LILAC coloured joy and focus

LILAC coloured joy and focus

Manchester Metropolitan University
LILAC conference venue at Manchester Metropolitan University

Last week was joyous, as after a delay of two years we were finally able to run LILAC – the information literacy conference founded in 2005. It’s been an annual chance to get together, share good practice and let your hair down on the dance floor so it was wonderful to see everyone. The following are the notes I wrote to use to introduce the conference. I’ve not (yet) shared any reflections from the conference but I hope to do that. People seemed to like what I said so I thought I’d share it on my much neglected blog. Here goes….

I was really pleased the LILAC Committee asked to do the introduction to the conference. I’m so thrilled and excited that we have all been able to get back together and to meet some of you for the first time. It’s so lovely to see your faces! But to see your legs is even better though! I missed people’s legs and I missed the side of you all. I remember in 2020 when I hadn’t seen a friend for about 4 months except on a screen and I had to walk all around him and look at the sides to check he was real! I wrote in the programme to enjoy LILAC with all your senses, and I meant it – enjoy what you see and hear, but enjoy what you eat, what you smell and touch (ok it’s all getting a bit weird now so I will perhaps leave it here – in fact on the day I told people not to lick each other which got a laugh!)

So this is great to be here, but I’m also aware it’s a bit scary and overwhelming. I don’t know about you but there have been many days in the last 2 plus years where I’ve felt a bit emotional. I’ve felt sad, scared, insecure, worried about me, worried about friends and family, worried about the world. But today I’m actually feeling joy to be here. Although I want to acknowledge, like information literacy, emotions are complex and it’s perfectly normal to feel happy and scared and worried at the same time. And that’s ok.

So before we dive in to the delights of Lilac, I want us to take a few moments before we start to think about a few things, to focus on a few things. Even before the pandemic I was reading a lot of self improvement type stuff. I can’t remember when exactly I discovered Brene Brown but I love everything about that woman. I love her books, but I also podcasts now.  When you need a bit of comfort or motivation or grounding she is my go to person. Her voice soothes me. Two ideas from recent podcasts I want to share with you.

The first is the idea of focus – directing your attention is like shining a flashlight in a darkened room. The recent podcast with the neuroscientist Dr Amisha Jhi is well worth listening to. It talks about mindfulness and its power to actually retrain your brain. I did a course in mindfulness before the pandemic (maybe it shows some great foresight on my behalf?) But probably not knowing me! Anyway Amisha tells us paying attention is so important and something we all need to do more of. She also talks about the problems with multi tasking and when we actually need attention – to be able to do deep work and connect with people and the problems that stress can cause with our ability to focus and make decisions. I know we have all probably struggled with that in the pandemic and it is relevant to information literacy, because our ability to process, to evaluate information when we are stressed is really hampered.

And a second podcast my lovely new colleague Jenny put me onto, is Brene talking to Karen Walrond about finding joy and connections in the midst of tough times – it’s ultimately about self compassion. And how to cultivate gratitude. Little ideas in that podcast are taking a photo everyday of something that is beautiful. And noting at the end of a day where you did something to feel connected to another being, where you did something to be healthy, and where you did something to feel purposeful. I’ve tried practicing this each day and it’s helping to find moments of joy even on the days when it rains, and you have a headache and stumble from online meeting to online meeting, or get some bad news, or worry about catching covid or watch terrible scenes on the news.

Blossom at LILAC
Finding joy – the blossom in Manchester on the walk to the conference venue

So over the next few days I hope you’ll revel in each others company but also take some time out as well if you need it. Notice what you need at each point. Be reflective – ask yourself what have I heard, what might it mean and why might it matter? And play that back to others as I believe it’s only by sharing those inner thoughts and ideas with others that we grow and learn and make connections.

Now just take a moment to think and set yourself a little goal to achieve over our time here. Big or small. If you talk a lot maybe you want to listen more, if you love solitude maybe reach out to someone else. If you are often angry maybe look for some joy. If you do things fast, slow down. If like me you are often distracted, try to pay attention to everything that’s going on. And try to find some joy every day.

I’m going to give you 1 minute – you might want to close your eyes. You may want to focus on your breathing for a moment. Just notice what you are thinking and what you can hear. I’m setting a timer…… (Note to future self – 1 minute stood in front of loads of people feels like about 10 minutes!)

Now perhaps you might want to  make a note of something you want to get out of these three days or perhaps you might just have enjoyed a moment of quiet.

The world has turned into a scary place for many of us, but it’s also a beautiful, wonderful joyous place and our time together is so precious.  Being involved with Lilac has given me one of the greatest senses of purpose. Meeting all of you, being here together makes it all worthwhile. Information literacy really matters and you all matter. So have a wonderful 3 days

LILAC conference dinner
LILAC conference dinner

Postscript – I’m so grateful to the LILAC conference committee and all the helpers. It was so fabulous to see many of you for the first time in more than two years.

If you went to LILAC I really hope you enjoyed it as much as me and for those on the dance floor at the dinner, I suspect there can be no doubt I enjoyed myself!

Hindsight 2021: lilac tinted spectacles anyone?

Later this week I’m part of a panel at the FestivIL online event, run by the fabulous LILAC Conference committee. Melissa Highton is chairing our session which involves me, Melissa and two previous LILAC keynotes: Josie Fraser and Allison Littlejohn. Melissa proposed we do this talk in late 2019, and it was supposed to take place at LILAC 2020 which was of course cancelled. She’s also kicked things off writing this wonderful post to start us all thinking and reflecting. And I definitely want some lilac tinted spectacles!

As someone who has never given a keynote at LILAC, my role is to provide some sort of overview of what can be learnt from attending every single (all 17) LILACs. Just to note there have now been 9 conferences since I was formally involved in their organisation, but I have attended every year since and feel honoured to have remained involved in the conference since it was founded in 2005.

17 years ago…….

2004 the world was a very different place …… or was it?

Me with Debbi Boden at the closing of the first LILAC in 2005

This was the year that I was part of group of (rebel) librarians who set up the information literacy group and created LILAC. Let’s go back and think a bit about WHY I got involved…….

Well of course I like a party, and Debbi promised us a really good party, but mainly my reasons were and remain ‘academic’ and by this I don’t mean irrelevant – I mean intellectual! In 2004 my job was to create an online information literacy programme for students. To complement (or even replace) the face to face training we ran in the library. I’ll be honest I felt a bit lost and very early in my career I had realised the library community was an amazingly supportive network when I wanted to find stuff out.

