Origins & Findings of Digital Practitioner Research
Overview; The ideas that underpin the Digital Practitioner Research have their origins in the Becta EMFFE project; E-Maturity For Further Education. A number of small development projects were then commissioned from 15 FE colleges to test some of the theories that had been developed. Geoff Rebbeck at Thanet College chose to investigate the digital skills development of practitioners. When LSIS commissioned what we now call the Digital Practitioner research in 2011 Geoff argued for a different model of framing digital skills, around critical thinking. The initial sample of 218 practitioners revealed a qualitatively different view of emerging digital practice in FE. This has both been verified by 3 subsequent rounds of surveys, giving us a sample size of almost 1,500, and amplified in value by the analytic techniques developed by Nigel Ecclesfield. What we found was that; a) digital practitioners were driving the use of new technologies for learning in FE providers based upon their personal use of social technologies, rather than through large-scale system use (although Moodle use was also wide-spread in UK colleges)
b) this small-scale use of technologies lead to the design of “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences” which also suggested a move to more co-creation in learning. Well, how did we get here?
1. EMFFE; The E-Maturity For Further Education project (EMFFE) at Becta (2006-2008) was designed to identify how FE colleges & institutions could be made “e-learning ready” or “e-mature” as this was described. MIT had developed an e-maturity model for businesses in the 1990s based on how new information architecture created new business system models. The EMFFE approach, designed by Fred Garnett & Nigel Ecclesfield, was predicated similarly and based on a proposed 5 level model of computer-systems network architecture. This peaked with a sector-wide network architecture that enabled “adaptive organisations working across collaborative networks.” (this work has since been developed on the Architecture of Participation blog). An advisory group of 15 colleges was asked to review the model, and then test its elements in practice, across the 5 areas of college practice. Geoff Rebbeck lead on testing the human resources model with staff at Thanet College.
2. e-enabling or transforming; Our approach to designing EMFFE was based on a question that Nigel & Fred first asked as part of their work at Becta. “Is this work e-enabling the (National Curriculum) or transforming education?” Actually, having worked with digital technologies and been involved with research we think you address transformation by designing “development frameworks” rather than by benchmarking. Consequently we designed the EMFFE to have this transforming development framework dimension to it, and the 15 individual college development projects were commissioned to test this aspect.
3. Initial Digital Practitioner Report; In 2011 we were commissioned by LSIS to review practice with learning technologies in UK Further Education (FE). Geoff Rebbeck lead on the survey design arguing for a survey model based on asking about practitioner use of “technology in action” (not a kit count at the institution). The answers would be mapped against a critical thinking framework to model the “e-maturity” of institutions in terms of professional practice. However the data capture model (on surveymonkey) also allowed us 3 further cuts at the data. 1) a survey of use by technologies specifically asked for in the survey questions (VLE, Skype etc.) 2) individual uses of other technologies captured in the free text boxes offered for elaboration 3) individual narratives of professional practice – with tagging allowing further views (by subject, college, region)
3. JISC presentation on e-maturity capability; This was the first presentation of our findings in 2011 based on the first sample of 218 practitioners in 5 colleges, and is somewhat sketchy as we were only beginning to understand what the survey findings were telling us, and our focus was still on institutional e-maturity & practitioner capability. We did have institutional profiles of technology use AND, very surprisingly, we also had individual practitioner “narratives” of technology use in action. However we had discovered that, arguably, “we are all the digital indigenous now” (as distinct from being digital natives & digital immigrants) and that there was a diversity of use of technology in teaching and learning, which was broader and deeper than could be understood by simply counting the number of resources sitting on a college VLE system (usually Moodle). However it became clear that using our critical thinking model in assessing professional practice, as a way of modelling e-maturity, was both apt and revealing. Nonetheless it still needed developing.
4. Digital Practitioner presentation at ALT 2012; As the original survey methodology was both a) revealing new findings about professional technology use, and b) also showed that real-time analytics could be fed back to institutions and practitioners as reflective “narratives,” a further set of surveys were carried out to review this finding, until we had a sample of 1,000 practitioners. Fortunately for us the new surveys both confirmed and deepened our findings. Better still, as analysts now confident in the survey methodology, we were beginning to understand what the data was telling us and finally came up with suitable words to characterise what happened when the digital native went to college. Part Two of the Digital Practitioner presentation has the detailed data & methodology (from slide 12). We realised that what was happening was that the personal confidence of practitioners with using technologies professionally, gained in their use of new technologies socially, allowed them to apply a wide range of technologies to a diversity of learning and teaching practice. This was a startlingly new finding which Nigel characterised as the creation of ‘artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning-experiences.”
