Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I'm not sure where the media obsession with food came from - it seems to fill the newspapers and swamp the TV schedules. Perhaps I shouldn't be that surprised. Food is, after all, the original consumer product. We consume it, we digest it....and we want more. That's as close as you'll get to a seasonal message on this blog! But I do think this particular mash-up is excellent. That's good entertainment value, and I consumed that!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
At the CSU technology symposium, we were once again alerted to the ways in which our casual searching behaviours may be shaped by search engines such as the mighty Google. This time it was Judy O'Connell issuing the warnings. So we learn to be sceptical of the JFGI approach. But since then I've got interested in something else about searching - and that's related to modality. I've been using the image above a bit lately, and have got quite interested in its provenance. A contact tells me that it shows the warehouse inventory process - possibly at a shipping line. Well that's OK, so far. But what I really want to do is search for the image and find out more about it. Of course Google (can I still mention it?),will allow me to search for an image related to a word, but it won't allow me to search with an image. Hence the modality issue. So I'm wondering if anyone's come up with a way of searching with an image? Maybe they have. Since some photo apps can now recognise your friends, image matching should be possible - and of course images are tagged and labeled. I wonder.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
This is actor Jack Thompson, ending with a Riverina rhyme. Many thanks to Barney Dalgarno for this link. At the risk of undermining the entertainment with some analysis, it does seem to be a good example of something that's simultaneously recognisable but different. Same/not same. So the overall form and structure make sense; the liberal use of the adjective insert (we'd recognise it as the expletive-as-infix) are familiar. But unless you've been to Tumbarumba, or tuned into the patterns of Aussie conversation, they constitute the unfamiliar. Interestingly our patterns of thought (or socio-cultural dispositions) work in these sort of binaries. But isn't there really just a continuum of familiarity? In fact could this be a wider problem? At our symposium yesterday some familiar binaries popped up at regular intervals (global/local; online/offline; actual/virtual; me/not me; material/immaterial; mobile/static). We encounter these and we rather clumsily start talking about blurring the boundaries, but even this language tends to get in the way of the fluidity we want to talk about. We need to replace the light switch with a dimmer switch. But maybe we really need a new language, or a new philosophy for doing this. Perhaps, at the end of the day, this is part of the problem with affordances. It's a sort of on/off concept, and it doesn't allow enough space for fluidity, the evolution of new practices and conventions, human agency and so on.
I had a great day at the symposium organised by the Technology and Teaching Practice Group at CSU. The presentations were great and in fact the whole day was very stimulating. I realise that one thing I really like about technology-focused discussions is that you don't have to deal with the book fetish. Of course, there are other things to get hung-up about - but today, which was about affordances (not my topic of choice, I must admit), included some quality discussion. The fact that the symposium was held at the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, could be misleading. But there wasn't a bottle in sight. The only nod in the direction of wine was the barrel-shaped podium. Oh, that and the vineyard outside!
Monday, December 12, 2011
Schools - the future?
I went for a cycle ride at the weekend. Riding round Lake Albert I thought of three possible future for education. They are:
Deletion schools as institutions are increasingly irrelevant. As social structures strongly formed by modernist thought, they perpetuate a factory model of education, which attempts to prepare the young for a world that has long since disappeared.
Re-construction schools as they are currently conceived are incapable of delivering the kinds of understandings and skills or cultivating the habits of mind that will produce 21st Century citizens or a 21st Century workforce. A new vision of schooling is required that incorporates the new literacies and is responsive to emerging patterns of social organisation.
Reform schools are out of step with society and need to capitalise on the new literacies that children and young people engage with on a daily basis. Extensive professional and curriculum development is required to align our education systems with the lives of young people.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
OK, so when you have a bit of down time, what do you do? Well, I'm always drawn to the places with the most interesting names. I remember watching the film 'The Last Journey of a Genius' in which the famous physicist Richard Feynman went all the way to Ulan Bator in Mongolia - just because he liked the sound of it! Now I don't pretend to be a genius - far from it - but I get the idea. So I had to go to Tumbarumba, up in the Snowy Mountains, only to discover that it isn't much of a place. But it does at least have the 4 Bears cafe, with its absolutely amazing collection of bears. I suppose that, in itself makes it worth the visit!
Friday, December 09, 2011
Reading Bauman is a bit like listening to Leonard Cohen. He's either gloomy and predictable, or sad and beautiful, depending on your frame of mind, or mood. So when Christina passed me Education in Liquid Modernity, I wondered what listening to the honey-tongued purveyor of post-modern angst would tell me about my own state of mind. Well, I like his six features of contemporary life: the rapid changes of short shelf-life; the way power, politics and the state begin to peel apart; the noticeable decline of collectivity; short-termism and disposable planning; an anxiety about the future; and the shape-shifting individualism - always adaptable but always in fear of irrelevance or exclusion. But although I liked them, each one may not be quite as certain as it sounds against the strum of his intellectual chord shapes. Perhaps: 'it is better to think of knowledge consumption and production after the pattern of fast food' 316 (on-demand and just-in-time). Still Bauman's conclusions are slight. Of course, we know all about the student as consumer in a marketised system - but what else is there? Bring on Johnny Rotten for a bit more energy!
Thursday, December 08, 2011
What might the study of literacies look like if it was set free from its histories of theory, its well-rehearsed models and research routines? That was the question we generated yesterday, with our talented colleagues at CSU - and, of course, that is a challenging tack to take. Moving away from familiar text-centric approaches became a key theme for me as we thought through how complex histories and diverse meanings are negotiated in social contexts. Not only do learners - and in a sense we are all learners - bring their own learning histories, social and cultural capital, and resources for meaning-making into new situations, but also these play out against the backdrop of powerful global and local flows that position them and carry the stories of how they became who they are in a social, cultural and historical sense. At the same time, the material resources for meaning-making play their part in constructing, communicating - mediating our relationships with others. Here, the available technologies, the modalities of representation and the codes (languages and scripts) can be seen as the tools or resources. This remains a sketchy outline of a detailed conversation - but it leaves me with a sense of how textual approaches might be displaced in order to allow us to develop a model of literacy that (re)places social interaction and meaning making at its centre. To be continued.
Monday, December 05, 2011
Wagga Wagga is a great little place. There's a picture of the Lagoon I took yesterday evening. I'm so fortunate to be so well looked after. Today I've been up to the university and in between meeting people I've been reflecting on Stephen Turner's ideas about emulation. They've got rather mixed up in my mind with something from Philip Roth, which I think is so neatly expressed. He's introducing the central and charismatic character, Mr Cantor. Here goes: 'His athletic, pigeon-toed trot was already being imitated by the playground kids, as was his purposeful way of lightly lifting himself as he moved on the balls of his feet, and the slight sway, when he walked, of his substantial shoulders. For some of the boys his entire bearing had become theirs both on and off the playing field.' (Nemesis:13) There goes my role model!