I was working at LSE – I had been trained to work on the information desk – we used to have a referral system, with desk 1 and desk 2, where students with ‘research queries’ were passed to me and more basic queries were handled by the desk 1 person who was often a library assistant. It taught me about inequalities in library systems – many of the people on desk 1 had worked in the library for years and knew at least as much as me, but I was ‘qualified’ so sat in desk 2, mainly terrified that someone would ask me a question I wouldn’t know the answer to, particularly if it related to our immense intergovernmental organisations collection, the EU collection or the UK parliamentary collection. Please don’t ask me to locate a command paper, I used to whisper as a serious looking researcher approached the desk, I know where the toilets are though. Honestly it seems a bit crazy night, but I used to stress the night before a desk duty about being asked a question I didn’t know the answer to – what sort of librarian was I if I didn’t know everything!

Thinking a bit about LSE, I was told repeatedly how bright our students were. That they didn’t need information skills, because they were top students. However working on the information desk revealed to me pretty quickly that students didn’t understand how our library worked – they didn’t understand how to read their reading list, they didn’t understand the signage, they invariable came to ask how to find a book not an in-depth ‘research query’ – yet our library made huge assumptions about what they already knew. My fears about mis-directing people to the command papers were largely unnecessary, in fact I spent a lot of time explaining how I knew a reference on a reading list was in fact a journal article, not a book chapter. And I used to love taking someone to the shelves and actually helping them find the book they swore blind was just not there. It usually started with us leaving the desk and turning left (or right) and the student saying, ah right, I’ve not been down here before. But it revealed to me that our students were largely unaware of the incredible research collection they had at their fingertips, they just wanted to find a book on their reading list.

I learnt a lot about privilege, I learnt about the danger of making assumptions. I learnt how teaching was often playing second fiddle to supporting research. The qualified staff were meant to help the researchers, students should know what they were doing. They were at LSE, they were bright. They didn’t need this ‘remedial’ support.

So coming together with my colleagues from universities all around the UK to create LILAC meant I learnt about so much about information literacy and the incredible opportunity that librarians have to try and make a difference. I also learnt about the power of a small group of people with a common mission to make changes. Instinctively I knew we were doing something valuable – we created a community of practice for sharing our experiences. Sharing our teaching practices, sharing resources – bringing in those to share their knowledge with us – through inviting the amazing keynotes that over the years have inspired us.

That’s why I don’t think hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that studying the history of the information literacy movement is so important. To remind ourselves how far we have come, but also why we started the group and the conference in the first place. As a historian first and foremost I know why we study history and but if you haven’t been there, let me take you on a journey down into the lilac archive. As far as I know there aren’t any dragons there, but there are some amazing presentations, some embarrassing photos and a lot of combined wisdom about information literacy.

Whenever questions are asked about what we can learn from history, it invariably leads to philosopher George Santayana’s oft-quoted aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Studying history enabled me to develop a better understanding of the world. Some say history is all about learning dates, but in fact building knowledge and understanding of historical events and trends, especially over the past century, enables us to develop a much greater appreciation for current events today. And if we heed Santayana’s warning, then remembering history – and learning important lessons from it – should help us to avoid previous mistakes and prevent previous misdeeds from happening again. (In case you were wondering I largely plagiarised this part of the post from Deakin University – why study history)

But what can we learn from LILAC’s history? And the previous keynotes? I often invited people I wanted to hear speak as a keynote – but I also remember how keynotes opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about information literacy. Tara Brabazon our twice keynote astounded and entertained us. Christine Bruce came and educated us about her six frame of information literacy and about phenomenography as a research method that could reveal people’s experiences of IL. You can see a full list of the keynotes here:  in 2005 it was Sheila MacNeil, Sheila Corrall and Gwyneth Price who keynoted. But we also had Lord David Puttnam, Char Booth, John Dolan, Leslie Burger (who subsequently invited Debbi and I to Princeton) Ray Land, Barbara Fister, James Clay, Dave White… the list goes on. You can see here the full list of previous keynotes.

I’ve also looked back at the themes we used to choose for LILAC to see if they have changed? Not really I concluded – we were often really on message – New perspectives on IL, using new technologies, IL and citizenship, ethics, diversity and social justice (2008) information literacy for life (2009).

So with the benefit of hindsight, what would I change? I’d maybe worry less about whether IL was really a ‘thing’ – I’d worry less about the naysayers, who spent their time telling us that it was just a new word for user education, or that technology was going to become so advanced that students would just know how to do all this stuff. I’d probably have spent more time trying to prepare for a global pandemic, so everything didn’t have to shift online at the flip of a switch. And maybe, I would spend a little less time talking to librarians about IL and more time talking to those in education and in the wider world, to try and make them listen. But most likely, I wouldn’t change a thing, I’ve enjoyed every moment of the LILAC Conference rollercoaster (the parties really were as good as we were promised by Debbi) and learnt something from each and every one of our amazing keynotes. So thank you and I hope you will join us on Thursday at FestivIL!

Gardening for the mind

This was the title of a course I did earlier in the year, offered online for free by the Abbey Physic Garden in Faversham which is a completely wonderful place, to support people with mental health issues, but also to provide a community space. I do a few hours a week volunteering there, when I have the time and it’s great to take a break from online meetings and teaching. Rather than write about work, I really want to write a blog post about my garden as it’s been dominating my spare time recently and something I’m now completely obsessed with. I also think it’s important to balance our work interests with hobbies and gardening for me is a very creative activity, that allows my mind down time to actually do some deep thinking. There is nothing like a bit of weeding to help clear my thoughts.

I’ve been working on my own garden since March and I find this activity the perfect way to take time away from the screen, but also to be able to create somewhere beautiful to spend time. I’ve tried to plant many types of flowers to attract bees to my garden. Like many people I am concerned about the decline in bees and want to do my bit to help them.

I’ve also been influenced by living just 5 miles from the coast and decide to create a beach garden at the far end of my plot which gets the evening sun. I had a summer house installed and I’ve painted this to look like a beach hut. I’m working on the interior currently. I’ve also reused the large amounts of bay wood I had taken down from a huge bay tree, to make replica groynes which are found on the beach along the Kent coast at nearby Seasalter. And friends have been helping by collecting some beach related objects to decorate the garden including an old lantern from a ship, a life ring (found floating in the Swale, which is the water between the Kent coast and the Isle of Sheppey) and lots and lots of shells.

I wanted an orchard really living in Kent, but space is limited, so I have 6 small fruit trees – 3 apples, a cherry, a plum and a crab apple. I’ve got sun loving plants and herbs at the beach end, but as you move nearer the house I’ve created a more traditional English cottage garden with salvias, geraniums, delphiniums, aquilegias, a rose, hollyhocks and verbena. My colour scheme is mainly purple and pinks with some white as well.

Probably my favourite feature of the garden is my brick lined winding gravel path. It creates interest as you move down the garden, but also the weathered bricks echo my victorian house and give it a real warm Mediterranean feel.

I’ve managed to squeeze in some veg in the garden. Strawberries and tomatoes are growing in containers. I’ve also got plenty of herbs both in the garden and also in planters near to the house. And while I wait for my decking to be built I have converted some of the former lawn into a veggie plot where I am growing some sweetcorn, pumpkins and cucumber. I also have chillis in my mini greenhouse.

