Sunday, December 30, 2007


escape from the copse
Trying to collect as much material as I can for the Web 2.0 book I’m writing with Julia Davies, I keep on coming across familiar stuff. This on using collaborative technologies in education is new to me, but an on old link is not necessarily to be discounted! So here’s Will Richardson on connective writing in which he explores the concept of new writing in the read/write web. His blog is always good - a recent post on ‘nomadic learning’ is well worth a read. I also regularly keep up with Digital Ethnography. Maybe 2008 will bring some new stuff, too!

Friday, December 28, 2007


leaves on the track
Feedmap is an add-on for your site which works as a feed to show people where you're blogging from (or more accurately, where you live)....and who else in the area is blogging (ie using feedmap). More and more of these sorts of things are becoming available - and that's interesting - but as for declaring my location to other bloggers, that doesn't really interest me. They either know or they don't! The last thing I want is some random blogger knocking on my door just to pass the time of day. I'd rather stick with friends.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


tree with magpie
In the chill-out zone around the holiday period I’ve been thinking about relationships, social networks and community – part of which was sparked by reading Howard Rheingold. Although I’m very much an advocate of the educational value of participatory software, I find his step by step approach to citizenship a bit of a turn-off. It smacks a bit of an older generation telling youngsters to grow up quick and get political. It won’t work. But there is something new and different about relationships which we should be alive to…Ruth and her boyfriend did ‘virtual Christmas’ opening presents on a Skype video call…OK that may be trivial, but it’s a very different way of being together. The connection between that and my adult students doing distributed knowledge building with wikis is a useful one, but we have a way to go in conceptualizing this. Both examples are about relationships (one personal the other professional) but they don’t have a direct relationship with a public – or community in its wider sense. A community, like a tree is greater than the some of its parts – a network is a string of relationships (the connection between leaf and twig, twig and branch and so on). Communities and networks are equally valuable, but we do spend a lot of time worrying about notions of community. Worrying about what we’ve lost; worrying about what it is becoming. We don’t seem to worry half as much about networks. But then maybe the whole community thing is a bit of a fiction in the first place. As Richard Ford observes, it’s just like: isolated, contingent groups trying to improve on an illusion of permanence, that they fully accept as an illusion. (1995:386)...or maybe not.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


in progress
Talking to colleagues on our Multimedia course this evening, I was struck by the way in which lack of vision restricts the way new technology is used in educational settings. We were talking about how schooled ICT is so limited when compared to students’ everyday Web 2.0 practices. How can we harness the power of new technologies in meaningful ways? Howard Rheingold draws the connections between what he refers to as participatory media and education in the following way: My fundamental assumption for beginning to teach participatory media skills myself, based on my own encounters with students in social cyberspaces and the advice of more experienced educators is that voice, the unique style of personal expression that distinguishes one’s communication from those of others, can be called upon to help connect young people’s energetic involvement in identity-formation with their potential engagement with society as citizens. Moving from a private to a public voice can help students turn their self-expression into a form of public participation. Public voice is learnable, a matter of consciously engaging with an active public rather than broadcasting to a passive audience. (The article is here.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wandering into the future

down the garden path
There’s some interesting predictions in this article on the shape of things to come. I was particularly struck by peer-to-peer lending, reverse knowledge migration and virtual identity managers. More predictable, of course are guesses about the growth of social networking. And on an amusing note there is digital housecleaning which will require more than a virtual feather duster. I quote: MySpace pages will be cleaned up and mass "Facebook suicides" will soon become the norm as young people try to agree a bond of forgetting by deactivating their profiles in unison. Companies will spring up like Reputation Defender, an American firm that promises to search out and destroy all inaccurate, inappropriate, hurtful and slanderous information that exists on its clients…that’s identity management for you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blog's 4

This blog was four years old on Monday, and is made up of around 1000 posts. I reckon it has become more focused during this time, and certainly readership has grown. The template's been modified a number of times, and I'm forever playing around with the sidebar! Since Blogger brought in a tag function I've been working with a relatively small set of labels. The most frequent tags are education with 45; social networking with 44; and digital literacy with 42. My blogging practice is closely tied in with photosharing on Flickr and allconsuming which I use for my bookshelf, music and video favourites. Occasionally I'll pull in something from YouTube. I use netvibes for feeds from other blogs. This nexus of practice has developed over time, and I expect, will continue to develop.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Big fun