History of use
I looked in the mirror this morning, saw my face, and thought well there's the history of use. That's after more than 20 hours of flying; so it's not surprising. But the phrase a 'history of use' comes from a paper on distributed cognition that I've been revisiting. It's by Hollan, Hutchins & Kirsh (2000) and it occurs to me that I may use it while I'm down here in Australia, not because of the history of use, but because it connects with Ihde's idea of human and technology as an active-realtional pair, as well as elements of practice theory, and even parts of actor network theory. In particular I like the idea that '...just like a blind person's cane...so well-designed work materials become integrated into the way people think, see and control activities (178)'. The blind person's cane is, I think an allusion to Heidegger. But as well as this, I like the observation that 'the environment people are embedded in is a reservoir of resources for learning, problem-solving, and reasoning.' (178). It's a thought-provoking article, a good example of psychologists moving away from their fixation with individuals - and that's all before you get to the history of use bit!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I've been reading David Parry's call for what he calls ‘mobile literacy’ (here). He identifies three areas of focus. These are understanding information access, understanding hyperconnectivity and understanding the new sense of space. The first is about encouraging students to use mobile devices to search for (and presumably evaluate) information, and to appreciate the differences and similarities between this and desktop searches. Hyperconnectivity is about using and understanding how social media can connect learners with those outside the immediate classroom context in advantageous ways (selective use of Twitter is offered as an example). And finally, the new sense of space is about developing an appreciation of how mobiles can be used to mediate one’s experience of the material/physical world through so-called augmented reality applications and the whole gamut of data-enriched geo-location.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Who owns me?
This is me at Monday's conference. I didn't notice anybody take a picture (not that I mind), and then I found it later on in the week on the Cloudworks site. So I've re-appropriated it - but in so doing I was aware of the complexity. Does someone else own that image? Is it the person who took it ... or does it belong to Cloudworks? And then in an instant, by clicking it, I reclaimed it, and now decide to upload it to my blog. Mmm...now Google owns Blogger, and so is it the case that Google owns my image, as well as my thoughts, and my searches? In the end it's not very important to me, but in a week in which the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking and media intrusion has heard some frightening testimonies from those who have been pursued, you can't help reflecting on the underlying issues - the ease at which images can be captured and distributed is only one of these. Intent and affect must come into this though. John (yes, I think he was the clicker in question) meant no harm, and I certainly didn't feel any. So everything is OK; but when does this cross the border into become not OK? I hasten to add that I'd already given my permission to being video-recorded, and I have no problem with anyone's conduct at the event - I'm just reflecting on the issues! Cut and paste these words at your peril!
Monday, November 21, 2011
Mobile practices in everyday life
View more presentations from edsghm
I really enjoyed speaking at the SoMobNet roundtable - it was great to be part of the conversation. You can tune into some of the debate on cloudworks, but I think you have to join to comment. I learnt about some interesting work across European and in one instance beyond Europe. Joining together perspectives from learning, Web 2.0, media and technology made it a rich fare. My slides probably make little sense without the narrative, but that's how it should be!
Saturday, November 19, 2011
There are some quite persuasive arguments about how narratives shape our view of the world, and recently I've been thinking about how researchers' narratives help to create the field. In digital literacies our narratives are often future-focused, in that they attempt to imagine the next generation of technology, or the skills that will be needed in the twenty-first century workplace. These narratives are shaped by other imaginaries, in which we are always being drawn into the future, rather than propelled by the past. I caught part of Lucy Powell's History of the New on the radio, in which she locates the Industrial Revolution as the point at which a 'cult of newness' began to challenge the authority of tradition. Gazing at the future is the hallmark of modernism, and it seems that the pull of the future still disciplines our thinking. There's an interesting synergy between this fascination with newness and the ethos of consumerism. In an era when the past was best, and when things were made to last one would have little interest in new fads and products; now we are always on the lookout for the next generation, the next version and so on. Why darn it if you can buy a new pair? Why make do with the existing pair when the new ones are so much better? We're sold newness in the guise of improvement. The concept of advantageousness, which I've been playing around with quite a lot lately, is a slippery beast - but I think it helps to ask the question - it gives a much-needed critical take. At least if we ask what are the advantages of a Kindle, for example, we can justify our purchase! And then we can take that further, and ask under what conditions it is advantageous, who is it advantageous to and so on.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Mobiles on the train
Mobile technologies suggest mobile subjects, and it may be that we best see these devices springing into life, as it were, when we too are mobile. Take railway journeys, for example, they are punctuated by the beeps, pings and buzzes of mobile message alerts - the ringtones that are familiar, more or less the same, or perhaps unusual - but still recognizable as such.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Mobile social networks
The October issue of Orange’s Explore magazine is out! Pictured above, you'll see that the background image is a dense mesh of intersecting fibres. Their fiery yellows, oranges and reds criss-cross to form an image that calls to mind familiar diagrammatic representations of social networks. The device itself - the Blackberry Curve - appears to glow, as a live hub, in the centre of these interconnections. It promises that you will be ‘always connected to your social networks’, and you can be sure that the social networking icons of Facebook and Blackberry Messenger (BBM) are displayed on the screen. They are; and what's more, the icons are tagged with the white star on a red circle that indicates that new messages have arrived! You consume. They produce.
Monday, November 07, 2011
I found John Naughton's article (from last July) useful in thinking about the ways of the mobile market. Are mobiles becoming the ultimate symbol of a consumer society - an overpriced toy with bags of gadget-appeal or are they not just an object of desire, but a really useful thing to have? Naughton warns us that 'we are on the slippery slope towards a much more controlled, less open, internet. If these trends continue, then it won't be all that long before a significant proportion of the world's internet users will access the network, not via freely programmable PCs connected via landline networks, but through tethered, non-programmable information appliances (smartphones) hooked up to tightly controlled and regulated mobile networks. And if that happens then the world will have kissed goodbye to the internet's revolutionary potential.' I think he identifies a trend - but it's one among many. In a sense, if you can connect to anything, you just experience the advantages of mobility, but then again you may be paying for it!
