Online Residency

Yesterday (April 19th) I dipped into an HEA workshop (face-to-face in Oxford with open virtual access – I was in the latter group) and enjoyed it so much that I stayed the entire day.

The Process

There were a few things that made this event enjoyable.

1. I knew, at least by name, quite a few of the people attending – both face-to-face and online. It felt like a comfortable space.

2. At first I thought that online participants would simply be an ‘add on’. The chat was not being streamed to the room, so unless people were on their computers and logged into Elluminate – we, the virtual participants would not be visible.

3. But having made this point, the wonderful Simon Ball put everything right! Simon amazingly had never used Elluminate before, and thought he was attending as a f2f delegate, but was co-opted at the last minute to look after the online group. He did a fantastic job of acting as a mediator between us and the room and made sure that the mics were working OK, the video panned the room and that our questions were put to the room.

4. In the morning when the f2f participants broke out into working groups, Lawrie Phipps –  made sure we were included by coming and speaking to us, which was great. This didn’t happen in the afternoon, when I suspect the effort of including the online group in the workshop activities just proved too much – and we couldn’t begrudge Simon his time with the F2F group or the others for paying us little attention.

5. So the mix of experimentation, working it out as we were going along, seeing if we could project ourselves into the f2f space, was fun and interesting. It reminded me of Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s Betreat –  that I attended last year in California – but they are ahead of the game in integrating online with f2f. They try to project the online people into the f2f group through the use of video and multiple screens.

The Content
The content was also very interesting. The overall theme was based on Dave White’s ideas about visitors and residents in online spaces. The questions for the day were around how we can encourage those learning and teaching, in HE in particular, to become residents in the online environment and whether we should. Dave was at pains to point out that the idea of visitors and residents is only a metaphor, but despite this it is clear that there is a tendency to classify people as either visitors or residents, just as people were classified as digital natives or digital immigrants from Prensky’s work. Perhaps the metaphor has served its purpose and we need to move on. For me it’s not so much whether you are a visitor or resident, – we will all be more or less of both at different times, in different contexts and for different purposes; it’s more that on and offline we are now offered a multitude of learning spaces which we can inhabit and maybe we need (if we are teachers) to help our learners to recognize the choices and to make appropriate decisions about which to inhabit. Mary Ann Reilly has written a very interesting blog post about learning spaces – how they fold over each other, their different dimensions and so on.

Quotes from the day
There were some memorable statements.

Martin Weller‘Openness is a state of mind’.

I couldn’t agree more. Residency in the online environment is likely to require openness – but openness can be really ‘scary’ to ‘novices’. As an academic, it’s easier to be ‘open’ when you have a recognized reputation to fall back on. Martin admitted that openness is a problem for early career researchers and I concur.

Lindsay Jordan  – ‘Teaching should be done with your mouth shut’.

Wonderful. I don’t need to say more!

Simon Ball – questioned whether residency is necessarily better than being a visitor. He wrote on Twitter  #heanpl Discussions still tending towards the assumption that Residency is the ideal state Visitors should aspire towards. Disagree! – really getting to the heart of the topic.

What was key but largely by-passed?
The person with the most thought provoking message was Dave Cormier –  who talked about preparing students for an uncertain and unpredictable world. His mention of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework seemed to fall on deaf ears. His thoughts about complexity in relation to learning also seemed to fall on deaf ears. I thought it a shame that they didn’t give Dave more time to talk about where he is coming from and whether or not the visitor/residency metaphor is helpful to his teaching.

But all in all a surprisingly enjoyable and thought-provoking event – and special thanks to Simon Ball. Without him we, the online group, would only have been observers, rather than participants.