Like the Primary Review, a recent press release from the headteachers’ union (NAHT) suggests that education has become boring – that there’s no room anymore for fun. That resonated for me with what Jackie wrote about educational videogames being devoid of the fun element. And, whilst I’ve always been a great advocate of fun, serious fun, and subversive fun, I wanted to think again about fun and learning. Because most of the important things I’ve learnt actually haven’t been fun at all – they’ve been challenging and sometimes uncomfortable. This is not to argue for serious and repressive educational regimes – in fact I think learning spaces should have plenty of laughter and enjoyment, but when it comes to learning we’re often out of our comfort zone. The real fun in learning is the thrill of accomplishment – the buzz of success – the pride that comes with achievement (not the false satisfaction of meeting someone else’s idea of our learning goals or targets). The learning journey itself is more complex than that - it’s a rocky road – you need all the encouragement and support you can get. Perhaps this is best captured by Jim Gee who talks here about it being pleasantly frustrating.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Place means nothing

Shifting location has made me reflect on one's attachments to place...the memories and nostalgia that seem to shade particular places with meaning. This view to the centre of Sheffield does it for me - I don't know why (that's where the slight blurring helps!). And I suppose that vagueness is what infects Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe (the Bascombe character is really growing on me): Places never cooperate by revering you back when you need it. In fact they almost always let you down....Best just to swallow back your tear, get accustomed to the minor sentimentals and shove off to whatever's next, not whatever was. Place means nothing. (Independence Day: p152)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Intelligent life?

shopping in Chesterfield 2
The World Digital Library is a fascinating project which aims to harness the power of the web to establish a genuinely global resource. This is the promotional video, and you can read more on the site. I must say, though, I wouldn’t like to be faced with deciding what the significant primary materials from cultures around the world are…committed as I am to building intercultural understanding, it’s challenging to be all inclusive. This is not a problem that worries the editors of the magazine Intelligent Life – its web tie-in is here – which blends factoids with glossy features, under the strapline knowledge is pleasure. I wondered whether you could justify the idea that a little bit of knowledge constitutes a market. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More panic?

rest in comfort
The latest MediaWise report has some cautionary remarks about videogames. Despite the celebratory tone that talks about - Groundbreaking new technologies unlock new possibilities for interaction, entertainment, and impact. The summary goes on to describe how: findings suggest that the unacceptable negative impact of excessively violent video games on young people is a problem depicted in an everexpanding body of research. Despite this, recommending more stringent rating of games may not be the best way forward.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Where were you?

Revolution House
Most social networking sites allow users to create a profile and to publicly display their social connections and allegiances. Mobile social networking provides opportunities for participants to fine-tune their networks whilst they are on the move by saying where they are. Here’s Dodgeball which ties in location-based functionality together with these networks. I’m not sure whether geo-location or meeting-up becomes the social object here, but it’s certainly an interesting development. You could see Dodgeball in a number of ways - as a sophisticated tool for negotiating relationships, a consumer incursion into social living, or a risky development which ends up cocooning participants in their own small worlds. Alternatively, you could read this for some useful orientation.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


We decided to abandon the plan to stay at home last night and ventured into Sheffield to watch the Golden Compass which is a rather disappointing adaptation of the first volume of His Dark Materials. The CGI is good and the sets are pretty impressive, but in focusing on this you miss the depth of the narrative and the subtlety of character development. I also started wondering why these episodic fantasy quests have such enduring appeal...and was also struck by the simultaneous marketing of the PlaySation tie-in game.

Friday, December 07, 2007

New spaces/old practices

St Pancras
I’ve been reading about social objects – which is geek-speak for the kinds of sharing devices which act as nodes for social networks. So Flickr uses the photograph as a social object; YouTube the video clip and so on. This reminded me of the emphasis placed on the role of cultural artefacts in identity work by Holland and her colleagues (here). In Holland’s work the artefact is used to modulate behaviour, cognition and emotion so conferring a degree of agency. The idea of a social object seems rather one-dimensional in comparison and is being used to understand what works and why in the world of social software. But then social objects are cultural artefacts and maybe this is important to the study of emerging identities and Web 2.0.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On change

I’m still catching up from my new location (see picture), so I need to announce that I’m published here and again here, and that’s probably it for 2007! Meanwhile I’ve been reading Lee Bryant on Emerging Trends in Social Software for Education – a recent Becta pamphlet. Mostly it’s right on the button and oozes optimism. For instance, Lee says "I believe that Web 2.0 tools and social software in general will have a genuinely transformational effect on technology and education over the next few years". They could, but we need to think more critically about the conditions required for that transformation. Deep institutional change doesn’t just happen because the tools are there, or because the time has come. Web 2.0 tools fundamentally challenge the cultural scripts of teaching – they challenge us all to re-think our practices and this isn’t going to happen in a culture where teachers are professionally insecure and educational administrators in a constant state of panic about falling standards and low test scores in print literacy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Here’s another short clip, thanks to YouTube, of Ruth performing with Brown Eyes Blue (Ruth’s the one with the gold cap). I’ve learnt that I should tag the video as unsigned. On Sunday, the BBC broadcast a feature on online communities where a radio journalist lived a week online. The feature promised Howard Reingold (inventor of the term virtual community), sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, 'cybershrink' Sherry Turkle and science-fiction writer William Gibson – a star-studded cast, indeed. In the end, the programme was a flop. Paul Bennan, the journalist, found that life online was at the same time engaging and isolating. He sat on the fence, asked poor questions, and squandered his time online with the experts. Usually the BBC is good on these features, but it missed the mark this time.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Pynot (dialect)