Monday, October 31, 2011
The Spielberg/Jackson Tintin certainly does 3D CGI animation well. But the movie hasn't gone down well with critics in the UK for two reasons: firstly, and this is an old debate, because it dumbs down Hergé (see Lezard here) and secondly, because of the CGI effect itself. I find the latter more interesting because I've been writing about visual realism, using Bolter & Grusin's (2000) notion of 'transparent immediacy'. They suggest that media-technology is advancing towards ever more life-like representations. So one critique of Tintin brings in Masahiro Mori's idea of the 'uncanny valley'. This idea suggests that the closer that representations resemble the real, the more that small inaccuaracies will derail us. Actually that didn't happen to me at all, but I'm glad to have learnt about the valley. You can read about that here.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Imagining the virtual
A number of commentators have drawn attention to the symbiotic relationship between popular narrative and technological innovation. The ways in which these stories are told relates strongly to the cultural legacies appropriated by the teller; it is possible to tell stories of the construction of virtuality that derive from Scandinavian fairy tales, from early Soviet science fiction, and from a variety cinematic genres. If narratives of hidden kingdoms, parallel universes and alternate realities capture our imagination - and the evidence is that they do, then it is entirely predictable that virtual worlds (or online gameworlds) might do the same. At least in part, radical innovations such as virtual worlds have been shaped by wider cultural narratives.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Digital Literacies 2.0
As we embark on an exciting new JISC-funded project 'Digital Futures in Teacher Education', the old challenge of defining what we mean by digital literacy has raised its head once again. In Writing the Future, published in Literacy in 2007 I argued the case for digital literacy as a kind of writing - one that was largely dependent upon alphabetic representation. Although the argument conceded that what counts as writing has expanded with new technology, it was, in hindsight, quite a tradional view. In that paper I also acknowledged that writing is now commonly found in the company of other forms of representation - in other words one couldn't avoid what the multimodalists were saying! My motivation was to save digital literacy from the technologists and to claim it for the literacy experts, who in my opinion have a far more sophisticated understanding of meaning-making. I also wanted professional literacy educators to wake up, and face up to the changes brought through the emergence of digital communication. But in four years, quite a lot has happened. For a start practice in educational institutions has changed quite a bit (although perhaps rather unevenly), but also the digital literacies movement has taken on a life of its own. A significant aspect of that is widespread discussion about digital literacy in the university sector. I'm not sure whether all the interpretations that have subsequently become attached to digital literacy are helpful, but nevertheless I feel obliged to revisit my own ideas. There's something about these versions of digital literacy that don't quite work for me. Well, let's say that firstly I'm not happy with skills, and secondly I'm not happy with the recursive argument that digital literacy is about preparing people to praticipate in a digital society. But, on the other hand it's easy to complain - I haven't got my new version completely thought through yet! I can see, though, that it will have the following ingredients: a new mindset (after Lankshear&Knobel, 2011); choice and creativity (Willett, Robinson &Marsh, 2008); meaning-making and social participation (Davies&Merchant, 2009); interlinked or networked spaces (Burnett, 2011) and maybe even something about new kinds of writing/reading (Merchant, 2007). That's not enough yet, but probably enough to suggest a different sort of emphasis.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
It was great to meet Stephen Kemmis yesterday, ahead of my visit to Charles Sturt University. In his seminar,Stephen gave a lucid account of his theory of practice: the architecture of practice, and ecologies of practice. The inter-related dimensions of 'saying', 'doing' and 'relating' work well as an account of literacy practices, particularly when studied in their 'natural habitat'. I was particularly drawn to his idea that practices have a life of their own - one that weaves its way across time and place. I also felt that the 3 dimensions provide a useful lens for looking at the processes that constitute academic literacy practice. Like one or two others in the audience I wanted a stronger account of how power patterns practices. By doing away with the mediating influence of social institutions that you find in Bourdieu, Kemmis's theory needs a stronger account of how practices reproduce values, ideologies and unequal distributions of resources.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
Technology and things
I'm back on Verbeek now, and quite appreciating the critique he makes of Latour. There's no doubt that he knows his way around the old actor network stuff, and there's a good survey of the ideas. I like the basic quote he pulls out from Latour: 'You could as well imagine a battle with the naked bodies of the soldiers on the one side and a heap of armors and weapons on the other' (1997:77). And he uses this to summarise why it is so problematic to separate humans from technology. This is the point on which Ihde builds when he says: 'Were technologies merely objects totally divorced from human praxis, they would be so much 'junk' lying about. Once taken into praxis one can speak not of technologies 'in themselves', but as the active realtional pair, human-technology.' (Ihde, 1993:34). This line of argument allows Verbeek to shift our attention to the ways in which humans and their devices shape each other. Good stuff.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Back in the world
There's been a bit of technical glitch which is now fixed, and so I'm back in Barnsborough once again! And that's quite strange - the same old 'place', familiar, even the bits I'd forgotten about. So I snapped myself outside the police station as a memento. I remember what it's like inside, but I didn't return. I know the cells. So is it a place? Well, that's the experience I report. Boellstorff would say that. He would argue that it's an act of homo faber: a created world 'for human sociality' (p. 237) in other words a distinct place. But what sort of relationship does it have to the 'actual' world? Is it an extension, a parallel world, an imaginal space, a mulimodal palimpsest, and does it matter? That's the debate I'm currently exploring in the book chapter. I think it's at this point that I may need help from my co-author!