If you can have a garden, it’s so important to make it a place you can really enjoy. I know that means different things to different people, but gardening for me is helping me stay grounded, to watch the passing of the seasons and direct my energy into something that in turn then supports and nurtures me.

A review of 2020

The Hot Tin, Faversham

Where do I start? This year has been memorable, for many of the wrong reasons. It feels almost impossible to write an upbeat review of what I have heard some people call the ‘year of the plague.’ We’ve all learnt a lot of new words and found new meaning for words that previously meant very little: COVID-19, Coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, new normal, pandemic, tiers, I could go on. I won’t, I will be in tears and no one wants that on the last day of the year.

Jane's homemade quilt
My attempt at patchwork

Because for me, despite all my attempts to stay positive there have been dark days and nights, fear, sadness, insomnia, isolation. It’s not just the cancelled events, cancelled keynotes, missing people and worrying about myself and other people being sick. I’ve had times when I am unable to concentrate, and get lost for hours in a tendency towards what is called ‘doom-scrolling’ on social media. I remember early on probably around March or April literally being scared of what I might see on twitter. I think it was around that time I started to sew again, determined to finish what I called my ‘lockdown quilt.’ In fact it was a quilt I had half made several years ago and then given up finishing. Patchwork requires precision and patience, neither are qualities I am known for, so I am proud I made anything remotely decent – it also taught me not to give up. I guess my year has been a bit like my patchwork, good in places, pretty messy in others, got there eventually, just don’t look too closely and maybe don’t look underneath!

Running club
Me with my running buddies

This year has brought some moments of joy though: through rewarding meaningful work, a lot of running and yoga, a lot of home cooking, walking, cycling, sunshine, a new nephew, a new home and now new cats. I have made new friends, I have caught up with old friends, I have realised which friends really matter. And I have appreciated people, including my lovely mum, who has phoned me every day without fail, since March at least once, sometimes not when I am in a Teams meeting too! I have spent more time with some colleagues than ever before, such that we have our own little jokes, we know who sleeps late (me), who eats what for breakfast and have got to know their lives and some of their families. I have learnt to run webinars like a pro (well kind of) thanks partly to Martin Hawksey. And in the autumn I rediscovering my love of preserving, which has led to filling my cupboards with homemade jams (blackberry, damson) and chutney (green tomato) and sloe gin. There has been some music, laughter, many photos and videos (including a HG Wells virtual tour of Bromley and a fabulous Christmas one edited by Chris and involving me and others singing ‘Do they know its Christmas’.

I wrote just four posts on this blog this year, here, here, here and here this is number 5, my fewest ever in a year. But I am blogging, on where there have been 39 posts, 38,330 hits (the highest ever since the blog was launched) and now over 300 subscribers. The most popular page was the page set up to accompany the webinar series, launched by Chris and me on 18th March 2020. Dom and I shifted the blog writing group that I run at work, online and more people have attended than when we met in person! But writing this year has been something I’ve found really hard, although we did finally nail a chapter for an open access book which ended up being 13,000 words, so maybe I didn’t struggle as much as I thought.

OER conference
Me, Lorna Campbell, Chris Morrison and Dave White at OER19 in Galway

Anyone who knows me, knows I love a conference and particularly one involving exciting travel to places like Uruguay, Kyrgyzstan or beautiful Scotland. I was due to present at several conferences, I was keynote at Creating Knowledge in Tromso Norway, which has been postponed to June 2021. My joint keynote with Chris at the Playful Learning conference was postponed to July 2021, and the Icepops conference we co-host was postponed to June 2021. Whether any of these things will happen in 2021 who knows. A joint keynote at the Forum for Interlending finally took place 6 month late, on Zoom. We spoke online in New Zealand, Switzerland, Jamaica, at the Westminster Media Forum. I spoke at several information literacy events in the UK and one in Holland and got involved in an exciting initiative to embed information literacy into the the school curriculum. Interest in copyright and online learning is probably the highest it’s ever been. Chris and I have even set up a new special interest group on the subject, hosted by the Association for Learning Technology and are massively grateful to Maren and Martin for all their support. We also started work on a new project to devise a code of fair practice for film studies teaching, which has turned out to be pretty timely. We’ve applied for AHRC funding to continue this work (still waiting to hear), and I was successful in receiving funding with colleagues at City from the Centre for Distance Education at the University of London for a project to evaluate online teaching in politics at City. So professionally it’s been a rich experience, if one mediated by technology and largely spent at the end of the day sat on my own, rather than chatting and sharing the experience with my colleagues and friends.

In February 2020 I was awarded Senior Fellowship of the HEA – for me it was a real achievement that came literally one month before the pandemic broke out. I felt I had made it as an academic developer for a moment. In March I went to my last real conference called Inted, a conference on technology and academic development, in Valencia in Spain, just as the pandemic was starting to really take hold. I presented on some recent research into technology, digital literacy and open practice I had recently completed. However, I returned pretty terrified that I’d been at a conference, in what was turning out to be a Covid hotspot. I didn’t return to work after the 15th March, my trainers remained under my desk until the summer when Susannah, my director, kindly posted them back to me after a one off visit to the campus. I suspect the office plants are dead. I suspect the chocolates in my drawer are well out of date. I don’t even remember what I left on my desk on that Friday when I headed home unaware that would be my last trip to London for months. I’ve been teaching online since then.

Me at graduation

At the close of the year, a really hard year, when I have worked almost without a break, when I ran my module on technology enabled academic practice twice, where Chris and I ran 28 webinars, when the number of talks I did ramped up and I ended up with a looming deadline to finish writing a chapter, I was feeling exhausted and drained. And then came some news that really lifted me. I got a letter just literally two days before finishing work from the Vice Chancellor of the Open University. I’m being awarded an honorary doctorate. It says I was awarded it for my ‘outstanding efforts in … advancing the fields of information literacy and copyright education both of which are essential to educational opportunities and social justice.” Why am I writing about this? Because in the hardest and most difficult year of my life (and most people’s life) it is important to celebrate the good things that happen. The resilience which people have shown, but also their willingness to be more open and vulnerable. I’m genuinely humbled to receive this degree from a university that was founded on so many of the same values I hold dear. The OU believe that education should be open to all, because it has the power to transform people’s lives. I also know there are plenty of other people that deserve such accolades as well, but I am grateful they chose me this year.

So celebrate the good times you’ve had this year, those successes big or small. But also know that it’s ok to shed a few tears for all we have lost and that didn’t happen, for the sadness this year has brought with it, of the dreadful isolation, of the people who have lost their jobs and worse their lives. But the world will go on, the spring will return, bulbs are already popping up in my new garden. I’m putting one foot in front of the other – the vaccine is coming. I am not setting any great ambitions for 2021, it will be what it will be and I will be happy to put 2020 behind me and look towards a more hopeful future when I hope to see more of the people I love and who inspire me. And I hope in July I can receive that honorary degree at the OU with real people watching and celebrating with me. I hope your year will be better too.