pynot house
Here’s the first of a series of pictures of the new home – a tease, if you like! I seem to be enjoying an intermittent broadband connection now which signals a return to the blog. So much has happened that didn’t get blogged – perhaps most notably the TV headlines on Wednesday that linked our declining performance in reading (from the PiRLS study) to computers. I’ve been trying to track the connection and it seems from this report that it’s down to one Ed Balls. But the BBC gave it all the weight of a moral panic, featuring interviews with well-spoken parents who were concerned about the evil influence of technology. So, of course, no-one reads on-screen do they? They just look at the pictures, wasting the valuable time that they could spend with books. Isn’t it about time that we abandoned this na├»ve view of literacy in favour of something a bit more realistic?

Monday, November 26, 2007


my house 4
This is was what it looked like in the final stages...and this is just to say that I haven't completely gone from the blogosphere and will be posting again soon! Apart from being very tired from what is one of the major upheavals you can make meatspace, I've found it really difficult to get a broadband connection. There's a message to Ofcom on the way, but how ridiculous that one provider can block your connectivity with another. They must be short-staffed at the telephone exchange! In the meantime I've been making a start on the book 'Web 2.0 for schools' which is a collaboration with Julia Davies. More about this one soon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I threw it all away

my house 1
Reading Benwell and Stokoe (see sidebar) is confirming my view that identity is constituted and performed through discursive practice. But I also want to extend this to the ways in which we express identity through consumption in order to acknowledge how we build social ties around the ways in which we consume, resist, parody and critique our consumption (another kind of discursive practice, perhaps). It’s not quite as simple as ‘we are what we consume’ it’s way more subtle than that; but neither are we the unthinking dupes of consumerism. More it’s how we consume, what we don’t consume, and what we throw away! This was brought home to me through frequent trips to recycling points and dumps as I sort through things in the run up to moving house!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Working ground

sad princess
We’ve been experimenting again with blogs and wikis on our Masters course. Yesterday we had 14 students with little previous experience construct a wiki of about 30 interlinked pages with out-facing links and rich media in just under 60 mins! I noticed 2 things much more clearly this time. Firstly that, because the writing/thinking and contribution is much more open, the potential for collaboration is often in conflict with self-confidence and impression management (this is probably more the case for blogs than it is for wikis). Secondly and not unrelatedly, the digital writing involved tends to make identity work overt as students tell their own stories and colour these with details from their non-professional lives, hybridizing self-disclosure with critical reflection in new and interesting ways. Blogs and wikis as tools for online collaboration and learning are explored in this article in Language Learning and Technology. And here it is argued that: ‘There is a lot of emerging literature regarding the potential of blogs and wikis as learning spaces. The majority conclude that these social software tools can be a transformational technology for teaching and learning. Blogs and wikis are tools supporting a social constructivist theory of learning. Social constructivism, a variety of cognitive constructivism, contends that knowledge is actively created by social relationships and interactions, emphasising a collaborative model for learning.’ OK, we know that the real challenge is introducing them and working them into what we do in intelligent ways.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Blogs bloom

lilly flower
Blogging seems to be as buoyant as ever in the UK. This article reports that 'of Britain's web population of 26 million,15% kept a blog.' That’s a lot of blogs, a lot of writing on line, and a lot of posting! Much of the blogging boom is attributed to Facebook and MySpace, and of course commentators are caught up with defining the boundaries between blogs and other online formats. And so you get: 'The line between a blog and a website has finally blurred enough it's often hard to tell if you're a blogger or not,' said Jon Silk, of the PR firm Lewis. 'Users of sites such as Facebook and MySpace are all bloggers.' But I suppose the main message is worth re-stating digital literacy is becoming a central part of many people’s lives, and education is only just starting to catch up.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Surveillance (again)

