Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Institutional politics. These games seem to be absorbing ever larger amounts of my time, so I notice my blog posts flagging and my tweets per day slowing down. But I’m pleased to be building up the pace on the social networking research with teens and teachers, and as often is the case, I’m getting up with lots of new stuff. Here’s Anica’s student Ning space, looks really great (particularly now she’s working on Macedonian translations of some of the video material). And here’s Angela Thomas’s work on virtual worlds (as well as a good post on Twitter). And by the way, do you like the man in the tree?

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I think the Literacy and Identity Special Issue (of Literacy) is going to be really good. Victoria and I have been working hard, and we've got a good range of papers with a strong international feel to them. When that's done I have to turn full attention to the research on teens and social networking, but that's already shaping up nicely. On the other hand the digital literacies debate I've been blogging about ended up coming to nothing. Well by that I mean nothing for me, because work's firewall prevents me from accessing externally hosted Elluminate sessions. Not very digitally literate. But then I wasn't too upset, because I saw it was to be kicked off by two leading "edtech activists". Now there's a term to juggle with. What springs to mind? Fast-talking men? I don't know, I couldn't connect. But maybe I'll get another bite of the cherry; that or choose some other fruit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not amused?

We are not amused? The Twitterati were bursting their character walls yesterday reporting about the latest shake-up of the primary curriculum. Best of the headlines was the Telegraph with their Primary School Children Must Learn Twitter But Not Victorians, with a worthy and wordy reaction from readers. It must be a good thing that Rose is reporting on the importance of new technology in general, and digital literacies in particular. The detail, and the question of how it gets interpreted will be an interesting site for research, particularly since some of us involved in these debates often find it hard to agree! Having said that, I have a sneaking suspicion that just as long as something remains contentious it has a certain dynamism. Perhaps questioning what we think, and turning our assumptions into questions is the most useful thing we can do. Meanwhile will the educational publishers be asking people to write guides on how to do Twitter in Year 4? Well, as a matter of fact they have already been asking those questions. The commercial foot is certainly well past the door of the classroom whether it carries exercise books and handwriting pens, IWBs or VLEs.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This is a wonderful photograph of one of our administrators on the Masters programme here in Sheffield. She was born in Beijing, and here she is trying on a sombrero in Mexico! For me its an image of the upside of the transnational. But having recently spent some time in Cambodia, the Channel 4 documentary on forced evictions in Phnom Penh brought home the downside. We saw the poverty of Dey Krahorm when we were there, but we didn’t see the background. Foreign investors cashing in on the growth of tourism seem to be in league with officials in moving the poor out of view. Violent struggle is not uncommon. Welcome to the cruel world as Ben Harper used to say.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Digital literacies

Watching an interesting debate on digital literacies taking place here. As you can see it’s in wet paint and I think I’ve already stepped in a can and left my footprints all over it! I sense some frustration about definitions. Several positions emerge. One we all agree what we mean, so let’s move on. Two we’ll never agree, so let’s move on and do something anyway. Three if we don’t know what we mean how can we move on. I suppose the other option is to ditch the term altogether and actually I think that’s been suggested, but if it’s called digital literacy/ digital literacies in the first place that presents a bit of a challenge. Interestingly, the proofs of Vic and Muriel’s book arrived today. I thought it was called Contentious Literacies, but now I see its titled Digital Literacies. So there’s something to look out for!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who is Billy Nomates?

Identity preoccupies me again! And this expression Billy Nomates is intriguing because it suggests social isolation, or social exclusion, or even the negation of the self. I felt like Billy Nomates sounds as if I was unfriended, defriended or even unfriendable. I suggest that something like I didn’t know anyone or I was the only person there might be a kinder description. OK so I’ve fallen under the spell of Holstein and Gubrium. I am not what I thought I was. I am obliged to ‘suspend belief in the real in order to bring into view the everyday practices by which events, objects, and subjects come to have a sense of being real’ (p 97). Gulp! I am Billy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's nearly now again

I know over the last few weeks I’ve become a bit preoccupied with Twitter and when someone last Thursday reminded me of Heppel’s idea that the nearly now provides a space for reflection, my interest was rekindled. Reflection in action needs a space. A fleeting moment to capture the thought as it occurs; a space in which to take the backward step; to render the familiar strange. This space isn’t exactly provided by Twitter, a blog, a post-it, or any other kind of technology but the technology certainly comes in handy. So although some commentators are keen to split hairs, and muddy the water with other ideas, we already know that space and time look different in virtual environments, and those who are really interested in learning need to be creative in their engagement with new spaces for learning. Is it now again, yet?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's on your mind?

The Facebook makeover successfully manages to keep social networking in the news and even in the papers! I’ve recently been thinking about the Twitter prompt, what are you doing, and the particular challenges of working in the 140 character economy. Some people do take the what are you doing prompt seriously, but most of those I’m following make no concession at all to this, unless you count some of the weird things they say, their twitpics, and the urls as kinds of doing. On the other hand the 140 characters is standard, and I’ve been intrigued by the reflective subtleties than can be shoehorned into that form. So maybe the prompt is irrelevant. Facebook, amongst other changes, have altered their prompt so it now asks what’s on your mind. A bit like a counsellor, who’s always there each day, or how often you go to the site, with the same persistent curiosity. What’s on your mind? Does this change the Facebook environment from being an action-orientated account of people’s lives and parties into a more introspective or even reflective space? Somehow I don’t think so. But then it all depends on what you have in mind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Machines/ technologies?