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Marking Penguin's reissue of six of William Gibson's novels, yesterday's Guardian ran a good article on the godfather of cyberpunk. Most of it is drawn from the Paris Review (here), but what is so interesting is Gibson's account of how he coined the term 'cyberspace'. There's no reason to doubt him, is there? I was reminded of the way that Jaron Lanier claimed the term 'virtual reality'. Because these histories are recent, the people are still around to tell the story. Like 'virtual reality', the term 'cyberspace' has entered the vocabulary in a way that makes us think we know what we're talking about when often we don't. It's ten years now since I wrote a paper titled 'Teenagers in Cyberspace' (here), but I'll own up and say that at that time I hadn't read 'Neuromancer'. It was pure imitation, I'd heard the term cyberspace, liked it and used it. And so it goes on. The cyberspace/virtual reality meme really was nailed by Gibson as the Guardian article explains: 'Case, the hero of Neuromancer (1984), applies the dermatrodes of his cyberspace deck to his forehead, powers it up and jacks in to the matrix, his "inner eye" sees a "transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity", on which, or in which, is "a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system".' The idea was a stunning mash-up of drug sub-culture and what new technology was beginning to promise, and it generated a fascinating interplay between this imagined future and what computer labs were trying to develop.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
'The analog is always a fold ahead' (Massumi, 2002:143). He really does have a way with words. And sometimes he gets quite cross. You can almost hear him fuming and saying 'twaddle' under his breath when he writes this: 'A commonplace rhetoric has it that the world has entered a "digital age" whose dramatic "dawning" has made the analog obsolete. This is nonsense. The challenge is to think [...] the co-operation of the digital and the analog, in self-varying continuity.' (2002:143). He may sound cross, but it's still a convincing argument. He develops this by illustrating how the digital always connects to the virtual through the analog. In other words to paraphrase his 3 examples word-processing involves analog operations: the digital is just what happens behind the scenes/screens, in between encoding and decoding; music, unless entirely synthesized, may be 'digital', but the digital is sandwiched between its disappearance into code and its reaappearance as C minor, or whatever; hypertext is open in its analog recepetion. And so as the man says 'the digital always circuits into the analog.' (138). So think on!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
You don't say
What you don't say or write about can be as interesting as what you do. I mean this in a particular kind of way, though - not in the sense of self-censorship, or anything like that, but with reference to the ideas that seem to slide away in the act of expression. In writing about virtual reality and virtual worlds, I've been noticing this. A small tribe of ideas scurry away into the darkness each time I approach them. Partly this is because they don't really belong in the daylight of what I'm writing about. But I thought I'd sketch an approach here. Describe the hidden people, why not? The tribe belong to the fellowship of strong social constructionism. To begin with, I started thinking a year or so ago, that the socially constructed space of a virtual world (I think Gibson talked about a 'consensual hallucination') was a pretty good guide to how things actually work when we strip away the taken-for-grantedness of what we call reality. So reality forms from data as we experience or co-construct it. We inhabit a consensus reality which is established through some pretty sophisticated programming. The little that I know about consciousness studies seems to point in this direction. Work in that field suggests that the selectivity imposed upon us by the limited bandwidth of our perceptual faculties makes the world appear in a particular way to us. That takes you to a sort of psychological constructionist point of view. I don't know if that's an official term, but it has the right sort of feel to me. Philosophically, of course, that leads one to ask if there's anything really out there at all. The example of the virtual world can be helpful in addressing this. There is something there (of course), but we create it at the same time that it creates us. What's more its created out of stuff that we wouldn't recognise as a virtual world in the first place. So it gets metaphysical. I imagine the discussion on the holodeck 'There's something out there, but it's not what you think it is.' Thinking about the virtual can, in this respect, be quite powerful. I think. OK, maybe its best not to write it after all, but I'm glad I tried!
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Returning to the virtual
I've been (re)turning to the virtual, once again. Yesterday I was interviewed in SL by a docotoral student. That was interesting because I hadn't been there for a while. Also, although I've conducted interviews in virtual worlds before (and have written and talked about this quite a bit) this was actuallythe first time I'd been the interviewee. That's interesting, because in this particular situation all I had was chat - in other words there was no sound and, as it played out, our avatars were stationary. So, apart from the experience of being in that particular part of cyberspace, the communicative interplay was just the writing. And although in some ways I was my avatar, my answers (and of course the questions that provoked them) were those of Guy Merchant. At the same time I continue to explore the virtual in my writing. I'm exploring how online environments have distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from other contexts, but suggesting that they should not be dismissed as not being real. In developing an alternative perspective, I take the view that virtuality bridges the material world and the world of information and data, or as Sakr (2008:8) argues ‘Virtuality is a negotiation between materiality and information.’ This negotiation regularly takes place through interactions between people and technology - perhaps that interview illustrates some of this.
Monday, September 05, 2011
I've been looking back at writing on virtual reality and virtual worlds to help me in shaping my editorial contribution to the forthcoming publication 'Virtual Literacies'. First of all I tracked down a copy of an interview with Jaron Lanier (Journal of Communication 42:4), a rather wide-ranging piece from 1992, which will be useful background. It seems widely held that Jaron coined the phrase 'virtual reality', and this seems about right. Morningstar and Farmer's (1991) piece on Lucasfilm's Habitat uses cyberspace and virtual world throughout. The latter is a chapter from 'Cyberspace: First Steps', a collection edited by Benedikt - and this is a fascinating piece. I reckon that it would interest a broad readership because of the fascinating insights it gives into virtual citizenship, governance and of course design. These guys designed a commercially viable system which could support a population of thousands. I think that's a first, but need to check my facts. All of Second Life is prefigured here: 'users can communicate, play games, go onadventures, fall in love, get married, get divorced, start business, foundreligions, wage wars, protest against them, and experiment with self-government.' But if that's not your bag, it's still worth a read because they tell the story of creating and then populating a world so well. In the beginning it was an idea and then people started logging on, and that changed everything!
Monday, August 29, 2011
Yes, why not go for the plural - we are so accustomed to thinking of VR as a singular thing which it most clearly is not. Heim, who I referred to here, has a list of seven kinds of virtual reality, or seven realities if you would rather. Some of them seem to overlap, but I'll try to be faithful to the source (Heim, 1993: 109 ff). Here we go: 1. Simulation. I think he means high definition graphic environments; audio/graphic realism; precision rendering; and all the other ingredients for producing lifelike dataworlds. 2. Interaction. Here he seems to want to include everything from desktop environments with their folders, files and wastebins to virtual classrooms. (Does he mean places you can navigate within as if they were actual spaces?) 3. Artificiality. Here he really goes off on one, exploring the philosophical position that reality, as-we-know-it, is a human construct and that as a result more or less everything could be seen as being virtual. This threatens the entire VR edifice, so Heim abandons it as being too broad to be of use. 4. Immersion. This is mostly about a total sensory experience - the sort of thing associated with HMDs. At this point, Heim isn't concerned with the psychological dimension of 'being there'. The sort of immersion that Schroeder has written about. 5. Telepresence. Here he's talking about robotic presence. Controlling materials at a distance. 6. Full-body immersion. No, this isn't about body suits or flotation tanks, it's about 'becoming' a represented body/thing in a virtual environment. For this I read Second Life avatar. 7. Networked communities. Here, users 'stipulate and shape objects and activities' and 'share imaginary things and events' (116). Dubbed 'post-symbolic communication' this may move beyond words and real world references. All told a rather complicated list, but there are some ideas that are definitely worth developing here. Watch this space!
