How to (IT) support a Pedagogy of Chaos?

Into the Wild: Embracing the Anarchy
View more presentations from Helen Keegan

I’m delighted to be here to present today’s closing plenary at the UCISA Support Services Conference ‘Great Expectations’, which this year is held at the stunning Crewe Hall. In all honesty I was surprised (and very honoured) to be invited, as I’m basically an IT Support person’s worst nightmare (well at least, that’s what I’ve been told 😉 ). However, it’s been great to meet people who are doing brilliant things and working tirelessly to support students and staff in the use of technologies – even if some of the terminology (e.g. delivering services to customers) sends a shiver down my spine. I’m pretty sure some of the stuff I’ll be talking about will make people feel equally uncomfortable.

Preparing for this, and learning about the views of the IT support community, have made me realise that I’m gradually developing a pedagogy of chaos. It’s gone from learning through paranoia, through to learning through frustration… and now this. Having spent time away from my like-minded PLN I’m reflecting on my practice from an IT support POV and realising that in many ways it’s completely unmanaged and unmanageable. We often don’t know what’s happening from one week to the next, what devices/platforms we’ll use – they’re often learner-driven and/or negotiated… along with the curriculum and the assessment. Students are pretty much free to use whatever they want, as long as they take responsibility for that particular tool/platform/programming language.

As an example, in a recent project we had students from the UK, ES, NZ and DE working across levels, disciplines and timezones to produce transmedia reports for one another. Not only was it just-in-time learning, it was just-in-time curriculum planning with the respective tutors meeting up via Google hangouts the night before classes to plan activities which would work for everybody. Each country/group of learners used different sets of tools, and none of us knew every tool. I probably only mastered around 6 or 7 – they used approx. 40 in total. Students found tools they thought looked interesting and learnt about them and presented them to one another. This meant that there was always a resident expert in whatever tool. Nobody complained because the tutors didn’t know all the tools. They produced creative reports which spanned multiple platforms, and we all learnt from one another in a global Community of Practice.

As lecturers, we have the luxury of being able to engage in daily/weekly dialogue with our learners. We can talk honestly and openly, levelling out the power relationship, becoming co-learners alongside our students, the result being that when we don’t know how to use a certain tool they’re pretty cool about it. We’re working from the ground up.

For IT services staff, it’s largely driven from the top-down, with increasing pressure to ‘deliver enhanced services’. However, IT support staff can’t be expected to learn/support every tool/platform/app that appears – most of them don’t stay around for more than a couple of years before they either a) collapse, or b) something better comes along. We can’t expect IT services staff to support everything – but what I HAVE found is that learners love to share their expertise with one another, and there’s generally at least 1 ‘expert’ user of any tool in an institution.

At the risk of sound all ‘Big Society’ (shoot me now…), I do think there’s a place for resident student IT/app experts – in whatever platform comes along this week/month (and dies as quickly) – alongside centralised IT support for the ‘big stuff’. Some kind of accreditation would be great for students, along the lines of Mozilla Badges perhaps? Anything which shows that they’ve shared their knowledge with the wider community.

So that’s it really. I’ll be interested to hear from the UCISA crowd, see what they think about this. It’s something I’d definitely like to see happening at Salford – random, ad hoc, user support groups as devices and platforms emerge. It often happens informally already through Twitter, Facebook etc. – but by recognising/rewarding, there would be less pressure on IT services, more kudos to learners and their interests/skills.

The elusive “Inbox = 0”

For the past week I’ve been trying to get my Uni mail inbox down to zero – this is how I know it’s ‘summer’.

It’s been good. Refreshing. 1 week ago I had 697 unread mails, by Saturday night I was down to 78, and reached a new low (high?) of 55 by Sunday. It was amazing actually. As the unread mails decreased in number, I started to feel as though as a weight had been lifted. I felt happy, inspired, carefree. Ideas were popping into my head left, right and centre – GOOD ideas, the kind of ideas that keep me awake at night, getting excited about the year ahead…

Then I logged in this morning and it was up to 102.

Dammit. That’s the thing with email – people reply. Not that I don’t appreciate the replies of course, but it suddenly hit me. Why am I chasing zero? It’s never going to work. It’s not sustainable. I then decided that ‘below 100’ would be a good target. It’s realistic – albeit not as satisfying as a big fat ZERO. Let’s face it, the zero is never going to last more than 10 minutes. I may as well chase rainbows.

So I’ve accepted the fact that a) zero is an unrealistic target, and b) occasionally I will fail to respond to emails, as I read from most recent first, and when they fly in thick and fast I’m unlikely to catch up for quite a while. I’ll try my hardest NOT to miss anything important, but occasionally I will, and I’ll catch up eventually and apologise. Luckily, it seems as though most people are having the same problem so they understand.

I guess the reason I’m writing this now is twofold: 1) When the inbox gets out of control and I start to feel guilty I’ll be able to read this, 2) Just came across this piece in the New York Times and it really struck a chord.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this post to the wonderful @savasavasava as we’ve been swapping inbox tweets for a while now. Here’s what she has to say:

Yeah, on second thoughts, perhaps Sava’s goal is even more realistic/achievable. Wise woman.