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Understanding digital domains in arts learning & teaching

The virtual learning environment (VLE) at University of the arts London (UAL) is quickly becoming an accepted norm for delivering the UAL online L&T experience, best practice examples provide clear and simple pathways for those using & embedding digital tools in L&T. Conversely the institutionally managed VLE can be seen as constraining or inadequate in meeting the needs of some individuals & courses (read more about this here).

How do we reconcile these differences?

Making sense of the current digital L&T landscape is complicated, there are so many different factors involved, clearly there's more to L&T then the institutional managed tools and spaces. To help illustrate and explore the different perspectives across the agile landscape of digital L&T at ​Camberwell, Chelsea & Wimbledon (CCW) colleges of arts, (departmental, student, staff, discipline, course, programme, college and the sector) I have adapted the cynefin sense-making framework.

Below are four domains of the Cynefin framework: Simple, Complicated, Complex and Novel, we move between these domains as we situate and understand digital L&T practice. If we don't know which domain we belong (disorder) we need to decide what action is best appropriate to apply to the situation to move forwards: Categorise, Analyse, Probe or Stabalise. I have added opposites on each side of the framework to help highlight the differences between grassroots & institutional approaches and in curriculum and non curriculum dependencies.

The ideal domains to operate are within the top two quadrants, complex & complicated domains, although we should operate within the simple/best practice if we have good reason to apply 'best practice', we should resist applying too many constraints or becoming too complacent within the simple/best practice domain when applying best practice.    

Managing turbulence and understanding digital domains in arts learning & teaching

CCW Baseline:

Based on previous experience and conversations with staff and students over the past few months I've identified a baseline/starting point in which to help understand and base future discussions around what we mean by digital learning and teaching enhancement, the CCW baseline list includes:

UAL digital tools, services & processes: 

  • VLE feedback: Students & staff     
  • VLE support: CCW approaches to IT VLE & TEL support & change management  
  • Guidance & terms of reference: Resources & documentation - does CCW need a VLE Strategy?  
  • Communication: Explore cross college, course, departmental communication.

Digital learning & teaching enhancement: 

  • Staff development: Joined up approach in delivery of IT/TEL training formal & informal   
  • Manage change: Support integration of new software & hardware changes & new policies or processes  
  • Innovation & experimentation of digital L&T (hardware, software and changes in L&T practice& curriculum)  
  • Digital L&T spaces: support curriculum integration & improvement of digital technical & academic spaces, resources & support.  

Online learning and teaching and curriculum enhancement:

  • Blended learning: approaches & benefits realisation  
  • Part & fully online curriculum development(open & closed): Discussions, pilot projects & low risk experimentation around the concepts & issues.  
  • Sector/tech industry partnerships& collaborations in online learning: Online tool & environment design & development.  

Using the above list we could see the three areas as being located in following domains in general terms:

Simple - VLE, tools & services: constrained & supports best practice but possible complacency.

Complicated - L&T enhancement: support several different ways of doing things, expertise required in specific areas of practice.   

Complex/Novel – Online learningWhere emergent practice takes place, safe-fail experiments.

In the below illustration I’ve included a radius of three areas VLE, L&T enhancement and Online learning to help highlight our current position as well as the potential to move between the different domains we may inhabit.

How the current landscape may look:

How this may apply to the online learning landscape:

How do we support complicated and emergent learning and teaching practice in HE? 

The Cynefin framework does a great job of helping us identify gaps in the agile landscape, but equally important it helps us appreciate and accept all the different domains of digital L&T practice that work well.

The mapping process clearly highlights the imbalance between (safe/simple) curriculum dependent/institutionally led and supported TEL (technology enhanced learning) and grassroots (complicated/complex) influenced TEL, an issue I aim to highlight and explore over the next few months.    

Also see: Online learning at Camberwell Chelsea & Wimbledon Colleges of Art (CCW)


Chris Follows

Digital Learning Technologies Manager

CCW Learning and Teaching Enhancement (LTE)

University of the Arts London

Twitter: @CCWPostDigital


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This Work, Understanding digital domains in arts learning & teaching, by cfollows is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.