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Now that the Guardian is available on Kindle it seems as if some sort of order has been restored. I don't have to read the Independent any more, and I can save time on pointless debates with friends. We will have the same opinions, unless, of course, the Guardian suggests that there is some sort of discussion to be had. But seriously, a Kindle newspaper is a curious thing. It has all the advantages of portability. Thanks to 3G I avoided all the faff of finding an English language paper when I was on holiday in Spain. It was just delivered digitally, on time, at no extra expense. But there's the catch, you pay for the convenience - something you don't do with the Guardian online. What's more what you read on the Kindle is a slightly reduced print version. Reduced in the sense that it's rather like reading a 1950s edition with its low image, black and white visual content. All the online advantages - the add-ons, video footage, hyperlinks, comments and so on are absent. In some senses Kindle reading can have a rather retro feel to it. Of course you can still go to the Guardian online on the Kindle, but because of screen size and navigation that's a clumsy and frustrating experience. But so what? Well doesn't this all suggest that the mobile internet, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is, despite its considerable promise and potential, a huge disappointment. Mobility costs, it's carefully packaged by the new media industry and end-users are endlessy locked in and locked out of different services. Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the free internet. OK it's never really been free, but in comparative terms it is essentially unbounded. It may be too early to say, but with all the convenience and capital that mobile devices give us, might they also divide us in much stronger ways than digital technologies have done to date?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Michael Heim's 'The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality' makes for a curious read in that it was published in what seems like another era - 1993! He mixes a sort of cautiousness about technology with occasional bursts of enthusiasm. For all this I liked the description of what he calls cyberspace, which seems to me more like virtuality: 'We inhabit cberspace when we feel ourselves moving through the interface into a relatively independent world with its own dimensions and rules. The more we habituate ourselves to the interface, the more we live in cyberspace.' (1993:79). But what if that interface is print text? Heim has a view on this, too. '...the magic of the story comes from our ability to cross over from the words of the narration to an inner vision of the sequence of virtual events (which occurs to us when we walk through the wall of words on the page). (1993:133). So somehow our belief, or immersion, in a represented world defines this kind of virtuality. Carroll's looking glass, C.S. Lewis's wardrobe and Philip Pullman's subtle knife all act as metaphors for this in the sense that they are gateways to an imaginal world - a sort of parallell universe of the prosumer's fantasy sketched out for us by the author/designer. In this sense all that changes with technology is our ability to mediate or represent that parallell universe.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Government may try to disrupt social media
The idea that the government or the police should have the power to disrupt social media in the event of further civil unrest seems to me to be more like the action of a totalitarian state than a liberal democracy. I'd be particularly worried that a power such as this might be evoked to control legitimate protest or even the everyday communication of innocent citizens in times of unrest. Ironically, the advice to us at the university ran like this: 'For up to date information about the situation in Sheffield please monitor the South Yorkshire Police social media channels, which are regularly updated. Follow them on Twitter @syptweet or on Facebook For national Government guidance about the situation please visit http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_198958'.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
What did you get in London?
Whatever our opinion about the motivation of rioters, it needs to be acknowledged that mass unrest is a kind of spectacle and a political statement - even though it might not be a product of an articulated political doctrine. But as spectacle a riot is now densely mediated. It makes compulsive TV viewing, particularly when you are familiar with the location. Watching one sequence I was aware of watching 'from' the Sky News helicopter as 3 citizen 'journalists' photographed 1 rioter in a hand-to-hand scuffle with a policeman in Lewisham. Hidden from my view more images were probably collected from the nearby police helicopter and from behind their lines. After the event, if it is anything like the student unrest earlier this year, it will become a battle of images. But technology was to the fore in at least two other ways. Firstly, as has been widely reported, social networking sites and Blackberry Messenger (BBM) were used both to distract police attention and to co-ordinate activity and looting. Rheingold may have been ahead of his time with Smart Mobs, but this is mobile mahem writ large on the streets of London - so much so, that the police, roundly outflanked by youth are reportedly looking at (hacking?) BBM chatlogs. Secondly, the main targets appeared to be mobile phone shops and Curry's Digital. Gadgets have become objects of desire, significant cultural capital and a potent symbol for all. We do not need to speculate prematurely about whether this is a restless underclass seizing what has been denied to them, or a lawless mob stealing what can easily be sold (maybe both are true at the same time) in order to see the significance of the main retail targets.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Way back when I was doing my Masters, Bill Harpin upbraided me for taking the scenic route in my studies. He wanted me to read his book on writing; I was reading Derrida. I'm not sure it made any difference, but old habits die hard. Now somehow, a week or so ago, I ended up getting Brian Massumi's 'Parables for the Virtual'. Maybe I liked the title, or perhaps it was the cover. Anyway I got 2 copies. I thoroughly enjoyed the first copy and read it cover to cover. Just as this reading was coming to an end I realised that I'd hardly understood a word of it, and so I decided to go to the second copy and it is, indeed, exactly the same. Word for word, the same. But I'm going to it as a second reader, to try to find the point at which I got lost, and maybe to watch myself getting lost all over again. This much because I like Massumi's starting point. It goes a bit like this. He critiques cultural/social theory for its inadequate account of the 'body in movement'. He says: 'Earlier phenomenological investigations into the sensing body were largely left behind because they were difficult to reconcile with the new understandings of the structuring capacities of culture and their inseparability both from the exercise of power and the glimmers of counterpower incumbent in mediate living. It was all about the subject without subjectivisim: a subject "constructed" by external mechanisms. "The Subject".' (2) That creates a sort of stalemate because for example: 'Aren't the possibilities for the entire gamut of cultural emplacements, including the subversive ones, precoded into the ideological master structure?' (3). Instead Massumi focuses on the sensing body, seeing structuration as a back-formation - 'positionality is an emergent quality of movement' (8). As you can see, I'm doing OK so far, but that's just the introduction. When will I see myself getting lost? That's the mystery. No. The real mystery though is why Amazon sent me two copies. Maybe they knew I'd struggle with the first reading, who knows. They made me read it twice.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
The picture is supposed to evoke the idea of ponds within ponds (Leibniz) and the following are some of the ideas I'm working on, beginning with the idea that the human subject is embodied and all activity is situated (there is little choice in this, after all, at least from a phenomenological poit of view). And then, as a result there may be little gain in ‘looking up’ to more abstract theory, but a compelling richness in ‘looking down’ into the complexities and interconnections of embodiment and situated activity itself. Rather than moving in the direction of coherence and convergence this suggests a view of literacies informed by the notion of ‘baroque complexity’ (Kwa, 2002) - one that may provide a more nuanced account of how digital texts enter the communication economy of contemporary literacy practices. Drawing generously on the work of Deleuze (1993), Kwa outlines three characteristics of the baroque: 'First the historic baroque insists on a strong phenomenological realness, a 'sensuous materiality'. Second, this materiality is not confined to, or locked within a simple individual but flows out in many directions, blurring the distinction between individual and environment. And third, there is also the baroque inventiveness, the ability to produce lots of novel combinations out of a rather limited set of elements, for instance as in baroque music.’ (Kwa, 2002:26). So Kwa’s version of the baroque encourages us to ‘look down’ at the detail rather than to ‘look up’ for some broader picture (Law, 2002). In practice that may well mean seeing the ways in which the broader patterning of practices such as the global flows of information, shifting power relations and so on are inscribed or become manifest in specific situations. To be continued....