September = stress, support and self-care

So it’s September already and just a few weeks after finishing teaching my Technology Enabled Academic Practice module, I have started the module again with a new cohort of staff. There is a sense that these weeks are critical moments for higher education as learning has shifted online for the coming term and we still have a bit of time to plan well. It’s not surprising that people taking my module want technical help and support to prepare for the coming term. It’s a time for me to do what I can to be helpful and supportive to my colleagues and demonstrate I can make a difference. I’m returning to the blog post I wrote back in April and seeing what I have learnt since then. But boy does this feel like quite a lot of pressure! 

As with the situation in March, there has been a reaction – it’s been impossible to do anything but react to unknown events, and as we move into Autumn and the new restrictions come into force, as the infection rate for COVID starts to rise again, it’s a scary time. Maybe not as scary as things were in March, as we know a bit more about what to expect. However, I got a sense that throughout the summer people were looking to find someone in charge to tell them what to do. This is happening in Higher Education and in the country more broadly. Sometimes the right people have the loudest voice, sometimes they don’t. I also wonder if people have also been looking for someone to blame a little because they are fearful of their own deficiencies but also of having the finger pointed at them. There is a lot of defensive behaviour, where people are wanting to be seen to be doing the right thing.

Those of us in educational support roles have been desperate to help and be seen as the lifeboat which has made us all produce lots of things and provide a surfeit of advice and guidance. I’m fairly sure what what we’re doing is helpful to some extent but also contributing to cognitive overload. Rather like my email inbox which now permanently has around 50 unread messages, I am learning to live with a bit of chaos. But we know in times of stress people can’t process large amounts of complex information, so messages need to be clear and concise and very focused. I try to think about this when dealing my new cohort and have committed to sending a weekly email with the information about what they need to do, and keeping this short and focused.

As we head into the Autumn and start of term I think there is now a need to shift to being proactive while ensuring we recognise this is about partnership and collaboration and community and pulling together, rather than assigning blame. Yet while we are all in this together, some people do have more agency or privilege or more knowledge and they need to use that to help others. Those of us who have worked in educational technology for some time, have a lot of really useful knowledge. However, those people (people like me) need to recognise they can’t do everything and they need to look after themselves. The oxygen mask on a plane scenario is relevant here, you can’t help others if you are not looking after yourself first. 

I think in higher education we need a type of leadership that is strong and vulnerable at the same time. A leader who knows some of the answers but listens to others and recognises those who have expertise. I think we need leaders to curate content, sift through all the stuff that’s out there and point people to the key information they need to know. I’ve learnt a lot from running 20 (and counting!) copyright and online learning webinars since 20th March, hosted by ALT and delivered with Chris Morrison, my copyright literacy partner. But I think it might be time for me to re-read Brene Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’ book. As we head closer to the start of the new academic year and with anxiety levels rising higher still, curation becomes increasingly important – so we share what is the most useful, not everything we have in our heads.

I wish everyone the very best for the forthcoming academic year, it’s going to be challenging and hectic. At times it is going to feel overwhelming and at times I know I will be overwhelmed and I might have to say no to people. But if you remember nothing from this blog post, remember that sometimes people need your help, but you need to be focused in the support you provide to others. Short emails that focus on the three things people need to know. Or make a quick call to clarify what would have taken a lengthy email to explain. Technology is a wonderful thing but sometimes a smile and a chat and a virtual hug convey a lot more. Good luck everyone, and don’t forget to breathe (through the mask)! 

With thanks to Dom Pates for corralling me into re-starting our blog writing group virtually, so I could actually finish this post!

House of Lords report on Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust

Durham Cathedral

This post was written jointly with my good friend and the Information Literacy group’s Advocacy and Outreach Officer, Stéphane Goldstein which he has also posted on his blog.

“A country’s education system needs to prepare its people for their role as citizens. In the digital world, this means they need to be empowered to be critical, digitally literate consumers of information.”

These couple of lines read like an extract from any self-respecting definition of information literacy. In fact, they come from ‘Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust’, the June 2020 report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies[1]. They form the opening statement of a chapter on active digital citizens, which stresses the crucial importance of information literacy (or, as the report terms it, critical digital media literacy) to a healthy, inclusive democracy. This resonated with us both immediately as the relationship between information literacy and citizenship was something highlighted when revising the CILIP definition of IL in 2018[2]. The chapter is just one part of a document that roams widely in an analysis of the relationship between citizenship and online discourse, but it addresses the absolute need for the education system to catch up with the implications of democracy in the digital age.

The report, and the parliamentary inquiry and evidence-gathering that preceded it, is the latest example of how the public discourse in the UK has evolved in recent times in its understanding of the importance and relevance of information literacy. Only five years ago, another House of Lords report, on the UK’s digital future[3], singularly failed to see digital literacy in terms other than functional skills, closely aligned to ICT and know-how associated with the use of computer technology. Even in 2017, the skills component of the Government’s Digital Strategy[4] was focused largely on basic skills, digital exclusion and the needs of the economy, with little or no reference to critical thinking and citizenship. But with growing concerns about disinformation, online harm, malpractice on social media platforms and subversion of democratic processes by unfriendly non-UK players, attitudes from public agencies began to shift. In 2018, the House of Commons DCMS Committee interim report on disinformation[5] recognised the relationship between digital literacy and making informed choices about material encountered online; and it recommended that digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, writing and maths. In 2019, the Cairncross Review on a sustainable future for journalism[6] stated that critical media literacy is necessary to help people judge the quality of online news, and recommended that the Government develops a media literacy strategy. That recommendation was taken up in the Online Harms White paper[7], published later this year; as far as we know, the Government remains committed to setting out this strategy before the end of 2020. And now, this latest House of Lords report builds on these various initiatives.

Progress by public agencies towards developing policies and practice on information literacy (and associated literacies) has certainly been slower in the UK than in other countries. But the Lords report makes up for some of the lost time by being quite hard-hitting in its policy prescriptions. For starters, its definition of digital media literacy is inclusive and closely aligns with how we view information literacy:

“We use the term ‘digital media literacy’ because our purposes go beyond, but do include, the functional skills required to use technology. We define digital media literacy as being able to distinguish fact from fiction, including misinformation, understand how digital platforms work, as well as how to exercise one’s voice and influence decision makers in a digital context.”

