From digital footprint to digital scholar and beyond

I did a presentation last year entitled ‘Digital footprint: leaving a trail for others to follow’ (presentation via Google Slides with commenting enabled here) for lecturers on the seaTEACH programme. I thought I’d share this with the EDN4052W group (Research and Evaluation of Emerging Technologies in Education, postgraduate course at UCT, details here) since the first overnight task involves blogging about one’s online presence. The online visibility guidelines referred to have been updated (links here) – Michelle Willmers and Laura Czerniewicz leading by example:) I look forward to co-teaching on EDN4502W with my colleagues Dr Cheryl Brown, Tabisa Mayisela and Shanali Govender this week. And of course, our students, many of whom have travelled far and wide to attend the week’s face-to-face teaching for this module.

I’ve also adapted the sketchnote I did for a recent facilitating online course where we were discussing Personal Development Plans (PDPs) during a live meeting to describe the journey of digital scholars in relation to online presence and networked identity.

Digital Scholar Journey - Page 1

In the YouTube video below, I am interviewing my colleague Sukaina Walji about how she started using Twitter for research. I think the image resonates with her journey. It will be interesting to see if the PGDip group find this roadmap to be a useful way to start thinking about their own journeys.

Returning to my digital footprint presentation made me realise some of the shifts in my own thinking and journey as a digital scholar. The 2014 presentation is a bit ego-centric (‘a trail for others to follow’) whereas now I’m in a much more collaborative space, seeing myself as but a node in a network. I did another presentation ‘Time to give a Tweet about Social Media in Higher Education‘ earlier this year at a Social Media in Higher Education Summit in Johannesburg. Here the takeaway message was ‘it’s not about being plugged in to devices, it’s about plugging in to each other’. As users of social media we are constantly at a push and pull between the individual and the community. I think this applies to digital scholars too, as different activities means negotiating how inwardly-focused individual things can be translated into outward-facing and community oriented interactions. OERs come to mind, but I think we also need to be less materials focused and look at other kinds of online interactions that may have value. Who values what and why (institutions, colleagues, participants beyond the university) and how might this align or clash with what you might value as an individual?

I now contribute to a range of clusters of professional online communities (open badges, digital storytelling, ePortfolios, online facilitation) and have started innovating in some of these spaces. By ‘innovating’ I mean causing disruption, pushing the limits and thinking about old wicked problems in new and creative ways. I felt very disillusioned with social media a while ago, feeling guilty for only sharing or retweeting content shared by others. While this is not a bad thing, I wanted something more… I wanted to be a creator. An innovator.

I think sketchnoting has helped me to make this leap. I have found it accessible and it is a mode in which I feel I can express myself as an educator (especially with online teaching), conference attendee and creative person. Being involved with the SA Multimodality in Education Research Group, I am very aware that switching modes can sometimes create interesting possibilities for educators and students alike. This experience has also fed into recent research and my interests in alternative assessment. If you’d like to learn more about sketchnoting, here is a workshop outline (put together by Rondine Carstens and I) with links to resources and slides with examples of inspiring sketchnotes. If you attended #etinedconf you’ll already have an idea of what it’s all about, as we had an active sketchnoting team (some sketchnotes from the team here).

The cat lover in me couldn’t resist…

We’ve got some exciting activities lined up in the course which requires recognising and working with different hats (researcher, educator, evaluator, learning designer, student, etc). For many of us, we wear a hat to work that is sometimes made of multiple hats, and where you take one off and other one appears (much like ‘The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins’ by Dr Seuss).

When we hear ‘networked identities’ and ‘digital scholar’ we may experience some discomfort. In the course we are going to have a look at this. At the conference on authentic learning, speakers made reference to pedagogies of care but also ones of discomfort. I look forward to see how we negotiate the relationship between these in the course. Is there care in pedagogies of discomfort? Is it uncaring if discomforts are not resolved as part of learning? Is resolution part of care? Is teaching students to be critical somewhere in the middle that allows negotiation between care and discomfort? Thinking big thinks start with questions. We’ll also be tacking practising the art of asking critical questions in the course.

In particular, I like that the course is starting with Neil Selwyn’s dystopian view of educational technology. I think this is quite unique and really important for encouraging people to interrogate their own assumptions. I am not attending the Google in Education Summit this year because I am tired of uncritical hype. Majority American speakers who have NEVER taught in South African schools coming to tease our teachers with their ‘cool tools’ – haibo! I think Google needs to send them on a service learning course which includes some authentic learning in under-resourced SA schools. Google Drive is a bandwidth eating machine and not suited to the majority of the current infrastructures of SA schools. While I love Drive and use it a lot, I am located in a resource-rich context. UCT has excellent bandwidth. Then I go home to my 3G dongle…

You can’t google ‘educational technology in SA schools’ – you have to experience it. Or at the very least, observe it. I did this for my Masters thesis and when I think about the botch in Gauteng with the uncritical roll-out of tablets in schools, I think ‘they should have ready my thesis’. But maybe it wasn’t accessible enough? Or I haven’t taken the time to put my digital scholarliness to use? I think ‘it’s old hat’ but attending the etined conference, made me realise that how some people conceptualise access and some even utter words like the ‘digital divide’ tsk tsk some uncritical and dated thinkers out there. I am looking forward to the PGDip students’ collective review of the presentations. I predict an absence of theory. By there is also a difference between using theory for the sake of using theory and theorising one’s concepts adequately.

Back to assumptions. Too often we assume that technology is a social good and that it is value free. For example, while may are excited about AI becoming a reality in the near distant future, I cringe because I know that IF these computers are going to be capable of thinking, it will be modelled on the minds of those with the dominant technicities and socio-technical practices which in most cases, are comprised of white men in developed countries. AI looking at the world through their Google glasses. Is this a social good? We need to look beyond the hype and ask critical questions.

On your marks digital scholars!

Here are some links to related resources:

Selwyn, N. In praise of pessimism (2011) and Why it’s crucial to be critical (2015, also in course reader)

Weller, M. (Published online 2014). The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice. (Is it really? How might we know this?)

Videos and podcasts via the Digital Scholar Training Initiative and The Sociological Imagination.


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