Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Digital agility and digital decision-making: Conceptualising digital inclusion in the context of disabled learners in higher education

As part of a final dissemination phase of the LEXDIS project which explored the e-learning experiences of disabled students at unviersity, I have just submitted a paper to the journal, Studies in Higher Education. Here is the abstract:

Digital inclusion in higher education has tended to be understood solely in terms of access and accessibility. This view of digital inclusion is over-simplified and does little to further our understanding of the role that technology plays in the learning experiences of disabled students in higher education. In this paper, we propose a conceptual framework for exploring digital inclusion in higher education that attempts to broaden the way in which digital inclusion in higher education is understood. The conceptual framework draws on work in the non higher education sector and encompasses two strands: one that focuses on technology, personal and contextual factors, and one that focuses on resources and choices. This framework will be used to present and discuss the results of a study which aimed to explore the e-learning experiences of disabled students at one higher education institution. The discussion will focus particularly on concepts of digital agility and digital decision-making and will consider the potential implications for the empowerment of disabled students.

For more information about the LEXDIS research project see: http://www.lexdis.org/project/ The results of the project have been used to design and implement a database driven website that is populated with student provided information about how they use technologies to support their learning, and can be searched for information about how to support students and successful strategies for using technology. See: http://www.lexdis.org/

The ideas presented in this paper support the arguments that Len Barton made (see http://janekseale.blogspot.com/2009/04/beware-of-inclusion-advocates-bearing.html) about inclusion being complex.

This paper also has relevance to the new TLRP digital inclusion forum that I am convening in which I am hoping to stimulating debate about how we define or conceptualise digital inclusion, see http://www.tlrp.org/tel/digital_inclusion/

TLRP-TEL Digital Inclusion Forum

The TLRP (Technology Enhanced Learning) Programme is launching a new Digital Inclusion Forum this month. Led by myself, the main aim of the forum is to engage with both the TEL(Technology Enhanced Learning) projects funded through TLRP as well as the wider research communities, in order to identify the key inclusion-related research questions and issues for TEL research.

The forum will seek to discuss and evaluate the contribution that the TEL programme can make to the digital inclusion research agenda. The initial focus for activity will be the development of an online space for sharing resources, discussing inclusion-related issues and scoping priorities for digital inclusion research. In the longer term, the forum will be a platform for the collaborative writing of a contribution from TEL on the theme of inclusion.

If you are interested in digital inclusion research please do join the forum at: http://www.tlrp.org/tel/digital_inclusion/

One of the things we are asking bloggers with an interest in digital inclusion to do is to tag their blog with the keyword: teldigitalinclusion, so that we can link to them from our site: See http://www.tlrp.org/tel/digital_inclusion/community/

Beware of inclusion advocates bearing gifts of simplicity

On March 27th the inclusion research cluster (a group to which I belong) at the School of Education in the University of Southampton organised a one-day conference on Inclusion Research. The majority of the day was given over to our PhD students who gave presentations on their research. I was there to support two of my students, Jane Lapraik and George Roberts. Jane spoke of her plans to research the strategies that dyslexic learners at university use to revise for unseen exams. George gave an overview of his research into the role that a community IT centre plays in the lives of adult and continuing learners.

The day was kick started by a powerful talk from Professor Len Barton, an influential and key figure in inclusion research- and someone who I had always wanted to hear speak. Below are my notes from his powerful and engaging talk (not complete in the sense of representing a full picture of what Len said) Although Len is talking primarily about schools, I believe that many parallels can be drawn in the contexts in which I work: universities, adults with learning disabilties and digital inclusion. In the context of a digital inclusion forum I am convening for the TLRP research programme, I was particularly struck by two challenges that Len raised: the challenge to accept that digital inclusion is more complex than simply providing a box of technology (access) and the challenge to reconceptualise digital inclusion as a process as much as an outcome.

Len started off by saying: " Beware of those who bear gifts of simplicity"- inclusion is complex, it involves more than resource issues and there are no quick fixes.

Inclusion is underpinned by an informed conviction that something is wrong and needs urgent serious intervention and challenge.

Focusing exclusively on a school or a child is unhelpful if we view education in a social vacuum.

Good intentions, charity, ad-hoc interventions are inadequate to address the profundity of discrimination, therefore inclusion needs to be understood as a political issue. Inclusion is about the nature of decision-making: who is in, who is out, who gets what, how, why and what are the consequences?

Inclusion is political because it raises the important question, inclusion into what?

Inclusion requires a creative partnership between government, schools, and parents; but we need to be clearer about what schools cannot be expected to do- they cannot meet the challenges of inclusion alone.

If we are going to argue for inclusion, then we need zero tolerance to all forms of exclusion. We need "up in your face" activity against all forms of exclusion- this is not negative, it is essential for change.

Exlcusion does not have a single dimension, it is multi-faceted.

There is no such thing as an inclusive school; there are schools that show evidence of inclusive practice, but in those same schools exclusionary practice will exist. Inclusion and exclusion co-exists together.

we need transformative change- that involves more than attitudes, it is systemic.

Beware advocates that maintain inclusion is about placement or resources, it is about equity.

Beware advocates that emphasise exciting prospects without recognising that it is difficult.

Beware advocates who emphasise the importance of indiviudals without seeking to connect that to the wider social context.

Inclusion is not just about participationl, it is about continued participation.

Inclsuive education is not an end in itself, it is a means to and end.

Legislation is not sufficient, but it is a necessary factor in the process of change.

Change is challenging, it requires creative, persistent hard work.

Being inclsuive involves giving priority to challenging and important questions e.g What does inclusive education mean to participants in different contexts? What does change mean and involve? What constitutes exclusion in particular contexts?

In exploring voice we need to focus on context, content and purpose, consequences of indiviudals and society.

Researchers need a critical self awareness- it is essential that we consider the extent to which research itself can be part of barriers to inclusion.