It goes on to note that too often, digital media literacy is confused with computer science; and that it is not enough to be merely a technically proficient consumer of digital technologies. And it laments that the Government does not have a full understanding of the critical ways in which digital media literacy and technical computing skills differ. But the report is particularly damming about the perceived shortcomings of the education system and of the school curriculum. For instance:

“The Government’s focus on computing education is insufficient; basic digital skills are not enough to create savvy citizens for the digital era. The Department of Education would appear to be struggling to anticipate the implications of the technological challenges of the 21st century.”

And, taking a dim view of the Department for Education’s current approach, it goes on to suggest that the Department demonstrates a lack of understanding about what is needed to bring about necessary change; and that it struggles to anticipate the implications of technological challenges of the 21st century.

How might these shortcomings be addressed? The report makes two important recommendations, which we quote in full:

“The Department for Education should review the school curriculum to ensure that pupils are equipped with all the skills needed in a modern digital world. Critical digital media literacy should be embedded across the wider curriculum based on the lessons learned from the review of initiatives recommended above. All teachers will need support through CPD to achieve this.”

And, to develop the evidence base in a thorough and comprehensive manner:

“Ofsted, in partnership with the Department for Education, Ofcom, the ICO and subject associations, should commission a large-scale programme of evaluation of digital media literacy initiatives.”

It is gratifying that a distinguished parliamentary committee has reached such conclusions. Two of its members are former education ministers, which adds weight to its findings: Baroness Morris, who as Estelle Morris was Secretary of State for Education in 2001-02; and Lord Knight, who as Jim Knight was Minister of State (Education and Skills, Schools and 14-19 Learners) in 2006-07. Of course, reports from parliamentary committees do not make Government policy, and as things stand, the Government has not yet formally responded to this particular report. Indeed, it is not impossible that they may reject its recommendations, in the same way that it rejected the House of Commons DCMS Committee’s 2018 proposal to make digital literacy the fourth pillar of education.

All the same, we hope that the report will make an important contribution to current thinking on making the school education system more fit for purpose. For our part, a small group of us have launched an initiative[8] that supports a greater integration of information literacy – and associated concepts, such as media literacy, digital literacy, news literacy and critical literacy – into the school curriculum. The initiative takes the form of a statement which we are asking interested parties to sign (this was actually made public before the publication of the Lords report, but it shares the same concerns). The aim is to get as wide a variety of individuals and organisations as possible to lend their names with a view to influencing public policy in this direction. Please consider signing this if you agree with what both we and the Lords Committee are saying. Destiny is all!

Authors’ note: ‘Destiny is all’ is a tongue-in-cheek reference to our mutual appreciation of ‘The Lost Kingdom’, a BBC-Netflix series based on the books by Bernard Cornwall and set in the 9th and 10th centuries, in Anglo-Saxon and Danish England. Like all good historians, we recognise the need critically to assess your sources, but we heartily recommend this series if you are looking for a lockdown box set to whet your appetite for researching the true historical characters on which much of the series is based! The city of Durham features in several episodes of the series – hence the photo of its magnificent cathedral.


[1] House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies, 2020, Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust.

[2] CILIP, 2018, CILIP Definition of Information Literacy 2018.

[3] House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills, 2015, Make or Break: the UK’s Digital Future.

[4] Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2017, UK Digital Strategy.

[5] House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, 2018, Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report.

[6] The Cairncross Review, 2019, A sustainable future for journalism.

[7] HM Government, 2019, Online Harms White Paper.

[8] Information literacy for school education.

What I’ve learnt in the last 3 weeks about online learning that my entire career could never teach me

In happier times, at Hever Castle Christmas wonderland, before I realised I would spend quite a bit of 2020 feeling like I was in a box!

Like many people I have been struggling to cope with what’s happening in the world since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. I’ve been emotionally up and down now, particularly since the UK went into lockdown on Monday evening, as it meant being separated from my partner, friends, family and work colleagues. I’m getting used to a new normal, of getting up, doing a YouTube workout, then after a quick shower and breakfast, switching on my computer and starting work for the day. My daily communication is now entirely mediated by technology of some form such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and whichever platform is needed. I’m trying to take regular breaks, I am going out running once a day, I am staying in touch with my friends and family. I’m trying to keep sane in a world that feels a little bit insane, scary and uncertain.

As someone who has worked in online learning for almost 20 years I am also finding it hard to make sense of the sudden shift to online learning that is happening in our universities, schools, colleges and workplaces and what my role should actually be. I feel like my expertise is needed and have been doing a fair amount to share my knowledge of copyright and online learning with the education community (more about that in a separate blog post). In this blog post, while it’s too soon to start reflecting on what this might mean long term, I’m going to share some of the things that I have learnt from this experience from this sudden shift to online learning.

To give some context, in the last 3 years I have been working at City, University of London as a Senior Lecturer in Educational Development, leading the technology enhanced learning pathway through our MA in Academic Practice. I teach two modules: Technology-enabled Academic Practice and Digital Literacies and Open Practice. Before moving to City I worked at LSE for 15 years in the Centre for Learning Technology, providing copyright advice to staff using educational technologies and helping them get access to digital resources. Slightly more than 2 weeks ago when I heard the news that LSE was stopping face to face teaching and switching entirely online I knew we were living in unprecedented times. LSE had largely been resistant to shifting to online for most of the time I worked there. Lecturers were happy to upload slides or some readings to Moodle, but online learning was not what they were seeking to do. So to switch entirely online, before most other universities, meant something pretty significant was happening in world. And I think for the first time I started to feel a bit anxious. I’m learning to live with being a lot anxious quite a lot of the time.

City University is a different sort of institution to LSE, my colleagues in the Educational Technology team provide a range of services to staff using technology in teaching and while we have different levels of engagement, I noticed almost the moment I started working there that many staff, but particularly those in health sciences, were keen to try and experiment with technology. They knew it had real potential and benefits, they just (like many of us) struggled to find time for their professional development. Those who have taken my modules give positive feedback that this course gives them the time and permission to concentrate on trying something new in their teaching. And many of them realise throughout the 8 months that the Technology module runs, that they are more competent with technology than they think and that it does offer them and their students benefits. Despite more enthusiasm from the outset, City were a week or so behind LSE in making the switch to entirely online learning.

For my own teaching, I had to make a quick decision as the crisis unfolded in what I shall call Week 0 – Monday 16th March, an entire week before the UK lockdown. I was due to teach a day long workshop for my technology module. I left the office on the Friday before wondering if I would be back to do this, and over the weekend it became apparent that I would not. While City wasn’t shut, I felt that teaching a module about online learning, and insisting my cohort came into City to study all day would be a risk both to myself and to my participants. I was also aware that almost half of my cohort are either health sciences lecturers or work in the NHS as health educators, so could be quite distracted. I took the decision that I would shift the entire day online, and really try to make it work. Partly to prove to myself I could do it. But largely so my cohort might experience an online session that I hope might give them some ideas for adapting their own teaching.

