Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Down in the dongles

Romania 08 066
Mobile phones aside, digitally mediated person to person communication has so far, in the UK, tended to be location-specific. Given the relatively low level of free wifi provision, that means you’re either at home or at work (unless you’ve got a Blackberry). Any communication on the move (apart from by phone) is fraught with difficulty. So, largely speaking, Barry Wellman’s idea of networked individualism exists more in vision than reality. But times are changing: the mobile phone company 3’s affordable dongle gives you connectivity and freedom of movement. If competition drives the price down, multiple forms of person to person communication may become far more available when you’re on the move. Perhaps at that point we’ll be networked individuals, if indeed we choose to be. The choice would be nice, and there's some obvious benefits, but do we always want to be in contact? I suppose you can always unplug your dongle!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Eternal knot
Last week I wrote about a study of the information behaviour of the future and the resulting scare headlines about the google generation. John Naughton’s article in the Observer last Sunday gave a more thorough consideration of the findings which made me realise how my own reading was rather hasty. In this book, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel talk about the emergence of new kinds of reading and this is a good example of what that looks like. Here’s John Naughton: The findings describe 'a new form of information-seeking behaviour' characterised as being 'horizontal, bouncing, checking and viewing in nature. Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile.' 'Horizontal' information-seeking means 'a form of skimming activity, where people view just one or two pages from an academic site then "bounce" out, perhaps never to return.' The average times users spend on e-book and e-journal sites are very short: typically four and eight minutes respectively. Well that’s so interesting, because that’s exactly what I just did….but then I also returned to the topic from an alternative source, wrote about it and passed it on, links and all! All in all that must count as a case study in new literacy - read, think, write, link, read, think, write, link...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Degrees of participation

Let there be light
Going through my allconsuming archive made me realize something I’ve known for a while but not payed sufficient attention to. Engagement in a social networking site is a variable thing: you can be quite peripheral or right there in the thick of things…. or, of course, you can be at any point along the way. I’m right on the edge with allconsuming – you can see my profile and what I’ve been up to, but there are no comments and I’ve never done any tagging there, let alone any kind of interaction. Flickr’s different. I have a small and changing social network there - I describe, comment, tag, interact, meet new people etc etc. You make your own choices and it’s about degrees of participation, and reasons for participation … I suppose choosing your favourite social networking site is similar to deciding where you like to hang out in meatspace.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Flying in

So tonight I returned to Bucharest from Transylvania without any suspicious marks on my neck! It was an eye watering minus 1C when we landed, with grey mounds of snow still stacked up on the roadside. Getting an internet connection in Cluj was difficult, so I was forced to maintain radio silence. This afternoon I learnt how to build a Joomla website with very simple tools. I also took a look at librarything, which looks good, but I’m afraid I still have brand loyalty to allconsuming. Again there was mention of classroom 2.0 and I made a mental note to spend some time investigating this space. I’ve also been beginning to wonder how social bookmarking and RSS feeds can feature in the Web 2.0 book.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


It’s fascinating how we imagine space. I loved this Miles Davis photograph when I first saw it and was convinced it must be in a sculpture park in New York despite the unmistakable English background. Of course, it was only unmistakable when later I found out that it was at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire! (The new Duke's quite trendy.) Still good, but somehow different. Now we’re set to fly out to Cluj in Romania for an IDEC leadership conference. What’s Cluj like? Well, I have some vague stereotypical images in mind. ... the official site, Cluj cyber city is here, but actually this is more informative. Apparently it has a world famous equestrian statue! Anyway, I hope to be able to blog from there, but have no idea about what connectivity is like. But I promise there will be some pictures sooner or later!

Friday, January 18, 2008


Just when we’d started to adjust to the digital assets of a new generation of university students, concerns are being raised about the google generation. The headlines from JISC are that we should be concerned about: impatience in search and navigation [that’s me], and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information need. Young people are dangerously lacking information skills, and that’s in this report. I’m not so sure that there is any evidence of a decline in criticality, but perhaps we need to adjust what we expect, what we provide and what we assess to take into account environmental changes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Networked professionals

old technology
Applying the principle of social networking to professional learning could well be the shape of future CPD. Imagine being able to keep in touch with friends you’ve taught or trained with, and other like minded people, sharing ideas, resources and teaching plans. That’s the idea behind Englishspace, the place where Facebook meets the staffroom. David Hargreaves has spelt out the idea of teachers as hackers involved in ad hoc innovation networks here – Englishspace could help move this forward. Of course like any social networking site, the success of Englishspace will depend on the commitment of its users…and maybe Facebook’s a poor comparison. I say that after reading Tom Hodgkinson searing criticism of Facebook..

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Testing the breaks

Deep cut
I’m learning more about breakbeats, sometimes listening to, but also through talking to people. It comes out of a digitally-infused subculture, in which the source music is often downloaded and remixed with samples and softsynths. Apples are the preferred platform for doing this. Most of the stuff I’m borrowing comes from live sets, often freebie CDs given away as part of the DJ promotion. I’m not up to partying just yet, but I’m hooking in to Plump DJs, Krafty Kuts, and Def Inc. Am I getting all neurotic about my age, I hear you ask? Probably:What’s your neurosis allowing you to do that you couldn’t do otherwise? asks Richard Ford…

