Edinburgh University’s updated Manifesto for Teaching Online – 2015

In June of this year I published a blogpost about the changing role of the online teacher, following an invitation from Lisa Lane to write a post for her open Program for Online Teaching.

In that post I included reference to Edinburgh University’s Online Teaching Manifesto, which they published in 2011.

manifestop1

This is an image of the 2011 Manifesto

This week the Digital Education Team have published an updated version of the manifesto and compared it to their 2011 version on their manifesto website and asked for comment.

I have not attempted to evaluate their update by comparing the 2015 version with the 2011 version, but I have found the 2015 version very interesting to read. It relates strongly to the research papers I have been reading this year and therefore would seem to reflect current issues and concerns related to online teaching, but it also leaves me with some questions – possibly related to areas of related research which I haven’t seen.

Here is the text of the manifesto ( in purple font) with my thoughts/comments.

Manifesto for teaching online: Digital Education, University of Edinburgh, 2015

Online can be the privileged mode. Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit. Comment: I can see why these sentences have been included, but do we need to oppose online and offline education. They can both be privileged and positive principles.

Update 24-10-15 I am copying Jen Ross’ comment here as it provides a useful reference for further thinking about this point and the point below about instrumentalisation of education.

I do think the field is moving towards more recognition of hybridity (I like Greenhalgh-Spencer’s take on this – http://ojs.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/pes/article/viewFile/4022/1334 ), but there is still a need (in my view) to address assumptions about what online education is and can be.

Place is differently, not less, important online. Comment: Al Filreis’ ModPo MOOC realises this and creates a wonderful sense of place. He talks about it in his keynote for learning with MOOCs 2015 

Text has been troubled: many modes matter in representing academic knowledge. Comment: This applies both on and offline.

We should attend to the materialities of digital education. The social isn’t the whole story. Comment: A strong point and resonates with research papers that point to the tyranny of social participation online. Ferreday and Hodgson and Lesley Gourlay have written about this.

Ferreday, D., & Hodgson, V. (2010). Heterotopia in Networked Learning : Beyond the Shadow Side of Participation in Learning Communities. Retrieved from http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/49033/

Gourlay, L. (2015). “Student engagement” and the tyranny of participation. Teaching in Higher Education, (March), 1–10. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1020784

Openness is neither neutral nor natural: it creates and depends on closures. Comment: This echoes Edwards’ writing on how “all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness” (p.3) and openness is under-theorised.

Edwards, R. (2015). Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media and Technology, (June), 1–14. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1006131

Update 24-10-15 Stephen Downes has challenged the ideas that ‘all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness’ and that ‘openess is under-theorised’. See OLDaily. I should say here that I have probably done Edwards a disservice by quoting him out of context. His paper deserves reading in full.

Update 30-10-15 And here is a link to the Edinburgh Team’s response to this challenge.https://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/openness-and-the-new-manifesto/ 

Can we stop talking about digital natives? Comment: From Prensky’s work  – which has been much criticised – but has at least raised the issues.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6.

Digital education reshapes its subjects. The possibility of the ‘online version’ is overstated. Comment: This is not super clear to me. Does subjects mean disciplines or people? And how is the possibility of the ‘online version’ overstated?

There are many ways to get it right online. ‘Best practice’ neglects context. Comment: Another point also made by Al Filreis in his video – and others have written about this. Just this week I saw a tweet about it.

Distance is temporal, affective, political: not simply spatial. Comment: And also cultural?

Aesthetics matter: interface design shapes learning. Comment: Interface design certainly shapes learning but is that the same as saying that aesthetics matter? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ ?

Massiveness is more than learning at scale: it also brings complexity and diversity. Comment: This has always been Stephen Downes’ point, i.e. that a purpose of massiveness is to increase diversity.

Online teaching need not be complicit with the instrumentalisation of education. Comment: Does any teaching need to be complicit with the instrumentalisation of education?

A digital assignment can live on. It can be iterative, public, risky, and multi-voiced. Comment: Again, Al Filreis in his video discusses how this happens in ModPo.

Remixing digital content redefines authorship. Comment: The issues around this have been discussed in Ward Cunningham and Mike Caulfield’s Fedwiki. Frances Bell’s blog post might help to explain this. Basically in Fedwiki it is very difficult to track the original wiki page author once a series of edits have been made.

Contact works in multiple ways. Face-time is over-valued. Comment: Face-time can be both over-valued and under-valued. Many courses recognise the importance of face-time and try to replicate it online.

Online teaching should not be downgraded into ‘facilitation’. Comment: Good to see this, i.e. the importance of ‘teaching’. I know that the Edinburgh team have been considering the role of the teacher in online learning in their recent work. See

Biesta, G. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49.

And

Ross, J., Sinclair, C., Knox, J., Bayne, S., & Macleod, H. (2014). Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(1), 57–69.

Assessment is an act of interpretation, not just measurement. Comment: I’m not sure what assessment as an act of interpretation means. Assessment as more than just measurement, i.e. assessment for learning generates as much interest today as it did when Black and Wiliam wrote their paper Inside the Black Box

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139–148. doi:10.1002/hrm

Gibbs and Simpson’s article is also useful in this respect.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students’ Learning. Learning in Teaching in Higher Education, 1(1), 3–31. doi:10.1080/07294360.2010.512631

Algorithms and analytics re-code education: pay attention! Comment: Is this a warning? What should we be doing about this?

Update 24-10-15 Thanks to Jen Ross and Sian Bayne for sending me the link to the e-book edited by Ben Williamson which provides the information relevant to this point in the manifesto. See Jen and Sian’s comments below

Williamson, B. (ed.) 2015. Coding/Learning: Software and digital data in education. Stirling: University of Stirling.

A routine of plagiarism detection structures-in distrust. Comment: Agreed – so what are the alternatives? Clearly plagiarism can’t go unchecked?

Online courses are prone to cultures of surveillance. Visibility is a pedagogical and ethical issue. Comment: Can we assume surveillance to be a bad thing? This statement implies it is, although I’m not sure that is the intention. I can think of at least one course I have attended where more surveillance would probably have been a good thing.

Automation need not impoverish education: we welcome our new robot colleagues. Comment: I suppose it depends on what the new robot colleagues do – what roles they play and how people understand and interpret those roles. Sherry Turkle’s writing about technology and human vulnerability seems relevant here.

Don’t succumb to campus envy: we are the campus. Comment: I’m not sure what this means – maybe because I’m not attached to an institution. I don’t think in terms of campuses.

Hopefully the Edinburgh Team will be expanding on this manifesto. It’s not all self-explanatory to me, but I do appreciate their focus on what it means to be a teacher in a digital age.

The role of the educator in networked learning will also be discussed in the first Hotseat for the Networked Learning Conference 2016,  which is now open and will be facilitated (is that the right word?) from October 25th by Mike Sharples.