The session focused on learning theories and learning design and over the weekend I had an email from one participant asking me if I could make the session more practical to help her shift to online teaching. This started me questioning about how to approach the content. Of course I wanted to do something practical to help people, but launching into a hands-on training session in using every technology tool we have at City would not have been productive. I also felt as a point of principle, we needed to start with the pedagogy and the learning outcomes before we jumped straight into using technology. This is really the ethos underlying the whole module. We ask participants what aspects of their own teaching they would like to improve and to consider any challenges they are facing in their teaching. Then we think about technology and how it might help. So this was a principle I really felt would help people, to give them a framework they could use to plan their shift to online teaching. Obviously we all have a pretty clear problem currently, being unable to leave our homes and teach our students in traditional ways.

I returned to my lesson plan and the materials I had prepared. The session was going to be based around learning design principles using a lot of Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework. Had we met face to face we were going to do an ABC Learning Design workshop. I realised fairly quickly this would not work as an online session. I also knew that a day long workshop would need some rethinking to work effectively. I used my lesson plan to think about what type of learning was happening at different points through the day. There were clearly chunks of knowledge acquisition which lent themselves to some presenting. Time was short so I planned to deliver these during a synchronous session that I would also record. It made sense to me to start the day with an Adobe Connect webinar. My students already have webinars built into the course and most have used the software already. I felt I wanted some face to face time to just check in with people and set them up for the day with a timetable of what they were going to be doing. I decided to start with a quick poll to check in with people and see how they were feeling and to acknowledge the strangeness of the situation.

I then devised some simple activities to do throughout the day – reading a blog post about ABC, watching a couple of videos on the Conversational Framework and Connectivism and then writing a reflection in the Moodle discussion forum, to try and replicate some group discussion. At lunchtime around 3 people checked in with me to ask some questions, including one business studies lecturer who was looking for some help as she planned to run her first Adobe Connect session a few days later.  This lunchtime surgery session for anyone stuck and in need of some help seemed to work well. The day progressed and people posted in the forum. We then came back together for a final session from 3-4pm. I made the slides and content much more minimal but asked people to talk about what they had learnt from the day and which aspects of learning design and learning theory might they use to help them plan the shift to online learning in their own teaching. I also did another poll to see how people were feeling at the end of the day. Anxiety levels seemed to have gone down a little which was a relief (mine has too!) We also had some great discussion, largely in the chat box but by the end of the day people were feeling braver and switching on their audio to speak.

My lesson plan for the day (which I also sent to them all and posted in Moodle as a simple word document) is here if anyone would like to take a look. I tried to make it as clear as possible with step by step instructions and links to the relevant part of Moodle so they knew what was expected. It wasn’t perfect but I’ve had some positive feedback from the cohort and I hope the blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities gave them flexibility to study in the way they want to. I’m also aware that many of my cohort are very stretched at the moment, emotionally, health wise or work wise. So I am checking in with them, giving them options to defer their studies and get extensions on their assignments.

In summary, some of what I learnt from these few weeks include:

  • Think really hard about priorities – every day, every week, every hour even – what needs to be done NOW. What can wait. Review everything that ever ended up on a to do list! What do you really need to do it? Do you need to do it now? Can you add it to your schedule to do it in a timely way, to stop feeling like everything needs to be done immediately. The need to adapt my own teaching made me really look at what I was covering in a day long session and prioritise what they really needed to know for now and for their assessments.
  • Accept that it’s not possible to achieve everything and that is ok and that some things just will have to wait and people will understand. Some of my marking has been late, it’s been the one things I’ve found really difficult to concentrate on. But I am trying to communicate with people and let them know when I can do things. But the experience of an ABC workshop was just not something I could replicate online, so I did the best I could and pointed them to the resources and down the line, when this is all over we’ll run a workshop.
  • Try to be good enough. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a perfectionist, I’m a getting things done person. And at this current time I’m being even less of a perfectionist. I made a voice over PowerPoint this week. It was not the greatest thing I have produced, but it is perfectly audible and will do and so it’s up on Moodle and ready for the students. The same with hastily adapted day of teaching. It wasn’t perfect, but on balance it was a lot better than bringing people into the university and I gave people a way of engaging with the teaching live or following up afterwards with a recording and discussion forum activities.
  • Ask for help! I realised that many of my colleagues are genuinely lovely people and want to help and letting some of them know I was struggling was important. By the end of this week when my colleague Sarah said “Jane you sound so much more energised today – I think you are feeling better” that really gave me a lift. Several joined me for my day of teaching and everyone has been checking in on each other to make sure we’re getting through this. I’m really grateful to everyone I work with for being so supportive at this current time.
  • Online learning is not about getting the content online, it’s about your role as a teacher. Many of us working in this field have talked about how slides in Moodle or long lists of readings are not online learning for years, but at this time it’s becoming so clear that people want human contact. I miss seeing my students face to face, so I’ve been talking to them on Teams and Skype and in Adobe Connect. I’ve also realised that without the teacher it’s just lists of stuff. We need someone to help us make sense of what we are studying – our teachers, our peers, our colleagues.
  • Engage with your students and check in with them frequently – now more than ever they need to know you care. In the word of Paolo Freire “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him/herself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.” This is a tough situation, but we are all in this together.
  • Make any instructions crystal clear and tell people about them multiple times. Write lists that say – first do this, then do this, read this and answer this question. It’s not always obvious what we are expecting people to do with information we present to them. They need our help turning it into knowledge. And no this is not spoon-feeding, this is good teaching and we’re all suffering a bit from knowing where to focus our attention and need plenty of reminders.
  • Take time to do some proper planning as it will pay off in the long run. We’ve all been saying for years we haven’t got enough time to do things, but now we’re locked down time is something some of us have a lot more of. So take the time to think about your teaching, return to your learning outcomes and think about your students at the moment, and their capacity to study and take things in. Give them as many options as you can. Perhaps a short video, a longer piece of reading and an activity. If you are making recordings or voice over PowerPoint that’s helpful, but make sure there is a way they can ask questions. Keep the video as short as you can covering the really key points.

I am not sure if I am saying anything profound. Shifting to online is hard work, it’s always been hard work, but everything is hard work at the moment. There are so many people who’ve told me this week how tired they feel from all the online meetings. I usually commute for around 3 hours a day, and I am more tired than ever in my short walk from the kitchen to the home office. I need down time and I need to be kind to myself. We will get through this, alone / together. I’m sure we’ll all learn a lot more about technology over the coming weeks and months, but I hope we’ll reconnect with what makes us human and the underlying values of higher education that the world needs now – the need for communities, self improvement, fulfilment, kindness and most of all love for each other. Teaching is a political act said Freire, but he also said that “education was an act of love and this is an act of courage.” I shall keep that in my mind in the coming weeks.