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I’ve got Loomings as a title for a talk. It’s a bit wacky, but I like it! You may already know that it’s the title of Chapter 1 in Moby Dick. I like the idea of social networking looming on the horizon of the curriculum. To loom in the OED is to come into sight dimly, esp as a vague and often magnified or threatening shape. A loom can also be a vague often exaggerated first appearance of land at sea etc. And then if you’re already sailing along with this metaphor, Melville says: So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like. And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of this living creature, is by going whaling yourself. Meanwhile UKLA and NATE are experimenting with a professional development/ teacher social networking site. It’s still under development but you can get the idea here. So, if you're an English teacher, come whaling!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Everyday new literacies

Looking at university students’ work is always a bit of a mixed experience. Nonetheless, I’m always open to new ways of formulating old ideas about new literacy. This morning I read how we assume a social identity when writing for a specific purpose (eg on a social networking site). I liked this and mapped it on to the idea of performing identity through text in which the purpose of getting your message across to the intended audience is implicitly a kind of identity work. Quoting from here : sites like MySpace and YouTube represent social and semiotic domains for youngsters where their communicative competence and identity are played out and created (p.185). I also note in the Erstad article that digital literacy is core competence in the Norwegian curriculum but that: there is so far a lack of discussion about what digital literacy really is. Ah well, that just seems to be the everyday muddle around new literacies!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Everybody online

winter tree
One laptop per child began as a charity idea to empower children in developing countries by providing them with powerful tools for transformation. One Laptop is a non-profit organisation led by Nicholas Negroponte, designed to create extremely low-cost laptop computers that can be powered without electricity and run free, open-source software. Here’s more on that subject. Last week I commented on the domestic plan to give every child internet access. This piece reports on schools minister Jim Knight being in talks with Microsoft, BT, Sky, Virgin and RM to sponsor his vision, the computers for pupils initiative (you can see the launch speech, here). There have been some misleading news reports:this isn’t a laptop for every child (domestic or otherwise). In fact, and I quote, eligibility has been based on a formula to determine some of the most disadvantaged Key Stage 3 and 4 children throughout the country. The project has now been taken over by Becta and could well help to bridge the digital divide. But I guess the devil’s in the detail. Just throwing resources at a problem doesn’t make it disappear. Imagine, though, the impact on literacy if every child in every class had wireless access: that would transform our schools, and our ideas of learning and teaching in a single stroke.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Muffin prophecy

After reading Dr Joolz on memes, I wanted to trace one of my own - one that has a history as long as the art of divination, reading tea-leaves and seeing faces in clouds. It surfaced recently in the case of the image of the Virgin Mary on toast (auctioned for $28,000 on eBay) and is also present in paranormal communication through miraculous fruit. The human pre-occupation with signs sometimes tempts us to read meaning into the strangest of places. My mother still sees the face of David Mellor in the grain of the wood in her kitchen! In the wonderful Next Muffin routine, the comedian Russ Noble riffs off this meme of mysterious signs to produce his own comic routine about random meaning-making and prophecy.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Great walls of fire!

Journalists and commentators seem to think that moves by China to restrict online video sharing are outrageous (that’s interesting); its probably escaped their notice that local education authorities in the UK have been doing that for some time. There's censorship and then there's surveillance. Technology is, of course, OK if it’s about monitoring pupil progress and reporting to parents. The government's aim (here) is to give parents continuous online updates on their child's lessons, performance and behaviour. Oh thanks, you hear them chorus, just what we always wanted! Anyway let’s hear it for Bebo: a recent Which? Report comparing features, ease of use and so on puts Bebo top of the social networking sites. And lastly here’s Lilia Efimova with the most sensible commentary on blogging that I’ve read in a long while. She says: Blogging is about microcontent: publishing small pieces of thought and commentary, anchored with permalinks and carried away by feeds. However, the real value is not at the post level: ecosystems between blog posts are more interesting and more important. Think of the fuzzy feeling of knowing someone from reading a weblog over time, implicit understanding of a new issue that emerges while following a conversation between bloggers or sense of belonging to a network of others, in all cases posts and links are only a tip of the iceberg. Counting and measuring those visible traces is tempting, but knowledge, reputation, relations are likely to escape rankings. So don't take this post too seriously!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Good luck/bad luck

new light on old logs
I had a head-on collision in the car this afternoon, taking a blind corner on the single-track road to Hundall. No injuries, but plenty of broken glass and twisted metal. I was travelling about 20 mph - the other guy about twice that. He mounted the steep bank at the roadside nearly turning his vehicle. I guess we were both extremely lucky to escape without a scratch and nothing but mild shock to our respective passengers. I've just been sitting here thinking was that good luck, bad luck or a bit of both?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A new start

country literacy
After seeing the new year in it feels like I need to re-boot my brain. Starting with some exploratory writing, I’ve come to the conclusion that teachers involved in innovative new literacies work are confronted with a set of key questions:
1. How easy is it to leave the comfort zone of conventional, classroom-based pupil-teacher relationships and experiment with new and fluid online interactions?
2. What are the implications of working in an environment in which some pupils are more experienced or confident than the teacher?
3. How can this sort of work be justified and defended in an educational environment which regularly lurches back to a pre-occupation with ‘the basics’ and traditional print literacy skills?
4. How can the level of immersion and flexible online access required be operationalised within the constraints of current resource and timetable structures?
5. What additional planning and co-ordination work is necessary to make the most of online work, to facilitate exchange between year groups and interactions between schools?
6. What real or perceived risks may be faced by engaging in virtual world gameplay (eg: child protection; parental censure)?
I’m sure you could add to this list. Have I missed anything? I’ll be working on this over the next few days, suggestions are welcome!