Monday, July 25, 2011
Gearing down for the summer offers more time for my exploration of music software. For the non-specialist, Logic Studio is a densely-wooded forest of terminology, toggles and plug-ins. You could easily get lost. It brings me face-to-face with digital learning. Step-by-step guides, help functions and tutorials are evidently a non-starter. First of all I want quick gains. You could call it impatience, but I need a certain feel for the possibilities before the questions and then the real learning start up. So my first step is to hitch up midi controllers and to begin to playfully explore what's available. And my way of doing this is to draw on repertoires I already have - just to get started, to gain interest and to experience some early success. And then I'm in! I want more, because I'm at that point that Jim Gee calls the 'pleasurably frustrating'. My curiosity kicks in: 'surely you must be able to...'; 'I wonder how...'; 'will it let me...'; 'what happens if...' And the perfect solution is the just-in-time advice that at-elbow support can give you. Ruth, whose already done a course, is great for this as she show me how to quantize, modify the velocity and fade out. But if I aspire to my own brand of contollerism (see the vid and here) I know I have a long way to go.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Of maps and brains
Sometimes when you're on a journey you glance at the map to see exactly where you are, and at that point become suddenly aware of how far you've travelled. Sometimes, too, you can see the exact point at which a particular choice - a fork in the road, for example - took you in a particular direction and into a distinctive kind of landscape. I had the impulse to check the map at this year's UKLA conference in Chester, when I was listening to Usha Goswami. Her explanations of neuropsychology and what it tells us about early reading were lucidly presented, but they seem to be located in another territory. It is a territory in which 'the brain' is a central feature and in which stories of how the brain works and how it develops are told. Checking my metaphorical map, I find I'm accustomed to a completely different set of landmarks, in a very different country. It's a far more densely populated place - one in which meanings are negotiated and exchanged, in which stuff is used in all sorts of ways, and one in which irregular and complex shapes form and re-form as practices evolve. I can't find the fork in the path, though. But I suppose my interest in language variation, in the stories we write and tell and in the impact of the digital on these things all presuppose a sociocultural orientation. I am in different territory and I'm glad I am, but I'm also pleased to know that some people are interested in brains. The map would be inadequate without their work.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Kids, kit, classrooms
It looks as though we've got nearly all of our students enroled on the learning futures wiki (pilot version), so I'm now really looking forward to looking at the work of these digital leaders over next couple of weeks. In the meantime I've been sitting on a list of views that emerged during our last planning meeting. They tend to cluster - in the ways I have them on the wall - around ideas about students and ideas about schools. Students are generally percieved of as having technological expertise, whereas schools are seen as an inhibiting force. Technology and innovation are described as 'kit', and basically you're lucky if you've got it! All our views are of course far more subtle than that, but the broad contours are still there. At this point in time I'm intrigued to see if the digital leaders themselves have a different view of these issues.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Shop fronts and shutters
The shops used to be closed a lot. Sundays completely, often Saturday after lunch, and mid-week. I think Thursday was 'early closing day' when I was young. So if you were incarcerated in an educational establishment (and most of the time I was), looking at what you could buy was time-limited. From quite an early age I compensated for this by window-shopping, pressing my nose up against the fronts of closed shops, peering in against the glare to see what you could get. I started with children's toys, but as my ambitions grew I began to focus on musical instruments and LP covers (big boys' toys), spanners and wrenches (serious boys' toys) and eventually clothes and electrical goods. I carried that on well into adult life and as a matter of fact I still enjoying looking at things I could buy, might buy, or might one day buy. It's everyday life in the consumer market-place. Sometime in the 1980s shop-owners - particularly those in urban areas - began to worry about civil disturbance, disturbed, no doubt, by images of rioters putting bricks through shop-windows and helping themselves to stuff they ought to pay for. They began to install shutters to protect their interest and city streets, at least on Sundays, became greyer places. When I first got into Flickr, partly as a homage to my days as a window-shopper, I started photographing shutters, putting them in a set. I was interested in the way that shutters were becoming a surface for art-work and graffiti. The security barrier of the shutter effectively kept most people out, but while the goods were protected another form of expression was errupting. Now many shops commission artists to decorate their shutters. So you'll see The Rude Shipyard, itself a wonderful boho artsy venue has followed the trend. Must upload to Flickr!
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
If it's not baroque....
I'm still on the romantic/baroque theme today and savouring Chunglin Kwa who makes the case for the baroque so eloquently: 'It may seem unnecessary to use an overloaded word like baroque, especially because it is not immediately apparent that there is a historical continuity with the grand style of the seventeenth century. In the case of romanticism it is much easier to argue for an uninterrupted lineage. Yet several important characteristics of the historical baroque make the term baroque attractive to use for later periods, including the present. First the historic baroque insists on a strong phenomenological realness, a 'sensuous materiality'. Second, this materiality is not confined to, or locked within a simple individual but flows out in many directions, blurring the distinction between individual and environment. And third, there is also the baroque inventiveness, the ability to produce lots of novel combinations out of a rather limited set of elements, for instance as in baroque music. Similarly, action in early baroque theater is not based on the logical development of a plot but rather on a sequence of monologues, debates, and allegories.' (Chunglin Kwa, 2002:26). And it satisfies the inner-geek to copy this out of my Evernote notebook entitled 'Folds'!
Sunday, July 03, 2011
The modern disease?
In 'The Wild Places' Robert Macfarlane dichotomises the human social world and the natural world, and I think that's the weakness, or at least the romanticism, of his project. At best, in his writing, he captures the baroque in ways that equal Deleuze, and details the specific in a style reminiscent of Bachelard. But I think that the thesis that man is alienated from the natural world in a sort of latter day fall is a romantic fallacy. So the author slips all too easily from observations of our current condition into a sort of moral panic as the following extract illustrates: 'In so many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different forms of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world - its spaces, textures, sounds smells and habits - as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our innere world of imagination. The feel of hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird's sharp foot on one's outstretched palm: such encounters shape our being and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.' (Macfarlane, 2007:203). Bring back Rousseau! It's an argument that's not exactly wrong, but incomplete. But in the end, you have to admire Macfarlane's rugged frontier spirit - when things get really wild his unstoppbale reponse is to strip off and go for an icy-cold swim - naked probably, although that's the kind of detail we're spared!