This report, from 2005, on the rfid-tagging of school students in California (as if they were criminals) caused a minor storm, but showed us the shape of things to come. More recently, a school in Doncaster started piloting a scheme in which students have rfid-chips sewn into their school badge. The manufacturers say that tagging helps "accurate and speedy pupil registration, child security." Also it aids " school behaviourial and reporting systems covering rowdy pupils" – I wonder how we got so bad at registration, and why we opt for custodial measures rather than trying to understand disaffection. Not surprisingly, civil liberties groups are not amused. Let’s face it students will soon realise that the technology locates the badge not the individual. Swap uniforms, lock your badge in a secret location, interfere with the rfid signal – the possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

La fracture numerique

caged in
La fracture numerique (digital divide) is exposed in a survey of young adults in the US. The survey looked at patterns of use with respect to the social networking sites Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. The main headlines are that “gender, race and ethnicity, and parental educational background are all associated with use, but in most cases only when the aggregate concept of social network sites is disaggregated by service…” So, as we suspected we have a picture of unequal participation related to user background. The author concludes, here, that differences in the adoption of social networking services will contribute to digital inequality. A similar theme was identified here by Jackie who refers to the social graph (here).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Symbolic work?

favourite shop
This is a favourite amongst my most recent photographs. There is something about the juxtaposition of the pro-anarchy spaycan graffiti and the folksy North-West Frontier ethic of the take-away shop-sign that is very glocal. Also, on closer inspection, there’s some textualising of the self - as I am caught in reflection in the window – captured, commented upon and circulated.

Friday, November 02, 2007


hospital bed

I came across a reference to electronic paper and tried to work out what this might actually be. For once the wikipedia entry was unhelpful; this not much more so; and this lost me after the first few sentences. I must say, I can’t quite see its use - apart from securing a place in the quirky inventions gallery alongside author Margaret Atwood’s gadget for remote book-signing (the LongPen) and this from BoingBoing Gadgets – the Bible-writing robot!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Always with camera

Hannah and Amy
Here’s Hannah and her flatmate Amy who came up to visit last weekend. They’re very polite and wait until us old-timers start falling asleep before they turn on the laptops to start instant messaging and updating their MySpace. At other times they’re more discreet, maintaining their networks with text messaging (it’s less intrusive). I was interested to read in this report on how text messaging is taking off in China – the report suggests that it appeals because it is ‘short, fast and conversational’. We need to know more!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Here’s a clip of Mongolian c-walking. C-walking (short for clown-walking or crip-walking) is a worldwide phenomenon, drawing on combinations of dance moves, like moonwalking, with plenty of inventive transitions. I’m not sure how Mongolian this c-walking really is, but I am struck by the multimodal nature of the performance. The music is a central feature, but also note the dress style and the graffiti backdrop – and the occasional floating in of written text. Hip-hop and a bit more edge than Michael Flatley, I think.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Seen from above

I remember a few years ago taking a good friend to see a unicursal turf maze I’d recently found out about. It was on a beautiful hilltop overlooking the southern sweep of the Humber estuary. We talked about reading the landscape as a palimpsest – the shadows of history marking its surface – just the same term that was used in the years between the wars by the early aerial photographers who contributed so much to our knowledge of archaeology. I’ve just been reading Kitty Hauser’s fascinating account of the life eccentric aerial mapper O.S.G. Crawford, whose interest was nurtured on reconnaissance flights over the Somme. I was struck by the way we see things differently from different perspectives – obviously flying over the landscape was still fairly novel in Crawford’s time – but also, in times of war, you are looking for different information in the landscape. Later, Crawford's colleagues exploited the opportunities offered by new technologies in quite daring ways. Major George Allen, for example, would fly solo with a specially designed aluminium camera. When the time came for aerial photography he would fly hands-off leaning out of the window to take his snaps! When I saw this last week about militants in Gaza using Google Earth to access secure information, I was reminded again of the co-incidence of technology and warfare. “It is not the first time that Google has been accused of unwittingly abetting the activities of militant groups or terrorist organizations” Guardian reporter Clancy Chassay points out. Information is only information – it’s only in times of conflict that it becomes dangerous.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


liquid lunch
You always get interesting stuff on the Digital Ethnography blog, and a recent post profiles ‘the student of today’. I didn’t read much here about gameplay, but you do see plenty about the diversification of literacy practices. For more specific work on gaming there’s the online journal Loading and the upcoming conference announced by Colin and Michele here - whereas in today’s Guardian, Alex Krotoski considers whether the dialogue between gamers and academics is actually taking us anywhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Will Self is a middle-aged flaneur. He sometimes calls his art psychogeography, but whatever the label, he’s a self-confessed twilight rambler. I listened to his confessions here last night, but you can read an account of his ramblings in this article too. He name-checks a number of luminaries including Guy Debord, but not, interestingly enough, Flaubert. At least he’s big enough to own up to the fact that Iain Sinclair is the contemporary expert in the field – and his psychogeography gets almost mystical!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Games people play

