#HEAArts16 Abstract accepted – How can media education and digital participation support professional development for Higher Education professionals – or – “How do you solve a problem like Mahara?

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I’ve been meaning to get this post up for the last few weeks, sorry it is only a quickie – things have been super busy – but do you know what? That isn’t a bad thing when you’ve been working away for a few months on a new job and focusing on that daaaammmnnn PhD write up.

Back in January, our research group went on a second writing retreat to work on solo publications (yes, in addition to our PhDs) – I was working on an abstract for the HEA Arts and Humanities Conference, particularly important now I’m a module coordinator on a higher education programme that supports participants towards fellowship status.

I wanted to propose a paper as a reflective narrative, firstly to help me get my head around my new role and secondly, help support the development of educational philosophy – that is, I’m not an education technologist (seriously, in the first week I was tasked with solving the problem that is Mahara, *cue wee gun emoji*) but I’m always helping folk with techy things because I’m one of those folk that gets asked to fix everyone’s internet, all the time. I don’t mind of course. Anyway, I’m interested in media education and digital participation – and how can I use my experience to make it better in a higher education context – and then we can talk education technologies later.

I was delighted to discover that I had the abstract accepted – and next week I’m going down to Brighton (I’ve never been before!) to present the work – it’s a new strand for me (based on the ‘day job’ – and my move from community-based education back into higher education, and all the bits in-between) – but I’m hoping to use this presentation as a starting point for further research and evaluation of the module I’m currently in the process of running (Method, Media and Assessment)

I also then found out that I’m going to be part of the Higher Education Academy Blog Squad – I’ll be there for the full conference, blogging the sessions and doing a bit of social reporting on the side. I’m delighted. I’ll write a little bit more about this in the coming days – it’s a busy few weeks!

Anyway, my title, abstract and overview is below:


How can media education and digital participation support professional development for Higher Education professionals – or – “How do you solve a problem like Mahara?


This Ignite talk is situated within ongoing academic, policy and research-practice on digital participation with focus on improving media and digital literacies and the role of higher education in embracing and implementing the outcomes of these debates (McGillivray, McPherson, Jones & McCandlish, 2015, JISC, 2015.)

Using my research-practice experience of a digital media practitioner, which focused on developing critical media skills and increased digital participation in schools and community development settings, I discuss how my media education background will now translate into my new role as a lecturer in Higher Education. As my first task, I was asked to respond to course feedback by exploring the ongoing challenges with the e-portfolio management tool Mahara and propose a solution or an alternative to the platform for future course delivery.

Drawing on this scenario, I will discuss how the ubiquity and opportunity to produce and consume content through digital, mobile media in our daily lives (Gauntlett, 2011; Jenkins, Ford & Green, 2013; McGillivray, 2013) can conflict with the universities’ need to manage expectations in administering, utilising, delivering and teaching education technology in a centralised, propriety manner.

This makes the responsibility and subsequent guidance for supporting emerging platforms and tools outside of the institution’s existing portfolio difficult to map to a centralised university service or department, directing the educator to the existing suite for consistency and to ensure adequate resource is available.

I wish to propose that the universality of media education & the continued reflexive practice and structure within Higher Education can be mutually inclusive and can aid the professional development of educators– regardless of the educator’s discipline, job title or academic/non-academic contract.

I conclude by showing that through module development and further participant evaluation, that my aim is to continue to explore media education as a core practice within higher education to establish criticality and reflexivity in this area and not to be the one to suggest just replacing one central platform with another. That is, in the selection and development of an appropriate digital method and educational technology for the task, each educator within each discipline can establish what is required for their course, their students–and for themselves. And instead of asking, “How do we solve a problem like Mahara?” together we should all be asking, “What is the job and is Mahara the right tool for it?”


Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is connecting: The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to Youtube and Web 2.0. London: Polity.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. New York, NY: New York University Press

JISC (2015) Developing Students’ Digital Literacies: Guide. Available: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy (Accessed: 8th of January 2016)

McGillivray, D. (2013). Digital cultures, acceleration and mega sporting event narratives. Leisure Studies, 33, 96–109.

McGillivray, D., McPherson, G., Jones, J. & A. McCandlish (2015): Young people, digital media making and critical digital citizenship, Leisure Studies, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2015.1062041