly important as I want students, who are mostly young people to be able to see that there are opportunities for them in all sorts of fields and we don’t all have to look a certain way, be a certain age or be a specific gender.

Now the biggest change, I have added a voice mail to my phone. Doesn’t seem like a big deal huh? Well for me this is, I still, even as a proper grown-up (although that’s debatable) I still worry about my accent. I have a strong Glasgow accent, quite noticeably working class and I have had comments. However, if I was surrounded by people with a variety of accents, some of which were clearly accents I felt were relatable, maybe I’d feel different about my own.

Now that was a very roundabout and quite a wordy blog post to talk about the opportunity to be visible on our digital systems and why we should be. But I think it is very interesting how a thought on emojis has led me down a very interesting path about the importance of there being visual representation of difference and normalising the diversity in our lives in order to reduce some of the crippling societal bonds. Maybe this might just be a way to tackle things like imposter syndrome in academia. Understandings of each other and maybe, you never know, but maybe it might even have an impact on artificial intelligence, algorithms and things like facial recognition and the experiences of people who don’t look like the software programmer.

Ok so maybe I am reaching here, but let me ask you, how many of you have a picture on your staff profile? I know of at least three people who have put pictures of their dogs as their staff profile picture. Maybe… it’s time to be brave and get out there to the front line.

Be visible in all your diverse glory.

Some interesting reading

Brown, N. and Leigh, J. (2018), “Ableism in academia: where are the disabled and ill academics?”, Disability & Society, Routledge, Vol. 33 No. 6, pp. 985–989.

Byrne, G. (2019), “Individual weakness to collective strength: (Re)creating the self as a ‘working-class academic’”, Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, Vol. 12 No. 1-2, pp. 131–150

Dar, S. and Salmon, U. (2019), “Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and Thriving in British Academia edited by Deborah Gabriel and Shirley Ann Tate. London, UK: Trentham Books/IOE Press, 2017, 164 pp.,£ 24.36, ISBN 10-185856848X, ISBN 13-978-185856848”, Gender, Work, and Organization, academia.edu, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 64–67.

National Center for Institutional Diversity. (2018), “The Power of Academic Role Models ‘Like Me’”, Medium, Spark: Elevating Scholarship on Social Issues, 23 March, available at: https://medium.com/national-center-for-institutional-diversity/the-power-of-academic-role-models-like-me-7f4f2c59279d (accessed 20 September 2019).

“Role model being yourself: sexual orientation and the workplace”. (n.d.). Https://www.stonewall.org.uk/, available at: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/role_models.pdf.

Today’s “thing”: I’m reflecting on information security and my smartphone

I’ve been spending a while between these last few blog posts for my digital capabilities adventure because I wanted to take some proper time to reflect on things. A lot of what’s involved in this project are things I interact with and discuss every day, so it’s easy for me to just bring out the everyday chat without actually thinking a new. So I thought I might approach this post a little differently, form the perspective of someone who is in the position of feeling overwhelmed and under educated on the subject of device security. I say device because really this affects a lot more than my smart phone.

In general, I consider myself to be “ok with tech”. I absolutely do not consider myself to be a techie or in anyway an IT whizz. In fact I am constantly telling folk at work that I am not an IT Bod, I don’t work in IT because I don’t want to set unreasonable expectations of my capabilities. I would describe myself as an “end user” who likes gadgets. A few years ago I would have said I was pretty confident about looking after security, permission etc on my devices but a change happened and now, I feel that I have no control or knowledge of my devices in that regard.

What happened?

I switched operating systems. I moved into a new job and that job required me to move from windows to apple operating systems and I felt completely lost. That was three years ago and I still feel completely lost.

I switched from windows computers and android phone and tablet to apple computer and apple phone and now apple tablet. It was a mountain to climb, I don’t mind admitting. However, what it did, was force me to stop and think, rather than run on autopilot. I had to do a lot of internet searching and reading to work out what on earth was going on.

So hence why I said I was approaching this blog post from the perspective of someone who was completely overwhelmed by tech.

It started with….

It all started with my phone. Having to learn to use an iPhone was one thing, but when it came to working out why my battery was dying so quickly that internet searching made me realise how much of the phone was giving access to apps etc that I knew nothing about. Sending data and using location software which was all draining the battery but that I hadn’t realised were running in the background.

I have since gone through and limited this to things I want to access stuff but it made me realised how much of our privacy and security is taken for granted by these big companies. My iphone, straight from the box was automatically sending:

  • Analytics info to apple. I had to switch this off rather than switch it on.
  • Analytics from iCloud was automatically being sent to apple, again I had to switch this off rather than agree to it up front.
  • Location settings were allowing me to be tracked, again something you need to go in and switch off.

To be realistic, this probably sounds like a really big deal when in fact you can go in and turn these off but it’s something you need to be aware of before you will know to turn them off and it isn’t just an apple thing, all the big companies are doing this.

So, go have a check at what is being shared, given access, recorded etc. It’s always good to expand your knowledge, right? 🙂

Digital footprint – what info of yours is public

I do a lot of work with students about creating their online presence, especially senior year students who are about to go off into the world and begin life as freelance artists and practitioners. One of the first things I do, before we get onto the fun tasks of building websites and social media feeds is to take a look at their digital footprint or a I call it, their online brand.

I was inspired to write a blog post about this as part of my digital capabilities adventure with 23 things so feel free to go off and take a look at that and see if it inspires you.

Digital footprint – what on earth is that?

So let’s start at the beginning of class, what the heck is a digital footprint? You’ll kick yourself cause it really is a simple and obvious one when you know – your digital footprint is basically all the traces of you which you leave behind online. So all those old social media accounts you no longer use but didn’t deactivate and delete? The forums where you once went to comment on poor customer service. Or how about the work photo of you that you hate but your boss insists on having on the company website?