This video made me laugh because it came up as being about women gamers and the first two segments are so male-orientated that I thought it was a joke. Anyway there’s an interesting bit at the end. And over here there’s a blogger giving a warm reception to the Byron Review, particularly praising the inclusiveness of the consultation. Further on there are more comments on the ‘media violence’, but nothing really unexpected.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Where I'm coming from

Autumn walk
Social networking sites provide rich examples of what Giddens describes as the ‘trajectory of the self’. My daughter, Emma describes how Friends Re-United never did anything for her, and MySpace was ‘too young’ whilst Facebook, not only thickens her existing social ties but also networks her with old acquaitances – friends who have moved abroad, people she knew at school and so on. This, she explains, 're-defines who you are' and ‘how far you’ve come’. As Giddens says: ‘The trajectory of the self has a coherence that derives from an awareness of the various phases of the lifespan. (1991:75). Interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook (interviewed here) says: ‘We're talking about the set of connections that everyone has in real life. All we're trying to do is take those connections and map it out. Once we have an accurate model, we can help people to share their information more effectively. But it's going to take 30 years – or at least tens of years – before this becomes a really mature platform.’ You can view this project as an attempt to establish personalization through commodified experience resolving one of Giddens’ dilemmas of the self. An ambitious project (...and I’m not on Facebook, yet).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

That's OK

more graffiti
I’ve watched this writing on the wall growing over the last few days. I’m not sure whether you can say that the crane is a writing tool, but it looks like it. Each letter is about 3 feet high and mistakes need to be avoided at all costs. The poem (by Andrew Motion) is part of the Sheffield’s ‘Off the Shelf’ festival. Despite being a kind of writing on the wall that could offend some, it couldn’t be described as graffiti because it’s officially sanctioned – a privileged writer works with full permission (no danger of a court case here).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Hot metal
Looking at the Byron review, one of the key questions is “What are the benefits and opportunities that new technologies offer for children, young people, their families, society and the economy?” well that’s OK for starters and there’s plenty to say on that topic. But really it’s all about risk, and that’s tricky…. You can’t argue that there’s no risk involved for children and young people surfing the net any more than you can argue that there’s no risk in going to the local park. More important though is gauging the scale of the risk, and educating children and parents to be aware of risks. One of the problems that a number of us have reported on is the way in which schools (and school authorities) become so pre-occupied with internet safety that their students rarely get beyond the walled gardens that are so heavily protected by filters and firewalls. Well the worry is understandable, but if school environments are so heavily policed don’t we end up severely limiting children’s explorations of the internet? Then we filter out most of the best stuff along with the worst stuff and deprive them of the opportunity to choose sensibly. I also think we need to think more clearly about what we mean by risk – exposure to violence is one so-called risk factor which always gets cited. But don’t we all really know that the history of narrative shows our on-going fascination for fictionalized violence? On that note, here’s Henry Jenkins getting to grips with the concept of ‘media violence’ - pretty convincing.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Don't panic

we electric
The government is clearly worried about vulnerable technosubjects. The DCFS has commissioned the Byron Review to look into “the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games.” I 'll be featuring comments on this over the next few weeks and linking to the views of other bloggers – one would hope that this isn’t just about moral panic. Meanwhile, the Primary Review suggests that young children are stressed out – mostly about government tests, but to be fair about other things, too. Sue Palmer manages to get toxic in this report (it’s all down to screen-based entertainment, of course) although Robin Alexander, the director of the review presents a more balanced picture.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

On blogs

old sticker
There’s a lot of change in my life at the moment, moving offices, moving house (and more, too). So I find myself very pressed for time and leaving a few more spaces between posts than normal. When Dr Joolz writes about blog guilt - we’ve been here before, I recall – that doesn’t quite accord with my feelings. Perhaps I feel more that I either just don’t have the time, in the way that Flaneuse describes, or that I’m not quite sure what I want to blog about (see Simply Clare). Now that last one’s interesting because I could just blog about having a busy day, or being completely cheesed off with timewasters, or unnecessary meetings, or...but I don’t. And this is because my posts have become more focused, my blog has morphed into a technology-education-literacy sort of thing – or to put it another way, I’ve gradually started using my blog to perform a particular identity. Dr Joolz and I dubbed this the ‘hide and reveal’ phenomenon – in other words on days when I don’t really have something on technology-education-literacy, haven’t thought something, read something or visited somebody else’s blog, it’s harder to post (I hide rather then reveal).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