Saturday, July 02, 2011
Texting change in language
Anthea Rowan had a good piece in yesterday's Telegraph. As to be expected it drew the usual range of comments. The full text from which she quotes (which I wrote for UKLA) runs like this: Language and literacy change over time. Social, economic and technological conditions influence these changes in significant ways. The development of mass media and, more recently, digital communication has accelerated the spread of language change and innovation. We now routinely communicate in different ways - such as emailing, instant-messaging, and making Skype calls. We use different technologies - laptop keyboards, mobile phones and webcams - to do this. These different channels of communication have led to the emergence of new communicative styles including text abbreviations, acronyms on bulletin boards, and microblogging conventions such as the use of @ and # in Tittwer. Writing, often a relatively stable or conservative mode of language, is currently enjoying a moment of creativity. This is a rich area for the study of literacy and one that has an unavoidable impact on children and young people. In fact young people are very often at the forefront of these innovations. It is too simple to suggest that 'new ways' are replacing 'old ways' or to suggest that the 'new litearcies' are somehow better than traditional practices. They co-exist and are likely to do so, at least for the foreseeable future. Most new literacy practices depend on the familiar -being able to read a familiar image and to encode and decode alphabetic writing. In fact they extend the possibilities for meaning-making and interconnection. Literacy is a much larger topic than it was twenty years ago, in an era when digital communication was still in its infancy. To fully participate in contemporary society, children, young people and adults alike need literacy more than ever before. They need to be able to write letters and send emails; they need to be able to fill in forms online and leave notes for friends and family members. There is no evidence that literacy is in decline. In fact there has been a massive increase in vernacular writing with the advent of the internet. At the same time, though, the ways in which we write and the ways in which we read are changing. In our capacity as an association for the promotion of literacy and with our interest in education, we are committed to supporting the reading and writing for all - reading and writing in whatever form is advantageous.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Provoked by some discussions on the return journey from Belgium, I've been reflecting on the hidden pedagogy of research. In disciplines like education that are driven by professional activity, the application or impact of research is often a topic of conversation. But at the same time a lot of research (mine included) addresses itself to the ongoing construction of knowledge and theory, and pays less attention to direct application. In fact, in the research community, something as simple as an effective solution to an everyday problem can seem to be too trivial. Nonetheless it seems that even the more abstract or theoretically-orientated research has a hidden pedagogy in that it privileges particular ways of finding out, particular ways of seeing social actors and social institutions and in doing so holds up particular actions or activity as worthy of interest. This suggests that it may be fruitful to look for the implicit assumptions about what is worthwhile in the design of applied research.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
OK, well here I was just trying to uncover my own preoccupations by feeding one of my own academic papers into the Wordle machine - it's something I've criticized students for doing, but it was helpful for me, particularly in noticing how frequently I've been using the participation word. Working with a colleague on the theme of participation has made me realise how I need to spend more time unpacking this concept. What does it mean when we talk about 'participating in civic life'? What do we mean by 'learning through particpation'? Anne Edwards (2005) warns us that the meaning of the concept of participation may becaome opaque through over-use. Now there's a thought.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
On the surface of things it would seem like a very good idea to mobilise public support and interest in helping young children's literacy development, and in fact the Volunteer Reading Help scheme has a good track record in doing just that. But somehow the Evening Standard's campaign GetLondonReading pushes all the wrong buttons. Politically it plays on the Big Society agenda and regularly features donators who are models, celebrities or former politicians - in other words public or media figures who want to do something worthy. But celebrity support is no substitute for public education and the high expectations placed on the volunteers themselves may not be the best way forward. You might predict that if the campaign makes a massive impact, there will be political capital to be made. If it doesn't it will sink from view. No surprises there, because that's just the same story that we associate with governmental interference in matters of curriculum. What worries me more is when the transport networks of London are flooded with travellers waving the banner headlines 'One in five parents cannot read aloud'. Although that's based on evidence produced by the National Literacy Trust (another reputable body) it's a scare story. Firstly, literacy is more than reading and certainly can't be reduced to 'reading aloud', but secondly, and more importantly it neatly ducks some key characteristics of the fluid multilingual demographic of our cosmopolitan capital. On the 9th June Free Standard the grinning picture of blonde (?) white model Laura Bailey - who donated £1000 - appears to be the solution to a hyped-up problem. And in the text, reading is clearly connected with empowerment, which is ironic when the most evident power lies elsewhere.
Monday, June 13, 2011
The future of the past
In our discussions on Monday for the It's the learning future project some of our teachers talked about children living in the technological present and then stepping into the past when they come to school. According to this view school becomes a sort of working museum in which children are in role as learners of the past - enacting how we used to live. At the same time we can only imagine the future on the basis of the present, or at least in our experience of recency (which is in effect the past). Although it may sound like word-play there is a very real sense in which these timescales reveal complexity and seem, in fact, to overlap. I thank Chris Thomson, someone who is also trying to imagine the future with pupos[ed], for introducing me to the design concept of the Skeuomorph which is another example of how the past is useful. So, not all history is bunk!