For she’s a Senior Fellow…

My SFHEA Certificate

I’ve not written a blog post for quite some time and not because I’ve not had much to say, rather because there has been far too much going on. However, the occasion of being appointed a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy has prompted me to write a short blog post about this. Also because I have offered to mentor and support others and to share my fellowship claim.

Writing my SFHEA was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve written. I won’t lie, I had moments when I wanted to give up and go and lie in a darkened room. I write all the time, and I support others applying for Fellowship so I am not quite sure why I found this so challenging. I think it might be because I am not very good at reflecting on why I do things. I know as an educator we’re supposed to be reflective, I know how important reflection is as part of learning, and I do to spend some time, usually, after I’ve taught a session, or run a workshop, or delivered a paper, reflecting on what went well, what went less well. But I don’t spend very long doing it, if I am honest. Usually because I am on to the next thing. I also don’t spend a lot of time questioning my motives about why I do things. I have tended to follow my heart when it comes to my professional interests. I do stuff that I find interesting. I research topics that make me wonder why something happens. I’m a naturally curious person I like to think, so well suited to research. I also like to stay firmly in my comfort zone that I have spent many years carving out for myself. So being asked to write a reflective account of my activities and my professional journey was a fairly terrifying experience for me. Hang on, I have to try and make sense of why I do what I do, beyond seemingly the obvious?! The other part I found really hard was knowing what impact I am having. So a SFHEA claim needs you to be influencing, mentoring and supporting others in their teaching and learning activities. Instinctively I know I do that, but writing it all down, with some evidence of impact was really challenging for me as we all know how hard ‘impact’ is to measure.
I started working on the SFHEA probably around 2 years ago, I did a fair amount of writing, before concluding I couldn’t understand the format and I needed to put it aside. I missed two deadlines to get the dratted thing submitted. I found myself a buddy and then failed to work with them or set aside enough time (thank you Richard, because in the end you were incredibly helpful and supportive and got there 6 months before me!) And then around September time I realised that I just had to get this thing submitted by the January 2020 deadline. it was becoming like a millstone around my neck. If Pam my manager asked me once more when I was going to let her read something, I would just have to hide my head in shame and run away. There was nothing for it, I needed to devote serious time to it and nail the darned thing.
I should probably start by saying we have an internal professional recognition scheme at City, which HEA accredit and called RISES. So our requirements are a little different to those who apply directly to HEA or to other internal recognition schemes. But broadly speaking I think they all follow a similar format where you write a professional journey, a reflective account (including two case studies) a mapping grid against the Professional Standards Framework and a CPD plan.
I am grateful for the the tremendous support I received from my colleague Ruth Windscheffel, and also to Pam Parker, who I did finally let read my drafts and to which she gave me incredibly helpful feedback. Inevitably though I found myself trying desperately to write it over Christmas and New Year. Ideal! I also realised the deadline for submission was the day after my birthday, so unless I wanted to spend my birthday writing it, I needed to get the thing done a few days before. I’m grateful to Chris for his ever critical eye on a fairly dreadful first draft that had no real structure and frankly was a brain dump of everything I’d been up to in the last 10 years. I’m also grateful to him for blagging me a place on a writing retreat at the University of Kent in early January. Here I got support, help and hope (in the form of Julia Hope) who ruthlessly edited a couple of paragraphs and got me into the right mindset. I finally nailed my application, submitted the thing and then just had to wait a month for the panel to meet and deliberate.
It was a tense day on 14th February, (no I was not awaiting a torrent of Valentine’s Day cards) it was the day the panel was meeting. I spent a nervous lunchtime in the gym at a body pump class, which is always good for working off some tension. Around 3.15 I was delighted to get unofficial confirmation from the panel that I had been successful and the following week I received my letter and certificate from the HEA. I am really proud to put SFHEA after my name. It was worth the pain, and if I can help others achieve it in a less painful way, then I would be happy to try. Thank you to everyone who supported me, and who have subsequently congratulated me. SFHEA is a big deal and a lot of hard work but I am a very happy fellow now! I’m also trying to be more reflective, to think a bit about what I am doing, why and what impact it has on others. It’s a good mentality to get into, but I am also really willing to help and support others on their journey.
A PDF version of my application is here and please do drop me a line if you have any questions.

Reflections on OER19 and teaching in the open

Me, Lorna Campbell, Chris Morrison and Dave White

It’s a few weeks since I returned from the OER19 conference held at the National University of Ireland in Galway. I have been to the OER conference twice before, in 2017 when I presented on research into university copyright and IPR policies on lecture recording, and in about 2012 when I ran a session about OER and information literacy. Both times I found the community really welcoming, friendly and there was a real mix of people, some of whom work in the educational technology field, some in the library world but many others in education. It was through attending OER17 that I ended up meeting Virginia Rodes and going to Uruguay last year, but that is a whole other blog post and story I’ve already written about! However, I was delighted to catch up with Virginia who was presenting her doctoral research into open educational practices in Latin America, as well as plenty of other friends (Claire McAvinia, Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeil, Marion Kelt and many more) and people I know via twitter, some of whom I got to meet in person for the first time. Many congratulations to Laura Czerniewicz and Catherine Cronin who were the co-chairs of the conference, they did a fantastic job. And there were delegates from many different countries attending the conference, which made it a really rich experience.

It’s always good to reflect on a conference a few weeks later, because it’s a chance to see what has stuck in my mind, for me beautiful patterns and images stick in my mind from the conference, not just because it was on Ireland’s wonderful west coast. I am still thinking of Kate Bowles opening keynote where she talked of the ‘Quilt of stars’ showing us pictures of beautiful quilts of the night sky, but also using it as a metaphor for how work often goes outside the boundaries of working life, spilling over the edges. She asked some tough questions about the growing trend to commercialise higher education and how at odds this is with the open education agenda. I agree that the open education community often relies on the labour of those who through their employment at a university, can give their work away for free. Not everyone is in such a privileged position. It is something Chris and I thought about long and hard when creating resources such as Copyright the Card Game and the Publishing Trap and then giving them away for free by licensing them under Creative Commons. It’s what I want to do, but it’s also work that I invest in over and above what the day job would ever cover, and it does mean this often spills into my own free time.

Me and Virginia Rodes – reunited!

I went to several fascinating talks at OER19 including one on research in Portugal by Paula Cardoso and Lina Morgado into whether there is a relationship between academics likelihood to publish their research openly and the creation of OERs. I also attended a great session on creating through crowdsourcing an open textbook on learning design. It led to some really interesting discussions about what a textbook was and I was struck by how the open textbook movement is really taking off in many other countries, but not the UK. Virginia’s talk about her research into OER adoption by academics in Latin America, using a grounded theory approach was fascinating and her model highlights the many dimensions that impact on the decisions around openness, including teacher identity and agency, their view of the curriculum and curriculum development. She also talked about the agenda to decolonise the curriculum and why the views of teachers in Latin America might differ substantially from those elsewhere. Other people’s who’s talks stood out were Johanna Funk from Charles Darwin University, who described four open education projects, Taskeen Adam who talked about her research into MOOCs in South Africa. I was pleased to hear Helen Crump and Caroline Kuhn speak, two people I follow on twitter. And Nick Baker from Canada, who talked about lighting fires in open educational practices.