To text (v)

bright kids
There’s now quite compelling evidence to suggest that British mobile phone owners just love to text. Even though mobile phone ownership isn’t particularly high (as compared for instance to Spain) this is the place for SMS. So why are we so into our mobile phones – why is it such a British thing to text? A new survey makes some interesting observations about presence and connectivity, but still doesn’t come up with clear answers. Meanwhile this article from the US argues that ‘the proliferation of writing, in all its harried, hasty forms, has actually created a generation more adept with the written word’ and goes on to suggest that texting may help to boost standards in literacy. At last, the voice of reason – texting is writing and writing is literacy! But back to the safety of statistics - many Koreans own 4 (or more) phones and owning up to 14 isn’t unknown. Knowing which one to ring or pick up could be quite a problem.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Over there

The Fourth Annual Web 2.0 Conference kicks off in San Francisco next week. The line-up of speakers is impressive and the uniting concept (‘Where are we most stimulated? At the web’s edge.’) is exciting to say the least. As with last year’s conference, expect podcasts and video clips to become available. The site also provides a link to O’Reilly’s thoughts on defining Web 2.0. (here). Like many other academics, I’ll be more or less chained to my desk in this intensely busy time of year. Working up a CPD wiki (C-pedia) is about the closest I’ll get to the web’s edge for a while. Blog on!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Trouser ban

We live in a very visual age – one in which we are regularly photographed, captured on film or CCTV. We publish photographs and moving images of ourselves on the web and are immersed in a media environment which repeatedly shows other human subjects (as objects). In contemporary culture we see more representations of ourselves and others than in previous times. As a result we have become very aware of our appearance, how we look to others, how we dress and how we move – and of course commerce has exploited this new market. We spend more on how we look than ever before - we decorate and surgically alter our bodies. What we wear becomes a statement of who we are, and we feel uncomfortable with a particular group it’s the clothing that gets targeted – whether that’s hoodies, hijabs or big trousers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Is it a blog?

Another world
I’ve commented before about using blogs in a VLE: but are they really blogs? and is it really a VLE? Take the second question first – if your platform is about distributing information, making announcements, providing resources, and allowing a small area for controlled discussion, it’s really little more than an electronic noticeboard with clear lines of authority – not exactly a learning environment. So when that environment has blogs (or wikis) in it that’s not very Web 2.0. The blog function just allows the learner to publish dated posts – you can’t tag or personalise your page, although you can do links and include rich media. So it offers quite a bit more learner autonomy than a discussion board, but it’s still highly constrained. Back in 2005 people were trying to define what a blog really is, but now we know there are as many varieties (or sub-genres) as we try and imagine. For this course I’m teaching I’m thinking of the VLE blogs and wikis as a sandbox, in which learners can get used to some of the functions and try out that way of writing. In the second semester they can go out into the wide world using ‘real’ blog and wiki tools – this seems to me to be a reasonable sort of journey to take.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

About Ruth

Sometimes I wish it was punk or Pink, thrash metal or breakbeats, but anyway this is Ruth (in the middle), doing her thing with Brown Eyes Blue. I went out to get a 2Gb expansion card for my PDA so I could watch her at work, and on the move, only to find it only takes 1Gb – how sad is that? And here, Sigrid shows these beautiful forms that are made of sheet metal filled with sand. It looks like writing, but it’s not!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting ordinary

I’ve been watching Jackie’s catalogue of virtual worlds for young children as it grows and grows. It’s interesting - and somewhat worrying – that these worlds just reproduce (and sometimes amplify) features of the actual world. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. After all the same mindsets, the same commercial and educational interests are at play. We may “end up regarding the virtual world as a place no more special than the real world.” according to Richard Bartles. Richard (who was a MUD pioneer) was interviewed by the Guardian in the summer. It’s a bit of a downbeat message for someone who’s quite excited by what virtual worlds could do, but he suggests that: “So many people will encounter virtual worlds early (when they are children) and so many compromises will have to be made to attract a mainstream audience that I can easily see virtual worlds losing much of their soul, so that in 20 years from now people will wonder what it was about these things that people ever found so compelling.” Read the rest here.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Here’s Ruth’s trio, Brown Eyes Blue, from last night (Ruth’s the one in the middle). I commented here about academic blogging and the birth of the academic/researcher/journalist hybrid – here’s an example, Constance Steinkuehler’s blog on MMO gameplay and associated literacy practices. It’s statement of purpose says it all: ‘This site has been created so that we might be able to share our research findings more quickly and efficiently with a broader audience than academic print journals sometimes allow.’