All of this and more are the digital traces of you online and it’s easy to find info that people will use to find out about you and possibly make judgements on you.

About me

So here is a simple and relatively quick way you can find out what your digital footprint looks like. Google yourself.

Yeah I know, but seriously, no egos here, go google yourself and see what comes up, not just the first page either, keep going.

So here is what comes up when I google me.

Now I’ve been through this process a few times so there’s nothing that shocks me, but a few things to be aware of. My hobby blog comes up on the same page as my work profiles and blog. So something to consider, do you want these things linked in your digital footprint? If not, you might want to consider not using the same names etc for both.

Also, images… I bet you didn’t think of that did you? Do you want the same image of you for both types of things? It means at least visibly they are linked. Also, what images come up, are you happy with them?

For me, there are a lot of images of me and by me which appear in a search, probably due to the fact that I am a blogger, youtuber and a photographer, but this is something I like to make the students aware of, do you want that drunken night out photo of you appearing when someone googles you for a job? Now here is a wee interesting twist on this same task. Do the same thing again, have a search but use a different search engine. See what comes up then? You will probably be surprised to find that the different search engines pick things up in different ways.

This is a really basic and easy way to begin making students aware of their digital footprint and how important it is to think about the image you are creating of yourself online. For my students, their online presence is their online brand so it’s really important to them that they are showing the professional side that they want to be seen (professional is in context).

You might be thinking yeah but I don’t need an online presence, this isn’t important to me and you might be right, but it doesn’t do any harm for you to be aware of this. Sometimes something appears online you weren’t expecting. One example I have is of a student who found his full name and address appear online because of something someone else posted. Just be aware.

So there is something else to consider, it may not be as clean cut about the image of yourself you portray, but what about info you maybe don’t want out there on the web. Does your facebook page show up in a search? In which case, can you click on it and see all the posts you’ve shared, liked etc? Are you happy that these are public?

What about you Eli, are you happy with your online presence?

Ah ha! Sneaky way for me to raise another thing to think about. My online presence is carefully created. It may not look like it, but I have made deliberate decisions about the directions people travel in when lost in my digital footprint. Let me explain.

My hobby blog is full of people who are interested in cooking or gardening etc. I also have a twitter account that I use for it. However, I didn’t have a separate twitter account for work or study things so gradually, my personal / blog twitter account became full of people who wanted to connect with me for digital education reasons. Not what my blog followers were interested in so it became a bit of a muddy puddle.

I chose then to make a very obvious distinction between my hobby twitter feed and my work life one. I created a separate account for digital education Eli and named in a very obvious way (LearningTechEli).

Now I mentioned different directions? Sometimes people who know me as LearningTechEli might also be interested in gardening etc so I have left breadcrumbs so they can, if they choose, go over to the twitter feed or blog for my hobbies and vice versa. I’ve made it so the option is there to “co-mingle” but I’ve made it so that it has to be a deliberate choice for that person to do rather than they get lost in a mass of nonsense that they didn’t come to see. That way people get a choice of the types of waffle by Eli that they read and the version of Eli online that they are interested in.

This is all how I work with my digital footprint, it is by no means the only or correct way to do things. After all, I know plenty of people who keep everything together as one, because to them, you take all of them or none of them and they don’t want to separate their work online fun with their general “things that are important to them” online fun. 🙂 And you know what, that’s ok cause they have made that conscious decision.

So have a google and a think about what you find. Are you happy or is it time to make some changes?

My digital capabilities adventure continues – thing 1 & 2: social media

So it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon, my mocha has somehow mysteriously evaporated and my wife is ignoring me for an afternoon with Assasin’s Creed. I think that means it’s the perfect time for me to write my first official blog post on my digital capabilities adventure with 23 things.

The task at hand for week 1 and 2 is to write a short blog post about my aspirations for this journey and to think about the social media guidelines for my company.

Personal objectives

I’ve been watching the various cycles of the 23 things events for the past few years and always thought it sounded like something fun to do, but never quite managed to feel like I could justify the time work wise for something which was clearly just a bit of fun and not proper work. Sound familiar to anyone? However, I’m at that stage now where I’ve realized that I can’t just be serious and straight laced all the time, it eats away at your smile. So lets break out the fun!

OK I’m being a bit silly but there is a serious message there, I watch gamification and learning through play etc etc being discussed and events being run at work all the time, but it’s not something I could claim I “get”. By that I mean, I’m not sure I understand what constitutes play in a higher education, learning environment and more so I don’t understand 100% how it works. I always use the lego example cause I haven’t yet managed to grasp how building stuff with lego can help you to learn (in certain subjects, topics etc).

So there is my first thing, I want to treat something academic related in a playful manner in the hope that it will help me conceptualists the playful learning thing a bit better.

My second aspiration is a bit simpler, I already know I have a knowledge gap around attribution, licensing and digital content so I’m using this experience as scaffolding to help me develop better habits around this area. So just now it’s about making sure I tag photos etc when I do these posts, I plan to move that further into a bit of a tidy up and correction of these glaring mistakes in previous posts and then take that out into my personal blog, which would be a huge task so not one for straight away.

I know this list of aspirations will grow as I progress, because the more you learn, the more you understand that the gaps are bigger than you realized.

Social media guidelines

The task asked if I was aware of the guidelines and my opinions. So here we have a conundrum. Yes I was aware of the company social media guidelines as I have worked and still work with social media for my role. Part of those guidelines are all about being aware of how your social media use reflects on the company, which I understand and to a degree I agree with especially if you are using social media for a purpose as part of your job.

Where I don’t agree with is …. no wait. Am I allowed to say that on social media? Big brother might be watching. *chuckle*

I think then that the best social media guidelines might be as simple as Wheaton’s law.

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