If books really are machines for thinking and learning, as Umberto Eco once wrote, then the success of the Amazon Kindle suggests the possibility of something rather like mobile learning. And now that you can get a Kindle reader on your iPhone, eReading could become much more widespread. That opens up some new possibilities. My first reaction to reading this news was to wonder about the separation of reading and writing (not ever having used a Kindle I am imagining that there is no writing function). A great deal of my reading, particularly my reading for learning is done with a word processor or pen at hand. I suppose my ideal mobile gadget would be light, with a size somewhere in between a smartphone and small laptop, and have all the possibilities that a good laptop holds.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Break-in tweets

For some unknown reason I was quite excited to find Twitter over capacity this morning. It was almost as if my small tweet was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Probably not true at all. And then this afternoon I came across this story of someone tweeting a burglary! It could be the start of a media avalanche, as new moral panics break out: obese tweeters, criminal rings on Twitter, sex tweets, Twitter predators and suicide tweets. I hope not. But as groups of us experiment in using this service for our own purposes (narrow concerns?) the idea of inline tagging, the so-called hashtags, becomes an increasingly attractive option for filtering out and filtering in to your timeline. I’ve already removed one or two people, just because their tweets don’t interest me, and I’m open to finding new people whose tweets might be music to my ears.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Attention seeking?

Howard Rheingold, an old hippy? I found myself distracted by the trees blowing in the wind outside his porch. And then I checked my Blackberry for Twitter updates. So I guess that all constitutes absent presence or maybe multitasking, which being male I’m supposed to be rather bad at. His musings reminded me of Lanham’s notions of the attention economy which Colin and Michele have used so effectively in their work. But somehow in this whole area there’s something really fundamental about learners and learning. If learning is an act of communication (see yesterday’s post), then interest and some sort of selective attention is a precondition. In my work I use the term attentive noticing to try to capture this. Gunther Kress has also started talking about this and makes the interesting observation that the learner’s interest doesn’t always (or hardly ever does) coincide with pedagogical intentions. So are learning and teaching really loose-coupled? And is assessment, the recognition of learning, the tie that institutions use in attempts to bind together learning and teaching as if to jealously preserve the illusion that unruly subjects are harmoniously working towards a common shared goal?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Learn mobile, learn!

I’ve been reading John Traxler’s piece on mobile learning. Becta describes these articles on emerging technologies as research reports, but they are not. Should we leave them to their own devices is really a thought-provoking essay that recycles some ideas and develops others. A strong feature of Traxler’s paper is the wristwatch analogy. But the comparison of the wristwatch with newer portable digital devices also highlights a weakness in the argument. A watch is essentially a portable information device which is of course very useful in co-ordinating our social interactions; on the other hand a mobile phone develops this by adding one-to-one communication, and now many-to-many communication, again very useful in co-ordinating and enacting social interactions. But is the mobile a learning device? Is the watch a learning device? I think Traxler confuses information and communication with learning. Of course learning arises out of communication; but it is not the same thing as communication. Similarly knowledge cannot simply be described as content. So, the real issue continues to be one of how digital communication can be utilised to develop learning. Mobile or static, we need a pedagogy that includes the digital or else we are just grasping at straws

Sunday, March 08, 2009


My mother died on Friday after a two week battle with pneumonia. I was with her at the time and am feeling relieved that any suffering or discomfort is now over. I think she lived a good life, and she gave me an enormous amount that has served me well. Amongst those gifts are a sense of mischief with a good-humoured enjoyment of life; an intense intellectual curiosity; a love of the arts; and an enduring suspicion of social institutions and conventions. There's a lot more too, that will live on. Funnily enough there is a whole lexicon to describe the feelings, processes and events that surround death and being that sort, like my mother, my first port of call was the etymological dictionary! I found bereavement along with all those other lovely-sounding words that have the be- prefix. The Germanic origins of 'reave' seem to be about robbing, which implies a hidden (secret?) agent that neither I nor the deceased (another technical term) would be comfortable with. All this terminology seems to distance us from the actual events. A familiar story?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

OK - text

It’s always encouraging to see researchers from different disciplines engaging with similar issues. My own work (2001) suggested that the emerging conventions of text-messaging indicated a high level of facility with written language and a particular sensitivity to grapho-phonemic elements. Plester’s research in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology (here) suggests a strong relationship between texting and literacy development. It begs the question of whether texting improves literacy or whether texters just happen to be better at literacy. Elsewhere it is being suggested that phonologically-based abbreviations are processed quickly, but that the more creative textings, such as gr8 slow you down. Is that a bit like reading car number plates?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Identity online

I was at this seminar series yesterday at the fabulous New Academic Building on Kingsway, London. I must say that I found the papers on identity mostly uninspiring. I wanted more on the fluidity of online identity performance; more critique of agency and more complexity! Rebekah’s paper was the exception, and I do hope all those methodological questions about who’s representing who in teen SNS research continue to be debated. I’ve been thinking that trying to decide whether technology influences youth or youth influences technology has become a bit pointless. What does interest me is how SNSs seem to be troubling traditional generational divisions. Some things change; but others stay the same as this site, myparentsjoinedfacebook, underlines.

Monday, March 02, 2009


My blog-posting seems to have suffered with the rise of microblogging. Interesting because Twitter makes you do rather different things, as you are caught in the act of reflecting, engaged in trivia, or ending up in strange places (Robin Hood Airport in my case). So it is lightweight in several senses of the word. Portable, and often more ephemeral, the tweets are less polished and often (but not always) less weighty. This could be a good thing! At the same time the increased interactivity makes it rather more compulsive as you do a quick check to see who's doing what, who's replied to your quip and so on. I've also just discovered that there's a whole host of Twitter-related stuff around. Such as the endlessly diverting whosetweet, to twisten.fm amd of course everythingtwitter. Anyway, must dash off and tweet!