Friday, September 28, 2007

A thousand flowers

Partly because I’m in a group that’s steering the construction of a CPD subject portal, I’ve started thinking all over again about social networking. This link introduces 7 building blocks – elements or features of social software. They are: Identity - a way of uniquely identifying people in the system; Presence - a way of knowing who is online, available or otherwise nearby; Relationships - a way of describing how two users in the system are related (e.g. in Flickr, people can be contacts, friends of family); Conversations - a way of talking to other people through the system; Groups - a way of forming communities of interest; Reputation - a way of knowing the status of other people in the system (who's a good citizen? who can be trusted?); Sharing - a way of sharing things that are meaningful to participants (like photos or videos). These are quite helpful and describe the kind of features users want. But I also think that it’s important to know how a good site learns about participants and feeds this back to them in useful ways (see here).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sat nav chaos

juice van
This report contains the serious warning that ‘People are becoming too reliant on technology’ – but also points out the problems with the slow updating of sat nav systems. I feel sorry for those in the honeypot villages of Derbyshire who are being disturbed by heavy traffic. But it takes a local councillor to come up with a stirring public announcement like: ‘We urge people to follow diversion signs rather than their satellite navigation facilities.’ A manifesto in the making, I reckon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


In his 2001 book, ‘The Future of Ideas’ Lawrence Lessig envisioned a world of free digital creativity – ‘Digital technology has radically reduced the cost of digital creations.’ (p.4). These creations would be exchanged free of charge in peer-to-peer networks. But, Lessig also saw how corporate capitalists would try to fight this as much as possible and particularly through copyright laws. Remember this report on how ‘the music industry has reacted angrily at a decision to give away the new album by US musician Prince with a tabloid newspaper’? And of course, we have regular stories of new music artists who launch themselves on MySpace. Despite this, anyone who’s ever tried to get a good music soundtrack for a digital video that they intend to distribute will know the difficulties. So let’s hear it for Moby who’s offering a bumper crop for exactly this purpose (you have to sign up to mobygratis, but it’s free). But that’s not what I’m listening to at the moment though, because I’ve developed a taste for breakbeats – here’s DJ Rob Focuz, on MySpace, naturally!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A slight return

When I left the University of Nottingham (see yesterday's post), I also became a statistic - one of those PhD drop-outs. I seem to have done fine since, so it never bothered me too much. Anyway, I finally decided to put together a selection of my published works and do it the other way. So, today I have my PhD by publication! The only problem is that there is no time to celebrate because I've got too much to do. Well, I learnt at least one thing - I really love talking about my own work! (probably just one of those self-identity phenomena)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The vanishing subject

underwater frisbee
Technological change not only offers new sites for research it also provides new ways of conceptualizing research, alternative identities for researchers themselves, and different relationships with participants and audiences. When I worked at the University of Nottingham, the biggest put-down of all was to refer to someone as more of a ‘journalist’ than a researcher. But now in academic blogging the boundaries are beginning to blurr and many of us are creating an academic/researcher/journalist hybrid. I gave a wry smile when reading Gergen and Gergen (2003: 599) on the ‘vanishing subject matter’. They say ‘the condition of vanishing subject matter invites researchers to envision themselves more as journalists than as traditional scientists – commentators on the contemporary as opposed to stonemasons at the edifice of progressive knowledge.’ That was affirming…and this is Ruth new band ‘Brown Eyes Blue.’

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Graffiti wars

Graffiti provides a fascinating example of the intersection of the politics of space and the policing of literacy. It’s often a subject for posts on this blog, on Dr Joolz, and recently on Vic Carrington’s. I’ve had some great comments on my pictures of the Sheffield graffiti jam from the artists themselves, and an appreciative email today which reminded me that showing the faces of graffiti artists is a sensitive issue. Although Banksy has done a lot to attract our attention to graffiti, the law, as usual, is out of step with public opinion as this article argues.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A flower in the Web 2.0 garden

pink rose
Picking the key characteristics of Web 2.0 is a tricky business. It depends who you ask. I’ve been working from the basic principle that Web2.0 describes the shift from giving information (one-to-many) to providing spaces for social participation (many-to-many). That means that providers offer services and not products, and also that the content is largely user-generated. Most of these ideas are explored in Colin and Michele’s second edition of “New Literacies”. However, the ideas of ‘implicit’ and ‘explicit’ participation discussed here, add another dimension. Participation is blended with aggregation – so the tag clouds on Flickr show cross-site trends, and the 'popularity' and 'interestingness' ratings map the attention that individual contributions receive. So the intelligence/architecture of a social networking site is important, and presumably exerts a subtle influence on the network itself. Web 2.0 provides spaces for interaction, but these are not simply open spaces – they are designed spaces which delineate the possibilities and have specific social affordances. Looking at apps like Blogger, Flickr and Netvibes you can also see some other trends. These spaces are easy to personalize – you can pull in the features you need (widgets often designed by other users) and the basic templates and software are constantly evolving. In a way the apps are learning about you and learning from you all at the same time. Of course there’s a thorny question at the heart of this: who’s controlling who? Users, myself included, celebrate the creativity, interaction and ‘voice’ that Web 2.0 allows, but at the same time we provide the content, fill in their boxes, customize their software, and generate the information that they exploit... and get rich on.