Friday, June 10, 2011
Mapping the mind
I'm in Belgium at the moment, but I'm reading Robert MacFarlane's evocative and excellently written book 'The Wild Places' which is a first-rate exploration of wild-ness and one which is tied to the British landscape. In a section on mapping, he tells us that over a million road atlases are sold in England and Ireland each year and that there are thought to be about 20 million in circulation at any one time. That's a lot of geographical literacy that's going on - and that's before you start thinking about AA maps, Google maps and various sat nav systems. Wow! But, as he observes, "The fells, the caves, the tors, the woods, the moors, the river valleys and the marshes have all but disappeared. If they are shown at all, it is as background shading or generic symbols. More usually, they have faded out altogether like old ink, become the suppressed memories of a more ancient archipelago....The priorities of the modern road atlas are clear. Drawn by computers from satellite photos, it is a map that speaks of transit and displacement. It encourages us to imagine the land itself as a context for motorised travel." In other words (my words) maps help to produce a kind of social identity - a mobile identity - in which we are constantly on the move between urban spaces, and the rest is something that is blank or something we go through.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
I'm reading a pre-publication version of Colin and Michele's New Literacies (3E) at the moment. The opening sections provide a really useful map to 'where we are' and 'how we got there' in literacy studies. They've just about got it right with a definition of literacies as 'socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses through the medium of encoded texts'. I know it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue and I suppose that nearly every phrase needs translating (which is, as you'd expect, what haoppens in the book). I still have a problem with the social spread of new literacies and wonder to what extent the exciting practices which appear to be the popular everyday practices of children and young people are actually niche interests. On a more abstract level I enjoyed reading about Andreas Reckwitz's work on practice theories and made a note to follow this up. The football analogy reminded me of Bourdieu which sent me scurrying back to The Logic of Practice. Bourdieu, at least in the translations that I read, can be hard going, but one of his clearest pieces (Chapter 4 ibid) actually uses the football metaphor to good effect. But here he is on 'practice', the principle of which is found 'in the relationship between external constraints which leave a very variable margin for choice, and dispositions which are the product of economic and social processes that are more or less completely reducible to these constraints, as defined at a particular moment.' (p.50). That makes me think twice about agency in cultural (re)production and is something to pit against remix and participatory culture.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
I've had one of those times when life takes over, and blogging falls by the wayside, spending most of my time looking after baby Dylan (in the picture) and my daughter, Hannah. It's interesting watching the play/work of a 9-month old and the ways in which new media is woven into the environment. Firm favourites are the V-tech products (particularly the dance tower), but Skype calls on the laptop, grasping for the mobile phone and nursery rhymes on the i-touch are all part and parcel of daily life. At the moment my attempts at keeping a record have been squeezed - maybe I need a firmer plan. Whilst immersed in all this life goes on with several projects under way and an opportunity to re-engage with the Barnsborough virtual world. More on that later on.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Are we still nodes?
The network metaphor is everywhere. Yesterday I travelled down to Oxford on the rail network; most of the time I could use my mobile (I'm on the Orange network). In the book I was reading Gilbert told me that in my brain 'millions upon millions of new connections are formed....in increasingly complex networks.' It seems that networks are both inside and outside me. That's a distinctively 20th century metaphor suggesting as it does desktop computers tethered together and interconnected. So a network is a connection between points or places, a channel of communication. But what happens when the metaphor is applied to the social? Actors are reduced to points - not even points of view, but nodes connected to other nodes. In the fluidity of everyday life we make and break ties, the signal breaks up, the network goes down - do we cease to exist? When we flicker in and out of communication, when we become more mobile are we still nodes? And how does the network metaphor consitute us as human subjects? Perhaps there's a better way of imagining communication and connectivity...
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Well, maybe not. But this is me in full swing with my new midi controller. What you can't see is the way I'm hooked into Garageband, playing digital instruments and samples (my favourite percussion is taken from an audio-file of the porridge-spoon rocking in the bowl!). To the extent that I'm researching my own learning I'm finding that my own, rather limited, skill with the old technology of strings and frets has an interesting iterative relationship with my midi play. Because the midi has different affordances, I can do a whole range of new things - and I'm still discovering them. I also have to learn new skills of preparation (eg: clipping samples, importing them, stitching together a rhythm track) as well as new skills of performance. Yet at the same time all this brings a new understanding of what I can and can't do in a more traditional environment. It's almost as if the learning and reflection happens because of this back and forth movement. This all gets framed up in my favourite arena, which is live improvisation with my partner-in-crime!
Friday, May 06, 2011
Collecting the football cards that came with Anglo Bubblegum stood me in good stead later in life. Redolent of that sugary fruity flavouring (a sort of guilty pleasure) each packet contained a card with basic details about a player, his club, his position and so on. I could never work out whether I prefered the information or the gum. They took it in turns. Maybe it was a rather dry strip of gum that ran out in less than a minute; maybe it was Danny Blanchflower or Jimmy Greaves; maybe it was just the taste you needed. But all that Anglo Bubblegum pedagogy served me well when the sixties came blowing in to the Midlands where I grew up. Not only did I bask in the popular music that seemed so new and fresh, I scoured the album covers for information. Who wrote those songs? Who recorded them? Who played bass and who did the cover art? I geeked out on all the information, always keen to identify the key players and to trace the influences that had helped shape what I liked. Nothing much has changed. What might seem like a misspent youth was actually a substantial investment. A shift in the field to the world of theory and research is actually quite a small shift. I'm still listening out for 'new tunes' and trying to understand how they came about (who they were listening to when they wrote them and all that). Surely that's the starting point of a good literature review - creating your own map of the territory. And to think it all began with bubblegum!
Saturday, April 30, 2011
In an article co-written with my colleague Cathy Burnett we've been problematising the notion of critical literacy - particularly in the context of social media. We've drawn on Greenhow and Robelia's notion of 'advantageous practice' which raises all sorts of interesting issues. One thing we're keen to avoid is the idea of teachers telling students what they think is best - a pitfall, as we see it, of some critical approaches. They end up by being uncritical to the extent that they try to force particular ways of reading texts, and particular ways of seeing the world. So advantageous practice is perhaps best seen as a dialectical process, based in an enquiry into how one is positioned in and positioned by social context, with a view to seeking ways in which these positions can be influenced in a positive and worthwhile way - one that is likely to benefit the communities and social networks of affiliation. Advantageous practices are then likely to be situated and often localised in character, although they may well relate to larger national and transnational concerns.
Friday, April 29, 2011
I borrowed this wonderful advert for 'The Smell of Books' from Angela Thomas as an illustration for my keynote at the recent BAAL seminar on language and disadvantage. My point was to illustrate important changes in the communication economy (ie: the rise of self-sponsored writing; of new conventions, new relationships and ideas of appropriacy as well as the usual suspects: multimodal, multilingual and multiscriptual texts) that prompt us to reconceptualize disadvantage and to recontextualize public discourse about 'bad language', and to point out how all this takes place against a backcloth of persistant nostalgia for the book and other fixed forms of print literacy. For me it was a return to some key debates in sociolinguistics and with a title like 'The Trashmaster: popular culture, bad language and writing online', a return to form in grabbing attention. The nub of the question settles on old language prejudices - those that so readily associate with class, although as the seminar discussion uncovered, class is far more fragmented than it was when these debates last headlined in the late 1960s. Same same; different different.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Nostalgia for the future
Most visions of the future just flesh out the present - or even re-imagine the past. John Banville describes this effect extremely well when his narrator explores the 'outmoded atmosphere that pervaded ...[his]...dream of what was to come.' So here goes: ' So what I foresaw for the future was in fact, if fact comes into it, a picture of what could only be an imagined past. I was, one might say, not much anticipating the future as nostalgic for it, since what in my imaginings was to come was in reality already gone.' (The Sea: 71)
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