I was struck by the keynote from Su-Ming Khoo, who I met at the evening social when Dave White decided to give her some keynote pointers (it largely involves a special type of pointing!). Su-Ming also used beautiful imagery based on the legend of the raven in Haida mythology, which are First People from Canada’s west coat. The raven was curious about what was in a clam shell and in opening it, so the world was created. There is a wonderful sculpture by Bill Reid in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I realised at once I have seen this sculpture, when taken to the museum by my great uncle, Michael, who in fact was a good friend of Bill Reid. Su-Ming talked about the beauty in things that are broken, the gift economy and talked about ‘eccentric’ open education which draws attention to what is missing, and engaging with difference to make us think differently. I really resonated with the theme running through the conference about how education is social justice, but it is also for social justice. Su-Ming urged us not to be ego-centred but to be decentered. But asked us whether there was there a time when education wasn’t broken? Are we harking back to a golden age that didn’t exist? I often think that when lecturers talk about students and critical thinking, or attendance at lectures or engagement in class – did this golden age ever really exist?

Galway Bay

Another highlight for me was the opportunity to run a panel discussion based on my new module I launched at City, University of London last autumn as part of our MA in Academic Practice. My module, EDM122: Digital Literacies and Open Practice is something I enjoyed every moment of preparing and teaching. I also was so pleased that I decided to include a webinar programme as part of the course and to invite a series of experts in the field of both digital literacy and open practice to participate. It was great to be joined on the panel at OER19 by three of my webinar presenters: Lorna Campbell, Dave White and Chris Morrison who reflected on their experiences of being part of the course. One thing that struck me was a comment by Dave, when I remarked on how many people had come to our session, which was late in the day and in a different building. He said ‘well Jane, there are a lot of people talking about open practice and you’ve actually done it, in terms of launching this course.’ I’m not arrogant enough to think I am the only person who has ‘done it’ but judging from the interest I got, then there are not a lot of examples out there yet. I want to be clear, I was totally inspired by the University of Manchester for their Open Knowledge in Higher Education module, which they invited me to teach on a couple of years ago. Martin Weller had a big impact on that course, and his work on Digital Scholarship has shaped my thinking for many years. So others such as Martin and Manchester are definitely leading the way! And I also piloted this course in Montevideo, Uruguay last August, and they are also pioneers when it comes to open education. The slides from the panel discussion are online. Thank you to my speakers for sharing their insights, and thank you to everyone who came along to the session and asked such thoughtful questions.

As with all good conferences there was time for networking, some great food and a few drinks and it being in Ireland we got to experience some live music too. I was sorry I could stay for longer in Ireland, but it’s going to be a busy few months on the Copyright Literacy tour. But thank you to ALT, (to Martin and Maren) and to Catherine and Laura for putting together such a memorable and thought provoking conference. And finally, thanks to Dom Pates for giving me some time and writing space on Friday, so I could get this blog post out there in the open finally!

Writing about writing

Reflection on a river in Kent

I’m helping re-launch the LEaD writing group on the 8th February at City University and I am a little bit excited about running this group with my colleague Dom Pates. It turns out we have both been blogging for over 10 years, and we are both keen to support people who want some time and space (and maybe a bit of technical assistance with WordPress) to do some writing. Interestingly we are both looking forward to having the time and space to do some writing ourselves and may finally finish a draft blog post we’ve been working on for over 6 months now, on academics’ attitudes towards lecture recording.

Despite doing a lot of it, I don’t think I am a particularly good writer, but I love writing, almost as much as I love talking. Sometimes I wonder if in fact I like writing more than talking, because I can go back and edit my often badly formed ramblings, which I don’t have the luxury of doing when I am speaking. Getting the right words in the right order is something that I think is really important, and it’s something than in my impatience to get a message out there, I often fall down on. It’s not that I say the wrong thing, or put my foot in it (not always!) I just often end up a little clumsy and inelegant the first time I try and get my words out. I don’t let it put me off, or slow me down or make me self conscious about what I am going to say. I think some people can spend far too much time working out what they want to say and speak in sentences that are both articulate and profound. But they have lost someone in the moment, by hesitating and not getting to the point quickly enough. The slow and cautious approach to communication is not me! There are of course some exceptions, such as when I prepare for a talk or a keynote, I need a plan, I need to spend a fair bit of time working out what I want to say, how best to express it and the order to try and convey my thoughts. I’ve even been known to write myself a script. But in every day life when we have to speaking off the cuff it is just not like that, but it doesn’t seem to have done me too much harm in my career.

I have noticed there is a complex, maybe even symbiotic relationship between writing, speaking and editing and I wonder if the fact I have been writing on a computer now for well over 20 years has shaped my writing. My entire PhD was written on a now defunct old laptop, which weighed a ton and in fact rarely left my flat. I transported files between it and my desktop computer on floppy disks, not even CD-ROMs. Yes I really am that ancient. But I realised early on as a researcher that writing directly onto a computer seemed to feel like there was a more direct link between my thoughts and the words appearing on a page, than when I went back to writing by hand. I don’t buy all the articles that suggest there is something more real about handwriting. I lost the ability to capture my thoughts by hand a long time ago. Perhaps I spend too long editing and re-editing, as is the luxury of the computer screen, I don’t know? But I do know that when I start to type the words start to flow from my mind in a way that feels meaningful and powerful.

I hope that the writing group will be an opportunity to share some of my experiences with colleagues who might want to write as part of their academic practice. Writing is for me an important way of reflecting on what I do, but it is also inextricably linked with thinking, and moving my ideas forward in ways that don’t always happen when I try and speak about them. Writing blogs posts is also liberating, because they are allowed to be partly formed thoughts and work in progress. However, if in writing a blog then people start following you and reading your posts, does it lead you to become more self-conscious and less likely in fact to write? It’s an interesting question and one I don’t know the answer to. I know I am writing far less on my own blog recently, and is that lack of time? Or is it the creeping fear that I need to only write when I have something profound to say? I don’t know but I am aware I now have several other outlets for my writing, including the Copyright Literacy blog, the Learning at City blog and the blog I created for my new module, Digital Literacies and Open Practice – perhaps one can have too many options? So in the interests of taking up the habit of writing on my own blog again, I’ll put this post out there and see what people think. And if you happen to work at City University of London and fancy coming along to the writing group, we’re re-launching on 8th February from 12-1pm in B310 and I will see if I can bring along some cake! Feeding the body is at least as important as feeding the mind through reading, writing and reflecting.