5. The Case of the Curious & the Confident; As we thought that both the findings as well as the survey methodology were significant, we wrote a journal article for Greenwich Compass (2012) capturing what we had learnt from in each case. Namely; 1) Confidence is the critical measurement in the effective use of technology 2) Teachers who are confident in using technology in their personal lives are curious about how that use can transfer into their teaching practice 3) A level of confidence in confronting technology to use in teaching is more important than the level of knowledge about the software 4) It is important to capture how people feel about ‘technology in action’ rather than what technology kit they know, as this allows learning processes to be highlighted.
6. Enabling Digital Practice (CAVTL); As our work had both captured a snapshot of current digital practice, but also revealed both the dynamic of change and hints of the what the FE future might look like, we decided to put together a submission for the UK governments CAVTL (Commission for Adult & Vocational Learning) consultation & call for evidence on the future of vocational learning in 2012. We blogged this on the Architecture of Participation blog, which Nigel & Fred began in order to feedback & share the lessons from EMFFE and other work on the e-enabled institution, as Enabling Digital Practice. We recommended
1) Authentic learning; looking how learning can be contextualised and personalised
2) Enabling Digital Practice; supporting the emerging exemplary practice of practitioners
3) The professional use of ‘social’ technology; supporting their use in practice
4) Flexible and adaptable providers; identifying the organisational and support needs of practitioners.
5) Dealing with the future in the present as our world becomes increasingly “permanent beta.”
7. I Am Curious; Digital; Nigel and I believed that what we had learnt from the Digital Practitioner research could also be generalised into our #nefg series of OERs, so that they could be used by others, like our earlier Craft of Teaching. This is based on an approach that is grounded in research and practice but tries to present the work in a visually appealing & stimulating way that can be used by others for their own purposes. I Am Curious; Digital (2013) concluded that “the personal is professional” and that “confident digital practitioners will help create e-mature institutions.”
8. Digital Practitioner in FE; This blog was started as part of a process of both updating our Digital Practitioner work and continuing to promote it, and was initiated with a blog post about a presentation given to the JISC Teaching and Learning Experts group called The Digital Practitioner in FE. We also highlighted the emerging critical concern that the professional use of personal technologies blurred the boundaries between organisations, learners and practitioners, potentially creates a 24/7 profession. However we argued that both our findings & our modelling pointed to an emerging informational “real-time practice” which both undermined traditional managerial practice and required new institutional responses if these gains were to be benefitted from.
9. A Craft of e-Teaching; When presenting a paper at ELSE (E-Learning & Software for Education) on social media learning models in 2013 a key question in the final plenary discussion asked why we always discussed e-learning but never e-Teaching. Consequently Nigel & Fred decided to answer this by applying our Digital Practitioner findings to our Craft of Teaching work (recently published as a chapter in Academic Working Lives). In A Craft of e-Teaching we argue that a) digital technologies are now “technologies for life” and that professional teaching practices will emerge more from life experiences rather than from education b) personal technologies are becoming learning technologies and understanding that process will help transform institutions, given appropriate support. The effective Digital Practitioner becomes what Etienne Wenger calls the “Technology Steward” who can help transform large-scale institutional systems through individual professional behaviours. See Before and After Institutions for more on this.
*Digital Practice & MOOCs; What we are now seeing in the large-scale implementation of MOOCs is the exact opposite of what we found with the small is beautiful Digital Practitioner work. MOOCs are “business model as e-learning.” MOOCs are e-enabling traditional education in order for big, behemoth, universities, to better dominate the emerging global education market. Digital Practitioner, conversely, whilst initially focussed on what the e-mature FE college might look like, discovered that transformation lies with the practitioner, not the institution.
Summary; We started investigating digital practice in FE with a view to proposing how colleges could become more e-mature and what staff development might look like in a world of Moodle-driven VLE’s. Instead we found that radical small-scale change, that improved learning experiences and so motivated college students to learn, was being effected on the ground by what we now call the “Digital Practitioner.” The e-mature college will be the one that trusts its digital practitioners and provides a digital infrastructure that enables their practice. That would need new managerial practice where providers trusts the professional expertise of their practitioners, and where strategic plans are driven by responsive and adaptive teaching and learning strategies; trust the practitioner who trusts and supports their students.