Monday, September 17, 2007


You've only got to mention phone masts in front of some people and they go all NIMBY. There's been a fascinating debate in our neighbourhood newsletter between those who think that masts put the cows off milking and fry children's brains (etc) and those who were caught up in the drama of the Sheffield Flood. When the phone lines went down, emergency services, medical supplies and family contact were co-ordinated through mobile phones. 'If we want the benefits of new technology' writes one resident., 'we must also entertain its physical presence.' I'm waiting for the replies....

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More than books

text decay
Originally uploaded by YanivG.

Shifting patterns in the media consumption of children and young people have serious implications for literacy educators. Although there seems to be little evidence of a decline in book sales, uses of literacy are clearly becoming more diverse. Book reading must find a comfortable place alongside video-gaming, social networking and virtual world play. Research findings on the role of sharing storybooks in promoting reading success are certainly convincing. But does this simply reflect the nature of schooled literacy and how we define and assess reading success? Apart from the work on rhyme and wordplay, there is little empirical study of other literacy practices and their influence on reading development. Research on digital literacy tends to focus on older children, often drawing attention to the gaps between what is valued and taught in schools and the practices of children in out of school contexts. Perhaps it is time to start using this knowledge about the diversity of literacy to close these gaps. In order to do this we need more work that profiles changing patterns of literacy development in early childhood and at the start of compulsory schooling. (Many thanks to Yaniv Golan for his ‘Text Decay’ picture, which you can also see here)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Text decay

I began photographing these corroded gateposts a while back. But it only occurred to me when I heard about Tim Wess’s work - which is looking at ways of dating and preserving ancient parchment - that I realised how fascinating the whole area of text decay can be. Tim uses a technique called ‘synchrotron radiation’…. and that sounds like serious science. Apparently, scrolls suffer a lot of wear and tear at the beginning an end – in other words just where they are most frequently handled. In contrast I think the text decay on my gateposts is just down to the elements. Recently, working on the second edition of an article, I tried to access the original stored on one of those 3 inch floppies. When I finally located the disk drive I found I still couldn’t access anything readable. I suppose technically speaking that’s not text decay – it’s inability to access the information that creates the text, but the net result is the same. Anyway as we move into the area of text repair there’s all sorts of ideas around, including treating CD scratches with bananas.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

And now

My colleague Will Reader has been getting a lot of attention for his work on social networking sites. The headline - that sites like Facebook don’t deepen friendships – isn’t particularly startling. What is more interesting is the way in which online social networking has gained popularity – that and its role in thickening existing social ties (Barry Wellman has been saying this for a while). Thickening, in the sense that I use it, doesn’t equate with ‘depth’ but merely points to the fact that social networking is additive, bridging online and offline worlds. (Thanks to Ed for the photograph).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Happy New Year!

Facebook seems to be sweeping the board in the popularity-stakes on both sides of Atlantic. On Fade to Play, Phillip Jeffrey advertises his UBC seminar (today) in the following way: “Facebook is a social utility originally launched in 2004 by Harvard University undergraduates exclusively for students. Facebook has over 35 million active users ( 3.3 million in Canada) and 68% log-in daily. It has become a primary tool among students for communication, information sharing, and for organising events among their real-world friends. The phrase “I’ll facebook you” is a regular part of student vernacular.” People of all ages seem to be getting active on Facebook, but my sense is that the late teens to late twenties are the most active users in the UK. Oh…and I nearly forgot it’s New Year’s Day in Ethiopia!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lists, ranking, attention etc

The tendency to reduce stuff to lists and top tens is an interesting cultural phenomenon. You get endless TV shows that garner views on things like the best movies of 1986, newspapers with top-selling hardback non-fiction, and radio shows of greatest glam-rock hits. This sort of list fever often mutates through the web as a meme - ‘my 5 favourite things’ and variations on this theme. Sometimes I find these quite challenging – if someone asks me what my favourite movie is, I go…depends what genre, what language or what mood I’m in (although I must say it’s usually ‘Letter from Unknown Woman’ – Max Ophuls never did better). I was discussing this with someone the other day who said “Yes, but what someone chooses is so telling.’ Well, that’s interesting and I’m almost persuaded, but when you aggregate this into the nation’s favourite movie it tends to get less meaningful. Nevertheless who’s consuming what is important information and although it’s embarrassing to confess so openly I have been watching the usage statistics on e-learning and got a rush of pride to see Digikids at number one.